Monthly Archives: Nov 2014

Living in the Past – Where do we go from here ? A Random Ramble

Moel ty Uchaf1

This isn’t really about the past it’s about me and the blog ! Just recently I’ve been wondering , in archaeological and research terms where to go from here – the Dee Valley that is .

Some of the most unresearched sites and monuments are to be found in the Dee Valley . Excavations and university department interests have been lamentably scarce in this part of the world .

Bryn Celli Ddu Offerings

Unlike the better known monuments such as Bryn Celli Ddu (above) on Anglesey the Dee Valley is relatively little understood throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age and only begins to emerge in the archaeological record around the Iron Age . By around 600BC we begin to see the development of what we call hillforts , the large impressive hilltop settlements which crown the hills around the Vale of Clwyd and in lesser numbers  the Dee Valley . Suddenly we become more aware through the physical presence of the defended settlements , of what is around us in historic terms .

Caer drewen Corwen 1.

Take for example the defended hilltop settlement of Caer Drewyn which  around 2500 years since the great walls were constructed, still  keeps a watchful eye over Corwen and the surrounding area. From the top of the hill it’s possible to see for miles….and miles . When I stand up on the hill and look towards the numerous hillforts of the Clwydian range I try very hard to imagine what was going on in the domestic, social, and political world of the people who lived within these walls a couple of thousand years ago .   What did they think of their neighbours  a few miles away ? Were they related? Did young people walk miles to meet lovers they had met at communal gatherings and the Iron Age equivalent of  fairs? What did they eat? What did they wear and where where they buried ?

Corwen Caer Drewyn 1 Caer drewyn reconstructed

I’ve decided one of my quests is to find out how these people lived and that means a trip back to my favourite place the neolithic …… so gather round the fire for the next story ….coming soon

Talk Round House Fire

So

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The Founding of Llangar Church..the alternative version

Llangar Church is situated in a lovely spot near to the  confluence of the River Dee and its tributary the Alwen .

Llangar meeting at rivers

In folklore and myth the place where rivers meet is said to have special symbolism . These are ‘thin’ places where the veil is especially thin and unexplained occurrences are likely to take place .These ‘in-between’ places were often associated with a river deity who would have been honoured there . This practice has not died out and will be discussed in future articles

This is especially true when it comes to explaining how and why the church was built

Interestingly archaeological excavations have found nothing of the early, pre- fifteenth century church and this story may go some way to explain why!

As you approach the church along a path lined with gravestones listen carefully as you approach for it has been reported that singing and chanting have been heard from the empty church .

Lychgate 1731

Lychgate 1731

The present custodian of the church tells the story of what happened to him one morning as he was walking along the path to open up the church. Not a man who would take such things lightly he thought that he left a CD playing when he had locked the church the day before. He tells of hearing singing as he neared the church. It suddenly occurred to him that the music he played on his CD was accompanied by music and what he could hear was unaccompanied voices singing . He opened the door quietly and slowly and as he did so the music stopped. The church was empty.

Somethings can’t be explained, it seems this area has a few stories to tell regarding unseen forces at work the door has three Daisy Wheels carved into it

One of three daisy Wheels Carved into the Church door

One of three daisy Wheels Carved into the Church door

Daisy Wheels are symbols used to protect from evil, witches and to bring good luck. They date from around the fifteenth century and were often incorporated into the structure of the building by craftsmen. The reasons behind the three Daisy Wheels on the door are lost now but what ever prompted three – a symbolic number itself was something very significant to the local people who must have had very good reason to fear some force unseen around the church.

Llangar door from porchLlangar sharpening

Portals /Doorways have always had a special significance . Here at Llangar the doorway has evidence for  the sharpening axes and swords and possibly  sickles and arrowheads. Churches weren’t solely for the worship of God they were meeting places for social gatherings, sometimes places of refuge and the focus of the local communities to gather and exchange gossip and strike deals .

This is a magical place with a sad foundation legend concerning a white deer . The name is said to have originated from the events surrounding the hunting of the deer in order to find a suitable location for a new church, hence  Llann-Garw-Gwyn the church of the white deer. Part of the story is told in the wall paintings along the church walls

The Llangar Deer

The Llangar Deer

According to Elias Owen in his Welsh Folklore a Collection of the Folk-Tales and legends of North Wales 1887  ‘the tradition is that Llangar Church was to have been built near the spot where the Cynwyd Bridge crosses the Dee. Indeed we are told that the masons set to work but all the stones they laid in the day were gone during the night none knew wither. The builders were warned , supernaturally , that they must seek a spot where on hunting a ‘Carw Gwyn /White Stag would  be started . They did so and Llangar is the result . from this circumstance the church was called llan-Garw-gwyn and from this name the transition to Llangar is easy ( taken from the gossiping Guide to Wales p128)

I find in a document written by the rural Dean for the guidance of the Bishop of St.Asaph in 1729, that the stag was startled in a thicket where the church of Llangar now stands . And the (as the tradition is) the boundaries of the parish were settled for ’em by this poor deer where he was forc’d to run for his life , there lye their bounds . He at last fell and the place where he was killed is to this day called Moel y Lladdfa or the Hill of Slaughter ‘

LLangar widow

Whether this story has any basis in reality we can never know and on this occasion  I hope not !

No visit to All Saints Llangar is complete with just standing and soaking up the atmosphere around and within this beautiful church . The location is lovely and the interior of the church a wonder with it’s wall paintings, graffiti ,  and windows

Llangar door and entrance Llangar Wall painting

.Why not sit a while in the upper gallery and give some thought to the white deer , the singing voices and the Daisy Wheel and who knows what you might see and hear …

Lepars window

Lepars window

Llangar corwen+Lepers window LLangar widow

The foundation of Llangar Church Part One

Llangar Church path

Llangar Old Church dates from at least the thirteenth century when it is mentioned in documents . The use of the site may be much earlier .

The following extract from CPAT provides a background to the history of the church. Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust Historic Settlement Survey – Denbighshire – 2014

Set in a remote spot where the confluence of the River Dee and its tributary the Alwen creates
unusually extensive low-lying levels, Llangar church is set into a steep west-facing hillside
just above the main river with the Berwyn massif providing a back drop. The B4401, a former
turnpike road linking Bala and Llangollen, runs along the valley edge above the site, while a
now dismantled railway between the same two centres has left its terraced course immediately
below the churchyard. Corwen is less than 2km to the north-east. Llangar was in Merionnydd
until 1974 when it was transferred to Clwyd and in turn to Denbighshire in 1996.
This brief report examines the emergence and development of Llangar up to the year 1750.
For the more recent history of the settlement, it might be necessary to look at other sources of
information and in particular at the origins and nature of the buildings within it.

The continuous line defining the historic core offers a visual interpretation of the area within
which the settlement developed, based on our interpretation of the evidence currently to hand.
It is not an immutable boundary line, and will require modification as new discoveries are
made.

Llangar skeleton

History of development
The earliest reference in the Norwich Taxation of 1254 is to Langar with a similar spelling in
the later taxation of 1291, and Llangar in a document of 1292/3, revealing little change to the
place-name over eight centuries. There were, however, minor variations over the centuries, as
in 1370 when we read of Thlangair in Edeyrnyon. Archdeacon Thomas claimed that there was
another old name for the parish, Llan-garw-gwyn, but Melville Richards’ place-name archive
indicates that this term was current only in the 18th century.
According to Samuel Lewis in the earlier part of the 19th century, the name was derived from
‘an ancient fortification which formerly occupied the summit of a hill called Caer Wern, in the
immediate vicinity of the church, and of which there are still some vestiges…’. This
interpretation has found little favour in more recent times and the late Derek Pratt argued for a
personal name ‘Car’, related to modern Welsh ‘car’ meaning kinsman or friend.
There is no record of a settlement here, excepting the nearby farm of Stamp and the loosely
nucleated settlement of Bryn Saint, 300m higher up the slope. The latter was certainly in
existence in the mid-19th century, but how much earlier is impossible to ascertain. Edward
Lhuyd’s correspondent at the very end of the 17th century made a point of noting the absence
of any house by the church.

The heritage to 1750
The church of All Saints (100815), from 1967 a guardianship site in the care of Cadw, is at
least as old as the 13th century, but it is probable that there has been a church or chapel on the
site since before the Conquest. Much of the structure is post-medieval, and date stones in the
walls indicate rebuilding between 1615 and 1620 and the erection of the porch in 1617. The
west wall was rebuilt sometime after 1656 and again in the early 17th century. Excavations in
the 1970s found nothing pre-dating the 14th century. The church however escaped
Victorianisation, largely because it was superseded, in 1856, by a new church in Cynwyd.
The windows are largely of 17th- and 18th-century date. A simple exterior is matched
internally by stone-flagged floors, box pews, a three-deck pulpit and a west gallery. From the
medieval era there are roof trusses and fragmentary wall paintings (with others of the 18th
century), and a font that is 12th or 13th-century.
The churchyard (19761) is of irregular shape, as a result of extensions, and set on a relatively
steep slope. An original curvilinear form is suggested on the south side and on both the west
and east there are traces of an earlier boundary within the present enclosure, the former
merging with the platform supporting the church itself. The lychgate on the south side carries
a date of 1731.

Llangar Graves

Earthworks (100829) have been recorded in the past in the bracken-covered field to the north
of the church and in pasture just to the east of the main road. The former may be no more than
a medieval or later lynchet and perhaps a quarry, while the significance of the others is
uncertain. The track leading to the church from the south is certainly of some antiquity and is edged by flattish ground suitable for occupation.
Hafod-yr-afr (104521), some 300m to the east of the church is recorded as a cusped cruckframed
house of post-medieval date. Its inclusion here underlines the dispersed nature of local
settlement and the absence of any nucleated community.

The heritage to 1750

The church of All Saints (100815), from 1967 a guardianship site in the care of Cadw, is at least as old as the 13th century, but it is probable that there has been a church or chapel on the site since before the Conquest. Much of the structure is post-medieval, and date stones in the walls indicate rebuilding between 1615 and 1620 and the erection of the porch in 1617. The west wall was rebuilt sometime after 1656 and again in the early 17th century. Excavations in the 1970s found nothing pre-dating the 14th century. The church however escaped Victorianisation, largely because it was superseded, in 1856, by a new church in Cynwyd.

The windows are largely of 17th- and 18th-century date. A simple exterior is matched
internally by stone-flagged floors, box pews, a three-deck pulpit and a west gallery. From the
medieval era there are roof trusses and fragmentary wall paintings (with others of the 18th
century), and a font that is 12th or 13th-century.

Llangar beams. from gallery
The churchyard (19761) is of irregular shape, as a result of extensions, and set on a relatively
steep slope. An original curvilinear form is suggested on the south side and on both the west
and east there are traces of an earlier boundary within the present enclosure, the former
merging with the platform supporting the church itself. The lychgate on the south side carries
a date of 1731.
Earthworks (100829) have been recorded in the past in the bracken-covered field to the north
of the church and in pasture just to the east of the main road. The former may be no more than
a medieval or later lynchet and perhaps a quarry, while the significance of the others is
uncertain. The track leading to the church from the south is certainly of some antiquity and is
edged by flattish ground suitable for occupation.
Hafod-yr-afr (104521), some 300m to the east of the church is recorded as a cusped cruckframed
house of post-medieval date. Its inclusion here underlines the dispersed nature of local
settlement and the absence of any nucleated community.

However there are other forces at play when it comes to finding the right spot to found a church in medieval Wales ..if you stand in the upper gallery and look around the story of the church is painted on the walls . The church has a few secrets including the Daisy wheels carved into the door and the story of ghostly singing when the church is empty. These will be discussed in part 2

Llangar Gallery

Llangar Gallery

Llangar down aisle to gallery

The River Dee – Thoughts on Aerfen Part One

River Dee near Carrog

River Dee near Carrog

Water Deities haven’t lost their power over us .

Along  the Dee Valley this is especially true , one of the goddesses strongly associated with the River Dee is Aerfen who is said to have had a shrine or grove near Glyndyfrdwy  . The River Dee was occasionally known as Aerfen in Middle Welsh. Today nothing remains to indicate where or what this shrine was . It’s reasonable to suggest that the shrine was a ‘grove’ on the bank of the river or in a wooded area near it .

If Aeron , as some have suggested  is a version of  name Aeron the war goddess which derives from  from Agrona a  Goddess of Slaughter then the link to  war and sacrifice is more easily explained

Ian Pegler in his work Valle Crucis and the Sunline suggests that Aefen’s shrine was near to the sunline and this is of symbolic significance for the location of the ‘shrine’

On a recent walk along the Dee we pondered where this grove or shrine had been located and had it existed outside local folklore and legends ? Many photographs were taken along the way . Much to our surprise one of the images provided a surprise ! In the right hand corner of the image below a shadow of red can be seen in the water – as Aerfen is associated with war and sacrifice this seemed very appropriate . Camera error – yes most likely but it added some excitement to the adventure .

Aerfen is associated with war and sacrifice note the red shadow in the right hand corner

Aerfen is associated with war and sacrifice note the red shadow in the right hand corner

Very little is known or written about Aerfen .Dyfrdwy refers to the river Dee and is interpreted as  waters of the goddess but which goddess isn’t clear as many deities may have been worshipped along the course of the river which is approximately 70 miles (110 km) from it’s source at  Dduallt to the estuary at Flint

The present-day River Dee has its source on the slopes of Dduallt (ðɨæɬt – “Black Hill”) 662m  above Llanuwchllyn in the mountains of Snowdonia

Aerfen has also  been said to reside near the source of her river and mention has been made of a structure built over one of the pools . This hasn’t been verified as yet and a visit to the site is planned in the near future

Source of the River Dee

Source of the River Dee

At Llanuwchllyn  the Dee is joined by the Lliw and the Twrch meaning boar .

William Camden wrote:

The river Dee, called in Latin Dava , in British Dyfyr-dwy , that is, the water of Dwy , breeding very great plenty of Salmons, ariseth out of two fountaines in Wales, and thereof men thinke it tooke the name. For dwy in their tongue signifieth two. Yet others, observing also the signification of the word, interpret it Blac-water , others againe Gods water or divine water. But although Ausonius noteth that a Spring hallowed to the Gods was named Diuvona in the ancient Gaules tongue (which was all one with the British), and in old time all rivers were reputed Διοπετεῖς, that is, Descended from Heaven ,

yea and our Britans yeelded divine honour unto rivers, as Gildas writeth, yet I see not why they should attribute Divinitie to this river Dwy above all others.

The  Dee near Glyndfrdwy

The Dee near Glyndfrdwy

Snowdonia from Llyn Tegid

Snowdonia from Llyn Tegid

Llyn Tegid at sunset

Llyn Tegid at sunset

“The Quest for Cymer in Edeirnion – what we know so far”

Jennys house full

Ever since moving to this mysterious house I`d heard tales of the fabled Barons of Cymer, who were said to have once lived not only in the neighbouring mansion of Gwerclas  but before that in the medieval hall house of Plas Uchaf   –  and perhaps even earlier (some folk believed !) at or near the site of today`s Hafod y calch.

Plas Uchaf

Plas Uchaf

Full of natural curiosity, I was eager to discover evidence-based facts behind the oral history, and when the Dating Old Welsh Houses Group armed me with historical research skills I started a journey backwards in time through Cymer towards medieval times and beyond.

The Welsh word cymer means a confluence or junction, and Edeirnion`s Cymer is situated around the meeting place of the Rivers Alwen and Dyfrdwy (Dee). In my talk I shall show how descendants of one of the last native royal families of Wales influenced the social history, land usage and architecture of an area encompassing Cymer and far beyond.

I will be  presenting  fascinating evidence not only from from Probate inventories, Church and Estate records and 18th C personal letters, but from dendrodating, architectural historians, geologists and the memories of local residents, as well as my own photographic observations and artefacts.

Plas Uchaf

Plas Uchaf

I will be able to provide anyone attending with a fully illustrated e-mail transcript of my presentation, on request.

Plas Uchaf

Plas Uchaf

Jenny Lees has lived locally since 1977 and researches house history  with the Dating Old Welsh Houses GroupDOWHG). She has published a history of  Hafod y calch on DOWHG`s website  www.datingoldwelshhouses.co.uk. and is currently working on individual house histories that include Gwerclas and Plas Uchaf . Her other publications to date include `Quest for Cymer Part Onein Hanes Bro Clwyd (The Clwyd Historian) Winter13-14, and several articles about the local area in DOWHG`s recently published Cynwyd Scrapbook One.

Thoughts on the Mysteries of Llyn Tegid from Aly Bevan

ali tegid

Magic seeps toward  Llyn Tegid shore from the lake, shrouded in legend and lore and rich in Mabinogian mystery. If you listen closely, you can hear the weeping of Ceridwen and the cries from the horses of Gwyddno Garanhir.

Mighty oaks vie for position with the mountains and mist covered hills in the background. It is truly one of the most beautiful sights you will ever see in your life.
The lake itself has a cauldron like feel, nestled in the surrounding mountainous terrain, it holds its own secrets, such as a fish called Gwyniad (Coregonus Lavaretus) found only in Llyn Tegid, they are a protected species.
I was lucky enough to be part of a beautiful ceremony on the shores where the groves of trees had become a grotto shining with lights like a Fairie Kingdom, it culminated in a twilight walk into the lake itself. The Awen was compelling, it called to all the participants clearly.
Llyn Tegid can be translated to mean ‘lake of tranquillity’, it is a more lyrical description than even a poet could weave. It is fed from the Afon Dyfrdwy (River Dee) and is said in myth to contain a drowned village.
Ali Talk Druids at lake Ali
Ancient oaks guard the lake

Ancient oaks guard the lake

Tyfos Cairn/Kerbed Circle Llandrillo

Tyfos Cairn Circle looking towards Moel Ty Uchaf on the distance hill

Tyfos Cairn Circle looking towards Moel Ty Uchaf on the distance hill

If you have ever climbed to the stone circle of Moel Ty Uchaf high above the Dee Valley and looked across the valley you may have made out the stone cicle called Tyfos Uchaf lying on the north-west just above the flood plain .

It has been suggested that the site was originally a round barrow which over time has been denuded to the form which we seen now , that of a ring of stones which appear to form a stone circle (Bowen and Gresham 1967). There does appear to be the remains of a bank associated with the stone circle

The circle is raised from ground level and appears to be banked

The circle is raised from ground level and appears to be banked

.
Tyfos  Circle to farm

Thirteen stones remain forming a circle approximately 17 metres in diameter . It’s possible that as many or more stones have been removed from the site over time
The stones are  on a level platform above the ground surface around 28 metres across . The area of the monument extends further than first meets the eye and resembles the mound of a cairn at this point. The exact function of the circle is unclear but it is likely to have had a funerary /ritual  purpose

Extension of the circular ,kerbed monument

Extension of the circular ,kerbed monument

It is possible to view the distant site of Moel Ty Uchaf from near here and this raises the question as to whether the two monuments were contemporary and if so was there a relationship between the sites and the people who constructed them ? It is possible that the River was a natural boundary between the sites and also the social groups who built them , one circle on the high ground and nearly directly opposite the stone circle on the valley floor . Both Tyfos and Moel Yy Uchaf may have had a central cist . Lack of formal excavations renders interpretation and function unclear

There may have been a ceremonial, ritual and social significance  behind the location and construction of the two monuments  and a survey of the associated and surrounding sites may help construct a theory as to why the builders chose these locations over 4000 years ago if these circles are to be assigned to the Bronze Age .

OS reference SJ028388  Landranger Map Number: 125