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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

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“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

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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

Gwerclas Burial Mound . A Little Known Mystery

Gwerclas Burial Mound

Gwerclas Burial Mound

Gwerclas cairn has never , as far as we know been excavated therefore classification has largely depended on a series of observations and surveys . Despite having been lately identified as a Bronze Age round Barrow it displays all the features of having been constructed at some time during the Neolithic period .

It appears to be what in archaeological terms  is called a Chambered Tomb – a Long Barrow

The long Barrows were funerary monuments of the Neolithic . The chambers of the barrows were often covered by capstones and burials were deposited over a period sometimes over a thousand years . They sometimes show evidence of ceremonial and ritual use .Excavations elsewhere have shown that fires were lit outside the tombs and deposits of animal and human bone have been discovered in a ‘ritual’ context .

Gwerclas is a large , long mound which is somewhat denuded through the activity of  erosion and farming over a long period

 Gwerclas cairn stones to right CADVAS

The kerbstones above indicate the entrance may have been in this area of the body of the cairn.

The location of the Gwerclas tomb is interesting . The monument lies near to the River Dee and a historic crossing point .Views to the river from the cairn indicate that the River was possibly a focal point for the tomb builders .

River Dee River fording point near Gwerclas

River Dee River fording point near Gwerclas

Gwerclas River crossing 1

A possible Neolithic ceremonial cursus monument has been identified across the Dee from Gwerclas at SJ06204343  and is known as the Corwen Cursus .  The cursus runs for  approximately 120 metres on a SSW-NNE alignment. The ditches  are around 27m apart and there is a ring ditch close to the northern end.

The  burial site may have been somehow linked to the cursus in some way although any theories have to be conjectural in the light of an excavation evidence which links the two .

The implications for a developed ritual landscape in this area are the focus for further research.
OS Reference : SJ05394213

Winter Solstice Walk Moel Ty Uchaf Stone Circle Sunday 21 December

One of our favourite places ,high above  the beautiful landscape of the Dee Valley is the stone Circle  Moel Ty Uchaf.  Meet at Hendwr Bridge at 11.30 . Suitable footwear and outdoor clothing is essential.

OS reference :SJ 05613717.    The circle consists of 41 surviving stones and is around 12 meters across.

CADVAS  Moel ty Uchaf1CADVAS Walk to Moel Ty Uchaf

CADVAS Walk to Moel Ty Uchaf

Moel Ty Uchaf  is thought to date to the Bronze Age . It is presumed that the monument was the focus for  significant ceremonial and ritual  activity . Lack of evidence from any excavations on the monument hamper further analysis , however the surrounding landscape reveals possible funerary monuments in the form of at least two cairns and at least four possible cists. A platform is clearly identifiable down slope  south of the stone circle

Platform Cairn near Moel Ty Uchaf

Platform Cairn near Moel Ty Uchaf

The raised , circular platform cairn  identifiable as belonging to the Bronze Age . It is around 16 metres in diameter and may have once consisted of a ring bank of stone with a surrounding kerb . At some point the centre of the cairn was filled with stones to form a level platform . These monuments are thought to be ceremonial/ritual and sometimes funerary monuments . In other areas excavations have revealed cremations have been placed within the circles and then covered by the platforms at sometime in the history of the monument .

The platform cairn is found at OS reference :SJ 0564537112

CPAT  have produced a detailed walk around the area which takes in most of the sites which we will be visiting in the future .Details can be found at this link http://www.cpat.org.uk/walks/moeltyuchaf.pdf

Possible burial cairn near Moel Ty Uchaf demonstrating the possible ritual use of quartz

Possible burial cairn near Moel Ty Uchaf demonstrating the possible ritual use of quartz

As you walk around this landscape look  out for the large amounts of quartz which is incorporated in the ceremonial and burial monuments . The use of quartz is frequently found in a ritual context throughout Britain and Ireland from prehistory to the present day

Corwen and Dee Valley Archaeological Society

Corwen Caer Drewyn

Corwen and Dee Valley Archaeological Society was founded in order to  research, promote and share the rich archaeological heritage of the Dee Valley and surrounding area .

It is the aim of the society to research and record through desktop studies and fieldwork the archaeological landscape of the Dee Valley from around 5000BC through to the post medieval period .

The earliest surviving monuments represented in the Dee Valley  are the funerary monuments  Tan y Coed, Cynwyd, being the best preserved example and probably dating to the earlier / middle neolithic .

Chambered tombs  tan y coed

Tan y Coed

Tan y Coed

Surveys undertaken by CPAT / Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust indicate that certain areas were favoured as what we term Funerary and Ritual Landscapes . This is apparent in the Llandrillo area with the occurrence of stone circles, tombs and reference to a cursus monument . The landscape for whatever reasons which are lost to us held deep significance for the people who lived here in the Neolithic and Bronze Age . The chambered cairns and stone circles represent a ritual landscape of archaeological importance and worthy of further research, investigation and analysis.