by Olwyn Pritchard
Gaer is a ‘Fort’ on the side of the road at Bayvil, near Nevern, Pembrokeshire… [Gaer] is locally famous among archaeologists as a prehistoric monument re-used by early Christians as a burial place. It was excavated in 1979 and found to be packed with stone cists aligned east-west, within a stone faced bank.
Today I am delighted to post what I hope will be the first of many articles by the wonderfully accomplished archaeoastronomer, Olwyn Pritchard.
You might recall that I came across Olwyn’s dissertation whilst writing about Strata Florida.
Olwyn Pritchard, 2014: Archaeoastronomy and the Sacred Landscape of Strata Florida – landscape, skyscape, and structure, from 2000BC to 1200AD
Olwyn has clambered, walked, leapt and waded with me on several outings over the many miles that Y Ddraig Ffraed has wandered since Glasffrwd, in the Cambrian hills above Strata Florida. Olwyn has brought not just her map reading skills and archaeological experience but also her adventurous spirit and great sense of humour.
This article focusses on one of the ancient sites that I haven’t written about yet.
28th January 2019
Y Ddraig at Gaer
by Olwyn Pritchard
It’s been very interesting for me to meet Ellis and learn about Y Ddraig. My own background is in archaeology, starting out as an excavator without academic training. Later I discovered dowsing, read Alfred Watkins’ ‘The Old Straight Track’ etc. I traced ‘leys’ by dowsing, as well as on the map. To me it was all part of understanding the ways of the people who had gone before.
Fast forward quite a few years and I went to university and studied archaeology, specialising in the connection between monuments, and events in the sky, (archaeoastronomy). I certainly learned a lot, but, unfortunately, although ‘professional’ archaeology does now accept archaeoastronomy, ‘ley lines’ are still off the table.
Nevertheless, many years of ley hunting have convinced me that they are a real phenomenon. By leys I mean dowsable streams of energy which seem to flow in straight lines between human constructions. The gold standard ley requires a minimum of three constructions in a straight line, but I have found through dowsing that sometimes two will do. Some of them also seem to be aligned with respect to rising and setting points of sun and moon.
Last summer Ellis stumbled upon my dissertation on the archaeoastronomy of Strata Florida abbey and its surrounding landscape, and wrote to me and I became a subscriber to the wonderful blog the Song of Ffraed.
I was enchanted to learn about Y Ddraig Ffraed and her ways as she winds through the west Wales landscape. I soon discovered that she visits some places already familiar, from previous excursions wearing any of my three hats, archaeology, archaeoastronomy, or ley hunting, which for me are all part of one thing.
I found it interesting to see how our ancestors had made use of, or honoured the primordial Dragon current in certain places with their constructions, and how the (I believe) humanly created ley system was interacting with Her in the landscape around those places.
One place which Y Ddraig visits, as recorded by Ellis, and which I already knew, is the visually underwhelming ‘Fort’ on the side of the road at Bayvil, near Nevern. (SN11244171)(see map below). It is referred to in archaeological literature as Gaer, which is Welsh for fort.
Gaer now appears as a level raised platform in a field on the east side of a minor road, immediately behind the hedge. It is oval, around 50m x 30m, with the long axis aligned NE-SW, and raised about 1m above the surrounding field.
Ellis followed Y Ddraig here across the fields from Llech-y-dribedd (SN 10061 43199), and found Her making a big clockwise spiral inside the raised area.
So, presumably, the ‘fort’ was strategically placed to take advantage of the concentration of Dragon energy at this spot.
Gaer is locally famous among archaeologists as a prehistoric monument re-used by early Christians as a burial place. It was excavated in 1979 and found to be packed with stone cists aligned east-west, within a stone faced bank. (see https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/304088/details/y-gaer-bayvilcaer-bayvil-hillfort). Most of the bones had dissolved because of the acid soil, but enough remained to allow the burials to be dated to the 7th century.
Beneath the cists there were a few signs of structures which were interpreted as being Iron Age, so around 1000 years earlier. If it was occupied during the Iron Age, it was probably a ‘defended enclosure’, a homestead with an enclosing bank. It seems no-one questioned this dating or thought it could be older.
Local archaeoastronomer Robin Heath has also studied Gaer and calculates that in the late Neolithic, around 2800 BC, or before, it would have made an ideal viewing platform to watch the most northerly (major standstill) moonset slide down the side of the capstone of Llech-y-Dribedd, a dolmen of roughly similar age.
This dolmen is also set on Y Ddraig’s flow, just over a mile away to the northwest of Gaer (see map). The ‘major standstill’ is a lunar phenomenon which occurs roughly once every 19 years, and is explained in Robin’s book Bluestone Magic, (footnote 1) along with details of his research at Gaer.
The map also shows Y Ddraig making a sinuous curve to the southwest, within which has been placed a Tumulus, a probably Bronze Age mound. Sitting between Llech-y-Dribedd and Gaer, it creates a dead straight alignment – a ley – which passes through Gaer and continues southeast to a Medieval motte and bailey structure just north of the road in Eglwyswrw. Known as Eglwyswrw castle it is on private land, but worth a look if permission can be gained.
Here we have the not uncommon situation which causes sceptics to query how a ‘ley line’ can be made up of structures from different periods. I personally believe that the scepticism is unwarranted – if we can dowse today then so could the people of the past, and place something new on the alignment, to take advantage of the concentration of subtle energy.
It’s intriguing that the Tumulus is not sited on Y Ddraig but it seems quite common in this area for Bronze Age monuments to be set at a distance from the Dragon current, (although there are exceptions) while creating alignments between themselves which cross or interact with Her. This Tumulus near Gaer also lies on another straight ley/alignment extending from some cairns above and to the southwest of St Dogmaels, continuing through the mound and on to the peak of Carn Ingli. It crosses Y Ddraig on the way to Rhosybayvil.
Observations of the horizon at Gaer show that it’s not only the site of Llech-y-Dribedd which has astronomical significance. Gaer’s oval is aligned northeast-southwest and the entrance to the southwest is roughly in line with Carn Ingli, which still marks the point of the winter solstice sunset. The mid-winter sunset point was about 1 degree further south in the Neolithic, not far enough to make much difference, it would still have set behind the outcrop.
Turning to the left and looking southeast, the Frenni Fawr is just visible. The peak is slightly too far east to be a perfect winter solstice sunrise point, but shortly before and after the solstice the sun would have (and still does) rise there.
The main Preseli ridge makes up the rest of the horizon to the south. High on the ridge, but not intervisible with Gaer, sits another rare oval ancient monument, Bedd Arthur, a setting of 17 small stones, with faint traces of banks outside. These oval structures are unusual but not unprecedented. The most famous parallel is the central oval of bluestones at Stonehenge, 250km to the east. Like Gaer, both Bedd Arthur and the bluestone setting at Stonehenge are ovals with their long axis aligned northeast-southwest, in line with midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, as is the wider Stonehenge monument. All three ovals are also roughly similar in size.
It seems to have been unremarked (except by myself) that Gaer has elements in common with Bedd Arthur and the inner bluestone oval at Stonehenge, and is very possibly Neolithic in origin (a small Neolithic oval henge), irrespective of whether it had a (later) Iron Age occupation phase or not.
Not only that, but Gaer and Bedd Arthur are linked by a ley alignment passing from Gaer south southeast along the east side of Castell Henllys (also favoured by Y Ddraig), through Meline Chapel and on to a very fine Bronze Age kerb cairn at Pensarn (SN123359)(recently excavated by Mike Parker Pearson and his team), continuing across the Brynberian bog with its plethora of ancient remains and up the north facing slope via Carn Goedog to Bedd Arthur. Carn Goedog is one of the outcrops which are known to have provided bluestone to Stonehenge, however it arrived there.
Extending across the Preseli ridge and down the southern slopes, the alignment continues in a straight line via a pair of standing stones to the north of Waldo’s Grave on Mynachlogddu common, past (but not through) Gors Fawr and its accompanying stone pair, to the five way cross at Glandy Cross, (the centre of an impressive Neolithic/Bronze Age ritual complex), seeming to end at the remains of an unusual embanked stone circle, known as Meini Gwyr (SN141265).
Meini Gwyr has been studied by generations of archaeologists, most recently Timothy Darvill and Geoff Wainwright (footnote 2). After extensive geophysical and magnetometer surveys and studying past excavation reports, they concluded that it was a multi-phase monument, probably originating in the Neolithic. This would make it roughly contemporary with Gaer and Llech-y-Dribedd, the earlier phases of Stonehenge and possibly Bedd Arthur.
My own astronomical survey suggests that the entrance passage into the circle, set in the northwest part (some reports incorrectly say west), is/was aligned on that same most northerly, major standstill, moonset, as seen from Gaer, setting behind Llech-y-Dribedd. From the circle at Meini Gwyr, during the Neolithic the full moon would have been seen going down behind Foel Cwm Cerwyn, the highest of the Preseli peaks.
Y Ddraig does not visit the Glandy Cross complex * – yet arguably something of Her special energy may have been intended to be channelled there along the ley created by this roughly north-south multi-period alignment of sites, from Gaer to Meini Gwyr, which crosses Her flow some 4 or 5 times in 9 miles.
* On Her way up to the Cambrians, Y Ddraig Ffraed had bypassed Glandy Cross, at Mynachlog Ddu. Early in the morning, on 2nd May, just a few months after this article was written She carried me into Glandy Cross. – Ellis
Timeline for the archaeological beginner.
From earliest to most recent – Neolithic – begins about 4000BC in Wales (first monuments date to around 3750BC) ends around 2500BC. Characterised by dolmens, henges and stone axes. Stonehenge begins as a circular earthwork around 3000BC and the first stones (bluestones) are erected somewhere between 2800 and 2500. The Bronze Age in Britain begins around 2400/2300BC, following a century or two of copper and gold use. The Bronze Age was when most of the round barrows and standing stones were erected. The majority of barrows are early, 2200-1700BC with most stones erected around 1600-1400BC. There is a gap in the archaeological record (population crash through plague possibly and or climate change) after 1100BC until Iron Age settlements appear from 800BC. Iron Age sites are often surrounded by banks and ditches with remains of roundhouses within. Precise dating is difficult because apart from occasional hoards of metal objects, small finds in west Wales dating from this period are rare. The Romans were here from AD 70 to 400, after which we enter the early Medieval period.
28th January 2019
1: Robin Heath, 2010. Bluestone Magic – Bluestone Press, St Dogmaels, pages 102-103.
2. Timothy Darvill, Geoffrey Wainwright et al. 2003. Stone circles, Oval settings, and Henges in south west Wales and beyond. Antiquaries Journal, 83, pp 9-45