In summer 2014 and February 2015, I visited Bryn Celli Ddu: a multi-phase Neolithic henge monument and subsequent passage grave in south-east Anglesey. The monument is readily accessible from a car park and layby beside the main road following a well-demarcated footpath including a footbridge over a stream. Enclosed in a rectangular fence, the monument itself – mound and surrounding ditch – is under the protection of Cadw.
The latter visit saw my tribe investigate a brand-new strange megalithic ‘passage grave’ installed by Cadw in the car park.
What on earth was it?
2 years later, I got the chance to investigate it again.
The monument consists of a mound with standing stones surrounding it. Inside, reached by a single ‘passage’, is a circular space. Three miniature trilithon arrangements are within, two flanking the entrance, one opposite the entrance. Between these, there are two stone benches encircling the ‘chamber’.
At the time, it was inexplicable and mysterious. I was flumoxed!
Was it a modern-day pagan ceremonial space?
Was it some kind of educational facility?
Was it a folly built by crazed heritage practitioners?
Dr Kenny Brophy blogged about this himself and explained the mystery in spring 2016. However, this won’t stop me from ‘discovering’ the truth independently upon my recent visit.
One standing stone (see Kenny’s blog for a good pic) at the edge of the mound fronting the car park introduces the visitor to the island’s heritage, and encourages visitors to use their mobile phones to explore them.
Let me stop right there and make a point about all these heritage apps. With 5 kids, in varied weather conditions, the last bloody thing I want to be doing is check my mobile phone to read for more than 2 seconds. These apps are designed by millennials without kids and who have extra thick and scarred foreheads from having repeatedly fallen over and cracked their skulls whilst looking at mobiles. I care for my kids, and do you know how many near-tragedies at archaeological monuments there would be if I left my kids unattended for 2 whole seconds? The answer: quite a few!
Instead, I want sign boards that tell me information I can share with my kids there and then, ideally ones that give the date, functions, and significance of the monuments we visit. Cool atmospheric art is great too, but so are plans of the sites and images of artefacts found there!
Anyway, turning back to the heritage boards associated with the modern megalithic monument, there are three within it, each set into the trilithon arrangements. They allow visitors to learn about three significant sites elsewhere on the island, not about Bryn Celli Ddu.
One is supported by art by cartoonist and artist John Swogger (showing the roundhouses at Din Lligwy dated to the Romano-British period) and two by Aaron Watson (one about the Iron Age sacrificial lake at Llyn Cerrig Bach and another about the Neolithic passage grave at Barclodiau y Gawres with its striking megalithic art).
I loved the art by John and Aaron, but I confess the information they contained was of limited use, as with the sign boards at the monument itself. In this regard, the new sign boards are a frustration – and Kenny has already said the same thing:
…the new noticeboards on site … lack helpful basic information for the casual visitor…
There is a wider context of interest in Bryn Celli Ddu. Dr Brophy makes a series of important points about this ‘monument’. Kenny suggests it might be a way for the car park itself to feel like an immersive journey in the past.
Moreover, via Twitter in late spring 2016, Kenny and I were both informed by Dr Ffiona Reynolds of Cadw that the feature was intended as an ‘orientation hub’ for the island’s heritage. As one of the Neolithic monuments closest to the bridges linking Angelsey with the mainland, it makes sense to provide a focus to promote the island’s heritage here. Bryn Celli Ddu is also the focus of renewed public events and community archaeology projects, as well as pagan ritual practices. In these regards, the attention afforded to the creation of this ‘installation’ has merit.
Kenny also points out that it less resembles Bryn Celli Ddue but instead resembles one of the Din Lligwy roundhouses. Actually, on reflection, neither me nor Kenny is fully right – it isn’t either intended to mimick a Neolithic passage grave or an RB roundhouse. I think it is a mash-up between Bryn Celli Ddu and Din Lligwy, but the result is the same. As Kenny rightly puts it, it is a ‘Wee Angelsey’ in prehistoric terms.
The obvious point is: if Kenny and I were confused by the feature during and after its construction: how many visitors will appreciate it? How long will it take before other significances and folklore attach themselves to it? Maybe it will become a focus of cult practices itself?
At least the truth is revealed: it is a megalithic ‘information hub’.