The oldest megalithic monuments in North Wales are funerary and ceremonial monuments of the Neolithic period. Due to the timing of this blog – started in the summer of 2013 – I sometimes forget to blog about sites I’m familiar with but I last visited before I was a blogger. Such is the case with some Neolithic tombs from North Wales. I didn’t realise I had never posts about Capel Garmon! So here goes!
In previous posts, I’ve addressed aspects of North Welsh Neolithic monument construction and significance, biographies and landscape situations, and their heritage conservation, management and interpretation. On other occasions, I’ve mainly focused on the experience of visiting them with kids, and in further instances I’ve addressed their modern use for neo-Pagan and more prosaic purposes. Unsurprisingly, a theme throughout has been the fragmentation and incorporation of the dead – unburned and cremated – into monuments of earth and stone.
My list of blog-posts thus far on Neolithic megalithic monuments on Anglesey and mainland NW Wales are:
- Presaddfed, Bodedern
- Barclodiad y Gawres
- Ty Newydd
- Bryn Celli Ddu + its new heritage interpretation on site and in the nearby car park here and here
- Dyffryn Ardudwy
- The Gop Cairn and Gop Cave
I’ve also written about the archaeology and heritage of Neolithic monuments in Ireland, Man and SW Wales (Coeten Arthur, Manorbier, Carreg Coetan Arthur, Pentre Ifan and Carreg Samson). In further posts I’ve addressed megaliths in southern and midland England at Dorstone, West Kennett, Avebury, Stonehenge and Rollright. I’ve also addressed the later mythologies surrounding them, particularly regarding Wayland’s Smithy’s archaeology and folklore.
The creation of modern megaliths is also of interest, including the Marros memorial and the National Memorial Arboretum. Msot recently of all, I’ve considered the contemporary columbarium inspired by these megalithic tombs in the Vale of Pewsey. Also, I’ve further addressed the appearance of such prehistoric megaliths in the historical drama The Last Kingdom Season 1 and again in Season 2.
So with this introduction, let’s now turn to Capel Garmon, taking my information from Frances Lynch’s guidebook and the Coflein website.
2 miles south-east of Betws y Coed, south of Ty’n-cy-coed Isa, is a unique Neolithic chambered monument for North Wales, with multiple and strong structural and formal similarities to ‘Cotswold-Severn’ chambered tombs. It was excavated and partly restored in 1925.
The 30m-long, 15m-wide, trapezoidal monument is aligned W-E and possesses a false facade to the east. A single southern passage leads to a W-E arrangement of three chambers – a rectangular central space and two oval side-chambers. The western chamber retains its large central capstone and can be accessed from the west (resulting from the tomb’s use as a stable in the 19th century). The drystone walling has been heavily restored, but the eastern chamber retains its original drystone walling in its lower courses.
Lynch describes the landscape situation as ‘commanding magnificent views of Snowdonia’. Yet the location associations with a distinctive cluster of rock outcrops and a bog might have cultic significance too.
The rare nature of the monument in this landscape – the closest of its kind are found in southern Powys – certainly indicates long-distance contacts, if not actual population movements during the early Neolithic period.
The attribution as a chapel to St Garmon dates back to the Middle Ages, but relates to the historic settlement and its chapel-of-ease nearby, not to this specific monument. The longevity of access to, and perception of, the monument is attested by the discovery of Beaker pottery. However, we have no record of how this monument was perceived in later prehistoric and historic times.
In its present form, with its restoration, its iron-bound stones, restored drystone walling, the laying out of a kerb of small stones marking out the original edge of the drystone walling, Capel Garmon is only fully comprehensible through these monumental heritage restoration. The metal fence with its orb-finial posts is a distinctive feature protecting it from the roaming sheep of the rest of the field.
Sadly, the original sign was missing – perhaps broken and hopefully planned for restoration – and there is no on-site heritage interpretation. While I’ve been critical of heritage interpretation at other prehistoric monuments in Cadw’s care, I do hope something more effective can be offered at Capel Garmon to the current absence of on-site interpretation.
Lynch, F. 1995. Gwynedd. A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales, Cardiff: Cadw.