I’ve addressed the topic of present-day megaliths deployed in public and heritage environments on this blog numerous times in the past, most recently in relation to the ship-settings at Flint. Here I want to reflect on the monoliths raised to mark the paths up Snowdon, which I encountered on two summer walks this year.
Given the colossal volume of walkers that enjoy our national parks, and these particular trails being Snowdonia’s most heavily traversed, these megaliths have an important practical function for the safety of the many who visit the very heart of the National Park. They mark and guide at key intersections of routes to the summit, thus ensuring people ascend and descend in the direction they intend, and do not stray from the principal paths. Yet simultaneously, they serve as commemorative of the National Park itself, and its wider conservation ethos, rooted in a sense of the primeval landscape.
They do not exist alone, for these ‘official megaliths’ stand in relation to, and in contrast with, the presence of cairns. Reflecting the broader tradition found on many hills and mountains in the British Isles, wayside cairns serve both a practical and memorial function: affording recognition of the achievement of the walk/climb, as well as serving to guide future walkers. In heritage terms, they are a challenge, since they can augment and damage prehistoric and early historic monuments, yet they are a ubiquitous feature of the British landscape and an indelible part of walking culture. There are plenty of examples on the routes up Snowdon I followed this summer: the route from Llanberis, and the Watkin Path.
Also, there are plenty of natural megaliths that interact with these human-made features – stones that jut out, and stones that balance.
So the National Park’s monoliths, in conversation with cairns and the natural rock outcrops of the mountain, are a prominent feature of the walker’s experience. In their erect positioning and inscriptions – text and an arrow – they afford a waymarking and commemorative aspect of the 20th- and 21st-century transformation of upland landscapes. Using natural forms to ‘blend’ with the surrounding rocks, and yet to be readily distinguishable from them, their prehistoric allusions are not explicit, but they are unquestionably implicit.