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The uplands behind Penmaenmawr are particular rich in sites of historic interest. Except for the druid’s circle they are not on the grand scale but are representative of the major eras in the story of upland Britain from Neolithic times.
The trail starts at Graiglwyd farm, leads up a steep but pleasant path to the moor lands. To the west, the latter are rich in the remains of the Bronze Age. To the east are found more recent sites belonging to the Iron Age and mediaeval times.
The trail, which ends at the beautiful Sychnant Pass, is approximately 3 ½ miles long. There are, however, two points along the trail at which you can break your journey if you find the walk strenuous.
The trail is marked by signposts; marker posts and a colour code marked on prominent boulders and stonewalls. Special points of interest are marked by numbered posts-the numbers corresponding to a description in guide.
Well-defined paths are followed although in places they do cross marshy ground: therefore strong shoes or boots are recommended.
Please keep to footpaths of the trail, in two sections the trails passes through private land-your only right of way is along the footpaths. This is also sheep grazing country- PLEASE KEEP DOGS ON LEAD.
To start at Graiglwyd farm; follow the sign “druid’s Circle”, pass by the farm, go through the small gate on to the mountainside and continue up the path on your left.
You are standing on the slopes of Graiglwyd-the Grey Rock. On these slopes in Neolithic times (New Stone Age) men fashioned heavy axes from large blocks of scree. Here was a “Stone Axe Factory”! The large axe was in demand since this was the age of the first farmers. The axe was used to cut down trees so that land could be cleared for the growing of crops. These axes and others made on hillsides further to the west above Llanfairfechan were “exported” all over Britain. They have been found in South Wales, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, and Yorkshire and at such important sites as Windmill Hill, West Kennet Avenue and near Woodhenge in Wiltshire.
The stone used is described as “augite granophyre” an igneous rock. It flakes readily but making the axes must have been difficult and delicate task when the only tool was another stone!
This difficulty is shown by the huge number of broken and unfinished axes that were found in the 1920’s when the site was excavated, the axes were roughly fashioned at the factory site and taken elsewhere to be polished and sharpened. No polished finished axes have been found on these slopes.
Continue up the path, over the concrete bridge and through the gate. Turn right at the gate; proceed to the end of the wall. Before you is a wide track: follow this to your right until you se the marker directing you to climb up the slope to your left. Follow the colour markings on the boulders until you come to point 2
Before you is an 8ft wide circular bank of loose stones with an internal diameter of forty feet. The circle was excavated 1958-59. Against the northern inner edge of the circle a hole was found covered by a small slab. It contained a small-decorated urn full of burnt earth but no trace of a burial. There was also burnt earth below and around the urn and a fire had been lit on the covering slab.
To the South East against the inner edge, the cremated remains of a slightly built adult were found. The bones had been rammed into a small niche in stone of the inner kerb and had been sealed up with flakes and slithers of stone.
To the North East a few feet to the left to where the urn of burnt earth was found, the excavators found an unusual feature. Stone slabs had been carefully set against the inner kerb in the shape of what looked like a small armchair! The purpose of the structure is unknown but it has been suggested that it was intended “to support the base of a wooden image or totem.” The circle has been dated as 1405 to 155 B.C
Follow the maker until you come to point 3
Point 3 – the Maeni Hirion group of monuments.
The first monument looks like an untidy collection of boulders but the 1958-9 excavation revealed two three sided cists, that is, stone slabs placed on end forming a cavity. Each contained a cremation burial, which in one case was sealed by a layer of quartz pebbles. Other finds within this “disturbed circle” were an oval hearth on which flat stones had been placed as if to extinguish the fire; a circular fire pit full of charcoal and a Graiglwyd stone axe. The site has been dated as being as being 1130-145 B.C.
Before you now lies ‘Maeni Hirion’ or the Druid’s circle. ‘Maeni Hirion’ means longs stones, a description that needs no explanation. However, the more popular name for this site – “Druid’s Circle” is a misnomer. The circle has nothing to do with Druidism. The excavations of 1958-59 confirmed that it belonged to the early part of the bronze age, about 1450-1400 B.C., that is, a thousand years before the druids came to this part of Britain with the Iron Age invaders.
Only about half of the circle has been excavated. In the centre was a cist, covered with capstone, containing the cremated remains of a child of about eleven. The remains were in a large Urn, nearby in a shallow pit was found another inverted Urn which contained the cremated bones of a child of about twelve years as well as a small bronze knife. In another shallow pit thirteen sandstone hones (whetstones) were found on which very crumbled cremated human bones were found. The surface of the circle was covered with white quartz.
Today about thirty stones, some up right, others fallen, form the circle which is 82 feet in diameter. Excavation has shown that many stones have been removed in the past and that the western entrance to the monument has been almost destroyed by the blasting in the century.
“Maeni Hirion” was erected at the crossroads of ancient tracks, which were used in the early Bronze Age and perhaps earlier by traders bringing copper and other metals from Ireland. The tracks were there before the circle, since on the north of the circle the circumference is flattened to allow the passage of the track way.
Maeni Hirion formed almost a kind of road roundabout as tracks radiated from this spot: westwards to the coast of Llanfairfechan where presumably the traders landed via Anglesey; south eastwards and south westwards to join another ancient rack at bwlch-y-ddeufaen; and eastwards towards the Conwy Valley. The latter we follow. To the right about a hundred yards from Maeni Hirion lies a small circle of five large boulders10 feet in diameter. The circle when excavated revealed that the surface was covered with fragments of quartz. A shallow pit near the centre was filled with a dense mass of quartz. The date of the circle is between 1300-1,000 B.C.
Bryn Derwydd (hill of the Druids). In the field to the right is a large boulder called “Maen Crwn” – the round stone. This “erratic” (glacial boulder) was probably used to mark the ancient track, which crossed the valley from this point, over the ridge on the opposite side and down to the Conwy Valley. Close to this point also stood two large circles which unfortunately have been destroyed by the builders of the stonewalls enclosing the mountain pastures.
Continue along the path until you come to the second gate.
This is the halfway point of the trail. It is possible from here to
return to Penmaenmawr by taking the track to your left.
This passes down Gwddw Glas (green gorge) past the entrance pillars
to jubilee walk and down mountain lane and Groesffordd lane
to the town centre. For those who wish to continue; turn right, follow the wall until you come to a stile, climb over this and follow the footpath to the valley bottom.
If you look carefully to the opposite side of the valley to the north or left of the farmstead, you will see the long regular lines of plough marks. They are especially noticeable in the early morning and evening when shadows are long. These “ridge and furrow” marks – the result of years of ploughing – are probably, though not certainly, of mediaeval origin. Cross the river by the footbridge. The river is AfonGyrach –“Afon” is river while “Gyrach” is an Irish word meaning marsh or swamp. Follow the path to the wall of the long-deserted farmstead of Wean Gyrach.
The trail turns northwards, or left, at the gate leading to the ruin. It passes over the area, which, as previously mentioned, was ploughed, it is thought, during mediaeval times.
The ridges and furrows cannot be seen at such close range, neither can the dwellings of the families who did the ploughing, for they are deeply hidden in the bracken, gorse and heather. Decades of successive ploughing impoverished the soil. The uplands fields were abandoned and left for broken, gorse and bilberry to take over. These three plants dominate the hills, and with the introduction of sheep on a large scale two centuries ago no plant save those unpalatable to these creatures is allowed to grow.
Continue along the track until you come to an open area where it parts three ways. The track to the left will take you down via Penfforddgoch to the village of Capelulo. Our trail is the middle path, which follows the line of pylons.
The trail passes right through a group of six circular and sub-rectangular huts. They are up to 2,000 years old. It is thought that these Iron Age huts do not constitute a “village” but a farmstead. There are no visible signs of ploughing or field system that could be associated with hut group. The occupants were probably pastoralists rather than tillers of the soil, tending their cattle on the moor lands in the warmer seasons. Continue along the path through the gate. This final length of the trail is devoted to the Middle Ages.
Here is the foundation of a mediaeval long house. This is the first of eight, which can be seen from now onwards. They are quite difficult to spot since very little is left of these simple homes. Another lies a few yards ahead. Can you find it? The large number of huts along this track suggests that it dates from early mediaeval times. The roadway can be followed from Conwy over the uplands to Llanfairfechan. All along its length are traces of long huts and plough marks dating from that time.
When you reach this point go back a few yards-you have just passed two long huts on the right of the trail! They are particularly difficult to find; all there is to see is two long rectangular shallow depressions side by side in the heather.
Follow the track in the field on your right is another hut, at the bottom corner of the fenced field cross the stream and continue downwards. Note that the path passes through the base of an old wall. All that is left now are large stones. The wall, mediaeval in origin, can be seen proceeding northwards on your left, follow it until you come to-
Here are the foundations of two long huts in good condition. You will see that they have been set side-by-side end on into the hillside, which has been cut into slightly. The bank protected the houses from the prevailing westerly winds and driving rain. Both huts demonstrate well the method of building; the 3ft thick walls have orthostatic faces (stones set on edge) with a core of small stones and earth. The south walls of the huts are dry-built with roughly coursed faces.
Originally the walls would have not been much higher. The roof made of branches covered with turves would have been very low while a hearth was placed on the centre of the hut. These homes are associated with custom of transhumance, that is, the moving of livestock, mainly cattle, to the uplands in the summer. These huts were summerhouses or “hafodtai” in autumn they returned to the lowlands, to the “hendai” or “old homes.” This tradition seems to have ended towards the end of the eighteenth century as a result of the enclosing of the hills and introduction of large flocks of sheep, these huts and another one further down on the left are associated with the walling previously mentioned and which can be seen immediately behind the huts.
Follow the path downwards. Turn left at the wall and you will arrive
at the top of the Sychnant Pass and the end of the trail.