We walked the short distance from the car park by the beach to what appeared to be a beautifully preserved mound, right above the sea. Appearances can be deceptive though… this mound is not ancient, but a concrete dome covered with grass. It was built after the site was excavated in the 1950s, recreating, on the outside at least, what was thought to be the original form, to preserve and protect what lies within.
Barclodiad y Gawres, which means the ‘apronful of the giantess’, is what remains of a cruciform passage tomb, around five thousand years old, of a type more common in the Boyne Valley in Ireland just over the sea. A legend, found in many places with similar names, tells that two giants, husband and wife, journeyed to Anglesey to build a new home. While the husband carried two huge boulders to flank the door, his wife had her apron full of stones. When they met a cobbler on the road, they asked how far it was to the Island. Not wanting giants in the area, he lied and told them it was still a long journey. The giantess, tired of carrying the stones, let them fall from her apron…and there they lie to this day.
Huge and intriguing stones line the original passageway. Sadly, the site is locked in winter, though in summer you may request accompanied access from a nearby keyholder; ‘accompanied’, these days sadly because of vandalism. Even so, it is a place to see, in spite of the bars. As the torchlight illuminated small patches of the interior, I was bouncing. Fabulous chevron carvings could be seen one of the closest uprights, of a kind I am familiar with only through images. I had never seen them before with my own eyes.
As the beam moved around the chamber, it was obvious that it would not cast sufficient light to show all the other carvings, the spirals and the diamonds that have been found there. In many ways, that seemed a fitting reminder that, no matter how many times we visit, or how professionally the archaeologists may dig, our picture of the past is forever incomplete, showing only snapshots of a way of life now lost in the spiralling memory of earth. In just the same way, we see such snapshots of our own past in memory, yet the rich story of life has seen us pass through every second since our birth.The snapshots we see of each other are even sparser. Yet still we can try to learn and understand.
The archeological investigations have found a number of carvings, as well as the cremated remains of two youths in the western chamber. A hearth was found in the centre of the tomb, where a stew had been poured over the flames to quench them in antiquity. The stew had been composed of wrasse, eel, frog, toad, grass-snake, mouse, shrew and hare. It was then covered with limpet shells and pebbles which helped to preserve their bones.
Was it an ancient spell, perhaps, or an offering to the ancestors or the gods of the place? Or was it a final meal, sustenance for the dead on their final journey? Were the ingredients simply what was available at the time, or did each of those creatures bring their own magical properties to the rite, so that their spirits and gifts might be offered through the flames? There are some things we will never know for certain. The fact that belief implies a choice is thrown into relief as we listen to the whispers of our own hearts.
We listened too, at the entrance of the tomb, to readings from our friends and to the next chapter of the story woven to bind together the threads of history and spirit throughout the weekend. It was a perfect place to be as the sun began to sink towards the horizon and the end of our day. Or almost the end. There was one more place to visit before darkness erased the colours of the world and the sun entered the tomb of night…