For most of my formative years I spent most weekends and holidays at my Aunties house in Benllech, Anglesey. Driving in the years before the A55 and Britannia bridge were built, it was a slow and winding route, which i generally slept through, apart from the beeping of the car horns at Penmaenmawr and Penmaenbach. But once we hit the Isle, I was wide awake. from Menai Bridge on the A5025 to Benllech, via Pentreath I marvelled at the landscape, checking every lump, bump and stone and wishing I could wander around and look closer. Sadly being 11, that wasn’t to be. But when we got to Benllech, my cousin ( RIP Neil) and I, in the days before computers, used to explore every Valley, Quarry, Cliff face house remain and eventually, the Neolithic Dolmus near their home in Tynygongl.
Fast forward 20 years. I was asked by a friend to assist in a Metal Detecting survey of several sites between Pentreath and Llangefni for the Stone Science Centre on behalf of CADW, my love for the Island was remembered.
Several years later, my family and I began a yearly holiday at Sandy Beach, passing multiple Standing stones and potential cairns, I decided to explore as much as I could. I discovered some fantastic locations and invested in maps and books to help my exploration.
Because of Anglesey’s vast amount of prehistoric history, I have dwindled the collection to introduce some of the sites from around the Island. Places that are well known, but ones I have taken my children to and experienced some great times. They are all easily accessible, some by a short walk, but each, I believe are of equal importance to Anglesey’s fantastic history.
Bryn Celli Ddu
Bryn Celli Ddu is generally considered to be one of the finest passage tombs in Wales. Unlike many stone chambered tombs, this not only has a complete passage and burial chamber, but is also buried under a mound or cairn, although this was re-instated following its excavation in 1929. As it now stands, the passage is 8.4 m (28 ft) long, the first 3.4 m (11 ft) being unroofed with a pair of portal stones. The main passage runs between vertical slab rocked walls roofed by a series of stone lintels. The mound, being substantially smaller than as originally made, no longer completely encloses the burial chamber, so the back wall is open to the air, allowing some natural light in..
Beyond the back wall of the chamber, in a location that would once have been within the mound, is a replica of the ‘Pattern Stone’. This was found buried under the mound, and has been put standing up in what is thought to have been its original location at a time when the site was a henge rather than a tomb. The patterns take the form of sinuous serpentine shapes that wind around both sides of the stone. Inside the tomb another stone has a small spiral pattern chipped into it, although its authenticity has been questioned.
The passage is roughly aligned with the Summer Solstice sunrise, such that for some weeks around the summer solstice, sunlight can find its way through to the back wall of the burial chamber.
The monument is part of a cluster of Neolithic and Bronze Age features. Two further cairns have been identified just to the south of Bryn Celli Ddu, while in the field immediately to the west is a standing stone, and a rock outcrop with cupmarks carved into it.
Around 10 years ago when my daughter was 3, we decided to visit Bryn Celli Ddu for the first time. Not knowing exactly how to reach the site, we parked and a black dog came to make a fuss of us. Now the short walk is quite easy, just follow the purpose made path, but we weren’t sure. Anyway, off went the dog along the route, stopping every so often to let us catch up. At the final bend off went the dog. We looked everywhere, but no dog. A fascinating memory of being led to the cairn.
Bryn Celli Ddu is near Llanddaniel Fab.
Din Lligwy settlement.
This well-preserved and well-known complex of stone houses is located within a stone enclosure on Anglesey.
Its an interesting combination of round and rectangular huts, which some historians have suggested is indicative of an Iron Age villa.
The houses stone walls and defences comprise limestone slabs, standing up straight on their edges. Some of these
buildings would have been domestic, others were workshops. Finds including metalwork, pottery and glassware indicate a settlement which continued into the Roman period.
The site stands on a low cliff and is worth a visit for the view alone. Entry to the site is through a rectangular building on the east side a barn which doubled as a gatehouse.
Din Lligwy has many striking features. In one corner are the remains of a large and impressive house, a well-built circle of large limestone slabs with steps up to the entrance. This was the principal domestic building and finds here include a silver ingot, pottery and glassware.
Historians suggest that the other round building in the southeast corner was also domestic, whereas the two largest
rectangular buildings, in the north-east corner and against the south wall, were workshops with rows of iron-working hearths and dumps of slag.
The site, as it stands, is probably the result of a lengthy period of development even the enclosure wall may have
been built in two stages for there are clear changes in building style.
Interestingly, while visiting the site one summer, A BBC Wales documentary was being produced. I met Kristoffer Hughes, the Chief of the Anglesey Druid Order who was being filmed for Anglesey: Island Life. During the show’s aerial shots, as well as Kristoffer, the only people seen at Din Lligwy, are myself and my family.
Din Lligwy Burial Chamber
Lligwy Burial Chamber is a Neolithic burial chamber in Lligwy, a short distance from the Din Lligwy hut group.
The Burial Chamber is a very robust, neolithic chamber. The eight uprights which support the massive capstone are larger than they at first appear, because half of their 2 m (6.6 ft) height is buried in the ground. The capstone is about 5.5 m (18.0 ft) long and 4.5 m (14.8 ft) wide, with a thickness of around 1 m (3.3 ft). It is estimated to weigh about 25 tonnes (28 tons) and is in contact with only three of the uprights. A gap between the uprights on the eastern side probably indicates where an entrance passage stood, with a way out of the mound; It is unclear whether this chambered tomb was covered by a cairn.
Excavations in 1909 discovered artefacts in two separate layers, indicating that the site was used during two separate periods. The bones from up to thirty people have been found in the chamber, as well as shellfish (mussels and limpets) and many animal bones. Fragments of pottery from the two different settlements periods are present; grooved ware dating to the Neolithic period and beaker ware from the early Bronze Age. Some 400 m (1,300 ft) to the west lies the well-preserved Din Lligwy hut circle, but this is not a contemporary structure, probably dating from the second to fourth centuries AD.
Both Din Lligwy sites are close to Moelfre on the same road.
Ty Mawr Hut Group.
This Iron Age settlement at the foot of Holyhead Mountain near South Stack has substantial remains of 20 out of the 50 original circular huts.
They consist of the remains of 10 large, round stone huts, which are scattered along the hillside, as well as numerous smaller rectangular buildings, which excavations suggest were used as workshops. Evidence of metal-working was found in these buildings.
At the east end of the site there is another group of huts. The round stone huts are about 7m in diameter with thick,
low walls. They would have had a high, conical roof supported on a ring of posts and thatched with straw or reeds.
There is evidence of a long history of settlement from the Middle Stone Age, Neolithic and Bronze Age, to the Iron
A short walk across the road from its car park near to South Stack lighthouse is Ty Mawr Hut group.
Castell Bryn Gwyn
Castell Bryn Gwyn is a fort defended by a high bank and, unusually, occupies level ground. Excavations in 1959 and
1960 showed that the rampart and now filled-in ditch were similar in form to hillfort defences.
Excavations have shown that Castell Bryn Gwyn has a long and complex history of occupation. Neolithic flints and pottery finds from beneath the defensive bank suggest that there may have been an enclosure here around 2000BC.
Subsequently and during the Iron Age the defences were rebuilt. The circular bank is very well preserved – a clay and gravel bank 10m wide and 2m high surrounds a level area 17m in diameter, now revetted by stone walls. The site was originally surrounded by a deep ditch, which is no longer visible. There has been some damage to the site by the building of a farmhouse.
Castell Bryn Gwyn is near to Brynsiencyn and signposted locally.
Bodowyr Burial Chamber
Bodowyr Burial Chamber is the central burial chamber of a passage grave of a type more frequently found in Ireland. The chamber has three upright stones about a metre high supporting a robust, wedge-shaped capstone. A large stone lying flat nearby on the western side may have been part of the structure, perhaps another upright, or a blocking stone, and another low stone beside the entrance to the east which was perhaps a kerb or sill. Originally a mound of earth or rubble would have covered or partially covered the dolmen, and there would have been a passage from the entrance on the southeast to the side of the mound. The mound has since been completely dispersed. The location is on level, low-lying ground and it is not apparent why this particular site should have been chosen. The fact that Snowdon and the Glyderau are visible in the distance, with the Llanberis Pass between them, may be significant, and there may be some solar or lunar alignment as seen from the entrance that has not yet been determined.
Bodowyr Burial Chamber is located at Bodowyr Farm, 1.25 mi (2.0 km) east of Llangaffo, off the B4419 road.
Trefignath Neolithic Chambered Cairn
At first sight the remains of this Neolithic chambered cairn are a confusing jumble of flat slabs and scattered boulders and indeed the original layout of the site was not fully understood until it was excavated between 1977-1979. Evidence of hearths, flint tools and pottery found beneath the monument suggest the area was being used as a settlement site prior to the building of a multi-phase burial tomb that started life around 3100BC.
The first phase of construction at what is now the western end of the monument was a passage grave consisting of a square tomb with an entrance towards the north which was then covered with a circular stone cairn. Later a larger rectangular 2.6 metre by 1.5 metre chamber was built on the eastern side of the first tomb and the cairn was extended over the whole structure. This wedge shaped cairn was faced with drystone walling and had a forecourt in the style of Severn-Cotswold tombs like Parc-le-Breos Cwm on the Gower Peninsula.
The final phase of the monument involved the building of a further rectangular 2.5 metre by 1 metre chamber towards the east in the existing forecourt area thereby blocking the central chamber. The cairn was again extended to cover all three chambers and a new drystone forecourt constructed.
Trefignath was partially reconstructed in 1980 following the excavation and it is the eastern chamber that is the most complete part of the monument with its pair of large portal stones (to the right of the picture at the top of this page) standing beyond the smaller upright side slabs of the tomb supporting a low capstone. The middle phase chamber remains in a collapsed state while the side slabs of the earlier western tomb were re-erected and can be seen as an open box shape of low upright stones.
Trefignath burial cairn can be found on a minor road running parallel and just west of the A55(T) between Trearddur and Holyhead.
There are over 90 pre Roman Scheduled monuments listed on Anglesey on Wikipedia But this is likely to be added to, or known sites not yet added to the list. If you want to visit one place with an abundance of prehistoric history, where you can visit so many places in one day, make that place Anglesey. So much for one small place. And please look out for the black dog at Bryn Celli Ddu.
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