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wild wales celtic hiking: churchwild wales celtic hiking: stone circles

Celtic myth, Welsh history, stone circles, hill forts, standing stones, burial cairns and tales of the Mabinogion all feature in the Wild Wales Celtic Landscape walking and hiking weekend. Wild Wales offer guided walking, hiking, scrambling and climbing weekends in the hills and mountains of Snowdonia, North Wales.

Hiking into the past

Llanberis at the foot of Snowdon the highest of the Welsh mountains. The day dawned clear, hot and sunny; so perversely we headed south towards the Moelwyn hills and walked into the mist! It was a pleasant contrast after a long spell of hot sunny weather, but ironic too. It was the day of the Snowdon race, with runners taking on the ten mile round trip to the summit and back in the full glare of the sun.

The cool mist added an atmosphere appropriate to our 'pilgrimage to the past'. We missed the wonderful views of the Welsh mountains that Ann (our guide) promised were there, but it did made us look more closely at what was under our feet. An amazing array of mosses, large outcrops of white quartz giving the appearance of the remains of snowfall, the glint of metal in the rocks around old mine workings.

The weekend was billed as 'Celtic Landscape' and took in much that demonstrates how man has influenced the landscape since ancient times. In the UK we think of such places as our 'natural landscape' but it is far from how it would have been if it had remained untouched by human hand. The now treeless hills were once forested and offered better and safer sites to settle than the valleys below. The evidence is out there in the hut circles, burial cairns and hill forts, if you know where and how to look. Ann got us to climb a small hill above an area we were hiking through and what might have appeared to be just a random pile of stones now clearly mapped out the outline of three hut circles. From the changes in landscape and vegetation we could also make out the field boundaries beyond, even after thousands of years.

wild wales celtic hiking: Llyn Morwynion and tales of the mabinogionNot all the history was visible, or even based on hard fact. As we stood by the shores of Llyn (lake) Morwynion, Ann recounted short stories that related to the lake. These came from the tales of the Mabinogion, an ancient collection of Welsh prose tales dating back to the second half of the eleventh century. The tales of the Mabinogion draw upon Celtic myth, folklore and history and later translations include tales of King Arthur. They began as oral stories passed from storyteller to storyteller, distorted, embellished and improved in the passing. They are romantic, heroic, dramatic and idealistic; in fact every thing that a Celtic myth should be and all the better for being heard while standing by the shores of a lake with the water gently lapping and a soft mist on the hills. wild wales celtic hiking: burial mound

Our second day, in the Conwy valley to the north west of Snowdon, contrasted with the first. The landscape was more mellow, the hills more gentle and the sun came with us this time. On the previous day we had the hills to ourselves and walked on few paths, but here we encountered other walkers and followed more defined routes. A look at the map of the area reveals hill forts, standing stones, burial chambers, house platforms, cairns, settlements, hut circles and earthworks in abundance. While hill forts and standing stones are reasonably easy to spot, even by the inexperienced, some of the other features are not so clear until pointed out and it was good to have Ann with us making sure we didnŐt miss anything.

We took in one much newer feature, a simple stone church dating back just several centuries standing remote from any settlement, but in good repair and still in use. The church is unlocked and well worth a visit.

The climax of this walk was a spot overlooking the coast to the east of Conwy where, in the space of less than a kilometer there were three stone circles. These were each different in character, the largest made up of tall, widely spaced standing stones and the smallest looking more like a large hut circle with just low stones marking the boundaries. There is much speculation about the function of the many stone circles to be found in the British landscape. It is generally accepted that, what ever other uses they may have had (as calendars, market places, astronomical maps or sighting points etc.), they served as religious temples, the stones defining a sacred area within. These relatively small circles must have been local temples for small local communities, but one has to wonder why three existed in such a small area and so close together. Something to mull over as we returned across the hills to our cars and headed home.

Summing up the Wild Wales, Celtic Landscape weekend:

The routes were carefully planned to take in as much evidence of the past as possible and we walked at a relaxed pace which allowed us time to take in our surroundings. Ann gave us the benefit of her local knowledge and understanding of the sights we saw, but the archeological and historical information didn't overpower our enjoyment of the surroundings. We gained a great deal that we could not have done by simply following the map ourselves, and would have had to look at a lot of reference and guide books (some fairly obscure) to get a background close to that which we were given.

Ann took care of the navigation and it was good to know it was in safe hands as we walked in the mist on compass bearings. She gave us the option of doing some map reading ourselves on the second day, and would have been very happy to give some informal map reading instruction had we wanted.

I would certainly recommend this weekend to anyone who wants to know more about the Welsh landscape, or to overseas visitors with an interest in Welsh or Celtic history and an enjoyment of hiking and walking. Wild Wales also run several other weekend walking trips. 'Canfod Cymru', also billed as a 'less strenuous' weekend, guides you through the landscape through Welsh eyes. Then the more active trips take you to higher hills and get you walking and hiking, scrambling and climbing. Take a look at the Wild Wales website for a full list.

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