Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Gaerllwyd - a place for worship today and in ancient times

A  walk with the dogs last Sunday at the Wolvesnewton edge of Wentwood, took Jez and I on our return car journey through the hamlet of  Gaerllwyd on the B4235 Usk-Chepstow Road.

The cromlech at Gaerllywyd
The name 'Gaerllwyd' translates as Grey Fortress from the Welsh, but the area is also know as 'Garnllwyd' meaning Grey Cairn. This is perhaps a more accurate description of the area, as located in a privately owned field, close to the crossroads at Gaerllwyd, are the ancient stones of a Neolithic burial chamber known as a dolmen or cromlech. Dated to around 4,000 years BC the cromlech at Gaerllwyd comprises a large capstone (long since broken and displaced) measuring over 12ft long which would have been supported by three upright stones. Based on what is known about other similar sites in the UK and Europe, the cromlech would very likely have been covered over either with earth, or with a cairn of smaller stones to form a tumulus or barrow.

Although broken and displaced the 12ft capstone is still impressive
How the cromlech might have looked before the
capstone was displaced - this one is in
 North Wales

Drawing by Martin Powell
Monmouthshire writer and historian Fred Hando wrote about Gaerllwyd in 1944:
"Near the Chepstow - Usk Road in the parish of Newchurch, is a truly impressive cromlech known as Gaer Llywd. The huge covering stone which, although now broken, is still 12 feet 6 inches long and 5 feet wide was supported on a number of stones, five of which are still standing. The whole structure when complete measured roughly 20 feet by 10 feet and was parallel to the road being directed  towards the Midwinter Sunrise point.

It is not yet certain why such importance was attached to sunrise and sunset horizon points. It may well be that this race of people, who we know tilled the ground as well as tended their flocks, would require advice as to the times of sowing and cropping, and that this advice could be given by those knowledgeable ones who could 'read the signs'."

Ariel photo of the cromlech 
The alignment of the cromlech may then, have been linked to ancient agricultural practices as well as used for veneration of the dead and ceremonial purposes. To appreciate the impact of this megalithic construction on the landscape 6,000 years ago, you need to imagine the ridge at Gaerllywd as open heath land devoid of modern day structures such as houses, power lines, roads and hedges - it would clearly have made quite an impression, placed in clear view on what may have been an ancient route running from the Severn Estuary across to The Black Mountains.

Gaerllwyd Chapel

Still in use today, the tiny chapel with its small graveyard at Gaerllywd, was established as a Calvinist Methodist Chapel in 1842. From 1851 it was also used as a school. It transferred to the Prebyterians before eventually being taken over by the Baptists.

Gaerllywd Chapel and adjoining cottages
I find it an incredible thought that the location of Gaerllwyd has been used as a place for people to connect through acts of worship and burial for over 6,000 years.

Views of the crossroads at Gaerllwyd from different directions. The old red telephone box near the chapel is a Grade 2 listed building.

Even on a grey and misty day, the ridge at Gaerllwyd provides stunning views over the Monmouthshire countryside. Although these photos were taken in January, the fields are still very green due to relatively mild weather and heavy rainfall.

Looking towards Gaerllywd from the lane to Devauden

View from the ridge at Gaerllywd

Curious cattle at Gaerllwyd

Reference Sources

The Pleasant Land of Gwent - Fred J. Hando 1944

Coflein - The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

Megalithic Portal

Shirenewton Local History Society
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