Albion, ancient sites, Archaeology, Books, Don and Wen, sacred sites, travel

Going West: Coetan Arthur

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Arthur’s Quoit came as something of a surprise. The huge neolithic tomb rises from the plateau behind St David’s Head, the angle and ridge on the capstone seeming to shadow the lines of Carn Llidi beyond. The capstone is around twenty feet long and over eight feet wide, supported by a single orthostat that holds the point of the stone around five feet from the ground. At first glance, you assume that somewhere during its five thousand year history, the other two orthostats that would have supported it must have fallen and the earthen mound that covered it been eroded away. There are many such places where this has happened.

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A closer look, though, makes you question that assumption. It is true that there are stones strewn broken on the ground that could have been supporting stones… but the whole thing looks right, just as it is in this place. The contours of the capstone emulate the shape of the hill above far too well for it to be accidental. If the stone were raised on other supports, the visual similarity in form would be lost and we have seen this ‘shadowing’ of the landscape too often to ignore its importance.

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The oddest thing, though, is that the shadowing effect seems even more pronounced from inside the tomb. It is not the first time we have seen such ancient places arranged more for the vision of the dead than of the living. Knowing that the ancestors and their bones played such an important role in the life of the clans, perhaps this is not surprising. Were the tombs really places to bury the dead, hiding them from view… or places that were portals between the realms of life and death, gateways to an Otherworld that mirrors our own? Or perhaps they were places of initiation, where the gates of both life and death were symbolically opened?

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Later research seems to confirm that Coetan Arthur was one of a small number of earthfast tombs, where one end of the capstone touches the earth and no covering mound was built. The stones that surround the tomb could potentially have been used to seal the sides of the inner space and there are traces nearby of a barrow too. In fact, the whole area is littered with stones that seem to demand a closer look and a second visit.

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We seldom do research before we visit a site, preferring to ‘feel’ our way. It may seem an odd way of working, but it serves us well. Not only do we get the excitement of discovery every time, but we come without preconceived ideas and can find our own interpretations, uncluttered by the ‘official’ version. Whether or not we are right is always a matter for speculation, but then, the official version shares that same fate, even though it may be better informed at a factual level.

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Apart from anything else, the official version only looks at recognised archaeology… it takes little account of the spirit of the place, the hotly debated alignments or the natural formations which, if they are striking to our modern eyes, would have been neither missed nor ignored by the Old Ones who were so much more attuned to the land than we are today.

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So we explore, speculate, document and take hundreds of pictures… though usually find we have missed ‘that’ shot. Practice hones awareness; details we would once have missed, we now look for and, though it sounds fanciful, the land speaks to us in ways we could not have dreamed when we began this journey so long ago.

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Our research is done once we are home and have talked through our impressions, looked at the pictures once more and played around with the symbolic ideas we have seen made visible in earth, wood and stone. The down-side to this approach is that we may miss things we would have liked to see… which means going back again for a second or third visit. This can be awkward when the sites are so far-flung across the land… but it is a fabulous excuse for returning to a place when we know that real understanding seldom comes from a first encounter.

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