“This is for kids.” I detected a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Granted, the site has been made into an educational experience, but the fact remains that Castell Henllys is a real archaeological site and quite unique, for while it was being dug, it was also being reconstructed.
“And?” Children we are, there are some things you are never too old for, regardless of years. It is a place where the imagination can step outside of time and range back over two thousand years and beyond to a moment when legends were born.
The hillfort, once home to members of the Demetae tribe, sits high on a rocky outcrop, a little way inland from the coast and would have been a superb lookout point as well as making the site easily defensible. I had been there once before and there was just something about the place that had stayed in memory. If I wanted to be thought any weirder than usual, I’d say it felt a bit like coming home. It was familiar in a way that is difficult to explain… an instance of genetic or far memory, perhaps.
The hillfort is hidden in the trees. Wild herbs, watercress and wild garlic still grow here, giving a clue to what those who called it home, some two thousand years ago, might have been able to find in the wooded slopes.
A wicker fish trap lies beside the stream, birds and herbs are plentiful and supplemented by a tended herb garden… and anyway, there was a robin. We always get a robin when we are in the right place. And it had a totem pole…
It also had pigs, the old fashioned kind that would have been familiar to our ancestors. Two of them, rooting around in the earth, tilling it with their noses, oblivious to the watchers and the robin, which seemed to be following us.
The sheep took a little more notice. Their wool a rich, russet brown, very different from the blanched, deceptively docile affairs we normally see in our fields and on the hills. These looked as if they meant business.
So did the cheveaux de frise… lines of sharp, defensive flints and rocks, their points angled to cause both difficulty and damage to anyone wishing to attack the settlement.
The official view is that the hillfort itself would have housed only the elite of the tribe… the chieftain and his family, the warriors and the shaman perhaps… and the craftsmen such as the smith, a magical profession that could extract the new and precious ore from stone to craft tools and weapons. The majority would have lived in the settlement beneath the hill in times of peace, supplying those above with what was needful in return for their guidance and protection; a very similar set-up to the Norman motte and bailey castles a thousand years later.
It is an imposing place, even today. Ringed with earthworks and the steep slope of the hill, it has a presence and a solidity that brings the stuff of fantasy into the moment. Stepping through the antlered gate, you step back into history…