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Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Carn Meini mystery



Carn Meini, as we all know, is the place where it all started........ this set of four craggy outcrops of dolerite on the crest of the Preseli ridge was identified by HH Thomas back in 1921 as the place from which many of the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge had come.  He didn't think there was a quarry there, but Richard Atkinson did, and since the 1950's it has of course been promoted heavily by EH and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all as THE Neolithic quarrying site.  This idea was pushed very recently by Tim Darvill and the late Geoffrey Wainwright in their big chapter in the Pembrokeshire County History, even though the geologists now seem to be agreed that none of the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge actually came from here.  As they say, you don't want the truth to get in the way of a good story.......

For good measure, TD and GW were intent upon making the place even more famous, and in the literature it is now promoted as having the earliest stone quarry in the British Isles -- dating from the Mesolithic -- where "meta-mudstones" were extracted for reasons unknown.  Then there is that funny little enclosure, which TD and GW promoted as a sort of protective barrier to stop the locals from pinching valuable bluestones from the quarrying storage depot.  So there is quite a story there, which you can believe or poke fun at, as the case may be......

Now then.  We have a problem about the name.  "Carn Meini" means "stony crag".  On the older maps the locality is shown as "Carn Meini" or "Carn Menyn" more or less interchangeably -- but Carn Menyn is the preferred spelling on the modern OS maps.  That's a bit of a nonsense name, since "menyn" means "butter" -- and how can you name a craggy rock after a lump of butter?  Bertie Charles, in his book on the place names of Pembrokeshire, explains this as an indication of a fertile upland grazing area that ran up to the rocks, maybe involving cattle grazing and butter making in a "hafod" or summer settlement.  There is indeed a trace of a ruined dwelling with small enclosures about a kilometre from the rocks, and another just 500m from the rocks.


Was there a cottage here, where cattle were looked after on their summer grazing area, 
and where butter was made?

But then it gets interesting.  Last night I was reading the classic local history of Mynachlog-ddu parish, by ET Lewis.  With very rare exceptions, he refers to the rocks not as Carn Meini but as CAERMEINI.  In doing that, he must have been representing local verbal usage of the name, and he cites a lot of documentary evidence as well.  He was a fluent Welsh speaker, and he would not have confused "carn" with "caer".  The word means a fort, castle or citadel -- or some defended and strengthened place.  Interestingly enough, the three closest farms are Caermeini Isaf (lower), Ganol (middle) and Uchaf (upper) -- and those spellings are used on the current OS maps. Sometimes descriptive words are used in a picturesque sense (eg "castell" or "castle" is used for a crag that looks particularly romantic or ruinous!) but Lewis clearly did not think that this was the case here.  So we have a tradition locally of a fortified site at Carn Meini or Caer Meini...........

Lewis also mentions the local Welsh dialect in the Mynachlog-ddu area, in which the word "mynydd" (mountain) is pronounced "mini" -- so he infers that both "meini" and "menyn" might just be corruptions of the word for "mountain".   So the meaning might be "mountain fort" or "mountain crag" -- ie nothing to do with butter.

So here is an interesting thought -- could it be that there was a defended structure on Carn Meni which features in local traditions and local place names?  Is the "walled" enclosure described by Darvill and Wainwright a candidate?  It really is a pathetic little feature which can never have been very prominent, but who knows?

Now it gets even more interesting.  ET Lewis has a theory that the flattish plateau area above Talfynydd was the site of the Battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081, in which the forces of Rhys ap Tewdwr and Gruffydd ap Cynan (th princes of Gwynedd and Deheubarth) were involved in a terrible conflict, with huge slaughter, with the armies of the princes of Powys and Morgannwg.  Rhys and Gruffydd marched eastwards for a long day from St Davids, and Lewis thought that they marched along the old Golden Road on the Preseli ridge to meet the foe.  When they arrived in the vicinity of Talfynydd (just over 1 km west of Carn Meini) the armies of the princes of Powys and Morgannwg had already been in residence in the vicinity for about three weeks.  Could it be that that they had established their camp around the Carn Meini crags?  And could it be that the princes themselves had established their HQ in the "enclosure",  demarcated by a rough wall which could have been built in a day or two by a group of soldiers with nothing much else to do while they waited for battle?

Darvill and Wainwright were unable to establish that the "wall" had anything to do with quarrying, and did not demonstrate that it was a Neolithic or Bronze Age feature. I think it might have been built in prehistoric times as part of a simple animal enclosure -- but I am more and more attracted by the idea that it might not be prehistoric at all, but was built by some bored soldiers in the year 1081.



Maiden Castle near Trefgarn -- a tumbledown and very delicate tor which was presumably named because it looked like a ruined castle.








7 comments:

TonyH said...

Don't suppose there's any mention, in that newly - published Pembrokeshire County History you refer to, of the 1081 battle, and its possible whereabouts?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, there is a brief mention, Tony. But it's so vague as to be useless.......

But I like the Talfynydd idea -- there is a plateau there, flat enough not to give one side an undue advantage, and it;s in the mountains, and there is a carn in the middle of the battlefield (Carn Sian). Things stack up quite well.....

cysgodycastell said...

Other than ET Lewis's views that the battle was on the Preseli ridge in 1081, is there any other evidence that it happened there. My maps tell me (crossed sword icon with name and date etc) that it happened at what is now the disused Templeton Airfield. So i am a little confused. Templeon is quite some way from Mynachlogddu/Preseli Hills.

Despite my years of wandering around the Preseli's i've never noticed the names of those 3 farms to the south. They are incongruent with the name of the hill, I would like to think that you are onto something there.

BRIAN JOHN said...

No evidence at all -- but I have been sharing views on the Heritage and History of Wales Facebook page, and elsewhere, and nobody can understand why Carew Airfield (Templeton) was chosen by anybody as a favoured location. Daft idea, best forgotten. Other possibilities are Dinas Mountain and Mynydd Morfil -- but the latter does not look like a good battle site to me -- just a rather barren hill summit, with no carn. But no trace has ever been found of any bones or weapons, so the mystery continues.

ET Lewis mentions an old poem which shows that some of the defeated army, when fleeing, received succour from some of the residents of Nevern. That might make sense, since the men of Gwynedd would indeed be fleeing northwards.......

TonyH said...

There's no physical evidence, either, for the Battle of Ethandun, 878, which, it is generally accepted nowadays, occurred on the Plain above Edington, Wiltshire (not Edington, Somerset). There are good arguments for this being its general position. King Alfred, who had been hiding in the Somerset marshes, almost certainly arrived from the broad direction of Warminster, having summoned his forces from many south - western Counties to meet him thereabouts at an unidentified orthostat called Egbert's Stone, before probably approaching the Viking army (which came out of Chippenham and was probably encamped at the Bratton Iron Age hillfort) across parts of the edge of Salisbury Plain. The name of the location of the Saxon army's night's rest at Iley Oak, near the Royal estate of Warminster, is preserved in the Anglo - Saxon Chronicle. It is an Anglo Saxon Hundred assembly place, and this is still discernible in the woods.

Gordon said...

The following pdf is quite informative.
battlefields.rcahmw.gov.uk/wp.../mynydd-carn-1081-Border-Archaeology-2009.pdf

TonyH said...

Curiously, my wife has just returned from her job with Wiltshire Libraries to tell me that there's a talk soon at The Wiltshire Heritage Centre, Chippenham, on 16th November, titled "Alfred The Great and the Battle of Edington", presented by well - known historian and broadcaster, Michael Wood.