Saturday, 20 August 2016

Trellech: Harold's Stones; St. Anne's Well and Tump Terret

Harold's Stones
   These stand in a field south west of the village of Trellech, the path being signposted. They are an unusual example of alignment of Bronze Age stones, dating from between 3000 and 1000 BC (or possibly Middle or Late Neolothic).  They are in a 12 metre north east to south west line and are therefore unlikely to have been part of a Druidical circle. Neither can they be anything to do with Harold Godwinson's victory over the Welsh in 1063 as was believed previously as they predate him considerably.
    Their heights are between 8 and 14 feet and they were probably dragged here on logs and levered into position for a purpose which is not entirely clear: for rituals, as a sepulchre or for astronomy - or all 3 - since they indicate the midwinter sunset. They are made of conglomerate stone or "puddingstone" which is hard pebbles enclosed in a cement-like rock. (Remind me not to try the local desserts!) Their phallic outline may mean that they were used for fertility rites.
   Legend has it that they were thrown here in a contest between the mystical John of Kent and the Devil, being hurled from the top of Trellech Beacon. John threw first, reaching the outskirts of the village, was then bested by the Devil's first shot but managed a greater distance, upon which the Devil flounced off in a huff. It is said that you can see a hole in the side of the Skirrid where John pressed his heel for support. Much later an experienced dowser from Abergavenny, John Williams, placed his hands on one of the stones and was flung backwards.

   St. Anne's Well

  Located near the road to Tintern, this is both a Virtuous Well and a wishing well, the two functions overlapping.  It was a place of pilgrimage and believed, as late as the 17th century, to be curative of, in particular, "scurvy, colic and other distempers". Even in 1839 W.H. Thomas, a medical man, recommended the waters for those suffering from "dyspepsia, hypochondriasis and amenorrhagia" (absence of periods). The iron-rich water or chalybeate had to be drunk on an empty stomach in the morning. As the water may also be an aphrodisiac it might be a good idea to time carefully the drinking of it!
   As a "clootie" well, offerings were placed in niches or pieces of cloth hung from neighbouring trees. If you placed your sock there, your foot trouble would be cured. Fairies were said to drink from harebell cups on All Hallowe'en and a farmer, sceptical of all this magic, who dug up a fairy ring, found the well dry only to him until, warned by a little old man, he replaced the sods and all was - as it were - well!
   Pins and other bright objects were deposited for luck and to tell the future; pebbles were thrown in and the number of resulting bubbles told the wisher if their desires would be granted or refused: the larger the amount the better. As a test for a spinster, each bubble meant a month before a love-lorn maiden would be married. Quite recently flowers and candles were found in the niches inside the stonework (which was restored in 1951 for the Festival of Britain). There may once have been 9 holy wells in Trellech.

Tump Terret

   This mound is 400 feet in circumference and 15 to 20 feet high. It stands in the grounds of Court Farm which is quite near the bus stop and you can see the mound over the fence. It had been believed to be the burial place of either Harold's men or Welshmen fighting the battle of 1063 but now it is thought to be the motte of a 12th century castle possibly built by the de Clare family, the bailey having disappeared. The ditch can be seen only on the northern side.  For a long time it was believed to be unlucky to dig here and it has never been fully excavated.


    In 2005, Stuart Wilson, a young archaeology graduate and a member of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, followed his hunch that there would be the remains of the ancient city in a field across the road from St. Anne's Well and bought it. They followed dips and flat places in the land to find the spot. On-going excavations have revealed the stone foundations of a fortified moated manor house house dating from 1250 and an industrial quarter on this minor road to Catbrook. The diggers have found evidence of a serious fire which destroyed the house possibly during a battle in 1296 in which the Welsh destroyed what they felt to be an alien town, planted by the Normans. It is all fascinating proof of the existence of a substantial Medieval settlement and a fitting end to your visit.
   To see all these sites, you can head off across wet fields, getting soaked feet or risk leaving this life prematurely by walking on the roads. I tried both in my dedication to giving you the best recommendation and now advise wearing wellies and going mildly rough.
   My account of the village and church can be found by clicking here. You are on the no 65 bus route to Monmouth where, if you are interested in legends, you can see the window where Geoffrey of Monmouth is believed to have written about King Arthur and popularised the character for all times. Another lovely holy well can be found in Llangybi on the 60 bus from Monmouth to Newport. Alternatively you can go south on the 65 to Chepstow and thrill at the castle there.

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