Explore this extraordinary historic landscape
Have you been cromlech-bagging?
You may have heard of ‘Munro-bagging’, a popular pastime in Scotland, where hiking enthusiasts challenge themselves to climb as many of the 282 Scottish Munros (mountains over 3000ft) as they can. Once you get to the top, you’ve ‘bagged’ yourself a Munro.
Now, we all know that Pembrokeshire isn’t overly blessed with mountains, so Munro-bagging isn’t really an option, but we are blessed with a landscape littered with ancient monuments, Iron Age forts and Bronze Age standing stones, (as well as famously being the source of the Bluestone which form the inner circle of Stonehenge!).
So, we’ve created a unique Pembrokeshire activity to help people explore this extraordinary historic landscape, called ‘Cromlech-bagging’.
A Cromlech or Dolmen is an ancient underground tomb typically built with several large upright stones and a cap stone on top. In its day, the whole thing would have been covered by a mound of earth, but today, all the stones are exposed for us to see, touch and walk around.
To help you on your way, we’ve named six of the best-preserved cromlechs in Pembrokeshire – your ‘Cromlech Bagging’ adventure begins here…
Starting in the south of the county at Manorbier, you’ll find the King’s Quoit Cromlech. If you walk along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path towards Lydstep, you’ll pass this cromlech. Two uprights and a large flat capstone sit virtually on the path, looking back towards Manorbier beach and the castle beyond. It greets you as you climb the final steps away from the beach.
Next, head up to the northwest of the county to St David’s Head, where you’ll discover Coetan Arthur (not to be confused with the Carreg Coetan Arthur in Newport), a Neolithic chamber that dates back 4,000 years. On the path out to the headland from Whitesands beach, you’ll find it hidden amongst the jumble of rocks. It has an enormous triangular-shaped cap stone of almost 20ft long. The capstone is said to resemble the rocky ridge of Carn Llidi, and this is why it faces up the valley in the same direction as the ridge.
Take time to explore the rest of headland, because there are other standing stones, tombs, and an Iron Age Fort to find. It seems to have been a popular location for our ancestors – maybe it was the sea views!
Continuing along the north coast to the tiny hamlet of Abercastle, you’ll find the 5000-year-old Carreg Samson, a neolithic chambered tomb and beautiful resting place, with magnificent views across to Strumble Head. There are 6 upright stones, 3 of which carry the weight of the massive capstone. The cromlech gets its name from a local legend that Saint Samson of Dol placed the capstone in position with his little finger! Access is via the coastal path from the western side of the harbour.
High above Fishguard Bay you’ll find Garn Wen, not one but three cromlechs built in a north-south line. Hidden behind the houses in Harbour Village, Goodwick, the tombs are thought to date back to between 4000 and 2500BC. There is interpretation at the site which includes a sketch of how the cromlechs would have looked. The location is a bit tricky to find, so as you come up New Hill into Harbour Village, there is a signpost to the left. Park to the rear of the houses then make your way to the end of the car park where you’ll find a path to their location.
Next, in a field adjoining a small cul-de sac in Newport, you’ll find the location of Carreg Coetan Arthur, a small, chambered tomb dating from around 3000BC. A large wedge-shaped capstone balances on two of its four original stone uprights. Excavations of the site have uncovered artefacts including Neolithic pottery and stone tools.
The ‘Coetan’ part of its name is a reference to the game of quoits, often associated with monuments of this type. According to legend, King Arthur himself played the game with the stone of this tomb.
The final stop on your ‘Cromlech-bagging’ adventure is the magnificent Pentre Ifan. It is the finest surviving Neolithic tomb in Wales, built around 5,000 years ago. When newly constructed, the standing stones today would have been covered with earth to form a mound. Its chamber is formed by a capstone of around 5m in length, weighing roughly 16 tonnes which is balancing very precariously on three uprights about 2.5m high.
Pentre Ifan has a magical feeling, it’s difficult to explain but you’ll feel it when you visit. Could it be something to do with fairies that, according to legend, lifted the capstone into place? Who knows…
If you’re intrigued about the stories of the Pentre Ifan fairies and St Samson, then you’ll be pleased to hear Pembrokeshire is packed full of myths and legends for you to discover.