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Coed Graig Fawr (The Forest of Great Rocks)
A Theory concerning the Archaeological features of the Thornhill and Greenmeadow areas of West Cwmbran.
A Long, long time ago, well maybe only twenty years or so, when I first realised that looking for archaeological clues to the past inhabitants of what is known today as Cwmbran, and also Mynydd Maen (The Mountain of Stone), would be the next step on my journey of discovery to understand the history of the ancient land underneath this Newtown, and since that time and several archaeological digs, and three times the years later. I still have questions, but also some answers, and some theories to the more mysterious archaeological features of West Cwmbran.
The Ancient Cwmbran Society (ACS) commissioned a Community Archaeological Project during 2011, during which a Bronze age burial (a Cist) was discovered. The report is available to view on the ACS website, under Research, Greenmeadow Woods Report 2011.
A part of the Thornhill area known locally as Greenmeadow woods or the woods below Monnow Court, Thornhill, have archaeological remains that have a datable period, that being the Bronze Age (1500-800 BC). The other archaeological features within the area of study have not so far had any datable period assigned to them.
The area of study, and its unusual features:
There is no doubt that the Moon played a major role in early belief systems. A belief system, a religion does not suddenly appear out of the blue, once in a blue moon so to speak, excusing the pun. Religion is perceived knowledge of a spiritual dimension, and as with all knowledge it develops over time.
There is continuity to religion, and the moon appears in the Iron Age art of our local tribe The Mighty Silures, also within Welsh medieval literature and art. Welsh mythology regards the Moon to be the Goddess of water. Rivers and springs are her daughters and these mythical creatures can materialise from bodies of water such as lakes i.e. the lady of the lake. So when a large Autumn Moon appears to dance around the horizon from east to west and is still visible, sitting over our mountain of stone in the morning, before slipping down behind it at a place where there is an abundance of springs, brooks, and an outcrop of white quartz, which is an ancient sea bed, you may be able to imagine the dramatic affect this could have on the locals, who possibly believed that a Goddess is performing and pointing out a sacred space.
An ancient sea bed some 350 million years old, was, as the continents were being formed millions of years ago, pushed up to outcrop here in South East Wales. In Cwmbran it protrudes out of ground 3meters wide at a 60-degree angle for hundreds of metres just above Graig Road (the lane that runs above and across the top of Thornhill housing estate). Hundreds of large blocks of this Quartz Conglomerate sometimes weighing 1-2 ton and occasionally 3 tons are scattered right across the town. In a few places dozens of blocks together, other places two or three very large blocks. At the bottom of the valley approximately 3miles directly East of the out-crop, at Llantarnam Abbey where the Nant Dowlais meets the Afon Lwyd there are at least a hundred large blocks of one, two and occasionally three ton in weight and numerous smaller ones visible.
Locally it has a few names, the miners of the area called it, “end of shift”. It is extremely hard and impossible to dig through with a pickaxe. Others called it pudding stone because of its appearance, still others referred to it as Moon stone as it appears to glow in Moonlight due to reflection. There is very strong evidence you could say proof, that Quartz was revered throughout history in many areas of Wales and the wider British Isles. There are standing stones erected during the Bronze age, just across the valley from Thornhill on Grey Hill within Wentwood Forest, which are Quartz Conglomerate, most of the standing stones of South East Wales are of this same rock.
The uses of a material that is immensely hard are too numerous to list. I suspect it also appears as an object of magic within, Welsh Mythology the Druid egg or Dragons egg imbued with magical properties by the Druids the Priesthood of the Iron age (800 BC- 100 AD). We know of its importance in the Late Roman- early British Christian period, from white quartz pebbles found to be placed in graves at an ancient cemetery at Llandoc (Llandough) just outside Cardiff.
There was also Time Team (a television programme centred on archaeological digs). During 2009 they conducted an archaeological dig on the Island of Mull, Scotland. Where they uncovered an early Celtic Christian Monastery that had an abundance of Quartz pebbles placed around the Saints shrine. There is no source for that type of Quartz in that part of Scotland, so people must have brought it there as an offering. Eminent Archaeologists have stated that they believe this to be common practise across Western Britain and Ireland in the early Christian Period.
Water, Springs, Wells and Brooks.
In a Gwent Folklore book there is a reference that people in the past believed that Mynydd Maen (Mountain of Stone) had an underground lake. If that is the case, the Cwmbran side of the Mountain must be full of holes. There are springs of water that run down the Eastern side of our Mountain of Stone right across Cwmbran. They accumulate into three major Brooks (Nant), Nant Milwr in the South, Nant Dowlais at the centre and Nant Bran in North of Cwmbran. There is one more, which may be man-made and due to coal mining, and that is Cwmbran Brook. They all travel mainly West down to the valley floor to meet the Afon Lwyd (Grey river), which travels from North to South through Cwmbran.
Ernie Cousins, an elderly farmer from Pen Llan Gwyn Farm told me, his Grandfather had been told by his Grandfather, that there was a great deal more water coming out of the mountain side before larger mines were developed in Cwmbran. Evidence of this can be seen in Springvale Industrial Estate directly below Thornhill Housing estate, were Cwmbran Brook flows out of an old Mine Adit.
Pen Llan Gwyn Farm (The White Church of the Headland) or (The Top of the White Enclosure) is just above and to the Southwest of Thornhill/Greenmeadow woods, that is approximately 200 metres from Nant Dowlais, which incidentally has its source at Llanderfel Farm (Church of Derfel) a major and ancient Early Celtic Christian site less than a mile away from our area of interest.
There are three wells and six springs which create three small brooks (nant) that I am aware of in our area of study. A great deal for this small area, the wells are all lined with large Quartz conglomerate and Sandstone blocks some of which weigh 1-2 ton occasionally 3 tons. The spring heads have smaller stone surrounding them and the course way of the brooks in some areas are lined with a variety of sized stones, mainly Quartz blocks but also with the occasional Sandstone, in other areas of the course ways occasional block mark the route.
Developing a theory about the area,
The Bronze age burial, the people who created this structure, would have regarded it as most sacred. I believe it was placed within an area which their belief system would have informed them to be special, revered, or sacred. People are people wherever they come from and the development of their belief systems, have a tendency to evolve along similar lines. The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, also the four elements, the four directions and nature with a pantheon of Spirits and Gods associated with all these. If you believed that Mother Earth is sacred, a Goddess, then all the land is more than worthy of respect. Then if you add to that, some spectacular lunar activities created and enhanced by the area’s topography, during the months of Autumn/Winter, within Welsh mythology’s important festival months. Also, a large outcrop of Quartz Conglomerate rock (a 350-million-year-old seabed packed with white quartz pebbles) and to top it all, the stuff of life, water, an abundance of springs bubbling out of your Mother Earth all flowing from East to West, West the sacred direction of the Feminine and Water according to Pagan beliefs.
That place can become nothing other than a temple of your religion and be put to one side for worship or burial. This area of Greenmeadow and Thornhill woods that sit on one of the ridges of the Eastern escarpments of our Mountain of Stone (Mynydd Maen). I believe contains the remnants of such a site.
I strongly suspect that the Thornhill Greenmeadow area started its life as religious site during the Bronze age, possibly a site of Moon and or water worship, but also a quarry for a revered rock, Quartz Conglomerate. I would expect these beliefs to of continued and developed throughout the Iron age by the Druid Priesthood of that period. Then with the arrival of Christianity and the so-called New Druids who amalgamated the old and new belief systems. I suggest a huge expansion of the site took place including a Celtic Monastic site, that flourished for hundreds of years. Possibly helped in part by the arrival or patronage of Derfel Gadarn (The Valiant or Mighty) a legendary warrior of the Sixth Century who later gained the title Saint Derfel.
Ancient Cwmbran Society,
Coed Graig Fawr (The Forest of Great Rocks)
Sacred Site Tour Thornhill Woods.
Possiblly a water offering site.
Sacred Site Tour Greenmeadow woods.
Hundreds of Metres of Walling,
incorporating huge blocks of stone, date of construction unknown
Sacred site tour Greenmeadow Woods.
A Walled Well at the bottom of a ravine.
Before the Archaeology
Detail of waterproofing on the outside of the Wells wall
A walled Well 3m x3m, 1m high wall at the bottom of a ravine,
(what was its used for?)
Sacred site tour Greenmeadow Woods.
A Bronze Age Cist (1500-800 BC),
Possibly one of two Cairns placed on landscaped flat levels.
If you are attending the walk through the woods, be aware that the terrain will be uneven, muddy, and slippery, and in parts covered with brambles and other vegetation. The walk is moderate to difficult.
Please wear suitable footwear and clothing for the terrain and weather.
The Ancient Cwmbran Society is not responsible for injury or otherwise to any of the walkers, or for loss or damage to property.
All walkers walk at their own risk.