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Pentre Ifan

Pembrokeshire
Wales, United Kingdom. - (OS Ref. Sheet 145, SN099370)

Pentre Ifan & Mynydd Carningli beyond. June 2009.
Pentre Ifan & Mynydd Carningli beyond. June 2009.

A giant, dwarfed only by the holy mountain of Mynydd Carningli that dominates the horizon. Once it was known as Arthur's Quoit, it is oriented north-south and stands proudly upon the slopes of a ridge commanding extensive views over the Nevern Valley. This isn't the cute fairy cromlech of Carreg Coetan Arthur but a massive feat of engineering, it perhaps justifies its reputation as the largest and best preserved neolithic dolmen in wales. The popularity of this site is attested by the steady stream of visitors that walk the short distance from the small car park.

Cromlech at Pentre Ifan. (19th Century Engraving).
Cromlech at Pentre Ifan. (19th Century Engraving).

The dolmen dates from 3500BC and was used and reused for communal burial. The stones, of local igneous rock, that can be seen today once formed the portal and main chamber of the tomb, which would originally have been covered with a large earthen mound some 36m long. It is possible to trace the ghostly outline of the mound in the surrounding meadow, spreading down the hill and taking on the sacred shape of a recumbent woman, similar to that at Belas Knap. Some of the stones have been scattered, but it is thought at least seven remain in their Bronze Age position. Excavations in 1936-37 and later in 1958-59 revealed that the burial chamber originally lay within a shallow oval pit. The great capstone is 5.1m in length and estimated to weigh 16 tonnes, it balances precariously and delicately on just the narrow tips of three of the uprights; 2.4m above the ground.

Pentre Ifan, June 2009.
Pentre Ifan, June 2009.

The semi-circular facade, between the mounds horns or limbs was marked by two upright stones on either side of the south facing portal, which would have been disassembled and assemled with each and every burial. The forecourt was blocked with rows of tightly wedged stones, some of the original kerbstones around the barrow can still be seen. No trace of any burials have ever been found here, but with such a large tomb it may be assumed that it would have been used for collective burials over the course of many years. The number of artefacts discovered during excavations has been very small; recent analysis suggests that Pentre Ifan may be a structure built in two periods: the original portal dolmen tomb could have been later embellished by a cairn and a façade.

George Owen, 1613.
George Owen, 1613.

Local lore and legend tell that the 'fair-folk' may be seen dancing about Pentre Ifan; that they appeared as little children dressed in clothes similar to soldier's uniforms and wearing little red caps.

 

Pentre Ifan isn't without its Druidical connections, it was believed to have been one of their favourite places in all the land. In the oak groves there was a tradition that there was once a flourishing pagan school for neophytes and rather than being used for burials or sacrifices the dolman, when fully enclosed, became a chamber of initiation - the interior being called the 'Womb or Court of Ceridwen.'

 

The field in which Pentre Ifan stands is known as Corlan Samson - Samson's sheepfold. An attempt to Christianise the site; to give Biblical meaning to such a heathen temple!? The name Samson reminds me of giant's, of the giants Gog and Magog, of longbarrows that are known as 'giants graves' and of Carreg Samson, another Welsh dolmen! Pentre Ifan is a giant indeed...

Reconstruction (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PentreIfanRecon.jpg)
Reconstruction (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PentreIfanRecon.jpg)