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For the next 5 days we are dedicating the Journal to a single subject – the stone alignment at Bancbryn which lies within the Mynydd y Betws wind farm. You may already feel that you are familiar with the site, but we believe that anyone with an interest in prehistory will find this series of articles interesting and thought provoking in equal measure. During the coming week the case for a prehistoric interpretation will be presented in full and we hope you will feel able to get involved in the debate and look forward to hearing your views.
A STONE ALIGNMENT AT BANCBRYN, MYNYDD Y BETWS, CARMARTHENSHIRE (PART ONE)
by Dr Sandy Gerrard
In January 2012 a previously unrecorded alignment of stones was identified on the southern slope of Bancbryn, Carmarthenshire. Subsequent research has indicated that this stone alignment shares common characteristics with examples in South West England and sits firmly within an area previously identified as containing a significant number of prehistoric cairns. A scheduling assessment conducted by Cadw has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation. This article seeks to re-examine the evidence and utilise it to present a persuasive interpretation supporting a prehistoric explanation for this alignment.
Bancbryn is a pronounced bolster shaped hill forming part of an area of upland known as Mynydd y Betws. The hill stands 1.7km west of Cwmgors , 2.5km south of Garnant and reaches an altitude of 324m at NGR SN 68672 10278. There are extensive views northwards towards the mountains of the Brecon Beacons from the summit although the outlook south and westwards is restricted by a number of substantial hills including Bryn Mawr, Tor Clawdd and Mynydd y Gwair. The local vegetation includes a mosaic of heather and molinia which are grazed and periodically burnt. The most recent fire to have occurred before the discovery of the feature was in 2011. During a walk in early 2012 a line of stones was identified on the southern slope of the hill in the area between two known and scheduled cairn cemeteries (CM333 and CM335). A further nearby platform cairn is scheduled as a separate monument (CM334). Visually the line of stones looked like a prehistoric stone alignment comparable in character to those known from the South West of England. A request for the alignment to be assessed for protection as a scheduled ancient monument was submitted to Cadw in January 2012. In August 2013 Cadw produced a report that concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a prehistoric identification although no alternative explanations were offered. This article will seek to move the debate forward by assessing the monument using third party detailed criteria employed successfully elsewhere for this purpose.
The stone alignment at Bancbryn
A single line of stones measuring over 700m long descends the southern slope of Bancbryn. The alignment can be traced from a small stony mound measuring 6m in diameter and standing up to 0.8m high at NGR SN 68935 10329 to a large recumbent stone at SN 68522 09736. A total of 172 stones were identified during a recent survey although more are likely to survive beneath the turf and three were recovered during excavations. The stones themselves are generally small although a significant number stand over 0.2m high. 52.4% of the stones are edge-set and have clearly been placed along the length of the common alignment. The remainder are mainly recumbent with the largest portion of these surviving within a 30m length centred on SN 68731 10018. The alignment is not completely straight, includes at least 15 conjoined segments, is situated between two cairn cemeteries and passes very close to a scheduled cairn at SN 68802 10180. A small number of the stones are not earth-fast but sit within clearly defined sockets. Many of the stones, in common with those visible in the adjacent cairns, are rounded in shape but a significant proportion have straight edges. The spacing between the visible stones varies over the whole length of the alignment but there are discrete areas where consistent spacing is observable. The stone is local limestone and there are no indications that it has been cut or worked in any way. Excavations carried out on a short length of the alignment revealed three stones “embedded” into the subsoil but no photographs are currently available. No artefacts or radio-carbon dating material were recovered. The upper half of the alignment is precisely aligned onto Hartland Point in Devon and denotes one edge of a small zone of inter-visibility between the cairn cemetery on Bancbryn and Barnstaple Bay.
A 1:500 survey was carried out in December and January 2013. The survey was conducted using a prismatic compass and Disto D5 measuring device and a plan created in the field using an underlay protractor beneath drafting film. As well as the alignment, the area of coal mining earthworks adjacent to the cairn at the top was surveyed in order to inform interpretation of the stony mound at the top of the alignment.
Never say never! Following January’s bad news for Duddo Stone Circle it seems that there has been a re-think!
Northumberland County Council planning officers had recommended approval for two wind turbines close to the monument but now they are advising the Council to throw out the plans – on the back of a recent decision to allow another turbine to be erected in the area.
The case will be of interest to those campaigning on behalf of Oswestry Hill Fort in two particular ways. The Inspector had said – and the planners had advised the Council – that the development “would not cause substantial harm to the setting and significance” of the monument but now the planners are telling the Council “The proposed turbines in conjunction with the recently approved Shoreswood wind turbine will cause substantial harm to the setting of the Duddo Stones Scheduled Ancient Monument.”
Oh, and the Council has listened! They’ve thrown the two turbines out! And that really is the end…
Here are the six highly pertinent questions put to Shropshire Council yesterday by the estimable John Waine on behalf of HOOOH followed by extracts (outlined in red) from the answers provided by Councillor M Price, Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning. Please read both the questions and the answers carefully. What do YOU think is going on?
UPDATE: Fat lady is still silent, This from John Waine who represented the campaign at the Shropshire Council meeting this morning.
“Sadly and ashamedly Shropshire Council, or more specifically, Malcolm Price, has decided to ignore the decision and views of Oswestry Town Council and English Heritage and include OSW004 in their SAMDev plan. THE FIGHT GOES ON!!!”
Please see this…..
A couple of days ago a Government spokesman (let’s call him Dominic Fibber of Winchester, Balliol, White’s and Wimpey’s) told BBC News:
“Strong protections are in place for the Green Belt, ancient woodland, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and many other countryside and heritage treasures, such as World Heritage Sites. The national planning framework also puts power back into the hands of local people, ensuring they are in charge of deciding the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected.”
Providing, that is, they fight like tigers, learn the planning system at breakneck speed, and get the support of top-notch experts to counter every spin and falsehood that’s put up. And even that’s not enough in the vast majority of cases, not unless the proposal is such an obvious, blatant, unforgivable assault on communal ownership that even it’s supporters eventually see it as shameful. Unless they are shameless.
Fantastic news, so far. Oswestry Town Council has now published its official statement based on Tuesday’s vote. This forms the basis of a letter they have sent to Shropshire Council ahead of today’s full Shropshire Council meeting on the draft SAMDev plan. It confirms they now oppose all three housing proposals adjacent to the hill fort.
Site OSW004 – part – Land off Whittington Road
“At our meeting last evening, acknowledging the revised view of English Heritage and also the various professional submissions and viewpoint on this matter, the Town Council now oppose the inclusion of OSW004 and formally request its removal.
The Council would ask Shropshire Council for a commitment following SAMDev to look to develop planning guidance for the Hillfort and its surrounds for the future bringing together interested agencies to formulate a strategy and policies looking to the historical and archaeological protection and promotion of the site.”
So now it’s down to Shropshire Council, meeting at 10.00am this morning…..
It’s a bit like the farmer with the fox, the hen and the bag of grain. Which are safe together? Conservation is sometimes about choices ….. rabbits do massive damage to bronze age barrows and Iron Age hill forts, trees have often meant they have survived, but often the reverse…
Recently though, English Heritage has had to make an unusual choice: the removal of a beautiful stand of trees to protect a rabbit warren. The beech trees, on Cothelstone Hill in the Quantocks are to be felled over a four-year period due to concerns their roots could start to damage an underground medieval rabbit warren. A spokesman for English Heritage said they were working with the Quantock Hills AONB Service to manage the land, adding: “We agreed that the needs of this scheduled monument, which is at high risk, take precedence over the beautiful but relatively young trees.”
A local walker disagrees, saying he is “gobsmacked” and that it would leave the skyline bare for the next 20 years. He said: “I understand we need to preserve archaeological heritage but we should be thinking about protecting the areas millions of people recognise.” EH and the AONB Service feel differently and say they intend to replace the trees. To add a final complication EH mention that “Unfortunately damage is already being caused due to erosion of the surface layers of the scheduled monument due to the herd of Exmoor ponies, which use the location for shelter.”
So should the ponies be shot?! ** Or the beautiful trees be cut down? Or the present-day rabbits be culled? Or should the fort and the warren be left to further deteriorate?
Whatever the claims to the contrary, all the reasons why two areas of potential residential development have been dropped also apply to the third – as has been eloquently shown by the campaigners’ and their refreshingly adequately qualified experts. So let’s hope that logic prevails and it too can become history. It may be a desperate fight though ….