Different rules apply in some of the remoter parts of Britain. Allegedly, fairies – described as “resembling little children in clothes like soldiers’ clothes and with red caps” – have been seen around the old Neolithic burial chamber at Pentre Ifan* in Pembrokeshire.
Pentre Ifan – the name means “Ivan’s village” – is all that remains of a communal tomb constructed maybe around 3,500 BC. The stones you see now form a doorway with a capstone on top some 17 feet (5.1 metres) long and weighing an estimated 16 tonnes. Originally, the whole thing would have been covered with other, smaller, stones forming an enormous cairn extending back over the narrower part of the capstone to the right of the above picture. It is reckoned that the entire structure was about 120 feet (36 metres) long, but most of the stones are long gone now. The doorway has been blocked with another stone – presumably to close the tomb. Bits of pottery and worked flint were discovered during excavations in the 1930s and 1950s. No human remains have been found; and fairies are notoriously elusive, I find.
It has been claimed that Pentre Ifan is the best-known and most impressive megalithic monument in Wales, as well as the country’s first scheduled ancient monument. But, let’s face it, most people will never have heard of it. And it takes a bit of imagination to be impressed by old stones, until you start thinking about how on earth it was built, how astonishing the original structure was, why our ancestors did these things – and what were these people like? Perhaps, standing there in the Preseli Hills, where some believe the bluestone rocks forming the inner circle at Stonehenge came from, you may be inclined to commune with a rock. No? But then will you be tempted to enter the tomb?
Pentre Ifan was once sometimes known as Arthur’s Quoit. I have no idea why it is named after Ivan’s village – or who Ivan was. Some things are simply unknowable. It has been pointed out that the angle of the capstone is similar to the slope of the distant hill, Carn Ingli, framed in the first three pictures. There’s another little mystery for you; Carn Ingli is itself thought to be a sacred, or mystical, place.
Pentre Ifan is a few miles south east of Newport, on a (very) minor road between the A487 and B4329. There’s a lay-by on the road by the burial chamber and a very short walk to get to it. It is cared for by Cadw, the Welsh Government agency. Entry is free – and, I ask you, what can you get for nothing these days?
Of course, no one would be so foolish as to rely on a cheap roadmap bought in a supermarket to find Pentre Ifan. If they did, they’d deserve to get lost, wouldn’t they? But they could always blame the fairies…
* Quoted on various websites and in ‘A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain’ by Janet and Colin Bond – so it must be true.
Go to A Bit About Britain’s directory listing for Pentre Ifan.