« PreviousContinue »
name of Merlin and his cotemporaries, and of the numerous saints of the Arthurian period in the sixth century. The ruins of numerous ecclesiastical foundations, abbeys, priories and convents, together with the still imposing grandeur of Norman castles, and castellated mansions, testify the mediaeval predominance of religious rites and practices, and of a foreign despotism hateful to the primitive inhabitants, and which alike have passed away. But most of these records of former ages have not been sufficiently illustrated by the pen or the pencil, and may be said to be still enveloped in gloom and darkness,
"Carent quia vate sacro."
During my residence at Llandovery I personally visited most of these remains, and would willingly, had I enjoyed due leisure, have attempted to make them more generally known. But that leisure I did not enjoy; and all that I could do was to call public attention to a subject which, if properly illustrated, would lend new charms to the lovely scenery through which the Towy, whether bursting through its rocky barriers, or quietly meandering through luxuriant meadows, flows back to its parent sea.
It is therefore not with the hope of satisfying, but rather of exciting, public curiosity, that I submit to the Association the following slight notice of a memorable object of antiquarian research, called "Carn Goch," with the hope that when the Association meets, as it soon should meet, at Llandeilo-fawr, in the immediate vicinity of this and other remarkable objects, they may be fully investigated, and adequately delineated, by the combined aid of art and science.
I hold Carn Goch to be a primitive fortress of great antiquity, probably constructed by those adventurers who first occupied this island as a place of settlement. At whatever period that event took place, the original settlers would probably have found this island, as history has described similar regions, under similar circumstances: the lowlands consisting principally of lagoons, lakes and marshes, and the slopes and moderate hills covered with a primeval forest. Necessity, therefore, must have compelled the first dwellers in the land to have fixed their primary habitation on high grounds, cleared of their natural growth of wood; and both tradition and history seem to agree that the first settlements of mankind were upon the hills. I need not refer here to Plato's description of the migration of the original Ilium from the summits of Ida, first to a station intervening midway between it and the sea-shore; and, secondly, to the position in the plain where the Ilium of Priam was built; nor to still prevalent tradition, which deduces all the subsequent cities of Asia from the original settlement of Noah on the Armenian mountains. We have only to examine our own country to enable us to conclude that the hill was occupied long before the plain; and we have, still visible, traces of the plough on hilly spots, which, ever since the memory of man, have remained untorn by the ploughshare. But on this subject I prefer to quote the following passage from Wilson's Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, p. 123:—
"In various districts of the same neighbourhood, the curious traveller may descry, amid the desolate heath, indications on the hill sides of a degree of cultivation having existed at some period far beyond what is exhibited in that locality at present. The soil on the sloping sides of the hills appears to have been retained by dwarf walls, and these singular terraces occur frequently at such altitudes as must convey a vivid idea of the extent and industry of an ancient population, where now the grazing of a few black cattle alone tempts to the claim of property in the soil. In other districts, the half obliterated furrows are still traceable on heights which have been abandoned for ages to the wild fox
or the eagle The very simple explanation of
such ancient plough-marks, which has satisfied the popular mind, is apparent in the appellation of' Elf-furrows,' by which they are popularly known."
He then quotes the following passages from the statistical account of a clergyman in Galloway, who thus wrote about a century ago :—
"It is to be observed that there are few hills in this part of Galloway, where cultivation is at all practicable, that do not bear distinct marks of the plough. The depths of the furrows plainly declare that this tillage has not been casual, or merely experimental, but frequent and successive."
The minister then adds that there was another popular tradition that
"A Pope, in interdicting agriculture in Scotland, had forgotten to include the hills in the terms of the curse, which were thus left open to cultivation when all the plains were left barren."
"This rustic tradition," adds Mr. Wilson, "though amusing enough, is not without its value to us, from the proof it affords of the extent to which such traces must have existed, when they made so great an impression upon the popular mind."
Nor are these marks of ancient cultivation in higher grounds, and of cities occupying lofty sites, peculiar to this island. Grote, in his History of Greece, describes the existence of something similar both in European and Asiatic Hellas, vol. ii. p. 145. Although, according to his theory, which he has borrowed from Thucydides, and which, nevertheless, suits only part of the facts, namely, the occupation of a stronghold at a moderate distance from the sea-shore, the causes which produced this effect are different from my own views of the subject:—
"Fortifications are a feature of the age deserving considerable notice. There was a time, we are told, in which the primitive Greek towns or villages derived a precarious security, not from their walls, but merely from sites lofty and difficult of access. They were not built immediately upon the shore, or close upon any convenient landing-place, but at some distance inland, on a rock, or elevation, which could not be approached without notice, or scaled without difficulty. It was thought sufficient at that
time to guard against piratical or marauding surprise
Thebes, Athens, Argos, belonged to this class of cities; but there were, in many parts of Greece, deserted sites on hill-tops, still retaining, even in historical times, the traces of former habitations, and some of them still bearing the names of the old towns. Among the mountainous parts of Crete, in iEgina and Rhodes, in portions of Mount Ida and Mount Parnassus, similar remnants might be perceived. Probably in such primitive hill villages a continuous circle of wall would hardly be required as an additional means of defence, and would often be rendered very difficult by the rugged nature of the ground."
It is in such regions as the latter, that remains similar to those on Car n Goch should be sought, and thence should comparative illustrations of their age and authors be drawn. They may truly be called wrecks of older structures, reared in those dim and remote eras, into the secrets of which we long to penetrate; for
"Cold is all history, and lifeless all imagery, compared to that which the living nation writes, and the uncorrupted marble bears. How many pages of doubtful record might we not often spare for a few stones left one upon another. The ambition of the old Babel builders was well directed for this world. There are but two strong conquerors of the forgetfulness of men,—poetry and architecture; and the latter in some sort includes the former, and is mightier in its reality. It is well to have not only what men have thought and felt, but what their hands have handled, and their strength wrought, and their eyes beheld all the days of their life."
Wilson, after quoting this eloquent passage from Ruskin's Seven Lamps, adds,—
"The Scottish Catherthun is no Athenian Acropolis, and our monolithic temples, though not ineloquent memorials of their builders, must rank with the primeval structures of Greece, and not with her Parthenon or Colonna. But our aboriginal strongholds, although of a sufficiently rude and primitive character, must not be overlooked in reviewing those conquerors of the forgetfulness of men."
Carn Goch is a detached mountain on the left bank of the Towy, which commands a striking and extensive view of the course of that river. The spectator looking down sees the bold promontory of Dynevor, the graceful coronet of Grongar, and many a distant hill. The summit of this detached mountain is crowned with the ruins of an immense fortress, which nothing but a strong effort of concentrated power could have constructed. It is formed of two distinct camps, surrounded by masses of stones, which, at the present day, show no signs that they were built up into regular walls, and nothing but an investigation of their foundations will enable us to come to any satisfactory conclusion respecting their original formation.
The larger inclosure has a wall, such as before described, about half a mile, or perhaps more, in circumference. In the centre of this inclosure, there is a plashy pool usually full of water, and whence the occupiers of the fort could be plentifully supplied. At the lower end of this pool appear ruined heaps of stones, which have all the appearance of having once served as the foundations of buildings.
The great mass of stones is within the greater inclosure, and might have served as its citadel. The name of Cam Goch is evidently derived from this elevation, which, when seen from various points, assumes a pyramidical form. The side of the fortress facing the Black Mountain is abrupt and precipitous in most parts, and looks down upon a large space of ground, which has all the appearance of having been once covered with buildings, under the immediate protection of the fortress, as the masses of stones, which encumber the whole ground, present indications of ruined foundations. In the centre of this ground appears a round stone carn, which does not appear to have been ever violated, and, consequently, deserves examination. In the face of the greater fortress which looks to the lesser, there is a spacious entrance or gateway, flanked by enormous masses which might have once been towers. The rock, which forms the basement of this entrance, bears marks of great traffic, and is in parts deeply rutted. At the opposite extremity is a corresponding entrance, from which may be traced a well defined ancient trackway leading up the river.
The lesser inclosure, which served as an outpost to the greater, and is also commanded by it, is not to be compared to its principal, although in itself a work of great labour and strength. To be duly appreciated, the remains should be surveyed and planned by a military engineer of competent skill; and I see no reason why the barracks of Caermarthen or Brecon might not furnish such a person, well qualified for such a work. The distance from Brecon is about thirty, from Caermarthen about seventeen miles.