HOD 2016 – Selattyn Hill Walk

Walk to Sleeping Beauty’s Tower: Selattyn Hill

We met at the Lime Kilns Car Park, Craignant and walked up the marked footpath alongside Offa’s Dyke before turning off to finish the climb up Selattyn hill and take in the wonderful views emerging from the morning mist as the sun struggled through the clouds. The summit is 372m above sea level and on a clear day gives views of up to 100km across northeast Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire and Powys.

Forestry and repairs

In the early 1970s, the landscape of Selattyn Hill changed dramatically when the entire hilltop was ploughed and planted with conifers. The ruins of the tower and the underlying cairn were lost from view amongst the maturing trees until relocated in 1997 by members of a local group, the Selattyn Village Project Group

In 1998 the Archaeology Service and the Selattyn Village Project Group carried out an archaeological survey and some trial excavations on the cairn, in advance of repair works to the tower.

Since then the mature trees have been felled, and the area has been replanted, but in the intervening period self set seedlings have colonised the site and the final section of the walk involved fighting our way through heather and brambles to reach the tower – a true a Sleeping Beauty experience!

The vegetation almost obscures the cairn and threatens to invade the tower and action is needed urgently if this important site is to survive.

The Bronze Age ring cairn

Situated on the eastern side of the hill, on ground that slopes slightly to the east, the early Bronze Age ring cairn overlooks a huge sweep of country from Helsby across to the Clee Hills. The monument consists of a spread of rounded boulders surrounded by a low circular bank about 22m diameter, also of large rounded boulders. The southwest side of the bank is much degraded, and areas of rubble of dressed limestone and boulders, some with mortar still adhering, are scattered about the cairn. These are likely to have come from the tower which was once about four metres high.

The Tower

In 1847, the belvedere or viewing tower was erected by Mr Crewe of Pentrepant to commemorate Prince Gwen, one of the sons of Llywarch Hen, a sixth century British prince, who, according to legend, was killed in a battle between the British and Saxons near to the Morlas Brook. The tower was built within the ring cairn, just to the south of its centre, and it is said that during its construction an urn containing human remains was found.

During World War II, the tower was used as a look-out post by members of the Local Defence Force Volunteers. The tower was already in a ruinous state, and the volunteers put up a corrugated iron roof.

We enjoyed our lunch, sitting on the heather, reading verses from the Lament of Llywarch Hen and reflecting on long ago border strife. The contrast between the hills of Wales and the huge expanse of the Shropshire plain is as impressive now as it was more than three thousand years ago when the cairn was built, and when in a later time Offa of Mercia decided to construct the dyke.

Prince Gwen and Orsedd Wen

Just down the hill to the south of the cairn lie the farm of Orsedd Wen and the supposed grave of Gwen, son of Llywarch Hen. Here a tumulus excavated in 1850 contained the inhumation burial of a mature man estimated to be over six feet tall together with the possible remnants of a bronze dagger and surrounded by much charcoal and clay.

Llywarch Hen is believed to have been an historical sixth century prince in the Old Northern Celtic kingdom of Rheged (an area of south-western Scotland today).

He was long revered as one of the greatest early Welsh bards but now his poetry is thought more likely to be the work of a poet or poets of 10 th century Powys recalling past glories when Llywarch Hen was a legendary almost Arthurian figure.

The first written record of the poetry appears in the Red Book of Hergest believed to have been compiled between 1375 and 1425.

Llywarch Hen laments his old age and the death of Gwen, the most beloved of his twenty four sons

The poem refers to the ford at the Morlas where Gwen was slain fighting the forces of Lloegr (England); the Morlas brook runs 0.5 km to the north, through the steep valley at Craignant and “Orsedd Wen” can be translated as “the throne of Gwen”.

For full details of this fascinating early excavation seeArchaeologia Cambrensis New series No. V January 1851 (Welsh Journals Online)

Some Verses from the Lament of Llywarch Hen.

Translation the Celtic Literature Collective © Mary Jones1998-2016

I was formerly fair of limb, I was bold,
I was admitted into the congress-house
Of Powys, the paradise of the Cymry.

Surely old age is uniting itself with me,
From my hair to my teeth,
And the glowing eyeball which the women loved!

This leaf, is it not driven by the wind?
Woe to it as to its fate!
It is old, this year was it born.

Gwen with thigh of wide opening watched last night
On the border of the ford of Morlas;
And as he was my son, he did not retreat.

Gwen, I knew thy inherent disposition;
In the assault like the eagle at fall of rivers thou wert;
If I were fortunate thou wouldst have escaped.

Let the face of the ground be turned up, let the assailants be covered,
Which chiefs repair to the toil of war;
Gwen, woe to him that is over old, for thee he is indignant.

Let the face of the ground be turned up, and the plain be covered,
When the opposing spears are lifted up.
Gwen, woe to him that is over old, that he should have lost thee.

My son was a man, splendid was his fame;
And he was the nephew of Urien
On the ford of Morlas, Gwen was slain.

The shrine of the fierce overbearing foe,
That vanquished the circularly compact army of Lloegr;
The grave of Gwen, the son of Llywarch Hen, is this!

Four-and- twenty sons have been to me,
Wearing the golden chain, leaders of armies;
Gwen was the best of them.

Four-and- twenty sons to me have been,
Wearing the golden chain, leading princes;
Compared with Gwen they were but striplings.