Strumble Head is a headland near Fishguard, about 15 miles to the WNW from Carn Menyn. The headland is just a few miles across with a scatter of small farms and hamlets and punctuated by dramatic rocky outcrops known as “garns”.
Strumble Head is home to a group of dolmens in various states of preservation -- archaeologist George Nash, one of the L&P project consultants, has shown that the dolmens on Strumble Head form an east-west alignment. Our aim was to visit some of the ones in better condition, seeing if there was lithophone presence and any interesting sighting characteristics at them.
At SM949.392, almost overlooking Fishguard Bay, there is a set of dolmens forming a N-S alignment. It is said that up to 6 or 7 could possibly be involved, though most authorities say that there are just 4, and we could find only 4 readily visible ones. The confusion is easy to understand as the site is in a very shabby condition, wedged in between housing, small allotments and rubbish dumps, compounded by undergrowth and many rocks protruding from the ground that may be part of the largely overgrown natural outcrop the dolmens are adjacent to, or tumbled and scattered elements of the supposed other dolmens.
None of the dolmen capstones possess lithophonic properties, though one did have unusual resonant qualities. Sighting to Mynydd Preseli was impossible to judge in situ because of the housing and other obstructions, but in theory some part of the Mynydd Preseli massif might have once been visible from the site. It would certainly have been visible from a former dolmen site (SM943.392) shortly to the west and above the Carn Wen site at Pen-Rhiw (the Parc-y cromlech).
One thing the Carn Wen group yet again demonstrated was the association of dolmens with natural outcrops – a consistent pattern in this part of Wales.
At SM933.393, on the steep NW slope of the Garn Wnda garn or outcrop. Its huge capstone is supported at the front by a triangular stone upright and at the back is wedged into the slope of the garn, immediately beneath a vertical rock face. Dolmens with part of their capstones embedded in the ground behind like this are referred to as “earth fast”. Early archaeological investigation of this site found a few burnt bones in a crude ceramic urn.
Here, as we have been finding throughout the region, dolmens seem to have a relationship with natural outcrops, being either on them, immediately adjacent to them, or within distant visibility of them – usually at the limits of visibility, a sort of visual precision that seems to have been significant.
It was found that the capstone of Carn Wnda was non-lithophonic, though it had points of unusual resonance. The rock wall behind the dolmen did not produce any particularly noteworthy echoes, and because of deteriorating weather conditions there was no extensive testing for lithophonic properties of the outcrop, though a more thorough future investigation might reveal some parts of the outcrop to have ringing elements in it.
There can be no line of sight from the dolmen to Carn Menyn, as the bulk of the outcrop blocks the view, but from the top of the garn itself, Mynydd Preseli is probably visible on the skyline, judging from map cross-section, though this was not actually tested on site due to the deteriorating conditions.
At SM909.389, this dolmen is on the southerly side of Garn Gilfach and enjoys wide views from SE to SW. The monument itself is essentially a massive serpentine capstone over what appears as an earthen hollow (though is actually a rock-cut pit), with very small supporting stones. Like Carn Wnda, it is positioned high up against the rock wall summit of the natural outcrop of the garn.
The monument has a unique feature – strange carved triangular depressions on the upper surface of its capstone. No one has come up with any explanation for these, other than lurid Victorian suggestions that they were for collecting the blood of sacrificial victims!
Acoustically, the site is interesting. The capstone is not fully lithophonic, though parts of it are sub-lithophonic in that they have more than mere hollow resonance, but the really arresting sonic feature at the site is the powerful echo that rebounds from a rocky hill immediately to the east of the dolmen’s location.
There is a particularly interesting sightline from the dolmen: the rocky pinnacle of Great Treffgarn Rocks (SM957.251) is visible approximately 9 miles distant on the SSE horizon. (The Great Treffgarn Rocks also figure in horizon sightlines involving Garn Turne and Ffynnion Druidion described elsewhere.)
It is unlikely that the dolmen would have a view further to the SE, the direction of Mynydd Preseli, as that is blocked by topography. However, Mynydd Preseli was indistinctly discernible from the higher vantage point of the summit of the outcrop, the the garn itself. This held an acoustic surprise too, in that some rocks at the very summit are truly lithophonic. It is a musical peak. Unfortunately, this was not audio recorded on this occasion due to technical difficulties.