01 of 05
Iron Age Settlement Near Newport
Castell Henllys, in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, is a trip into the Welsh past. It's hard to find but this multiple award winner is worth the effort and fascinating for all.
No one was around when we climbed the steep - but short - hill up to Castell Henllys, a reconstructed Iron Age settlement in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The cinder path beside a clear and musical stream was dappled by late afternoon sunlight filtered through a stand of ancient trees.
We stopped to rest at a primitive enclosure where a few small pigs grunted and wallowed. Around a bend, on a hilltop shaved bare of trees, an impressive set of stag antlers guarded the entrance to a village of heavily thatched round houses. And beside them stood one of the more potent symbols of Britain's savage past (thanks to the 1973 cult film) - a giant Wicker Man towering over the remains of a still smoldering bonfire.
That's when the park guide, looking every inch the stereotypical Welshman, motored... up in an electric buggy. "They said I would find you up here," he shouted and waved at the weird statue. "It was Beltane last week and an arts club set him up for atmosphere."Continue to 2 of 5 below.
02 of 05
Welcome to the Iron Age
Apparently not so much as a chicken was sacrificed for the "pagan" celebration of Beltane (except maybe over somebody's barbecue grill later). First impressions are often inaccurate and after that revelation, our idle fantasy notions fell away one after another.
For example, despite his shock of curly grey hair and resonant storyteller's voice, Roger Tyrer, one of several park guides who look after visitors, isn't a Welshman at all, but a native Lancastrian. And the people who occupied the round houses on this site as much as 2,500 years ago were anything but savages.
The impressive reconstruction of three thatched round houses and a granary occupies an important archaeological site. Ongoing excavations by the University of York have discovered evidence that the people who occupied the village between 500 BC and 50 BC had sophisticated skills and engaged in long distance trade.Continue to 3 of 5 below.
03 of 05
Housekeeping in the Iron Age
Inside the largest of the houses, built on the exact spot where the ancient foundation pilings were revealed, there are separate "bedrooms" on platforms with partitions between them, looms with woven textiles, complicated woven motifs, cooking implements, ceramic pots and lyrical carvings. All, Tyrer explained, are based on real objects excavated from the Iron Age site. You can sit by the fire, kept burning in the largest house, "The Banqueting Hall", watching the smoke rise to form an insulating cushion near the chimneyless roof, and imagine the gatherings of the whole village on cold dark nights in ancient Britain.
Three-time winner of the Sanford Award for Heritage Education, Castell Henllys vividly brings the past to life and will spark endless questions from visitors young and old. It's a terrific family day out, especially for older children.
Guided tours with knowledgeable staff are offered twice a day. And during school vacations, children can join a range of... fun activities from helping to build a wattle and daub wall to spear throwing, bread making and Iron Age face painting. There are also Celtic storytelling events and costumed guided tours.
In the partly turf-roofed education center, visitors can learn more about the period, see clothes worn by volunteers who tried to live an Iron Age lifestyle at the site and see artifacts discovered during the 27 year excavation - between 1981 and 2008 - when students from all over the world joined the University of York's training excavation.Continue to 4 of 5 below.
04 of 05
Finding Castell Henllys
Castell Henllys is a little bit tricky to find - so don't expect a big signing pointing you in the right direction.
It's reached via an access road off the A487 between Cardigan and Newport in Pembrokeshire. It's a right turn if you are traveling southwest from Cardigan and a left if you are traveling northeast from Newport. There's a small brown and white sign at the top of a hill just before the road begins to descend into Newport. The sign is easy to miss so keep a sharp lookout for it.
Whatever you do, don't relay on your SatNav or GPS device to get you there. Coverage can be spotty in parts of Wales and this is one of them. Your GPS could lead you, as ours did, into the middle of the woods, with instructions to abandon your car and go cross country. (No kidding. That's what Wendy Whiplash, the voice of our SatNav, insisted we do.)
And if you don't speak Welsh (lots of people in Pembrokeshire do), don't expect to pronounce Castell Henllys the Welsh way.... Those double "l"s are real tongue twisters and most local people will know what you are talking about before you get to the second syllable.
Lastly, plan to go early in the day. The site closes in the late afternoon - even in summer - and you'll want to have plenty of time to explore it thoroughly and ask lots of questions.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Castell Henllys Essentials
- Where: Castell Henllys, Meline (near Crymych, Pembrokeshire SA41 3UR
- Contact: +44 (0)1239 891319
- Opening hours: Year round except from December 19 to January 2. Summer hours from March 25 to November 3, seven days a week from 10am to 5pm. Winter hours from November 4 to March 24, Monday to Friday from 11am to 3pm.
- Admission: Adults, concessions, children and family tickets available. Reduced price tickets available in winter.
- Accessibility: The cinder paths can be negotiated by people with moderate mobility and are wheelchair-friendly. The park's electric buggy is available to chauffeur people with more limited mobility to the site.
- What Else?: Thirty acres of woodland and river meadows crisscrossed with paths, where you might spot otters, swallows, bats and other wildife.
- Visit their website