When I was down in Cardigan recently I went to have a look at Pentre Ifan burial chamber which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years now but not got round to. It must be tricky when managing historical monuments to decide what you do in terms of access and information, do you build a visitor centre, have lots of display boards and information, car parks etc all of which have their place and can add to your enjoyment but at the same time they can detract from the actual monument. I liked the approach that had been taken at Pentre Ifan in that there is basically nothing so you can sit and take in the ancient stones very much in the elements with nothing around. There is a simple fence and path out to a small road (no car parking) and one display board. Parking is a couple of miles away with footpaths meandering upwards through woodland and farmers fields to the monument which only reveals itself at the last moment.
I found the stones absolutely breathtaking, it was a warm still day when I went and only a trickle of other people were around which meant I could spend a good period of time simple taking in the enormity of what I was looking at. The placing of the burial chamber is on a hillside high enough up to give fantastic views across the rolling countryside down to Cardigan Bay. There are around 7 stones still standing (with some others scattered about) that would have formed the entrance to what was believed to have been a communal burial chamber. The stones date back to 3,500 BC and I was in awe of the skill and engineering of the ancient neolithic people that constructed this. I was scratching my head as to how they got the stones there? how did they get them in place? how did they manage to sculpt the stones to create what in some instances were completely smooth cuts and surfaces? I also boggled at the fact that South West Wales is not exactly heaving with people now so how sparsely populated was it 5,500 years ago? and yet clearly whoever was there at that time lived I think in a technically sophisticated and structured community.
The largest stone on the top (or capstone) is about 15-20 feet in length and is estimated to weigh around 17 tonnes and is beautifully balanced on the sharpened tips of 3 supporting stones. It honestly looks for all the world like the capstone is going to slide off at any moment but clearly it’s stood the test of time.