A Neolithic burial tomb dating back to 2500 B.C., Arthur's Stone (sometimes known as King Arthur's Stone) was first excavated by Sir Gardiner Wilkinson in 1870.
One of the first sites to be protected under the Ancient Monuments Act of 1882, Arthur's Stone is Gower's most prestigious landmarks.
The earliest reference to the name of this New Stone Age tomb appears in a letter from the Venerable John Williams, a 17th Century Rector of Cheriton church to the antiquarian Edward Lhuyd where he wrote:
"The common people call it Arthur's Stone, by a lift of vulgar imagination attributing it to yn [sic] hero an extravagant size and strength"
Over four metres long, two metres broad and two and a half metres high and raised on a series of angular stone supports, the capstone is an incredible twenty-five ton boulder of quartz conglomerate that was deposited here by a glacial ice sheet that crossed the entire South Wales countryside during the last great Ice Age. At this time the stone weighed a good ten tons heavier that it does today as some time before 1693 the rock was split cleanly in two.
Legends abound as to the cause of this break:
- A miller looking for a new millstone;
- Lightning striking the stone during a fierce electrical storm;
- Even St. David himself has been attributed to the act;
- The stone was once the centre of druid worship and it is said that the patron saint of Wales took his mighty sword to the monument to prove it as an altar of false gods.
Whatever the cause, this large segment still lays at the foot of Arthur's Stone to taunt the visitor with the origin of its mysterious severance.
The monument has been a famous attraction for over half a millennium. In the 15th Century, for instance, it is recorded that Henry VII's troops, having landed at Milford Haven en route to give battle at Bosworth Field, made a one hundred and twenty eight kilometre detour to visit the stone.
In the 16th Century the site was listed as one of the "three mighty achievements of the Isle of Britain" (the other two being the Stonehenge and Silbury Hill monuments), but despite such exaltation it is now believed that no great exertion was employed in erecting the monument. It seems probable that the Neolithic builders responsible, taking full advantage of the giant boulder already deposited on the elevated site of Cefn Bryn, excavated beneath the rock, inserting up to twelve upright stones as they dug to support its hefty weight, whilst they created the space for two burial chambers.
With so many other of Gower's historic monuments bearing host to myths, folklore and superstitions it would be remarkable to find something of the order of Arthur's Stone to be barren of such fables. The legends concerning the splitting of the stone have already been discussed, but countless others concerning the origins of the monument and the supernatural powers ascribed to it also exist:
- The stone takes its name from the legend that King Arthur, during his travels in Carmarthenshire, found a pebble in his boot and tossed it across the Burry Estuary. Landing some eleven kilometres away on Cefn Bryn - having assumed magical powers along its flight The stone grew in stature whilst other rocks indigenous to the region elevated the boulder upon their shoulders to display to the world the wonder of King Arthur's Stone.
- At each cock crow the stone wanders down to the nearby river, that runs down towards Cheriton, to quench its thirst.
- King Arthur is sometimes said to be seen riding a white horse near the tomb.
- At midnight , when the moon was full, young maidens would test the fidelity of the men they loved by offering the stone a cake baked from Barley meal and honey wetted with milk. They would then circle the stone three times on their hands and knees, knowing that if their man appeared before they finished their final circuit he would make a faithful husband.
Cut off from the mainland for 5 hours at high tide, the small islet marking the northern end of Rhossili Bay (Llangennith) has a rich and varied history.
Mesolithic flints have been found here as well as a pin dating as far back as the Bronze Age.
At the western end of the islet once stood a 5 acre fort and this site is still separated from the other 10.25 acres of land by a double rampart and wide ditch.
Later, during the Middle Ages, a monastery was constructed on the landward end of the island and remains of this building can still be seen today.
This well preserved Neolithic long barrow tomb is known by a variety of names, including Long Cairn, Parc le Breos Tomb, Parl Le Bruce Burial Chamber and Parc Cwm Long Cairn.
A classic example of a transepted gallery grave, the site dates as far back as 3,500 BC and consists of a long mound of stones (of local origin) with a deep forecourt at its southern extremity. A slab lined passage dissects the monument, interrupted by two pairs of side chambers. These would have originally been roofed over with further slabs but now lie open for public view.
Discovered in 1869 when workmen digging for road stone came across the stones of its central chamber, the tomb was excavated in the same year by Sir John Lubbock (famed for introducing the word Neolithic, meaning New Stone Age, into the English language). During this excavation, the remains of animal bones, Neolithic pottery and around 24 human skeletons were uncovered. These can now be viewed at the Ashmolean Museum ( University of Oxford ).
The bodies of the individuals buried here are believed to have been exposed to the elements, to speed their decomposition, before their ceremonial burial in the tomb. Burial galleries, such as Giant's Grave, were typically utilised by several generations, the skeleton occupants of the grave being ritually dismembered and moved around as more members of the community needed to be accommodated here.
Sir John Lubbock believed the cairn to be circular and it was not until the later excavation in 1937 that Professor Glyn Daniel discovered the site to be a long barrow.
The backbone of Gower, Cefn Bryn is the second highest point on the peninsula (at 609 feet above sea level) and offers spectacular views westwards to Rhossili Downs (the highest point in Gower), eastwards to Swansea, north to the Burry Estuary and beyond to Dyfed and South over the Bristol Channel and the coastline of England.
The main topographical feature of this huge Old Red Sandstone ridge, which dominates the view from most locations in Gower, is of common moorland, dissected neatly in two by the road linking the northern peninsula to its southern counterpart. Drivers on this particular route, however, should be careful of the numerous sheep and horses which graze this landscape as there have been numerous incidences of these animals being killed or injured as they step casually, if not almost blindly, out into the road ahead of oncoming vehicles.
Cefn Bryn was the focal point for the ceremonies and rituals of Prehistoric Man and the area still contains over sixty of their burial mounds - although many of these disappear in the summer months beneath the summer undergrowth of gorse and bracken. The largest of these is the impressive "Great Carn", a circular mound of rocks raised above a central grave. Ahead of all these prehistorical sites however is Arthur's Stone, a Neolithic cromlech dating back to approximately 2500BC. This monument is the main attraction to Cefn Bryn and is placed high on the list of places and sites to visit of most people who spend a few days holidaying on the peninsula.
The Sweyne Howes are 2 Neolithic burial stones found on the eastern slope of Rhossili Downs, towards Llangennith.
The tombs are approximately 300 feet apart and were constructed by the peninsula's very first farmers. The northern most stones are the best preserved, although neither anywhere near approaches the fine condition of the similar construction on Cefn Bryn - Arthur's Stone.
Despite their name (Sweyne was the Viking king who is believed to have given his name to Swansea) the tombs do not mark the grave of Vikings.