OS Grid Reference: SJ 08675 80152. A huge oval-shaped prehistoric cairn (tumulus) surrounded by forestry on the south-side of Gop Hill (Y Gop), a ¼ of a mile to the north of Trelawnyd village, about halfway between Holywell and Rhuddlan, Flintshire, northeast Wales. Also known as Garn Gop Cairn or in Welsh – Gop’r Leni. It is thought to date from either the Neolithic or Bronze Age. Gop Cairn is almost certainly the largest cairn in Wales and the second largest man-made mound in the British Isles after Silbury Hill. However, no human burials were found when it was excavated in the late 19th century though there were many animal bones. Two caves below the hill (southwest-side) yielded finds that suggest communal burial grounds. To reach this site from High Street, Trelawnyd: head northwest on the track past the houses which becomes a footpath; follow this but then soon veer off northwards to climb up to Gop Hill, which is 820 feet high, and is now directly in front of you and sandwiched between the forested areas.
Author Richard V. Simcock (1986) gives some interesting information regarding Gop Cairn. He says: “This conspicuous monument on the summit of a hill to the north-west of Trelawnyd (formerly Newmarket) but just within the boundary of the parish of Gwaenysgor, and also with walking distance. It is the largest cairn in Wales, and measures about 335 yards in circumference at the base. It is constructed of limestone pebbles, and probably dates from the bronze age. The cairn has been the site of many explorations by eminent archaeologists, and whilst considerable historic relics and information has been acquired, there is still lack of evidence as to the purpose for which it was originally constructed. Excavations have resulted in the discovery of the bones of several Pleistocene animals, including those of bison, reindeer, Irish elk, hyaenas, woolly rhinoceroses and artic lemming, which probably date from BC 400 TO 3000. A cave on the south side of the hill has revealed evidence of communal Neolithic burial ground.”
Simcock goes on to say that: “Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, is often associated in legend with this area, and one writer connects the neighbourhood of the Gop with the battle fought between Sustonious Paulinus and Boudicca in AD 61. Generations of writers have also speculated where the great battle was fought, and where such immense slaughter and carnage was committed; also the site of Boudicca’s grave. The Queen’s restless ghost is often summoned up to reinforce the claims of many sites in England too. These stories may or may not be true, but it is not known where or when. Yet as one strolls high on this tumulus crest, it is not difficult picture this warrior Queen hurtling into battle, as so ably portrayed in the massive Victorian statue on the Thames embankment.”
Author Christopher Houlder (1978) says of The Gop Cairn: “This is surely the most imposing mound in Wales, though its apparent size is partly due to its position. The overall height of 12 m and the maximum diameter of 100 m no doubt conceal a natural core formed by the hilltop. A vertical shaft in 1886 and two galleries failed to reveal any central features, disclosing only a few animal bones. The Gop Cairn’s size invites comparison with the Boyne chambered tombs, but it may be in reality the most important of the many Bronze Age burial mounds of the region, indicating wealth or status such as might accrue from participation in the metal trade with Ireland along the north coast.”
Houlder adds that: “A startling example of such wealth came to light in 1815 in a small quarry at Bryn Sion (SJ 135 719), though it took the keen eye of a gipsy to recognize its value. Used for a while as a gate fastening, it proved in the end to be a gold torc, a twisted rectangular bar of metal bent into a hoop.”
Chris Barber writing in 1987 says of the Gop Hill cairn and nearby cave that: “Professor Boyd Dawkins carried out excavations here in 1886. He sank a central shaft right down to the bedrock, but his efforts were not rewarded with any significant finds. However, further down the hill below this cairn, he excavated a cave and discovered a small sealed chamber cut into the limestone. Inside were fourteen skeletons in crouched positions, with their arms and legs drawn together and folded. Of particular interest is the fact that the shape of their skulls showed two different periods of man, thought to be Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Fragments of crude pottery and flint tools were also found here.”
Also, Barber (1987) adds more information regarding Gop Carn. He says: “Here is the largest carn [cairn] in Wales. It is 300 feet by 200 feet and 36 feet high. The hill on which it stands is known as Bryn-y-Saethau – The Hill of the Arrows. Many flint arrowheads have been found on its slopes and the massive carn is claimed to be the grave of Boudicca (otherwise known as Boadicea, the warrior Queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century AD). It is also said to be the grave of a Roman general. In 1938 a local man was walking from Dyserth to Trelogan when he saw a field full of Roman soldiers, and on Gop Hill he saw the ghost of the Roman general on a white horse with a sword in his hand. A cloud passed over the moon and the apparition vanished.”
Sources and related websites:-
The two photos (above) are from Prof. Howard M. R. Williams website ‘Archeodeath’ and are displayed here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/the-largest-ancient-mound-in-wales-the-gop-cairn/
Barber, Chris, Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.
Barber, Chris, More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.
Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.
Simcock, Richard V., North Clwyd At Random, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1986.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.