Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Gwaith 11: Moel-y-don (9 Oct 2016)

Helo Pawb

For my last site visit of the day, I travelled down to Moel-y-don on the Menai Strait. This is the place I intend to use as the setting for a scene about the Roman invasion of Ynys Môn in 61AD. I visited the area on my previous trip (see here), but as with my other explorations this time around, I wanted to see things in a different season and check that I hadn’t missed anything.

Display map at the beach 
Unlike the inclement weather of last time, a drizzle that turned into lashing rain, the sky held few clouds and the wind, though cold, wasn’t driving icicles through me. Divers dressed in heavy wetsuits jumped off their boats and hauled them ashore to be loaded onto trailers and one intrepid swimmer, wearing a wetsuit that only went to his elbows and knees and wearing yellow paddles on his hands, butterflystroked and dolphin-swam his way across the nearby small cove and back.

So, being able to take my time at the site meant I could start considering the tactical implications of the battle. The Celts were facing east. The Romans would have been smart enough to start the battle with the sun in their foe’s eyes the battle, though this would then depend on the season and the tides. And of course, another consideration would have been wind direction, which would have helped or hindered the Romans’ war machines.

The view across the Menai Strait
Not having tidal tables or weather reports for that year, I will just have to invent the scenario that has the best dramatic impact and also accords with what little is known about the battle. If they crossed at low tide, the water obstacle would be less, but they would have to contend with mud banks, which would slow them down. This isn’t mentioned in Tacitus, so I can only presume they crossed at high tide. As or time of day, maybe the sun would have been in the Celts eyes, but their goddess was kind and had given them cloud cover.

Then there’s the physical layout of the site. Again, we don’t have reports of the landscape at the time, so all I can do is use what I observe and make allowance for the dramatic and for later additions to flora and fauna. For example, sycamore trees were introduced in the 17th century and the Normans introduced rabbits in the 12th century, though there is some evidence that Romans used them as a gourmet dish, but the animal may not have been in the wild till much later. Anyway, observations of my time on the beach include the obvious:
  • A shingle beach with tide lines marked by seaweed (which of course the warriors in the battle might slip on)
  • The shingle itself would make things difficult for Celtic chariots
  • The cries of wheeling seagulls and the lapping of waves across the stones
  •  The smell of mud, brine and rotting seaweed carried by the cold wind
  • A lip of land at the top of the beach and hawthorn hedging along this. A robin sang from the top of the hedge. Behind this is a flat stretch of land, with grasses and nettles, where the druids would be chanting, as reported by Tacitus
  •  Then the land dips a little, before sloping up, in waves, inland, to the dark groves that the Romans burned after winning the battle
  • Oaks and beech line the other shore.
  • Oystercatchers bobbing for food on the mudflats.
The shingle beach
The hedge at the top of the beach
The robin at the top of the hawthorn hedge
The lie of the land behind the hedge
At one point, as I was re-checking my maps, I thought the beach on the other side of the headland might even be closer to the opposite shore, especially when taking into account sandbanks that might help the crossing. However, after visiting the cove, I decided the close distance was a trick of perspective in the particular map and I would stick to my original choice.

View of the alternative beach
Content with my explorations at the site and for the day itself, I watched for a long while the sun shimmer across the water then headed back to my accommodation.

Late afternoon sun over the second cove
An abandoned ferry
As always, I welcome your comments.

Cofion Cynnes

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