‘The Oswestry old way is not now much frequented, but it continues from Chirk Castle along the top of the mountain. Many roads intersect it, but the old road is very distinguishable.’
W.T. Simpson, History of Llangollen and its Vicinity, 1853, p.31
Croes Esgob (Bishop’s Cross) is a curious stump of fashioned stone, likely the remains of a medieval wayside cross - raised to guide travellers journeying along the old road over the mountain dividing Llangollen from Chirk and further on. From what remains, it was likely a cross of considerable stature and size, a stark declaration of Christianity. There is also the vague possibility that it marked a boundary - perhaps that of the land owned by Valle Crucis Abbey. It is not a coincidence that further down the track towards Llangollen, you will come across Croes y Beddau - moved at some point in the past, but probably serving as another wayside marker on the old Oswestry road.
The route is rather wonderful, affording some of the most wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. But, as Simpson states, it is little used now - the A5 running below the mountain having been built in the first quarter of the 19th century. It is likely that you will find yourself taken aback by the beauty, breathless with the glory of it. As you make your way, look up occasionally, as you may spot hang gliders hurling themselves down the slopes, or microlights whining their way towards Castell Dinas Bran - they launch from the mountain above you.
Much of the track beside which Croes Esgob rests is rough under foot, but think how many have trod this path over the centuries, possibly millenia. It possibly, probably predates, in fact, the cross by some considerable measure. It should be noted that there are a number of nearby springs along the track, most notably two which are collectively known as Ffynnon Arthur. It feels as if this road is of considerable importance - it feels as if this road is one of distant history.
This stump of a cross, the shaft having long since disappeared (Simpson saw no sign of it), is hollowed out some. This has led to a tradition that it served as a plague stone. The socket would have been filled with vinegar to sterilise the coins which local people would have left to pay for goods dropped by the cross. The reuse of the cross as a plague stone would perhaps have provided further reassurance to people who were often told that the plague was an act of punishment for the transgressions of their community. There is little actual evidence for its use as such, but it is not always wise to dismiss tradition out of hand.
The old path down towards Llangollen from the Croes y Esgob. It is to be hoped the tree borne registration plate is not all that remains of an off road disaster.
The most famous example of this use of vinegar disinfected coins for payment of goods is from the village of Eyam in Derbyshire. Eyam isolated itself from the outside world on an outbreak of plague in their community, largely at the instigation of the Reverend William Mompesson. Nearer to home, the cross in the churchyard of St Edith’s in Shocklach, just over the border in Cheshire was used for the same purpose - another can be found in Upton Upon Chester.
Interestingly, the Royal Commission, visiting in 1912, gave it the name, ‘The Raven’s Bowl’. This would seem to be the only example of it being known so in any source that is readily to hand. If it is a local tradition, it has been forgotten, but it is also curious that the Commission made the mistake of mixing up Croes Esgob and Carreg y big, and getting themselves into a bit of a lather.
‘This is a fanciful name given to a piece of granite that at first sight has the appearance of the base of a wayside cross.’
RCAHMC, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments: Denbighshire, 1912, p118
Still, the name is rather apt, since I have seen it used by Ravens (and other corvids) as a bath, since the hollow often fills with water in the rains. On one notable occasion I saw a lone buzzard standing beside the stump, eyes watching me with open malice.
The route remains as distinguishable as it was in Simpson’s day, and well worth the climb from Llangollen. The views will have you scouring the local estate agencies on your return to the town.
RCAHMC, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire: Denbigh, London, 1914
W. T. Simpson, History of Llangollen and its Vicinity, Llangollen, 1853