Lonely stones in lonely places. High above Llangollen, on the old way from the town to Glyn Ceiriog, Pontfadog, Chirk and on to Oswestry, the standing stone of Carreg y big stands still. How long it has stood here, no one knows - its purpose is something of a mystery.
It is largely as it was when Ellis Davies visited in 1925, and little changed from the visit of the Royal Commission in 1911. A starkly slender stone, it leans dramatically to the west and stands at around 9ft in height. It has a considerable presence, an air of otherworldliness, as many of these standing stones do. Curious then, that I almost missed it, amongst the trees on the edge of the field - it seemed to blend into the background of greys and browns, into the grey light.
Lonely stones in lonely places - the mysterious Carreg y big.
It stands on what is today the border between Denbighshire and Wrexham, and what was the parish boundary. It seems likely, then, that it served as a boundary marker, as many standing stones did - and still do. But, that does not mean, of course, that a boundary stone it always was. There is a distinct possibility that it was moved to its current position at some time in the past, taken from an unknown elsewhere, a cairn or circle. Given that we are still finding standing stones, or the weathered remains of them used as gate posts, or built into the fabric of buildings, it perhaps is not surprising in the least to find them used as boundary stones. It was considered dangerous to move a standing stone, and myth and legend tells us of terrible dreams and nightmares for those that did. Still, moved they were.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Carreg y big has been had at in its time. Its flatter west facing flank has many gouged dates etched into the stone, the earliest being 1666. However, there are doubts about the veracity of these dates. As has been said, Ellis Davies visited in 1925 and made mention of seeing a date of 1868, but not one of 1666. It seems unlikely that Davies would have missed such a date, had it been there, especially since it is clear and sharp, suspiciously clear and sharp, in fact. The same can be said for the Royal Commission, who made no mention of a 17th century date on their visit at the beginning of the 20th century (though they seemed to have got Carreg y big mixed up with Croes Esgob a little further east).
A 17th century date carved into the stone remains deeply suspect.
As for the name, Carreg y big renders into English as, ‘the pointed stone’, and there is a similarly named monolith built into the porch of St Mael and St Sulien’s Church in Corwen. There is also almost a complete dearth of legend and myth connected to the stone, other than a really rather weak belief that it marked the grave of a giant. It seems then, to have been largely ignored, passed by and left to lean and weather amongst the trees.
And yet, there is something about this stone, something which refuses to allow it to be dismissed as a mere boundary stone - there is the suggestion that within the field in which the stone stands, the ghost of a barrow lies in the earth - a possible connection, perhaps? And to stand in its presence is a bit like being in the company of an old soldier who knows things that would make your eyes smart, if he was of a mind to tell you them. You know this, and you want to know, and you wouldn’t stop him if he showed willing, but part of you hopes he will stay silent…
E. Davies, The Prehistoric and Roman Remains of Denbighshire, Cardiff, 1929
RCAHMC, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire Denbigh, London, 1914