Highlighted on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region in 1878 and described much earlier by Thomas Pennant (1796)—almost as legendary as the fairies themselves in some parts—this ancient tree was obviously a place of great repute in the mythic history of the people in previous centuries. Animistic relationships with the landscape were still deeply embedded in the daily lives of our peasant communities all across the country when Pennant wrote about this place. In his antiquarian history of the area he described the great mansion of Downing Hall and in its grounds the ruins of Molandina Abbey. “Above this,” he wrote,
“is a spreading oak of great antiquity, size, and extent of branches: it has got the name of the Fairy Oak. In this very century a poor cottager, who lived near the spot, had a child who grew uncommonly peevish; the parents attributed this to the fairy, and imagined that it was a changeling. They took the child, put it in a cradle, and left it all night beneath the tree, in hopes that the tylwydd têg, or fairy family, or the fairy folk, would restore their own before morning. When morning came they found the child perfectly quiet, so went away with it, quite confirmed in their belief.”
Nearby, and in the same grounds of the mansion, Pennant told there to be an even older and greater oak tree that “has in it furrows so deep, and of aspect so uncommonly venerable, as to render its shade as worthy of the solemn rites of the Druids.”
Pennant, Thomas, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, B. & J. White: London 1796.
Go north on the A5026 from the town of Holywell for about 3 miles; at the hamlet of Lloc take the turning first right towards Trelogan village for another mile – the ancient cross stands in the corner of a field at the junction of 3 roads at the turning from Whitford to Trelogan, halfway between Whitford and Sarn. The cross can also be reached via Pantasaph from the A55.
The cross probably dates from 1000 AD and is said to be the tallest wheel-headed cross in Wales, standing at 11 feet 3′ in height. The metal fence surrounding the cross spoils the monument quite a bit, but it is there for security reasons. It is richly decorated on all sides and on the cross-head. Much of the decoration is Celtic in origin, but there are also Viking influences here, probably Northumbrian. On the south face there is a human figure standing on a serpent that has associations with the Norse god Odin; also a three-legged horse that may also be connected to Odin. The north-west face has Celtic pattern-work in the form of the letter “X” and below that another figure (naked) holding a spear. The north-east face is rather eroded, but there is some Celtic-style decoration. There is more knotwork and chainwork elsewhere on the cross with other animal figures. The wheel-head has a distinctive central boss and a four star-shaped cross radiating from the boss.
Folklore and Legend
The cross is also called ‘The Stone of Lamentation’ because penances were carried out at the cross in the Middle Ages. This act would have concluded with weeping and the ‘act of contrition’ by pilgrims visiting the site whilst making their way between St Winifred’s Well and St David’s. Legend says that St Cwyfan, a local 7th century Celtic saint preached on this site and set-up the cross – hence the name, Maen Achwyfan. One local legend tells us that Queen Boudica fought her last battle against the Romans close by in the fields called ‘Cydio ar Leni’ or ‘The fields of the seizing legions’. During the Middle Ages the monks of Basingwerk Abbey preached at the cross and also set up a chapel for pilgrims just to the south at Whitford.
Allen, J. Romilly, “Celtic Crosses of Wales”, in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1899.
Owen, Rev. Elias, Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd and Neighbouring Parishes, Bernard Quaritch: London & Oswestry 1886.
Sharkey, John, Celtic High Crosses of Wales, Carreg Gwalch: Llanrwst 1998.
Westwood, J.O., Lapidarium Walliæ – The Early Incised and Sculptured Stones of Wales, Oxford University Press 1879.