The sun was shining brightly as Cerys chased her dog along the sands of the broad bay. The previous night's storm had blown itself out now and tiny puffs of cloud drifted high overhead against the blue sky.
She stopped as the dog picked up the stick she had thrown and spun around, racing back towards her, the water droplets flying from his long coat turned to glittering jewels by the sunlight.
“Oh no! No, no Gwyn! You bad boy!” The golden retriever raced around her in ever tightening circles, bouncing excitedly and spraying water all over her. He dropped the stick and crouched head down, tail wagging, waiting for Cerys to throw it again. She wiped the salt water from her eyes and glared down at him.
“Why must you always jump in the rock pools? You enjoy soaking me don't you?”
The dog looked up at her with a grin, his pink tongue hanging out as he panted happily.
“Right! Try this then!”
She pulled her arm back and flung the stick as hard as she could down the shoreline. It hit a rock and bounced around a corner of the cliff but Cerys didn't see this as she had covered her eyes to protect them from the spray of sand that flew up from the dog's paws as he took off across the beach. She brushed the sand from her T shirt and strolled after him.
She was halfway to the cliff when she heard the barking.
“Gwyn! What is it?”
She ran round the corner and stopped suddenly a hand raised to her mouth in shock. She and Gwyn had walked along this beach for years and she thought she knew every inch of it but, now, where yesterday there had been a long line of cliffs with the harsh grey towers of Criccieth Castle above them on the headland, today there was a pile of broken rock which had fallen away from the cliff and spilled down across the beach.
Gwyn was standing over the stick staring at the unfamiliar view. He turned his head when Cerys appeared and picked it up, wagging his tail hopefully.
“Wow! Look at that!” she murmured, patting the dog absently. “That storm last night must have loosened up the rock and caused a landslide!”
She slipped a hand through Gwyn's collar and held him still while she clipped on a short lead. “Better be careful lad. More of that might come down any minute!”
As she stood up she noticed a gap beside a large rock and walked forward to get a better look, the dog following obediently at her heels. The gap widened as she moved across the cliff face and in a moment she found herself peering into a dark space.
“It's a cave Gwyn!” she whispered, her eyes alight with excitement. “A new one! Shall we take a look?”
Carys had been exploring the caves along the bay for most of her life and she pulled out the small torch she carried in her pocket.
“We need to be careful boy! Stay close to me okay?”
She pressed the button and shone the torch into the break in the cliffs. It was clear that the gap opened up by the landslide had revealed a natural cavern carved out of the rock. After carefully examining the roof by torchlight to satisfy herself that there was no imminent danger of it collapsing on top of her, she stepped inside and looked around. The sandy floor of the cave sloped upwards to a sheet of granite which formed a floor going back into the darkness. She shone the torch around examining the walls until she came to the corner furthest from where she stood. A pile of broken rock lay on the floor but it was obvious that the gap they had fallen from was worked stone with sharp corners cut by hand.
“Look Gwyn! It looks like there was some kind of doorway there.”
She walked over to the doorway and shone the torch over the broken rubble. The torchlight revealed a short corridor, the floor covered with broken stone and the bottom of a flight of steps. However it was obvious that the stairway had collapsed and the rubble had blocked it completely.
“I'll bet that stairway originally went up to the cellars of the castle!” she whispered.
The dog nudged at her leg in response and as the beam of the torch moved she saw another chamber further in. Climbing carefully over the rubble Carys squeezed into the short corridor and peered into the chamber. What she saw made her skin break out into goosebumps and she shivered. The dim torchlight had revealed what appeared, at first glance, to be a pile of sticks and stones on the floor but as she stepped forward tentatively to get a closer look, in the same way that you can stare at a pattern of dots and suddenly see a face, the random pile of sticks resolved itself into a skeleton stretched out in the centre of the floor.
As she moved forward she felt a tug on the lead and looked back. Gwyn was lying on the threshold, his head resting on his paws. He whined quietly at her.
“Come on, it's okay” she whispered.
Gwyn didn't move.
“Oh all right! Stay there then! I'll be right back.....”
She dropped the lead and crept forward to examine the skeleton. Her first assumption was that it was a burial of some kind but as she got closer she realised that was unlikely. The position of the bones showed that the body had been laid out with its arms and legs outstretched and, to her horror, she noticed that four rusty iron nails appeared to have been driven through the bones of the hands and feet.
She stepped forward to get a better look and suddenly felt something. As though there had been a tension in the air which was abruptly released. She raised a hand to her face, feeling as though something had brushed past her in the darkness. Gwyn raised his head and whined again.
“Okay, you're right. This is creepy! Let's get back outside shall we?”
She picked up the lead and hurried out onto the beach, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight. Digging in her pocket for her phone she wondered who to call. She suspected that the Police wouldn't thank her for dragging them all the way out here. The remains had obviously been there for a very long time.
“Well Gwyn, like they say in the movie..... “who're you gonna call?”.....”
Carys had spent her whole life in the area and worked in her parents' Bed & Breakfast cleaning and waiting on the guests, but since the place was much quieter in the winter she had supplemented her income one year by helping out on an archaeological dig a few miles inland. She searched the phone's memory....yes! There it was! Dr Emrys Pritchard. He had been in charge of the dig and worked at the local museum some five miles away. He would know what to do.
Several hours later she sat on the rocks with Gwyn watching the activity below. The once pristine sand was churned up and marked with the tyre tracks of numerous vehicles that had driven along the beach to this remote spot. As she watched the familiar figure of Dr Pritchard came out of the cave mouth and looked around. He spotted her and waved.
“There you are Carys! Well it looks as though he's all ours.”
Despite Carys' reservations the Police had been notified and a representative from the Coroner’s Office had trailed out to the beach, muttering protests the whole time, and confirmed that the remains were much too old to be of any interest to the Police.
“I've been thinking about this” she said. “He must have come from the castle right? That's where those steps must go. There was no way in from the beach until the landslide last night.”
“I suspect that you're right” he answered, looking up at the ruins of the old castle on the headland. “It was built in the early part of the 13th Century by Llewellyn the Great and then modified following its capture by the forces of Edward I. It was used as a prison until 1404 when it was recaptured during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr and burnt down. That was probably when those steps collapsed and buried the entrance. Our man has been there for at least 600 years so I guess we'll probably never know who he was or how he died, although it obviously wasn't natural.”
Carys got up and brushed the sand from her knees. “Well, if you don't need me here I'd better be getting home” she said.
Dr Pritchard smiled at her. “Thanks for letting me know. This is an interesting find even if we have very little information. In fact, probably because we have so little information. Until now Pembroke Castle was thought to be the only castle in Britian to be built over a natural cavern. That was built in 1093 so this could have been a copy of the idea.”
He looked back at the cave mouth. “Intriguing....... I'd better be getting back myself. Can I give you a lift?”
His eyes never moved from the cave and Carys laughed. “No thanks! I can see you want to get back down there. We'll walk....right Gwyn?”
Gwyn put his head on one side and pricked his ears up a little. Cerys leaned down and scratched him behind an ear as Dr Pritchard clambered back down the rocks to the cave.
“What do you hear boy?” she asked.
She raised her head, realising that she could hear it too. A faint sound like the baying of hounds. She looked up to see a skein of geese flying overhead, the creak of their wings and the occasional honking sound evidently what had attracted the dog's attention.
“It's just some geese Gwyn” she said. “Nothing for you to worry about.” But for once the dog stayed beside her, walking obediently to heel, all the way home.