|Y Myndd Du (or The Black Mountain, to use the vernacular... this is South Wales, after all!) is a wonderfully distorted triangle of high ground bordered on the north by the fertile Tywi Valley, to the east by the fledgling Afon Tawe, and falling away to the west in a series of hilltops of ever decreasing height crowned by some impressive Bronze Age cairns. A number of stone circles are to be found sheltering beneath the great northern escarpment, not forgetting Maen Mawr, still guarding its flock overlooking the aforementioned Tawe. Yeah, Pythagoras probably wouldn't have been best pleased with Y Mynydd Du's wonky natural geometry. But lovers of wild country infused with enigmatic, tangible remains of past humanity will no doubt possess a different viewpoint.
Hey, hang on though. What of the conveniently forgotten southern flank? Well, aside from the impressive Saith Maen stone row to the south-east, I've always adopted the Paul Daniels' stance... 'you'll like it, but not a lot'. However that was before the Sweetcheat posted a miscellaneous item regarding a 'recently discovered stone circle' upon Llorfa. Surely not? So... not that I'm overly cynical or anything - perish the thought - I simply had to go and have a look. And? In short, there's definitely another stone circle to add to the area's already impressive catalogue. However I would tentatively suggest there may well be a whole lot more, too. A southern companion to the Nant Tarw complex to the north, perhaps?
The approach, as you might expect by the much belated 'recent' discovery, is by no means a stroll. The gradient may be easy enough, but the going underfoot is anything but. Just so as you are forewarned regarding footwear, you understand? So, take the 'Palleg Road' north out of Gurnos (near Ystradgynlais) and, upon passing the cemetery and obligatory golf course, take the right hand fork to the isolated farm of Pen Yr Hoel. Parking is a problem, as evidenced by the numerous signs... however I chanced across the landowner who was quite happy with my arrangement upon the verge a little before the farm. I'd advise against carrying on down the track across the dodgy cattle grid. Tried this and had to reverse all the way back... not a strong point of the Gladman driving technique.
Public rights of way head north and westwards from the farm... however since it was clear the Gwys Fawr had to be crossed sooner or later, I take the latter and am immediately glad for the Gortex boots. There is no bridge and it was not possible to cross the slippery rocks without going for an unintentional paddle. Once across... shaken, the water a little more 'stirred'.... the path follows the river's course north for a while before veering to the north-west. There's a reason for this, of course, but needless to say I lose the line and finish up to my left thigh in the bog. Nice. However boots and gaiters once again limit the effects to manageable levels, so on we go. Follow the dilapidated drystone wall to the right, past sheepfolds, until the deep gulley carved by the Gwys Fach is attained and easily crossed. Head uphill to the left and the first monument reached is the cairn. Not the best of the genre, granted (not by a long chalk), but not bad for starters. The stone circle lies, unseen, a little way further uphill. The first thing that struck me was that it was so obviously a stone circle, albeit featuring the trademark diminutive orthostats of the South Walian uplands. Hey, even I could see that. Could it have been previously confused with the cairn, then? To be honest you would need to be a bit of a muppet since there is not a hint of cairn material within the circumference that I could see. Coflein agrees, adding that there are 'at least 16' earthfast stones in the ring, although to be honest any attempt at arithmetic would be somewhat pedantic... only excavation could answer that, I think. Let's get Tony Robinson and the gang up here....
The circle is never going to blow away those expecting a profile akin to a Scorhill or the like. This is no Carn Llechart. However, for me, the siting of this monument is way in advance of either. The serrated top of Cribarth rises to the east, guiding the gaze in a wide arc to the left, along the long escarpment of Fan Hir (the long ridge... a-ha!) to the Bronze Age cairn-crowned main summits of Fan Brycheiniog and Picws Du. The landscape possesses none of the 'softer' elements of the lower slopes of the Brecon Beacons or The Black Mountains further to the east. No, the vibe is one of austere beauty, devoid of pretension, brutal, even? The vista to the south and the coast is more expansive, with more obvious detail. I prefer the north.....
Venturing a little further up the ridge from the circle, a seemingly natural erratic leads me to what to these eyes looks very much like a stone row. Sceptical, as always, I check out the footings of the stones and conclude that some - in particular the smaller - look very much as if they have been artificially placed upon this hilltop. Wait, there's more. Beyond, and to the left of this 'stone row', lies a large, prostrate slab of stone covering what appears to be a hollow beneath. Again, it looks to me to have been consciously shaped and placed here.... I can't see any other naturally occurring slabs nearby. Having said that I'm no expert on geology, so these observations are obviously tentative at best. I've posted images under the Llorfa cairn site to allow members to comment if they so wish. Better still, go and have a look at first hand: http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/8146/llorfa.html
I return via the eastern bank of the Gwys Fach, fording the parent water course, appropriately enough, at the ford shown on the map at approx 784138. As earlier in the day, this is by no means easy. But when you've a sneaking suspicion there is a lot more to the area than previously thought, it is a small price to pay, is it not? Incidentally there are a couple of additional 'possible' ancient cairns nearby. Coflein reckons the southern is probably clearance... however the landscape context, with much surface rock, makes this far from certain in my view.
Posted by GLADMAN
16th October 2011ce
Edited 17th October 2011ce