The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Y Garn, Nantlle Ridge



There's an old saying, isn't there? That first impressions count for everything.... however I'm not so sure. Perhaps we shouldn't be so hasty in making final judgements, take a moment or two to appreciate what may well not be readily apparent? Consider The Nantlle Ridge... a linear series of grassy summits set to the south-west of - and very much in the shadow of - the Snowdon Massif, rising over 1,000ft above. Hmm, it would appear at first glance that Nature has allocated very much a supporting role to these modest hills. However this is strictly not the case, connoisseurs of the Snowdonian landscape regularly citing The Nantlle Ridge as second only to the (frankly awesome) Crib Goch arete. What's more, and of great interest to armchair pre-historians and 'hands on' stoneheads alike, is the series of Bronze Age cairns located at the ridge's extremities..... something, of course, that the aforementioned Snowdon no longer possesses. Assuming it ever did, of course. Yeah, let's hear it for the underdog!

The Nantlle Ridge rises to a respectable - although by no means excessive - 2,408ft at Craig Cwm Silyn, the summit crowned by the remains of one of the Bronze Age cairns alluded to above.... there is another upon Garnedd-Goch to the south-west. Paradoxically, however, it is the lowest summit (Y Garn ['The Cairn'], 2,077ft) at the extreme north-eastern apex which was chosen as the site for two of Central Snowdonia's most substantial (remaining) funerary cairns. Clearly placement was everything for the locals, the reasons lost in the mists of time, vapours which are not exactly infrequent nowadays in a far more literal sense. Maybe it was a tad warmer then, venturing up into the hills not such an extreme undertaking in those days? Perhaps. One thing is certain, however... Nature sure hasn't lost its wonder, its ability to take the human psyche to another level. Sheer theatre, created upon the biggest stage of all.

Significantly the true summit of Y Garn (or Carn Mynydd Drws-y-Coed, if you prefer), with exquisite views across Drws-y-Coed to Mynydd Mawr and down to Llyn-y-Dywarchen (the lake incidentally cited in Welsh folklore as once possessing a magical 'floating island' - unfortunately the existing island is very much linked to terra-firma)... amongst other sweeping, mesmeric vistas... was, somehow, not deemed suitable, nowadays surmounted by nothing more than a rather small, modern cairn. 'Jeez.... what did it take to satisfy these people?', this traveller is probably entitled to ponder as he stands, fair foaming at the mouth at the beauty of this landscape? Clearly there were other, more important criteria to be taken into consideration, the pair of ancient cairns instead situated a little to the south, duly denied the views. But also denying a skyline profile to those down below. Hmm... Perhaps that was the whole point? Bronze Age elitism superseding Neolithic all-inclusion?

So, the overwhelming presence of Yr Wyddfa Fawr (Snowdon) to the the north-east excepted, focus for visitors to the Y Garn cairns - then, as now - is firmly to the south.... The Nantlle Ridge itself. It is more than enough, the jagged crags of Mynydd Drws-y-Coed providing a deceptively difficult passage to the graceful arc and domed summit of Trum-y-Ddysgl rising beyond. Both Bronze Age cairns are large, albeit hollowed out to form the unforgivable - but completely predictable - 'storm shelter'. But why here? Follow the ridge to the south and I'm pretty sure all will become clear..... it would appear (to me, at least) that they were simply MEANT to be viewed from the castellated rock formations of Mynydd Drws-y-Coed, the latter a natural proto-temple, perhaps? The moment is worth the effort....risk, even... but please take great care, particularly if the rock is wet. Do not underestimate the danger and ensure every footfall is sure. I carry on to Trum-y-Ddysgl for lunch and gaze across to the be-cairned Moel Hebog, Craig Cwm-Silyn and Mynydd Mawr, amongst other great landscape features. As is often the case when upon such terrain, I feel completely humbled, privileged to be here - insignificant even - yet 100ft tall at the same time! Perhaps this is a predictable reaction to what is often felt to be 'soulless' modern living? Or perhaps this is the way it always was? The way it was simply meant to be. I decide to return the way I came, retrospective views highlighting an immense wall of grey vapour tracking my progress. The cloud finally engulfs me as I stand upon the ancient cairns once more, a claustrophobic, ethereal world where previously the boundaries stretched to infinity. Well, at least as far as the eye could see. The mind races, but the compass bearing is true and Llyn y Gader emerges reassuringly from the gloom, below to the east.

Y Garn and its cairns are most directly reached by taking the Nantlle road from Rhyd Ddu... park roadside a little before Drws-y-Coed Uchaf farm and take the obvious, signed footpath leading up the mountainside to its left. This is very steep, but without technical difficulty. Persevere and the monuments will eventually be found beyond a transverse drystone wall, crossed by a ladder stile. If you decide to carry onto Trum-y-Ddysgl, there is an option to descend to the south and swing round back to Rhyd Ddu through forestry, via Bwlch-y-Ddwy-elor. Or, of course, if you have a car waiting at the other end, to walk the whole ridge and descend to Cwm Silyn. Needless to say a double traverse is a very serious undertaking and best left to the exceedingly fit, young or mad.
20th December 2011ce
Edited 22nd December 2011ce

Comments (2)

Lovely notes as ever, the siting of these cairns really is extraordinary, isn't it? Hopefully I'll get up there some time, warnings duly noted... thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
21st December 2011ce
I've no doubt you will.... an ascent from Rhyd Ddu will prove no problem to you. The rest of the ridge is different, however. I was talking to Carol, the owner of Fferm y 'Rynys campsite near Capel Garmon (where I stay when in North Wales)...her husband is a Welsh 3,000er, and she is a regular climber in these parts. She was saying Mynydd Drws-y-Coed in the wet is far more dangerous than guide books let on. I can only agree. You can trend to the left to avoid the worst, but go on a dry day and you'll be grinning from ear to ear.

Doing the whole ridge is problematic.... I got 'round that in my 20's by double traverses, relying on sheer adrenaline. Perhaps two trips, from either end, is the solution.
22nd December 2011ce
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