Like Gladman before me, my previous trip to the summits of Radnor mountains had neglected the shapely, but sub-2,000ft Whimble. In truth, my previous trip in thick, dank mist had been something of a nightmare of zero-visibility and soaking wet feet. I’m hoping for a contrast today, so I’m relieved that as the bus drops me in New Radnor, the skies are blue if rather hazy.
The lack of car precludes me from following Gladman’s advice and so I have to start off with the steep “road-bashing” of his warning, taking a minor road north out of the town. In truth, the firm surface provides a nice easy way to gain some rapid height. I pass a couple of walkers on the road, as they stop to remove outer layers – despite the single-figure temperature, it’s soon warm once you get going on the uphill. At the gate where the road stops, I pause to do the same and shed my coat.
The long months since I discovered that I had torn my hamstring badly on Moel Eilio
last year have been seriously frustrating, even climbing a couple of flights of stairs had been a strain. As such, I feel immensely relieved to have made the first couple of hundred metres of ascent without problem. From the gate, a bridleway continues the climb, more gently now, around the western edge of the forestry that clothes the southern slopes of the Whimble.
Sheep and Spring lambs are the only company and pretty soon a fine view has opened up along the steep-sided valley of Summergill Brook to the southwest. Rank after rank of hills line up to the horizon, fading gently into blue on this hazy day. I realise that the views won’t be extensive in a haze more reminiscent of a summer’s outing, but to be out in the sunshine on these hills provides more than ample pleasure.
The bridleway is easy walking and after a while a flat-topped expanse appears to the northwest – this is Great Rhos, the highest part of the mountains and a top that I had to navigate across by relying on compass and contour alone. No such trouble today, it’s nice to finally see what I missed before. Directly ahead of me is Great Creigiau, the southern part of Black Mixen
, underpinned by steep cliffs falling away into the valley below. It’s quiet enough to hear the tumbling water down in that narrow channel. This is what I’ve been missing these last months, away from the solitude of the lonely hillside.
Then, through the thinning trees to my right, as if conjured from nowhere by powerful magic, the conical shape of the Whimble appears. The path continues northwest, but a smaller, much-used trail heads off to the foot of the hill. I’m suddenly overawed by the steepness of the climb ahead, although it’s less than 100m of vertical ascent from where I am now. I briefly weigh up how my leg feels against the steep hillside, but this is what I’ve come for and the urge to go on far outweighs any concern now. I take the climb steadily, one foot in front (above) the other. When the summit approach comes, a deep sense of joy comes too. I’ve made it! It’s not the biggest hill in the world, but after a winter wondering if I’d get up in the mountains again, the feeling of relief is overwhelming.
Also overwhelming is the view from the top, even with the haze. The hill drops away steeply on all sides. Away to the southeast is Hergest Ridge and on a clearer day the Black Mountains would be visible to the south. To the west and north the higher, flat-topped summits of the range cut off the longer view, but the intervening valleys are far below and steep-sided, providing plenty of visual interest. To the northeast, Bache Hill is the focal point, topped irresistibly with a line of prominent round barrows that I will hopefully visit later.
And then there’s the summit barrow, a fine, turfed-over specimen with a flat top. About half a metre below the top, the sides of the barrow are stepped-in. Coflein states this to be a later cairn placed on top of the round barrow, although it doesn’t say how much later. But for all the world, this wonderful, conical proto-Silbury seems topped with its own mini-Silbury barrow.
To all those people who cause endless debate by climbing Silbury, why bother? Come here, to quiet of the Radnor Mountains and climb a proper sacred hill instead. Sky gods, earth goddess, if such beings exist, then this is the place to commune with them. No man-made vanity project striving and failing to reach up to the heavens, this beautiful, shapely hill is the real thing, the focal point of Radnor’s sleeping goddess. It has the power to remind me how small I am, a tiny speck of dust in the infinity of nature, yet so alive and ecstatic too. I live for places like this, days like this, when mundane cares are so far below and there’s only the sky, the wind, the hills.
I stay as long as my body temperature allows, for it’s cold up here in March, even in the sunshine. My route onwards is to the east, where the hill is at its most gentle, sloping down a wide grass strip to the bwlch below. Here I meet two riders, the last people I will see in the hills today, apart from distant stick figures on Black Mixen. A bridleway heads northwards. Neatly bisecting the twin summits of Bache Hill, the path crosses the saddle between the two. To the northeast is the main summit, where I went in the mist last time I was up here, together with the low remains of an intervening barrow. But I have unfinished business with the south-western summit, above Whinyard Rocks, to get better acquainted with the two prominent barrows here.
A narrow sheep track winds in the general direction, so I take that to avoid the worst of the heather that clothes this hillside. The Whimble comes into view straight ahead, a reminder of the shapeliness of its curves. But the track doesn’t head to the barrows and I’m forced to take to the heather after all. A summer visit would be tough and my dodgy leg doesn’t enjoy the motion of stepping over the vegetation very much. But the barrows are worth it, especially the fine south-western example (Winyard Rocks I), placed perfectly for views of the Whimble and of the other Bache Hill barrows to the northeast. The other barrow (Whinyard Rocks II) is smaller, or more reduced, but placed so that nearly all of the barrows in the group are visible from it.
Back across the tiresome heather to the saddle. The next barrow (Bache Hill III) is visible in the grassy field beyond, it appears to have been much-reduced by erosion (ploughing?) and has no cover of heather to keep it warm. Of all the barrows in the group it is the least impressive, but still boasts a wonderful location. The Bache Hill summit barrows are not visible from it, but the Whimble and the Whinyard Rocks barrows all are. [Incidentally, this is the only barrow of the five on Bache Hill that is not on access land, although a stile gives easy entrance into the field from the bridleway to the southwest.]
The final walk to the summit of Bache Hill is easy from here, and I’m elated to be back on top of a mountain after such a long absence. Previous fieldnotes extol the virtues of the summit barrow, so I’ll just add that this is one of the finest round barrows I’ve visited in Mid-Wales – if not the finest. Good spot for lunch too, with back against the trig point and Radnorshire spread out in patchwork below.
After a quick revisit of the final barrow, at the eastern end of the arcing group, I bid farewell and start the long descent off the hills via Stanlo Tump. The last time I was here, I was pleased and surprised to see Titterstone Clee
away to the northeast. Today the haze prevents any such revelations, but in the interim G/F and I have walked close by along Offa’s Dyke, so now I have the pleasure of recognising Castle Ring
, Beggar’s Bush, the approximate position of the Cwmade Barrow
and the wonderful Burfa Bank
hillfort. Another bit of jigsaw slots into place.
Then I’m back at Four Stones, in my Dad’s countryside. Last time, I was hit with a wave of emotion I hadn’t foreseen, but this time I’m prepared and enjoy the site for itself more. It would have been his birthday in two days’ time though, so it seems more than fitting to be here and raise a metaphorical toast.
It is a wonderful site. The proximity of the house, road and telegraph wires perhaps just enough to keep it from the front rank of circles for the modern visitor, but otherwise the setting, and the stones themselves, are exquisite, the cupmarks on the south-western stone a little bit of icing on the cake. A site to be savoured. Time passes as it often does.
Unmarked on the OS map, even Coflein have a “?” after its standing stone attribution. I like it very much, in its field of lambs and with the ubiquitous great views of the mountains. It certainly seems all of a piece with the other stones of the area, both in composition and shape. Deserving of attention anyway.
Not much further down the road a footpath gives access to a field boasting two round barrows, Hindwell Farm I and II. Sadly, neither is exactly well-preserved, having been ploughed to within an inch of their (considerable) lives. But when viewed in the context of the other sites nearby, they should not be overlooked. The views to Bache Hill and The Whimble
are inevitably fabulous.
Passing Hindwell Farm, a further barrow (Hindwell Ash) is visible in a field to the north, on the left (west) side of the round. An OS trig pillar has been inserted and the barrow proves to be in a poor state, crumbling away under the pillar on its northern flank. The fourth barrow in the group, Upper Ninepence (great name) is not visible from here.