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

Graig-ddu, Black Mountains

Round Cairn


This shattered cairn, the eastern-most of a triumvirate of such Bronze Age upland monuments sited to the approx south-east of the Ffawddog Ridge of the eastern Black Mountains, would appear - from the map, at least - to offer a credible approach from most points of the compass (which, of course, any prospective TMA Citizen Cairn'd will be tightly clasping within a hand clammy with anticipation, if not soaked through courtesy of the borderland precipitation not exactly unknown in these parts!). The most direct route is probably that from Llanthony via Troed rhiw-mon, a public footpath rising above the southern bank of the stream cascading through Cwm Bwchel.... however having 'taken in' the Cwm Bwchel cairn earlier on in the day I approach from the summit of Bal Mawr, that is from the west across trackless heather. I've experienced worse, however, as will have everyone who has ever gone stone hunting in Mid Wales. Needless to say the direct route, although steep in places, proves invaluable during a descent in fading light later on in the day.

The monument, located below and to the south of the summit of the hill, is unfortunately in a sorry state of repair.... Coflein reports of an excavation-cum-ransacking of the cairn - incidentally resulting in the discovery of 'bone fragments and pottery sherds' from a centrally placed cist - no doubt tell us all we need to know in this respect. Hey, at least we know for certain this cairn was - hell, is - the real thing. That doesn't happen very often, to be fair.... to be 100% sure is pretty unusual. In addition, the shattered remains of the cist, as with the monument's neighbour to the north-west, remain in situ. This means a lot. One of the orthostats is split longitudinally, the cleft of such precision as to render the result an enduring testament to the incredible natural forces inherent in the action of ice upon rock. Exquisite....

So, once again.... here we have an upland Bronze Age cairn - albeit one ravaged by 'excavation' - still retaining vestiges of original internal features simply because it lies 'off the beaten track', away from the predictable wanderings and destructive tendencies of yer average hillwalking punter. The realisation, at first overwhelmingly positive, leaves a bitter aftertaste. How much more of our Bronze Age heritage would still remain if only ignorant ramblers could keep their vandalising hands to themselves and not indulge in erecting pointless 'storm shelters'. A rhetorical question, naturally.

The Graig-ddu cairn, though similar in many respects to its counterpart beyond Cwm Bwchel, certainly trumps it when it comes to on site panoramas. Whereas the latter stands in insularity, apparently focussed upon Bal Mawr, Graig-ddu overlooks a classic vista, the glorious southern skyline featuring the distinctive profiles of Mynydd Pen-y-Fal (aka The Sugar Loaf) and the sacred-hill-cum-hillfort of Ysgyryd Fawr, with the mighty Iron Age fortress of Twyn y Gaer rising between. The great promontory fort upon Hatterrall Hill fills the horizon to the south-east, the ridge to the south-west duly crowned by the (apparently) massive Bronze Age cairn of Garn Wen, the third of the triumvirate. It is truly a classic spot, much better than I supposed and worthy of much more time than the cycles of Nature will allow. Sadly I ascend to the summit and subsequently begin the descent to Llanthony, pausing by some grouse butts to enjoy a truly monumental, mind blowing view of the Vale of Ewyas. Suffice to say the irony, being privy to such natural wonder whilst perched upon the haunts of... er... 'individuals' who enjoy killing for pleasure, is not lost on me.
16th March 2013ce
Edited 10th February 2014ce

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