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

Pen y Gadair Fawr

Round Cairn


The Bronze Age cairn crowning the summit of Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr can not be seen from the fabulous monolith that is the Maen Llwyd, situated a little under a mile below to the south. Nevertheless aficionados of such monuments will probably require no directions save the prosaic 'up', common sense ensuring Citizens Cairn'd keep to the left of the lacerated hillside carved by the numerous sources of the Gargwy Fach. To be fair it is probably a pretty straightforward, albeit steep and tiring climb under 'reasonable' conditions, similar to that from the Grwyne Fawr to the east, I'd have thought? However today, suffering from the effects of fatigue having 'merely' made it to the standing stone (it is enough, to be honest), the flanks of Gadair Fawr loom.... nay tower... above me overpoweringly, overwhelming any fledgling resurgence of male bravado at source. Nevertheless the call is too strong.... I resolve to see how far I can get, if only to take a few snaps. Making no promises, now.

The early stages are not too taxing, the occasional stumble down a snow-filled gulley notwithstanding, such indignant episodes proffering the opportunity to study the form of icicles in detail - too much detail for comfort, perhaps - exquisite water crystals shimmering in the sunlight. Then, however, the angle eases and the summit duly takes its place upon the horizon... the intervening landscape appearing positively benign, welcoming even, a winter wonderland resplendent beneath a well broken cloudscape advancing with the wind across a startlingly blue sky. Yeah, looks wonderful, but what a bugger of a landscape to try and walk across for those not used to such things, deep snow topped by a crust of ice tough enough to resist a walking pole, but unable to support 12 stones of me.... like trying to stagger across polystyrene, perhaps? Half way there it is time to see if I have another gear in reserve, so to speak. Seems I have... well, sort of.

Eventually, rising beyond a more or less vertical cornice taking a couple of attempts to negotiate without crampons, there it is. The summit, unrecognisable from my visit with the Mam C some years back (but none the worse for that), the full winter raiment truly mind blowing in its brilliant, shining intensity, the upland landscape in complete contrast to the usual ubiquitous upland grass. The conditions are technically not the best for studying the form of Bronze Age cairns.... nevertheless the size of this one can not be camouflaged by a blanket of snow and protective shell of ice. Sure, there is an obligatory small walkers' cairn on top - thankfully no muppet storm shelter, though - but it is the massive underlying footprint which impresses, the ancient cairn clearly well worthy of the site chosen for it millennia before. It is perhaps noteworthy that Waun Fach, rising to the north-west, is actually the highest point of the Black Mountains' summit ridge, but, lacking the distinctive profile of Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr, does not possess a cairn. For what it's worth I reckon it never did so, suggesting the Bronze Age locals had a fundamental, sophisticated appreciation of landscape form. Indeed, the Mam C and I have referred to Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr as 'the nipple mountain' for years, the cairn set in profile upon its breast. Check it out for yourselves....

Despite the bitter cold I am in no hurry to leave; no way, not after such a pilgrimage to get here again, the landscape exhibiting a 'purity' seemingly not apparent at other times. To the west the Brecon Beacons reside like a veritable cathedral of marble upon a patchwork of green fields, to the east the ridge carrying the Offa's Dyke path defining the border with England, similarly attired. I think of numerous other cairns.... round, chambered, long... which still stand sentinel upon this landscape together with the ancient settlements, the hillforts where people used to live. Hey, the standing stones, even, and ponder - as you do - that the cairn upon which I sprawl for a couple of hours before starting the long trek back to the car was part of a very Big Picture indeed. Back then. Come to think of it, it still is today.
30th April 2013ce
Edited 2nd May 2013ce

Comments (2)

As ever, great field notes Mr G.
Another good read - keep 'em coming!

Posted by CARL
1st May 2013ce
Keep on keeping on, Carl......... this ain't no rehersal! GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
2nd May 2013ce
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