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

Esgair Beddau, Cwmdeuddwr

Cairn(s)

Fieldnotes

Ah, Cwmdeuddwr. So, what's in a name? Now whilst Welsh speakers will no doubt already have a pretty good idea where I'm heading, those unfamiliar with the vernacular, but nonetheless harbouring a fascination with language, with words... may be interested to discover the prosaic epithet transposed to my mother tongue as 'Valley of the Two Waters'. Or something like that. It would be churlish to deny that there certainly is a lot of water in these parts; however my understanding is we're concerned with two rivers here: the Afon Ystwyth and Afon Elan. Not house hold names to the uninitiated, perhaps, particularly with that superstar of UK rivers - the mighty Wye - flowing a few miles to the east, en route from its enigmatic birth upon Pumlumon to subsequently caress the less rugged landscape of blighty. However it is fair to say both of the underlings have their moments: the nascent Ystwyth undertaking an initial alacritous, youthful cascade through Cwm Ystwyth to finally merge with the Irish Sea at Aberystwyth... clearly with nothing more to prove - an analogy for life itself maybe?; the Elan, flowing in the opposite direction, of course gives rise, in a quite literal sense, to the wondrous water world of the Elan Valley Reservoirs so beloved of travellers and tourists alike. Mind you, I'd wager even Costner couldn't find 'Dry Land' here in Mid Wales.

Yeah, water. For me, one of the signature features of the Cwmdeuddwr Hills is the supporting cast of a myriad crystal clear streams feeding the ever-demanding reservoirs. Arguably, few offer a more impressive spectacle than the Nant Cletwr where discharging into the Craig Goch Reservoir, here spanned by an old stone bridge carrying tourists upon their motor itineraries looping back toward Rhayader. Now, according to a scrawled annotation upon my somewhat distressed map, I stopped here on 15/4/95 and duly observed: 'Good valley and falls'. 23 years later... a stone track leading westward along the northern bank to the (now derelict) farmstead of Lluest Abercaethon beckons the curious traveller onward into the unknown. Should he feel so inclined. I do, as it happens. Well, as Einstein once famously said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious....". Now, whether or not one believes in the faster-than-light neutrino, I reckon Al had 'beauty' bang to rights.

Speaking of which the track, although traversing a working landscape devoted to sheep husbandry, as you might expect in Wales, is not without aesthetic appeal, this courtesy of the aforementioned river. The farm buildings stand in stark profile at the head of the cwm, roofless, gaping door and windows in drystone walls inviting - or rather compelling - the traveller to enter and view what was once a glowing, vibrant hearth in curiously hushed reverence. Beyond the stock control paraphernalia and fence lines: the open hillside. Here, at SN87156877, my map shows.... bugger all. However owners of the latest 1:25K version will note a 'mound' at said spot. I prefer the much more enigmatic 'Tumulus', but there you are. To be honest this is but splitting hairs, not that I've much to spare myself, you understand, since Coflein has no doubt that this represents the remains of a round barrow. A pretty substantial, impressive one, too. Furthermore, the monument has no corresponding issue with 'top cover', duly sporting a mop of that ubiquitous 'tussocky' Mid Walian grass so luxuriant that even Boris might well consider reaching for the shears. When not spouting shite about Brexit, that is. It's all that rain, see? Whatever, it surely doesn't take an Einstein to deduce that the sight of early morning light illuminating the round barrow is infinitely preferable to that upon Mr Johnson's napper? Theoretically speaking... not that I've experienced the latter. The barrow's positioning is excellent: surrounded - nay, encircled - by the bleak, clean lines of the grassy ridges of Cwmdeuddwr stretching away into the hinterland, the latter strangely inviting under blue skies. A natural amphitheatre.

So, that's the 'easy bit' over, then. Yeah, tell me about it. No more tracks to ease a Citizen Cairn'd's progress across this brutally uncompromising landscape. To the (very) approx north-west one of the aforementioned ridges, Esgair Beddau, is my next objective, the site of two obscure cairns. Again, these are absent from my map but highlighted upon the new in that wondrous 'antiquarian' typeface. Don't you just love it? Now this is the point where I reacquaint myself with the equally wondrous Nant Cletwr, the erosive action of the river across millennia ensuring I must descend steeply to, then step over its nascent flow prior to undertaking an equally abrupt upward scramble beyond. Suffice to say the cairns are not exactly upstanding. However, upon electing to follow the vague ghost of a sheep track to the west, I finally notice an orthostat peeping above the grass. This belongs to the western of the pair; there are more uprights, albeit of lesser size, it being - in my opinion - fair to state the sum of the whole representing a former kerb. There is also what appears to be the remains of a cist, although in no great repair. The companion cairn, a short distance to the approx east, lacks the surviving orthostats of its neighbouring monument, but compensates the traveller with a more obvious cist element... if still not conclusive. But there you are. It is the overwhelming sense of place which engulfs here, not the archaeology.

Needless to say both cairns share the same 'other worldly' vibe, their lack of stony profile ensuring the gaze is drawn upward to focus upon the billowing, white galleons of cloud... advancing across a disconcertingly blue canvas in stately procession. Yeah, it's more or less impossible to think of mundane topics in such an environment. Not with the 'big picture' quite literally before my very eyes. Such vibrant colour can not last, of course, as Winsor apparently noted to JMWT himself. So one must enjoy the moment. Time flies, as it always seems to do 'up here'; however, loathe not to explore further, I decide to continue my ascent to the west and, upon circling around the headwall, return to the car via Trumau across the cwm. Looks easy on the map - even an old one - and, for that matter, on the ground, too. However half way 'round I find myself cursing the lack of any kind of path whatsoever... whilst simultaneously revelling in the fact of their very absence. Now this may seem paradoxical, absurd even? Maybe. But then perhaps having the opportunity to experience a landscape so raw, so uncompromising, yet within scope of an average punter is the prime reason, the whole point of coming to Cwmdeuddwr. Truly, it is the Green Desert. Only with water. Lots of water.

I arrive back at the car, intent upon sleeping below the source of the Ystwyth, with satiated questions duly replaced by yet more to ponder. The mystery of why I love these bleak uplands still very much undiminished. I hope Einstein would've approved of the harmonious equilibrium of the universe remaining intact. If not Mick Jones.
GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
7th October 2018ce
Edited 9th October 2018ce

Comments (4)

"Ritual ideas, relativity
Only buildings, no people prophecy
Time slide, place to hide, nudge reality
Foresight, minds wide, magic imagery, oh-ho..."

I think Mick's been to Mid-Wales.

I know it's easy to dismiss the watery connections as "what you do expect in Mid-Wales, it's always wet?" but there's no doubt at all in my mind that the placement of a lot of these remote upland cairns is very, very closely linked to the watercourses.
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
8th October 2018ce
Wouldn't be surprised if he has. Top tune, that. GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
9th October 2018ce
You know, when I first started posting on here only The Eternal had really been doing anything with upland cairns - and that was for Cumbria. I recall Jane saying something to the effect of 'Doesn't every mountain have a cairn, so what?...' Out of sight, out of mind, etc. I think it's been a good exercise to date highlighting what is actually there. GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
10th October 2018ce
Yep, and Chris as well with North Wales stuff, then your posts really got me out into the South Wales uplands. I miss The Eternal's posts on here.

I agree with you, it's a type of monument that lends itself really well to greater landscape awareness/appreciation rather than fixating on the monument itself (not that there's anything wrong in that). Visiting upland cairns you notice the surrounding hills, the gaps between hills, the watercourses, the hiding/revealing contours, the likely routes of approach and intervisibility (or lack of). And in any case it's a monument type in need of protection and greater awareness from ignorance as much as "deliberate" damage.
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
11th October 2018ce
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