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

Cefn yr Ystrad



It has to be said that I'm not the most enthusiastic early riser. And to do so at 7.30am on a freezing cold Boxing Day morning would probably be beyond the call of duty... if the potential prize wasn't a visit to a couple of Wales' finest cairns. Sadly the Mam Cymru stays behind to tend to her infant grand daughter. Some things are indeed more important, aren't they?

So, with this incentive I head along the M4, resisting the urge to take the turn-off to Barry Island - in homage to last night's 'Gavin and Stacy' - and veer up the A470 beneath Garth Hill's barrows (must visit these one day) towards dear old Merthyr Tudful, hence Tredegar. Here a minor road leaves the A465 to ascend the Sirhowy Valley towards the hamlet of Trefil. This is an industrial landscape, and not a pretty sight, it has to be said.... particularly if you once made your livelihood here (check out a rather poignant song by South Walian comedian Max Boyce about this valley if you can). The road continues, to terminate at the quarries above Dyffryn Crawnor, but I don't make the full distance due to ice [a particular Gladman fear], parking a little way short. From here the 2,025ft summit is a little under 2 miles to the approx south-west.

The landscape, cloaked in a mantle of white, is the epitome of 'the bleak Midwinter', the snow masking numerous springs waiting to snare the unwary traveller. Cresting the initial ridge, the summit of the mountain is visible beyond, a relatively simple walk in clear conditions, I'd have thought, but quite a trek in deep snow today.

It is worth the effort. The twin Bronze Age cairns of Garn Felen and Carn y Bugail tower above the hostile landscape a small distance to the east of the summit OS trig point...and it seems to me incredible that monuments this size could still remain upon the over-trampled Brecon Beacons. Initially, however, it is a monument of much more recent times - and modest construction - that fair brings a lump to my throat and very nearly a tear to my eye. A little way below Garn Felen stands a small cairn dedicated to the crew of a RAF Wellington bomber (T2520 from 115 Squadron, RAF Marham, Norfolk) which crashed here on 9/12/40 returning from active operations. There were no survivors. It exudes a poignancy beyond words, all the more so because of numerous poppies adorning the cairn, one annotated 'from a friend'. See, some people DO still care.

The Bronze Age equivalents crown the skyline above and are real beauties. Outside of Pumlumon, perhaps only the Carnau 'r Garreg Las (upon western Mynydd Du) compare in my experience. Filled with snow, they are superb viewpoints for the cloud-wreathed main Brecon Beacons massif across the valley and the distant Black Mountains. Although nominally simply massive piles of stones, they clearly represent much, much more.

Mist sweeps in to periodically engulf the summit, the giant cairns looming claustrophobically through the swirling, ethereal vapour - note that this is no place to be without a compass and the ability to use it. It is perhaps at times like this that Cefn Yr Ystrad is at its most evocative. It certainly has me in thrall today.
1st January 2010ce
Edited 1st January 2010ce

Comments (3)

Sounds like a perfect Boxing Day to me. Lovely pics to go with as well. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
1st January 2010ce
No doubt many non-stoneheads would disagree with you there, but thanks. It takes all sorts, I guess.

Strange how monuments to latter day warrior heroes (the RAF airmen) are bringing continuity to the use of mountains as places of pilgrimage. Can only hope the end of those that perished here was instantaneous.............
2nd January 2010ce
Glad you enjoyed your visit. I love the walk in the winter when its frosty or under snow. Need to be careful with all those quarries though. Posted by Tiptop
2nd January 2010ce
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