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

Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli Cairns



Dawn arrives below the western flank of Pen-Pumlumon Fawr bringing the unwelcome grey of low cloud to belie the favourable forecast. Suffice to say Pumlumon is not a place to go wandering in the mist. The twin Bronze Age cairns of Carn Hyddgen - or Carn Gwilyn, if you prefer - rise above the deserted buildings of Maes Nant to the approx NE, standing sentinel over the valley where Glyndwr defeated an English army in June 1401... and I momentarily think of the 200 or so men who died that day. Poor sods. Yeah, Pumlumon is a mountain with a 'sense of place' hanging in the moist air so tangible I swear you could cut it with my cheap imitation Swiss Army knife - blunt as it is. So, as is often the case with this mountain climbing lark, plan B is invoked... I will visit the cairns upon Banc Llechwedd-mawr and Glyndwr's quartz blocks at its base. Except... passing the confluence of the Afon Hengwm and Afon Hyddgen, I have a sudden change of heart. Hell, Craig y Eglwys is clear. Let's do it!

Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli is not one of Wales' taller mountains - at 2,431ft far from it - but the trackless slog up Pen Cerrig Tewion to my SE is a serious undertaking simply because of the terrain underfoot; springy long grass and moss, interspersed with bog, doth not an easy ascent make. But then this is the whole point, the reason why my only company are the circling falcons and Red Kites, seemingly waiting for the seriously struggling creature in florescent orange to expire for a free feed. Yeah, Pumlumon keeps its secrets close to its ample chest, so those in search of immediate thrills go elsewhere. Mist swirls across Pen Pumlumon Fawr, its northern crags soaring above the source of The Afon Rheidol as I pick up a reassuring fence-line and slowly... ever so slowly... the summit burial cairns, invisible from below, are in stark profile. Ditto the retrospective view of the monuments at the summits of Drosgl and Banc Llechwedd-mawr. Not to mention Carn Gwilym.

A walker's cairn crowns the summit of Pen Cerrig Tewion. From it I receive my first view of the far, far older trio upon Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli, rising across Cwm Gwerin. I reach the main ridge and head westwards past the source of The River Wye. The enormity of the action strikes me like one of the prehistoric arrowheads archaeologists have found upon this ridge. This unmarked bit of bog is the beginning of that mighty river. What's more, the Severn (Hafren) has its source the other side of my destination. Is it any wonder Bronze Age man was freaked out by Pumlumon... assuming they knew? Hell, why wouldn't they know? A warden arrives out of the proverbial nowhere on a quad bike and explains he's collecting markers from yesterday's marathon. Yeah, there are unfortunately people who insist on treating mountains with such distain. I am glad I chose to come today.

So to the summit, 16, no 15 years since I was last here. The north-eastern cairn is unfortunately much denuded. The other two are not, despite the unwelcome attention of those who do venture up here but still do not have the sense to appreciate it. The first encountered, the south-western, is a fine specimen, despite the storm shelter and, like its near neighbour in the centre, boasts a fabulous view down into Cwm Gwerin, not to mention of the whole of Southern Snowdonia. Pen-Pumlumon Fawr's own cairns are obvious from here, silhouetted against the skyline. Clearly they were meant to be viewed from here. As was the cairn upon distant Y Garn. The middle cairn also possesses a storm shelter and a crude wind break at its eastern extremity, an edifice eagerly utilsed by one of the two couples of muppets who momentarily join me in passing, so missing the very views one assumes they expended so much energy to see. Whatever.

Everything just feels 'right' about the placement of these cairns, you know? Although not the largest you will encounter in Wales, the pilgrimage required to get here means this is arguably the best all round location you'll find for such monuments. The somewhat adverse morning has developed into an excellent afternoon of high, broken cloud, sunshine periodically streaming through to illuminate the mountainside. I sit upon these cairns and ponder thoughts you can only really contemplate on site. Why did our ancestors bury their dead upon these brutal mountain tops? Sitting here there seems no-where else logical to place them. I mean, come on! The sources of two major rivers - the very essence of life in the most literal sense - either side. Coincidence? Perhaps.. but I think not somehow. The hours fly by and I must leave. I decide to descend through Cwm Gwerin, a landscape of deep bog, yet beguiling nonetheless, the Afon Hengwm effecting great loops as if it was a seagull freewheeling home with a full belly of fish. I reach the car to settle down for the night a true Citizen Cairn'd, to paraphrase The Drude somewhat. Nevertheless I know what he means. Pumlumon blows me away. It really does.
23rd September 2010ce
Edited 23rd September 2010ce

Comments (2)

Sounds terrific. On the list at any rate. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
23rd September 2010ce
Lovely blog ;), The beginnings of those two great rivers, the Wye and the Hafren with all that romantic history tumbling down their waters.. and I so agree with the name Hafren, the roman history recorded by Nennius and in the Mabingonen as the waters swept the soldiers and horses away in the estuary; the dark age monks that followed the roman roads, stopping at standing stones and tumuli to preach to the pagans.... moss Posted by moss
25th September 2010ce
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