|The little-visited mountains of the Radnor Forest are something of an anomaly, many miles from the other Welsh mountains and rising sharply above a quiet rural landscape of winding lanes and small fields. A visit to the three peaks is likely to be a lonely one, but there are treasures hidden away in and around the area that warrant the effort.
A bus service runs between Hereford and Llandrindod Wells, stopping off at New Radnor, the perfect place to start a walk up and around these mountains. I came here rather unprepared in truth, as the route taking in the three peaks crosses the join of two OS Explorer sheets (200 and 201), but I only have the eastern section. For the western section I am relying on a poor printout from, of all places, the Coflein website. This is not to be advised.
Leaving New Radnor on a bridleway heading westwards, the path heads upwards across fields, before dropping down to cross a stream in Harley Dingle. The route then climbs steadily across the hillside, easy walking with height gained rapidly. On the way, the views up the Dingle itself unfold, to reveal a steeply sided valley below rounded hilltops. Down in the valley is a firing range, and care should be taken to observe any warning flags flying. The conical peak of The Whimble comes into view across to the right. As my route approaches the 500m mark, I meet the only two other people I would see for the next three hours or so. The path curves westwards then sharply north near a disused quarry, where stacks of rock, cut adrift from the hillsides leaving curious square pillars. The view to the southeast takes in The Whimble, but also reveals a grey weather front heading in my direction. I'm now on to the printout map, which is proving to be rather less clear than a proper OS map would be. I know I'm near to the edge of the danger area, but have to hope I'm not straying too close. As my route takes me up the side of Davey Morgan's Dingle, the threatening cloud bank rolls right in as mist and visibility cuts dramatically. I take a last look backwards at the rapidly disappearing view before forcing myself on into the grey.
I soon reach a point where my faith in the map starts to erode and the mist gets thicker and wetter. The path, which had started out as a readily defined bridleway, is rapidly turning into a narrow sheep-track, following the contour of the hillside. For the first time I seriously start to think about turning back, being the sensible course of action. At times like this, the slightly foolhardy nature of the solo stone-hunt becomes more apparent, leading to thoughts that are so far from the mind in clear weather. I could fall off a cliff, twist my ankle, wander onto the firing range. I tell myself that if the path gets any fainter and the mist any worse, I will turn back. The path gets fainter. The mist gets worse. Torn between common sense and stubborn unwillingness to admit defeat, I convince myself to go on. I can see a fence on the map. I can't see anything ahead. Right, I tell myself. If I come to a fence crossing my route running north-south, then I'll know I'm in the right place. The path drops into a little gulley, then a fence looms faintly on the slope ahead. Never have I been so pleased to see a humble post and wire fence in all my life. I scramble up to it, then follow it along northwards. The next test of my frail orienteering is for the fence to meet another fence, this one running east-west. It does. I now know I'm almost on the summit of my first mountain of the day, Great Rhos. Visibility is down to about ten yards ahead and I have to navigate by contour to know when it's time to leave the comfort of the fence and strike out northwards towards a trig point that I know is there somewhere, but which I can't see. At least I'm now heading away from the "Danger Zone". Relying entirely on the compass, I head due north. The surface underfoot is basically a badly drained peat bog and my once waterproof boots have had enough. Each step is now a sodden squelch and I am immensely relieved to see the trig suddenly loom out of the grey wall ahead. There are no views. The trig point stands on a supposedly natural round mound – no barrow here, which is somewhat surprising given that this is the highest point in the range and that all of the nearby tops have summit barrows. The map does show a barrow to the northwest of the summit, away from the top itself. On a clear day I would seek this out, but today all I want to do is get off this damn top.
A faint path heads north, so I take this as I need to skirt round the northern extremity of Harley Dingle, which drops away unseen over to my right. The trig point soon disappears behind me as I head once more into the mist. Time passes in a weird limbo world, where all I can do is keep putting one foot in front of another. Then without any warning, a dark barrier of trees appears straight ahead. This is the Riggles. A bridleway follows a forestry track into the trees. It's a very strange feeling to be able to see some way ahead once amongst the trees. The path is unfortunately a morass of mud, churned up by forestry vehicles. Several off-path excursions are needed to negotiate this, so I'm actually relieved to re-emerge onto the open hillside near the Shepherd's Well cross dyke.
The first prehistoric site of the day, the earthwork is prominent enough to find it even in the gloom (well, principally because the forestry path comes out right next to it). The views from here, when there are some, would be obscured to the north by the trees. It may be possible to see the Black Mixen summit from here. Who knows? A round barrow is shown on the map a little way to the northeast, but today isn't the day to investigate.
Instead, I squelch southeast, heading towards Black Mixen (OE: Black Dunghill), the second summit of the day. At least this section follows a clearly defined track. On a normal day, the enormous radio mast that tops the summit of the mountain would provide a foolproof landmark, but I can't even see that today. Like the summit of Great Rhos, this a flat, boggy area, characterised by spongy peat and tussocky heather. The radio mast finally emerges, and close by I can just make out the trig pillar. This one stands on a confirmed round barrow, although in truth it looks almost identical to the mound that the Great Rhos trig rests on. The top of the barrow is flattened, presumably by the usual digging and erosion rather than just from the incorporation of the trig pillar. Not a spot to linger on a day like this, with wet feet and a long way to go still. I head off and the barrow vanishes behind, real or imagined I cannot truthfully say.
At this point I get a little disorientated, following a path that turns out to be heading the wrong way. Only by forcing myself to trust the compass needle do I correct my course and eventually reach the tree line again (and the safety of the "proper" map). The mist has now turned into a heavier drizzle and I take shelter under the trees temporarily, pausing to take my boots off and wring the water from my sodden socks. As I reach the col between Black Mixen and Bache Hill, ragged gaps appear through the mist and for the first time I can see some way ahead. What a relief!
To my south, barrows appear on the top the Whimble and the western summit of Bache Hill. By now I'm too tired to leave my main route and visit them, so they'll have to wait for another day. But the summit of Bache Hill itself now looms ahead, just a matter of climbing the grassy field and I'm there. The barrow here is magnificent. Much larger than the Black Mixen
barrow, although similarly topped with a trig pillar, this is as fine a specimen of a round barrow as you could hope to find, especially on top of a Welsh mountain.
I collapse at the barrow, wring my socks again, have some lunch. As I sit, the surrounding gloom begins to lift properly, revealing an astonishing view to the south. First of all, patchwork fields emerge across the farmland below, finally acknowledging the elevation attained up here. Then, much further south, a black ridge of hills becomes visible: the Black Mountains escarpment. As the sharp profile of Mynydd Troed
clears, I have an warming sense of place, with another piece slotted home into my Welsh jigsaw. I must come here again, when the views are clearer and my feet are drier. But in some ways the all-covering mists, giving way to a tease and a slow reveal, has heightened the satisfaction of making it up here.
There is a further barrow to the east of the main one, less impressive in itself but perfectly situated on the edge of the summit ridge overlooking the farmland below.
The difficult part of the walk is over and it's an easy downhill stroll via Stanlo Tump to the little village of Kinnerton, the best part of 400m lower than the mountains. Titterstone Clee comes into view on the way down, many miles to the north.
I have been to Kinnerton once before and visited the round stone in its field, but didn't know about the second stone tucked into the verge to the north of the field gate. I only find this now thanks to Postie's pictures – it's very overgrown and nettles sting me in my efforts to clear it sufficiently to photograph.
As has been commented by others, the stone in the field mirrors the conical top of The Whimble
, visible to the west from here.
Heading south along quiet lanes, the Crossfield Lane round barrow can be seen over a field gate. Although once a large barrow, over 30m across, it's now been ploughed down to little more than a rise in the field.
Arriving at Four Stones provides an emotional punch in the guts. The last visit here was with my Dad, on one of our last days out together in 1999. Coming back here is nearly overwhelming and I find myself in tears, thinking of all the things we never said and all the things we never had time to do. I will experience something similar at Mitchell's Fold
the following spring, showing that the healing we think time brings isn't either as complete or as secure as it seems. These sites bring such thoughts into sharp relief.
But although Four Stones has the power to open me up, it also has the power to bring a stupid grin. The four boulders, so closely spaced as to enclose the visitor in a tight embrace, exert a strong pull on the senses. The proximity of a nearby house and occasional passing car, the recently cut hay in the field, all fade out of mind as I sit here. The views of the now-revealed Radnor mountains, that I was so recently stumbling across in the mist, add to the overall feeling that this circle is a small part of a grand landscape. And we sit in it, briefly, then we're gone and it endures, for the next visitors. Long may that continue.
I'm thinking about it all and I'm sorry and I'm not sorry - our time was made up of confused emotions and little whirlwinds and all those things we couldn't really talk about but, most of all, it was sealed in sacred moments like these and then it was gone.
Posted by thesweetcheat
1st August 2011ce
Edited 5th March 2013ce
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