We parked up on the grass verge and before long we had our picnic set up on the river bank. The weather was glorious and for the first time I was able to visit this site without the need for wellies!
Sophie and Dafydd were soon up to their knees in water and playing happily. Sophie was content to throw stones in the water whilst Dafydd (being Dafydd) decided he was going to construct a dam. I pointed out to Dafydd the spot where we had both fallen in a few years ago – luckily he didn’t remember and wasn’t put off.
There were quite a few people about which did surprise me even allowing for the great weather. We were near two small waterfalls which cascaded into a ‘lagoon’ approximately 1m deep. Before long 3 women joined us, fully prepared in their bikinis, and commenced to swim around and taking pictures of themselves – much to Sophie and Dafydd’s amusement. I of course had to be careful where I was looking on the grounds that Karen was keeping a close eye on me from the river bank!
After a while it was time to get to business. I left the family still splashing about and I took the short but steep walk up to the stone circle. Although there were plenty of people enjoying themselves along the river bank I was the only one at the circle – which was a bit of luck.
The sky was deep blue with only the faintest of breezes helping to keep the temperature down. I disturbed two sheep that were hiding in the shadow of the Maen Mawr trying to escape the heat. Despite the dry, crunching grass on the approach the flat plateau where the circle stands was still a bit boggy. It must take a prolonged spell of nice weather to dry this area out? The Maen Mawr was still surrounded by its own mini moat.
All was quiet, the views down the valley a sight to behold. This really is a great location for a stone circle.
A solitary Red Kite hovered silently low overhead. Way above was a passenger airline leaving white trails across the azure sky. All was well with the world.
All too quickly it was time to re-join the gang and try to get the children out of the water and back into the car. But that’s another story……………
29.1.2011. It's been a long trek over trackless hillsides from Nant Tarw. I've crossed a number of streams, frozen solid in their tracks and broken the crust of ice on the ever-present bogs. The bulk of Fan Brycheiniog and Picws Du has loomed over me for most of the way, lit from behind in ghostly penumbral halo. But now the mountains are blocked from sight and I'm finally rewarded with a first glimpse of the block of Maen Mawr. From then on, the step quickens, the heart beats faster and the anticipation levels soar. There are plenty of cars parked up on the road, but thankfully no-one else is visiting the stones as I approach.
This is my second visit here, the sub-zero temperatures a marked contrast to the warm June day last summer when I first came. A swirl of ice surrounds Maen Mawr's foot, and the circle itself is frozen hard, starkly outlined in the late winter sun. The view down the Tawe valley fades into the blue.
It is hard to describe the pleasure that coming back to this lovely circle brings. The sun shines on, and all is well with the world. Reaffirmed, I head off on the long way home.
This is a brilliant site, and the perfect end to a long walk that's taken in the Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog summits, as well as Waun Leuci standing stone (5.6.2010).
Lots of cars about, parked to the south on the side of the Tawe, but I was here about 30 minutes or so and no-one came anywhere near. It wasn't until I left and headed south that I realised just how many people were out on the riverbank having barbecues and playing in the water - I didn't hear any noise at all from the little knoll the circle sits on.
Very good site descriptions have already been posted, so I won't try to add, preferring instead to lie flat in the middle of the circle and watch the clouds passing overhead. That one looks like Ireland...
See other postings for directions - spot on.
I parked just over the small bridge and you could see a 'path' through the grass on the other side of the stream where other people had visited. Although you can't actually see the Maen Mawr from this point you will have already seen it on your left when driving up the road. So far, so good. Then almost disaster struck! As I carried little Dafydd across the stream my foot slipped and we both fell onto the stones and into the water. Luckily, my arm protected Dafydd from injury although we were both completely soaked! His dummy and my notes disappeared downstream!! As we had come this far (and it was quite warm) I decided to push on and see the site. A 10 minute walk and we were there. This is a lovely, lovely place with wonderful views and the Maen Mawr clearly pointing down the valley. I noticed some floral 'offerings' had been left at the base of the Maen Mawr. Due to circumstances (Dafydd was now starting to show signs of getting seriously cold) I didn't stay as long as I would have liked and we squelched our way back to the car and had an uncomfortable hour's drive home before being able to change!
Seriously, we were fortunate not to hurt ourselves. The steam is easy enough to cross when there has been little rain in the previous few days but I imagine it would be very difficult to cross in the Winter or following havy rain. Please take care and I would strongly suggest you take wellies for this one.
A favourite spot of mine, set as it is on the lower, eastern slopes of Mynydd Du, overlooking the infant Afon Tawe and with sweeping views up and down the valley.
The connection with water here is unmistakable.... not only in the most obvious sense, since the circle is often waterlogged from mountain run-off (The Black Mountain is not exactly adverse to rain, it must be said), but also because a diminunitive avenue of very small stones leads up to the circle from the fledgling river below. Whether this was simply a pragmatic guide to arrival - the site is not visible from the Tawe's banks here (and, in fact, is only visible from certain points in the valley, assuming you know where to look) - or purely symbolic is something we'll obviously never know. Judging by the dimensions of the avenue stones I'd go with the latter, since the Tawe is very much non-navigable at this point, being little more than a cascading stream.
The circle stones are just as small, many barely breaking the surface of the mountainside, which makes the substantial bulk of Maen Mawr - the 'large stone' - all the more striking. Two very, very much smaller uprights just beyond hint at astronomical sightings.
Approached via the mountain road to/from Trecastle, look for a glimpse of Maen Mawr above the river when the prominent Nant-y-llyn waterfalls grace the hillside beyond. Note that the river can be VERY difficult to cross, particularly after heavy rain, so take care. This is a hostile, windswept spot, so dress up or your visit may end up short - and wet!
Certainly not the easiest site to locate, as suggested in the book an Ordance Survey map is needed. I should have paid attention. Alternatively I should have asked the hill hermits to the local goat dung heap.
Having got hopelessly lost we ended up travelling south on the A4067 and turning off on the right turn signposted towards Crai & Trecastle (if you reach Craig-y-Nos country park you've gone too far). After approximately two miles down this narrow road it finally runs direcly alongside the stream as indicated in an earlier posting. I kept driving until the road and stream parted and made a hasty three point turn. There in front of us was Maen Mawr, clearly visible about fifth of the way up the hillside on a plateau. Again, as stated earlier, this site is not visible when approaching from the south.
The stream proved a little treacherous to cross and the walk up the hill towards the plateau was equally difficult underfoot. One twisted ankle and one fall later we got there (be careful as there are stones littered everywhere). The elements clearly didn't want us there as the wind began to strengthen and dark clouds began to roll in.
The site itself? Sad to say that having become tired from a long morning's drive first thing I noticed was the huge quantity of sheep shit and the remarkably spongey ground underfoot. Back to the point. As someone from the south-west of England the Rollrights, Stonehenge & Avebury are only shortish drives away but used to the dramatics of these sites the small stones of Cerrig Duon seemed humble and unspectacular but equally magical in feel. Call me daft I've started to assess places on their feel rather than the eye candy. Wind aside it is stirringly quiet on the plateau and the quality of the air is something I've missed since moving away from the country.
Something made me not want to touch Maen Mawr - whether it was its imposing stocky form or the abundance of goat turds that surrounded it I'm not too sure.
Middle of nowhere on an unclassified road between Trecastle and Craig-y-Nos
The road follows the river Tawe. At the point where both run along side each other, the stone circle is up on a plateau on the other side of the river (30m from the road). It is easier to see from the road if you are travelling from Trecastle (heading south), because the large stone (Maen Mawr) slightly to the north of the circle is reasonably easy to spot. Whereas heading from Craig-y-Nos (heading north) the plateau hides the circle.
You will have to cross the river on stepping stones and the monuments are on open moorland.
Cerrig Duon (the name translates as ‘Black Stones’)is a small Bronze Age stone circle, directly to its north is a large standing stone (Maen Mawr) and beyond that two small outliers, all aligned north to south. To the east is the river Tawe which also runs in this direction.
For those of you who love the super henges, all the stone circles on the Brecon Beacons are small in diameter with small stones and badly damaged, but with exceptional views.
Ynys Hir, is a single stone circle. Mynydd Bach is a double stone circle, as is Nant Tarw and Cerrig Duon is a single stone circle with a large standing stone outlier as well as an avenue.
The most impressive monument is Maen Mawr (translates as ‘Big Stone’) a large block of sandstone nearly 2m high, 1.3m wide and nearly 1m thick. Rectangular in appearance with an almost flat top.
Just to the south of it is Cerrig Duon. Not quite circular (Egged shaped) around 18m in diameter. It comprises of 22 stones. As usual all stones are small, with the tallest only reaching up to 0.6m. The stones are (Pennant) sandstone and slab-like.
To the east of the circle is the avenue, made up of even smaller stones (described in the CADW guide as ‘very small stones, which can be difficult to see…’). Around 5m apart, narrower at the end nearest the stone circle and headed in a Northeast direction. Guide books give the number of stones in each of the two rows as around 16, but I found them difficult trace beyond 6 or so. The CADW guide gives the total lengths of the rows as 42m and 25m (or 35m in another guide).
There is speculation that the avenue points to a nearby standing stone (Waen Lleuci), 1km to the northeast.
Visited on my birthday (Dec 27) with our children (7 & 4) - the stream that must be crossed is the Tawe of Abertawe (welsh word for Swansea). Vowed to return again either without the children or in summer when the stream is not so high. Walked about to get a feel of the place & spotted the northern standing stone. Excellent. On return down the valley passed the 'new' stones at the entrance to Dan Yr Ogof caves & will explore when the caves are open again after the holidays. The caves are well worth a visit but a little overdone on the "son et lumiere" effects.
Headed off into the Beacons on first night working in Swansea. Almost got fooled by millenium stones in show caves on way. By the time we got to the stones it was lashing it down and quite misty. John couldn't risk the slippy rocks with his bad knee and Nicky wimped out with floppy shoes. Charles got to the stones and was very impressed, they don't have these sort of places in Taiwan. Ben enjoyed it too but then it was his birthday, he was up for anything. Good meal in the 'Ancient Briton' but no real ale on ,probably because of creeping threat of F&M and lack of visitors. V. Friendly though considering we're townies. Those stones are quite small aren't they. Maen Mawr though has a certain majesty and the setting is awsome. Had a bit of a feel of Castlerigg from a setting point of view.
Maen Mawr is a really unusual standing stone, having no 'edge-on' aspect, the sides being of pretty much equal size. It's also not much taller than it is wide, reminding me of pictures of Calanais stones before the peat was cut away. The odd dimensions also apply when it's compared to the circle; this outlier is bigger than all the circle stones combined! ('Maen Mawr' is Welsh for 'Big Stone').
The OS map marks this as a 'stone circle and avenue'. There are the tiny stones of the circle with the enormous almost cuboid lump of Maen Mawr beside it; beyond Maen Mawr there are two tiny stones like the ones that form the circle. This is stretching the definition of 'avenue' somewhat. There are grey boulders that suggest an avenue, but there are similar stones all around.
The standing stones in the circle are the smallest I've ever seen, some not even above ground level (presumably eroded/broken off, although they can't have been very big to start with). The tallest only come up to my knees. The ground is very boggy, and one stone stands so wobbily in the ground that I'm sure it could be just lifted out.
One stone is clearly very recently added in the circle; it stands at the north western side, and is very thin (5cm or so), no weathering or lichens, and lozenge shaped.
This is a really magical place, on a flat plateau halfway up the side of the valley. Looking around me now I can't see anywhere else in the valley with a level spot like this. The view looks down amzingly to the south, layer upon layer of hills for what on a clear day must be 15 miles. It is an extraordinary site, giving a sense of being isolated in the centre of the landscape.
According to the OS map there's a single standing stone about half a mile north, but we didn't check it out.
Maen Mawr can be reached without an OS map. From Abercraf/Abercrave take the A4067 north. Three or four miles north you see a pub called Tafarn Y Garreg (literally 'Stones Inn') on your right (with its car park on your left). Take the left hand road towards Trecastell/Trecastle opposite the pub. After two miles-ish the river runs right next to you on the left and you see a dark lump on the level promontary halfway up the valley on your left; that's Maen Mawr. The river's easily crossed right now (although it gets faster and wider in the winter so you'll need wellies).
A fantastic place, a little tricky to find, but once you're up there, the whole valley just pans out down in front of you. Awesome, but watch out for the tricky stream (not mentioned in TMA) - it nearly had us, but not, embarrassingly, the surprisingly agile pensioners who followed us over the slippery rocks.