It's rather disorientating - odd, even - to return to a location after a prolonged absence, to stand at a spot where you last set foot nearly 20 years before. For me Carn Hyddgen is such a place, a (it has to be said ridiculous) map reading error having first drawn me to the twin cairns of Carn Gwilym in 1993. Simple arithmetic aided the conclusion that this was indeed not Pen Pumlumon Arwystli as I had planned. Yeah, three cairns into two doesn't go. No such errors today.... I think Pumlumon and I understand each other a little better now. Although 'She' still refuses to make things easy, the terms still very much 'take it or leave it', the descent from Banc Llechwedd-mawr and re-fording of the Afon Hyddgen no easy skate... in fact I would say incorporating some of the roughest grass-land in Wales.
However all that is consigned to the latest batch of 'Gladman history' as soon as I reach the summit. The sheer bulk of the cairns, albeit greatly accentuated by later 'marker' edifices constructed from the copious base material, takes my breath away. The revised profiles - although when the revision took place is anyone's guess (the miscellaneous entry refers) - are hauntingly evocative, particularly viewed against such an angry sky so full of character. In fact the vibe reminds me somewhat of Drygarn Fawr isolated, albeit to a greater degree still, in not too distant Elanydd. The vistas to be had from here are, as one would expect, similar to Banc Llechwedd-mawr across the bwlch. However the subtle differences, the variance in angle of shadow, in apparent landscape texture suggested by the play of light, in depth of colour... are all important. Perhaps the primary difference is the insight Carn Hyddgen affords the viewer of the 'forgotten corner' of Pumlumon, the north-eastern sector whence resides the monuments of Carn Fawr, Carnfachbugeilyn and Carn Biga. This evening the emptyness of the landscape is total, overwhelmingly so, populated solely by washes of sunlight dueling with shadow. Hey, I doubt if the 'dark side' ever looked so appealing? The question 'why people chose to bury their dead up here' never seemed so superfluous, so rhetorical. I mean... just... well... LOOK!
OK, perhaps it isn't as simple as that. I confess it is an easy matter to get carried away when the mountains put on their 'light show'. But surely theatrical spectacle was fundamental to the Bronze Age ritual experience, the timing of visits to these places specifically chosen to maximise the impact, to blow the mind?
Incidentally Coflein cites two further small cairns upon Carn Hyddgen as having Bronze Age associations - at SN7924290848 and SN7924390834. Bearing in mind the 'amendments' to the primary pair I must admit I'm not convinced. However, unlike during my 1993 visit, I have no need of maths this evening.
A 1,850ft outlier of Pen-Pumlumon-Fawr and to its north-east, Carn Hyddgen is as remote a mountain as you could wish for, standing guard above the trackway through Cwm Hyddgen - surely a prehistoric route?
If I remember my history correctly it was here that Owain Glyndwyr ambushed and annihilated an English army during the rebellion – or War of Liberation, depending on your point of view. Despite - or perhaps because of that - this is an ethereal, haunting location......
Needless to say the two cairns which grace the summit are peace personified - not many people come to walk Pumlumon, even less come here. In fact I only did due to a map reading error! But it was a fortuitous mistake, you might say.
I was prompted to make this post following a recent visit to Carn Fawr... the twin cairns of Carn Gwilym standing proud (with a little help from modern 'masons', it has to be said) upon the summit of Carn Hyddgen across the valley.
Intriguingly, Coflein quotes a field report from 1910 stating:
'there are here two cairns, 60 feet apart. They stand on the summit of Mynydd Hyddgen... an outlying height of Plynlymon, midway between the sources of Nant y Garn and Nant Lluest fach. They are each 20 feet in height; of rough construction, the stones being piled into a mass without any signs of regular courses. No stones similar to those used in the building of these cairns are to be seen anywhere around; none are scattered about from which they could now be erected, and none are of a size larger than one man could carry hither. Of the carneddau of the Plynlymon district Carn Gwilym is probably the best preserved'
Each cairn measuring 20 feet in height in 1910? Surely not? Oh, come on?
Whatever the accuracy of the 'not so modern antiquarians', CPAT gives a succinct appraisal of the current state of affairs:
Northern cairn - 'Substantial summit cairn c. 13m diam. Original form difficult to assess due to disturbance and construction of a modern cairn 3.2m diam x 2.8m high, off-centre to S. Small shelter also built into cairn on E side. Outer edge of cairn is turf covered, with loose rubble interior, Top has been levelled and remains of a revetment wall survive on S side. Irregular group of stones to SE is of uncertain function. The modern cairn has been recently rebuilt (?and enlarged) using more of burial cairn stone. Good palaeoenvironmental deposits over 1m deep c. 100-150m to NE. (CPAT 2002) (CPAT Prehistoric Ritual & Funerary Monuments, 2002)'
Southern cairn - 'Substantial cairn which appears to comprise a turf covered ring bank 13.2 x 12.5 x 0.5m, visible most clearly on E side, the interior of which is filled with loose rubble forming a cairn up to 0.75m high. The top has been levelled and disturbed by the construction of a modern cairn set off-centre to W, measuring 3.4m diam x 2.4m high, possibly recently rebuilt. Small satellite cairn adjoins E side, 2.5m diam, composed of well-sett stones. (CPAT 2002) (CPAT Prehistoric Ritual & Funerary Monuments, 2002)'