If I recall correctly it was Rabelais who reckoned that 'nature abhors a vacuum'. Not so myself, not with hot coffee a'waiting in the flask. My beef has instead often been with the metre (except when in the gifted hands of a Richey Edwards or his ilk). Yeah, too unwieldy a unit of length in the singular, sadly lacking when bundled together in the kilometre. And you would never catch Charlie and Craig walking 804.67 of the latter to fall down at anyone's door, I can tell you. Hence - should you ever find yourself in Leith - it's probably for the best that you refrain from mentioning that there are (arguably) some benefits of using the metric. Consider Y Gamriw, for example: an obscure, sub-2,000ft Mid Walian hill, probably not worth the effort.... or mountain rising to an impressive 604m? It's all about perception, is it not? Well, isn't everything? And I'd suggest the latter epithet is much more likely to secure a reference in a local guide book, perhaps planting the precious seed of curiosity.
A guide book such as Terry Marsh's 'The Mountains of Wales', the first 600m plus 'metric' guide book I'd encountered, the first to assign the magical noun 'mountain'. Naturally it would've been rude not to go and have a look after that, the massive, shattered summit cairn looming above the mist wreathed summit that day (back in 1999) sufficient cause for the silent voice of introspection to state the self-evident truth... that I had to return some day, if only to see what lay beyond that too intimidating wall of vapour. Needless to say self-evident truths have a habit of hibernating within the deepest recesses of the subconscious, pending a 'wake up call'. The fruits of Toby Driver's all-seeing aerial camera displayed upon the Coflein database were the agents in this case.
Located some four miles to the approx south-west of the bustling town of Rhayader, Y Gamriw is - luckily for the average stonehead - significantly more 'visitor friendly' than its 600m peers Gorllwyn and Drygarn Fawr rising to the west. Indeed I would go as far as to say you would need to be absolutely bonkers to attempt an ascent of either of those desolate, enigmatic summits if low cloud is at all a possibility. Consequently I'd recommend Y Gamriw as a fine introduction to the perhaps surprisingly uncompromising terrain of the Elan uplands. Try before you buy, so to speak. And visit half a dozen large upland cairns as you do so. What's not to like for a Citizen Cairn'd?
The key to a relatively straightforward ascent is the minor road heading approx south from the River Wye-side village of Llanwrthwl [although longer variations could include traversing the north-eastern ridge, Graig Ddu.... or even climbing via Crugian Bach's stone circle]. It is currently possible to park a car - with care, mind - at the terminus, the tarmac morphing into a grassy track and continuing westwards. Head along said track (with Y Gamriw visible rising beyond to the right and Drum Ddu, crowned by Carn-y-Geifr... 'cairn of the goat' ... to the left), resisting the urge to strike off for the ridge until an obvious, diagonally slanting path can be seen ascending the mountain's flank. Having tried both I'd suggest this is an easier alternative to a full frontal assault upon the summit. Anyway, once the ridge crest is attained, heading to the left will ensure the OS trig pillar (incidentally not the highest point of Y Gamriw) will soon be yours, duly noting the excellent cairn grouping of Carnau Cefn-y-Fford lying below, a little further up the track. Needless to say well worth a visit. Now.... assuming you can tear yourself away, the massive summit cairn can be seen rising above and beyond a nasty section of the ubiquitous local bog some distance to the approx west.
Despite the depredation of having had a substantial 'sheep shelter' erected within - albeit one constructed from the ancient fabric... and possessing an ethereal vibe I'm at a loss to explain - the summit cairn remains an impressive monument. The views are far reaching, particularly looking west toward what I would cite as some of the most challenging landscape in all Wales. A proper wilderness where a sheep track may well become something to savour, an all too brief respite for tired, aching - not to mention wet - ankles. Looking to the north-east the traveller sees Graig Ddu (as you might expect) slowly descending toward Llanwrthwl, the village obscured by the mountain's bulk. According to the map three additional large cairns mark its linear progress, two of which I manage to visit this time around. But wait, there's more. As I turn my gaze to the north the presence of yet two more substantial stone piles located a short distance away lend further credence to my earlier deliberations concerning 'relative perception'. Then there's the site of a stone circle - nay, apparent 'prehistoric complex' - upon the moorland bordering Crugian Bach to the north-west. Simply put, there was clearly an awful lot going on millennia ago where few now see fit to tread. Yeah, the scope of such a collection of substantial monuments upon / overlooked by such an apparently obscure Mid Walian hill is intriguing. Is it possible that Y Gamriw was actually the focal point of Bronze Age Elenydd? It seems a good bet to me.
The weather becomes progressively more volatile, more violent as I (inevitably) feel the need to take a close look at the two northern cairns.... and - naturally - the Graig Ddu trio in due course. As it happens the eastern-most (and lowest) of the latter three eventually eludes me, the reserves of energy exhausted, the 'tank' dry. Unlike the landscape, which is duly subjected to a series of violent lashings interspersed with wondrous golden illuminations, these exquiste light shows culminating in the appearance of some of the finest arching rainbows I've seen for a long, long time. How can something so nebulous appear so paradoxically substantial? Yeah, we could debate that one for years. So, I call a halt at the second cairn (SN95666204) and instead of returning to the summit decide, perhaps unwisely, to head straight for the roadhead and car waiting immediately below to the south. The descent is steep, rough, but causes no lasting trauma. No harm done. And to think that I may well have never ventured up here.... if it wasn't for the metre.
[Fieldnotes from Sept 2012.... but for some reason - too much work for too little pay, probably - not submitted at the time]