A dispassionate - and hence somehow all the more gloomy - forecast of blanket low cloud across the South Walian uplands is responsible for a rare surety this morning. Yeah, instead of the usual somewhat, er, 'fluid' journey parameters, today the Mam C and I will visit the great hill fort of Carn Goch, South Wales' "whatever you can do..." counter to Gwynedd's magnificent Garn Boduan. Or Tre'r Ceiri, if you prefer. Needless to say we don't make it.
Climbing away from Upper Brynamman upon the A4069, the beguiling vision... for those who choose to 'see'... of the Tair Carn Uchaf (and Isaf) Bronze Age cemeteries standing proud upon the western-most slopes of Y Mynydd Du only serves to - yet again - ratify the maxim than nothing is ever certain when it comes to mountain weather. So where's the cloud, then? Dunno. Passing the Cwm Garw settlement below to our right (must actually stop one day - duh!) and parking up at the old quarry site of Pen Rhiw Wen, it's time to switch to manual prediction, the MK1 eyeball and copious experience. A final wraith of grey vapour extricates itself from the summit crags of Garreg Lwyd and dissipates. On my head be it. To the hills!
The ascent of Garreg Lwyd - at least from the north-west - is the least arduous of any 2,000ft peak in Wales. Which is handy for us two these days and highly recommended to anyone wanting to 'dip a toe' in the 'sparkling waters' of upland exploration. Or something like that. Nevertheless the landscape soon becomes as brutally incoherent and haphazard as many another far higher mountain, so don't take liberties in mist please. Heading south-east from the car park the angle of attack eases in relatively short order, the massive summit cairn soon visible beyond some natural outcropping. I wouldn't exactly call it a limestone 'pavement'.... although if you've seen some pedestrian paths around Aldgate recently the comparison is there to be made. To be honest the sheer scale of the monument takes me back a little, this despite having visited the summit a number of times previously. The most obvious feature is a large 'marker cairn' perched upon the south-western section, presumably formed of original cairn material. However it soon becomes clear that a significant volume of stone still remains more or less in situ, particularly upon the eastern/southern arcs. Simply put, this was a massive cairn in its day bearing direct comparison with Carn Pen-y-clogau and the aforementioned Tair Carn monuments to the approx west. It's therefore - as usual - unfortunate that, in addition to the marker cairn, vandals (for, let it be said, that is what they are) have also fashioned a couple of 'shelters' from the ancient fabric. That these are poorly constructed and subject to immediate collapse under my weight is a moot point. Ironically the nearby OS trig pillar bears a plaque stating that damaging the same is a criminal offence. Priorities, eh? These gripes aside, the monument occupies a wondrously desolate position with far reaching vistas to all points of the compass.... assuming the visitor clutches said navigational aid in his/her hand the validity of this statement is easily verified. The most dramatic is arguably that to the east, looking toward the central peaks of Y Mynydd Du, perhaps the most expansive that to the coast. But don't take my word for it. Hey, don't take my word for anything. Particularly how the great cairn of Carn Pen-y-Clogau appears to sit perfectly upon the horizon from here.
The day is getting on a bit, albeit still reasonably attractive. Bit like Kate Moss, you could say? However the siren call of the uplands lures us onward, if not exactly upward, heading east toward Foel Fraith instead of returning to the car for Carn Goch. This is 'shake hole' country, those enigmatic circular depressions in the limestone working in association with ragged peat hags to add a surreal, somewhat otherworldly aspect to the rough moor between the two peaks. Foel Fraith is characterised by linear rocky outcrops forming the western flank. And not a lot else, to be fair. Unless one is particularly turned on by summit bog. What is does possess, however, is a fine view of the twin cairns of Carnau'r Garreg Las crowning the chaotic Twyn-swnd rising across Cwm Sawdde Fechan, these in turn directing the gaze further east to the heartland of Y Mynydd Du. Immediately north is Cefn y Cylchau featuring a number of clearly much smaller monuments. Today, however, all this appears too taxing. Or rather is too taxing. Time to sit and chill out, enjoy the moment.
Hours fly and soon it's almost time to leave. I wander off alone to take a few more images and notice a sheep apparently sitting in one of the aforementioned bogs. Trouble is it doesn't immediately flee in blind panic at my approach... because it can't. Stuck fast within the deadly, glutinous mud, its demeanour suggesting it has resigned itself - if sheep can do such a thing - to die here tonight from exposure whilst its companions look on without a trace of irascibility. I appear correct, since nothing I can do will budge the bloody thing. Damn! So how does a 12 stone man manage to drag a fully grown, completely waterlogged sheep from a mire while the Mam C sits a several hundred yards away, oblivious to calls overwhelmed by the wind? I've no idea. But the thought of leaving this creature to die a lonely death up here is too much to contemplate.... so the strength is somehow forthcoming.
We commence our return to Garreg Lwyd to watch dusk weave its magic from the great cairn, golden rays from the sinking sun illuminating the underside of the cloudbase with the subtle interplay of light. The Mam C suddenly points out a brown sheep standing munching the tough upland grass amongst a nearby group of otherwise more-or-less white ones. 'Have you seen that?' Well, now you come to mention it.....
At the far-western end of the great Mynydd Du massif, and just a short scramble from the A4069, stands the barren, windswept mountain of Garreg Lwyd - all 2,020ft of it. It is crowned by the disturbed remain of a large Bronze Age burial cairn.
Despite the proximity to the road, you'll find a real, tangible sense of wilderness here, the view of the main Mynydd Du peaks to the east one of bleak, untamed moor. In many respects you'd think finding a cairn at such a place would temper this feeling a little - the human connection and all. But to be honest places such as these set my mind a'racing, particularly when a veil of mist comes sweeping around, stripping the senses back to primeval levels of awareness. Which I guess was the whole intention placing it here....... I'd swear that was not the wind but the chants of some long forgotten ritual held at this very spot. Or not.
To quote Coflein; "Towards the SE edge of a large flat-topped hill of turf covered limestone pavement are the disturbed remains of a once substantial round cairn, approx 20m in diameter. It is of loose limestone rubble & boulders with much modern disturbance and the SW part has been rebuilt in the form of a tower, 6m dia x 2.5m high, probably as a boundary mark".