Leaving Y Das with mixed feelings - failure to find the barrow, exhilaration at the joyous views - I head northeast to Rhos Dirion (28.4.2011). Rhos Dirion tops the 700m mark, but is a strangely flat and featureless summit marked only with a slowly-cracking trig point. However, it does have the advantage of views of all of the highest points in the Brecon Beacons National Park, from Fan Brycheiniog in the west, past Pen-y-Fan (Corn Du hidden behind), to Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr close at hand. To the north, the patchwork fields of east Wales and Herefordshire stretch away into the distance.
The next summit, Twmpa, has much more of a "proper" summit feel to it. It is marked by a fairly unimpressive modern walkers' cairn, which sits on a flattened stoney platform. There's nothing on the OS (or Coflein) to indicate any prehistoric monument ever crowned this hilltop, but I am strongly reminded of the similarly-positioned cairns of Y Mynydd Du - Tor-y-Fan Foel and Fan Foel in particular. This is a terrific spot anyway, and it is very difficult to imagine that the Bronze Age people who built the cist on nearby Pen-y-Beacon (Hay Bluff) and the cairns on other Black Mountains tops would not have viewed it as a worthy place for such a monument.
From here, the ground drops fairly gently down a well-made path to Gospel Pass, the road that leads up through the mountains from Hay on Wye to Capel-y-Ffin. Across the road, the path climbs again, much more steeply and first and then - thankfully - more gently to the trig point that marks the top of Hay Bluff. The cist is right at the sharp, northern end of the Bluff. Below, the ground drops away dramatically to the ruined stone circle at Pen-y-Beacon. What an amazing place for a burial, with magificent views stretching ahead for many miles.
And it is this direction that I am taking, off the edge of the Bluff and down to the circle below.
Although back in South Wales following a few pretty extreme days wild camping in Mid Wales, there's nevertheless no time to rest up and lie in bed ... not with a pretty rare good forecast for today. Oh no.... weather windows are like gold dust to the explorers of the Welsh uplands. To the hills!
So, with The Mam C on board as insurance against any 'Bryn y Gorlan-esque' megalithic seizures, I arrive at The Gospel Pass, the mountain col where the (very) minor road traversing the length of the beautiful Vale of Ewyas breaches the northern escarpment of The Black Mountains between Pen-y-Beacon and Twmpa. It is a justifiably popular spot, not only with assorted foreign tourists in camper vans and walkers, but with the local wild ponies, too, these a far more genial lot than the usual.
Those wishing to walk the mountains from here have a choice; west to Twmpa, otherwise known as Lord Hereford's Knob (I kid you not, check the map) or north-east to Pen-y-Beacon (aka Hay Bluff). We choose the latter, not only for the exquisite, not to mention easy, walk up the long ridge of Ffynnon y Parc to the summit, but since Coflein lists the remnants of a Bronze Age cairn near the top. Although not the first time we've been here, the cairn is not exactly prominent and the memory isn't what it was, you know? A couple of short, violent squalls come out of nowhere during the initial stages of the ascent to leave an ever improving day in their wake. Twmpa is outstanding in retrospective profile, but it is Mid Wales, ranged along the northern horizon which is arguably the highlight of the walk. As we near the summit, the site of a sadly virtually destroyed stone circle is highlighted below by a group of stationary cars and vans. Aye, they've only gone and used it as a car park, haven't they? You couldn't make it up. No, really, you couldn't. The one - as I recall - remaining orthostat standing forlornly as punters kick a ball about beside it.
And there it is. The cairn, I mean. No fanfares or trumpets I'm afraid since I've rarely seen such a denuded, grassed-over cairn. Really, if it wasn't for the siting at the prow of the mountain, some distance north of the nondescript summit OS triangulation point - and thus benefiting from the exquisite views denied to the actual summit location - I swear you wouldn't look twice at it. However those that do may well notice a somewhat unexpected feature... the side slabs of a cist buried in the turf. The Mam C peels back said turf to make sure. No doubt at all. Jeez, what a grand spot to interne your dead, looking northwards to infinity.
That, then, is all there is to relate about the actual monument. Now to enjoy the reason the cairn is where it is. The views..... boy are they good. Incidentally there is a natural spring, Ffynnon Beacon, just below to the north. Maybe that was significant, maybe not. But it does seem to be a recurring theme. Later we retreat to the Mam C's favourite spot, a (natural) stone literally overhanging the England/Wales border to the south-east. Viewed from here, the 'circle site sits below and to the right of the cairn. Both monuments are trashed by visitors... but I think the cairn has got the better of the deal. Yeah, the summit of Pen-y-Beacon is a good place to be.
Not the most substantial of monuments, true, but well worth a look since the approach from the SSW, along the escarpment edge of Ffynnon y Parc beginning at Gospel Pass, is a fine - not to mention easily graded - walk in itself. That's assuming you don't want to take the option of the very steep ascent beginning near the remnants of the stone circle...... Bear in mind the site is not far from the 2,219ft summit.....
Lying virtually upon the border with England - hence the mountain also possessing an English name (Hay Bluff) - the views from the site are extensive and ...well... I could go on and on and on. Suffice to say that they are worth the effort.
"A much denuded cairn upon the edge of Hay Bluff, 10.5m by 12.1m and 0.8m high, with cist elements exposed." So there you are.
Gospel Pass is most easilly reached via the minor road from Hay-on-Wye. A longer, more picturesque route arrives from the south via the Vale of Ewyas and Llanthony Priory. Take care on these roads, however......... not for the faint hearted.