Although a deep mantle of snow is blanketing the high tops - but thankfully not the valleys - of the South Walian hills.... and despite a c40mph wind assuring some very serious windchill at altitude... the Mam C is nevertheless in the mood for an Easter upland sojourn. To be honest I'm rather more of a wuss at the prospect of freezing to death upon some godforsaken (right on!) mountain, consequently deciding to play it safer than might otherwise have been the case. Why not pay a (very) overdue visit to the Bronze Age cairn said to stand upon the eastern shoulder of Fan Nedd? Yeah, I've no problem with rhetorical questions such as that.
Passing the wondrous Maen Llia - is there a finer standing stone in all Wales? - we park just prior to where the minor road suddenly plunges diagonally down the precipitous face of Llethr to the Senni Valley below... a couple of vehicles can be safely left here, the spot, a great viewpoint, worthy of a visit in its own right. From here a stile crosses a dilapidated dry stone wall heading approx south-west toward distant Bwlch-y-Duwynt rising above the source of the Afon Nedd... and Fan Gyhirych. After a short while, however, we veer left and, upon breeching the snow line, commence the ascent toward the prominent 'marker cairn' visible crowning Fan Nedd's northern prow. Now some 'experts' will have you believe the Welsh mountains are a doddle to stroll up, completely failing to take into account the most obvious mitigating factor.... the weather. Well it does has a tendency to be somewhat, er, inclemental on a regular basis. I would suggest you pay them no heed and treat the uplands with the respect Nature demands, commands... and in any event deserves. I like to think we take matters seriously and 'walk the walk', although today 'stagger', 'slither' and 'stumble' are perhaps more appropriate descriptions as we do whatever it takes to traverse deep snow and attain an audience with one of South Wales' more strikingly placed Bronze Age cairns.
Bronze Age? Well, yes, the aforementioned marker cairn, quite well built with an inherent 'wonky' charm, surmounts a deceptively large footprint far too substantial - I would suggest - to proffer a credible alternative origin in such a landscape context. Once again placement is everything, the summit of the mountain, without cairn, lying a considerable distance to the south and thus not party to the fabulous northern vista of the fertile Senni Valley to be blown away by here. Furthermore there is an uninterrupted view of the iconic tops of Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan to the east, rising beyond Maen Llia; looking west, those of Fan Gyhirych and Y Mynydd Du fill the skyline. All bear Bronze Age cairns in situ, several excavated to reveal cists. This is truly a location to linger for ... ooh, hours and hours. Except not for quite that long today. The cold is overwhelming, Nature in a most brutal mood indeed. Suffice to say we must move at incremental intervals simply to cope, taking the opportunity to visit the summit and partake of lunch overlooking the nascent Afon Nedd, its waters sourced upon the boggy col before Fan Gyhirych. It's instructive to ponder this is the very same water course which engages in such spectacular aerobatics further down its eponymous cwm.
So, finally.... after all these years.... we proceed to lipslide (yeah!), with occasionally alarming alacrity, down the eastern flank of the mountain heading for the only position I would have conceivably placed a second, lower cairn. Had any Bronze Age big man been mad enough to put me in charge of operations, that is. Funnily enough I am correct. No, really. In solidarity with its higher companion the cairn is low and, to be fair, we might easilly have walked right over it if the snow hadn't been somewhat patchy 'down here'. However I concur with Coflein and reckon it is beyond reasonable doubt, the tell tale covering of moss failing to obscure what could quite probably be the remains of a kerb. Elements of a cist, however, are open to much more debate. Too fanciful, perhaps? Whatever the truth the cairn (once again) occupies a superb site overlooking the Maen Llia, be-cairned and settled Fan Llia providing the riven backdrop. As we hang out in the comparative warmth of this wondrous place a family wander up and seem somewhat bemused by our presence.... although I've a feeling the dad was actually a bit of a closet 'head'. Welcome my friend and spread the word. Leave your cars and take to the hills!
As with nearby Fan Gyhirych, it took me near on 14 years to actually confirm the prehistoric ancestry of this cairn... but... well.... perhaps it wasn't really needed after all because the great 2,176ft high lump of rock and (usually) sodden earth and grass it's perched upon - known to us as 'Fan Nedd' - just sort of feels 'right' anyway. So I guess I already knew. Hard to explain, but come here and I'm confident you'll know what I mean. The Fforest Fawr is far quieter and - dare I say it - less fashionable than the nearby Brecon Beacons, whose highest decapitated summits are clearly visible on a clear day beyond Fan Fawr.
Somewhat unusually for such a cairn, it is NOT located at or near the summit and therefore not to be confused with the prominent - if rather odd - walker's cairn on the northern apex of the summit plateau (not to mention an equally odd horseshoe shaped shelter). The site is most directly reached via a ladder stile not far from Maen Llia and a subsequent climb up the eastern flank of the mountain.
Hmm. Maen Llia...... I'd actually suggest first time visitors to the area save a foray to this fabulous Bronze Age monolith until later (betcha can't, however) since the physical cairn remains will inevitably be a disappointment following on from such a beauty. The views, however, will not be, particularly if you carry on to the summit itself. If you indeed choose to do so you may be tempted to ponder the fact that almost every visible mountain possesses a Bronze Age burial cairn, from Fan Llia across the valley, Fan Gyhirych, Waun Leuci and Mynydd Du itself to the west... not forgetting the aforementioned Beacons. Can't really ask for more, can you? And all the while Maen Llia guards Sarn Helen down below as it has for millennia.....
Oh, as for Coflein:
"Located on the edge of a level shelf on ground falling to the E is a circular mound 4.9m in diameter and .45m high. A few stones are visible, possibly kerb stones."
So, not the greatest cairn, granted..... but in just about the best location there is, in my opinion.
Actually, it turns out that the ridiculous walkers' cairn (SN91381887) on the north summit is probably built on top of a "proper" one as well. From Coflein:
On a natural shelf on the north side of Fan Hir, overlooking Blaen Senni to the north and the Llia valley to the east, lie the remains of a probable prehistoric burial cairn. Located at around 645m it is now the site of a recently erected marker cairn, 1.8m in diameter and about 2.5m high tapering from base to tip. Beneath and around it is the stony base of an earlier cairn out of which the modern one was built. It measures 7m in diameter and no more than 0.2m high. No structural features are apparent. On OS maps the site is marked simply as 'Cairn' in non-antiquity typeface.