After a long wait and much pondering over the weather reports, the day finally came, it was November the 3rd, The Sweetcheat and me were on our way to Cader Idris.
As we approached the expensive pay and display carpark (2quid for 4hrs or 4quid for all day) we could see the Peaks of Cader Idris were covered in thick grey cloud, par for the course to me. We donned our weatherproofing and set off up the pony track.
At our first breather stop we could see the tumbled Hill fort of Craig y Castell, I wondered if we would have a moment to go up and have a quick look after we came down.
Nearing the steeper part of the walk we noted how there was blue sky coming in off the Irish sea, most unusual, Alken said that by the time we get to the top it will have moved in above us. (he couldn't have been more right, but we didn't know it yet)
The path zigzags up to the top of Rhiw Gwredydd, past a large strangely cut block with a seam of quartz showing, from above here we could see where the cairns were, so we mozied on over as best we could in the ferocious winds that seemed to be somewhat single minded about pushing us over the edge.
We were both amazed, we've both seen many many cairns, but these were big. The biggest one , the southern one was so huge we couldn't really tell if it was one big one or two that had slipped into each other. The other two were smaller but only when compared to the big one, but they did have the peachiest of positions, looking down into the valley of the Afon Mawddach, and beyond, Iv'e seen many beyonds too but this one will take some beating, from here I could zoom in on Craig y Castell and the cairn on a woodland saddle, off in the distance, below dark clouds was Snowdon and the Carneddau and the whole was lit by a patchwork of dappled autumn sunlight, goosebumped and hairprickled, we sat and watched a while before tearing ourselves away, away up to the top of the still cloudy peak of Cader Idris.
On, on and ever upwards, with the crap wham song with the words "take me to the edge of heaven" intermittently invading my inner sanctum, I carefully didn't mention this for fear of being pushed over the edge. Wham and mountain walking sooo don't go together. We were getting higher now and the summit came into view, it was now that Alken's shrewd weather prediction came to fruition, he is not only a Sweetcheat but mixed with a postman becomes a bad weather repellent.
The view from the top is jaw dropping to say the least, we sat in silence for some time just drinking in the splendor, all around us the views went for miles, here and there low clouds dropped their watery cargo on inoffensive Welsh villages and beaches, but we stayed gloriously dry and content.
The sun was getting low and bathed Craig yr Aderyn and it's whole valley in a golden autumnal light, it was with this view foremost that we tripped and staggered our way down, still dry.
Tyrrau Mawr, presenting an almost unfeasibly beautiful facade (Craig Las) to visitors to the Llynnau Cregennen situated above Arthog, stands towards the western end of the great mountain ridge that is Cadair Idris. Reaching 2,168ft, it is significantly lower than Pen-y-Gadair, Cadair Idris's summit peak at 2,928ft; nevertheless it is arguably a better all round viewpoint - strange as that may sound - and very possibly one of the finest in all Wales, in my humble opinion.
There's something else, too. Something which has haunted me (in a 'nice' way, you understand) for the past couple of years. Yeah, something in the form of several large, Bronze Age funerary cairns set upon Carnedd Lwyd, a rocky outcrop well placed upon Tyrrau Mawr's eastern shoulder. Dismissed as 'quarrying' during my last visit way back in 1994 - in my defence the cairns aren't all that obvious from the ridge to the north (!!) - a return visit was therefore long overdue. Having said that, you can't just 'book' an appointment to see high mountain sites as you would others, a fact made only too clear by an obscuring mantle of cloud which greets my arrival at Ty Nant today.... I make a judgement call and decide it will (hopefully!) peel away in an hour or so and consequently set off up the Pony Path towards Rhiw Gwredydd [there is an expensive official 'pay and display' carpark here, or some very limited roadside parking options if you're early enough. I am]. The early stages of the walk feature some excellent, cascading streams beneath foliage, well worth the trip in itself, to be honest. However as I gain height the landscape becomes much more open, more brutal... hell, even desolate. Cyfrwy and the main summits of Cadair Idris tower above to my left, my 'holy grail' crowning the ridge crest to my right, with the hillfort of Pared-y-cefn-hir far right. I leave a group of young climbers at the bwlch (pass) with a few words of encouragement for their summit attempt - right on, lads - veering right myself to follow the remnants of a dry stone wall towards Tyrrau Mawr's top at a much more modest altitude.
Although the cairns stand before and below the summit, I can't recommend an extension to the crest of Craig Las highly enough. Really, I can't... if only for excellent views of a number of other prehistoric monuments in the locality... the aforementioned Pared-y-cefn-hir; the two Hafotty-fach cairns below to the west; Craig-y-Llyn and its funerary cairn; the Arthog stones, with the site of Cerrig Arthur across the exquisite Afon Mawddach; The Tarrens to the south; Arans to the east.... and last but not least, the exceptional view of Carnedd Lwyd itself set below the summit peaks of Cadair Idris, surely one of the finest of any prehistoric site in Wales? But then I'm clearly smitten by what's on offer here. And biased. Hey, check it out for yourself.
Anyway, where was I? Ahh, yes. Carnedd Lwyd. Approaching from Craig Las, following a sudden, violent hammering by a fast moving weather front, with returning cloud engulfing all - which, I have to admit, catches me napping - I ascend the crags to find the two northern-most cairns are far more substantial than appeared to be the case from above. The eastern - although somewhat 'hollowed out' - is a fine monument, completely dominated by the bulk of the rise to Cyfrwy and Pen-y-Gadair, mist still swirling around the summit peak. There seems (to my eyes) to be a definite correlation between mountain summit and cairn, the latter in awe of the former and sited in an appropriately subservient manner. The western of the pair is better preservered and supports a wooden pole which... er... accidentally falls down when I touch it. Strange, that. To the south, a wire fence stands before another small crag with - I think - two more, smaller cairns in situ. I check my watch. I'm already at the optimum departing time for a safe descent. But this place is so evocative I decide to push my luck and take it to the wire. Yeah, the relationship between cairns and mountainside is truly compelling. In short, I think I 'get it', understand for once. Hell, it was worth the sixteen year wait. Eventually I simply have to leave, or else see whether the legend of either becoming a poet or madman by spending a night upon Cadair Idris is just legend. Despite another weather front I make the car before dark. Just.
From 'The Giants of Wales and their Dwellings' by Sion Dafydd Rhys, c.1600.
In the land of Merioneth in the parish of Dolgelly in the commote of Talybont, is a mountain that is called Cader Idris. And about the foot of this large hill are several lakes. Large and high is the mountain, and though so high, and so though difficult to cross over, yet (so they say) if a stick be thrown into any of those waters, you will find that piece of wood in the other lake on the opposite side of this mountain. And as it is not easy to believe that it can go over the top of a mountain as high as this, it is supposed that there is some cave or hollow from one lake to the other under the mountain, so that a thing that is in one lake can be moved to the other.
And on the highest crown of this mountain is a bed-shaped form, great in length and width, built of slabs fixed around it. And this is called the Bed of Idris, though it is more likely that it is the grave in which Idris was buried in ages past. And it is said that whoever lies and sleeps on that bed, one of two things will happen to him - either he will be a poet of the best kind, or go entirely demented.
And from one of the lakes that is under the mountain runs a large river. And when a very dry summer happens there is a lack of water to grind the mills built on the bank of that river. So it was frequently necessary to release the water from the lake. And (so they say) no water was ever released from that lake without at once there being some storm and downpour of rain, and thunder and lightning, happening in the same spot.
And in this high mountain formerly lived a big giant, and he was called Idris Gawr. And in this same parish is a mountain called Moel Yscydion, the abode of a great giant called Yscydion Gawr. And not far from Moel Yscydion in the parish of Llanfachreth is a hill called Moel Ophrom, where formerly lived Ophrom Gawr. And in the parish of Llanelltyd is another hill called Moel Ysbryn, because Ysbryn Gawr had his dwelling there. And all these giants were of enormous size, and in the time of Idris Gawr, and Idris was king and chief over them.
Woah! Can there be a more beautiful setting for Bronze Age burial cairns than perched high upon Tyrrau Mawr, western sentinel of the central summits of Cadair Idris?
Tyrrau Mawr (also known as Craig Las to confuse non-locals) possesses a north-western arete that must have launched a thousand post cards when viewed across the exquisite Llynnau Cregennen, deep scree gullies allowing the sun infinite possibilities for highlight and lowlight when conditions are favourable.
What is not apparent from down below, however, is the aforementioned series of Bronze Age cairns upon Carnedd Lwyd, the mountain's eastern shoulder.... which vie for attention with - and I have to admit (sorry!) lose hands down to - the stunning vista towards the Mawddach Estuary, the close proximity of the coastline emphasising the feeling of height here. It is arguably a common tendency for us to patronise past cultures from our modern viewpoint and all too difficult to 'walk in their shoes'. However I can't imagine anyone from any culture standing here and not thinking "wow - this place is the one"..... aside from the guys in 'Trainspotting', I suppose. Sadly Coflein provides no information save confirming the Bronze Age origin and funerary aspect of the cairns. It may be a surprise to relate that, aside from an example upon Craig-y-Llyn further to the west, Tyrrau Mawr's cairns are the only such Bronze Age monuments upon Cadair Idris's high ridge that I'm aware of. Nethertheless it is enough. More than enough.
Folklore fans will already be aware that the name 'Cadair Idris' refers to the central cwm of the massif to the east as being the eponymous 'chair' of the giant Idris. Fizzy drink aficionados of a certain age will perhaps conjure up other images, since the factory was nearby. Perhaps it still is.....
Tyrrau Mawr is perhaps best visited via the 'Pony Path' to Pen-y-Gadair - Cadair Idris's summit peak - only turning right at Rhiw Gwredydd instead of left. The cairns are sited upon the large craggy outcrop (Carnedd Lwyd) which stands below the main summit. A longer walk is possible by continuing to Craig-y-Llyn and returning via the ancient route Fford Ddu, itself flanked by several standing stones and with The Arthog stones also nearby.