I've occassionally heard it said by experienced 'stoneheads' that the more sites they see, the less physical remains they need on the ground to be able to fully appreciate a site. I'd go along with this - up to a point - providing the siting of the monument is all that it should be. That is to say a solitary orthostat in a housing estate isn't necessarily going to suffice for me. Place that same stone upon a glowering mountain top, however, and now we are talking! Guess that's one of my many idiosyncracities, for better or worse.
The Bronze Age cairn upon Fan Frynych very much falls into this category... you're either going to love it to bits for its exceptional vibe, or think the not inconsiderable effort required to reach it not worth the relatively insignificant physical remains... Judging by the traces that remain within the soil - sundry embedded stones, a few courses of possible kerb, the possible capstone(?) SC mentions etc - the small walkers cairn occupies but a small fraction of the original surface area of what must have been a pretty substantial monument in its time, similar in stature to many other examples that grace these South Walian uplands (see Coflein's dimensions given in the miscellanous post).
However to focus entirely upon the physical form of what is, after all, a large pile of rocks - albeit a seriously robbed one - is, I think, to miss the salient point... which I would argue is why monuments such as this were specifically placed at such extreme locations in the first place. In other words I believe the positionning was the most important aspect of the monument, the physical marking / occupying of the landscape the primary concern to these people. Yeah, it HAS to be HERE. In my opinion the judgement of the Bronze Age people of Fan Frynych was sound... this is the 'right' place, for it is certainly awe inspiring, even today in our age of science with education for all. One could argue the same applies to the upland stone circles, which often tend to consist of diminutive orthostats arranged in spectacular locations. The precise demarcation of an area of the landscape would appear to have been the key purpose, not the erection of a towering monument to impress the neighbours... our monument is special BECAUSE it is here, not down there, so to speak.
Significantly, perhaps, the cairn was not placed at the summit of the mountain, this, due to topography limitations being notable primarily for its lovely little tarn and not as a viewpoint. The chosen position was in fact near the north-eastern extremity of the mountain, this providing an unobstructed, and thus sweeping vista northwards towards the Usk. To the east, across the Glyn Tarell, rise the Brecon Beacons, the majestic, flat topped summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du bearing the highest prehistoric monuments in Southern Britain. To the west the fertile field systems fed by the Afon Senni speak volumes. The viewpoint was apparently everything.... and remains so. Of course we must forever speculate, but there can be no better premise for such speculation that to stand here for a few moments - more if you can - and observe.
Today I intended to ascend Fan Frynych via the straightforward route from Forest Lodge cottages. However mountains affect the mind... they really do... a fact the religious people of yore no doubt manipulated for their own ends.. and the ridge leading straight to the summit from the R*man Road to the north 'called me'. Although a little too steep for my ageing limbs, perhaps, it was appropriate. I shall continue to do this whilst I physically can for I am attracted to these high places like a moth to flame. I guess they truly are the abode of the 'gods' that inhabit the human mind.
Visited on a fine Spring Saturday (15.5.2010), on a walk taking in Craig Cerrig-gleisiad and Fan Fawr. Being a weekend, hordes were on their way up Corn Du and Pen y Fan on the other side of the Glyn Tarell valley, but I appeared to have Fan Frynych to myself.
Approaching the mountain from the NE end, Fan Frynych rises in a series of steps from the lower lying land to the north. It appears as an imposingly steep climb from the saddle below Twyn Dylluan-ddu and the cairn remains hidden out of sight until you reach the 600m mark. It is not situated on the mountain summit itself, which is some way to the SW and almost 30m higher. But where it has been built it has terrific views over the landscape below, taking in Mynydd Illtud. When I arrived, the summits of Corn Du and Pen y Fan (and their attendant visitors) were completely shrouded in cloud, as they had been all morning. But, after taking a few pictures and stopping for a snack, the clouds lifted and the peaks emerged. Once visible they dominate the view eastwards.
The original cairn has a greater diameter than the modern stone construct on top of it and on the south side there is a small half-buried slab protruding - could this be part of a cist?
Gladman is right that the cairn itself doesn't really warrant a special visit, but to my mind its location and the surrounding landscape elevates (sorry) it to a much more worthwhile site to come and see.
Easily dismissed as a 'modern effort' due to interference by passing walkers, this is probably not worth a visit purely for its own sake. Having said that, Fan Frynych is a fine viewpoint, particularly looking across the A470 to the iconic Brecon Beacons and has a lovely summit tarn. Not to mention nearby Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad possessing one of the grandest cliff-faces in all Wales, an ascent of which will never be forgotten.
If this is not your thang, however, a well graded path ascends the mountain from the north, starting near The Forest Lodge and passing the cairn en-route to the summit.... [don't tell anyone, but it follows Sarn Helen, a R*man Road, for a bit, too. Hell, no-one need know. The Mam Cymru and I made sure we walked 'serpentine', and I think we got away with it].
According to Coflein:
'Located at the NE end of a ridge (Fan Frynych) lies a disturbed round cairn. It measures 20m (NE-SW) by 15.5m and 0.6m high consisting of loose stones consolidated with light vegetation around the edge. Much of the stone of this cairn has been piled up into a modern cairn towards the W side.'