I've been curious about these enigmatic stones - Owain Glyndwr's 'Covenant Stones' - for a while now and was in fact on my way to visit them during September 2010... until a spur-of-the-moment diversion up Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli. Yeah, don't ever accuse me of being organised. Anyway, if at first you don't succeed.... wait two years and have another go. As previously, the primary intention this time around was to ascend Banc Llechwedd-mawr to take a look at its pair of cairns, an audience with the Cerrig Cyfamod Glyndwr the proverbial 'cherry on the top'. Or rather bottom. Assuming I could find them, of course. But how difficult can it be to locate two glistening white quartzite blocks upon a dark hillside, brooding beneath a malevolent sky promising rain? A glance at the map suggests a relatively easy day, two rights of way crossing the Afon Hyddgen either side of the confluence with the Afon Hengwm, the latter draining surely one of the wildest cwms in all Wales? Pumlumon doesn't do 'easy', however, the landscape - in places a soggy morass - would suggest Glyndwr knew exactly what he was doing back in 1401. No problem if saddled upon one of the tough little local ponies. Otherwise......
Leaving the A44 at Ponterwyd, take the minor road signposted 'Nant y Moch', the Dinas hillfort rising upon your left across the Rheidol, the Hirnant and Lle'r neuaddau cairn circles just two of the excellent sites which might well throw your itinery to the not inconsiderable Pumlumon winds en route. Assuming you get thus far, take the right hand fork just prior to the dam, this a 'dead end' which penetrates the very heart of Pumlumon. Parking is available a little before the Maes Nant activity centre, although I have to confess I've never actually seen any 'activity' there. The route, now a stony bridleway, continues above the buildings, the cascading Maesnant stream betraying the existance of Llyn Llygad-rheidol - the hidden source of the Afon Rheidol - high above to the right. Follow the bridleway until, nearing a prominent copse of trees, it is necessary to trend right to cross the Afon Hengwm, via a footbridge, the river barring further progress. Needless to say I attempted to ford the Afon Hyddgen by veering left before crossing the bridge... but found this option to be completely impractical, dangerous even. Stupid is as stupid does, Forrest. So use the bridge and continue along the bridleway before attempting to negotiate the Hyddgen. Where you make your play is a matter of personal choice, I'm afraid. I followed the bank for what seemed like, oh... ages.... looking for a dryshod way across. But to no avail. Losing patience I am forced to remove boots and wade the freezing water. Still, the feet needed a wash, I guess. This being Pumlumon, of course, there follows immediate, comical irony. Yeah, boots replaced nice n' dry, I step into an unseen, boggy pool up to my knees. Doh!
Once across, the stones are indeed easy to locate. Two (relatively) large blocks of vivid quartzite lie - they do not appear in anyway to be 'standing' - separated by a small, rocky outcrop. I make the alignment roughly North-South (Coflein reckons NNE-SSW, so I'd recommend you go with that, bearing in mind my limited prowess with the compass). Such are the deteriorating weather conditions that I do not note the 'alignment' with the skyline stone to the south. But there you are, such things happen where legends are born. Minds can get overloaded, overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, you know? The setting, particularly in these adverse conditions, is brutal in the extreme, the stones clinging to the eastern flank of Banc Llechwedd-mawr above the river, the complementary flanks of Carn Hyddgen rising across the bwlch, both peaks surmounted by the obligatory Pumlumon cairns. Surely there can be no doubt these shining beacons (I can confirm they can indeed be seem from the summit ridge of Pen Pumlumon-fawr rearing above to the approx south-east) were placed here by human agency? Err.... to be honest I was more or less convinced until, upon descending Banc Llechwedd-mawr later in the day in a direct line toward Carn Hyddgen, I came across another quartzite block (see image no.3). Coflein's R.P. Sambrook suggests that the stones '....may be erratic boulders'. Sadly I reckon the existance of the third block raises the possibility, for me, that he could be right. But then again the third block might simply be an additional monument, bearing in mind there are two additional stone settings a little to the approx south-west of the Cerrig Cyfamod Glyndwr. Just what was going on here back then?
My gut feeling is these wondrous stones are indeed naturally occuring erratics, the additional nearby monuments suggesting they were perhaps 'adopted' by the ancients as part of their ritual landscape.... not to mention the medieval locals. What could be more special than finding such unusual, magical white stones 'already there', in situ, seemingly 'placed' by the very gods themselves? Needless to say I would love to be proved wrong, for the tell tale signs of human agency to be discovered and subsequently highlighted by others. But perhaps this is to miss the point... merely splitting hairs, for this is an inspiring place to be. A good place to be.
As mentioned there are other stones to the south, apparently displaying much more certain prehistoric ancestry. However Banc Llechwedd-mawr calls the louder from on high and a true Citizen Cairn'd must respond. There is no choice, no option. The afternoon then proceeds to burst into life in a dazzling display of highlight and shade, a veritable kaleidoscope of vibrant colour set free by sunlight penetrating the cloudbase... or something like that? So Carn Hyddgen must follow in linear progression, the other stones must wait for another day. Yeah, like I said. Nothing is straight forward upon Pumlumon.
The stones here are recorded on Coflein as a 'stone setting' and apparently align with a third on the skyline. There is a four stone row and a pair of stones nearby.
[Here are] two unhewn blocks of white quartz, almost certainly placed by artifice, with a small natural outcropping boulder midway between them, to which the local tradition points as marking the site where Owen Glyndwr "held parley, and made his covenant." The boulders are on the north-western slope of Plynlumon, 100 yards above the right bank of the river Hyddgen [..] Each stone is 2 feet high, and shows no trace of tooling. They are 60 feet apart and are aligned exactly north and south. Though not placed in an elevated position, they can be seen from afar, and show up conspicuously in the sunlight.
From 'An inventory of the ancient and historical monuments of the county of Montgomery' (1911).