Following a satisfying and rewarding day volunteer work with the Woodland Trust in the beautiful Sirhowy Valley, I had time for a bit more ‘old stoning’ before having to drive home. The sun was still high and the weather still hot so I wanted to make the most of it, particularly as I didn’t have the children with me.
After navigating the maze of narrow country lanes (with very few passing places) I eventually arrived at the car park. It was no surprise to find I was the only one there.
I managed to park beneath the shade of a tree and after grabbing my map, compass, hat and water bottle I headed up the green track as described by Mr G.
At first the walk is a gentle stroll but as soon as you arrive at the derelict former quarry buildings it rapidly becomes a steep scramble up between the rocky crags.
I was fairly huffing and puffing by the time I reached the top and was glad to see that the ground became flat again as I headed along the ‘path’ towards the higher ground.
As soon as you get near the summit the two Cairns come into view and what a fine sight they are. Both are substantial, if hollowed out, and it was with relief I plonked myself down upon the top of the southern one and enjoyed a refreshing drink of water.
Now, usually, I would be sheltering out of the wind and cold but not today. It was a pleasure to sit on top of the stones, take in the surroundings and contemplate the meaning of life. All was quiet except for the shrill of several small birds hopping in and out of the heather.
Next to the two large Cairns (and the smaller one with the Trig on top of it) was another small stone cairn. I am surprised this has not been mentioned before as it is so close. Perhaps this is a modern cairn although COFLEIN does state that there are many Cairns on Mynydd Llangatwg.
Despite being a fair hike from the car park (about 45 minutes) it certainly is worth the effort – particularly on a day like today.
St David's Day 2013. To be fair I don't know a great deal about the bloke... aside from an apparent fondness for a certain liliacaea vegetable and his vehement condemnation of Pelagian heresy. Don't get me wrong - I can deal with a nice leek soup; but both the Mam and I are firmly with Pelagius in respect of the doctrine of free will, at least to the extent human psychology will admit of such a concept. Which is why we pair of Citizens Cairn'd freely choose to visit the (apparently) great cairns which surmount Twr Pen-cyrn upon this freezing Pelagius's Day. Yeah, because we want to!
In some respects the shattered ridge of Twr Pen-cyrn could be said to mark not only a physical demarcation between the grim landscape of 'industrial South Wales' and the scenic splendour of the Black Mountains to the north, but also that of mindset, too. It goes without saying that the social realities contributing to what appears to me a fundamental division are complex... and very real. Nevertheless the contrast between the two landscapes, the two societies, the two outlooks on life, is striking - overwhelming, even - as we approach the parking area at approx SO209154 from the south, the magnificent vista of the River Usk, backed by the sculptured heights of The Black Mountains rising above Crickhowell, literally taking the breath away.
An old green quarry track heads westward from the car park beneath the soaring crags of Darren before ascending the eroded hillside, incidentally near the location of a cave where it appears the ancestors once took shelter. The usual, then. Once upon the crest the low summit ridge rises more or less due south across what - I guess - would normally be a featureless, boggy plateau. Today, however, it bears a greater resemblance to frozen arctic tundra... not that I've ever been to the Arctic, you understand? The 'going' underfoot is thus pretty firm - although the resident ponies remain resolutely static some distance away refusing us an audience - so we soon find ourselves scrambling up the left hand (eastern) end of the ridge to discover a pair of very substantial cairns gracing as brutally chaotic a landscape as you could wish to find in upland South Wales. As mentioned by TSC there is actually a third cairn, the Hen Dy-aderyn, sited immediately adjacent to the northern monument and crowned by an OS trig pillar. The parent has unfortunately suffered at the hands of the usual walker muppets; having said that, however, it remains a fine testament to the efforts of its anonymous builders millennia ago. The second major cairn, standing some way to the south-east at the ridge's terminus is - for me - a superior stone pile with a much more substantial interior than its neighbour. To be honest this is perhaps to be expected, bearing in mind the predictable summit-fixation of the average rambler. Indeed we are paid a fleeting visit by such a walker whom we duly send on his way in short order.... the Mam C is not impressed by 'know it alls'; even less so by those actually knowing bugger all and reminding us of the current Mayor of London. Cripes! Particularly when there is chocolate to be eaten. Mind you Boris himself would no doubt have been bizarrely entertaining....
Either cairn offers a fine perch to view the far horizons capped by a multitude of further monuments to Bronze Age VIPs... in fact you could say they represent the best seats in the theatre, truly 'up in the gods'. To the west the eyes are drawn toward the distant high peaks of The Brecon Beacons, beyond Garn Fawr and Cefn yr Ystrad. The dark mass of Blorenge rises to the south-east whilst, best of all, the serried ranks of The Black Mountains fill the northern aspect. Only the vista to the south would (arguably) appear totally alien to the original Bronze Age gaze. My, what have we done? The rape of the land, no less. However it is something that should not.... can not.... be ignored. We must look, no matter how painful it is. Not to mention deal with the resulting inherent issues. Easier said than done.
There is more to be seen upon this windswept - tell me about it - mountain. Firstly an alleged 'stone circle' located within a boulder field a little to the approx north-west of the main summit cairn. Hmmm. Suffice to say we agree with TSC here in that the form of the monument - if indeed it is a monument - is subject to confirmation by a member with greater expertise in the field. And secondly.... another cairn visible some way along the ridge to the approx west. Well, it would be rude not to.
The very top of the hill slopes more steeply in a little crest. Once onto this, the wind increases dramatically and the chill becomes noticeable, even after the heat generated by the steady climb. Views open to the west, to Waun Rydd and the cloud-shrouded central Brecon Beacons.
Of more immediate interest is the collection of cairns on the hilltop, hidden from view until now. The name of the top, Twr Pen-cyrn (pronounced too-er pen keern) defies my translation efforts, settling on either “Tower [of the] head of the peak”, or “Peak-head Tower”, which seems too clumsy to be right. I have a little hand-drawn plan and notes taken from Coflein, but the numbering (and indeed the number) of cairns on Coflein doesn’t readily associate itself with what I’m seeing.
The entire summit area is liberally scattered with limestone blocks, making for plentiful cairn-building material. The first cairn I reach is small and to the southwest of the main summit group. I think, if it follows the Coflein numbering and descriptions, that it’s Cairn VII. Beyond it, framed by an impressive backdrop of the Sugarloaf, Ysgyryd Fawr and Blorenge, is the southeastern cairn in the group. This is a monster, about 15 metres across and a couple of metres high. It has been messed about, inevitably, but remains a truly impressive monument. The ground falls away from the cairn to the east, leaving a fine, unobstructed view across Monmouthshire. To the north, the Black Mountains ridges, centred on Pen Cerrig-calch from here, glower darkly. I wonder whether the geographical and geological divide between the limestone plateau of this hill and the sandstone ridges of the mountains across the river were reflected in tribal divisions when these monuments and the comparable cairns of Pen Cerrig-calch were constructed?
The other big cairn of the group is right on the summit, next to the trig pillar that itself surmounts a further, smaller, cairn. The summit cairn is a match for the southeastern neighbour. The be-trigged smaller cairn rejoices in the name of “Hen Dy-aderyn” (Old House of the Birds), which Coflein suggests might be linked to use as a shooting hide. The group certainly make for a great – if windy – spot for a cup of tea and contemplation. The clouds to the west briefly part to reveal the sawn-off tops of Corn Du and Pen y Fan, 15 miles or so distant.
These four cairns are the only apparent cairns here, so I can only conclude that the Coflein records include a degree of duplication.
There are two large carneddau on the Carno mountain, where a sanguinary battle was fought between Ethelbald King of Mercia and Roderic Molwynog, a prince of North Wales, in which the latter is said to have been victorious. This bit of legend is offered in 'A topographical dictionary of Wales v1' by Samuel Lewis (1833).
Coflein indicates that there are a confusingly large number of cairns (or possible cairns) on the summit of Twr Pen-cyrn, including the ones below. I think that many of these cairns are one and the same, duplicated and renumbered at different surveys.
A centrally disturbed cairn, 16.5m in diameter and 1.9m high, adjoining "Hen Dy-aderyn" (Nprn306262)
Hen Dy-Aderyn (SO20281448)
The tumbled remains of a circular stone structure, 5.0m overall diameter with walls 1.0m thick, have been used as a base for an OS triangulation pillar. Adjoins cairn Nprn306261.
Hen Dy-Aderyn cairn (SO2028814497)
1. A circular foundation with an internal diameter of approximately 3m with walls 1m wide and high. The interior is occupied by a trignometrical pillar. It appears to abut the SW of a cairn and is possibly therefore a later feature. CPAT SMR, 1981
2. A cairn, with a 9m external diameter and 6m internal diameter with a OS Triginometrical point located at its centre. There is a ring of mortared stone, approximately 6m in diameter. The triangulation point is made from cast concrete indicated that is was built at a later date than the mortared stone wall. The stone wall may be the remains of a "Bird House" or game keepers look-out and this is perhaps indicated by the name Hen Dy-Aderyn or Old Bird House.
J. Winterburn, John Winterburn Archaeological Services, July 2005.
Twr Pen Cyrn cairn III (SO20301447)
A cairn about 16.5m in diameter and 1.9m high with a 0.6m deep pit to the south-west of centre. Sited on the summit of Mynydd Pen y Cryn.
Twr Pen Cyrn cairn IV (SO20321445)
A centrally disturbed cairn, 16m in diameter and 1.7m high.
Twr Pen Cyrn cairn VI (SO20311441)
A patch of loose stones 4 m E.-W. by 3 m and 0.3 m high, which may have been a cairn.
Twr Pen Cyrn cairn VII (SO2032714411)
A small, 1.6m diameter cairn on the south facing hill slope to the south of Twr Pen Cyrn.
Twr Pen Cyrn cairn IX (SO2032414470)
Large cairn 13m dia. X 2.5m high. Situated at the highest point of the common. The centre has been hollowed outgiving a space 5m x 0.7 m. Around the edge of the hollow are two shelters, 2.5m dia x 0.5m deep and 3m x 2m deep; two subsidiary cairns 2m dia. X 1m high, both probably modern. On the outside of the cairn against the base is an oval shelter 3m x 2m 0.6m high.
Twr Pen Cyrn cairn XI (SO2029614505)
13m dia. X 2m high cairn, situated on the highest point of the common. The centre has been hollowed out to form a shelter 5m dia x 1m deep.