The Mam C and I approach from the western prow of the fabulous Y Das... following a kamikaze sheep track eastward to circle the headwall of Cwm Dwr-y-coed, the eponymous stream - for here it is little more than nascent - tumbling down the mountain side with the reckless abandon of, well... a base jumping kamikaze sheep, perhaps?
To the south, the main summit ridge of The Black Mountains sweeps away from Pen-y-Manllwyn toward Pen y Gadair Fawr and its Bronze Age cairn, the relative uniformity of topography only serving to emphasise the sheer vastness of the sky, an occasional walker reduced to oblivion within the enormity of such a macro vision. It is certainly a thought provoking spectacle and not a little unnerving, particularly to homo sapiens conditioned at school to view ourselves as the culmination of existence. Yeah, right. We, however, turn back to face the west and advance along the southern flank of the cwm... Mynydd Bychan. Here, in direct contrast, the landscape is subject to such dramatic variance that the gaze is drawn irrevocably downward, no doubt an instinctive reaction to mitigate against the traveller walking blindly to his/her death. The resulting experience is just as dramatically awe inspiring as before, yet curiously more manageable, perhaps more in keeping with standard behavioural 'templates' stored within the human genome? But, don't trust me. I'm not a doctor.
Whatever, this is classic mountainscape. The promontory narrows as we pass a small tarn choked (if that's the correct description) with indeterminable species of flora, the modern cairn - perched precariously upon the mountain's prow a little way beyond - signifying terra firma is about to be at an absolute premium in short order..... meaning the 'platform cairn' should be just about... here. Sure enough, to judge by the arc of compacted stone and apparent small uprights subsumed within, the Coflein people are correct and Mynydd Bychan is indeed crowned by such a monument. OK, structurally speaking the cairn is not exactly impressive. Although I guess by definition, by its very nature a 'platform cairn' would never have been that tall, never have possessed a truly upstanding profile. However such gripes pale to insignificance when I stand upon it and do a 360 degree sweep of the environs. Superlative scenery, indeed; the location surely one of the finest anywhere? The Mam C, ever cool (well except during our previous aborted visit here last year) settles down for lunch. I, on the other hand, can not sit still until I've taken a myriad more (mostly rubbish) images like a hyperactive child having ingested too many 'E numbers'.
Time passes upon our spectacular eyrie all too quickly under the watchful gaze of both birds of prey and the occupants of the rather quieter gliders, both of which ride the thermals here with apparent minimal effort. A green track zig-zags down the northern face into Cwm Dwr-y-coed, probably connected with limited quarrying said to have occurred here at some point in the past. However we decide to descend - very steeply! - directly from the modern cairn in order to take another look at what looked suspiciously like a trashed cairn last time we passed by, albeit under much more stressful conditions. To be honest it still does not look like the result of quarrying, but we are nevertheless none the wiser. Picking up the green track we swing northwards and head for the Wern Frank Wood barrow and hence the car, fording the now rather more substantial Dwr-y-coed en-route.
The Mam C reckons she spots flecks of gold in the fast flowing water. I disagree. 'Fools Gold'. But then again it might be said the whole vibe of this wondrous area is reflected by that of the classic Stone Roses track.... pulsating, undulating natural rhythms releasing positive, uplifting energy. Well worth coming back for.
**Please note that this site does not correspond to the prominent - presumably modern (see relevant image) - marker cairn crowning the tip of Mynydd Bychan's summit ridge at SO1968032030.... but to a less upstanding - but potentially much older - low 'mound' situated some way to the approx east**
A week characterised by a series of rather low cloud bases - anathema to those who tread lightly upon the hills 'neath massive skies - ends, appropriately enough for unpredictable South Wales, with the promise of a fine day. Consequently a snap decision is taken to introduce the Mam C to the upper reaches of the wondrous ridge of Y Grib, beyond Bwlch Bach a'r Grib.... and take it from there. Not a comprehensive plan, then, although it has to be said it is always good to turn a 'must do it one day' into 'let's do it today'. So, leaving the car near the farm of Blaneau Uchaf, the farmer, in hulking great cattle truck, acknowledging a self preservingly considerate bit of parking, we ascend the northern flank of the serpent's back to the aforementioned pass. Pausing to breathlessly take in the primeval sight of a crow - the top bird around these parts, bar none - make mince meat of what the Mam C reckons is a peregrine falcon against a western backdrop of Bronze Age cairn and the enigmatic Castell Dinas, the eyes are soon inexorably drawn across Cwm y Nant to the handsome crests of Mynydd Bychan and Y Das. The latter is cited by Coflein as possessing a round barrow, only identified as such during a CPAT upland survey during 2007.... the prominent, slender rock pile crowning the former apparently a modern 'marker cairn'. To be fair it looks to be 'in the wrong place' for a Bronze Age funerary cairn, the ridge seemingly too narrow at that point, or at least appearing so upon the map. Having said that there is undeniably 'something' about Mynydd Bychan, an intangible sense of mystique that nevertheless draws us in like one of James T Kirk's tractor beams... and this despite being completely unaware of TSC's miscellaneous post at the time. In short Mynydd Bychan simply looks the sort of place where one would choose to intern a Bronze Age VIP. The plan, such as it was, is duly revised to include a descent via the peak. Yeah, we'll worry about the gradient of descent when we get there....
The ascent of Y Grib to Pen-y-Manllwyn is exhilarating, the ridge narrow enough to see below to either side, but nowhere too exposed or technical for the average pilgrim. Upon arrival we abandon the lee of the summit ridge in order to seek solitude away from the route marching groups of punters, happy to accept the consequences of a biting arctic wind in lieu. The north-eastern flank of the mountain, subject to an icy blast which might even have made Jean-Claude Van Damme consider a jacket, is today a shimmering mass of sunlight upon icicle... the two primary sources of life on this planet interacting in a display of exquisite beauty upon such a brutal landscape. A delicious irony, perhaps?
Lunch... hey, picnic.... and a couple of hours fly by... as they seem to always do up here. All too soon we must head north where the ridge is populated by a series of indistinct 'stone features' previously interpreted - or so I understand - as evidence of prehistoric settlement, expertly positioned in the lee of the ridge overlooking Cwm y Nant, fresh water nearby. Although living at around the 2,500ft contour may seem pretty extreme to us nowadays, the 1:25K OS map does indeed cite a hut circle here.... which needless to say we do not manage to positively identify. Nevertheless it would appear Coflein are now more inclined toward a later 'post prehistoric' date for habitation. Whatever, it must have been a pretty dramatic place to live.
It is here that the walk takes on an altogether more serious aspect, the Mam C suddenly complaining of feeling faint and losing her sense of balance / co-ordination as we approach Mynydd Bychan. A touch of sunstroke, perhaps? Or overheating caused by not adjusting layers of clothing to changing circumstances quickly enough. What else could bring on such symptoms with such alacrity? Hopefully a short rest by the frozen tarn as I take some pictures of the truly exquisite scenery upon Mynydd Bychan will do the trick?
So, what of Mynydd Bychan's 'marker cairn'. Sad to report that the base certainly looks modern to me, far too insubstantial to claim any prehistoric origin. There is an interesting feature a little to the east, however, but since I recall quarrying was supposed to have taken place here in times past I'm not sure what it represents. Ha! According to Coflein, as related in TSC's post, this is actually the 'platform cairn'. So there you are... the mountain probably was the resting place of some Bronze Age dude after all. What's more there is another feature a short distance downhill to the west of the marker cairn which appeared a much more likely candidate without the power of hindsight, a disrupted cairn containing what - for all the world - looks to me like a shattered cist (ironically Coflein reckons this represent quarrying debris?). The overwhelming fiery orb of the low winter sun frustrates further photography so I return to the Mam C and find the rest has not had the desired effect.... far from it... and, to be frank, we are in trouble, the acute descent to Cwm y Nant, not a problem under normal circumstances, now a major obstacle with sundown just an hour away. Never underestimate the strength and sheer determination of a woman, however... at least one with such a concentration of natural life forces flowing through her being. Where she got the strength from I'll never know. But there you are. The descent is not elegant, but it gets the job done. Safely back at the car we pledge that we shall return to Mynydd Bychan one day, given the chance, and give this complex mountain the time it clearly deserves. Not to mention to pay the ancestors due respect for seeing us alright that day....
Several days later back in Essex I'm struck down by a severe bout of gastroenteritis seemingly coming out of nowhere. Most definitely not 'sunstroke', then. Case closed, m'lud. Needless to say I shudder to think what I would have made of such a daunting challenge.... feeling like that on top of Mynydd Bychan. Hey, always wanted a ride in a helicopter... but not like that.
Unmarked on the OS 1/25000 and recorded by Coflein as a platform cairn:
Remains of a cairn, roughly circular on plan, measuring about 9m in diameter and up to 0.5m in height. The cairn was possibly originally a platform cairn - the cairn displays no evidence of original 'bulk', while elements of a level surface are visible. When visited in September 2007 as part of the Uplands Survey, the cairn was as described previously. It was turf covered and lay on the ridge of Mynydd Bychan. The grid reference given in the scheduling description has been amended, as the grid reference given was for a more recent marker cairn, approximately 160m to the west southwest.