Although ultimately failing to deliver the total isolationist vibe the Mam C and I crave when out and about in the South Walian uplands - and indeed I had erroneously anticipated - a visit to the great Garn Wen nevertheless proved to be a very worthwhile experience. Yeah, not sussing that the Beacons Way (unfortunately another of those long distance marching routes) passes right by, en-route to 2,000ft(ish) Bal Mawr and Chwarel-y-Fan, I reckoned I had a cunning alternative destination avoiding the brightly-clad hordes sure to be upon the Offa's Dyke path today. Not quite, one frightfully upper class young 'laydee' exclaiming to her father .... "but, but ... there's nowhere to go to the toilet... take me on a proper walk next time!".... or words to that effect. Suffice to say there appears to be no evidence of excrement here, Mr Holmes. I swear I can almost hear the old stones sigh, although, to be fair, such people were never going to stay long, huddled within the 'muppet shelter' as they were.
Following TSC raising the profile of the site with the pioneering TMA visit, I actually deferred a pilgrimage to Garn Wen twice during March. You can't hurry love, as they say. As long as 'they' doesn't include Phil Collins, that is. However the Mam C has a 'pass' today, so... why not? Approaching the serene Vale of Ewyas with John Foxx's, er, idiosyncratic take of 'Have a Cigar' upon the car stereo, is probably not the norm, but then neither is our intended route.... starting from the small hamlet of Lower Henllan, complete with its own chapel.... although I'd recommend parking a little beforehand (assuming you approach from the south) where the road achieves a quite inconceivable width for these parts. Ascending the farm track to, appropriately enough, Upper Henllan, we are greeted with a beaming smile from an attractive middle aged woman driving downhill, the response at odds with the 'keep to the path etc' notices. Class act. At the farm, however, with are met with a dismissive discourtesy for being courteous enough to ask for permission to walk through the farmyard, albeit upon a public footpath. Whatever. The track veers right across a ford and... technically... proceeds along a sunken bridleway, swinging left to ascend above one of the tumbling streams feeding the Afon Honddu. We, however - not being able to read a map after 25 years of practice - cut across a beautiful, if 'undulating', meadow, the retrospective view of Hatterrall Hill, site of a promontory fort, quite exquisite. How can this field archaeology-lark be so beautiful? If you take our diversion be sure to veer right at the stile to gently (luckily, since it is way, way too humid today) ascend the path toward the head of the cwm.
The flora is impressive, particularly the rowans, branches heavy with scarlet berries, Nature's bounty for the local birds. We had to cut down our rowan at home in Essex since it grew way, way too large. The tree found it too easy. No need here, however. Not in its proper habitat.... an example of natural selection achieving the optimum. A dung beetle of the most glossy black hue I can imagine - and, hey, I can imagine black - labours with its load beneath my boot, the latter held aloft just in the nick of time. Sensing its imminent death, it freezes.... and then moves on. Instances of everyday life.
At the head of the cwm we encounter several 'bubbling brooks', marked as 'springs' upon the map. Pure water issuing forth from the hillside. Looking back (to the left) I recollect that Graig-ddu possesses the remnant of a cist within a cairn... but what of Garn Wen? The path leads us astray, so I'm obliged to take a compass bearing to lead us through deep fern to the crest of the ridge above. Here the modern beehive cairn acts as a homing beacon. As we approach, the circumference of the monument fills my DSLR viewfinder. Yeah, this was once - hey, is - a very substantial cairn indeed. As TSC relates, not particularly high, but the area covered is significant. We sit down upon the rim and.... well... don't do an awful lot, to be honest... except try and take it all in. The Mam C does whatever she does, whilst my mind drifts back to past times upon distant peaks... and comes to the conclusion that, far from being placed upon some minor, outlying hill, the great cairn of Garn Wen actually possesses a complete 360 degree vista of hills. In short it is set within a natural amphitheatre, arguably the greatest stage hereabouts, perhaps? I agree, it seems unlikely, what with today's accepted mentality of 'biggest is best'. But nonetheless here it is. Why not come and see, and judge, for yourself?
My watch shows that some three hours have elapsed and we must leave. More's the pity. With a great beehive cairn on.
After leaving Twyn y Gaer (4.6.2011), I walked north along the ridge towards Bal-Mawr and my main objective, Chwarel y Fan.
After passing a small boundary stone, the path climbs steadily upwards until I reached open moorland, where the grassy slopes gave way to heather. Garn Wen is an obvious waymark, as a modern beehive cairn has been erected on its top, visible from some distance away. As I get closer, a walkers' shelter also appears. What isn't apparent until I'm closer still is how large this cairn is. Its diameter dwarves both of the modern additions, no doubt created from its mound, leaving the cairn disproportionately flat for its overall size. Further spread is covered by the surrounding vegetation, making for a diameter in excess of 25m.
The views from here are great, particularly to Ysgyryd Fawr and The Sugarloaf.
From here I head further north, climbing Bal-Mawr before the fine ridge walk to Chwarel y Fan, probably the least accessible Black Mountains summit if using public transport. Worth the effort though for the views to Pen-y-Gadair Fawr, Waun Fach and the Grwyne Fawr.