Firstly a confession. I actually planned to visit this very obscure stone circle back in September last year... yeah, had the map co-ordinates and everything... until I proceeded to lose them like a prize muppet, consequently spending the time at the wondrous Carn Gafallt cairns instead; not a poor substitute, it has to be said in my defence. However one of the annoying idiosyncracities of 'unfinished business' is the manner in which it manifestly refuses to stay filed away in that compartment within the subconscious labelled 'for future action'. Oh no, the brain - at least mine - doesn't work like that, instead wheedling its way into conscious thought when least expected; hence one year on, I'm back. No choice in the matter.
Dawn arrives over the Elanydd - incidentally not far from the Roman camp upon Esgair Perfedd - accompanied by close-set fronts of vicious, driving rain. Nice. One would have thought a good spot for locating a reservoir or two.... Thankfully, however, the clouds possess not so much a silver as a golden lining, sunshine breaking through the intervals in the mantle to flood the landscape with light of an incredibly intense hue .... the sort of intensity that only occurs when the atmosphere has literally just been cleansed of its impurities. Magical. Mustn't waste this. So, heading toward Rhayader, I veer right along the B4518 before crossing a bridge signposted 'Elan Village'. Following the minor road to Llanwrthwl, climbing steeply past Cnwch farm, I park at the entrance to the tarmacadum road giving access to 'the Clyn farm' (if you pass Talwrn farm you've gone too far). Another rain front hammers upon the car roof and I wonder what motivates me ... what drives me... to do this? No really, what? To be honest, I think I know. Perhaps one day I will find the appropriate words. As I step out into the downpour the farmer approaches. Appropriately in the conditions he 'fishes' for information. 'Returning, or just off out?' says he, or words to that effect. Put on the spot, I volunteer that 'I might just go have a look at the cairns marked on the map'....in a torrential downpour... and wait for the incredulous retort. It is not forthcoming and, consequently, I'm intrigued. I go for broke, waiving an arm vaguely to the south-west... 'and apparently there's a stone circle somewhere up there I'd like to see'. It seems there is and the farmer's bloody well proud of it. He gives me directions.... 'stand with your back to the trees and head for the cairn upon the far ridge.... the circle is just before the final rise to Y Gamriw' (or something like that). Blimey. Top bloke, a credit not only to himself, but to his family and to Mother Wales. See we CAN get along if BOTH sides act like adults, treat the other with due respect. Needless to say one good turn deserves another, of course, the Essex boy helping to move the farmer's herd of cattle down the road prior to setting off uphill.
Passing the forestry I revert to type and, instead of following the farmer's directions, proceed to make a right pig's ear of finding the 'circle by logically seeking out the OS co-ordinates as given [note that these have been subsequently amended - and I reckon are more or less accurate!] In short, the 'circle is not where it should be, that is just below the south-western end of the rocky ridge that is Crugian Bach. Plan B is to orientate myself upon Y Gamriw's prominent cairn - as, er, advised - and walk forward in circular sweeps until (eventually) I notice an orthostat which looks 'wonky' enough not to be a boundary stone.... but something ever so much older. Aye, it is.
Coflein states there are 18 stones incorporated within the circumference of this stone circle. Perhaps, although some are so diminutive, so (apparently) inconsequential that I reckon only a thorough excavation could arrive at a definitive count. But then again, so what? The largest standing stone here would probably go unnoticed at Avebury.... yet the vibe here is - in my opinion - so far in advance of that justly famous site as to be beyond compare. It really is. Don't get me wrong, I'm awed by Avebury. But here I feel as if the very landscape itself was deemed so special, so evocative, that anything other than a distinctly underwhelming demarcation of a sacred space was thought to be taking the piss out of the gods residing upon the surrounding high places. The pattern is indeed repeated across Wales... inconsequential uprights standing beneath the high peaks. Nevertheless this clearly represented the real deal, at least for the people dwelling in the shadow of Y Gamriw millennia past, if only because both Coflein and CPAT cite numerous outlying standing stones and cairns in the immediate vicinity. Obviously there was a lot more ritual activity occurring here than might immediately be apparent to a casual visitor. Ha! As if a 'casual visitor' would ever come here! A further point of interest in this otherwise archaeologically low key stone circle is the presence of a centre stone - according to my experience, as well as that of a certain Mr Burl (by all accounts) this is pretty unusual.
I stay and enjoy the exquisite vibe for - I think - some three hours. Time seems to have little meaning here as the sunlight illuminates the moor and Y Gamriw broods above. Some natural sequences appear, well, simply meant to be. Inevitable. Eventually, however, the farmer's earlier complete acceptance of my wish to see 'the cairns' becomes too much. I must go take a look... what does he know that I do not? Probably quite a lot...
There is a lot more occuring here - in this unfeasibly quiet corner of the Elanydd - than I ever imagined. Yeah, a veritable prehistoric ritual metropolis! According to the local CPAT people, logged under reference PRN55289, the area represents:
[A]'Concentration of prehistoric activity with around ten standing stones, a stone circle, a cairnfield... and three individual round barrows (cairns). The standing stones, seven of which are recumbent, range from 0.8m to 3.3m in length. The stone circle comprises of eighteen stones, with a large flat stone at the centre. It has a diameter of 22m with stones set 3-3m apart. All but two are recumbent. The cairnfield incorporates nine or more cairns and is aligned roughly SW-NE along a terrace.'
Coflein description of stone circle and associated standing stone:
Crugian Bach stone circle contains 18 visible, small upright stones and measures 22m in diameter. Situated on a gently rounded plateau, the stones are set at intervals of 2-3 meters, although there are some larger gaps of up to 5 meters. The standing stone, measuring 1 meter in length, is set some 40m NNE of the circle.