The 'green desert' of Mid Wales - that wild expanse of high moor stretching north of Llandovery to Pumlumon - has altered somewhat since our Bronze Age forebears erected their hill top cairns in veneration of their dead, the most obvious change, the creation of the massive reservoirs of Cwm Elan and Llyn Brianne.... although forestry is also much in evidence. This recent adaptation of the landscape to support an evolving way of life has not been unflattering to the eye, although, of course, there are other criteria to consider when evaluating the overall impact of the relatively recent actions of humankind. However, from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, my judgement is that these hills, although demanding, offer much to the prehistorically-inclined walker prepared to venture off the 'beaten track'. The highest summits of Drygarn Fawr and Gorllwyn, both crowned by Bronze Age cairns and rising to the north-east of the attractive Irfon pass (north-west of the small hamlet of Abergwesyn) will probably top the list of TMA-ers making an initial sortie into the locality. However note that the ascent of both is problematic due to the more-or-less trackless terrain and subsequent extreme navigational issues prevalent in poor weather. Hence the considerably easier/safer route to the summit barrow of Pen-y-Gurnos could well be a fine, introductory alternative, particularly since it features excellent views of Cwm Doethie, arguably the jewel in the region's crown.
Strong walkers, upon studying the map, may wish to start from the west, near the Youth Hostel of Ty'n-y-cornel, this presenting the option of exploring the enigmatic, prehistoric complex upon Bryn y Gorlan beforehand... not to mention a walk beside the Afon Doethie. However, poor weather having vetoed a proposed attempt upon Pumlumon today (10/9/11), I approach from the north. The isolated chapel of Soar y Mynydd is the key here, accessible by mountain road beyond the north-western 'tentacle' of Llyn Brianne. Ignore the obvious track ascending the hillside to the west (this will bring you back again if you take the circular option and visit Carn Saith-wraig) and instead head to the south-east upon another substantial track above the waters of the Camddwr. Keep your eyes peeled for a sluice gate upon the river and ascend the hillside to the right in the direction of Nant Llwyd farm, this bridleway continuing all the way to the escarpment edge overlooking the Afon Doethie... a wonderful viewpoint. The summit of Pen-y-Gurnos, surmounted by its monument, in turn supporting an OS trig point, can be attained without too much effort by traversing the hillside to the left at this point (to approx south).
The round barrow is by no means an overbearing monument, but nonetheless remains relatively substantial, with traces of kerb a welcome, surviving feature. Needless to say, however, it is the location which takes the proverbial biscuit, endowing the site with, oh, ooodles of vibe, fast moving weather fronts adding that extra authentic 'Welshness' to the experience. Forestry restricts views to the south, but this is of little consequence since the primary focus is - and I would assume always has been - the beautiful gorge carved by the Afon Doethie. Hell, I'd seriously doubt if the natural, abrasive action of flowing water has resulted in more sublime contours in a landscape anywhere else? There is nothing to do except plonk myself upon the ancient barrow and enjoy the silence which pervades this isolated corner of wildest Wales. Not sure if George Borrow ever came here. But if not, he should've. Bryn y Gorlan rises upon the north-western skyline.... but, needless to say, I still haven't the foggiest what went on there. Pen-y-Gurnos is made of simpler 'stuff'. If ever such nebulous material could ever be described as simple.
Two further examples of substantial - if ravaged - Bronze Age cairns lie beyond the ascent track to the approx north-west at Carn Saith-wraig, albeit obscured by high ground. This latter is fenced, although I was able to make my way without excessive problems to connect - following a sojourn at the cairns - with a byway leading east back to Soar y Mynydd (as mentioned earlier). Well worth the additional effort. Yeah, closing the circle is always worthwhile.....