How does something this size escape attention for so long, hidden in plain view, yet not "discovered " until 1972.
We unknowingly followed Elderfords directions, and parked right outside the Penywyrlod farmhouse, hoping to grab a bit of easy parking courtesy of the obliging farm owner, we were blessed indeed, the farm was empty, unoccupied, gone away, as we say at work.
With no one about we made our unhurried and unhindered way over to the long cairn.
It was our first site of the day, a list of Black mountain chambered long cairns fortuitously never far from a road, which was a world of comfort to Simon, our new field wandering friend, who had knee issues. It was so much bigger than we anticipated, much much bigger, and the terrible road building scar where they'd dragged off tonnes of cairn material and almost all the chamber stones, broken up like so much peanut brittle, sandstone isn't a very durable stone at the best of times.
Three large stones are to be seen at the rear ? one is poking out of the cairn, the other two are having a lie down, another large flat stone resides by the front north side. Elderford seems to know what all the stones are, but it's a bit of a confusion and so much is gone that I find it a struggle to believe anything can be said for certain.
But there are some certainties, it is a giant of a cairn, with a giant fatal wound, but in a beautiful place with cracking views, it is a nice place to lay down and die, for a cairn.
When I visited last year I approached the site from the opposite direction than given by Elderford - mistake! The route I took was very boggy, meant climbing over several fences and scrambling through bushes. In saying that the site is a cracker and was worth the effort. Although a large chunk of the cairn is missing it gives a fairly unique opportunity to see how a cairn is constructed. Good views to be had as well. I stayed here for quite a while watching the birds float by against a deep blue sky. Worth the effort this one.
OS map required as lots of puttering around on unclassified roads.
Black Mountains group of chambered long cairns.
Public rights of way pass the site, but ask permission to visit the farmhouse of the same name.
A479 from Talgarth to Crickhowell.
Take first unclassified road on right.
Ground begins to rise and after a righthand bend Penywyrlod Farm will be on your right.
Footpath goes around bottom end of farm, follow it to a stile with arrowed wooden signpost 'burial chamber'.
Follow track along edge of field to another stile.
Two gates ahead, take one on left.
Monument visible at top of field.
Fence around it but access by gate towards the left end as you approach.
Tremendous. Usually my field notes are two pages in an A6 notebook, but I easily did three times as much here.
Size isn't everything, but this is standing to a great height and is generous in length. Surprisingly the damage to it is rewarding because it has exposed so much of the internal settings. My only concern is that it looks in danger of collapse in places and may well be allowed to do so as it is not an over-restored famous named long cairn like Belas Knap.
The apparent plan is supposedly in the Cotswold-Severn tradition. At the end with the false portals a huge bite has been taken out through quarrying down to ground level revealing passages and chambers.
It was discovered only in 1972 and is the largest of the tombs in the Black Mountain group (55m in length by 25m across). Only the quarried area has been surveyed. The quarried area was used as hardcore for roads.
I think I cocked up my compass bearings, so I am unsure of the orientation. So for the sake of description the front is at the west and the back at the east.
South side: no kerbing visible, tree growth: holly and oak.
West end: signs of quarrying
North side: kerbing visible, much like a collapsing dry stone wall made of thin stones.
Quarried out section
Exposed passage and chamber on north side. Half of it has been removed, what is left is where the quarrying came to a halt. So in other words just the eastern half of the passage and chamber. Three large stones remain below a significant height of the cairn (up to 2m). The passage and chamber stones being overall around 4m in length. Set at right angles is the stone from the back of the chamber as well as one other at the opening to the chamber (a blocking stone?). Behind the blocking stone is another set into the walling of the cairn (both of these stones have split). The stones are around 0.6 – 0.7m high. Next to the stone at the back of the chamber is the remains of the stone from the western side of the chamber, giving an indication of the width of the passage, around 1m. Guides mention paving, but so much loose cairn material has fallen from the exposed face I don't think what is visible on the ground is original paving.
Further towards the front on this empty side of the long cairn is the remains of a large tree stump. Underneath it is the remains of another chamber. Two parallel settings of stones indicating a passage width of say 0.8m. A stone set at right angles is behind the one on the eastern side, perhaps indicating the back of the passage or a blocking stone.
Set up high in the cairn is a length of capstone, around 1.5m, underneath which is a gap and set back around 30cm is a supporting stone set vertically beneath the capstone running almost the length of the capstone. This is much higher than the chambers on the northern side. Cairn is also built up above the capstone.
Towards the front end on southern side. Huge vertically set stone at right angles with cairn on either side, at least 2m high. This supposedly defines the portal, so everything to the right of it is internal and to its left a horn. It has walling above so it probably didn't hold a capstone. Infront of this stone lying on the ground is another large stone, 2m by 1m which appears to be a fallen forecourt stone which may well have stood next to the stone still set into the structure.
Further towards the front of the long cairn on the horn is what appears to be a dislodged capstone, roughly circular say 1.5m in diameter.
Running across the front is walling, quite low, and this makes me wonder if it had a blunt end rather than horns.
A couple of photographs of finds from the tomb's excavation (it was only discovered in the 1970s). One is the oldest dated musical instrument from Wales - a flute made from a sheepbone; the other is a human rib bone damaged by an arrow - nasty.