Dafydd had been asking me for some time if I could one day take him to watch the sun go down. Well, the summer solstice was as good a day as any! Although feeling tired (we had been at the beach all day – Dafydd was delighted to have found a fossil amongst the rocks and a sherd of pottery during an ‘archaeological dig’ he undertook in a sand dune) we headed for Garth Hill.
Upon arriving at the small parking area we had to squeeze in as four cars were already parked up. We headed up the hill, taking the path through the high ferns, and soon arrived at the largest barrow with the trig on top. There were two groups of people sat upon the barrow and we quickly joined them. Everyone seemed happy and made up feel welcome.
There was a large cloud bank high in the sky but luckily the horizon itself was cloudless. The sun shone bright and clear. The sky starting to turn to orange as the sun sank deeper over the skyline. Dafydd was captivated as I explained how the sun rose from the east at different points throughout the year before setting again in the west. From this wonderful vantage point I also pointed out places of interest that could be seen. Cardiff, Flat Holm, Steep Holm, the English coastline – you can see for miles from up here.
It was almost like a party atmosphere as we watched the sun slowly disappear. Everyone had a smile on their face and there was lots of happy chatter. It is quite amazing how such a simple thing as watching the sun rise/set can bring so much happiness to people.
I guess it has always been this way?
The sun now gone, the sky darkening, it was time to head home.
‘Can you take me to watch the sunrise one day?’ asked Dafydd.
‘Of course’ I replied ‘It would be a pleasure’.
I can think of a lot of worse places to do this than sat atop the Garth barrows.
After a few stressful days because of domestic issues I knew it was time that myself and Karen had to get away from everything and everyone even if it was for only a couple of hours. Our only ‘window of opportunity’ was early evening but where to go?
The weather continues to be tropical and it was another cloudless evening. What could be more relaxing (and romantic) than watching the sunset on such a lovely evening? Sorted – Garth Hill Barrows it is then!
After parking the car we headed along the ‘path’ to the main Barrow with the information board. Although I have visited before it has never been at this time of year and it was urprising how different the hill looked with the ferns at their full height. It was the first time for Karen and I had to re-assure her that the view from the top would make the (minimal) effort worthwhile.
There were a few dog walkers about and a couple of horse riders but they left shortly after we arrived. Several sheep and cows were also wandering about but took no notice of us. In a distant field a flock of sheep were making a right racket – I have no idea what was causing such a commotion but it went on all the time we were there.
We sat on top of the main Barrow, next to the trig point.
The sunset was beautiful. Behind us a half-moon hung high in the sky. In front of us the sun appeared as a large bright orange globe; slowly but surely disappearing behind the distant hills. We both sat in silence and left each other to our thoughts. I wonder how many people had done this before us? I wonder what the builders were thinking when constructing the Barrow all those years ago? Humans being humans I imagine similar thoughts to the ones we wre having.
This is a good place to visit – particularly on an evening like this.
We left the Garth far more relaxed and less stressful and we did when we arrived.
Watching a great sunset has that effect – something everyone should do every now and again.
I last visited this site a couple of years ago when the weather was awful with mist and rain swirling all around. I have been meaning to re-visit the Garth on a nice day ever since then but had never got around to it – until today!
Despite arriving at the small parking area near to Dan Y Graig house at 7.30am I only just managed to squeeze in on the end – I thought I was the only one mad enough to come up here at this time of day – apparently not! (Including a bare chested jogger!!!)
A 10 minute walk takes you from the parking area to the main Barrow which has the information board in front of it – just follow the obvious 'path' up the hill.
There are 5 Barrows on Garth Hill – as indicated on the information board:
1. The main Barrow is approx 5 metres high and 25 metres wide – a trig point is on top.
2. A very small Barrow in immediately to the right of the main one – approx 1 metre x 5 metres. It appears to have been dug into.
3. The Barrow to the west is approx 1.5 metres x 5 metres wide – dug into.
4. The Barrow to the east of the main one is the hardest to spot – ruined and only approx 1 metre high x 10 metres – overgrown.
5. The one furthest away to the east is quite large – approx 3 metres high x 20 metres wide which has also been dug into.
All in all a very worthwhile place to visit with superb views all around – at least it would have been had it not been for the early morning haze which hadn't burnt off yet.
Oh, and yes, it is always windy up here!!
When I visited the Garth it was in the Winter and the whole site was swirlling in fog - very atmospheric - although you couldn't see very far!!
As a life long resident of Cardiff I have given serious thought to having my ashes buried up here when the time comes - hopefully not for a long time! (on the quiet of course!)
Firstly, great fieldnotes from Craig inspired this visit, so thanks.
Junction 32 of the M4 is not the most inspiring place in the world - despite the proximity of the fairytale Victorian 'reconstruction' of Castell Coch above Tongwynlais - it's significance for me being access to the A470 and the North. The Afon Taf snakes its way towards Merthyr alongside the aforementioned route, the motorist no doubt barely affording a glance at the wooded hillside to his/her left, if my own experiences are anything to go by. This is Garth Hill and, contrary to appearances, it is really rather special.
Perhaps the easiest way of discovering Garth Hill's secrets is to head for the small town of Pentyrch, from where a minor road climbs northwards to intersect with another skirting the southern flank of the hill. The Fford y Bryniau (Ridgeway Walk) can be ascended here directly to the summit if time is short. However I followed the road to a 'pic-nic' area and climbed the eastern end of the hill overlooking the Taff Vale, meeting a very friendly, knowledgeable local en-route. From here the principle attraction, an enormous summit round barrow crowned by OS trig point, is visible to the approx SW. There is certainly a sense of pilgrimage coming along the back of this mini-mountain which would probably be lost by taking the diirect route. And wasn't a sense of the dramatic, that is an understanding of theatrics, an important element of Bronze Age ritual? It certainly appears that way to me.
RedBrickDream's descriptions of the actual barrows are pretty much spot on, the summit barrow being the largest example I can recall in Wales - the most easterly is also pretty large, it has to be said - and very unexpected in these parts. Well worth a visit for these alone. However the views are also superb, with a grandstand vista of Cardiff and its bay, not to mention the Brecon Beacons on a clear day. Unfortunately I couldn't verify the latter.
The only 'downer', I guess, is that you are unlikely to have Garth Hill to yourself for long. And American students doing star-jumps for some muppet to capture on camera for 'the folks back home' doesn't do a great deal for that 'special relationship', in my opinion. However Garth Hill did an awful lot for my personal relationship with Cardiff....
Trips to the nearby sites of Tinkiswood, St Lythans, Rhondda Stonehenge or Pontypridd Rocking Stone will inevitably lead to a brush with the City of Cardiff. From the Castle Grounds, the home of a modern stone circle, look up and look to the North you will see the long high ridge of the Garth.
This hill, or mountain, depending on your point of view is supposedly the inspiration for the film, "The man who went up a hill and came down a mountain". From the summit are impressive views across Cardiff and south to Exmoor whilst to the North, Pen y Fan and the Brecon Beacons can be clearly picked out.
There are five Bronze Age Burial Mounds here (five that is according to the CARN database, the rather jaded interpretation board suggests there are only four). Two stand out and are visible as nipples on the horizon overlooking Cardiff. The interpretation board in front of "burial mound number 2" warns sternly of the penalties for vandalising the site, yet this, the largest of the four mounds, sports an ugly triangulation pillar. Whilst despoiling the site it does produce the uncanny effect of making the mound look like a mini Glastonbury Tor from a distance.
The western-most mound (number 1 on the interpretation board) is seldom spotted by the frequent vistors to this viewpoint but it is my favourite. A small hollow provides shelter from the winds and a cosy bed from which the scurrying clouds overhead can be tracked. Some distance to the east is a long ridge running north-south which was built as a gun emplacement during the 1940s. I'll venture no opinion as to whether the intention was to shoot at the Germans or the English.
This site commands spectacular views for 360 degrees and I would suggest therefore that this was a high status burial. Any significant fires burnt in the vicinity of Tinkiswood/St Lythans to the south west or Pontypridd Rocking Stone to the North East would generate a pall of smoke easily visible from here. If you're visiting these other nearby sites you should really try to find time to take in the views from up here. Let me know on the forum if you're planning a visit as this is my local.
It must be notable that the only thermal spring in Wales is at the foot of this hill: Ffynnon Taff (Taff's Well). Wikipedia seems to have a pretty good write-up. They have open days sometimes, which I'm sure would be very interesting. A lovely warm spring (like at Bath) cannot have escaped the attentions of local people in prehistory. And there's some attendant folklore, for example:
A few miles above Cardiff, on the eastern side of the river, there is a thermal spring called Taff's Well. Taff is a corruption of Daf, or David, the patron saint of Wales. This well was much frequented by people suffering from rheumatism. A lady robed in grey frequently visited this well, and many people testified to having seen her in the twilight wandering along the banks of the river near the spring, or going on to the ferry under the Garth Mountain.
Stories about this mysterious lady were handed down from father to son. The last was to the effect that about seventy or eighty years ago the woman in grey beckoned to a man who had just been getting some of the water. He put his pitcher down and asked what he could do for her. She asked him to hold her tight by both hands until she requested him to release her. The man did as he was bidden. He began to think it a long time before she bade him cease his grip, when a 'stabbing pain' caught him in his side, and with a sharp cry he loosened his hold. The woman exclaimed: "Alas! I shall remain in bondage for another hundred years, and then I must get a woman with steady hands and better than yours to hold me." She vanished, and was never seen again.
In connection with this well there was a custom prevalent so late as about seventy years ago. Young people of the parish used to assemble near Taff's Well on the eighth Sunday after Easter to dip their hands in the water, and scatter the drops over each other. Immediately afterwards they repaired to the nearest green space, and spent the remainder of the day in dancing and merry-making.
"An old story about a witch living near the Ogmore River, in Glamorgan, describes a man listening to the muttering of a woman, and instantly giving her chase, with the result that in the "twinkling of an eye" he found himself on the top of the Garth Mountain, near Whitchurch."
A very amusing story about fern-seed came from the neighbourhood of the Garth Mountain, Glamorgan. An aged Welshman said that when he was a small boy he heard his grandfather gravely relating the experience of a neighbour who chanced to be coming homeward through the mountain fern on Midsummer Night between twelve and one o'clock. At that hour fern-seed is supposed to ripen, to fail off directly, and be lost. Some of the fern-seed fell upon his coat and into his shoes. He thought nothing of this, but went home.
At this point he totally freaks out his family, because they can't see him, but they can hear him talking - he remains invisible until he inadvertently shakes the seeds from his clothing.
The man who told this story said that when he was a boy not a person would wear a fern of any kind - first, because it caused men to lose their paths; and secondly, because adders were likely to follow you so long as it was worn.
From Marie Trevelyan's 'Folk lore and folk stories of Wales' (1909).
Of course, really boring botanists would tell you that ferns don't have seeds.
Halfway up the Garth Mountain, near Cardiff, a woman robed in green used to appear. She beckoned to men who passed, but they did not heed her. Two men at last ventured to listen to what she said, which was that she guarded hoards of gold, and could not move, but she wished to be released. They should have the treasure if they set her free. If they did not release her then, there would not be a man born for the next hundred years who could set her free. The men whispered to each other, wondering if her tale were true. One of the men, looking down at her feet, said "True enough. Her slippers are covered with gold-dust." The woman suddenly vanished, but for a long time her sobs and wailings were heard.
Marie Trevelyan, 'Folk lore and Folk stories of Wales' (1909).