We parked up outside the entrance to Craig-y-Nos Country Park (room for several cars) and Karen stayed with the children who were asleep in the car. I crossed the road and saw a public footpath sign for Open Hill Heritage/Geological Walk.
That’s handy I thought and headed up the path.
You soon come to a few information boards and warning signs about staying to the path (indicated by white topped posts) to avoid falling to your death off the side of a cliff.
Interestingly enough you soon come to a sign giving (basic) information about prehistoric standing stones and next to it a large (approx 2m) modern standing stone and a second stone (same size) laying on wooden rollers showing how the stones may have been transported. So far, so good.
I continued along the increasingly steep path and up through a wood. I eventually came out onto open hillside and continued on up. By now the path was very steep and I had to stop several times to catch my breath (not getting any younger you know).
Ahead of me I saw in the distance what I thought was the stone row but as I got closer it became obvious that this was only a natural rock formation.
I continued up to the summit of the hill and crossed over the several outcrops of rock looking for the stone row – all to no avail. I had promised Karen ‘I wouldn’t be long’ as the weather was hot and I knew the children wouldn’t stay asleep for long. I looked again at my map and the approximate location of the stone row compared with the Country Park. It then dawned on me that I had climbed the wrong hill – Doh!
I looked across and could see the hill I should have climbed. Just as I was contemplating climbing over the barbed wire fence and heading across the hillside I received a text.
‘Sophie awake, screaming, need you back NOW’
Well, that was the end of that. I trudged back down the hill bemoaning my lack of sense of direction and missing out on seeing the stone row. On the way back down a passed a couple taking a breather on the way up. As these were at least half my age I didn’t feel so bad for feeling knackered myself.
Although I had largely wasted my time I did get to see some cracking views of the Beacons from the top of Open Hill and did see the ‘reconstructed’ standing stones which I would have otherwise missed.
By the time I eventually arrived back at the car both Sophie and Dafydd were awake and Karen didn’t seem too happy. Still, our next stop was a picnic at the Maen Mawr and I was confident moral would soon pick up!
One for an obvious re-visit. This time going up the right hill!
The A4061 is still blocked by snow beyond Nant-y-moel this Bank Holiday Monday; consequently the Mam C and I head westwards in a bid to reach Y Mynydd Du, or thereabouts. Unfortunately time is limited by a late start, so I make a snap decision to park-up at Craig-y-nos [Cliff of Night] and (try to) visit the fine stone row which stands, unseen, above and to the west of the mock medieval edifice, once the home of Victorian diva singer Adelina Patti. The acknowledgement of a farmer - imagine a hybrid cross of Beethoven in his 50's and an elderly W.E. Gladstone driving a dumper truck - serves to fortify willpower flagging at the sight of so much bloody snow! Yeah, the last time we were here, some years back now, it was August and pushing 90 degrees. Bit different today, then.
The route uphill to the row is not that clear, the most obvious public footpath sign - opposite the old mansion - directing the visitor through an area of equine enclosures which may be a little off-putting when filled with the beautiful, unpredictable beasties. In retrospect, however, I guess this is the favoured route if you wish to avoid knocking on farm doors. Needless to say we take the path further to the north and swing round through Nantygwared farm, the farmer kindly allowing us passage through his farmyard, before beginning the relatively short, yet steep ascent to Saith Maen. The going is far from easy due to deep, drifting snow, the Mam C actually completely disappearing within the mantle on one occassion. Ha! Well she does love it so, I suppose. Cribarth dominates the valley to our left, the form and texture of its steep crags accentuated by the conditions. Veering to the right, away from the Nant y Gwared (stream), we pass a small shake hole on our left... and there it is.... a classic stone row set in surely some of the most brutal, yet beguiling winter conditions a seeker of such treasures could wish for? It's seriously cold, though, the frozen waterfall petrified upon a crag to the approx north-west speaking volumes through its inactivity.
Of the stone row's seven othostats the two largest have (predictably, I guess) fallen. The remaining stones - including the lead - are nonetheless pretty substantial..... The alignment leads the eye beyond the confluence of the nascent Afon Tawe and Nant Tywymi to Bwlch Bryn-rhudd, the mountain pass carrying the A4067 between Bronze Age funerary cairn crowned Waun Leuci and Fan Gyhirych, the latter engulfed by a mass of freezing fog. There are further such monuments set upon Cribarth, the peak towering above to the south. Yeah, it is a fine site, especially so bearing in mind the paucity of substantial stone rows to be found in Wales.
But there's more. The usual sedimentary 'red' sandstone - which comprises most of the high South Walian uplands - gives way to limestone here, the peculiar water solubility of which makes it liable to feature cave systems like the nearby Dan-yr-Ogof showcaves... and - more to the point - circular depressions known as 'shake holes'. There is a truly massive - nay, awesome - example of the latter immediately to the north of Saith Maen. View the monument from the far arc of this shake hole and I think you'll agree the placement of the row is no accident. Can't be, surely? In fact I'd go as far as to say this shake hole should arguably be regarded in the same context as the natural gorsedds at, say, Bryn Celli Ddu and Capel Garmon... that is as an integral component of the monument. [I have a couple of further images exploring this association should it be of interest to anyone].
Before we leave this barren hilltop we simply have to visit the aforementioned frozen waterfall... wonderful, but the difficulty crossing the deep snow means we return to the car nearing dark. The Mam C still adores her snow. My head, however, is filled by that shake hole. My old teachers would say that probably explains a lot.
My second perfect equinox sunrise in Wales at a stone row called Saith Maen, the other is further north near Rhayader.
I parked on the main road near Criag y nos park/castle thingy, and walked up the road to the footpath (its right oppostie the impressive castle like frontage of said thingy), after wandering off course a bit thrown by the farm and horse paddocks, I strode purposefully up hill. Looking up ahead, you need to head for the high ground between two gorges, it's not easy going.
There are more stones here than at the other Saith Maen, seven in all, two large stones are down, one is leaning. One of the fallen giants has a cupmark on it, well it looks like one anyway.
What a place to watch the sunrise, the stones aren't aligned east-west so I wasn't looking for any alignment, I just felt like a visit and it fell on the equinox. There was just a slight mist and the rest of the Brecon Beacons between me and the sun.
Access less than 1km south of Dan-yr-Ogof showcaves on the A4067.
On the road is a property: Nant Gwared Bungalow.
Behind it is Nant Gwared Farm, ask for permission here to visit Saith Maen (there is a bridleway, but signs on the road inform that it does not give access to the hill on which the monument is sited).
Then over the stile and up the hill, which is a short but steep climb over open moorland.
Just head for the top of the hill and Saith Maen will come into view on the summit.
Try not to fall in the very deep kettle hole next to the monument.
The name translates as Seven Stones. Of the seven stones two have fallen (the largest).
They are all of the same stone (carboniferous siliceous grit stone, apparently) except one which is Old Red Sandstone, which means it was either dragged there or was a glacial erratic.
The orientation is north-northeast by south-southwest.
The heights of the stones (including those fallen) range from 0.6m to 2.8m. Edge on (looking along the row) the stones present their thinnest sides. From in front or behind they show their broader faces.
First stone (most northerly): 1.6m
Second stone (fallen to west): 2.3m
Third stone: 1m (sandstone)
Fourth stone: (fallen to east): 2.9m
Fifth stone: 0.8m
Sixth stone: 0.8m
Seventh stone: 0.7m
The length of the row is about 12m, the gaps between the stones appears to be a similar distance (around 1m).
Barber and Williams (1989) suggest that the alignment is pointing to the nearby stone circle Cerrig Duon, which is 6km to the northeast.
CADW also mention a possible outlier 7.9m to the southwest.
Beautiful views up there, but do take care as it is boggy on the track and the limestone outcrops, tough grasses and steepness of the hill can make the decent a bit ankle-bending.
Coflein has this to say, not forgetting to mention the enormous shake hole with which the row would appear to be associated:
'A row comprising seven upright or leaning orthostats measuring up to 2.9m long and aligned NNE by SSW. The surrounding land surface is eroding to reveal a silica-rich clay and gravel subsoil into which the stones are set. All the stones are of Carboniferous silicious grit except for one which is a rounded boulder of Old Red Sandstone. About 20m to the south is a pile of gritstone standing to 0.25m above the eroded surface, possibly the site of a former orthostat. The alignment lies within a karst landscape of limestone solution hollows; a large shake hole lies to the immediate north.....'