Following a morning's (11/9/11) tough walkabout in the vicinity of the Afon Arban, south of Claerwen (no megaliths, but some things need to be done), the intriguing 'trio' of cairns depicted by our OS friends upon Carn Gafallt finally make it to the top of 'the list'. 'Lucky us', I can almost hear the resident spirits of the ancestors groan. Or is that just a combination of an overactive mind and the admittedly strong wind playing the usual tricks? Yeah, let's go with the latter.
So, no evidence for any 'insubstantial' friends, then, although the adjective could well be employed to describe the mind - for want of a better word - of a muppet farmer who stops his land rover, winds down the window and attempts to stare me down as I make a three point turn near Blaen-y-cwm. What is it with these people? Banjo duels at dawn...... Needless to say us TMA-ers are made of sterner stuff... and I won't back down, particularly since I haven't a clue what I've supposed to have done wrong. But there you are. For the record (Tom Petty comes to mind, by the way) a car can be parked, without causing any obstruction, near a corrugated iron-roofed barn at approx SN940641, a little west(ish) of Talwrn farm. Take the public footpath opposite (north), which veers left, then right to arc through the woodland of Coed Bwlch-glas. A little beyond, the cairns stand, unseen, surmounting the steep hillside above to the left. The official route exits the trees before doubling back along the crest of the ridge to the north-west... assuming an encounter with a moron farmer doesn't encourage the traveller to undertake any deviations, that is.
Whatever route you take to the substantial cairns, however, be sure to schedule an audience if you are in the area.... since the setting of the monuments is class, if not classic. No, I reckon it is the latter, come to think of it. Incidentally Coflein reckons there may actually be five, not three cairns upon this windswept ridge, possibly once connected by a drystone wall, of all things? Apparently some of the cairns are co-joined, although the ravaged interiors and deep heather made this unclear. Well, at least to me. However never let it be said that the ancient occupants of Wales were anything but original. Idiosyncratic, too, particularly the manner in which the summit of Carn Gafallt, rising some way to the north-west, is ignored in favour of linear escarpment edge placement. Yeah, although the highest point was clearly not of specific importance, it is very difficult to believe that the vistas to be had from the site were not. Look to almost every point of the compass (save the north, where the bulk of the hillside obscures, albeit with numerous natural 'mounds' in evidence) and hilltops bearing Bronze Age cairns stand as far as the eye can see..... Y Gamriw to the south (must revisit), Drum Ddu to south-east, Drygarn Fawr and Gorllwyn to south-east... even a stone row upon Rhos-y-Gelynnen to west.
Why, there's even an apparent stone circle upon Allt Goch across the valley. Guess I'll need to come back, then?
Nennius wrote in c800 of one of the marvels of Wales:
There is [in the region which is called Buelt] a heap of stones, and one stone superposed on the pile with the footprint of a dog on it. When he hunted the boar Troynt, Cabal, who was the dog of Arthur the soldier, impressed his footprint on the stone, and Arthur afterwards collected a pile of stones under the stone [...] and it is called Carn Cabal. And men come and carry the stone in their hands for a day and a night, and on the morrow it is found upon its pile.
The hunt is described in Culhwch and Olwen. Culhwch is determined to catch the boar because it is the only way he can win permission from Olwen's father to marry her. The boar, Twrch Trwyth and his seven piglets are pretty wily and it's supposed to be an impossible task, but with help from Arthur and his men he manages to accomplish it. At some cost though, as Arthur's sons were killed in the process. You can see the monument to their bravery at Cerrig Meibion Arthur.
In the 1840s, Lady Charlotte Guest, a translator of the Mabinogion, realised where Nennius's cairn existed. She 'prevailed upon a gentlemen' to go and check it out. He wrote the following account, which I found on the Clwyd and Powys Archaeological Trust website.
"Carn Cavall, or, as it is generally pronounced, Corn Cavall, is a lofty and rugged mountain, in the upper part of the district anciently called Buellt, now written Builth, in Breconshire. Scattered over this mountain are several cairns of various dimensions, some of which are of very considerable magnitude, being at least a hundred and fifty feet in circumference. On one of these carns may still be seen a stone, so nearly corresponding with the description in Nennius, as to furnish strong presumption that it is the identical as to furnish strong presumption that it is the identical object referred to. It is near two feet in length, and not quite a foot wide, and such as a man might, without any great exertion, carry away in his hands. On the one side is an oval indentation, rounded at the bottom, nearly four inches long by three wide, about two inches deep, and altogether presenting such an appearance as might, without any great strain of imagination, be thought to resemble the print of a dog's foot . . . As the stone is a species of conglomerate, it is possible that some unimaginative geologist may persist in maintaining that this footprint is nothing more than the cavity, left by the removal of a rounded pebble, which was once embedded in the stone."
To confuse matters, 'caballus' in Latin (the language Nennius was writing in) is actually a horse. So perhaps it's Arthur's horse's footprint you should be looking for.