Eventually I head on, with so much more to see. I head back up to the northern end of the ridge, called “Bessie’s Meadow” on the map. There is another cairn shown, as well as a burnt mound, an enigmatic type of site that I have yet to encounter.
I’m not sure if I find the cairn, although I think I have. I’ve certainly found a mound of stones, but it appears to be part of a much larger low bank of stones. Perhaps another very large platform or ring-cairn? I hunt about for anything else, but eventually give up. More post-visit Cofleining shows that the cairn is overlaid by the wall of Bessie’s Meadow. Perhaps this was the bank of stones I found?
I head north to look for the burnt mound, but in truth I haven’t got much hope of finding it. The heather is dense and I’m not sure there would be enough to make identification possible, so I don’t waste any more time. I’ve still yet to encounter one of these then!
Back in the village, a path leads round the back of the church, past a modern standing stone and upwards to the gorse-clad Down. It’s a pretty stiff pull upwards, but thankfully quite short. Worth pausing to look back at the excellent views of the peninsula’s south coast as well, where a number of small cliff forts cluster above the waves.
The main group of cairns clusters around the trig-topped Beacon. Some are difficult to make out under the prevailing heather, but this is nevertheless a terrific group with wonderful views.
The first cairn encountered (Cairn IV) lies to the right (east) of the path. Apart from a few stones protruding from the heather, it’s not obvious. Some of the stones in the centre are substantial, but it’s probably the least impressive of the group.
The next cairn however, you can’t miss. The Beacon is a large stony mound with a trig pillar mounted onto its top. It has a possible/probable kerb of large blocks, particularly apparent on the northern side. It sits on the highest point of the Down and in fact of the whole Gower peninsula, so inevitably it has terrific views. The sea lies below to the west, while to the north and east the other main hills of the peninsula are all laid out, Llanmadoc Hill to the NNE, the hillforted Hardings Down closer at hand, then across the centre of the peninsula to the Cefn Bryn ridge. But the views stretch much further, even on this overcast day. To the northwest the round tops of the Preseli Mountains can be made out across the bay, while to the northeast the familiar shapes of Y Mynydd Du are visible, from Garreg Lywd to Fan Foel, then the view stretches further to Fforest Fawr and the highest central Beacons, Corn Du and Pen y Fan. Wow. Another bit of the Wales jigsaw falls into place.
The path heads northwards, downhill. The next cairn – Cairn III - sits on the right-hand side of the path and is a fairly prominent mound, buried in heather. There is an obvious central crater to help ease any doubts of identification.
To find Cairn VII, I have to head off the path, eastwards across the thankfully low heather. This one is less impressive, not much more than a slight pile of stones. The blocks do have an attractive pink tinge though and are liberally studded with quartz pebbles. The Beacon and Cairn III are silhouetted prominently against the skyline from here.
Back up to the path and onwards to the most impressive cairn of the group. Much lower than the Beacon, what it lacks in views Cairn II makes up for in stony glory. An almost contiguous ring of stones, stood up on edge, marks the extent of the cairn. You can’t miss this one! It’s a bit battered and disturbed, but a fine example of a ring cairn nonetheless.
The path continues on to Cairn I, covered in heather and quite low. Underneath a wide spread of stones shows that this one would have been massive. On the north side there are the remains of a clear kerb, again using fairly substantial stones. The material of the mound itself has been spread outwards, some spilling over the kerb into the surrounding heather.
The OS map shows one last cairn in the group, the “Ring Cairn”. This one lies further down the slope than the others, off the ridge. It is still fairly easy to locate though, due to the light colour of the stones against the dark sea of heather. A number of orthostatic blocks protrude from a clear ring, reminding me very much of the embanked circles of the Peak District. I could almost be on Stanton Moor! From here, Sweyne’s Howes is clearly visible to the north and it’s in this direction that I head next.
As I continue down the slopes towards the burial chamber, I notice a suspiciously round shape in the heather to my right. There’s nothing shown on the OS map, but it’s definitely a manmade something or other. Closer inspection reveals what appears to be the low remains of a very large cairn. There’s not much of a mound and in fact it could easily be a platform cairn, or a larger embanked ring cairn, with a raised rim around a shallower interior. Post-visit investigation of Coflein reveals this to be Cairn V.
From here it’s an easy cut across the slopes to Sweyne’s Howes.
Agree with Jane on this one - completely knackering walk - particularly on a windy day! In saying that the views from the top looking down along the coast line does make it worth it - just about! At least you can get a cuppa in the cafe when you arrive back at the car park. The path is clearly signposted from the car park and obvious up Rhossili Down.
Coflein descriptions of the cairns on Rhossili Down, running south-north:
Cairn IV (SS42048877)
A large denuded cairn, 15.2m in diameter, defined by a stoney bank and having a central pile of stones 5.5m by 4.3m and 0.3m high, with a central robbed hollow.
The Beacon - Cairn VIII (SS41998886)
One of a group of barrows on Rhossili Down, this one lies on the summit below a concrete trig. pillar.
The cairn is a stony mound measuring 14m (NW-SE) by 12m and 0.5m high. It is composed mostly of quartz conglomerate stones and small boulders with some larger boulders on the north suggesting a perimeter kerb. The mound has been disturbed, probably through construction of the pillar.
Cairn VII (SS42268892)
Thought to be a denuded ring-cairn, 10.1m in diameter and 0.3m high, with indications of a raised rim.
Cairn III (SS42048894)
A mutilated cairn, 12.2m in diameter and 0.6m high. Kerbing survives on the N and there is a central robber crater.
Cairn II (SS42068903)
A heather-grown platform c.0.3m high, with a kerb of conglomerate orthostats 9.1m in diameter. It is suggested that the cairn may have had a raised rim and that a central hollow may represent a robbed cist.
Cairn I (SS42018918)
A mutilated cairn, 13.7m in diameter and 0.6m high, showing the remains of kerbing on the N.
Ring Cairn (SS42168927)
A possible ring cairn, 9.0m in diameter, having a bank 1.8m wide and under 0.2m high. An alternative interpretation would see this as the remains of a roundhouse.
Cairn V (SS42278938)
This one isn't shown on the OS 1:25000 map.
A flat, stoney area, c.14m in diameter, with indications of a liminal bank.
Sweyne's Howes Ring Cairn (SS42148977)
A denuded cairn, 9.0m in diameter and 0.4m high, presenting the aspect of a ring cairn, with possible upright slabs about its circuit.
May be the tumulus dug c.1870, producing charcoal, calcinated bones and a cinerary urn.
Bessie's Meadow Cairn (SS41889008)
A robbed and mutilated cairn, 6.0m by 4.0m and 0.3m high, upon the N summit of Rhossili Down. Kerbing and a possible cist have been reported. The monument is overlain by the S wall of Bessie's Meadow (SS49SW50).