Lying just south of the minor road traversing Cwm Cadlan at its eastern end, this massive monument may well qualify as one of the easiest visited major upland cairns in all South Wales (please refer to my Twyn Bryn Glas field notes for approach details, should you be so inclined... amongst other stuff). Needless to say I had no idea it was here before Carl's note. Ahem.
Just a short stroll from available parking within a disused quarry, the monument stands surrounded by what Coflein terms 'solution holes'. Now I'm not quite sure how these differ from the ubiquitous 'shake holes', but assume - OK, hope - a non-geologist such as I can be forgiven such craven ignorance. As I approach it is immediately apparent that, as well as being a seriously large cairn, the monument also retains elements of quite substantial kerbing in situ. What's more I discover just the one empty plastic milk carton upon the great stone pile... not even a full pint, at that.. where, so close to the road and in overwhelmingly plain sight, I had expected a veritable rubbish tip. A very pleasant, unexpected surprise indeed. Famous last words, but perhaps the lack of 'central excavation' may have something to do with this (current) happy state of affairs.
The cairn is not alone, another (which I did not visit due to impending darkness) set a little to the approx north-east, the great ring cairn some way to the west at SN98321087, unseen in the advancing gloom of dusk. Oh, and according to the map there are quite a number more 'round about upon the flanks of Cefn Sychnant. Numerous others to the north.
Well I say... Ding, dong! As Leslie Phillips - that, ahem, 'old school' connoisseur of feminine beauty - might have said.... if he had've been a stone head. Hey who knows, perhaps he is? It would have been an appropriate exclamation, too, since in my opinion, this slumbering monument really is something special. Now, having trudged around these Isles for over a decade actively searching out remnants of our prehistoric past.... for some reason or other.... I kinda thought those jaw dropping moments - such as I experience upon encountering this (apparent) ring cairn - were more or less confined to those 'hard to get to' sites located in the middle of nowhere. Not there for the taking, just a short distance from the road. But there you are.
Funnily enough, bearing in mind its considerable circumference, the monument is not shown on the current OS maps (1:50 or 1:25K) so should not be confused with the pair of cairns actually depicted a little to the east. Easily done, however, with only the 'aerial' view from high ground to the north proving conclusive (Carl's notes appear to refer to the cairn at SN98921108 and not this). Yeah, matters are not helped by the fact that, from my experience anyway, its very low profile renders it very difficult to spot from roadside. Consequently, upon stumbling down from Cadair Fawr (touch of shin splits, unfortunately) I'm utterly unprepared for the sheer size of this great stone polo. OK, there are other ring cairns in South Wales.... but, to my recollection (or lack of knowledge, perhaps), none of such dimensions, none hidden away in such plain sight. Why have I not been here sooner?
According to RCAHMW's David Leighton (Jan '83) the site is an "...annular oval bank of mixed grade rubble and boulders without an entrance. It measures 20.7m internally (E-W) by 18.3m and is 2.5m-4.3m wide and 0.7m high. A small recumbent boulder near the centre is perhaps the remains of a cist".
I wish I had much more time... but unfortunately the light is beginning to fade as the day draws to its inexorable conclusion. Hey, perhaps the sole logical reference point I'm aware of at this moment. A pastel pink glow illuminates the skyline to the west, the high escarpment of Craig-y-Llyn highlighting the location of The Llyn Fawr.... another sacred facet of this South Walian landscape back in the day. Once again a shake hole stands - if a hole can be said to stand? - fractionally outside the western arc of the ring cairn, so close, in fact, that a small section of said stonework has partially fallen into the enigmatic cavity in the limestone. The question inevitably presents itself: 'why erect the ring so close?' A reasonably sized recumbent stone lies within the centre of the monument suggesting the remnants of a former cist, whilst rising to the east, a massive round cairn stands at SN98551095. I am parked nearby.
Mr Leighton concedes that there is a possibility this massive masonry ring residing upon Cefn Sychnant is a trashed round cairn; however I agree, if only due to the conspicuous absence of internal cairn material, that a ring cairn is much more plausible, more probable. And what a glorious example it is, too. After half an hour I have to leave to catch that eastern monument before dark. But I know the Mam C will love this, so intend to return. As I prepare to vacate the site a boy racer trundles by staring at the day-glo clad individual sitting in the middle of the moor for no apparent reason. 'What is he doing?' Ah, bless. Guess I could've reciprocated and asked the same (presumed) question in return. Mind how you go, my muppet friend.
These two upland cairns stand, as you'll probably guess from the title, immediately below and more or less to the south of Cadair Fawr.
According to Coflein the northern of the pair [at SN97721199] "measures 7.5m in diameter and 0.3m high, and consists of loose rubble consolidated around the perimeter". So, not exactly overwhelming in scale, then. But substantial enough. For me, however, the monument is given a massive injection of vibe by having been located between two small shake holes, the apparent - oh, come on! - association of Bronze Age monuments with such natural landscape phenomena quite a local speciality, so it would seem.
The second cairn lies at SN97791191 and "measures 7.1m (E-W) by 6.1m and 0.3m high. It is composed of loose unsorted stones and small boulders." [both quotes DKL/DJP 3.86].
These cairns would suffice as the focal points of specific visits in most areas, I guess. However such are the treasures in the locale that.... well, there you are.
The quickest - not to mention simplest - way to the summit of Cadair Fawr, a 1,591ft (485m) outlier of the Fforest Fawr, is to adhere to Carl's fieldnotes and approach from the A4059 to the north, this option also allowing the traveller easy access to the substantial cairns located upon the south-western flanks of Cefn Esgair-carnau should he/she so wish. Easy.... but no doubt wet. OK, no so easy, then.
A more 'intimate' route, however, is to start from the minor road traversing Cwm Cadlan to the south, the valley presenting a veritable cornucopia of archaeology that - in my opinion - matches its northern counterpart with ease. I also find there is a somewhat logical symmetry to achieving the zenith at the extremity of a walk. Something Phil Oakey and Little Boots would no doubt also appreciate should they ever go walking together. Now there's a thought. Hence I approach the summit today from the excellent cairn upon Twyn Bryn Glas, set some way below to the south-east. Now assuming one doesn't stumble down a shake hole into some mystical, otherworldly, parallel dimension.... careful now.... the short moorland stomp, followed by a brief 'pull' to the summit, should prove relatively straightforward, assuming the absence of low cloud. The perennial caveat.
As I gain height the landscape begins to assume a more brutal, primeval character, shattered limestone outcropping now vying for space with the ubiquitous long upland grass.... before finally superseding it altogether in places. Yeah, despite its relative lack of height, clearly Cadair Fawr so wants to be a proper mountain, just like the big ones nearer Brecon. And you know what, I reckon it almost succeeds. It certainly possesses a substantial cairn, comprised of the aforementioned limestone slabs, which is truly synonymous with its location, almost blending into the uncompromising landscape. Takes some doing, that. The signature mark of a proper warrior's final resting place. To be honest I reckon it would look out of place most anywhere else.
As with that at Twyn Bryn Glas, the monument is not set upon the summit to benefit from some outstanding views of Fforest Fawr and The Brecon Beacons, instead residing some distance to the approx south-west, such specific location surely an act of inherent significance? As a result the northern apex of the mountain obscures all but the Fforest Fawr summits rising above the escarpment edge. The Afon Hepste down below doesn't even get a look in..... Sadly the centre of the cairn has been 'excavated' in the usual manner, although I (perhaps) detect traces of what might have once formed a cist, stones which seem to suggest internal structure.
Cadair Fawr possesses a vibe that I find difficult to define today. Perhaps that is what is so appealing, the atmosphere it invokes defying categorisation. It seems awkward, unique. Neither hill nor mountain, occupying a 'middle ground', a no-man's land, perhaps, between the soaring, wild splendour of The Great Escarpment and the ravaged valleys of industrial South Wales. An adolescent mountain which never grew up? Yeah, it is rather appealing. The Citizen Cairn'd wonders if there is a hint of self analysis in there?
After the passing of several hours watching the sky do its thang it is time to move on. The map shows two further cairns located below to the approx south. Hey what do you know? Right on my route.
I've never been to Cwm Cadlan before. OK, it's not an admission to induce involuntary muscle spasms in any reader, to require the immediate live saving application of the Heimlich maneuver, even..... Nonetheless, having driven about South Wales for not far off 30 years - hey, I started young - I must confess to feeling like a prize muppet now I'm (finally) aware what archaeological treasures can be found here. Better late than never, I suppose.
The small village of Penderyn, encountered when heading north upon the A4059 from Hirwaun, is probably best known nowadays for its whisky distillery, the finished product, by all accounts, rather good.... not that I'm qualified to comment upon such things myself, you understand? Also of note is the Lamb Hotel standing beside a cross-roads, the right hand turning (assuming we are indeed travelling north) indicating 'Cwm Cadlan' upon a signpost that Russell Crowe might well have earmarked for the ark in his forthcoming film, had he passed this way earlier looking for locations. Well, bearing in mind the recent rain..... True to form the minor road snakes through a valley immediately at odds with the industrial landscape a few miles to the south. The 1:25K map depicts numerous cairns and burnt mounds - how they got 'em to 'burn' in Wales I'll never know - upon the flanks of Mynydd-y-glog and Cefn Sychnant to my right; however I'm here to check out some of TMA-er Carl's recent observations near the head of the cwm. I also intend to return to the summit the ridge Cefn Cadlan, forming the left hand flank of the valley as I approach.
A little prior to the cattle grid where the road begins to descend through forestry to the Llwyn-on Reservoir, there is a small, disused quarry where it is possible to park a car. Not only possible but desirable, too, since immediately opposite stands a rather fine cairn gracing the near flank of Cefn Sychant. Yeah, as bold as you like. Blimey. One for later, that. Chill out in the evening, so to speak. Presently, however, I set off up the shallow hillside to the north, that is more-or-less parallel with the aforementioned treeline and, following an initial false alarm (loose rocky strata), soon arrive at Twyn Bryn Glas a little to the right (east) of a minor summit. The location of the monument is precise - almost pedantically so - the substantial cairn set just below a plateau of eroded limestone 'pavement' outcropping, the latter according wonderful views of the snow-capped peaks of The Brecon Beacons to north-east and Fan Fawr to the north, not to mention the similarly be-cairned Cefn Cil-Sanws to approx south-east(ish). All, save a hint of this scenic beauty, is summarily denied the traveller upon the cairn, arguably with authentic Bronze Age intent? Perhaps this was to ensure primary focus was upon Cadair Fawr, rising to the north-west? Perhaps.
Whatever the idiosyncratic placement determined by the Bronze Age mind signified - guess we'll only ever be able to theorise - I'm glad, from a purely selfish viewpoint, that they saw fit to bury their VIPs in locations such as Twyn Bryn Glas. Yeah, this is an ideal spot for the Citizen Cairn'd who fancies a bit of peace and quiet for a muse - away from the comical rally boys below - without a significant outlay of energy. Somewhere to enjoy the silence. I move on after a while to subsequently clamber up to the summit of Cadair Fawr. However I was impressed by both archaeology and vibe at Twyn Bryn Glas. I'd like to come back some day for an extended stop.