Since my last visit, almost four years ago, the stone has been penned behind a new barbed wire fence. But nothing really detracts here. The stone itself is tall and shapely, interesting with its hollow shoulder. The setting, in the amphitheatre of the ridges, is sublime. It’s taken a little over four hours to get here from Glangrwyney, including earlier stops on the way. I settle with my back to stone and let the peace and beauty of the place sink in.
Solitary standing stones are, I confess, generally my least favourite genre of prehistoric monument. Rules, however, are defined by exceptions.... and I've had my beady eye upon the Maen Llwyd ever since the previous posters highlighted the wonderful location it occupies. But how to get there? Forestry complicates matters from the south and west, Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr and its peers rendering an approach from east and north impractical for all but the most dedicated of stonehead. There are other adjectives. Since the other two gentlemen chose the latter option I, in the interests symmetry, you understand - not to mention altruism for those that may wish to come after - elect an low level approach from the Grwyne Fechan.
From the charming, bustling town of Crickhowell, chambered cairns still overlooking both banks of the Afon Wysg (River Usk) as they have done for millennia, the Llanbedr Road heads uphill past the DanyGrug cottages, trending left beneath the decapitated, fortified summit of Crug Hywel to eventually terminate near Hermitage Bridge. A little beforehand it is possible to park several cars - or it would have been if not for the large blocks of ice littering the environs.... the usual - and, covering the final section of tarmacadum on foot, I veer left upon a bridleway ascending the western flank of a forestry plantation, heading roughly north-west. Pen Twyn Gwyn rears up above the Grwyne Fechan, its crest the location of precious finds of artefacts mislaid/deposited (?) by prehistoric hunter dudes way back when.... truly, it is worth the walk simply to follow in their footsteps. As for the other flank of the valley, that is formed by the highest ground in The Black Mountains, my destination today. As mentioned earlier forestry complicates matters of route finding, although, to be fair, the conditions are soon to prove the primary consideration. Initially I elect to head for Tal-y-Maes farm and pick up a forestry track parallel to the Gargwy Fawr.... however the farm track is sheet ice, dangerously impassable unless one happens to possess the balance and grace of a Katarina Witt... needless to say I have neither. Wouldn't say no to one-on-one lessons, though.
Plan B (no, not the rapper bloke.... that would have been surreal) heads north across fenced fields, west of the farm. Fencelines aren't an issue, unlike the deep snow which renders progress painstakingly, exhaustingly slow. Not used to this. Nevertheless I eventually manage to struggle up to a forestry track following the near flank of the far treeline to the north. Plan B would have been pretty cunning if it had included following this track all the way to the forestry's northern limits, leaving just a short ascent to the right at the end in order to attain the stone; however I decide to head for the little hill of Twyn Du and find myself more or less marooned up to my bits in drifting snow, a sad, forlorn figure pondering what to do next... literally out of his depth. Yeah, in hindsight it was a rubbish plan, so it was. In an attempt to make headway I cut back into the trees, but find the interior choked with a twisted mass of organic debris. Emerging into the light once more two shaggy ponies back away as if not wishing to be seen with such a muppet. Not good for the equine image, mixing with the tourists, you know?
Nevertheless the prize is near at hand, albeit still requiring a final considerable uphill effort to attain. I prepare to be distinctly underwhelmed following such an overwhelming approach. But I am not. Far from it. In fact I'm greatly impressed by the elegant menhir which stands before me, more or less human height and leading the beady eye along the forest-line toward the bwlch between distant Mynydd Llysiau and Pen Trumau to the approx north-west. The upper section of the monolith features a 'step', an argument connecting this with possible sighting upon the aforementioned landscape feature perhaps not excessively fanciful? Then again I'm no expert in these matters. For me that fact that it is so goddam beautiful here, so peaceful, so serene, possessing such an evocative vibe, is what matters.
The serenity can not last, however..... yeah, there it goes again, insidiously burrowing into my psyche.... the unspoken siren call of the high places. Like a moth unto the flame, as they say.
Came here (15.4.2010) direct from the summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr. Postie's directions sum it up, there's no easy path down here from the summit. You can't actually see the stone until you get a little way off the summit itself, although the two appear close together on the map, there is a very large difference in altitude (summit cairn at 800m , stone at 560m). If you are keen/foolish/obsessed enough to follow my route and walk here from Talgarth, directions from the summit cairn as follows:
1. Head SW off the summit cairn. The land drops away very quickly. You will see Pen Cerrig-calch and Pen Allt-mawr on the skyline ahead, and a coniferous forest below them. I didn't think this was Twyn Du at first, it looked too far away and too far below, but it is.
2. Head in the direction of the forest, taking whatever safe route you can. At first the descent is fairly gradual over tussocky grass, but as you head down the slopes get steeper and the vegetation a little higher. You also find yourself in parallel with a number of small streams that started from springs above and you may need to cross one or two of them.
3. As you get lower, the NE edge of the forest becomes visible and with it Maen Llywd comes into view! At least then you know you're in the right place. Carry on down to the stone and be grateful you haven't broken your neck or twisted an ankle getting here. Rejoice!
The stone itself is a lovely flat slab, about 7 feet tall and very narrow on its edges. It sits at the corner of the forest surrounded by a mountainous amphitheatre. Behind you is Pen y Gadair Fawr, ahead is Pen Cerrig-calch (to the SW). The distinctive skyline notch to the NW is the narrow ridge between Pen Trumau and Mynydd Llysiau (at least I think it is!). It echoes, at least slightly, the shape of the top of the stone itself. The stone is very high up - possibly higher than any other in the area, or even Wales(!). Even so, it's still dwarfed by the ridges - none of the summits are visible from this elevation.
Not a soul to be seen, just the odd sheep. Postie is right, really worth the effort. The only (minor) blemish is the tatty rusty fence around the stone, which replaces an older drystone wall intended to separate the forest from the mountainside.
Leaving to the west, the land drops further again along the northern edge of the forest (I couldn't face climbing back up onto the ridge). Although the forest is not access land, there was no sign of any forestry in progress and nothing to indicate that access was forbidden - a large area has been cleared and then left - and the easy downhill walk along forestry tracks provided a simple way back towards Lllanbedr and Crickhowell, including some very pleasant stretches along the Gargwy Fawr and then Grwyne Fechan (there's an interesting ruined Hermitage at the southern end of the forest too).
Looking at the map the stone at first appears quite close to the road, no further than my house to my mums just a 10 minute stroll, however, Pen y Gadair Fawr stands between the carpark and the menhir and its 800metres high. The carpark is at 450m so only another 350 to go. A river must be crossed as well, but a handy bridge is nearby although it then forces you into Mynydd ddu forest criss crossed with good drivable paths, I took the direct route up a barely navigable sometime path through the deep and dark forest, in the end i'd had enough of the forest and came out on the north not far from the summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr. After passing the peak on its southern side I headed down the other side of the mountain 350m below I could just make out the stone by the trees, it seemed really far away and it was then I thought of giving up, but it was downhill all the way so I carried on.
Upon reaching the stone it all becomes worth it, 7-8 feet tall, aligned totally east-west, and is sited in a place of extreme beauty. The stone is thinner on one edge making it a very huggable shape and if you look at it too long it can look like a large woman with her hand on one hip, another hug was in order, one thing lead to another and it was suddenly time to go.
This stone is just about the furthest trek Iv'e ever endured for any single site, and I can't really recomend it had the stone been a tiddler or the view been crap I would have sobbed the whole way back, as it was the trek just built it up for me and the arrival at the journeys purpose was almost euphoric. Viva la Brecon Beacons