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Fieldnotes by GLADMAN

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Aran Fawddwy (Round Cairn)

Aran Fawddwy (2,969ft) is one of Wales' classic mountains, its volcanic crags deeply scoured and crafted by the unimaginably powerful forces of glaciation to form a towering cathedral of igneous rock. Together with its slightly lower northern neighbour, Aran Benllyn (2,901ft), the landscape might be considered by some - such as I - the archetypal hybrid of North/Mid Walian upland topography: the stark, uncompromising brutality of unforgiving cliff faces offset, tempered, by the softer green of subsidiary ridges and rounded hills overlooking sylvan cwms; valleys where farmers ply their trade much as they have done so for centuries past. Beast and beauty writ large upon the southern extremity of Snowdonia.

It is this (relative) geographical isolation from the traditional mountain heartland of Gwynedd that, in my opinion, accords The Arans their sense of singularity, a perceived notion of uniqueness perhaps only approximated by the equally sublime heights of not-too-distant Cadair Idris. Local history suggests that this 'aloofness' may not merely reside in the cognition of the modern traveller, the sentinel peaks namechecking the medieval cymydau (commotes) of Penllyn and Mawddwy... by all accounts, judging by the violent antics of the notorious 'Red Robbers' said to reside in and around Cwm Cywarch during the 1500's, pretty volatile areas back in the day. Furthermore, walkers wishing to visit both main summits will need to set foot upon Erw y Ddafad Ddu... 'Acre of the Black Sheep'. Hmm.. is there something we should know, Mr Cope? It is therefore fitting that Aran Fawddwy should be crowned by what is - in my opinion, all things considered - Wales' finest upland Bronze Age cairn. Coflein has this to say:

"Remains of a large cairn located on the summit of Aran Fawddwy. The cairn is stone built and measures up to 16m in diameter and up to 4m in height. An Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar has been erected on the E side of the cairn"

OK, so the dimensions of the stone pile are impressive, although nowadays perhaps not to the degree suggested by the professionals; however, for me, it is the sheer sublimity of placement, the overpowering exquisiteness of location which sets this monument apart. Perched upon the eastern flank of the summit crags, the cairn quite literally stands upon the edge of the abyss, overlooking a vertiginous, perpendicular drop to Creiglyn Dyfi cradled over 1,000ft below. Now I'm well aware words can only convey so much. So imagine, if you will, the late, great Stuart Adamson standing atop this cairn performing an guitar solo (with E-bow, naturally) expressing all the joy, pain, love, sorrow, exhilaration, frustration, altruism, anger, fear, hope.. that, collectively, we call 'being human'. Hey, that's what I mean.

Needless to say this dark lake Creiglyn Dyfi has form, being none other than the source of the Afon Dyfi (Dovey), the river undertaking a majestic procession south-westward to Cardigan Bay following a suitably tumultuous birth, erupting from the tarn as Llaethnant or 'Milk Brook'. Legend has it that St. Tydecho was responsible for this moniker after, er, somewhat miraculously turning the nascent, cascading stream into nutritious dairy produce to assist impoverished locals during times of famine... wondrous chap that he was. However those who have approached Creiglyn Dyfi via Foel Hafod-fynydd - incidentally a fine walk - may well wish to contest the veracity of this incredulous claim. Or not. Nevertheless it is telling, perhaps, that such transcendental occurrences are attributed to the locale; although whether Bronze Age priests were the initiators of such a metaphysical vibe or merely drawn here by pre-existing spiritual memes kept alive by Neolithic locals is no doubt a moot point. Whatever the truth, there is in my view no denying the 'special relationship' formed between landscape and human psyche in the vicinity, particularly when looking from above seated in the abode of the gods. Just the spot for a people to set their VIP upon the path to eternity, one might say?

The views are inspiring looking upon a more horizontal - albeit elevated - plane, too, with the long escarpments of Cadair Idris and Y Rhinogydd to the approx west, Snowdonia to the north beyond Aran Benllyn, Y Berwyn to the east... and the green hills of Mid Wales stretching away to the southern horizon. Given clear skies, of course. Although, to be fair, swirling cloud does add an additional, ethereal dimension to proceedings if countered by accurate compass bearings facilitating the way down. Note that the unnamed former occupant(s) of the great cairn are not the only legendary VIPs to be commemorated up hereabouts... as a memorial to SAC Michael 'Mike' Aspain upon nearby Drws Bach makes abundantly clear, the RAF St Athan Mountain Rescue gentleman having been killed by lightning whilst on duty during June 1960. There really are no words one can say, so perhaps a brief, silent salute in passing is appropriate. Oh, incidentally two men had to be airlifted off the mountain in January 2014 (just a year before my last ascent) after being paralysed - I kid you not - by another lightning strike. Yeah, Aran Fawddwy can be a dangerous, foreboding place.... primeval forces created it and are at still at work here. Natural forces of a magnitude beyond our limited comprehension. Is it any wonder priests attempted to fill the void?

Arguably the classic route to Aran Fawddwy is the linear traverse of the main ridge starting from Llanuwchllyn at the southern end of Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake). However my three ascents to the summit ridge over the years have, for logistical reasons, all commenced within the dramatic environs of Cwm Cywarch, as mentioned above the former haunt of the Red Robbers. It is to the credit of the Snowdonia National Park Authority to note that, in addition to managing the very militant local land owners, a (relatively) new car park now alleviates parking issues of yore. I speak from experience, having found myself bogged down to my axle whilst parking upon grass prior to an ascent of Glasgwm back in 2008. Surrounded by towering buttresses of rock, it is a suitably epic spot to begin a foray into these wondrous mountains crowned by quite possibly Wales finest upland cairn. All things considered....

Glan Hafon cairn (Cairn(s))

What is it about me and high places? For a man with vertigo to be consistently drawn to hill and mountain tops over the entire course of my adult life could be considered somewhat paradoxical, perhaps? It's a valid point. Furthermore, any attempt to resolve such a personal conundrum is surely doomed to failure, if only due to lack of objectivity. Well, it goes without saying I'm too close too the subject matter. However, for what it's worth....

Although too young to appreciate the cultural, not to mention social impact of punk as it was happening - in retrospect I much prefer, for example, the insubordinate political potency of SLF than the comically naïve pseudo-Marxist bollocks of first wavers, The Clash - it was the 'question everything you're told' mentality of the movement which has had a fundamental impact upon my worldview. To deploy 'Why?' at the vanguard of the fight against blaggers and hypocrites. A pretty simple philosophy consistent with the DIY ethic of punk: to always see both sides of an argument by actively seeking an alternative viewpoint. Or at least try to. No-one's perfect. Needless to say, putting competing stuff into context can be difficult, requiring a suitable environment to utilise whatever brain matter Nature accorded me, one mercifully free from the inane, misogynist, moronic chants of rappers. Such as the high places of Britain.

Yeah, the aerial viewpoint, by its intrinsically 'detached' nature, challenges one's perception of this crazy, spinning globe and, more importantly, of the antics of the human beings that depend upon it as a temporary stage for chasing passing visions. At least until we all bugger off to Mars with Matt Damon, that is. Hey, what a laugh that'll be. Party hats all round! In practice I've found the results to be instructive, the car full of anger upon the approach to the parking area suddenly of no more consequence, by proxy - in the grand scheme of things - than the concerns of the inhabitants of a nearby ant colony. So, if there is such a thing as 'human spirit'.... a soul... that can (eventually) be determined from electricity flowing across synapses, arguably it is the primeval uplands than best meet the criteria for a 'spiritual domain'. If so, wouldn't it be ironic to note that our Bronze Age forebears appear to already have had that sussed millennia ago?

Anyway, aside from facilitating incoherent musings upon the most fundamental subjects, aerial viewpoints possess other, more tangible benefits... such as the ability to see detail in the landscape that can't be seen from below. No shit, Sherlock? Indeed it was during a visit to the fabulous hill fort surmounting Craig Rhiwarth last year that I first truly appreciated the form of Mynydd Glan-hafon rising across the cwm. Although falling a few feet short of the hallowed 2,000ft mark (1,994ft/608m) - and thus discounted from almost every 'serious' Y Berwyn walking itinerary you will come across - I guess the evidence of my own eyes heard the siren call. So, a hill must be a certain height to be worthy of my boots? Why? Ah, it's that punk ethic again.

Consequently I find myself reprising the ... it has to be said ... rather fine approach to Cwm Glan-hafon upon the green track skirting the south-eastern foot of the overwhelmingly sheer Craig Rhiwarth, one beady eye upon the threatening cloud base. The track forks right beyond some rather delectable woodland to descend to, and subsequently cross, the Nant Sebon. Continuing north, it soon becomes apparent that Mynydd Glan-hafon will offer no easy ride; the ludicrously steep gradient of the path encountered just beyond the deep gash carved by the Nant Ddial makes that as crystal clear as the cascading waters of the latter. The siren's call is strong, however - as Bernard Sumner will no doubt concur - and I eventually arrive at the col between Y Clogydd and Mynydd Glan-hafon itself.

According to Postman, not to mention the lesser authority of Coflein, there are a couple of cairns hereabouts upon this saddle. However I haven't done my homework so press on riding my little pony, so to speak, toward the summit. Despite having used all my vast (and ultimately useless) experience of these things and delayed leaving the path to avoid nasty occurrences of stamina sapping bog... I inevitably encounter an awful lot of the stuff. Too much. But there you are. Nevertheless I reach the summit ridge, taking a bearing from the fence line to the top of the Nant Ddial gulley. Just in case things deteriorate, you understand? As it happens the fence is a useful prompt leading travellers to the actual summit and, beyond a traverse fence to the east, the slightly lower trig pillar. As it is I ignore the latter being more intrigued by a small cairn surmounting a rocky outcrop near the junction.

Mynydd Glan-hafon is a wondrous viewpoint, arguably the best perch to appreciate this fact being the aforementioned cairn. This is not marked upon either the 1:25k or 1:50k map nor, indeed, cited by Coflein. However beneath the obviously modern 'marker cairn' resides a substantial, earth fast footprint. Now to judge by the paths - or rather, the paucity of them - up here upon this deeply unfashionable hill, the possibility of the cairn being erected by walkers is, in my opinion, pretty slim. Furthermore the cairn does not occupy either of the twin summits. So why construct a marker? Just saying. In my opinion this looks kosher. Other opinions most welcome.

As I sit and admire unfamiliar perspectives of the familiar... such as the main ridge of Y Berwyn rising to the immediate north, beyond the natural aquatic wonder that is Pistyll Rhaeadr, the sylvan beauty of the Tanat Valley, the mighty ancient fortress of Craig Rhiwarth etc.... the erstwhile reasonably clement conditions begin to falter as Moel Sych intercepts and subsequently grasps an incoming low cloud base to its not inconsiderable breast. Yeah, in very quick order visibility is reduced to more-or-less zero. For me, it is at times like this that upland cairns invoke the optimum 'spiritual' (here we go again) vibes, the opaque vapour inducing a very localised, almost claustrophobic intensity shutting out the outside world from any deliberations. Perhaps this idiosyncrasy was an integral facet of the Bronze Age plan, the Bronze Age experience? Assuming there ever was one and these monuments were not simply erected by ancient punks disavowing the 'rules'.

Time moves on and, despite having a fence line as my personal guide, not to mention preset compass bearing, the disorienting nature of walking in hill fog never abates. For me. Learning to trust one's judgement when all the senses are saying "Are you sure, you muppet?" has proved a major challenge across the years, one I doubt I will ever meet. But then again, so what? Leaving the sanctuary of the wire - and having opted to place self preservation before additional cairns - I manage to locate the Nant Ddial. Following a very steep, rough descent, the towering flank of Craig Rhiwarth slowly materialises through the dissipating gloom like a cosmic hand operating a rather dodgy natural cloaking device. Bit unpredictable, apparently. The return to the car is joyous, a feeling prevalent of being allowed brief inclusion within a spectacle outside of the normal human remit. Bit like hearing the opening bars to New Rose for the first time.

So... not at all sure I've managed to answer my autobiographical question posed at the start: why do I seek out the high places? Hey, maybe to some degree, perhaps? Although simply pointing at Mynydd Glan-hafon and uttering 'Bleh!' might sum it up nicely enough. But then again, if Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible taught me anything growing up (I'll leave Rat Scabies out of this) it's not to be afraid to challenge my preconceptions, to continually push my limitations (wherever I encounter them, in whatever context), and to try not lose the child inside... that sense of inherent curiosity and wonderment. That alternative 'aerial' viewpoint. Don't let the Ed Sheerans and Adeles of this bloody computer world we now find ourselves in drag you down. Don't use the factory pre-sets, so to speak... program your own sounds. Yeah, who's to say what can and can't be done? Have a go and see. Just try not to kill yourself in the process should you chose to stumble in my footsteps. For me that's the true legacy of the punk ethic, my friends.

Bryn Castell (Hillfort)

Ah, hill forts.... of all the myriad monument types featured within - or should that be on? - TMA I would have thought the hill fort would be the simplest to define? A fort built upon a hill, right? What could be easier? Hmmm. For starters, how does one define a hill? My Oxford English Dictionary reckons a hill is "A naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain", whereas a mountain is "A large natural elevation of the earth's surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level; a large steep hill". Pretty woolly explanations, to be fair. Open to interpretation, particularly when, for example, the locals upon The Isle of Skye refer to the peerless, 3,000ft plus naked rock of The Black Cuillin as 'hills'. Depends on your point of view.

Herein, then, lies my dilemma when attempting to categorise the superb little fortress of Bryn Castell. As we human are wont to do. In my estimation a 'mountain' imparts a certain mind set upon the visitor, irrespective of height above ordnance datum. An (apparent) appreciation that primeval forces - represented, perhaps, by the extreme application of adverse conditions such as cold, wind, precipitation etc - are acting upon the human cognitive process, somehow accessing seemingly forgotten memes (or other ancestral 'group knowledge' cascaded down the millennia - hey, clearly I'm no expert here) long since subsumed beneath an accumulation of modern behaviours and values which, I guess, only time will reveal may or may not represent an incremental advancement of our species. A feeling that, just perhaps, the landscape may actually be 'speaking' to us, unlocking that door in the psyche behind which a lot of interesting 'stuff' lies in cold storage. Reminding us that we should really be taking a lot more notice of the base forces which shape our environment. That we should show more respect to the Nature of Darwin and Hawking, venture forth from the geodesic dome on a more regular basis. Like Michael York who, upon finding that his 'life clock' is now blinking, decides to do make a break for reality in Logan's Run. Making sure not to forget Jenny Agutter as he does so, naturally. Or something like that. Whatever the truth... for me, Bryn Castell is a 'mountain fort' since it causes me to think of such things.

The current 1:25K OS map depicts Bryn Castell as a 'Settlement'. Not something to raise the antiquarian pulse, to be honest. However, needs must, the site featuring upon my 'bad weather list', invoked upon those unfortunately all-too-frequent days (such as today) when cloud sits upon the North Walian uplands like a gigantic mothership piloted by intergalactic beings having much to learn in the parking department. As if maintaining solidarity with said cloud base, my mood is not lifted by the presence of one of those pathetic, black-clad 'heddlu', er, individuals avoiding doing any worthwhile police work by pointing his little laser at me, so ensuring I miss the turning at Bontddu first time around. Look for the massive blue (I think) 'chapel' and follow the very steep, very minor road to its eventual terminus at a parking area beyond a gate (at SH657202).

I ignore the rough track heading left, instead venturing forth straight ahead through a gate to ascend a green track... the old London to Harlech 'road', no less, travelled when 'horse power' was quite literally just that. And employed by all. At a (presumably relatively modern) marker stone a track veers to the left (west) while the main, walled route continues to ascend the excellent, grassy Y Braich - or 'The Arm' - reaching down from the heights of the southern Rhinogydd above and beyond. Now since Bryn Castell is located upon the southern-most extremity of Y Braich sticking to the main route will do; however I veer to the west to enjoy what, in my opinion, is a much more memorable approach, the site towering dramatically above to my right.

So... a short climb finally brings me to the fine, univallate 'fort. As Postman says, the view southwards across Aber Mawddach toward Cadair Idris is absolutely stunning, even when viewed under somewhat less than ideal conditions. However it is that to the north, looking up the aforementioned Y Braich to the high summits of Y Rhinogydd, the latter obscured by swirling vapour, that seems to awaken the hunter-gatherer in me. The 2,462ft Diffwys periodically beckons through the gloom, the brutal landscape occasionally illuminated by washes of sunlight all too quickly extinguished, as if by the silent admonition of a cosmic Warden Hodges: 'Put that bloody light out you ruddy 'ooligan!'. The path appears tempting, the foreshortened scene promising an memorable afternoon... if only the cloud would break. I wait in vain, deciding to return and make the climb some other time. As it is the weather provides an opportunity just two days hence. The route is a lot steeper than it appears.....

Suffice to say, then, that Bryn Castell occupies a damn fine spot. But what of the archaeology? Well, for such a small site the defensive wall is pretty strong (albeit clearly robbed to the east to build a dry stone field wall). Furthermore, the northern high point of the enclosure features the remains of an enigmatic round structure which could, I guess, be variously interpreted as 'round house', proto-donjon or round cairn. Or none of the above. For what it's worth, the feature is perfectly profiled upon the skyline when viewed from the valley below, a characteristic suggestive of a cairn. But then again... Guess only excavation will confirm. Yeah, right. A retrospective perusal of Coflein suggests that, as with a number of other upland defensive enclosures clustered around Cadair Idris, the small size of Bryn Castell might suggest use as a temporary citadel rather than permanently occupied home?

Despite the impressive, nay, intriguing remains, for me the primary reason to come here is to enjoy that (obviously) indefinable 'mountain vibe'. As with Crug Hywel upon the southern slopes of Pen Cerrig-calch far to the south, Bryn Castell belongs to the uplands, as if a small, wild bird cupped in the grasping hand of Y Rhinogydd. To call it a mere hill fort is to do it an injustice.

Craig y Castell North (Hillfort)

It is - I would assume - one of the lesser debated imponderables of relatively recent Welsh history to contemplate whether or not, when faced with a barrage of questions from inquisitive Ordnance Surveyors, the rural peasant simply 'made stuff up'. And, if so, was there mischievous intent? Consider a theoretical example: OS man (pointing fervently): 'I say, you, peasant. What is the name of that big, round hill over there?' Exasperated Peasant: 'Oh, that'll be 'The Big Round Hill', sir'. OS Man (scribbling into his notebook): 'Jolly good. Carry on, doing whatever it is you peasants do'. Smirking Peasant (tugging his cap, then muttering under his breath): 'Heh, heh. You muppet.'

OK, a fanciful scenario, perhaps... but it would certainly explain why here, in the quiet, green foothills between the summit peaks of Cadair Idris and the wondrous Aber Mawddach, we have two Craig y Castells depicted upon the current 1:25K map within a mile of each other. Surely some mistake? For what it's worth I don't buy the alternative to local wind up... that a people steeped in the lore of giants and fairies would apply such rigidly pragmatic, localised nomenclature. Not when hoodwinking gullible officials can be so much fun, methinks. Incidentally Coflein namechecks the northern of the pair as Craig-y-Waun. Yeah, you do the maths.

But enough of such facetious, unsubstantiated conjecture! Like Thomas Dolby, way back in 1982, it's time to defer to a more, er, scientific approach, in my case that of logical deliberation (hopefully) informed by personal observation. Or, to put it another way, time to blunder up another Welsh hillside in the teeming rain and 'see what happens'. Hey, whether such action is more demonstrative of lunacy than the wildly exaggerated antics of the former synth boffin's eccentric associate, Magnus Pike, is perhaps a moot point. But there you are. Anyway.... travellers approaching from Dolgellau (Love Lane, as I recall. Nice touch) should keep their eyes peeled for an obscure right turn servicing the farms of Gellilwyd Fach and Fawr. Continue beyond the latter and park up at Tal y Waen, whereupon a track heads north through the farm yard of Tyn-y-llwyn. This, now a green 'path', of sorts, crosses a stream and sweeps to the left under the inquisitive gaze of grazing ponies seemingly oblivious to the downpour. Or perhaps scornful of the approaching creature so woefully adapted for such conditions? Surely not?

After a short while Craig y Castell/Craig-y-Waun (tack your pick) looms above to the left. The towering profile of the ancient fortress is somewhat disconcerting viewed from below, it has to be said, the steepness of attack putting a noticeable damper upon the previous alacrity of my approach. Hmm. Nevertheless, I follow the left flank of a rather splendid dry stone wall and - eventually - arrive upon the small, craggy summit. As one might have expected from the vernacular. The 'front door' is approached by looping around from the south and is defended by a quite substantial drystone wall... or at least the remains of one... this continuing along the eastern flank in the ubiquitous 'fill in the gaps' style of such upland defensive enclosures. The western flank falls sheer to the cwm below and, together with the northern aspect (supporting a modern wall) would appear to have required little artificial protection back in the day.

The position is wild and inspiring, particularly when the low cloud base, which has been prevalent all week, caresses the hillside with swirling, grey tendrils of opaque moisture. Once again I'm a little overawed until, having ensured I know my way back down again by compass should the clammy embrace becomes more than temporary, I can afford to relax and, basically, do bugger all. As it is the conditions remain in a state of flux, glimpses of the exquisite Mawddach to the north periodically rescinded, only for views toward mighty Cadair Idris to open to the north. To be fair to locals past it is easy to imagine such a landscape being the haunt of otherworldly creatures at times such as this. Woaah! Mind where you're placing those big feet, Mr Idris.

As I ponder 'stuff' (e.g. are giants all in the mind, to be feared, or merely misunderstood gigantic.. sorry, 'size challenged'... creatures possibly taking The Human League a little too seriously?) I decide a visit to the trio of cairns shown on the map below to the south is in order. However I duly abort a direct approach - too many walls - in lieu of returning to the car and heading west at Gellilwyd Fawr. But that's another story.

As for my observations of Craig y Castell? Well... guess it's fair to relate that I was not so much blinded with science as seduced, held in thrall, if you will, by the stark, ethereal beauty of this landscape under such inclement conditions. Poetry? Well, yes, but the more brutal King Lear as opposed to wandering lonely as a cloud, perhaps? Although wandering lonely in a cloud might be more apt, come to think of it. But none the worse for that. And should a nameless rural peasant have, perchance, taken the piss out of a wandering map maker once upon a time.. thanks for the prompt, my friend.

Crugyn-Llwyd (Round Cairn)

Approaching from Domen-ddu, a mile (ish) to the approx south, I find the large, grassy cairn crowning the 1,873ft summit of Crugyn-Llwyd to be far less obvious - topographically speaking - than I had envisaged. Indeed, upon arrival, I'm not at all convinced that Coflein haven't got this one badly wrong (the shame if it - oh me of little faith]. Yeah, all hill and no cairn. Please move along. Nothing to see here. However.... persevere, since, as it happens, this is very far from the case. For although Crugyn-Llwyd has reclaimed its eponymous Bronze Age monument as if clutching it close to its evergreen breast (so to speak) for safe keeping, it is nevertheless very much still here. As it has been for millennia. Hidden in plain sight, one might say. Without doubt the most effective camouflage.

So, following my own advice (for once) I go walkabout around the summit and, upon viewing the apparent monument from various angles, find that the artificial intent underscoring what we have here soon becomes all too obvious, the grass mantle no longer sufficient to deny the insight of a somewhat wonky prehistoric antennae now tuned to more-or-less the correct band width. Hey, just needed warming up a bit. Furthermore, albeit with some not inconsiderable effort, I manage to identify some stone subsumed beneath the turf and thus satisfy any lingering doubts. This one is a 'grower', as they might say. If 'they' were ever to venture up here, of course.

Note that not everything is rosy here. The cairn is unfortunately bisected by a boundary fence. Furthermore, the summit area to the east isn't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing in all Wales. Nevertheless this is a memorable place to be, even when lashed by periodic weather fronts, alternating with washes of golden light. A wild, uncompromising location seemingly divorced from everyday life 'down there' by some currently unquantifiable, additional dimension yet to trouble the scientists. Although to be fair Mr Hawking has probably already considered it. Whatever it is. As if to emphasise this sense of apparent 'other worldliness' a fox comes ambling by... sees the intruder.... tarries a while to check him out... then duly buggers off on his way again with a carefree 'skip' worthy of Father Dougal McGuire. Ha! Nothing to fear from that muppet, methinks...

As with neighbouring Domen-ddu, the west facing vista is quite superb; haunting, even, when perused at length under an ethereal September sky. A suitably expansive panorama for contemplating the sheer nebulosity of any notions of the passing of time, even those within scope of human comprehension. Or something like that. Maybe, on a much baser level, it's just damn beautiful. Inspiring, even?

Pegwn Bach rises to the approx north-north-west surmounted by an obvious - therefore presumably significant - 'Tumulus'. Further 'Cairns', not to mention serried ranks of wind turbines, are visible upon Pegwn Mawr beyond to the north. What with the Fowler's Arm Chair monuments located about a mile to the east it is clear quite a few homo sapiens called hereabouts 'home' back in the day. Yeah, word on the hill is a lot was goin' down back a few mill. Consequently strong walkers, or perhaps those content to spend less time sitting about than I, might consider expanding their itinerary to include the whole lot in one fell swoop?

But then again, in my opinion at least, there is a lot to be said for 'sitting about' upon hill/mountain tops.

Domen-ddu (Cairn(s))

The hills to the north of the Rhayader, lacking the tourist foci of the Elan Valley Reservoirs to the Mid Walian market town's west, may fairly be described nowadays as being 'somewhat off the beaten track'. Nevertheless, rising to as near-as-dammit 2,000ft (1,923ft at Pegwn Mawr) and crowned by numerous Bronze Age cairns, not to mention those enigmatic 'tumuli', this lack of popularity is a veritable blessing for those Citizens Cairn'd willing and able to satiate their curiosity by donning boots. Hey, no incoherent, clueless tourist sightseers to shatter that all important upland vibe with mindless jibber jabber... as Mr T might observe with characteristically unconcealed distain: "Hey crazy fools! This ain't no 'old pile of stones' but the dawn of civilisation! I pity the fool who thinks otherwise!"

However I must confess to knowing nothing of this pleasant state of affairs prior to blundering north upon the B4518, upon experiencing my (hitherto rock solid) resolve to set foot upon the large round barrow at Ty Lettice (SN99026866) blown asunder by ludicrously heavy rain on site. Yeah, 'ludicrous' even for Mid Wales, that is. That'll be bad, then. But here even clouds without silver linings can have beneficial consequences.

So, riding along in my automobile.... with no particular place to go, the day is fast disintegrating into a big, fat nothingness when I'm struck by the impressive escarpment profile to my right as I pass through Pant-y-dwr. Noticing the downpour seemingly having abated I pull over and check the map.... whereupon Crugyn-Llwyd appears to offer a potential solution to Chuck's perennial, not to mention best selling conundrum. But in these conditions? What new lunacy is this? The meteorological ceasefire is maintained as I tentatively navigate the minor roads eastward to park a little south of farm buildings at Garth (where the straight road beyond Bryn Hafod turns sharply to the right to eventually lose its tarmacadam in apparent homage to Owain Glyndwr, near Esgair Fedw). I opt to forgo following in the former Tywysog Cymru's boot steps - if, indeed, yer man ever came this way - instead heading steeply uphill through trees to the south-east... to be seduced, in short order, by a nice, green track to the right of a fence line... retrospectively determined to be heading roughly east instead of the planned north-east. Spying a substantial cairn crowning the high ground some considerable distance across the Rhyd y Clwydau Brook to the south I realise I've gone wrong. As is often the case with my lamentable map reading. However opportunity knocks. Why not visit Domen-ddu and loop around to Crugyn-Llwyd later. If I've got enough puff? It'd be rude not to try, to be fair.

The intervening ground is rough, the monument - in actual fact there are two - occupying the 1,814ft summit of a southern spur, bounded to the east by the forestry-clad flank of Cwm Llygod and to the west by the abrupt line of the escarpment edge. The cairn noted earlier (at SO01697826) is indeed impressive, Coflein citing dimensions of "...23m by 13.1m and 2.3m high..." [J.Wiles 02.08.02]. Furthermore, a little to the north at SO01687828 there is a "..circular, flat-topped mound.... 18.6m in diameter and 1.0m high". Two for the price of one, then.

So, the archaeology here upon Domen-ddu is worth writing home about.... should you happen to have relatives who give a monkey's about old piles of stones and earth set upon obscure Mid Walian hills lashed by the inclement elements of September, that is? OK, not very likely, is it? But technically feasible, I guess. However, as is often the case with these upland monuments, it's where they decided to erect them that truly matters, the real reason to put oneself out to come here. Hey, perhaps some metaphysical force told the Bronze Age architect "Build it and they will come. Albeit it not very many of them." Yeah, the topography is truly special, the sweeping vista westward quite exceptional in my opinion, the vibe equally so. Whether Pumlumon (Herself) is looming upon the far north-western horizon is a moot point since, with temporary cease fire rescinded, multiple weather fronts sweep along the Wye Valley to give me the proverbial periodical pasting. Potential visitors might be interested to learn that, somewhat bizarrely, there is currently a little wooden seat set overlooking the drop to the west. Carpentry? Is there no end to Kevin Costner's talents? Aside from trying to play Robin Hood.

As I sit and contemplate 'stuff' - as I confess I'm apt to do when in these uncompromising environments liable to banish common place notions of everyday existence from my head - Crugyn-Llwyd beckons ever more emphatically to the north. I duly assess the situation... hmm... a small deviation from my return route back to the car. Yeah, guess I don't really have a choice.

Pen y Foel Goch (Cairn(s))

Should the somewhat more adventurous visitors to Ceredigion happen - whether by chance or design - to arrive at the hamlet of Ponterwyd, astride the A44, with a desire to head north... I dare say that, upon pondering awhile (as you do) they may well be tempted to emulate the locals and take the single track 'short cut' across Pumlumon in lieu of the looping, coastal route via Aberystwyth. And why not, since, although by no means endless, the possibilities that will present themselves are nonetheless multiplex, albeit at the mercy of the not infrequently inclement weather? Particularly for a traveller with a megalithically calibrated mind and/or an eye for an inspiring landscape: one, even today, still infused with legend; that subliminal, pseudo-metaphysical condiment forever seasoning the human story. For this is the land of Glyndwr and Taliesin, where almost every summit is crowned by a Bronze Age cairn, as if echoes of mighty deeds literally turned to stone upon the Medusa's searing gaze. Ah, if only these mountains could talk, what tales would they tell, eh? Well, perhaps all is not lost in the mists of time, for listen carefully and Pumlumon really does speak for itself: the 'piping' call of the soaring Red Kite; the cacophony of the nascent Hafren (Severn, Britain's longest river), Wye and Rheidol as they cascade from their lofty sources upon the main ridge following heavy rain; the wind audible in ubiquitous long grass concealing wetlands which once ensured Henry II's knights floundered to their doom...

But what of the green foothills which sweep northward toward Dyffryn Dyfi from Nant-y-Moch, fleetingly glimpsed upon traversing our aforementioned minor road? Surely but a minor diversion before entering the domain of Idris and, on.. er.. somewhat firmer historical ground, Vortigen, Owain Gwynedd and Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, not to mention Edward Longshanks himself? The answer to that is, in every respect, a resounding 'NO'. Firstly, access to the area is far from straightforward, it being necessary to negotiate the descent of Cwm Ceulan to Tal-y-Bont and approach via very minor roads exiting the A487 to the north; secondly, there is simply so much to see... from one of Wales' premier waterfalls (Pistyll y Llyn), Moel y Llyn (with it's very own 'lady of the lake' tale, to Cwm Einion. Ah exquisite Cwm Einion, perhaps better known to the occasional tourist as 'Artist's Valley' owing to formative visits from one JMW Turner and, much more recently, home to a certain Mr Plant who (apparently) was inspired to write 'Stairway to Heaven' here with some other bloke amongst the ancient tilio-acerion native woodland. Furthermore, with almost every hill top once again crowned by a Bronze Age cairn, stone circle or chambered cairn, the Citizen Cairn'd must really take notice...

Which brings me, eventually, to Foel Goch, a seemingly minor coastal hill overlooking the Afon Dyfi as it nears the end of its short journey to the sea from Creiglyn Dyfi, the latter cradled beneath the mighty crags of Aran Fawddwy. I say 'eventually' because I make a farce of the initial approach by car... losing my nerve as I pass Bedd Taliesin and backtracking to the A487 to finally park up, rather sheepishly (appropriately enough in these parts) in a farmyard east of Tre'r-ddol, at Llety-lwydin, Cwm Cletwr, to my mind the only feasible option. Now on foot, the road descends very sharply from here to a T-junction, the right hand selection arriving in due course at a habitation on the left overflowing with free range chickens and other creatures pleasing to the senses. A public footpath sets off to the east ranging above the northern bank of the Afon Clettwr, the initial lush, green pasture giving way to a more coarse, upland domain. That'll be Foel Goch, then.

As usual I haven't done my homework - note to self: don't... it's far more interesting this way - so, having found the 'Cairns' depicted upon my map here, upon the southern flank of the hill/mini mountain, to be less than convincing, I head for the obvious, large cairn crowning the skyline to the north-east. Clearly this must be Pen y Foel Goch. Except, of course, it's nothing of the sort, being in actual fact Carn Wen, a little below and to the west of the summit monument at SN68979274. According to RCAHMW (Dave Leighton, 30/7/12) this, one of numerous 'White Cairns' to be found in Wales measures "13m (N-S) by 17m (E-W), its shape distorted by slippage of material down steep west side of the summit; height 1m-2m." Yeah, it's a pretty substantial cairn... but the compelling reason to come here is the location which, to these eyes, is extraordinary for the relative low altitude. It really is. The stunning Dyffryn Dyfi, its river meandering to its all-inclusive conclusion, takes centre stage... but there is much more: the brooding, central ridge of Pumlumon surmounting the horizon to the south-east, Cadair Idris - with the seriously be-cairned, tautological Tarren Hills to its left - soaring sentinel to the approx north. Things (arguably) get even more interesting nearer to hand, initially just across the Afon Clettwr at Caer Arglwyddes, 'The Lady's Field', where there are a number of cairns, one with impressive cist still in situ visited back in 2012. But why 'The Lady's Field'? Well, according to Dr Gwilym Morus (Welshmythology.com)... "All became clear when I had a conversation with an old lady who’s father had been born at Cae’r Arglwyddes, and according to her the name of the farm refers to a ‘lady of the lake’ folktale about the small lake up on Moel-y-llyn". Things begin to fall into place... since Moel y Llyn, rising due south-east of Carn Wen, possesses a quartet of cairns in addition to its legendary feminine bathing facility.

A short, yet sweet scramble brings me finally to Pen y Foel Goch, featuring a further substantial cairn at SN69519285, that is a little to the approx north-west of the actual summit. Again according to Dave Leighton, this "measures some 10m across, allowing for distortion caused by slippage of material down the steeper west side. Robbing has left the eastern perimeter of the cairn as a grassy ring, its height 0.3m". If anything, the vista to be enjoyed from this monument is even more impressive/expansive than from its neighbour below to the west. The fundamental difference, I guess, is the sight of yet another cairn, upon Cerrig Blaencletwr-Fawr (aka Esgair Foel-ddu) just under a mile distant to the east, beckoning the footsore modern antiquarian onward with its silent siren call. Nevertheless, what with a significant height loss to contend with - all too often the tired hill walker's nemesis - I immediately give up any notion of an attempt today as falling within the 'so near, yet so far' category... only to find my impetuosity, if not curiosity, has decided otherwise and launched me half way down the slope before counter-revolutionary reason can react. Ha! Emotion over reason? Right on!

The intervening terrain is rough, trackless, featuring areas of severe bog. Standard practice for Pumlumon, to be fair. However the cairn is worth the not inconsiderable effort and is again exquisitely sited, this time gazing down into the equally compelling Cwm Einion at SN70779256. Now I've no idea whether Mr Turner made a foray up here - to this very spot - to be similarly entranced by the ever-changing light playing upon the legendary Moel y Llyn to immediate south-east. I doubt it. Hey, perhaps Timothy Spall might know? But if he did, it would explain a lot, methinks... for his work invokes, nay encapsulates the vibe I feel at places such as this. Mr Leighton reckons the much more mundane technical specifics are "11m NE-SW by 9.0m & 0.9m high". Unlike both Foel Goch's cairns Cerrig Blaencletwr-Fawr's monument has unfortunately been defaced, given a hollow centre. The reasoning behind this is even more obscure than the usual 'built by ignorant muppets' since, clearly, no such fool has taken shelter here in a very, very long time, to judge by the presence of a tenacious tree of indeterminate (to me) type occupying the space. Now that, together with the other 'Plant' life formerly found within The Artist's Valley, I can live with. Way to go, my woody stemmed friend! As if to mark the moment.. a rainbow arcs across the valley. Time to leave. Since it is a long way back... and who knows what other legendary idiosyncrasies these unassuming northern 'foot hills' of Pumlumon have up their collective 'sleeves' to bestow upon unsuspecting punters after dark? Hey, perhaps some of the more artistic people associated with this magical area were brave enough to find out? Perhaps.

Carnau, Cwmdeuddwr (Cairn(s))

Now it might be considered paradoxical - in the extreme - to talk of a 'Green Desert of Wales'. Particularly when an already saturated ground simply can not absorb any more of the seemingly incessant torrent of water issuing forth from looming nimbostratus. Nevertheless I understand where that celebrated Welsh raconteur and walker, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, was coming from when he employed the epithet to determine the wild, upland region of Mid Wales between the military domain of Mynydd Eppynt and Pumlumon, doyen of Welsh rivers. Yeah, despite only breeching the 2,000ft criterion in a handful of places, these deceptively brutal hills demand the utmost respect. Paths, where they exist at all, possess the disconcerting habit of luring both the wary and unwary alike into lugubrious bog, the 'industrial strength' grass the very antithesis of terrain suitable for ageing knees and ankles. Tell me about it.

So why do I return again and again to submit myself to such privations? Well, aside from subscribing to the teachings of Marx - Groucho, that is... not the dialectical German, nor his modern far left 'disciples' - and not wishing to belong to a club that would willingly have me as a member, I guess it is because the implied feeling of 'wilderness' here is - arguably - without parallel in all Wales. Even the UK, perhaps? And nowhere is the aura more apparent, for me, than at the highest point of Cwmdeuddwr, the summit ridge of Drygarn Fawr itself, crowned by the remnants of two ancient cairns in turn surmounted by massive, idiosyncratic beehives worthy of association with the soulful jazz canon of Amy Winehouse. Yeah, it was whilst chilling out here last year that I noticed a small cairn below to the east... Carnau... with another a mile or so further north. Duly noted for future reference. Intrigued, it seemed to me there is no end to the Bronze Age sorcery of Mid Wales?

The great reservoirs of Cwm Elan have their southern terminus at Llanerch y Cawr where a restored medieval long house still affords a glimpse of times past... right here in the present. However to briefly shine a light upon an aspect of the human story a little more obscured by the mists of time - and, usually, the aforementioned nimbostratus - it is necessary to don walking boots and follow a track westwards above the access road for Rhiwnant farm, subsequently veering south to head for the exquisite Nant Paradwys. After approx a mile the cascading river is my cue to scramble up the flanks of Esgair Ceiliog to the left (east) in order to visit a fine cairn at SN897599. To be honest this is a more than adequate prime destination; however my curiosity gets the better of me and... well, you know how it is?.... I find myself continuing along the bank of the river toward Bwlch-y-Ddau-Faen upon a path that is, in reality, more stream than anything else.

Bwlch-y-Ddau-Faen - the 'Two Stone Pass' - is an enigmatic place. Assuming wild, windswept moorland a couple of miles from the nearest road is your thang? Firstly there is a natural spring here amongst the peat hags; secondly, a number of standing stones protrude from said peat to varying degrees forming an irregular 'ring', as opposed to 'circle. So why the colloquial reference to 'Two Stones' when there are substantially more than a pair of stones here? As I said, enigmatic place, augmented by a fine, sweeping view toward the Great Escarpment of South Wales dominating the southern horizon. Reassuring to find everything in its right place, so to speak. For what it's worth, I'm tempted to think what we have here is a typical, if disrupted upland Welsh ring. With numerous diminutive orthostats barely breeching the current surface it just feels 'right', you know? It is difficult to hypothesise a satisfactory reason why these tiny stones should otherwise be here. But there you are. All is silent now, almost overwhelmingly so; however the location is significant, the past cacophony of untold drover's agitated cattle seemingly hanging in the wind just out of human audible frequency.

Carnau rises a little further on, the route, somewhat ironically perhaps, marked by a couple of boundary stones clearly of relatively modern genesis. Although not in the same league as its neighbour overlooking the cascades to the north, the cairn, although dishevelled, is substantial enough and, unexpectedly, features an arc of kerbing still in situ. Although, in retrospect, its very isolation is probably to thank for such welcome preservation. With Drygarn Fawr looming to the west and Gorllwyn to the east it soon becomes apparent that, far from being in the middle of 'nowhere' as the map, not to mention my preconceptions suggested, Carnau is in fact an integral piece of the Cwmdeuddwr Bronze Age jigsaw situated close to a main thoroughfare across this landscape. Furthermore, what a wonderful, invigoratingly wild vibe this place possesses! A rarefied, somewhat esoteric atmosphere further amplified by a succession of progressively more brutal weather fronts sweeping along Nant Paradwys. Not everyone's cup of tea, but there you are. Needless to say this contrary Englishman duly satiates his thirst with coffee.

Time marches on toward inexorable darkness ensuring I must all too soon leave and retrace my soggy steps to Llanerch y Cawr, boots long since succumbed to the sheer volume of surface water. Yeah, The Green Desert of Wales is no place to be benighted without shelter. As Vaughan-Thomas would've known only too well.

Trewortha Cairn and Cist

This wondrous site reminded me a lot of the not-too-distant Grim's Grave upon Dartmoor and, although not possessing the latter's exquisitely isolated location, may well top it in terms of sheer aesthetic appeal. You know, I reckon it does.

Looking for a reasonably easy time to recuperate aching limbs pushed to their limit during the previous day's 10 hour walkabout around Brown Willy, Twelve Men's Moor, sexist nomenclature notwithstanding, appears to tick all the boxes. So, in accordance with my 'path of least resistance' game plan, I take the very minor road climbing steeply away to the north-west from the B3254 at Berriowbridge. Having safely negotiated Mr Hamhead's far from inconsequential tarmacadam 'bumps', I park at its terminus and set off on foot, heading very approx west along a bridleway (actually a surfaced track accessing Trewortha Farm). With the serrated skyline of Kilmar Tor rising to the left and Hawk's Tor to my right the scenery is appropriately 'rugged'... 'Cornwall-esque', if you like... as if to compensate for any intrinsic lack of significant height above ordnance datum in the area.

Simply put, there is an awful lot going on here upon Twelve Men's Moor - a plethora it might be said - should one possess a penchant for grassy stone piles, enigmatic, roughly circular arrangements of stone erupting from the earth as if discarded dragon's dentures (should've used fixodent)... and, first up upon my progressive linear agenda today, the utilitarian, yet immeasurably evocative little stone coffin: the cist. Far enough removed from our present time to sever any potentially uncomfortable, lingering connection with the macabre, there is something so inherently, demonstrably 'human' about these structures, their fabric seemingly impervious to the inclement weather of passing millennia... yet their former organic content anything but. As everyone of us knows only too well. This example - at SX252755, a little to the left (south) of the track - is a worthy specimen to represent the genre. Although lacking capstone, it stands exposed within its former cairn and, with settlements and associated field system in close proximity, it is easy - I find - to transcend the notion of a simple 'stone box' and contemplate what might have formed the basis of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of those that lived, farmed and died here at the dawn of our time.

Moving on a little further to the west and, again, to the left of the track, I encounter a small group of cairns (SX250752), one of which is a pretty substantial, grassy mound, another what appears to be a long cairn. Whatever the truth of its origin, the latter is certainly a 'long cairn'; however, as is the case with many cairns, I guess the definitive yes/no regarding prehistoric ancestry will only be attained by way of that excavation which will probably never be scheduled, let alone executed. Incidentally, grave goods including a disintegrating BWM 'key' fob are either indicative of the hitherto unknown exceptional technical prowess of the locals back in the day... or one very pissed off motorist in somewhat more recent times.

So, finally, the pièce de résistance is reached following a short walk across the moor to the approx south-west, passing what is, apparently (well, according to the map) a 'mound'. Albeit a not-very-clear-one obscured with summer vegetation. I'm compelled to say upfront that, in my opinion, this obscure 'Cairn and Cist' is one of the most sublimely pleasing monuments I've had the pleasure to encounter in a long while. Yeah, some sites are so joyous, invoke such a feeling of wellbeing in this traveller as to render categorisation superfluous. And this is such a site. Kerbed-cairn, cairn-circle, cairn and cist? Irrelevant. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say... and every wondrously wobbly orthostat surrounding the cist bears mute testimony to such an assertion today. Assuming one concedes 'mute' to solely relate to audible sound; there are other, non-empirical methods of communication. The combination of cist, cairn, uprights and landscape just 'works', you know? As if the constructors of this monument had an epiphany moment comparable with Da Vinci realising he was onto a winner with this Lisa Gherardini and her wicked smile. Why, even the farmer loudly strimming away like a demented Alan Tichmarsh in the field beyond the track doesn't affect the vibe.

Kilmar Tor rises to the south-east. And, as I relax, drink my coffee and think of 'stuff', it becomes all too clear that in order to complete.. to realise the coda... as Ralf Hütter would insist I should... I must return to the car via that shattered skyline of wonky rock. The main tor is riven with cracks as to threaten immediate, catastrophic collapse. The wind batters my person and prompts a fleeting self diagnostic. Why willingly choose to do this upon a supposed 'rest day'? All I can offer by way of explanation is the invitation to come and walk Kilmar Tor if you are able. Like the superb cairn and other monuments clustered below to the north, Kilmar Tor has what it takes. For me.

Buttern Hill (Cairn(s))

I approach from Bray Down:

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/154482/fieldnotes/bray_down.html

Having not undertaken any homework back in Essex - well, in mitigation I had expected to push on to Land's End following a few days upon Dartmoor, so had no expectation whatsoever of still being upon Bodmin Moor on the penultimate day of the fortnight - I'm not anticipating much from Buttern Hill. Aside from some sweeping views to Rough Tor under very welcome clear conditions... and the chance to 'reverse engineer' the vista enjoyed from Brown Willy three days earlier. Yeah, I do like different perspectives, me.

As usual things don't go to plan; mainly, I guess, because I like to bring along, as it were, a rough artist's sketch in my mind and fill in the detail as circumstances dictate. Either that, or I've an appalling short term memory. One of the two. Anyway, upon leaving the summit of Bray Down I encounter (presumably) the same herd of brooding bovines I met on the way up. None shall pass. Consequently I detour around and forget all about the settlement apparently sited below, instead fording the river - or is it now a stream? - rather more elegantly than earlier in the day. From here, after hanging out with some wild ponies for a short while, 'up' is the only required direction. As I recall Yazz pointed this out, rather emphatically it has to be said, during the late 80's? I think. But then again the longer term memory isn't what it was either nowadays. Anyhow, whatever the correct timeline, her long, 'stompy' legs would've no doubt made far easier work of the grassy pull to the summit of Buttern Hill than mine. But there you are. One must work with what one has got.

As I approach the summit the first of a linear grouping of reasonably well defined cairns comes into view. Not bad at all. What I'm not prepared for is the 'contents' of the primary cairn... a damn well near perfectly preserved example of a cist, complete with fine cap stone slipped back to reveal the interior. Wow! Incoherent thoughts flash into my brain, which, sort of summarised, I guess relate to the wonder of finding something such as this standing more-or-less intact after all these millennia. Or something like that. OK, the location, the topography, isn't quite as fine - in my opinion - as that occupied by the western cairn upon Bray Down from whence I've just come... but you simply can't argue with archaeological quality such as this, even with the associated cairn being reduced to a grassy ring delineating the monument.

Er, except it seems that you can. It is therefore with a high degree of irony that I have to endure a pair of ramblers, suddenly appearing like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, do just that, loudly 'debating' over my head what this could possibly be? A kennel, a sheep shelter, perhaps? Thankfully they are soon gone. Now whether the catalyst for accelerating the action was the pungent odour of sheep hanging in the air... or me apparently not going anywhere soon - odd man that I am - is probably a moot point. Anyhow, the trade mark Bodmin Moor 'utter silence' is resumed and Buttern Hill lives again in the imagination, if only for a short while. What price a couple of Bronze Age people somehow turning up in lieu of the now departed ramblers? Ha, dream on. So I do until advancing time dictates I must leave and return to the car.

Yeah, both Bray Down and Buttern Hill are fine objectives for the TMA'er in their own right. However a walk combining the two, in my opinion, might just well be one of Bodmin Moor's unexpected gems.

Bray Down (Cairn(s))

Now, since I'm not in the habit of adding to the physical burden that is my already way-too-heavy rucksack with a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary - nor, I have to admit, Apple's apparently 'wondrous' device, so subjecting my movements to the scrutiny of GHQ - I'm not privy to the official definition of 'idyllic'. Not even sure I've spelt it correctly, to be honest. But no matter, since, whatever the selection made by Dr Johnson's scholarly successors, I'd suggest the following would suffice nicely: "Where the Penpont Water is forded by the Bothwick-West Carne road, Bodmin Moor". Yeah, this is quite some spot to begin my last day in Cornwall. Not so much 'chocolate box', as, upon having eaten both layers of Terry's All Gold, finding a third beneath within a TARDIS-like confectionary dispensary.

A track heads southward, well sort of, following the right hand (western) bank of the water course, Bray Down, a perceived hint of cairn at the apparent summit, rising to my left. The route becomes progressively more boggy in short order, prompting thoughts of crossing sooner rather than later... or perhaps more to the point, why didn't I set off along the left hand bank, muppet? Sure enough, the terrain soon degenerates into a quagmire and it takes all my not-very-copious reserves of ingenuity to find a way across dryshod. Giggity, indeed. Nevertheless, once across, a short, rough ascent brings me to the summit, much to the apparent bemusement of some cows. Well, it is hard to tell. Might have simply been bovine indifference.

The summit of Bray Down is crowned by - in my opinion anyway - a trio of cairns. OK, only the western-most is particularly upstanding nowadays... but the survival of an arc of large kerb stones is more than enough supplementary detail to compensate for the assumed robbing of its near neighbours. As Mr Hamhead notes, exposed natural outcropping can be seen within the cairn, prompting deliberations as to whether this was intentional, symbolic, or utilitarian in nature. Or just plain lazy. Or damn clever. Whatever the truth, a truth now forever lost in the ever receding depths of time, this is a great cairn with excellent views across Bodmin Moor and, nearer to hand, within sight of a nice little logan stone. As for the other two monuments.. the middle, bearing an OS trig pillar, is ravaged but clearly rather substantial back in the day... whilst the eastern is substantially overgrown, of no great height, but nonetheless displaying a not inconsiderable footprint.

Furthermore, a triumvirate of upland cairns, unlike people, doesn't make a crowd; rather an appropriate environment generating a vibe imploring the visitor to plonk oneself down and partake of possibly upland Cornwall's greatest resource: utter silence. A revolutionary act, perhaps, in an era of information overload arguably reaching critical mass. Yeah, Robespierre and the other Jacobin nutters might not have approved, but there you are. Of more concern is the abundance of aerial insects in the immediate vicinity of the western cairn. Or, more specifically, their identity. Well, seeing as ancient cairns are, in my experience (not to mention the Mam C's) prime locations for bees to establish a hive, one has to take these things seriously. Fortunately the creatures are particularly noisy flies. Annoying, but without a sting in the tail, so to speak.

Lazing in the sun upon Bray Down (don't you just love the inconsistencies of the English language?) - particularly following the flash floods experienced earlier in the week - is a great way to spend a few hours. However eventually Buttern Hill calls from across the valley. Time to complete the walk:

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/10341/buttern_hill.html

Cox Tor (Cairn(s))

The concluding afternoon of a fortnight's deliberations in the far west country duly arrives... and with it, that curious, emotional juxtaposition of muted acceptance of the party's imminent end with the warm, still glowing embers of time well spent. Such ambiguous, inconclusive moods perhaps should not be conducive to rousing finales, even accepting that sitting around upon hill tops doing, frankly, not a lot, could be considered 'rousing' by most. However, as chance would have it, Cox Tor plays host to just such an event today. For me. Well, it's a personal thing.

The portents are not good when, following a memorable morning at the isolated Ingra Tor my megalithic antennae, fine tuned by a fortnight in the field, duly overload upon arrival at what can only be described as a massive, and furthermore full car park below and to the south of the tor; that is, at the point where the B3357 begins a steep descent toward Tavistock. What is this all about, then? Bemused, I watch punters of all shapes and sizes, seemingly attired for the pleasantries of the beach, disgorge from vehicles to head northwards across the gently undulating hillside toward the unseen summit above and beyond. Subconsciously looking for a reason to opt out, not to join the merry throng, I check the map once more, only to reaffirm that, according to the wondrous OS people anyway, Cox Tor is indeed crowned by several 'Cairns' depicted in that beguiling, 'antiquarian' typeface. Guess it would be rude not to, then.

To call the ascent short and straightforward is pretty much like saying, "come to think of it, the bloke with the moustache and hat in Frankie didn't do a lot, did he?" Consequently it's positively affirming to find that, upon arrival, the summit of Cox Tor is a wild, rock strewn, uncompromisingly brutal place. With extra wind and cold to send my poorly clad fellow punters heading back to their cars in short order. Dartmoor-esque, you might call it. In fact there is so much loose rock surrounding the summit outcrop that, at first, the penny doesn't drop that here we have another fine example of perhaps that most enigmatic of West Country prehistoric monuments... the tor cairn. OK, I know the stone row is Dartmoor's signature feature; but, for me, there is just something SO primeval about (apparently) venerating the living rock itself.

As it is, however, the sight of a fine, round cairn a little way to the immediate north has me hurrying away to take a look and, concurrently, take in the wider views. It is a pretty hefty stone pile, perched upon the northern edge of another, lesser outcrop and with expansive views to all point of the compass save the south, that being reserved, as you would expect, for the ever more intriguing summit. Looking north-east the landscape is vintage Dartmoor, seemingly desolate, featureless moor... but in reality packed with prehistoric treasures, tangible reminders of the people who once called Langstone Moor and its environs 'home': a stone circle, numerous cairns, cists, monoliths... hey, even a hill fort crowning White Tor. Looking west the visitor has no need to attempt to reconcile such apparent ambiguities, a series of patchwork fields leading the eye toward Cornwall and the mysterious, rolling hills of Bodmin Moor. But that's another, wondrous story.

After sitting out a brief, yet violent weather front, I check out another, apparently less well defined cairn a little further to the approx north to find it appears to be a pretty substantial ring cairn - as opposed to robbed round cairn? Perhaps not. An extended walkabout highlights at least one additional small cairn before, gazing across to White Tor and its tor cairns, I - finally - make the connection. Returning to the summit crags, now in brilliant sunshine, the surrounding girdle of shattered rock is obvious, in retrospect. Duh! The summit area is way, way too small to have been a habitable defended enclosure, so I have no doubt that something rather splendidly incomprehensible to my modern thinking - for better or worse - was going on back in the day.

Yeah, clearly Cox Tor was a significant member of the canon of Dartmoor's upland sites back then. What is also certain is that it is the perfect locale to end a fortnight in the west. When something promising so little ends up delivering so much one can only shrug one's shoulders and go with the flow...

Carn Wen (Gwastedyn) (Cairn(s))

Travellers heading south upon the A470 - or at least those with a tendency to, perchance, lift their eyes above the horizontal plane - will note, upon leaving the limits of the busy town of Rhayader, a substantial ridge dominating the skyline. This is Gwastedyn Hill, and, although rising to no more than c1,565ft, the 'summit' is conspicuously crowned by a neat 'beehive' cairn of the type so beloved by visitors to the erstwhile 'wilder', more inaccessible heights of Cwmdeuddw feeding the famously nearby Elan Valley Reservoirs with their not inconsiderable watery excess. However, appearances, as are often the case, are deceptive here, for no Bronze Age VIP was interred upon that rocky spine. Indeed, a rusting iron lattice-work 'beacon', set upon a post beside the cairn, commemorates a much more recent event... that of Queen Elizabeth II's 1977 Jubilee. An event which this then proto-Modern Antiquarian spent dressed as a pirate... well, as the wondrous Mr Ant said, 'ridicule is nothing to be scared of'... attending the local street party, whilst Mr Rotten and his dodgy cohorts had their collars 'felt' by the Thames river police. And Rod Stewart apparently got to No.1. Apparently. Don't get me wrong; The Pistols were just stupid kids.... but out of the mouths of babes, as they say. Curious how 'criminality' is sometimes defined, isn't it?

Nevertheless should one decide to park up just beyond the sewage works (on the right) and follow the (unsigned) public bridleway, steeply up through trees beside a tumbling stream in the general direction of Bwlch-y-llys, an equally taxing pull up the bare north-west flank of the hill will bring ample reward in a fantastic panorama to all points of the compass. Here the Royalist can drink his/her fill... the prehistorian, however, must head to the true summit of the hill some way to the approx south-east, where.... well, to be honest I don't think anyone's been able to define just what the hell is going on.

Two things, however, are apparent to me today: the remains of a substantial cairn still stand at SN98686614... the Carn Wen (White Cairn), one of a number so named in the extended locality; and secondly, the inclement weather, the peripheral effects of Hurricane Irma no doubt, is certainly in no hurry to leave. But what can you do? Except offer heartfelt 'thanks' to the wondrous institutions of Berghaus and Karrimor for the blessings of their waterproof garments. Not so much in physical genuflection, you understand?.... but such a posture does have much to recommend it when faced with rain seemingly not in obeyance of the laws of physics.

In my opinion Carn Wen is worthy of the honour of such personalised nomenclature. As Coflein duly notes, it features "...the remains of a substantial bouldered kerb and a possible cist". Always welcome features to find associated with one's upland cairn. Furthermore, to seal the authenticity deal, as it were, "A battle-axe, a bracelet and some other relics' were recovered in 1844 and a large erect stone was noted at the centre of the monument". So, clearly, what we have here is but the shattered remnants of what once was. But it is enough. Large, erect stones notwithstanding. However there is more... apparently much more, for immediately to the approx north-west stands the circular 'Druid's Circle' feature, currently interpreted as "a roundhouse and enclosure" (at SN98676615), whilst to the north-east, three further cairns have been recorded by CPAT. None of this detail was obvious to me, I have to confess. Although, in mitigation, lashing, freezing rain and swirling hill fog do tend to adversely affect observation. If not authentic upland vibe.

After a couple of hours the weather's onslaught finally triumphs over my resolve and I descend back to the car... ironically in brilliant sunshine. Yeah, Gwastedyn Hill is a curious place. Just what an apparently prehistoric 'enclosure' is doing immediately adjoining a bone fide summit burial cairn is, of course, open to much debate. If Iron Age, perhaps it was indeed - for once - actually associated with those enigmatic Druid priests, holding ceremonies with meaning now lost in the mists of time, if no longer, thanks to penetrating sun, opaque mists of H20?

Cnoc na Moine (Chambered Cairn)

Popularity is relative; however it's nevertheless probably fair to say that the environs of The Kyle of Durness feature pretty highly upon the itineraries of most visitors to far north-western Scotland. And not without good reason: the coastal scenery is exquisite, particularly striking when a low, late Spring sun blurs demarcation between hillside, sandbank and water with washes of golden light bordering upon sheer ostentation.

What might not be so obvious to passing motorists restricted to widescreen panoramas is the fact that such scenic splendour was (or so it would appear to me) specifically chosen as the necessary backdrop to a myriad funerary cairns erected by the first peoples to call the locale 'home', monuments which still remain, in varying degrees of preservation, clustered either side of the A838 coastal road. Unlike assemblages of similar cairns - cemeteries, if you will - to be found in many other areas of these Isles, gaunt stone piles standing in enigmatic profile against the skyline... those to the south-west of Durness are seemingly shy to the point of reclusion. Even when in plain sight. Some, I like to think, offer a sublime, harmonious juxtaposition of monument and landscape, a glorious summation of just why I do what I do.

One such was only discovered... or rather 're-discovered'... by those wondrous OS people during field investigations as recently as 1960, obscured by peat upon the low rise of Cnoc na Moine. Following a 1972 visit, the indefatigable Audrey Henshall classified the monument as "The heavily robbed remains of an Orkney-Cromarty round cairn with a polygonal chamber". The description is succinct since not a great deal of cairn material remains in situ, it being the substantial orthostats of the surviving chamber which impress, their squat solidity evoking a notion of timelessness, a reference point, perhaps, in a world seemingly accelerating uncontrollably toward cyber information overload. (Although no doubt some pioneers of The Industrial Revolution had similar concerns about their own 'Great Leap Forward'). I was expecting a lot less 'chamber' and more 'cairn', to be honest; but happily settle for the inverse. Happily.

The chambered cairn doesn't sit at the modest outcropping summit of Cnoc na Moine, rather a little way below to the approx west. The summit itself is crowned by a ring - perhaps 'stone arrangement' is a more apt descriptor - not depicted upon the map, but clearly of human agency (Canmore cites this as a 'Kerbed Cairn'). The splendid profiling as seen from the chambered cairn is perhaps instructive? Furthermore another Kerbed Cairn is located beside the southern shore of Loch Caladail to the east, this furnished with a similar aspect of the summit. The assumption that both monuments were in some way subsidiary to - or at least associated with - the summit is arguably pretty cohesive.

So... the archaeology to be found secreted away upon and around Cnoc na Moine is somewhat extensive, not to mention impressive. The same can be said about the fabulous, contrasting views. The brutally rugged heights of Beinn Ceannabeinne and Meall Meadhonach dominate the near eastern horizon, despite relatively modest elevations, but it is the aforementioned, magnificent seaward vista - particularly when viewed from the chambered cairn - which, for me, is the crowning glory here, the gaze irrevocably drawn across the shining waters of the Kyle of Durness... toward Cape Wrath itself. A timeless view worthy of a timeless viewpoint.

I don't believe the chambered cairn of Cnoc na Moine can be readily seen from roadside. Consequently travellers willing to ascend the short distance for a personal audience should pretty much be guaranteed just that. A spot to hang out in solitude for a while without, as George Eliot memorably said "feeling obligated to look serious".

Loch Eriboll (Round Cairn)

Like most visitors to the far north-west of mainland Scotland, I guess, the great Loch Eriboll - arguably one of Scotland's most enigmatic sea lochs - has erstwhile featured as a rather extensive (c10 mile long) watery backdrop to the approach to Durness, the town (in season at least) a bustling focal point for those enjoying the superb coastal scenery this exquisite corner of Sutherland has to offer. In abundance.

This year, however, I manage to infuse a degree of structure to my wide-eyed wanderings, somehow finding myself in the position to allocate a full day to traverse the A838 between Tongue and the southern extremity of The Kyle of Durness... the proviso that I camp at the latter notwithstanding. Furthermore, in stark contrast to my last venture two years back, the generally inclement Scottish weather is anything but, a golden glow announcing a more-or-less cloudless dawn at my camp near Loch Hakel, what vapour there is smothering Ben Loyal, the mountain appearing as if immersed in whipped cream. So, following a glorious diversion along the eastern shore of Loch Hope, an almost impossibly blue Loch Eriboll beckons beyond Ard Neackie as the A838 swings south. Hey, it would be rude not to stop this time, particularly seeing as the chances of encountering such conditions again are pretty slim, it has to be said.

Passing Eilean Choraidh - apparently used by the Norse of yore as a burial ground (it appears 'Loch Eriboll' is derived from the Norse meaning “home on a gravely beach”) - I park beneath the imposingly rocky flank of Creag na Faoilinn overlooking the loch to the south. Unlike eagle-eyed TMA-er Carl, I can't positively identify the cairn from roadside, so head for the eastern side of Lochan Havurn, before veering to the right. The going is rough - very much so - with intermittent bog to make things more, er, interesting. In retrospect it's no doubt easier to approach via the house at Foulin (there's a souterrain to see nearby as well, if that's your bag). But there you are... whatever route is taken the cairn, upon arrival, will be found to be a beauty of the type.

Small, but perfectly formed... and, as far I could tell, apparently inviolate (?)... this is an excellent, unassuming monument. The setting is exquisite for a lowland cairn (let's face it, it can't really get any lower), the vast expanse of Loch Eriboll, stretching away to the northern horizon, contrasting vividly with the towering crags of Creag na Faoilinn to landward. Hey, if visiting punters can manage to vacate their Bronze Age perch there's even a personal beach close at hand. As it is I prefer the former, an ideal spot to relax, drink coffee and chuckle at the antics of the numerous 'themed tourer groups' (Porsches, Harley Davidsons, brand new, shiny 4x4s etc) passing by in convoy upon the A838, the relative proximity of the road somewhat paradoxically accentuating the splendid isolation of the monument. Such is the idyllic perfection of the scene it almost beggars belief to recall that Eilean Choraidh was used as a target practice proxy for the infamous German battleship Tirpitz during the war... and that Loch Eriboll has been a surrogate home for Royal Navy - as well as Merchant Navy - groups on numerous occasions, thanks to the deepness of its water.

Such is the vibe I could've stayed all day... but there is so much more to see beyond Durness. Yeah, tell me about it.

Clach an Righ (Stone Circle)

Following a day spent wandering the (arguably) somewhat bleak, intimidatory (at least under massive leaden skies), indubitably wet landscape of Badanloch, an evening sojourn within Clach an Righ's forestry clearing appeared to offer an appropriate, conciliatory contrast before settling down for the night... or at least what passes for 'night' in these far northern outlands in late May. Now although I'm aware that "To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect"... or at least according to the splendidly caustic brain of Mr Wilde... I'd contest a somewhat pragmatic disposition based upon practical experience - I'd hesitate to call it cynicism - is probably nearer the mark in my case.

Whatever the source of this personal stoicism - damn it to blazes when all I want is an easy life - it is once again soon put to practical use. Yeah, upon arriving at the expected footbridge shown crossing the River Naver (immediately opposite the stone circle) on the current 1:25K map... said bridge is nowhere to be seen. No sign of debris, nothing. Troll hunters please take note. Nothing to see here.... move along please. Which is what stone circle seekers must also do, heading north on the B873 to Ceann-na-coille where successive wooden suspension bridges - for, please note, 'the exclusive use of local fishermen' - afford access to the far bank of the river, via an islet. Making the - perhaps unfounded - assumption that said 'sportsmen' would not begrudge my passage, my relief at remaining dry-shod is immediately tempered by the realisation that an unclimbable deer fence comprehensively bars access to the forestry track beyond. So, no early evening stroll, then, but a rough, soggy trek along the river bank in the face of a sustained cacophony from the bloody dog across the water. After almost a mile (I think, maybe less) a stile is finally forthcoming, and, eventually, the forestry clearing bearing stone circle. Not before time, too.

Despite just the two stones remaining upright, Clach an Righ proves well worth the effort. For me this is, in no small way, due to the manner in which the now fallen stones preserve the integrity of the ring, maintaining its circumference, its inherent symmetry. Furthermore they - erect and prostrate monoliths alike - are beautiful specimens, still surrounding a low, grassy cairn of some former VIP; presumably not 'our Harald', as old man Steptoe might have said, but someone laid to rest (in whatever form) at a much earlier date. In fact the impression I have is that Clach an Righ more resembles an Irish site than Scottish... something akin to Ardgroom, perhaps?.. which is certainly a favourable comparison, indeed.

An information board provides visitors - should any happen to pass this way following the removal, by natural causes or otherwise, of the former bridge - with a precis of the events responsible for generating such stirring local legend... the towering treeline, shifting audibly in the breeze, somehow synonymous with the last resting place of great warriors of yore; if not stricken, dying men crying out for their mothers with last gasps of humanity. Whether those apparently nearby 'clearance cairns' did, in fact, once protect such battlefield casualties from the opportunistic attentions of wild animals is perhaps a moot point. For the shattered, yet still haunting monument of Clach na Righ continues to mark the passing of one enigmatic local millennia ago.

Conditions upon the ground may not be at all favourable nowadays and, owing to the unforeseen trek, I reach the car exhausted, nearing dusk, thus necessitating a wild camp overlooking Loch Naver. However there was something about Clagh an Righ I really liked. Couldn't quite define what it was, to be honest. Which is no doubt part of the appeal.

Cnoc Molach, Badanloch Forest (Stone Row / Alignment)

As with the excellent kerbed cairn of Carn Glas standing, unseen upon its hillside, a half mile or so to the south-east, the motorist traversing the B871 would be unlikely, in the extreme - even if he/she also happened to have assumed membership of that rather idiosyncratic club of Modern Antiquarians - to halt and explore the low ridge of Cnoc Molach... if it wasn't for the extraordinary actions of those, past and present, responsible for annotating our maps with references to 'burnt mounds', 'hut circles', 'field systems' 'cairns' and, perhaps most intriguing of all, 'stone rows'. So thank you Ordnance Survey for helping me to assuage, temporarily at least, this almost amaranthine state of curiosity I appear to possess.

I pull off the road a little north of the Badanloch Burn and, overcoming a momentary hesitation - courtesy of my spiritual guardian John le Mesurier's customary 'Do you think this is wise' admonition (much better than an angel, I find) - I advance westward across the very wet, rough moorland to the low summit of Cnoc Molach, the ubiquitous, tussocky grass here giving way to outcropping rock. The outlook is expansive, the watery aspect maintained, albeit in a much purer, infinitely more attractive form than the soggy, eastern flanks, the extensive contents of Loch Badanloch leading the eye toward a horizon diffused by distant hill tops.. not to mention the occasional mountain summit, too. However stone rows are very much conspicuous by their absence.

Descending to the south-west(ish) I'm still none the wiser until, suddenly, protruding through the peaty surface like (thankfully) misfiring versions of Cadmus's dragon's teeth, there they are. A couple of reasonably sized stones notwithstanding, these monuments - or is it a single monument? - are distinctly underwhelming in physical stature, the layout not at all clear... four, maybe five rows?; indeed one wonders how many more diminutive orthostats still stand subsumed within the moor. If buried stuff can be said to 'stand', that is? I'm left with the impression that this was very much a 'no frills' working landscape, tailored to the specific ritualistic needs of the community which called Cnoc Molach home back in the day. The people who, I assume, lived within the hut circles which still stand overlooking the loch... and tended the surviving field system, buried their VIP(s) within the nearby cairn? Anyhow, according to those wondrous OS people:

[Upon the] "SW-facing moorland slopes of Cnoc Molach within an area of hut circles and field system is a group of at least five incomplete stone rows. They are aligned from NNE to SSW, converging slightly towards the uphill NNE side. A total of twenty eight stones can be identified Visited by OS (N K B) 26 April 1977"

I go walkabout upon Cnoc Molach, noting numerous examples of the aforementioned hut circles and cairns, clearance or otherwise. As I do so, pausing at one particularly large hut circle to reflect - a hall circle, perhaps? - I become acutely aware of the all pervading, almost eerie silence, an overwhelming sense, perhaps, of 'what went before' irresistibly seeping into the present? Hey, maybe this isn't as daft as it sounds... is it possible that placing yourself in such positions may retrieve or trigger memes (for want of a better word) buried deep within the shared human consciousness? Guess Richard Dawkins might have a view on that.

The former community of Cnoc Molach, therefore, is not somewhere to come to be blown away by awesome feats of human constructive endurance, to see exquisitely shaped monoliths defining a pioneering culture. In my opinion it transcends all that, great as all that may be, instead perhaps offering an opportunity to be a little more self-indulgent. A suitable environment, the 'space' to ponder who we are vis-à-vis who we used to be?

Plas Curig (Cairn(s))

Dismissed by the only previous poster, I hereby suggest this idiosyncratic cairn is in need of reappraisal by Citizens Cairn'd travelling to the Snowdonian heartlands...

Yeah, despite having been the unfortunate recipient of several, large rogue boulders - presumably field clearance from times unspecified (let's face it, Wales has a lot of those to choose from) - and featuring the criminal presence of embedded industrial polythene, this monument confounded my expectations, such as they were nearing dusk on a seriously overcast evening of gale force winds.

The cairn is reached by a short, yet splendid ascent through woodland above the old school house of Capel Curig. In fact the public footpath is seemingly served by a handy car-park... unfortunately this is not actually the case, a sign stating rather pedantically that said enclosure is a private facility for the exclusive (get that) use of visitors to the Community Hall, or such like. Presumably so fine, upstanding members of the 'community' can discuss how the community is manifestly - not to mention disgracefully - failing to protect Capel Curig's ancient heritage from damage by local inhabitants? Hmm. Needless to say they probably have far more important items upon the agenda. I wonder what they could be?

Nevertheless the rugged Snowdonian landscape transcends all, particularly when, in a state of agitated turmoil, its Turner-esque attributes never fail to overwhelm my senses. Such is the case as I break the forestry line and, veering to the immediate left, realise an hour is not going to be anywhere near enough. The setting is exquisite, Moel Siabod towering above to the south-west, Crimpiau presaging the rise to the Creigiau Gleision and the high Carneddau to the north; and the lights of Plas y Brenin twinkling away in the ever growing gloom. Wind violently agitates the foliage, likewise the captivated traveller, rendering photography more a matter of luck than judgement. And then - a point worth mentioning, I'd have thought? - there's the more-or-less intact cist still in situ amongst significant cairn material, the latter arranged to incorporate natural outcropping to a degree I don't think I've witnessed before. In fact such is its regularity I have to admit I'm not sure whether some of this initially assumed naturally occurring rock is not artificially placed? Either that, or the architects of this tomb possessed an appreciation of the landscape far in advance of supposed enlightened moderns such as myself. Mmm. Maybe I'll go with the latter? Yeah... as the lovely Marsheaux girls said... 'Figure it out'.

So, what's not to like? Ah, yes... the embedded industrial polythene waste. Can't blame tourists here, my friends. The fault lies much closer to home. Remove this and - in my opinion - Capel Curig will once again possess an absolutely first class prehistoric monument. Set the record straight. Hey, perhaps the local community might wish to decease biting the hand that feeds and do something of worth to future generations? Just a thought....

Carn Glas, Badanloch Hill (Kerbed Cairn)

Having once again found myself powerless to resist the bleak, idiosyncratic allure of Caithness, however that may be defined - the call of the wild perhaps.. a primeval meme roused sleepily from the subconscious as if by a sudden jolt to the roosting song birds' tree? - dawn sees me studiously studying my vintage map beneath the sweeping façade of Ben Uarie standing sentinel overlooking Glen Loth. The intention is to plan my onward route to Glen Naver, to ensure stony opportunities are taken; however, like the child frantically attempting to avoid the waiting teacher's censure, the outcome is rather haphazard, with only 'Carn Glas', depicted in that wondrous 'antiquarian script' of old, suggesting a worthwhile break near Loch Badanloch. Yeah, there's nothing like last minute homework; particularly when 'home' is currently such a fluid concept.

Newcomers to the area, in my experience one of the most densely populated - in terms of sheer volume of chambered cairns, brochs etc - in all Scotland, will find a myriad of options to the south, east and west of the small hamlet of Kinbrace. As it is, my decision making faculties are not held to account. Yeah, having sampled these megalithic delights a few years previously I'm more-or-less just passing through, heading west upon the B871 beneath the mighty stone pile of Carn Richard, following the sinuous River Helmsdale back to its source, Loch Badanloch. The landscape possesses - in my opinion - a paradoxical grandeur. A distant skyline featuring Ben Hope (Scotland's most northerly Munro) and the wondrous Ben Loyal notwithstanding, the hills, generally speaking, do not attain any significant elevation. Consequently it is the vastness of the sky, complemented by a notable body of surface water, which affirms the perception that these are, indeed, The Highlands. However I sense a certain aura of melancholia here, a feeling inherent within that perhaps here is somewhere non-locals such as myself will never be able to truly comprehend, regardless of return visits.... to always be 'passing through'?

Needless to say other factors can influence vibe, impact upon the vagaries of human psychology, affect the mood of a man stripped of the familiar reference points of the city, albeit voluntarily. Such catalysts are in evidence at the first site of the day, the great kerbed cairn of Carn Glas. Extolling the benefits of doing a little homework - assuming hanging out upon bleak Sutherland hills for a while is your idea of fun - the monument does not announce its presence from the B871, at least to the casual glance. There is no substantial stone pile looming enigmatically above here. Rather it is a feature as mundane as a cattle grid, set within the tarmac, which alerts me to what lies incognito to the left of the elevated tree line. As I make the short ascent I pass a wooden hut, the hill side beyond liberally coated with colourful inorganic material. Sadly, I reckon I know what it is.

Little remains of the cairn itself, set at a slight downward facing angle as if - somewhat ironically now - designed to present its interior to the former settlement below... however the retaining kerb is very much in evidence, seemingly almost intact. Indeed the impression is more that of a proto-stone circle (such as to found at Carrowmore across The Irish Sea) than mere demarcation of a now more-or-less lost cairn. According to the Ordnance Survey, way back on 18th February 1977:

"It is 12.8m N-S by 13.4m and is extensively robbed, remaining more or less only in a fairly complete retaining kerb of contiguous boulder-slabs 0.4m high; the little left of body infill has been added to by later stone debris. OS (J M)"

The monument's positioning, set upon Badanloch Hill overlooking the eponymous loch, is expansive to the west and, particularly this morning with some nice cloud definition pleasing the eye, to the north-west whence the traveller's gaze is drawn toward Cnoc Molach's (apparent) stone rows and extensive settlement. Clearly what initially appeared to me such an empty, spartan landscape is - or at least was - anything but. A landscape formerly supporting a full on community. My itinerary, such as it is, is quickly assigned to history, shot to pieces, you might say?

The term is unfortunately prescient, the causation the appearance of a herd of deer approaching to check me out from the summit of the hill. The function of the little hut below me becomes clear, supposition subsequently confirmed upon further investigation. Yeah, Badanloch Hill is where intrepid individuals come to shoot. Some to blast defenceless creatures with guns prior to returning to the comfortable environs of Badanloch Lodge. A once thriving prehistoric community now substituted for, well. I believe the term is devolution? Needless to say I couldn't think of anything worse than to slaughter for fun, for sport... not for food. But there you are. Should you wish to avoid the company of such individuals it would appear, at least according to the Badanloch Lodge web page, that 'the hind stalking season' dates from October the 21st to February the 15th. Just so you know.

However don't let this detract from the worth of this fabulously obscure site. Well worth stopping off when driving cross-country to the coast... and resulting from probably one of the most useful bits of homework I've undertaken.

Ardnadam (Chambered Cairn)

Standing overlooking Holy Loch, an aesthetically pleasing north-westerly protuberance of The Firth of Clyde, I've been wanting to visit this particular Adam's Grave for some years now. Hey, seems bits of the poor, fabled sucker must have been interned all over the place back in the day. But there you are; that's what you get for crossing Yahweh. Or rather parasitical priests making a living out of superstition and ignorance. However the site has hitherto proved difficult to fit into a practical Gladman route heading north to The Highlands... until I find myself on the way to Bute this year.

The weather conditions are not ideal. I understand the small craft pootling up and down the loch below were, once upon a time - up until 1992, anyway - subject to accompaniment by the menacing presence of nuclear submarines of the US Navy, no doubt with Denzil Washington or, if you were really unlucky, Gene Hackman at the helm? Guess we've Mr Gorbachev to thank for that no longer being the case... although the way Putin's going, who knows what the future might bring? Anyway, such is the torrential downpour this afternoon that a megalithically-inclined traveller may be forgiven for casting envious glances at occupants of distant marine craft. At least of the surface variety. However since I'm finally here it would be pretty dumb not to grasp the opportunity, taking the minor right hand turn (heading south on the main A885) just before the school to park up near a (signposted) picnic site.

Lacking boat, I set off on foot following the road north westwards past some waterworks (yeah, very funny) whilst noting the monument, beyond to the right, standing proud upon a hillside seemingly devoted to matters of an exclusively equine nature. The field gate is unfastened, fences 'step over-able'.... the Clyde cairn (how could it be anything else sitting here?) sublime, well worth both the effort and the protracted wait. The cap stone, worn at a jaunty angle like all the best chambers, is a weighty slab of rock complemented by a pair of equally substantial portals. The overall impression is that of reassuring solidity, of being built to last which, needless to say, it has. The outlook toward the aforementioned Holy Loch is, for me, an integral part of an ethereal, multi-faceted vibe which seemingly hangs in the atmosphere like the mist threatening to subsume nearby woodland. Hey, even in a teeming downpour. I also think it is a stony sculpture of the highest merit.

Interestingly, as the Misc post states, the chamber was apparently the location of matrimonial rites in times gone by, thereby emphasising the significance attached to the site in local lore. Whatever other-worldly, metaphysical 'authority' was thought to reside here - whether or not Saint Munn had a say in matters is probably a moot point - clearly it was something not to be countermanded lightly.

Succinctly put, the monument that still resides here above the Holy Loch is - and always has been - a commanding presence within this landscape. A great place to be.
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Hi, I'm Robert ... aka Citizen Cairn'd. I've a passion for attempting to understand the lives of the pioneering prehistoric inhabitants of these British Isles, seeking out the remains they left behind in order to ask myself "why here ... why did it matter so... why such commitment?". Needless to say I'm still pondering such intangibles. Just as an empty house appears to retain echoes of past humanity... so does the stone circle, the chambered cairn, the long barrow and the mountain top funerary cairn. Visiting them, I think, helps engender a certain 'connection' with this land of ours, with ourselves - our past, our present and our future; a reference point for those of us perhaps struggling to make sense of this so-called 'computer world' Kraftwerk warned us was a'coming in 1981.... danke, mein herren.

George Orwell - '...during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act'....

Martin Gore - 'Like a pawn
On the eternal board
Who’s never quite sure
What he’s moved towards
I walk blindly on'

Truman Capote - 'Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour'.

John Lydon - 'It is a reward to be chastised by the ignorant'.

Winston Churchill - 'KBO'.

My TMA Content: