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Mynydd-y-Castell (Hillfort) — Images (click to view fullsize)

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Mynydd-y-Castell (Hillfort) — Miscellaneous

The low, coastal hills stretching between Maesteg and Port Talbot are crowned by a number of ancient earthworks/enclosures of which this, to my mind, is certainly the finest... a powerful, univallate hill fort overlooking what is now Margam Country Park.

J.Wiles (11.12.02) reckons it is: "A roughly bean-shaped enclosure, c.270m N-S by 140m, on the summit of an isolated hill, is defined by a bank and ditch, generally reduced to scarps, counterscarped in places."

The site slopes away from steep, rocky natural defences protecting the southern aspect to the Nant Cwm Phillip covering the north and, despite the presence of a disused reservoir upon the summit, a visit here is a (natural) joy to behold thanks to copious woodland upon all but the eastern flank; there's also a 'Minning Low-esque' copse on top for good measure. The defences are pretty substantial, too.

Now although an approach from the country park seems obvious, may I suggest an alternative? A little east of the main entrance on the A48 a minor road signposted 'Discovery Centre' (or something like that) heads north. Follow this to its terminus near Graig Goch where a few cars can be left. Here a path heads westward through the Deer Park - or, if you prefer, ascend to the Ogwr Ridgeway Path above - and will lead you straight to the eastern flank of the fort. Well worth the effort.

Nant Mawr, Fforest Fawr (Cairn(s)) — Miscellaneous

Not shown on either the current 1:25k or 1:50k OS maps, I had RCAHMW to thank for highlighting these two wondrously sited cairns. Located upon either bank of the deep gash in the hillside carved by the Nant Mawr as it joins the Nant y Gaseg, Nant y Gwair and numerous other seasonal watercourses in assisting the nascent Afon Dringarth feed the Ystradfellte Reservoir, there are, in my opinion, few less congested spots in the entire National Park.

The downside to this isolation is reaching the cairns in the first place. As it was I approached from the west, ascending the northern aspect of Fan Dringarth to descend steeply toward the prominent sheep folds a little south (downstream) of the Nant Mawr's confluence with The Afon Dringarth... needless to say this meant ascending the mountain once again upon the return. But there you are. And besides, there is a superb aerial view from Fan Dringarth as compensation. Punters wishing to avoid mountain climbing might wish to consider an approach from the reservoir itself.

Anyway, according to David Leighton (RCAHMW, 17/07/2008):

1) Northern cairn - "...The stony mound... measures 12m in diameter and rises to 1.5m high. An edge set slab on its east side suggests a possible kerb otherwise obscured..."

2) Southern cairn - "...The slightly oval stony mound measures 8m (E-W) by 7.5m and 0.75m high... The interior has been robbed out leaving a hollow of irregular shape about 3m across."

Fan Llia (Round Cairn) — Images

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Nant Mawr, Fforest Fawr (Cairn(s)) — Images

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Fan Gyhirych (Round Cairn) — Images

<b>Fan Gyhirych</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Maen Llia (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

<b>Maen Llia</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Carneddau Hafod Wnog (Cairn(s)) — Miscellaneous

According to Coflein [J.J. Hall, Trysor, 13 July 2005] this diminutive cairn sited near the wondrous Pistyll y Llyn is:

"The northernmost of two possible funerary cairns on Carneddau Hafod Wnog. A small cairn, probably funerary, 6m in diameter at its base and 0.75m high, and built on top of a natural outcrop...The top of the cairn is flattened, with a slight depression in its centre, filled with numerous quartz boulders. The origin of the quartz is debatable - they may have been added in the recent past".

An excellent approach to both cairn and waterfall - the latter, to my mind, one of Wales' finest cascades - can be made from Cwm y rhaiadr at the terminus of the road heading south-eastward into the hills from Glaspwll.

Moel y Llyn, Ceulanamaesmawr (Megalithic Cemetery) — Folklore

Llyn Moel y Llyn - the hill's haunting upland tarn - is, it would appear, referenced in Caer Arglwyddes, 'The Lady's Field', sited below to the west. According to Dr Gwilym Morus: "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".

So, yet another reason to visit this enigmatic northern outlier of Pumlumon crowned by a quartet of Bronze Age cairns....

Pen y Foel Goch (Cairn(s)) — Fieldnotes

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 ( "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)) — Fieldnotes

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.

Fron Goch Camp (Hillfort) — Folklore

Dick the Fiddler's Money

The adventures of rakish Richard (a 'fiddler' in more ways than one, not to mention waste of space husband to his long suffering wife) featuring his dodgy bewitched seashell currency obtained whilst returning home from Darowen. The hamlet displayed some pseudo-political 'comment' of very dubious intellect in its windows at the time of my visit. Hence I did not attempt to engage any local - why waste my time? - instead making straight for the excellent Fron Goch Camp rising above. Superb viewpoint, it has to be said.

Moel y Garnedd, Gwastadros (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

Bala Lake

Long, long ago, there was a fertile valley where now roll the waters of Bala Lake.

"At last he reached the top of a hill, some considerable distance 'from the palace".... Although the story isn't specific - mythical legends, eh? - I guess it's not utterly unreasonable to suppose Moel y Garnedd, overlooking Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake), may have been the inferred destination of the harper... being an old man and presumably not up to a trek up any mountain proper:

Dyffryn Mymbyr (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

More fairy capers involving the "Fair Family", this time concerning changelings at Dyffryn Mymbyr:

Yr Wyddfa (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

The Mantle of Kings' Beards:

An account of the titanic, legendary struggle between King Arthur and Rhitta Gawr. Needless to say Arthur emerged victorious - well he would, wouldn't he? - the story (arguably) lending credence to the theory that Yr Wyddfa Fawr (Snowdon) was once crowned by the premier Bronze Age cairn in all Wales:

"...And Rhitta gave up the ghost, and was buried on the top of the highest mountain of Eryri, and each of his soldiers placed a stone on his tomb. The place was afterwards known as Gwyddfa Rhitta, Rhitta's Barrow, but the English call it Snowdon."

Mynydd Pen-cyrn (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

Concerning one Ifan Sion Watkin - apparently once generally known as Ianto Coedcae - and his far out trip away with the fairies upon Mynydd Pen Cyrn. With "an abundance of strong ale and old mead to drink" one is tempted to hypothesise that the gentleman was pissed... however isn't it funny how such legendary antics find themselves associated with great Bronze Age sites?

Carnedd Lwyd, Tyrrau Mawr (Cadair Idris) (Cairn(s)) — Folklore

The Fairy Harp:

A reminder to visitors out and about in the environs of this fine mountain to keep an eye out; not just for his giant-ness, Mr Idris (shouldn't be too hard to spot, to be fair)... but also the diminutive fairies at the other end of the scale, which, according to local lore, used to do the rounds knocking on locals' doors. Suffice to say it would appear wise not to upset the little people. Good for your elf, one might conclude:

oh, and... The Man with the Green Weeds:

A cautionary tale for those intent upon venturing to the summit of Cadair Idris - yeah, Idris's Chair itself. You have been warned!

Mynydd Mawr (Round Cairn) — Folklore

The Fairy Wife... apparently there were interesting goings on around Llyn y Dywarchen (the Lake of the Sod) back in the day:

Dinas Emrys (Hillfort) — Folklore

Dimas Emrys... Why the Red Dragon is the Emblem of Wales... and why every proud Welshman/Welshwoman (not to mention Briton... or anyone else, for that matter) able to make a visit to this haunting site really should do so:

Cairn, NNW of Foel Ganol (Cairn(s)) — Images

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Carnedd y Saeson (Cairn(s)) — Images

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Foel Dduarth (Enclosure) — Images

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Maes y Gaer (Hillfort) — Images

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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: