The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Carn Biga



Traditionally one of the 'Three Mountains of Wales', Pumlumon possesses little of the overwhelming physical grandeur of either Cadair Idris or Snowdon, its celebrated companions in the triumvirate. No soaring, razor sharp aretes, a paucity of naked rock... in fact little architectural splendour to raise the pulse and encourage the punter to don boots. No, Pumlumon's charms are a lot more subtle, more ethereal - dare I say metaphysical? - and require a lot of effort from prospective suitors, like the woman who, despite lacking the classical aesthetic attributes, nonetheless holds the attention of every man in the room.... without them being able to grasp why. I guess it could be described as 'allure', this mass of soggy, Mid Walian high ground seemingly exerting a magnetism over human kind - the local Bronze Age inhabitants being the prime example - which transcends the manner in which we view the everyday world. How else would it have managed to be in the 'top three', so to speak?

I'm glad to say that there is pretty obvious, not to say fundamental explanation as to why this should be ... the poor drainage which was so lamented by travellers of yore is paradoxically Pumlumon's crowning asset, accounting for the massif sourcing no less than THREE major rivers in the Hafren (that is, the Severn), Wye and Rheidol. Incredible. If ever a mountain could be termed 'Mother of Rivers', surely Pumlumon has first bagsy? What's more, in my opinion it should also be acknowledged as Wales' - if not the UK's? - greatest upland Bronze Age cemetery, even surpassing Snowdonia's Y Carneddau. Yeah, virtually every summit is crowned by an ancient cairn, a number of which are very substantial indeed. I know of no other upland area with such a concentration of these monuments within a relatively small locale. [Suffice to say... if there is, lemme at it!]. So... what are the odds that Pumlumon's two superlative attributes are connected.... and it was selected to be the ritual capital of the 'Citizens Cairn'd' because it was viewed as literally representing the very font of life back in the Bronze Age? Doesn't sound at all far fetched to me.

'Pumlumon' translates as 'Five Stacks', no doubt a reference to the sum of massive cairns which are shared between the summit peak (Pen Pumlumon-Fawr) and its neighbour, Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli. There are many more examples, however, (arguably) the two finest located at the eastern extremity of the main ridge, upon Pumlumon Cwmbiga. The southern of this pair is clearly the larger [see misc post], although both would appear to have had their upper sections rebuilt in times unknown. I can live with that since, for the most part, structural integrity would appear to have been maintained, the monuments unsullied by the shameful 'walker's storm shelter'. I can also live with the two quartzite 'nipples' which further enhance the cairns' representation of a pair of fulsome breasts from a distance. Although recent (not featuring on my 1995 image) it is, I think, a nice touch. Or is it just me? The panorama surveyed by the cairns is expansive to the north, with Cadair Idris and the hills of Southern Snowdonia resplendent in serried rank under a pristine blue sky. The sadly trashed Bronze Age cairn of Carnfachbugeilyn [my next objective] rises to the north-west beyond the remains of another cairn of uncertain origin, whilst to the approx south-west the main Pumlumon ridge leads towards the major summits of the range beyond Blaenhafren, source of the river. Looking to the east, a phalanx of wind turbines crowns a hillside beyond the Hafren Forest, through which I made my approach to this wondrous spot today.

A minor road from Staylittle, a small settlement at the northern tip of Llyn Clywedog, passes a number of 'tumuli' - love that word - to pass Cwmbiga farm. Roadside parking is available here, a well maintained forestry track following the right hand bank of the Afon Biga into the back of beyond. Eventually this encounters the headwall of the cwm, veering sharply to the left before a cascading stream. Ascend to the right of the stream as best you can to reach a parallel, higher track. In retrospect it is advisable to trend right here for a hundred yards or so before continuing on the ascent line... in order to avoid both some very rough terrain resulting from forestry operations and several deep, transverse gulleys. Soon the northernmost Cwmbiga cairn should be visible on the horizon. Persevere and let a fenceline be your final guide....

Don't forget to pay a visit to Blaenhafren and stand in bemused wonderment at the enormity of what it represents, the twin cairns crowning the eastern skyline as if they just HAD to be there. Choose a fine day - any other kind would be risking literally everything upon a landscape as brutal as Pumlumon - and ponder that a massive suspension bridge or two are needed to span the output of this murky pool when it reaches the Bristol Channel. To be honest my poor brain couldn't cope with that at the time. Need to get metaphysical and build a cairn or two if I ever return, methinks.

[Update] - if you indeed choose to approach from Cwmbiga farm note that a probable Neolithic long cairn resides within the trees a little to the east.... albeit requiring quite a rough approach beside the Afon Biga.
11th December 2011ce
Edited 25th August 2020ce

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