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

Pen Pumlumon-Fawr

Cairn(s)

Fieldnotes

Ah, Pumlumon.... I've never been able to determine, to articulate the origin of the apparent synchronicity that exists between this often world-weary traveller... and the soggy summit of The Cambrian Mountains; this synergy inspiring me to efforts well outside my comfort zone, drawing me back to these bleak uplands time and time again where, or so it would appear, so few modern antiquarians see fit to tread nowadays.

OK, consider: there is the unrivalled rising of THREE major Welsh rivers upon the main ridge according Pumlumon the status of fountainhead extraordinaire; there is its location, both geographically and within the national consciousness, blocking access to the fastness of Gwynedd, natural fortress of yore, from the south - pivotal watershed in more ways than one; then there is Pumlumon's inclusion within the exclusive traditional mountain triumvirate of Wales (the others being, of course, Yr Wyddfa herself and Cadair Idris); and last but certainly not least, the fact that the local Bronze Age inhabitants saw fit to erect Wales', arguably the UK's, finest collection of upland cairns upon Pumlumon and her subsidiary hills. You know, upon reflection I reckon all the above are pretty compelling reasons to visit. But considered in unison the mix is overwhelmingly potent.

Consequently, it's rather ironic that the decision to ascend to the sentinel summit once again was - as seven years previously - a spur-of-the-moment thing made following three days wild camping below. Yeah, packed and ready to leave upon a glorious, cloudless morning the sight - or perhaps the sound, the 'aural sculpture'? - of the cascading Maesnant proves the catalyst for an abrupt change of plan. A volte-face or, if you prefer, Amy Winehouse's '180'. To be fair, it does happen to me. Quite a bit, in fact. Clearly it would take minds far exceeding mine in complexity to rationalise such apparently arbitrary choices in a coherent manner; however should one of those 'engineers' from Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus' happen to suddenly appear brandishing a 'universal translator' gizmo, what odds that the fast-flowing waters were revealed to be saying something akin to "And WTF do you think you're doing on a day like this, muppet? Up you go and let's say no more about this, capisce?"

Whatever, it's good advice since cloudless mornings at Pumlumon, in my experience, tend to be notable by their absence. Hence, despite a gaping hole in my left boot acquired the previous day, I shove everything back in the car boot and set off steeply uphill alongside the left-hand (northern) bank of the tumbling stream. The path, such as it is, is certainly soggy, but since rivers not only run through here but are endlessly reborn here, what else should one expect? Just not ideal with a hole in the footwear such as to cause Neil from the Young Ones to have a really heavy bummer. Indeed, the route soon crosses the access track to one such river's 'womb', the Llyn Llygad-Rheidol (Eye of the Rheidol) cradled beneath the powerful, craggy northern face of Pen Pumlumon Fawr, now beckoning to the approx south-east. From here the view is that of restrained anticipation, rather than head-spinning primaeval beauty - just as I like my approaches. Well, you wouldn't tuck straight into the main course of a cordon-bleu meal without the hors d'oeuvres, would you? Or perhaps you would?

As chance would have it I happen to catch up with another punter, previously some way in front, taking a breather before the final push to the summit. However any triumphant exclamations of 'Get in there! There's life in this old dog yet!' are stifled at source upon ascertaining said gentlemen is not only an octogenarian... but also convalescing from a recent heart attack. Yeah, clad in a 'Cwm Ystwyth' T-shirt - a none too subtle clue to the whereabouts of his retirement home (and, incidentally, site of a wild camp earlier this week) - he's happy to discuss the relative merits of large scale geological maps versus the current OS series.. or rather 'educate' since I know nothing of the former... and can barely use the latter, even after all these years. One thing we can agree upon with more-or-less certainty, however, is there is 'something' about Pumlumon... so quiet, trodden by relatively few boots etc.... and there are surely few more rewarding places to be this morning. The irony - yes, that again - is therefore not lost upon me when having bid farewell and made (very) surprisingly short work of the final ascent, I'm greeted by a horde of ramblers seemingly poured over the summit like Lyle's Golden Syrup over that pudding I used to have as a kid. To be fair the 'person in charge' does apologise for the rather excessive noise of her charges.

Nonetheless, miserable bastard that I am, I instead retreat eastward to enjoy a peaceful, extended sojourn overlooking the aforementioned Llyn Llygad Rheidol. This is arguably the finest perch upon Pumlumon, with the quartzite blocks of the Cerrig Cyfamod Glyndwr, shining beyond the brooding tarn to approx north, drawing the gaze toward a horizon crowned by Cadair Idris and The Arans. Here, at this classic spot making a mockery of all who seek to arraign this wondrous mountain with charges of monotony, minutes imperceptibly become several hours until, eventually, I venture a little further west toward an apparently inauspicious bog to the north of Pen Lluest-y-Carn to labour the point. For here, within this infelicitous marsh, rises none other than the sinuous River Wye (the Blaen Afon Gwy). Furthermore, as if having two prodigious watercourses seeping from the very earth in the immediate locale isn't enough.... just a mile or so further to the north-east, beyond the massive cairns of Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli, can be found the birthplace of the Afon Hafren; the mighty Severn. This traveller knows of no other comparable landscape within these Isles. Frankly, the mind swims at the realisation, at the significance of what we have here set among the great cairns. This is the compelling reason to come to Pumlumon.

But what about the cairns? Yeah, forgot about those. Returning to the now-empty fastness of Pen Pumlumon-Fawr's summit a diverse trio of stone piles can be appreciated, each affording magnificent panoramic views, particularly to the north-west where, gazing out across a multitude of similarly-endowed lesser hills to the distant Dyffryn Dyfi, the rounded green tops of Y Tarenau catch both my eye and deep consciousness. Not that I realise it yet. South-westward, the main ridge connects Y Garn, resplendent with its own massive Bronze Age behemoth, to the sentinel, while to the west Aberystwyth sparkles in the autumn sunshine, in turn, marking journey's end for our pre-eminent senior mountaineer's own river. Of the three cairns, the central has by far the largest footprint, if not elevated profile; in fact, it is so large - and unfortunately so disturbed (has there been significant slippage?) - that it is debatable whether any authority can ever definitively assign dimensions. Suffice to say, the incomparable Miosgan Meadhbha looming over Sligo notwithstanding, it covers the largest surface area of any proper upland cairn I've seen and holds three 'muppet shelters' with ease. Although the educated will weep at the actions of such ignorant people. Stupid is as stupid does, as Tom Hanks perceptively remarked once upon a time. In stark contrast, the northern monument is, by Pumlumon standards, rather small. But nevertheless nicely formed.

Which brings me to the southern cairn, arguably combining the aesthetic best of both worlds with a classic profile incorporating significant volume of stone. By any account a classic upland cairn, particularly when appreciated in context bathed in the warmest of warm light ... but, as usual it's all about where they put it. Crucially, crowning a mountain that, for me, defies all classification. Unique, teeming with prehistory, Mother of Rivers and occupying a salient position within this nation we call Wales... perhaps it is its very idiosyncrasy that places Pumlumon in a class of its own.

"And a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.... But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure" (thanks Claudia).
GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
14th January 2020ce
Edited 14th January 2020ce

Comments (3)

Lovely piece of writing, when is the book coming out? moss Posted by moss
16th January 2020ce
I thought this was the book! Great read Posted by costaexpress
16th January 2020ce
Appreciate the sentiments... although well aware any potential market is not exactly large! The odd, isolated recipient such as yourselves :-) My aunt is a pro historical author so under no illusions there! GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
18th January 2020ce
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