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

Cader Berwyn

Round Cairn


Dawn arrives at Bwlch-y-Groes without due fanfare, the elevated 'Pass of the Cross' (presumably another nod to the influence of that Tydecho?) separating the upper reaches of the exquisite Cwm Dyfi from Cwm Cynllwyd too exposed to offer shelter to any of the usual feathery suspects generally contributing to an avian chorus. In lieu, within the pregnant silence, I perceive a sense of heightened possibilities, of unspecified opportunities to be grasped whilst the relatively high cloud base lingers. So, what to do then? Fortunately the answer is forthcoming upon administering a Coco Pops catalyst, my gaze being drawn north across the aforementioned Cwm Cynllwyd to the rounded summits of Y Berwyn. In keeping with the all pervading silence, the call is unspoken. But nevertheless it registers loud and clear. Just need to do something about it, then. Damn. I am aware there are easier hobbies.

So.... following a splendidly scenic drive toward Y Bala, I take the B4391 across the high moors to descend Cwm Rhiwarth to Llangynog and, henceforth, Dyffryn Tanat. Samuel Coleridge came here in July 1794 and noted that the mountains were 'sublimely terrible', which is a pretty classy description, to be fair. One assumes - being a poet and that - that, like I, he made it to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, whereupon a single track road heads NW to Tan-y-Pistyll... and the magnificent c250ft cascade of Pistyll Rhaeadr, the 'Spout Waterfall', traditionally one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. The little café serves alcohol to tourist punters who flock here to gaze at the awesome aqueous spectacle. The Citizen Cairn'd, however, may well wish to drink his/her fill of the landscape beforehand. If so, rocky steps ascend to the right of the wondrous waterfall to access Trum Felen, the southern ridge of Moel Sych ('Dry Hill', appropriately enough in this context, but very much not so in nearly any other!).

To be honest this direct route to the main ridge of Y Berwyn is, in my opinion, better suited to a descent (an ascent through the valley of the Nant y Llyn further to the east is recommended) but there you are. One is compelled to seek out new experiences. Nevertheless as I slowly.... very slowly... gain height I begin to doubt the wisdom of this selection, particularly since this morning's cloud base is high no longer, the summit of the mountain conspicuous by its absence, subsumed within a mass of opaque vapour. In due course I must venture into this surreal environment of curtailed vision and apparent swirling wraiths.... a sensation of mild claustrophobia countered by having (with apologies to Andy Partridge) one, two, three, four senses working overtime to compensate. Navigation, however, is not an issue, the fence line leading unerringly to the 2,713ft summit crowned by the profile of a Bronze Age funerary cairn slowly materialising through the gloom. Although of no significant elevation, the embedded footprint of the monument is much more extensive than I recall from my previous visit here.... some 21 years ago. Hey, it is quite something to return almost half a lifetime hence. What's more, this time around I reckon I can even discern a trace of former kerb.

As I sit in my own private little spirit world pondering imponderables, wondering what to do next, Nature castes a final, emphatic deciding vote by sweeping away the cloud mantle in an instant to reveal Cadair Berwyn standing angular and proud to the north, its form in complete contrast to Moel Sych's broad, rounded dome. Recognising a sign from the heavens when I see one I cross the fence line (via a stile) and head east to Craig-y-Llyn, the escarpment edge towering above Llyn Lluncaws cradled far below. The lake is suitably idiosyncratic featuring a curious surface covering of weed that is quite unique in my experience. A kamikaze sheep track now engenders a somewhat 'airy' onward route toward the castellated, rocky pinnacles of Cadair Berwyn's 2,722ft summit, the cliff line, progressively fragmented in nature, displaying quite literally 'another side' to Y Berwyn, one completely at odds with the gently rolling profile seen to the west. But there you are; Y Berwyn are secretive hills... and all the better for that, in my opinion.

Anyway, cresting the craggy summit the first of a brace of cairns gracing the mountain is seen a little below and beyond. The location is classic, albeit taking great pains to avoid any view of the wondrous Llyn Lluncaws in true Bronze Age style. Yeah, I'm not saying this is pedantic, but what were these people like? There is good news and bad news to relate here. Firstly, the bad: the stone pile is defaced by a large 'shelter' clearly constructed from the original monument fabric; although whether this is to cater for sheep of the Ovis aires variety or homo sapiens is open to debate. I suspect the latter, but happy to be corrected. The good, however, more than compensates: the circumference of the footprint is very impressive indeed. Far more so than vague visions from my youth had led me to earlier surmise. Clearly this was the last resting place of a major personality back in the day. The second cairn lies a little further on, beyond a diminutive little tarn - or lakelet, if you prefer (which, as it happens, I do) - and surmounts Cadair Berwyn's northern summit. This is a much more subtle monument consisting of a very large, grassy (apparent) mound topped by an OS trig pillar. Stonework protruding from the surface confirms that this is indeed a cairn, however. Again, the views are superb, and not without archaeological foci. Looking east, the distant summit of Mynydd Tarw ("Bull Mountain") is crowned by another, massive funerary cairn as is, looking north across Bwlch Maen Gwynedd, Cadair Bronwen, the last of Y Berwyn's big trio. This, a significant 'platform cairn' known as Brwdd Arthur (Arthur's Table - yes, Himself again) is unfortunately about a mile and a half distant. Consequently unless you are superfit - or, as I was back in 1994, somewhat on a mission and only beginning to appreciate the overpowering significance of these cairns - a separate ascent from the north-west, via the wondrous cairn circle of Moel ty Uchaf, not to mention the 'circle at Bwlch y Fedw, is highly recommended.

It is fair to say that Cadair Berwyn is not a spot to leave in a hurry. Exquisite vistas and copious archaeology to boot, er, sort of make that a 'no brainer'. Consequently I linger, let the aura, the atmosphere, the ambience... whatever you want to call that peculiar 'upland vibe' enhanced with the human element.... slowly seep into my consciousness. Although far from unique in this respect, Y Berwyn has nevertheless witnessed its fair share of legendary, historic events to complement whatever 'metaphysical stuff' may or may not have occurred back in those days of yore when the cairns were in use. For it was here in 1165 - well upon Ffordd Saeson, apparently a little east of Moel ty Uchaf at SJ091369 - that the forces of Henry II feverishly engaged in the pursuit of Owain Gwynedd were routed. Given a sound thrashing, so to speak. Not by the then Prince of North Wales... but by the ferociously inclement weather these mountains are able to conjure up on a whim. One can just imagine the poor old Plantagenet dude retreating in soggy shame citing witchcraft and sorcery by the fiendish Welsh as reasons for failure; anything but arrogant incompetence.

With time marching forever onwards - tell me about it - I reluctantly retrace my steps to Moel Sych and begin the descent to the car. However, prior to the obligatory, not to mention essential final gawp at the Pistyll Rhaeadr, I stop off within the glacial 'hanging valley' of the Afon Disgynfa, specifically to take an all-too-brief look at yet another mighty cairn at SJ070297. Citizens Cairn'd may be interested to be reminded that this valley is also graced by a stone circle at Rhos y Beddau (SJ058302). Is there no end to the attractions of this wondrous area? Overtaken by darkness I spend the night upon Coleridge's 'sublimely terrible' mountains... assuming he was heading for Y Bala... below the summit of Foel y Geifr (at the head of the Hirnant Pass). The rain lashes down and, unlike Henry II, I think I get the point.
29th April 2018ce
Edited 1st May 2018ce

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to add a comment