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

Cerrig Cewri

Round Cairn

Fieldnotes

There is, I reckon it's fair to say, a widespread view prevalent amongst the 'hillwalking fraternity' assuming a direct correlation between increasing height above OD and quality of 'outdoor experience'... to resort to the annoying modern parlance. Now whilst I'll happily concede there is some merit in this outlook - altitude does, after all, tend to help eliminate periphery obstructions to far reaching vistas, not to mention progressively isolate the potentially transcendental 'up there' from the everyday, humdrum 'down here' - my experience over the course of some 30 odd years inclines me to believe that it is the exceptions which, in this respect, very much disprove the rule.

Consider a visit to the great upland cairn of Cerrig Cewri (Giant's Stones) a little to the approx north of Carn Twrch, an obscure Mid Walian summit looming above the southern, sinuous extremity of Llyn Brianne: a perfunctory, somewhat blurry perusal of the map over breakfast upon Cwmdeuddwr had suggested a relatively easy, straightforward mile and a half (or so) walk along a public bridleway to what is, after all, a hill not quite reaching 1,600ft in height. Yeah, how hard can it be? No, really? Suffice to say I reckon, with the warm glow of hindsight, that the approach from the north is quite possibly one of the most physically demanding ascents/descents of any Mid Walian summit I've undertaken. All things considered.

To be fair, the proverbial penny drops as soon as I park up above Bwlch-y-ffin and lament the initial height loss inherent in following - or rather attempting to follow - the aforementioned official 'bridleway' depicted upon the map. You see, these little details matter when the knees don't want to keep on doing what you want them to keep on doing any more. Furthermore, I soon find myself apparently bereft of any map reading skills I may - or may not - have been born with as my chosen route is abruptly terminated by a semi-trampled barbed wire fence above a stream. Mmm, seems I'm following in the uncertain steps of other, more militant punters before me? Where's the friendly(?) neighbourhood giant to stand upon the shoulders of when you need him. Or her?

Anyway... beyond, the terrain rears up at a seemingly prohibitive angle, the Nant y ffin cascading down the hillside within a seriously deep gulley so steep-sided I baulk at the thought of crossing. Instead I elect to continue onwards and upwards following the natural line of ascent where, theoretically at least, Nature will provide a less overwhelming obstacle. Sure enough, a little before the forestry limit upon Cefn Ystrad-ffin, I step over the nascent stream... and ... straight into deep bog. But there you are. Serves me right for losing the 'obvious' track, doesn't it? The low ridge of Cerrig Cewri is soon visible to the approx south-west, significantly further away than I had anticipated, to be truthful. The landscape is an unforgiving mix of the aforementioned bog and tussocky grass ensuring my yomp is subject to a bovine grace. Hell, this bloody cairn had better be worth it.

It is. According to RCAHMW (12/2/2009) it measures "13.20m in diameter and is up to 2.0m high". So pretty substantial, then, despite being, assuming the 'Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire' (HMSO 1917) is to be believed, but a surviving remnant of what once was: "The carnedd has been so much reduced within living memory as to be now no more than 4 feet high, and it is said that in the course of its disturbance traces of fire and some burnt bones were met with". Ha! Voices from yesteryear throwing light upon our own tentative forays into that yawning void BCE, observations published at a time when the very fabric of society was being torn asunder by the clash of imperialistic titans and the birth of the fledgling, evil spectre of Lenin and his acolytes. For me it is this desire to understand the past, to view what went before as the foundations of an ongoing, hopefully improving story which defines the western democracies; a worldview which, if maintained, will ensure our way of life will always be worth fighting for. Precious detail... adding additional pixels, further definition, clarity to that image of who we were, what we are and, potentially, what we could be. So to speak.

A sun burst streams through a crack in the otherwise minacious cloud base illuminating the ancient stone pile for but a fleeting moment. All too soon it is gone, a tantalisingly brief wash of colour from the cosmic paintbrush rendering all the poetry, prose and whatever other descriptive language you may think of redundant. For a few seconds. To the south, appropriately enough, the great, mountainous escarpment demarcating South Wales rears up, darkly brooding in sombre intensity, upon the horizon. Nearer to hand and on a more intimate scale is Twm SiƓn Cati Cave, set upon the sculptured crags of Dinas to the west, the legendary, infamous former owner apparently a sort of Welsh 'Robin Hood'... only without the 'giving to the poor' bit. Which is kinda missing the point of being a 'people's hero', one would have thought? But there you are. A case study in notoriety for a certain Jessie James, perhaps? The dubious heroic ethics of our Twm notwithstanding, Dinas is a striking landscape feature fully prototypical of the harmonious aesthetic of the area. And to think, as compelled to think the traveller most certainly is here, that this haunting, ethereal cairn is not even at 1,600ft. Surely some mistake? I fumble for my glasses and check the map again. No. It would appear not.

All is not rosy up here where giants apparently did not fear to tread, however, for forestry plantations encroach with their attendant widespread devastation, the shrill clatter of logging lorries upon forestry tracks, their whereabouts betrayed by clouds of dust, periodically echoing across the hill side. Indeed the great, summit cairn of Carn Twrch, visible to the immediate approx south(ish) sits within a landscape which may well have brought a shudder to the contemporaries of those 1917-era archaeologists. But there you are.... at least Carn Twrch survives, albeit topped by an OS trig pillar. And pretty hefty it is, too.

For me, however, the Giant's Stones are the jewel within this Mid Walian crown and it is a bummer to have to begin the descent. If anything, this proves to be more difficult than the ascent, the terrain sending me sprawling, head first, into a murky pool at one point. In no uncertain manner. Yeah, I find no sign of the supposed 'bridleway'... although, of course, that might well have just been me. Again. Losing patience, not to mention reserve endurance, I go for broke and fling myself down and up the other side of the mighty defile of the Nant y ffin. The final pull to the car is sheer purgatory. Whether one believes in that sort of thing, or not. But hey, it was worth every step to prove - once again - that spending a few hours or so 'being elevated' doesn't necessarily mean what your average hill walking punter might think it does.
GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
30th September 2018ce
Edited 1st October 2018ce

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