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Beacon Hill

Barrow / Cairn Cemetery

Fieldnotes

Fire. Arguably no other natural phenomenon evokes more ambivalence among us homo sapiens inhabiting this crazy, spinning globe. Consider: on the one hand - thanks to our predecessors' ability to (tentatively) harness its positive attributes - fire was the catalyst for human colonisation of the planet, enabling the roaming omnivore to process an increasing diversity of otherwise indigestible flora and fauna; on the other, a merciless predator biding its time, waiting for an opportunity to consume all in its path. Guess it's fair to say fire is intrinsic to our existence. Throughout history - and, so it would appear, prehistory, too - fires have been lit as foci both for celebration and less salutary events... the passing of the dead, the signal beacon warning of impending invasion; even for consuming effigies of a certain conspiratorial, regicidal mercenary. Food, warmth, the metaphysical, communication, bonkers traditional 'celebrations' - our fascination with this dangerous, quasi-life form goes back a long way.

Consequently, I arrive at Beacon Hill with this perpetual curiosity relative to all things 'combustible' far from sated. Unlike the celebrated, c3,000ft 'Beacons' overlooking Brecon some way to the south, the exothermic reference is not expected here, an obscure hill a few miles inside the border and, ostensibly, the former stomping ground of that man Glyndwr. Relatively speaking, in the middle of nowhere. Furthermore, why the association with a quartet of Bronze Age round barrows crowning the summit? If signal fires were raised upon them in lore, why here? One should don the boots and simply be curious, methinks.

A short way south of the little hamlet of Dulas upon the B4355, the thoroughfare shadowing the River Teme through exquisite countryside - and, incidentally, passing a fine round barrow at Fedw Llwyd - a single track road heads roughly SW to access the very prosaically named 'The Farm'. A local, careering around upon a quad bike, doesn't object to my parking within the yard, nor, thankfully, is there any sign of a scouse 'groovy train' in the vicinity. Well, to be fair, the latter would've been most inappropriate within such an idyllic, sleepy, pastoral environment. That being said, there's no sleep 'til Beacon Hill... so, on foot now, I follow the road northward before the route, morphing into a bridleway, veers abruptly to the west to gradually ascend the southern flank of Fron Rocks. It's a pleasant stomp, a fair maiden encountered advising me to 'continue climbing to the end where the path to the top is obvious' - or something like that - no doubt a charitable alternative to 'why don't you use your map, you muppet?'.

Circling the head of the cwm, a track does indeed ascend (more-or-less) NW to the top. At c1,795ft the summit of Beacon Hill isn't going to invoke gasps of awe/amazement from the card-carrying peak bagging punter.... for me its appeal is much more esoteric, insidious even. Deceptively benign... as subsequent events are to prove beyond doubt. Reasonable or not. The distant vistas are expansive, to say the least. That to the west a veritable smörgåsbord of green hills leading the eye in an arc from distant Cwmdeuddwr to Pumlumon herself. Mid Wales observed through the wide angle lens, represented upon a canvas of colours muted by the overcast light. However, it should be noted that owing to the rather uniformly flat topography of this hill, vertigo-inducing views of the near locality are conspicuous by their absence. Yeah, the penny drops.... reverse the viewpoint and Beacon Hill is the obvious place to place a signalling beacon to be visible from a significant distance. Which would be the whole point, would it not?

Which brings me - literally - to the primary round barrow, surmounted by an OS trig pillar. CJ Dunn ['The barrows of east-central Powys', Archaeologia Cambrensis 137 (1988)] reckons it is of '..Approximately 20m diameter and 2m high..'. So pretty substantial, then, a noticeable 'scoop' from the top possibly the work of the usual treasure hunting vandals of yore.... or perhaps representing the former base of a beacon? I sit, ponder, drink my coffee.... and brace myself for the arrival of a fast approaching weather front which in very short order renders all preceding thoughts of 'fire' frankly irrelevant, if not ludicrous, with its sheer, primaeval intensity. Ditto, any musings concerning the views. What views?

So, with not far off zero visibility there's nothing for it but to go walkabout and check out the other three round barrows gracing this hilltop. The most obvious sits (perfectly?) upon the near north-western skyline at SO1754776859 and is 'approximately 25x21m, and 1.5m high' (again according to Mr Dunn). The third, located at SO1772976775 - and to be honest quite difficult to discern within the heather and swirling mist - is 'approximately 16m diameter, 1.5m high.' The final monument stands to the south-east (SO1778876733), again pretty substantial at 'Approximately 16m diameter and up to 1.5m high at the south end'. Stripped of their landscape context by the all-pervading grey, clammy vapour it is, at first, difficult to fully appreciate what we have here upon this windswept Mid Walian height.

Then, suddenly - as Billy Ocean might have noted if he'd ventured up here - Beacon Hill has new meaning to me... as the claustrophobic, orographic condensation is swept away in one glorious instant to reveal the surrounding landscape once more. Fair to say that, for me, an appreciation of upland cairns/barrows and the views from them are mutually inclusive considerations. OK, my perpetual curiosity may have been satisfied for a while; I might have ascertained why Beacon Hill may well have been seen as a focal point of the locale in times past - in a number of ways. However even such adverse conditions as experienced today could not extinguish the fire in the blood that still acts as a siren call, drawing me to these high places. Long may it continue.
GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
11th March 2019ce
Edited 18th March 2019ce

Comments (2)

I do like hills called "Beacon" something, there are a lot of good ones on here with some fine barrows and cairns.

With you entirely on this: "Fair to say that, for me, an appreciation of upland cairns/barrows and the views from them are mutually inclusive considerations." I'd go as far as to say it's critical if you want to get any insight into these monuments that you have to consider their landscape placement and viewshed.

Had to look up "orographic", nice word.
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
17th March 2019ce
"Orographic lift occurs when an air mass is forced from a low elevation to a higher elevation as it moves over rising terrain. As the air mass gains altitude it quickly cools down adiabatically, which can raise the relative humidity to 100% and create clouds and, under the right conditions, precipitation." GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
18th March 2019ce
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