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

Cwm Bwch, Great Rhos

Round Barrow(s)


The Radnor Forest, that compact horseshoe of heather-clad summits rising to the north(ish) of New Radnor, has, for me, always stood aloof within the canon of Welsh mountains; not really belonging, yet nonetheless indispensable to anyone attempting to understand the 'big picture'. Yeah, despite possessing more than a hint of the unforgiving topography of Y Berwyn and - not surprisingly - that of the not-too-distant Black Mountains, culturally speaking, at least, the distinctly Anglo Saxon nomenclature prevalent here sets the region apart. Too distant from the Mam C's to facilitate day trips and not easily accommodated within itineraries focussed upon Rhayader, 'out of sight' too readily became 'out of mind'... that is, prior to viewing - in seemingly glacial time - a sprawling, grasping tsunami of hill fog envelope all from the ramparts of the excellent Cefn-y-Gaer hillfort last year. So, the burrowing worm of curiosity was set upon its impetuous course; not quite as dramatically as the Ceti eel larvae scenes in The Wrath of Khan, perhaps, but inexorably nevertheless.

So, one year hence I happen to notice a brief hiatus in the usually inclement Mid Walian weather patterns actually coinciding with my travel plans. For once. Now if I was a religious man - or even Leonard Cohen - I might well have uttered a 'Hallelujah!', if only inwardly. However, I'm not, so a wry smile must suffice until, sure enough, blue skies overhead, following an exhausting early morning drive from Essex, confirm we are good to go. That's both the determined 'Captain Mainwaring' me and the counterbalancing 'Sergeant Wilson - Do you think this is wise?' me. Somewhat disconcertingly, a full twenty-four years have elapsed since my only previous visit to the 2,165ft summit of Great Rhos; a comparatively recent seven since a sojourn upon the wondrously Silbury-esque Whimble and parent Bache Hill... so Great Rhos it is, then, the approach from the west seemingly most conducive to success, bearing in mind my wonky knees and Harley Dingle-related uncertainties. Well, I like my visits to the hills to be a blast, but not literally so. Furthermore, unlike the aforementioned tops and, indeed, Black Mixen, Great Rhos's trio of Bronze Age round barrows are not located at the summit, but upon the dramatic northern and southern flanks of Cwm Bwch to the north-west, precipitously plunging facades of grass and rock riven with prominent water-sculptured gulleys. Hey, it's almost as if the people who erected these monuments knew what they were doing?

A minor road winds its sinuous way northwards from the A44 at Llanegley to eventually terminate within Cwm Ffrwd at - appropriately enough - Cwm Farm, whereby I'm subjected to a rather farcical 'interrogation' by a young(ish) farmer-type on a quad bike.... 'Where are you staying?'... 'Dunno, depends. Wild camping'.... etc. Mindful of leaving the car unattended for the duration in such circumstances, I bite my tongue. For once. Anyhow, a public footpath ascends very steeply eastwards to attain the summit of Cefn-y-grug at a cross dyke, the western flank of Great Rhos utterly overwhelming the scene beyond despite its 'modest' elevation. From here I follow a rather eroded upland byway to the approx south-east to, in turn, gain the southern headwall of Cwm Merwys... leading eventually to the summit. The retrospective views to the west are as exquisite as they are expansive, the captivated gaze drawn toward the distant Cwmdeuddwr Hills and, further to the north, Pumlumon herself. Perhaps not household names to some. But in my opinion, they should be.

However, the summit can - indeed must - wait for a while since it is time to keep an appointment with the southern-most of Great Rhos's tumuli, this a little to the north at SO17566414. Although bisected by a fenceline, the monument possesses both relatively substantial form and sublime positioning. Although clearly located so as not to overlook Cwm Bwch, the equally, if not superior, setting of the northern barrows is readily apparent across the unseen void. It dawns upon me that the descent to Cwm Bwch will be very, very steep indeed... but such is the overpowering, almost spiritual majesty of this landscape I have no choice but to visit, to experience. To be drawn into the melodrama. I would suggest the Bronze Age architects were only too aware of the possible quasi-hypnotic outcomes of the manipulation of psychosomatic processes up here. I could, quite literally, stay all day upon this wondrous perch... but there is so much to see.

The diversion, to approx south-east, to visit the summit of the mountain is much more arduous than the limited height gain would imply upon the map. Trackless plods across rough, heather-clad upland moor are like that. However, eventually, the concrete OS triangulation pillar is within my grasp, the deep defile of Harley Dingle more-or-less isolating Great Rhos from the rest of Radnor Forest, the craggy, western elevation of Great Creigiau a fine precursor to the great, truncated cone of Whimble itself. Yeah, as monumental an achievement as Silbury is, nobody does it better than Nature. Not so auspicious, perhaps, is the massive antenna standing beside Great Mixen's summit round barrow. I guess I should also mention that Harley Dingle, a live military firing range even during my first foray here 24 years ago is now, so it would appear, 'out of bounds' to walkers following a recent extension of the Danger Area "well beyond the confines of the valley itself." I'll post a link within the Miscellaneous section of the Whimble and Bache Hill page for reference.

So I retreat to the north-west and circle the headwall rim of Cwm Bwlch, keeping the forestry line to my right, to descend to the pièce de résistance of the day: the pair of round barrows at SO17586497 and SO17576494. The southern-most is by far the more impressive, perhaps even mirroring the monument seen in skyline profile to good effect across the gaping cwm... however it is the locale, the landscape context.... which truly blows my mind. Set almost upon the very lip of this grassy spur with vertiginous perspectives down to the valley floor, complete with serpentine stream, one simply cannot ask for more from an upland monument. To the approx west, I make out the 'Shepherd's Tump', another round barrow overlooking Cwm Ffrwdd from the north. I had intended to visit, but all focus is now upon enjoying the moment. And then reaching the car. In one piece. Without plummeting headfirst to oblivion.

The descent to Cwm Bwch is as ludicrously steep as I anticipate, verging upon the perpendicular, in fact. And, furthermore, is followed by an unbidden uphill grind to the cross dyke upon Cefn-y-grug upon reaching the nascent river. Just what I wanted at the end of the day. Not. Nevertheless, the hardship is but fleeting, relatively speaking. The retrospective of the barrow-crowned horseshoe is music to my eyes; the near-silent ambience, enlivened by just the subliminal sound of water upon displaced rock... and my own heavy breathing... likewise to my ears. A near-perfect natural symphony so complex as to overwhelm narrative cognition. Yet so simple.

If the insights of Newton are anything to go by I reckon Nature is pretty pleased with Cwm Bach.
25th December 2019ce
Edited 26th December 2019ce

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