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

Garn Fawr (Tregaron)



I'm occasionally asked why - for what possible reason - I continue to brave the inclemencies of the UK's uplands... merely to look at 'heaps of old stones and earth'? I mean, I'm not getting any younger, right? So what's the deal: a misplaced sense of solidarity with 'spaced-out hippy-types' looking for cosmic significance in the mundane; a penchant for masochism, perhaps; or simply feeblemindedness brought on by the advancing years? Surely no-one in their right mind could cope with the boredom of all that silence without the ubiquitous 'electronic device'? Hmmm. So just how does one respond to such a sweeping question in a reasonably succinct manner? I guess "Zoinks!" - in homage to that wondrous, Olympic-grade slacker from Scooby Doo - followed by a quick exit would suffice. However consider this sure-fire winner guaranteed to bring any such tiresome ordeal to an expeditious close: "Evelyn Waugh makes me do it".

OK, that's not strictly true, of course. For one thing, I'm not that widely read. Nevertheless, there is a germ of inherent truth since the celebrated author did state: "The pagan soul is like a bird fluttering about in the gloom, beating against the windows when all the time the doors are open to the air and sun". Now don't get me wrong... I'm all for free speech; however, to quote one half of contemporary P G Wodehouse's classic double act: “I don't mind people talking rot in my presence, but it must not be utter rot." While it seems to me Mr Waugh's political opinions might be excused, in retrospect, as naive representations of his tragi-comedic outlook on life (after all, Orwell waited until 1937 to experience his own epiphany regarding the sheer evil of Bolshevik totalitarianism), when an educated Catholic proffers utterly unsubstantiated religious credos as 'fact' it really does get my goat. I prefer to eschew all collectivist dogma - be they fascist, communist or monotheistic - in lieu of the individualistic act of seeing things first hand with mine own eyes. To experience reality, the world as it really is... or at least how it appears to us Homo sapiens... and then make up my own mind. Yeah, to 'beat myself against the window' of my own Socratic ignorance, rather than sitting safely within the cocoon of self-righteous religious - or political - assurance. To add a little more to my already incalculable canon of 'don't knows'.

Funny though, isn't it, how such grandiose ruminations can fade to (almost) nothing when one is suddenly required to 'walk the talk', so to speak? That moment when the indolent devil upon the shoulder would clearly much rather take the easy option than launch the aching body up another bloody mountain. After all, when fundamental precedents have been set by two of life's pre-requisites - water and electricity - who are we to argue? Whatever, it's probably not stretching the point to say that a grey dawn overlooking the Llynnoedd Teifi ('Teifi Pools') in bleakest Ceredigion does not represent the optimal environment to resolve such an inner conflict. Furthermore, Mother Nature sees fit to deny me any easy way out of my dilemma... the sullen cloud base, mirroring my mood this morning, keeping resolutely above the hilltops. Consequently - and before I can change my mind - I head south towards Tregaron, veering to the east within the town to follow the initial stages of the glorious single track road which traverses the backbone of Mid Wales, prior to snaking through majestic Cwm Irfon to Abergwesyn.

That journey is reserved for later, however. For now, I park up within the wide entrance to the track servicing Llwyngaru farm (approx SN705587), receiving an unexpected, cheery wave from the occupant of the dwelling across the road. I follow the track to the south, veering left in short order to follow a right of way, littered with farm detritus and seemingly untrodden in years, through woodland to access open hillside near Cefn-yr-esgair-fawr. The summit of Garn Fawr, my objective, rises more-or-less south: only c1,591ft high, granted, but since there is not even a hint of a path to mitigate the rough terrain encountered during the ascent, I make predictably hard work of it, stumbling into several industrial-strength bogs as I go. Garn Fawr roughly translates as 'Big Cairn', emphasising the inordinately prosaic, localised nature of nomenclature in these parts... say what you see, right? Sure enough, the stone-pile crowning the highest point of the ridge certainly has a significant, grassy footprint with much-embedded material. Unfortunately, however, the passage of time has not been overly kind to this monument, the profile not that upstanding owing to an absence of naked rock, although whether this is the result of slippage or subsequent robbing I couldn't say with any conviction. Perhaps both? For the record Coflein states the following:

" A spread and denuded cairn, 20 metres east-west by 16 metres, 0.5 metres high, on the ridge, more visible on the northwest side, topped by a small later cairn and triangulation pillar enclosed by wall" [J. J. Hall, Trysor, 16/2/2013].

Unsurprisingly the 'spread' is most evident upon the north/north-western arc where the topography dictates this should be so, suggestive of some natural slippage. So, granted, there's nothing here to rival the magnificent cairns crowning Garn Gron and Carn Fflur, rising beyond the deep defile of Cwm Berwyn to the north-east. Nevertheless, the placement, with sweeping views toward Tregaron and the surrounding green hills, is first class, as is the isolated, windswept vibe. Ah, yes, evidently none but the farmer ever comes up here to interrupt the magisterial sovereignty of silence. If only to judge by the (mercifully) pathetic marker cairn plonked upon the monument... presumably by some... plonker. As noted by Coflein, the OS trig pillar is enclosed by a collapsed, circular wall. Suffice to say, if this is supposed to represent a 'muppet shelter', it is among the most farcical of that farcical genre. No, it must be something else. Surely?

As I sit and take in that indefinable 'nothing'/'everything' I'm (once again) fully aware that this 'upland ambience' - for want of a better term - is the reason I continue to haul myself up to such places as this. While I still can. In fact, I don't feel I'm drifting into hyperbole when stating that the Garn Fawr and similar monuments are, in my opinion, only located where they are because our ancestors also tapped into the emanations of the high places. Now don't get me wrong here: I'm not suggesting there is actually anything tangible (if that's not paradoxical?) at work - no metaphysical agency - but merely ('merely', huh!) a peculiarity - an idiosyncrasy, if you will - of the human brain that causes it to auto-execute an innate algorithm... a program... upon input of the necessary stimuli, generating a feeling of inner peace, of wellbeing. The realisation that - contrary to millennia of accumulated group knowledge, memes and what-not - when subjected to a suitably 'raw' environment we remain fundamentally the same as all the other fauna when relating to this crazy, spinning globe. Is this what we call 'spirituality'? That is to say the realisation of undiluted emotion, perhaps on a par with a salmon's inexorable yearning to return to its place of birth, rather than Mr Waugh's pre-packaged 'faith'? Hmmm. For what it's worth, I reckon 'spirituality' is too nebulous a concept to be neatly defined, let alone readily attained by climbing a mountain.. and certainly not to be experienced by simply reading the 'right' religious book. Ah, the recurring 'easy option'. As regards the latter, in my opinion, Nietzsche put it far more succinctly than I ever could: "Faith is the path of least resistance."

Garn Fawr is, as one might expect in Mid Wales, not the only Bronze Age funerary cairn within the immediate locale, there being another marked upon the map - Garn Felen (Yellow Cairn) - some way to the approx south-west at SN70105696. I feel the compulsion to explore further and, after all, one's gotta move on sometime... and it's about time. So, neglecting to take the essential compass bearing, I venture forth... from the sublime to the ridiculous. The subsequent realisation that the forestry cladding the hillside beyond has been somewhat 'tinkered with' in recent times accounts for discovering the 'obvious' monument actually consists of twisted tree residue and assorted detritus. I rectify my error, but still cannot locate the cairn within the tightly-packed, regimented conifers, despite Coflein reckoning it remains quite substantial:

"A round cairn, 15m in diameter & 1.6m high, set on the summit of a ridge, the S part of which has been cleared to ground level" [J.Wiles 23.07.04].

Damn it! I will not be that easily beaten - stumbling up and down various forestry rides over fallen trees, decomposing trunks collapsing upon the imprint of my boots, abrasive spicula occasionally drawing pin-pricks of blood from my exposed hands, sweat running down my back, the cold notwithstanding - yet beaten I eventually am. Vanquished by elapsed time, by the awareness of that dwindling reserve of energy within the 'tank'; and by that infamous 'one last look around that final corner' not bearing fruit this time. Hey, perhaps I clambered right over a moss-covered stone pile without even clocking it? Perhaps... but I think not. Whatever, I decide to return to Garn Fawr and dwell a while longer before making the descent. To flush the frustration away into the ether and focus upon the moment. Yeah, this is a great spot alright.

I make my way back to the car via Craig y Fintan to the approx north-north-west, thus prolonging the walk and claiming a bonus reward of an excellent view down into Cwm Berwyn, early evening sunlight momentarily illuminating the great crag face with a golden iridescence. In retrospect, this should be the ascent route, too, methinks? Upon negotiating the covered track to the north of Cefn-yr-esgair-fawr, I reach the sanctuary of the car with enough time to attain my overnight camp spot, overlooking the Afon Tywi, before dark. Always a good idea upon these roads, I find.

As is often the case nowadays, I am left to ponder more additional questions than answers as a result of the day's wanderings. OK, I readily admit I don't like not finding what I set out to locate. However, to put things in perspective by paraphrasing a certain Michael Lee Aday (and actually use my 'loaf'): 'One out of two ain't bad'. I suppose one could always settle for the 'certainty' of faith, of belief without reason, and leave it at that. Nothing further to know. Hey, perhaps there are things we really SHOULDN'T know? But nah, don't think so. That's not for me. To explore, to be curious, to try, fail, yet get up and do it again regardless - Chumbawamba style - is, in my opinion, to exhibit the best of what it is to be human. Truly a joie de vivre in this age of AI, of the onward march of the machine. This, Kraftwerk's 'Computerwelt' writ large. So yes, in a way you could say Evelyn Waugh inspires me to do what I do. Since I wish to be - and remain - contrary to such a mindset. For better or worse.

But what of Norville 'Shaggy' Rogers world-view? Like, man, why can't TMA'ers ever investigate a Burger King, or something? You know, now I come to think of it, perhaps a little misplaced solidarity can have its benefits, too?
10th January 2021ce
Edited 11th January 2021ce

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