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

Cwm Berwyn, Carneddau (Builth Wells)

Promontory Fort


I approach from Carneddau Hill's great cairn at SO06625407:

Hastily revised notions/aspirations (whatever) of circling around the 'rim' of the Carneddau to the northwest - in order to take in the other cairns depicted upon the map - are, just as quickly, discarded when it becomes obvious time is running away with me. Furthermore, the equally obvious realisation of the sheer size of the fort's inner cross-bank ensures I must focus upon one thing or another. Yeah, there can only be one, Highlander. So... the promontory fort it is, then, although it should be noted that the intervening topography is not conducive to being fast-moving, light upon one's feet. Having said that, I cannot recall being suchlike since 1994, now I come to think about it.

Heading north, my attempt to 'cut the corner' and save a little time only serves, inevitably, to bring me to the crest of the sheer face of the escarpment edge - not that this inexorable outcome wouldn't have been obvious from a proper perusal of the map, but there you are - rocky crags falling more or less vertically to the floor of the cwm below. Hmmm. I may be many things, but clearly, I ain't no mountain goat and, furthermore, have some features I quite like and wouldn't mind keeping for a while longer (to paraphrase the gorgeous Sarah Cracknell). I therefore quickly improvise yet another plan, this iteration requiring clambering/slithering down steep grass some way to the left, prior to forcing another passage through bracken to, thankfully, access a path ascending to the promontory rising above. As earlier in the day, it is worth the expended effort, the defences of the fort proving very substantial, to say the least. Far more impressive than I had supposed from the car, with a towering inner rampart supported by a lower outer rampart, together isolating the interior from the ridge to the north. A wander around the interior allows the spellbound visitor to confirm - in short order and with little likelihood of credible contradiction - that no additional artificial defences would've been necessary back in the day. Yeah, not even a 'berserker-type' warrior-loon would (surely?) have been able to get up those near perpendicular flanks in any fit state to fight. With apologies, certainly not Gary Numan in that iconic 1984 blue/white 'Iceman' get up.

All in all, the sum of the parts represents a classic inland promontory fort, if ever I did see one. It would appear that Coflein, which categorises the site as a 'defended enclosure', concurs with my perception of overwhelming majesty of scale, citing the following dimensions:

"...The inner rampart is 1.8m high on the inner side, 8m high with ditch on the outer, northern, side. The outer northern rampart is 5m wide and 1m high on the uphill, southern, side and 2m high with the ditch on the north side..." [R Hayman, H&H, 24/2/2010].

Noteworthy statistics, indeed, for such an apparently obscure 'defended enclosure'. Suffice to say, whoever built this place would appear - unlike certain visitors - to have had no tendency to 'cut corners'. Point taken, until the next time. As I've postulated at other sites, I can't help thinking that, being set within an (assumed) non-secular upland landscape, there was more to the physical attributes of the site than simply defence? Interestingly, perhaps, Coflein has only - and tentatively at that - identified one hut circle within the enclosure at SO0727754830:

"Possible hut platform, a near level terrace 4m diameter, with a 'hood' 1m high on the upper (S) end...." [R Hayman, H&H, 24/02/2010].

C'mon, surely there were more, if only to account for, to justify all the effort of construction.... unless there were other, intangible, metaphysical factors in play here? As I walk the twin cross banks in turn, the fiery orb of our local star - not so much 'rock' as 'cosmic' - yeah, Bowie... or 'Krautrock', perhaps? - breaking through the cloud base to flood all with light of almost inconceivable intensity, the splendour of this glorious place hits home like the proverbial sledgehammer, the moment the very paragon of the 'otherworldly' experience... right here in Powys, no less. I sit and gawp across the cwm to the north-east, the clearly also magnificent Castle Banks hillfort demanding I visit before the week is out.

Diverting the gaze (with difficulty), a series of medieval 'cultivation ridges' to my north emphasise the continuity of human occupation in the locale, the sense of linear time stretching way back into the past... and an uncertain future, perhaps? A subconscious affirmation that 'history' is not merely something written in 'boring books' to enable geeks 'n dorks (ahem) to pass the time.... but is somehow 'suspended', not quite fully absorbed, within air seemingly pregnant with energy transmuted from the corporeal long ago. Into just what I cannot say; however, to quote a certain Mr Churchill: "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Indeed, illustrious sir. You know, seems to me that to understand the plot of any epic story - and it has to be said that that of 'Humanity' is pretty well up there in the Homeric stakes (tell me about it, D'oh!), demanding a Charton Heston-esque lead - best start at the beginning, right?

I pick out my poor, overworked vehicle in the distance, a familiar reference point to - if you pardon the pun - usher me back down to earth for the night from my extraordinary perch. Reluctantly I leave the cairns to the north for another day and descend steeply (and then some) to the east to pick up a path heading south to the stream, and, once across, reverse my former ascent route to Cwm-berwyn farm. A (relatively) senior woman inquires after my day and appears to 'get' my replies. It is refreshing, to be honest with you. Yeah, best keep out of that summer bracken, if you've any sense. Yes, well.... Anyhow, the gentle incline of the farm access track is, it seems to me, not proportional to the effort it takes me to negotiate the final few hundred yards, but there you are. I did say maths are not my thing.

Back at the car, there's time for one final improvised plan - where to camp tonight - before I must leave and make it so before the onset of darkness. I head for the hills above Rhayader. Cwmdeuddwr....
23rd January 2021ce
Edited 26th January 2021ce

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