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

Banc Trehesglog, Cwmdeuddwr

Stone Row / Alignment


Back in the car following the conclusion of my morning/early afternoon sojourn upon Esgair y Llyn....

.... the rather 'noticeable' precipitation upon the roof renders thoughts of the removal of waterproofs for the short drive to Esgair Pen-y-Garreg superfluous to requirements.. as our Irish friends might well have observed, the weather 'throwing cobblers knives'. That being said, I do find it advisable to remove those clunky boots to minimise the chances of careering off the road to one's doom, however. Better 'safe' than potentially not even being accorded the opportunity to be 'sorry'. Anyway, the road, upon being joined by that ascending from the Pont ar Elan, proceeds to climb steeply up the southern shoulder of Moel Geufron to then traverse the wild hinterland, the high moor swelling up to an apogee at Pen Rhiw-wen, prior to descending sharply to the pleasant market town of Rhayader. This is one of the busiest routes upon The Cwmdeuddwr Hills catering for a wide diversity of traffic: muppet 'off-road' aficionados in shiny new 4x4s sharing tarmacadam with farmers in battered Subaru pickups towing 'Ifor Williams' livestock trailers overflowing with bleating, wide-eyed sheep; camper vans that even Scooby Doo and the gang would perhaps baulk at travelling in; local tradesman in ostensibly 'white' vans (the kind hilarious workmates are liable to inscribe 'Clean Me Please' upon with dirty fingers... if it was not for the heavy Mid Walian rain) engaged upon unknown errands; and that class of visitor everyone else cannot even begin to fathom: The Modern Antiquarian. I mean, walking around in the pouring rain gawping at old stones.... like, what's all that about?

This is the well-known face of the Elan Valley locale, the first sight of 'wilderness' encountered by the more curious tourist electing to check out the mountain road alluringly signposted from Rhayader. Yeah 'mountain road' does have an enticing 'ring' to those living in urbanity, doesn't it? I must confess, even after some thirty-odd years doing this sort of thing - careful now - it still does the trick for me, heightens the pulse somewhat above the norm... gives expression - a voice - to that 'something' deep inside the human psyche which the town and city, by definition, must suppress to maintain the veneer of civilisation. A whiff of excitement, of danger percolating down the centuries like the incessant water runoff inexorably responding to the laws of physics: the call of the wild, no less. Tales of bandits, highwaymen or, looking further back, rebellious local tribesmen liable to give the unprepared a good kicking... or worse. It would appear, judging by the presence of the remains of a 'marching camp' here upon Esgair Perfedd, that Roman patrols back in the day were well aware of this. One can perhaps speculate that a posting here was not high upon your average legionary's 'wish list'? I mean, didn't a certain Thracian gladiator and a bunch of slaves destroy a couple of legions back in the day? Hmm, best get those banks raised, lads. And keep those eyes peeled.

So, familiar country, perhaps, but nonetheless a landscape not to be taken lightly. Yeah, tell me about it? Despite being forewarned, courtesy of 'Jeeves' formidable knowledge base, it soon becomes apparent just how little I really do know. No shit, Sherlock. I park up beside the cascading Nant Gwynllyn, the impressive crags of Craig Ddu complementing the sheer, shattered flanks of Esgair Dderw to its north, the latter surmounted, incidentally, by the imposing monolith the Maen-serth. The rain continues unabated, the traveller obliged to overcome that curious - or perhaps not so curious, come to think of it? - reluctance to leave the sanctuary of shelter to brave the elements once again. Rising to that challenge, the next, occurring in swift progression, is to traverse the swollen stream cascading toward its llyn located in the valley below. Now Heraclitus may have reckoned that no man (or woman - ahem) steps in the same river - or presumably lesser water course - twice, a subtle doctrine concerning the ever-changing aspects of life, of stuff in general. I, however, would think it more of an imperative to refrain, if at all possible, from falling in even the once....

Safely across, albeit not exactly dryshod owing to a surfeit of surface water, I follow the obvious track ascending to Esgair Pen-y-Garreg beyond. Now I came this way a few months previously - en route to spending a few hours upon Crugyn Gwyddel pending the arrival of a car battery at the garage in town - and was utterly oblivious to the existence of a rather large standing stone looming at SN93226964, camouflaged in plain sight (always, it goes without saying, the most effective method, I find). Similarly, I walked straight by what may - or may not - be the remains of a megalithic tomb right beside said track at SN93256957. Fair enough, I guess, if one's peripheral vision happens to be 'switched off' when focussing upon the over-arching goal of attaining a summit... but surely inconceivable to walk right past both once again this time around? Nevertheless, that is exactly what I do.

Thankfully it would appear my megalithic radar is better attuned to spotting standing stones in multiples thereof, although, having said that, the three-stone row gracing Banc Trehesglog is not exactly staring one in the face, with even the wondrous people at Coflein having apparently required a couple of attempts at locating it correctly:

"3 upright stones in row. Orientation E-W. Both outer stones are irregular and approx. 1m x 1m. Both are leaning over to the N. The middle stone leaning to S. Previously mis-sited (RSJ 2000)."

The key, may I suggest here - assuming one isn't going to go down the route of having bloody GPS lead you unerringly to the very spot, but do it the 'organic' way - is a little homework, allied with the ability to read the topography of the landscape, so to speak. Yeah, as the track makes its way below and to the east of the summit crags of Crugyn Ci (the prominent OS trig pillar of which 'may' stand upon the remains of an ancient cairn) the traveller should note a low rock formation to his/her left prior to passing above a reasonably large 'pond', albeit one minus ducks and someone's long-missing old boot. Scrambling upon this 'outcrop' and glancing towards said 'pond' the reasonably sighted should make out the trio of orthostats below and to the right.

And indeed, there it is, the alignment's existence, given the relatively substantial dimensions of the flanking stones, pretty obvious.... once you know where it is... and begging the question: 'so why IS it so obscure?' I mean, just off a main track traversing these hills with, even today, several walkers/mountain bikers passing by. Not that I'm complaining, of course, the silence elevating the atmosphere to almost the heights experienced upon Esgair y Llyn earlier in the day. And there is just 'something' so enigmatic, so ethereal - so 'right' - about the profile of a stone row viewed upon a windswept hillside. Tears at the soul, does it not?

This, of course, would be more than enough. But wait, there's a little extra. Or rather a lot, to be honest: a short distance to the approx north-east of the row, lying submerged within tall upland grass, can be found a most fine example of a cist, lacking capstone but otherwise perfect. Needless to say that this, too, is not to be found upon the map. I tell you what, that 'Jeeves' fella certainly knows a thing or two, does he not? Unlike the alignment, the passing antiquarian-minded traveller wouldn't have a hope in hell of stumbling across this gem. Coflein notes:

"Remains of stone cist. Approx 1M x 0.80M x 0.20m depth. Orientated N-S. Mudstone. Sunken into ground, only visible by tall reed grass. Poss. stone base. No stone scatter. Poss. robbed for sheepfold to SW(RSJ 2000)."

OK, the views, in my opinion, are not as far-reaching as those to be had upon Esgair y Llyn but, nonetheless, Rhayader is visible away to the east to add some context to what is a fine upland vibe accentuated by a temporary hiatus in the downpour. Once again, the spellbound visitor sees fit to sit back, drink his coffee and savour the moment. Well, it would be rude not to, right? Inevitably perhaps, the rain duly returns.... and how! As if synchronous with the inclement weather, time begins to run away with me, heedless of trivial, mortal concerns, my thoughts turning to getting back down to the car again. Reckoning I've left it too late to locate the 'tomb' and standing stone before dark, I'm left somewhat bemused by just how obvious both actually are - in stark contrast to those higher up the hill. I practically stumble over the 'Brindell Felen Tomb' on the way down - not quite head over heels, but with a little less boot traction in the torrential downpour that would have been a distinct possibility. Sad to report that Coflein are undecided about the prehistoric pedigree of said structure:

"Poss. chambered tomb side of trackway. 1 stone upright approx. 0.5m high x 1m w. Cap stone resting on upright, triangular in shape, approx. 0.75m in length. 2 Poss. uprights collapsed. Set in oval hollow approx. 3m x 2m. May be animal shelter(RSJ 2000)."

Hmm... may be an animal shelter? Furthermore, CPAT are adamant this is a 'natural feature', which, to these eyes, didn't seem credible. Yeah, I have to say it certainly looked the real deal to me, for what it's worth. However, if so, why wasn't it noted by any earlier antiquarian passing this way? On balance I guess this latter point is arguably telling. Luckily we are, metaphorically speaking at least, upon much firmer ground when it comes to the standing stone, located just beyond the 'tomb' and (incredibly in retrospect) within clear sight of the road. Coflein notes:

"Large standing stone, approx 2m high x 1.75m wide x 0.40m thick. Mudstone. Orientated E-W. Located near trackway and at edge of peat-cutting area (RSJ 2000)"

I decide, in view of the fading light and rain liable to have Russel Crowe reaching for his copy of 'Carpentry for Beginners', to return for a follow up hang at some future date. Yeah, happy with that. I'm also more than happy with the experiences of the day. Not bad for an area I was convinced had been exhausted by this so-called 'expert'. Yeah, right. A lesson for us all, perhaps?
21st March 2021ce
Edited 25th March 2021ce

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