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Carnedd Pen y Borth Goch

Round Cairn

<b>Carnedd Pen y Borth Goch</b>Posted by thesweetcheatImage © A. Brookes/Bloss (1.10.2011)
Also known as:
  • Drum

Nearest Town:Llanfairfechan (6km NNW)
OS Ref (GB):   SH70846959 / Sheet: 115
Latitude:53° 12' 26.42" N
Longitude:   3° 56' 2.97" W

Added by GLADMAN

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I can't remember the last time I visited North Wales outside of October, that wondrous Autumnal month when, with the barbecues finally extinguished and the tourists drifting away on the wind like the acrid smoke to warmer climes, the landscape exhales, unleashing a seemingly infinitesimally complex riot of reds, yellows and oranges to overwhelm the senses. Yeah, Nature's last hurrah - if one didn't know better, an outpouring of pent-up rage at her treatment by the ignorant masses? - before the battening-down of the hatches for winter. It's therefore positively odd to see such otherwise familiar hillsides resplendent in a more-or-less uniform raiment of green. Not to mention the Easter hordes clogging up Snowdonia's roads like fatty deposits within ageing arteries. However, following a couple of years of the COVID plague, recently exasperated by that sickening, equally sub-human Communist variant, I figure opportunities to breathe deeply the benefits of freedom must be grasped with both hands. Albeit with a touch of arthritis in the fingers, perhaps?

Simply put, the traveller in search of more than 'cheap thrills' has to adapt. Rise with the dawn chorus and choose itineraries with care. Hence, upon scanning the map - admittedly rather wearily - I settle upon Pen y Castell as an ideal objective to soak up some more of that precious upland vibe in peace. Let's face it, despite being one of Snowdonia's most easily ascended 2,000ft summits, no thrill-seeking tourist is going to venture to the empty north-eastern sector of The Carneddau in a hurry. Wot, no zip wires? I set about negotiating the somewhat 'minor' roads above Tal-y-Bont to eventually arrive at Bwlch-y-Gaer, the magnificent hill fort Pen-y-Gaer looming to the east. Tempting as the easy option of reacquainting myself with the latter is, I maintain focus and set off along the green track heading west below the little pyramidical top of Pen-y-Gadair.

It's a pleasant stomp, to be fair, the route initially delimited by tall, drystone walls prior to advancing across an open hillside, views of the looming high peaks of The Carneddau becoming progressively more intimate with every stride. In due course, beyond a plunging, traverse wall, a short yet steep pull finally sees me reach the craggy, 'castellated' summit, over 20 years since my last visit. In anticipation of the likely conditions at altitude, I've taken the precaution of wearing thermals; nevertheless, the severity of the wind is such that, rain or no rain, overtrousers are clearly an additional requirement today. As I struggle to put them on I lose my balance, feeling a sharp pain in my left hand as I steady myself against the summit rocks. Checking the damage, a stream of scarlet flowing from a gash in the webbing between my fingers is all too painfully obvious. Happy days. Jeez, clearly this 'castle' takes no prisoners.

A touch of improvised first aid later, I take stock and survey the scene from my none-too-welcoming perch. As expected, Pen y Castell is a truly wondrous viewpoint from which to take in the course of the sinuous Afon Conwy during the short journey from its rising upon the Migneint above Penmachno... to the sea beneath the drum towers of Edward's superlative fortress-town, a tumultuous beginning morphing into confident, if serpentine procession. Closer to hand, the magnificently strategic siting of Pen y Gaer is all too apparent - hey, how often does an antiquarian-minded traveller get to enjoy an aerial view of a hill fort? - as is the sublime 'place' in the landscape occupied by Tal y Fan itself.

Looking the other way, however, the brutal uplands evoke quite different emotions, a juxtaposition of awe and perhaps a little nervousness when faced with such an uncompromising landscape, familiar summits viewed from unfamiliar angles: the witch's slide; Pen Yr Helgi Du; a distant Moel Siabod; Craig Eigiau... and Carnedd Llewelyn, the sentinel peak itself. These are mountains I may perhaps never set foot upon again, yet such resignation is ultimately of little consequence if one accepts life is but a collection of memories; an individual the sum of what he/she has done. Ewan MacColl may have asserted that 'No man has a right to own mountains', but that does not invalidate the feeling I somehow possess a 'connection' to Y Carneddau. 'Blood bonds', courtesy of wind-rated incidents, notwithstanding. Yeah, it would appear the 'high places' have been messing with our minds since the beginning of time, enticing us to venture into the mist to learn more about ourselves.

Bracing against the wind, the far from steady gaze once again settles upon the most uniform skyline to the approx west: the high ridge of the Northern Carneddau rising from Carnedd y Delw to Carnedd Pen y Borth-Goch, Drum. The intervening landscape rising across Foel Lwyd to Drum appears 'do-able' but is of course greatly foreshortened. Very much aware of the effect of such 'optical rose-tinted glasses', the knowledge that the extension will demand everything I have precipitates a forlorn attempt to justify staying put. Needless to say, the siren call is too intense, the inner 'Sergeant Wilson' cautionary challenge noted for the record yet overridden.

In short order 'Wilson' appears right: substantial height loss followed by a steep ascent is perhaps my primary bummer when walking in the hills. However, an encounter with a pair of ubiquitous Carneddau ponies raises the spirits and renews my vigour. OK, lacking 4x hoof drive as I do, they soon leave me standing, but for a brief moment, I savour stumbling along with the wild horses. Hey, living the dream! The ascent of Foel Lwyd alongside the fence line is very steep indeed; consequently, it's a marked relief when the angle eases for the final approach to the great cairn surmounting the near skyline. Naturally, there's a price to pay, the landscape a veritable bog in places. But there you are. One last push and I'm finally there: Carnedd Pen y Borth-Goch.

Now in most other upland contexts Drum, rising to a very respectable 2,529ft, would represent a primary focus of any day spent in the Great Outdoors. Here, upon The Carneddau however, it is readily apparent that only Citizen Cairns can appreciate the true significance of the summit, for as I vacate the lee of the ridge and once again feel the sledgehammer force of the wind, facial muscles contorted as if auditioning for Peter Gabriel's iconic 80's MTV stalwart, the presence of 3,092ft Foel Fras rearing above to my left makes it abundantly clear that Drum, topographically speaking, is but a relatively minor player. That much is obvious. However, observe the massive circular footprint extending beneath the farcical 'muppet shelter' (preferably not headfirst and wind-assisted!) and it SHOULD also be obvious that relative height is but a part of the story, a simplistic view ignoring other important factors lost in the mists of time integral to who we once were. Yeah, so why doesn't Foel Fras possess the remains of a once-massive cairn if it is so much higher? Do people just not think anymore?

It's not just the route-marching SAS wannabees and 'jolly hockey sticks' trekkers who appear unable to interpret a map, or at the very least wonder why the word 'cairn' is annotated here in antiquarian typeface? To consider why the summit is covered by such an extensive circular feature serving no apparent modern purpose? Oh no. Check out most guide books and Drum is summarily dismissed as either a 'staging post', a 'meeting of fencelines', or featureless top lacking 'inspiration', whose one redeeming feature is apparently a 'large shelter' to take refuge within from those nasty mountain elements. I have two observations: 1) that this 'shelter' exists due to the wanton vandalism of a once fine Bronze Age funerary cairn by an ignorant - not to mention criminal - element of so-called hillwalkers seems to have escaped such authors; 2) shouldn't those experienced enough to publish 'guides' to our high places exhort the need for visitors to dress appropriately and not rely upon huddling within 'shelters', like frightened sheep avoiding the views they presumably came to enjoy, in order to mitigate their dangerous lack of foresight? Just saying...

Surveying the scene I, unlike our expert writers, am immediately consumed within the melodrama of simply being right here, right now. Senses battered, optic nerves overwhelmed by the sheer volume, the intensity of light. As one might have expected, the vista to the east is an expanded version of that from Pen y Castell earlier in the day.. think of those 'definitive versions' of classic albums record companies flog to ageing punters (ahem) nowadays: extra tracks, copious sleeve notes.. stretching all the way beyond Tal y Fan and the former Axe Factory upon Penmaenmawr (not electric guitars, apparently) to the Great Orme, sweeping right to gaze out across the Conwy Valley to the distant Denbigh Moors etc. Continuing right, the heart of The Carneddau takes centre stage, insight brought to an abrupt hiatus by the bulk of the aforementioned Foel Fras. Unseen from here upon Drum, the ridge continues beyond Garnedd Uchaf to Foel Grach (both featuring Bronze Age summit cairns) to the highest of them all: Carnedd Llewelyn itself. Well, at least if you discount the burial cairn which presumably once graced Yr Wyddfa (aka Snowdon), that is.

Hahaha. So, in a manner of speaking, our myopic authors are correct in that evidence/context suggests the former great cairn upon Drum was - hey still remains - part of a much bigger picture. One might surmise an integral part of a major Bronze Age ritual procession approaching the sentinel peak from the sea? Suffice to say I pity the fool that views such a notion as 'insignificant'. Incidentally, I also note with a degree of tragi-comic hilarity, mingling with disbelief, the substitution of Garnedd Uchaf upon the latest iterations of OS mapping with 'Carnedd Gwenllian'. That (apparent) welsh nationalists should choose to attempt to score cheap political points in lieu of actively promoting - and more important still, PROTECTING - the remaining tangible remains of the prehistory of these uplands is, frankly, to court nothing but contempt from The Citizen Cairn. Shame on you! Surely the past needs to be acknowledged and, as far as possible, understood, warts and all - not warped for political ends like the mechanical deceptions of a myriad doomed Winston Smiths complicit in their own subjection? What about the ancient VIPs who were PHYSICALLY commemorated upon these high summits millennia before the Princes of Gwynedd drove a wedge between North and South Walians that exists to this very day? A division that not even Glyndwr could, even temporarily, fully overcome? I ask again: What about them? What about those who lived and died here before the concept of 'Wales' apparently even existed. Do they simply not matter?

To the west, Cwm Anafon carves a deep fissure between Drum and Llwytmor (2,785ft), the latter not only one of the most strenuous ascents of The Carneddau (the brutal south face of Pen Yr Ole Wen notwithstanding), but also cairn-less, this, to my mind, re-enforcing the idea of 'procession' inherent here? The mountain was the scene of a Heinkel III crash during WW2, the ghost of the decapitated ventral gunner said to still walk the environs. Suffice to say I haven't seen him myself and would no doubt say "Serves you right", if I did. That, or run away as fast as I could. Although, come to think of it, do ghosts retain a gender? Can 'headless' ghosts even hear? It is all very puzzling. Anyway, coming full circle, Anglesey and the coast take centre stage once more. Time to retreat from the summit to drink it all in away from the steady stream of Easter Bank Holiday arrivals. Along with some very welcome coffee.

Sure enough they all - without exception - huddle within the 'shelter', hurriedly consuming unseen lunches. We observe each other with shared bemusement: just who IS that crazy man sitting out in the wind taking in the glorious views while we enlightened ones huddle here clad in entirely inappropriate attire missing it all? One such occupier asks me if I'm waiting to enter and takes great offence when I inform him that I wouldn't in a million years since this 'shelter'- and all others like it - should not exist. Needless to say, he has no idea he is cowering within the rearranged material of the last resting place of a Bronze Age VIP. "But doesn't every mountain have a cairn?" A-ha!!! By jingo, I do believe he's beginning to think! I leave him to ponder the thought that, since this cairn was recorded as apparently intact as recently as 1956, where is the former occupant now? Cast aside to the four winds? To his credit, the realisation appears to hit home.

The more I regard the footprint of the former great cairn, the more substantial and well-defined it appears to these eyes. Consequently, it is a major drag to come to the realisation that I must leave to begin the downward journey. To be fair, if this had been October such a point would have been reached hours ago. 'Horses for courses', as they say. One must trade such a benefit for the downside of mixing with the Easter hordes. Speaking of things equine, my gloriously unkempt friends wisely keep well clear of the stumbling biped this time around as I retrace my soggy steps to Pen y Castell, the ponies albeit visible - not to mention audible - from a distance.

Here I pause for a while to survey the wondrous scene amongst the crags, somehow managing to keep my balance and not fall over in a bloody heap. I have to say that this summit deserves a full day's hang on its own merits. Duly noted. Looking down into Cwm Dulyn I think I pinpoint the ring cairn/four-poster/kerbed cairn/take-your-pick at Hafod-y-gors-wen (SH73366742)? Or maybe not. I certainly identify Moel Eilio across the way, but not the iconic tree adorning the Cae Du cairn at SH75206616.

Whatever, I reflect upon a day very well spent as I finally make the car and properly attend to my physical wounds. Hey, I conclude I'll live as long as I keep the wound clean, I guess. As for my current state of mind, having experienced what remains of the great stone pile Carnedd Pen y Borth Goch upon 'insignificant' Drum? Well, suffice to say even our trekking friends may understand this one: to say it's good is a 'no-brainer'.
14th May 2022ce
Edited 14th May 2022ce

On top of a mountain called Drum 770metres up and on the edge of Snowdonia national park this cairn occupies an epic position above Llyn Anafon, across the valley Foel Fras (942m) and Llwytmor (849m) flank in the hidden valley below, and behind us the Conway valley.

The cairn has been badly ruined, being turned into a very effective wind break, the cairn material has been cleared from the interior down to the bedrock.
postman Posted by postman
15th August 2009ce


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The great Carnedd Pen y Borth Goch, Drum

Highlighting a lack of 'horse power' during an ascent of Drum via Pen y Castell, Easter 2022..
1st May 2022ce

Summit Cairns In Snowdonia

Plan showing how badly wrecked the cairn is, as well as how much bigger it is that the diameter of the shelter suggests.
thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
2nd October 2011ce
Edited 3rd October 2011ce