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Aran Fawddwy

Round Cairn

<b>Aran Fawddwy</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Nearest Town:Dolgellau (14km WSW)
OS Ref (GB):   SH86272238 / Sheets: 124, 125
Latitude:52° 47' 11.71" N
Longitude:   3° 41' 11.74" W

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Aran Fawddwy (2,969ft) is one of Wales' classic mountains, its volcanic crags deeply scoured and crafted by the unimaginably powerful forces of glaciation to form a towering cathedral of igneous rock. Together with its slightly lower northern neighbour, Aran Benllyn (2,901ft), the landscape might be considered by some - such as I - the archetypal hybrid of North/Mid Walian upland topography: the stark, uncompromising brutality of unforgiving cliff faces offset, tempered, by the softer green of subsidiary ridges and rounded hills overlooking sylvan cwms; valleys where farmers ply their trade much as they have done so for centuries past. Beast and beauty writ large upon the southern extremity of Snowdonia.

It is this (relative) geographical isolation from the traditional mountain heartland of Gwynedd that, in my opinion, accords The Arans their sense of singularity, a perceived notion of uniqueness perhaps only approximated by the equally sublime heights of not-too-distant Cadair Idris. Local history suggests that this 'aloofness' may not merely reside in the cognition of the modern traveller, the sentinel peaks namechecking the medieval cymydau (commotes) of Penllyn and Mawddwy... by all accounts, judging by the violent antics of the notorious 'Red Robbers' said to reside in and around Cwm Cywarch during the 1500's, pretty volatile areas back in the day. Furthermore, walkers wishing to visit both main summits will need to set foot upon Erw y Ddafad Ddu... 'Acre of the Black Sheep'. Hmm.. is there something we should know, Mr Cope? It is therefore fitting that Aran Fawddwy should be crowned by what is - in my opinion, all things considered - Wales' finest upland Bronze Age cairn. Coflein has this to say:

"Remains of a large cairn located on the summit of Aran Fawddwy. The cairn is stone built and measures up to 16m in diameter and up to 4m in height. An Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar has been erected on the E side of the cairn"

OK, so the dimensions of the stone pile are impressive, although nowadays perhaps not to the degree suggested by the professionals; however, for me, it is the sheer sublimity of placement, the overpowering exquisiteness of location which sets this monument apart. Perched upon the eastern flank of the summit crags, the cairn quite literally stands upon the edge of the abyss, overlooking a vertiginous, perpendicular drop to Creiglyn Dyfi cradled over 1,000ft below. Now I'm well aware words can only convey so much. So imagine, if you will, the late, great Stuart Adamson standing atop this cairn performing an guitar solo (with E-bow, naturally) expressing all the joy, pain, love, sorrow, exhilaration, frustration, altruism, anger, fear, hope.. that, collectively, we call 'being human'. Hey, that's what I mean.

Needless to say this dark lake Creiglyn Dyfi has form, being none other than the source of the Afon Dyfi (Dovey), the river undertaking a majestic procession south-westward to Cardigan Bay following a suitably tumultuous birth, erupting from the tarn as Llaethnant or 'Milk Brook'. Legend has it that St. Tydecho was responsible for this moniker after, er, somewhat miraculously turning the nascent, cascading stream into nutritious dairy produce to assist impoverished locals during times of famine... wondrous chap that he was. However those who have approached Creiglyn Dyfi via Foel Hafod-fynydd - incidentally a fine walk - may well wish to contest the veracity of this incredulous claim. Or not. Nevertheless it is telling, perhaps, that such transcendental occurrences are attributed to the locale; although whether Bronze Age priests were the initiators of such a metaphysical vibe or merely drawn here by pre-existing spiritual memes kept alive by Neolithic locals is no doubt a moot point. Whatever the truth, there is in my view no denying the 'special relationship' formed between landscape and human psyche in the vicinity, particularly when looking from above seated in the abode of the gods. Just the spot for a people to set their VIP upon the path to eternity, one might say?

The views are inspiring looking upon a more horizontal - albeit elevated - plane, too, with the long escarpments of Cadair Idris and Y Rhinogydd to the approx west, Snowdonia to the north beyond Aran Benllyn, Y Berwyn to the east... and the green hills of Mid Wales stretching away to the southern horizon. Given clear skies, of course. Although, to be fair, swirling cloud does add an additional, ethereal dimension to proceedings if countered by accurate compass bearings facilitating the way down. Note that the unnamed former occupant(s) of the great cairn are not the only legendary VIPs to be commemorated up hereabouts... as a memorial to SAC Michael 'Mike' Aspain upon nearby Drws Bach makes abundantly clear, the RAF St Athan Mountain Rescue gentleman having been killed by lightning whilst on duty during June 1960. There really are no words one can say, so perhaps a brief, silent salute in passing is appropriate. Oh, incidentally two men had to be airlifted off the mountain in January 2014 (just a year before my last ascent) after being paralysed - I kid you not - by another lightning strike. Yeah, Aran Fawddwy can be a dangerous, foreboding place.... primeval forces created it and are at still at work here. Natural forces of a magnitude beyond our limited comprehension. Is it any wonder priests attempted to fill the void?

Arguably the classic route to Aran Fawddwy is the linear traverse of the main ridge starting from Llanuwchllyn at the southern end of Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake). However my three ascents to the summit ridge over the years have, for logistical reasons, all commenced within the dramatic environs of Cwm Cywarch, as mentioned above the former haunt of the Red Robbers. It is to the credit of the Snowdonia National Park Authority to note that, in addition to managing the very militant local land owners, a (relatively) new car park now alleviates parking issues of yore. I speak from experience, having found myself bogged down to my axle whilst parking upon grass prior to an ascent of Glasgwm back in 2008. Surrounded by towering buttresses of rock, it is a suitably epic spot to begin a foray into these wondrous mountains crowned by quite possibly Wales finest upland cairn. All things considered....
14th April 2018ce
Edited 16th April 2018ce


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There's some stoney folklore for this area (and shape changing animals of various colours). But you'll have to ask GM if he sat on any big blue stones.
[Saint Tydecho,] upon a quarrel between him and Emyr Llydaw (i.e., Emyr, King of Armorica) he came over to Mowddwy and built a temple (teml) there, and kept a good house; that his bed was the blue rock on the side of the valley, and that he wore a hair coat (pais rawn), and was a confessor.

Maelgwn Gwynedd, in the heat of his youth, sent his horses and dogs to be fed by his prayers. Tydecho turned them loose into the mountain; and when they were fetched, though it had been cold winds and hoar frost, they were found fat and strong, and their white colour changed into a gold colour. Maelgwn Gwynedd, provoked at this, took away Tydecho's oxen; but the next day deer instead of oxen were found in his team aploughing, and a grey wolf drawing the harrow after them.

Maelgwn came with a pack of white dogs to hunt to these rocks, and sat upon Tydecho's blue stone; but when he endeavoured to get up, he found his backside was quite fastened to the stone that he could not stir, and was so obliged to make matters up with the saint. He sent back his oxen, and gave him for atonement the privilege of sanctuary for a hundred ages so that neither man nor beast could be taken from his land; no battles, or burning, or killing to be admitted there.
From Dafydd Llwyd ap Llewelyn ap Gruffydd's account, collected in Lewis Morris's Celtic Remains (1878).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
10th January 2014ce
Edited 10th January 2014ce