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Waun Sarn


<b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Nearest Town:Llandrindod Wells (12km E)
OS Ref (GB):   SN93066161 / Sheet: 147
Latitude:52° 14' 30.64" N
Longitude:   3° 33' 59.03" W

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<b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN <b>Waun Sarn</b>Posted by GLADMAN


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It was another Robert - Robert Louis Stevenson, in fact - who noted that "to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"; a wondrously succinct way of emphasising the apparent psychological benefit to us homo sapiens of sustaining the belief, the aspiration that your 'lot' will... hey, must... improve. Even when, on occasion, such a notion seems to counter all logic when faced down by the cold reality of everyday existence. Yeah, no matter how pants life may be at the moment, tomorrow is another day; and when the likes of (pre-professor) Brian Cox dared to dream - or rather D:Ream - and assert that 'things can only get better', isn't it the fool who doesn't subscribe to such wishful thinking?

You know, now I come to think of it, this quintessential human trait may well explain the enduring appeal of the pilgrimage to some and, to expand upon that, the need for religion for the many: the focus upon the journey as representing far more than 'a means to an end', of getting from A to B... but rather the desire to be perpetually moving towards something better? At the expense of making the best of what you have right here, right now? It is this latter part which impels me to disagree with the esteemed Scot. For, to (slightly - apologies) paraphrase James Dean Bradfield from 1996: "But all I want to do is live; No matter how miserable it [sometimes] is". To experience, to feel. To be human.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no automatic contrarian - despite being in awe of the late, great Christopher Hitchens' intellect and peerless debating ability. Nevertheless, I see no sense in always looking to the future and consequently have no time for pilgrimages, the plodding of dull long-distance paths toward an unattainable, utopian ideal. Be it earthbound or metaphysical. For me, it is the here and now that should engage us, that should receive our primary focus. We should live in and for the moment, subject to securing an adequate safeguard for the future in the proverbial bank. Well, after all, life is no rehearsal. And where better to (quite literally) 'walk the talk', as our friends from across The Atlantic might say, than by getting back to basics within The Great Outdoors? Yeah, 'Come back to the land', as Dave Gahan once implored in that sonorous baritone... strip away the accumulated jibber-jabber of this Facebook age, set oneself some goals... and strive to realise them? Having said that, perhaps the sweetest attainment of all is the improvised rescue of a day fast careering toward oblivion. Snatching victory from the seemingly insatiably hungry jaws of defeat when everything's turning a bit 'Pete Tong'? Such as my chaotic - but ultimately successful - attempt to visit Gro Hill, a minor hilltop deep within the watery fastness of Cwmdeuddwr.

OK, judging by a quick perusal of the 1:50K map, upon rising from an overnight camp at the head of the dynamically cursive Afon Ystwyth - overlooked, incidentally, by the to me hitherto unknown, cairn cemetery upon Craig y Lluest boasting arguably one of THE views of Mid Wales - things should have proved straightforward enough. But then it doesn't work like that when I travel to The Green Desert of Wales. Tell me about it. Anyway, a protracted, if pleasant, north-south traverse of the Elan Valley Reservoirs eventually sees me arrive a little beyond the terminus of Dôl y Mynach Reservoir, the southernmost of an extensive chain, whereby a somewhat 'structurally challenged' bridge crosses the Afon Claerwen to access the southern hinterland. Here I ignore the abrupt dog-leg servicing Rhiwnant farm (and the wondrous Nant Paradwys) and, a little further on, a track ascending Waun Lwyd (and eventually the be-cairned Gorllwyn) to the south-east to follow the upper of two tracks heading approx north-east for about a mile. The route passes the rather fine Llannerch y Cawr medieval longhouse afore negotiating several fords, where watercourses draining said hinterland bisect the track, prior to disgorging their precious cargo into the reservoir.

Upon crossing the last of these, the Nant y Postau, I veer 'off-piste' to the east, heading for the low rise of Gro Hill upon the skyline. Now fair play to the reservoir engineers for knowing their subject since the terrain is mighty soggy, to say the least. However, what with the aforementioned stream filling the air with an agreeable ambience, reaching the crest of the hill isn't a drag. What I discover there, however, is: in lieu of the expected cairns to act as foci for a lazy day's chill out nursing a touch of shin splints, I instead see an obvious cairn some way beyond - about half a mile - to the approx south-east, crowing the northern aspect of the plateau. Checking the map, I find a 'worn section' obscuring whatever detail may have once existed. However Coflein lists nothing upon Waun Sarn... so I conclude the distant cairn must be my objective and, as is often the case, The Green Desert has beguiled me.

The location is certainly a fine one - classic upland, in fact. Furthermore, the monument possesses, in my opinion, a more-or-less certain prehistoric pedigree evidenced by a pronounced, embedded footprint underlying the modern marker cairn. I plonk myself down and survey the scene. And what a scene! South-westward, the Dôl y Mynach reservoir, with dam overflow adding pleasing kinetic detail - the fine brushstroke, if you will? - draws the gaze to the sentinel peak Drygarn Fawr and its twin, iconic beehive cairns. To leftfield, Gorllwyn, the second 2,000 footer, features a further pair of monuments. Both summits offer a wondrous wilderness vibe belying their relative lack of height above ordnance datum, an atmosphere only amplified further by their splendid isolation and difficulty of access across seemingly limitless bog. To the north, the hydrous landscape stretches away the horizon, the surprisingly apparent dearth of visible surface water testament to the relatively uniform topography of Cwmdeuddwr's uplands contrasting with its steep-sided cwms... and proving once and for all that a utilitarian landscape need not offend aesthetic sensibilities. While below to the approx north-east... the linear Bronze Age cemetery resplendent upon Y Gamriw overlooks the obscure stone circle of Crugian Bach. All is silent, save the occasional shrill battle cry of a patrolling Red Kite soaring high above... and, yes, the distant, almost imperceptible sound of ever-present water in motion. No wonder Shelley found inspiration hereabouts. I mean, how could he not have when the very landscape itself is poetry, invested with perpetual motion by the elements?

The close proximity of Y Gamriw does not sit at all well with what I've attempted to convince myself thus far: that I'm enjoying a classy sojourn upon Gro Hill. Yeah, the angles... the landscape geometry simply does not fit. To resolve the conundrum I decide to go find Gro Hill's reported summit cairn... and can not. It just is not there. So that's that settled, then: clearly the cairn I've just had the pleasure of meeting is an unrecorded example upon the north-western prow of Waun Sarn's summit plateau. Pretty obvious in retrospect, I guess. Satisfied with my elementary deduction - no shit, Sherlock - I head southward, descending a rocky spine toward Pwll Tribeddau, source of the Nant Rhyd-goch, henceforth veering northwards along Esgair Gwar-y-cae. Coflein lists several monuments in the vicinity of the ridge, but such is the height of the industrial-strength fern cover - the unbridled astringency of terrain - that I can not say for sure what, if anything, I found. With the notable exception of what appeared to be a multi-phase settlement, judging by the juxtaposition of structural styles in situ.

Struggling for fitness now - owing to the ludicrously verdant vegetation ensuring onward progress is very difficult indeed, fern fronds grasping at my legs as if I was an extra in Ultravox's 'Thin Wall' video - I nevertheless decide to cross the Nant Rhyd-goch and (finally, at long last) check out the cairns upon Gro Hill to the north-east. The Pteridium are unrelenting, but ultimately not enough to prevent me from returning to... the exact same spot I had stood this very morning! This time around I venture a little further to the north and am duly greeted by a well-defined round cairn with kerbing still in situ. So there you are. Once again, the monument occupies a grand spot, albeit, it has to be said, not in the same class as that looming above upon Waun Sarn. Owing to the day's shenanigans time is now limited, but I resolve to use whatever I have to appreciate the vibe here. To ascertain, to the best of my ability, what the landscape has to 'say'. The overriding impression is of immense space.... the gaze drawn upward to an overwhelmingly vast sky filled by great billowing cumulonimbus clouds placing everything we say, do and think in its proper perspective. Mere ants upon the greatest of stages, perhaps. But working together, ants can achieve the seemingly impossible, right? A little further north sits another monument, ravaged and robbed, but nonetheless there, accompanied by wind tousled vegetation. There are other, smaller examples, too. But all too soon I must leave and begin the return leg to the car before darkness falls.

Back within my metal carapace, I ponder the elapsed day. Yeah, what should have been a simple chill-out ended up being nothing of the sort due primarily to human error. My error. Instead, it was so much more: the opportunity to discover something I had no idea existed; to find myself adrift within an unforgiving landscape yet persevere, regroup... and win out in the end. To learn something not only about Cwmdeuddwr.... but ultimately, about myself. To appreciate the moment, not the prelude. To grasp that, for me, it doesn't matter how you get to where you want to be.. wherever it may be. Only that you make the attempt while you can.
1st February 2020ce
Edited 3rd February 2020ce


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Elan Valley Past and Present

An interesting website specific to the area. The Cwmdeuddwr Hills can be a very confusing - not to mention dangerous - place, particularly in mist. Consequently, a little local knowledge is always more than welcome....
1st February 2020ce
Edited 27th February 2021ce