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Carneddau Hill (Builth Wells)

Round Cairn

<b>Carneddau Hill (Builth Wells)</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Nearest Town:Builth Wells (4km SSW)
OS Ref (GB):   SO06625407 / Sheet: 147
Latitude:52° 10' 35.54" N
Longitude:   3° 21' 56.75" W

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I must confess to never having been the most enthusiastic of travellers. Yeah, Virginia Woolf might have reckoned 'the journey is everything', but I tend to regard motion between two points as, well, a means to an end, to tell you the truth. The price one has to pay... what must be endured... to experience, first hand, the more interesting locations these Isles have to offer. And since there are no mountains gracing south-east Essex, this Citizen Cairn'd is required to venture (considerably) forth to enjoy that special 'upland vibe'. Needless to say, the opportunity for such forays has been strictly - and, to my mind, rightly - limited during the past year. Indeed, some might say that faced with such calamitous global misfortune, the pursuit of personal solace ought not to be high upon the collective agenda following temporary relaxation of restrictions. However, I would argue that it is this very focus upon the individualistic act - upon independent thought/action symbiotic with the common good - that forms the crucial bulwark holding back the implacably noxious totalitarian siblings of the far left and far right. At least for now. The finger in the dyke.

So, with the opportunity to escape the coronavirus-denying loons, lockdown-ignoring half-wits and asinine conspiracy loons temporarily raising its head, I reckon there's no time like the present. Well, as Noel Coward sardonically noted, there's no guarantee that the next life (should one believe in that sort of thing) will be 'any less exasperating than this'. As usual, I'm woefully lacking in the homework stakes. Consequently, a brief 'cramming session' is required to decide upon a characteristically vague notion of 'lower Mid Wales', starting at the attractive market town of Builth Wells (Llanfair-ym-Muallt). And take it from there... on the premise of necessity being the Mother of Invention etc (with apologies to Frank, if not Plato). Hence, following a pretty 'exasperating' early morning drive - what with closures upon the M4 and a farcically busy Storey Arms overwhelmed with tourists unintentionally complicit in the erosion of another few inches from the summits of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du - I finally arrive below the Carneddau, a compact range of low hills to the north-east of the spa-town, the latter at the confluence of the rivers Wye (Gwy) and Irfon. Builth, incidentally, is somewhat notorious/controversial in Welsh lore, the garrison of the castle (impressive surviving earthworks will interest the medieval-heads out there) having refused sanctuary to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd prior to his death at Cilmeri, a little to the west, in December 1282... the act highlighting the lack of solidarity between Gwynedd and the 'rest of Wales' that persists to this day. Yeah, the 'Hwntws' versus the 'Gogs'. As an interested outsider - I have family in the south... and friends in the north - let's just say there are two sides to every story, each deserving to be heard, methinks. Just saying.

The approach road to Cwm Berwyn passes beneath 'Gaer' - at SO08545482, the experts, the name of the landscape feature notwithstanding, apparently none too sure of archaeological providence - before terminating at Cwmbychan farm. As I manoeuvre, with the optimum inherent lack of grace, I'm approached by a young woman who, basically, wants to know what I'm doing in these parts. I request advice as to where to leave the car since I'm heading for the Carneddau... to be informed there are no rights of way in the direction of my sweeping arm. Producing my map, I beg to differ, whereas the mood suddenly changes; it seems she's actually all in favour of archaeologist-types (even those who can't agree when a hillfort is or isn't a hillfort) and says it's fine to park at the entrance to the trackway servicing Cwm-berwyn farm. That'll do.

The landscape is classic Mid Wales, the stony access route drawing me deeper into the beckoning hinterland looming beyond - a fine study of perspective. My intended objective, the great promontory fort overlooking Cwm Berwyn, can be seen rising above the farmhouse to the west. However, my close-quarters map reading being what it is (i.e not very good) I elect to take the public footpath to the south-west, this following the southern bank of a tumbling stream, deep within its heavily eroded, wooded couloir, towards distant Carneddau Hill, before heading north. Or at least that was the plan. For a short time. Needless to say, as I break-out upon the open hillside, I duly change my mind: the cairn upon Carneddau Hill it is, then. Now a direct ascent, initially across deep bog, then through chest-high summer bracken may well have seemed a good idea at the time, but, having been dragged to my knees on a number of occasions by the all-powerful, industrial-strength vegetation, the final slog to the summit is verging upon sheer purgatory itself. The subsequent realisation that all that sweaty struggle, all that effort, could've been avoided by simply cutting up the ridge to the left... and following a clear path... was not helpful. Or at least wasn't appreciated at the time, shall we say? Then again, I guess there's the possibility, like the wondrous Mrs Doyle herself, of possessing a subconscious predilection for the hardest option? For authenticity's sake, you understand. Hmmm, 'maybe I like the misery, Father?'

Suffice to say that, if I had found the great cairn crowning the c1,417ft summit to have been rubbish, I wouldn't have been happy. However, fair play, the cairn is worth the effort. With metaphorical bells on. And, come to think of it, the locals clearly rated it enough to reference the monument - and presumably the others to the north - when naming their environs? Whatever, the people at Coflein have this to say:

"The Carneddau Hill Cairn is 19m in diameter, much robbed of stone and now only up to 0.8m high, but with depressions. The site was probably chosen for its commanding position with panoramic views. On top of the cairn are a stone shelter and a modern marker cairn, using material from the cairn." [R Hayman, H&H, 22/2/2010].

Yeah, robbed it may well be, but there is an awful lot of stone still in situ to emphasise what an important site this must have once been... hell, still is! And then there are those 'panoramic views'. Tell me about them. Although, to be fair - as the old adage goes - a picture is worth a thousand words. Not that the likes of Wordsworth would've necessarily concurred, mind. But there you are. The vistas are not only richly endowed with scenic splendour of the highest order, but also liberally 'sprinkled' with a copious array of additional prehistoric archaeology: looking south-west towards Builth there are two small hillforts; to the north, as noted above, a brace of upland cairns; to the north-east, the great promontory fort I came here to see with, visible to its right, to my mind one of Mid Wales' finest hillforts per se, Castle Bank. The penny drops (possibly 50p now, taking account of inflation) that there's no way one afternoon is going to be anywhere near enough time to explore the extended area... so probably best to simply enjoy the moment. Hey, what's not to like? The intermittent drizzle of the ascent having, rather fortuitously, been superseded by sunshine (albeit also somewhat sporadic), the cairn now sparkling - or as John Foxx might say - 'glistening' in the intensity of the light. A glittering prize, indeed.

As I gaze out across the surrounding hills, the 'place in the landscape' occupied by Builth Wells becomes clearer. Too far from the Mam C's place on the South Walian coast to feature within my usual itineraries; too far south to draw me away from Cwmdeuddwr and the wilds of Pumlumon before now... otherwise, I'm generally just a' passing through en route to somewhere else. However, I'm glad I stopped off this time around, took the time to discover what is secreted away from the general gaze. As the light plays across said landscape, illuminating the great stone pile once more as it has for millennia past, I try again to resolve the conundrum of fitting all the remaining Carneddau 'pieces' into my puzzle. However, they won't go. Not today, anyhow. Not allowing sufficient time to do them all justice. OK, maths was never my strong point, but quality over quantity is a pretty sound guiding principle, right?

So, the great promontory fort beckoning to the north-east will be my second, and final visit of this afternoon. Assuming I don't make a hash of that, too. Yeah, right...
23rd January 2021ce
Edited 24th January 2021ce