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Llan Ddu Fawr

Round Cairn

<b>Llan Ddu Fawr</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Nearest Town:Llanidloes (22km NE)
OS Ref (GB):   SN7876069985 / Sheets: 135, 147
Latitude:52° 18' 50.93" N
Longitude:   3° 46' 43.56" W

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Fieldnotes

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Of all the rivers draining Wales' extensive uplands - ad infinitum - of their copious rainfall, irrigating valley floor and flood plain prior to 'going 'round again' upon reaching the coast, it was perhaps somewhat ironic that it was the arguably lesser-known Afon Teifi which captured the imagination (if not heart) of a certain JMW Turner. Yeah, the other 'Mr T' made some half-dozen interpretations of Cilgerran Castle, in various media, towering above the gorge cut by the river not far from its confluence with Cardigan Bay at Aberteifi (Cardigan). Now the chances are if you've ever glanced at an old sepia image of a traditional Welsh 'coracle' boat, it was taken here.... a familiar scene which might verge upon 'chocolate box' sentimentality if not for the brutally austere aesthetic of William Marshall's massive drum towers. Beauty and beast writ large upon the master's canvas.

But what of the Teifi's beginnings? Well, rising upon the inhospitable (one might venture so far as 'bleak') fastness of the Cwmdeuddwr Hills - that incongruously wet 'Green Desert' between Rhayader and Aberystwyth seemingly populated by none but sheep - it's probably fair to note the river's birthplace lacks the ethereal upland vibe of Pumlumon's Hafren or Gwy, let alone the Wagnerian topography of, say, the Dyfi or Rheidol. That being said, the shores of Llyn Teifi and its satellite Llynnoedd Teifi ('Teifi Pools') are no stranger to the tourist picnic during those heady days of high summer which everyone seems to recall were much more frequent in childhood. Out of season, however, it is a different story, a landscape where even a master hillwalker such as the late, great raconteur (and war correspondent) Wynford Vaughan-Thomas (Welsh, apparently) once floundered 10 miles adrift in mist. Furthermore, a glance at the 1:50k map shows.... well, not a lot, to be honest... to interest the casual Modern Antiquarian, anyway. For the Citizen Cairn'd, however, the 1:25k variant is more forthcoming.

An occasionally 'sinuous' minor road heads east from the B4343 at Ffair-Rhos (signposted 'Teifi Pools') which, albeit minus tarmacadam, will in due course lead the curious traveller deep into the heart of the Elan Valley reservoirs. East of Bwlch Graig-fawr [incidentally note the excellent cist at SN77606795] this road eventually crosses a cattle grid (at very approx SN784683) north of Llyn Teifi where it's possible to verge park a little beyond. Note the stream and fence line heading north into the hills... the latter an umbilical cord to guide the wary traveller toward what lies, unseen, beyond. I accept the challenge - tentatively, I admit, with my beady eye upon the cloud base - and, like Bowie's (semi-autobiographical?) astronaut, it's time to leave my capsule. If I dare. Well, life's not a rehearsal, right? But even so....

It soon becomes apparent that, far from becoming overly cautious in my advancing years, my reading of the map was, if anything, too optimistic, an attempt to follow the aforementioned fence line at close proximity immediately rendered a non-starter by deep, industrial-strength bog worthy of Pumlumon herself. So, improvising a Plan B, I veer to the left (west) to ascend the rough flanks of Craig Pydolfa, prior to advancing along Meincyn. The going is tough, the terrain underfoot challenging, to say the least, with not even a sheep track to ease onward progress. What's more, I do not even have the incentive of a visible goal, the prominent cairn looming upon the skyline being Trawsallt to the north-west... the monument said to crown Llan Ddu Fawr conspicuous by its absence. But there you are. So, checking the compass (yet) again, I leave the peripheral safety of the fence and strike out northwards across open ground - if eroded peat hag and bog may be described as such - to ascend to the apparently featureless 1,949ft summit.

Eventually, upon cresting the rise, the profile of a large, circular shelter obscuring an OS trig pillar signifies my physical struggle is at an end. For now. However, it's what lies beneath which blows me away... a massive circular footprint, the scale out of all proportion to what one would expect upon such an obscure Mid Walian top. The silence is all-pervading, seemingly seeping into every pore; the 360-degree view is, although expansive, hard to define: a panorama of what, exactly? The absence of sunlight, excluded by the leaden sky, accords an almost monochromatic wash to an uncompromisingly harsh landscape of earth, wind... and water. Lots of water. But then this is Cwmdeuddwr. Yeah, I swear if you were to live here for any significant length of time webbed feet would result. If not gills. The feeling of isolation from the modern world, from civilisation itself - despite being not an excessive distance from my 'tin-can' - is overpoweringly sublime... as intoxicating in its primaeval intensity as the clean air I breathe, seemingly floating high above the world. An - albeit temporary - panacea for one's ills far more potent than that chosen by poor old Major Tom. Clearly, I will never stand upon the surface of my planet's satellite, either. But perhaps regarding moments such as this as my own 'moonwalk' is not quite to push the analogy to breaking point? To the north-east I can see another Bronze Age cairn, Carn-y-Rhyrddod, crowning the highest point of Llethr Tirion. It is nearer than I had, for some reason, anticipated and just a tad higher.

The bwlch between the two monuments is occupied by another area of serious bog complete with towering peat hags. Once negotiated, I find Carn-y-Rhyrddod to be not as immediately impressive as its wondrous neighbour due to rather haphazard modern alterations. The perception is misguided, however, since much of the significant footprint of the monument is covered by a grassy mantle, requiring the viewer to step back and tune the 'megalithic radar' before ultimately grasping what's what. Furthermore, the views are more cohesive, particularly to the north where Bryn Dafydd (also apparently featuring the remains of a funerary cairn) leads the gaze down to the more pastoral landscape of Cwm Ystwyth and the wooded Hafod estate, before rising again to settle upon Pumlumon sat purposely astride the horizon. The contrast with the unyieldingly bleak uplands cradling the llynnau Fyrddon to the east is all too evident. It is a fine place to be.

A couple of hours grace are all too soon exhausted. Brought back to 'earth', as if by hypnogogic jerk, I find, as is often the case 'up here', that I am reluctant to leave. Cutting it fine, I decide to compensate - ha! - by taking a more 'direct' route south for the return to the car... only to regret my folly in short order, being forced to retreat and circle around upon the western flank of Llan Ddu Fawr after stumbling blindly into impassable bog. Well, impassable for me, anyway. Probably not for a duck. Or water rat. The most inconsiderately rough terrain begins to exert its toll upon my dodgy knees and consequently, it is upon very wobbly legs - indeed - that I feel tarmac beneath my feet once again and finally clamber back into my command module. Exhausted, I decide to spend the night right here above Llyn Teifi. The thought occurs as to whether the venerable JMWT would have approved of the scenery at this end - the start - of the river's journey. Whether the old paint dabbler might have considered it worth capturing for posterity? Needless to say we'll never know. However, I rather think he would've, myself. Call it a hunch.
GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
29th November 2020ce
Edited 2nd December 2020ce