The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian




<b>Powys</b>Posted by GLADMANCistfaen © Robert Gladstone
Due to the number of sites, Powys has been divided into the three historic counties of Brecknockshire, Montgomeryshire, and Radnorshire. If in doubt where to add your site, the Coflein map search
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Esgair Ceiliog (Ring Cairn) — Fieldnotes

It's always struck me as significant - if not telling - that (the then West) Germany led the way in redefining popular music during the final decades of the 20th Century - Kraftwerk's techno-pop influencing Bowie and thus driving the post-punk electronic explosion - since when a society's immediate past history is so horrific, one can only look to the future, right? Appropriately enough, I reckon Hamburger Peter Heppner nailed this sense of Teutonic emancipation/alienation from the past in Wolfsheim's wondrous 'Kein Zurück' in 2003: "Und was jetzt ist wird nie mehr so geschehen; Es geht kein Weg zurück (And what is now will never happen again; There is no way back)". But is this truly a healthy, progressive worldview and not one simply borne from an inability to face the past, at least for now? Is the past really irrelevant? And if so, what does that say about us 'Modern Antiquarians' so intent upon trying to understand how our pre-history moulded us into what we are today? For better or worse. Sure, we cannot physically 'go back', but is it possible to understand - or at least gain a tenuous insight into - the minds of our forebears? And then what use would that be?

On balance I reckon that, while we can take elements of such a German mindset to heart - don't dwell upon negative emotions etc - the truth should always win out if we are to have any future at all. Orlando Battista once said 'An error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to correct it', which I guess is another way of highlighting we homo sapiens' propensity to learn far more by 'ballsing things up' than by acting with the technical precision of, well... Die Mensch-Maschine. It follows, therefore, that one has to try to understand the past to enable any attempt to avoid the mistakes of our history/pre-history?

Of all the negative human emotions it is perhaps 'regret' which is, in the long run, the most damaging if left untreated, gnawing away at one's inner self like a rodent through an electrical cable... or corroding the mind like the blood of H R Giger's myopically savage beastie through a spaceship's hull. Sooner or later something's gotta give, right? Now don't get me wrong, there are many, many worse things in this life than neglecting to visit a prime archaeological site, when in any given locale, due to ignorance of its existence. Nevertheless, I'd wager you won't deny it can be galling not to have taken chances to accomplish something worthwhile, particularly regarding this 'outdoor exploration' lark, where opportunities can be fleeting, fitness not what it once was... the 'tweak' in the knee progressively more pronounced as the years pass. Yeah, none of us is getting any younger. As the gorgeously bonkers Roisin Murphy emphatically stated some years back, the time is always 'NOW'.

The thought occurs early morning as I scan the map at my wild camp above Cwm Ystwyth: do I really want to reprise a visit to Cwm Paradwys in order to see a cairn I happened to miss out on a few years back? Just the one, requiring a half-day at most... when I could experience something brand new instead. I mean let's face it, things are never as exciting the second time around, are they? Luckily, in retrospect, I conclude I should take the opportunity to correct the 'error' since ignorance, as in law, is ultimately no defence. Besides, I seem to recall that image on Coflein did appear rather tasty. The drive southwards through Cwmdeuddwr shadows the sinuous course of the Afon Elan, the artificially corralled waters of which wait patiently behind successive masterpieces of Victorian engineering prowess pending onward progress. Eventually, I reach the southern-most reservoir (Dolymynach) and park up by the 'phonebox' - remember them? - at SN901616. Crossing the Afon Claerwen (flowing from the massive reservoir collecting the copious run-off of western Elenydd at road's end), I veer right at the medieval longhouse of Llannerch-y-cawr to join the track accessing Cwm Rhiwnant, experiencing a flash of deja-vu as I do so. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to experience the walk once again, what with sunlight streaming through the cloud mantle and that special ambience of cascading water below me releasing the endorphins.

To the west(ish), the crags of Craig y Llysiau are surmounted by a standing stone which, if you are that way inclined, may be of interest (I must confess that solitary monoliths have to be in the 'Maen Llia league' for me to consider a primary visit). Continuing onwards, a fine view into Cwm Rhiwnant soon manifests itself as I begin to gain height, the topography of Dalrhiw suggestive of it being a good viewpoint. Duly noted, the track veers to the south, a headwall waterfall hinting at what lies above and beyond: Cwm Paradwys. A little before Carreg y Fedw, that is just beyond a right-hand fork, the track swings abruptly uphill to the left. I, however, maintain my approach line scrambling up the rough slope to attain the green track traversing the cwm... all the way to Bwlch y Ddau Faen and Carnau if one wishes... or even the legendary Drygarn Fawr itself! Err, not today thanks. Yeah, I've smaller 'fish to fry', albeit - as it will transpire - only in terms of overall effort, not quality.

More-or-less opposite the final cascade of the Nant Paradwys, I exit the magnificent stage left and climb steeply to the top of the crags of Esgair Ceiliog, expecting to see my goal, the ring cairn, visible below to the north-east. To be fair.... it is. But not so as I can recognise it with my hopeless peepers first time of asking. More obvious, even to the likes of me, is the great Waun cairn crowning the hillside to my right (SN897599); an essential visit for any Citizen Cairn'd who may not have had the pleasure. As for myself, it takes an uncomfortable period of (quite literally) stumbling around within the trademark tall 'tufty grass' of Cwmdeuddwr (perhaps only rivalled by Pumlumon when it comes to pitiless disregard for the traveller) before I glimpse stone upon the sloping hillside beyond.

To say it is worth the effort is akin to reluctantly conceding Mozart may have written a few 'half-decent tunes' back in the day. In short, this is, in my estimation, a truly exquisite ring cairn set in perhaps as vibey a location as one could possibly wish for, given the physical outlay required to get here. Let's face it, if any other punter was to disturb you at Esgair Ceiliog, verily, I'd eat my hat. And if you could see my hat, well.... OK, as with numerous other monuments gracing the Cwmdeuddwr Hills, the outlook is more 'aquatic' in nature than originally intended by the architects; that being said, it's certainly none too shabby with Rhos y Gelynnen (incidentally the site of a fine stone row) rising beyond Craig Llannerch-y-cawr to the immediate north, the gaze panning rightward across the Dolymynach and Caban-coch Reservoirs to rest upon the be-cairned skyline of Gro Hill, memorably blundered about upon last year.

As regards the archaeology on display... Bill and Ted's 'Excellent!' comes to mind (with a Copeian 'bass air guitar' for added emphasis), the ring cairn possessing a well-preserved - in fact more-or-less complete - circular footprint, the whole low lying construction forming a curiously grey interlude within a veritable rolling sea of various shades of green. At once distinct from, yet remaining an integral part of, this hillside. In fact, there's nothing for it but to lie back and follow suit for a few hours. For those who may want to do the Maths, Coflein notes:

"...a stony ring bank 2.5m-3.5m wide and up to 0.5m high with overall measurements of 12.5m from east to west by 11.5m from north to south. There is no entrance gap in the bank." [D.K.Leighton, RCAHMW, 8/8/2005]

With a couple of hours still in the 'bank' before I must return to the car, I reject a return to the Waun cairn in favour of a quick shufty into Cwm Rhiwarth from the top of Dalrhiw. Simple enough, right? Haha. Yeah, right. Crossing the Nant Paradwys at the waterfall I'm immediately reminded once again why it's no mean feat to venture 'off-piste' upon the Cwmdeuddwr Hills, the terrain ludicrously rough underfoot to the point of allusions to purgatory. Furthermore, the sky, relatively benign earlier in the day, is now growing progressively darker and darker. The profile of Carnau appears upon the southern skyline as I reach the 'summit', such as it is, of the hill. A few spots of rain... and suddenly I know what's coming. Nevertheless, the electrical storm hits before the waterproofs are in place, but I'm OK. For now. That is until the thunder booms out, echoing off nearby crags with a ferocity that fair short-circuits logical thought. Odin! Yeah, is it any wonder why people came to such supernatural conclusions back then when faced with such Super Natural, mind-blowing occurrences?

Lightning follows, flashes of electricity arcing across the sky uncomfortably near at hand. Hey, did that one just hit the ground? Yes, No? Whooah! This is now serious. I'm engulfed by that peculiar juxtaposition of exhilaration and genuine fear, impossible to categorise, truly alive. Let's keep it that way, eh? High on adrenalin, I throw my trekking poles as far away from me as I can and sit upon the rucksack to ride out Nature's furious onslaught. My mind resurrects vivid memories of a similar time upon The Black Mountains with the intrepid Mam C... and visions of the monument to Mike Aspain (RIP) upon Drws Bach, high up in The Arans.

The storm recedes... as Odin sees fit to lay his hammer to one side again... or whatever. The air washed - nay, scrubbed, thrashed - clean by the preceding atmospheric shenanigans, is a joy to breathe, sunshine streaming across the landscape as vivid gold as old Tut's death mask. Not that I've seen the latter first hand, you understand? Perhaps it's the sheer relief, or senses at the top of their game maybe? Take your pick. However, as Govan's finest Rab C would say, I will tell you this: even being aware of how/why such natural phenomena occur I can fully appreciate why mountain folk of times past thought what they did. Perhaps one needs the practical lesson to obtain the insight?

Distant ominous rumbles remind me that I shouldn't press my luck, so I begin the descent to the banks of the Afon Rhiwarth. Despite evidence of historic mining, Cwm Rhiwarth is an attractive environment defined by Craig y Dalrhiw to the south and Craig Rhiwarth north, the latter topped by the standing stone mentioned earlier. I follow the river eastwards until a ford allows access across the Nant y Dyrys at its confluence. It is a beautiful spot by any criterion, a nearby footbridge across the primary watercourse suggestive of other possibilities to be investigated some other time perhaps? For now I must reverse my outward steps to the car, reaching its rubber-insulated sanctuary without any further cacophonous incident.

You know, there's something to relish about voluntarily experiencing life in what might be termed its 'base' or 'raw' form... as long as nothing permanently detrimental occurs, naturally. Yeah, tell me about it! Brief interludes to offset against - to apply a critical lens to - everyday existence. If we're lucky normality, on balance, is revealed to be tolerable enough, subject to the inevitable variability of the grass hues subject to location, as they say. The key to such an insight is, in my opinion, experiencing some aspects of the way we used to live in order to obtain a different viewpoint, one based upon verifiable evidence and not some loon saying stuff 'just because. Since Mr Well's time machine is yet to be perfected, I reckon our best bet is to use the past as a yardstick for where we are... and where we might want to go. I guess that probably includes revisiting errors before they become mistakes.

Although needless to say, if I had have been fried by bolts from the heavens on Dalrhiw I might well possess a different viewpoint on that. Been inspired to write that follow up to 'Reynard The Fox', perhaps? Or it might have ended right there and then upon that hilltop... Yeah, makes a chap think, doesn't it? Always a good thing.
4th April 2021ce

Castle Bank (Hillfort) — Links

A quick glimpse of a rather fine hillfort in exceptional countryside.

1st April 2021ce

Esgair y Llwyn, Cwmdeuddwr (Cairn(s)) — Links

Looking across to Esgair y Llwyn from Esgair Rhiwlan

1st April 2021ce

Craig y Lluest, Cwmdeuddwr (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery) — Links

The Head of Cwm Ystwyth

Brief panorama of this remote spot, the key to a visit to numerous sites in the immediate locale... or just to admire the cascading Afon Ystwyth.
1st April 2021ce

Crugyn Gwyddel (Cairn(s)) — Links

A bracing, 360-degree view from Crugyn Gwyddel, Esgair Pen-y-Garreg, Cwmdeuddwr Hills

31st March 2021ce

Twynau Gwynion (Cairn(s)) — Links

Waun-y-Gwair (Twynau Gwynion), Brecon Beacons

Freezing winter's day upon Waun-y-Gwair (Twynau Gwynion) SO07621198, looking to the heart of The Brecon Beacons
31st March 2021ce

Cwm Berwyn, Carneddau (Builth Wells) (Promontory Fort) — Links

Cwm Berwyn Promontory Fort

Overlooking the beautiful Cwm Berwyn within Y Carneddau, a small range of hills to the north-east of Builth Wells.
31st March 2021ce

Carneddau Hill (Builth Wells) (Round Cairn) — Links

Glorious - if rather wobbly - panoramic views from the great cairn upon Carneddau Hill

28th March 2021ce

Banc Trehesglog, Cwmdeuddwr (Stone Row / Alignment) — Fieldnotes

Back in the car following the conclusion of my morning/early afternoon sojourn upon Esgair y Llyn....

.... the rather 'noticeable' precipitation upon the roof renders thoughts of the removal of waterproofs for the short drive to Esgair Pen-y-Garreg superfluous to requirements.. as our Irish friends might well have observed, the weather 'throwing cobblers knives'. That being said, I do find it advisable to remove those clunky boots to minimise the chances of careering off the road to one's doom, however. Better 'safe' than potentially not even being accorded the opportunity to be 'sorry'. Anyway, the road, upon being joined by that ascending from the Pont ar Elan, proceeds to climb steeply up the southern shoulder of Moel Geufron to then traverse the wild hinterland, the high moor swelling up to an apogee at Pen Rhiw-wen, prior to descending sharply to the pleasant market town of Rhayader. This is one of the busiest routes upon The Cwmdeuddwr Hills catering for a wide diversity of traffic: muppet 'off-road' aficionados in shiny new 4x4s sharing tarmacadam with farmers in battered Subaru pickups towing 'Ifor Williams' livestock trailers overflowing with bleating, wide-eyed sheep; camper vans that even Scooby Doo and the gang would perhaps baulk at travelling in; local tradesman in ostensibly 'white' vans (the kind hilarious workmates are liable to inscribe 'Clean Me Please' upon with dirty fingers... if it was not for the heavy Mid Walian rain) engaged upon unknown errands; and that class of visitor everyone else cannot even begin to fathom: The Modern Antiquarian. I mean, walking around in the pouring rain gawping at old stones.... like, what's all that about?

This is the well-known face of the Elan Valley locale, the first sight of 'wilderness' encountered by the more curious tourist electing to check out the mountain road alluringly signposted from Rhayader. Yeah 'mountain road' does have an enticing 'ring' to those living in urbanity, doesn't it? I must confess, even after some thirty-odd years doing this sort of thing - careful now - it still does the trick for me, heightens the pulse somewhat above the norm... gives expression - a voice - to that 'something' deep inside the human psyche which the town and city, by definition, must suppress to maintain the veneer of civilisation. A whiff of excitement, of danger percolating down the centuries like the incessant water runoff inexorably responding to the laws of physics: the call of the wild, no less. Tales of bandits, highwaymen or, looking further back, rebellious local tribesmen liable to give the unprepared a good kicking... or worse. It would appear, judging by the presence of the remains of a 'marching camp' here upon Esgair Perfedd, that Roman patrols back in the day were well aware of this. One can perhaps speculate that a posting here was not high upon your average legionary's 'wish list'? I mean, didn't a certain Thracian gladiator and a bunch of slaves destroy a couple of legions back in the day? Hmm, best get those banks raised, lads. And keep those eyes peeled.

So, familiar country, perhaps, but nonetheless a landscape not to be taken lightly. Yeah, tell me about it? Despite being forewarned, courtesy of 'Jeeves' formidable knowledge base, it soon becomes apparent just how little I really do know. No shit, Sherlock. I park up beside the cascading Nant Gwynllyn, the impressive crags of Craig Ddu complementing the sheer, shattered flanks of Esgair Dderw to its north, the latter surmounted, incidentally, by the imposing monolith the Maen-serth. The rain continues unabated, the traveller obliged to overcome that curious - or perhaps not so curious, come to think of it? - reluctance to leave the sanctuary of shelter to brave the elements once again. Rising to that challenge, the next, occurring in swift progression, is to traverse the swollen stream cascading toward its llyn located in the valley below. Now Heraclitus may have reckoned that no man (or woman - ahem) steps in the same river - or presumably lesser water course - twice, a subtle doctrine concerning the ever-changing aspects of life, of stuff in general. I, however, would think it more of an imperative to refrain, if at all possible, from falling in even the once....

Safely across, albeit not exactly dryshod owing to a surfeit of surface water, I follow the obvious track ascending to Esgair Pen-y-Garreg beyond. Now I came this way a few months previously - en route to spending a few hours upon Crugyn Gwyddel pending the arrival of a car battery at the garage in town - and was utterly oblivious to the existence of a rather large standing stone looming at SN93226964, camouflaged in plain sight (always, it goes without saying, the most effective method, I find). Similarly, I walked straight by what may - or may not - be the remains of a megalithic tomb right beside said track at SN93256957. Fair enough, I guess, if one's peripheral vision happens to be 'switched off' when focussing upon the over-arching goal of attaining a summit... but surely inconceivable to walk right past both once again this time around? Nevertheless, that is exactly what I do.

Thankfully it would appear my megalithic radar is better attuned to spotting standing stones in multiples thereof, although, having said that, the three-stone row gracing Banc Trehesglog is not exactly staring one in the face, with even the wondrous people at Coflein having apparently required a couple of attempts at locating it correctly:

"3 upright stones in row. Orientation E-W. Both outer stones are irregular and approx. 1m x 1m. Both are leaning over to the N. The middle stone leaning to S. Previously mis-sited (RSJ 2000)."

The key, may I suggest here - assuming one isn't going to go down the route of having bloody GPS lead you unerringly to the very spot, but do it the 'organic' way - is a little homework, allied with the ability to read the topography of the landscape, so to speak. Yeah, as the track makes its way below and to the east of the summit crags of Crugyn Ci (the prominent OS trig pillar of which 'may' stand upon the remains of an ancient cairn) the traveller should note a low rock formation to his/her left prior to passing above a reasonably large 'pond', albeit one minus ducks and someone's long-missing old boot. Scrambling upon this 'outcrop' and glancing towards said 'pond' the reasonably sighted should make out the trio of orthostats below and to the right.

And indeed, there it is, the alignment's existence, given the relatively substantial dimensions of the flanking stones, pretty obvious.... once you know where it is... and begging the question: 'so why IS it so obscure?' I mean, just off a main track traversing these hills with, even today, several walkers/mountain bikers passing by. Not that I'm complaining, of course, the silence elevating the atmosphere to almost the heights experienced upon Esgair y Llyn earlier in the day. And there is just 'something' so enigmatic, so ethereal - so 'right' - about the profile of a stone row viewed upon a windswept hillside. Tears at the soul, does it not?

This, of course, would be more than enough. But wait, there's a little extra. Or rather a lot, to be honest: a short distance to the approx north-east of the row, lying submerged within tall upland grass, can be found a most fine example of a cist, lacking capstone but otherwise perfect. Needless to say that this, too, is not to be found upon the map. I tell you what, that 'Jeeves' fella certainly knows a thing or two, does he not? Unlike the alignment, the passing antiquarian-minded traveller wouldn't have a hope in hell of stumbling across this gem. Coflein notes:

"Remains of stone cist. Approx 1M x 0.80M x 0.20m depth. Orientated N-S. Mudstone. Sunken into ground, only visible by tall reed grass. Poss. stone base. No stone scatter. Poss. robbed for sheepfold to SW(RSJ 2000)."

OK, the views, in my opinion, are not as far-reaching as those to be had upon Esgair y Llyn but, nonetheless, Rhayader is visible away to the east to add some context to what is a fine upland vibe accentuated by a temporary hiatus in the downpour. Once again, the spellbound visitor sees fit to sit back, drink his coffee and savour the moment. Well, it would be rude not to, right? Inevitably perhaps, the rain duly returns.... and how! As if synchronous with the inclement weather, time begins to run away with me, heedless of trivial, mortal concerns, my thoughts turning to getting back down to the car again. Reckoning I've left it too late to locate the 'tomb' and standing stone before dark, I'm left somewhat bemused by just how obvious both actually are - in stark contrast to those higher up the hill. I practically stumble over the 'Brindell Felen Tomb' on the way down - not quite head over heels, but with a little less boot traction in the torrential downpour that would have been a distinct possibility. Sad to report that Coflein are undecided about the prehistoric pedigree of said structure:

"Poss. chambered tomb side of trackway. 1 stone upright approx. 0.5m high x 1m w. Cap stone resting on upright, triangular in shape, approx. 0.75m in length. 2 Poss. uprights collapsed. Set in oval hollow approx. 3m x 2m. May be animal shelter(RSJ 2000)."

Hmm... may be an animal shelter? Furthermore, CPAT are adamant this is a 'natural feature', which, to these eyes, didn't seem credible. Yeah, I have to say it certainly looked the real deal to me, for what it's worth. However, if so, why wasn't it noted by any earlier antiquarian passing this way? On balance I guess this latter point is arguably telling. Luckily we are, metaphorically speaking at least, upon much firmer ground when it comes to the standing stone, located just beyond the 'tomb' and (incredibly in retrospect) within clear sight of the road. Coflein notes:

"Large standing stone, approx 2m high x 1.75m wide x 0.40m thick. Mudstone. Orientated E-W. Located near trackway and at edge of peat-cutting area (RSJ 2000)"

I decide, in view of the fading light and rain liable to have Russel Crowe reaching for his copy of 'Carpentry for Beginners', to return for a follow up hang at some future date. Yeah, happy with that. I'm also more than happy with the experiences of the day. Not bad for an area I was convinced had been exhausted by this so-called 'expert'. Yeah, right. A lesson for us all, perhaps?
21st March 2021ce
Edited 25th March 2021ce

Esgair y Llwyn, Cwmdeuddwr (Cairn(s)) — Fieldnotes

It could be argued that curiosity, the search for knowledge - perhaps archetypal of what it is to be human? - is, regardless of subjective merit, by no means conducive to personal happiness. Upon considering the issue in 1711, Alexander Pope famously noted: "A little learning is a dang'rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring", thus seemingly committing the reader to a lifetime of academic labour in order to gain fulfilment from said fabled font of learning. Yeah, thanks for that. Another perceptive dude, Thomas Gray, took a seemingly alternate view in 1742 by suggesting avoiding the dilemma altogether: "...where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise". So, if I'm understanding the learned 18th Century gentlemen correctly, one can either be content in your stupidity, or a miserable 'Professor Fink-style' boffin? Hmm... given the ability to influence matters, neither sorry state of affairs appeals, to be honest. So perhaps a more centrist 'third way' is the answer: take what you do seriously, educate yourself... but don't beat yourself when one happens, inevitably, to fall 'a little short' at times? Sounds like a plan to me.

In retrospect, perhaps the most lamentable aspect of my wanderings across the length and breadth of these Isles during the past three decades has been my propensity to assume I have joined the ranks of the archaeological cognoscenti more-or-less as a matter of course. Aye, like a perpetually bemused antiquarian Stan Laurel - albeit comedic by default, not exquisite design - I find myself constantly surprised (if not indignant) when, having 'seen everything' in a given locale I'm proved, yet again, to be in error. Yeah, I guess the problem inherent in being a 'Modern Antiquarian' is one is induced into using this blasted Internet thingamajig, so ensuring a chap's learning curve is not only steep but oft verging upon the perpendicular, as Wodehouse might have put it. Consider, as cases in point, the grassy promontory Esgair y Llwyn [SN8961873373] and, a little under four miles to the east-south-east, Banc Trehesglog (SN93136893), these sites located within the inhospitable Cwmdeuddwr Hills rising to the west of Rhayader: a glance at either scale of OS mapping will divulge plenty of interest hereabouts, granted.... but nothing at said co-ordinates. Zero, zilch, nowt. So why bother? Indeed... except the browser of Coflein's web-site finds himself better informed - if not educated - with access to a cyberspace 'Jeeves' to correct those blasted faux-pas. Dash it all, what rot! There's nothing there! Ah, but I believe sir will find there is...

So... sporadic rain - albeit what the Irish might term ‘only spitting’ - greets another dawn at the head of Cwm Ystwyth; not one, to be honest, to inspire thoughts of grand deeds for the forthcoming day, the low cloud mantle obscuring the 'jaws' of the cwm issuing a stark challenge to the bleary-eyed engaged with mopping copious condensation from the interior of the windscreen. Reaching - or perhaps more accurately, fumbling blindly - for my tattered map, the memory is duly jogged.... Esgair y Llwyn, just a short drive in the opposite direction to the forbidding wall of opaque vapour. Which is handy. A navigational error, resulting in overshooting the access track to Cwm Nant-y-ffald, ensures the journey is a little longer than anticipated, but not overly so. I park at the entrance, opposite a sinuous loop effected by the Afon Elan, the watercourse seemingly unwilling to surrender its lithe youthfulness to the middle-aged 'conformity' of the Craig Goch Reservoir. Hmmm, luckily the surface is not able to render a simulacrum of the viewer. Anyway, a newly erected, crudely-painted bespoke sign - similar to others noted en-route - bars vehicular progress to the fastness of the cwm, this - along with the unusually high volume of litter - reminding the visitor that these COVID-19 times have drawn to the great outdoors an additional, most unwelcome class of vertebrate (think Fintan Stack in Father Ted) which clearly does not give a damn about the environment... or anyone else, for that matter. Needless to say my empathy - and, I would suggest, that of any reasonably objective thinker - is with the locals. Yeah, surely even those dogmatic activists welcoming such increased 'diversity' must concede everyone has a responsibility to act as a human being? So what's the plan then?

I follow the gravelly track to the north beside the gurgling Nant y Ffald, negotiating a ford to continue in a roughly north-easterly direction while embracing - save the sounds of my exertions and the ever-prevalent running water - the progressively increasing silence as the road fades from view. Quite why any tourist would consider driving up here is beyond me, but there you are. 'Stupid is as stupid does', eh Forrest? Anyway, the steep, grassy flanks of Esgair y Llwyn tower above to my left, the concern now to choose a line of ascent avoiding as much of the ubiquitous soaking bracken as possible while not overdoing the angle. I eventually decide upon the southern flank of the deep defile carved by the Trawsnant, overlooked by the great cairns of Carn-Wen and Carn Nant-y-ffald to the north, veering steeply upward to the west to gain the crest of the plateau above (Citizens Cairn'd wishing to visit these excellent sites should naturally improvise their own route... or approach from the north, as I did back in 2013).

Now, it's all very well to be informed of the existence of a cairn where none was thought to be.... but another thing entirely to actually locate it upon a billowing expanse of soggy, industrial-strength, tussocky grass at altitude. Or perhaps 'within'? Indeed, writers such as Peter Hermon have made the analogical connection between walking the Cwmdeuddwr Hills and being at sea, noting the relatively homogeneous height of the tops, separated by deep troughs. I get that, although I would suggest being 'all at sea' is often more appropriate in my case, such is the paucity of useful navigational features in mist to be found in these parts. Yeah, in a number of aspects I reckon these hills could be said to be homologous to the more obscure parts of Dartmoor: the traveller focussing to a great extent upon the 'vibe' inherent in negotiating a pathless wilderness where even a sheep track can be manna from heaven, so to speak. Suffice to say that you are almost guaranteed to have your hill, your chosen monument, to yourself for the duration. Assuming one's map reading is up to scratch, of course. And the sight of a red kite, seemingly suspended in space as it contemplates whether you are upon the menu, invigorates the soul rather than hastens an approximation of algor mortis.

I make my way towards where I reckon the monument should be, a rather serpentine - if not circuitous - route borne out of reliance upon a moth-eared 1:50k map rather than any symbolic affinity with the aforementioned Afon Elan. And there, eventually, it is... the traveller momentarily pausing, in vain despite the deteriorating weather conditions, for a thunderclap to engender a heightened sense of drama perhaps appropriate to the moment? Yeah, the surviving archaeology may well appear a little underwhelming to some, particularly to those not already immersed in the idiosyncrasies of Cwmdeuddwr. Nevertheless, the little cairn is pretty well defined to these eyes and, furthermore, features a couple of earth-fast uprights which might - or might not - represent the remnants of a former cist. Whatever the corporeal detail, the grassy stone pile does an effective job of marking a point in the landscape suitable for ponderings above and beyond the here and now. The more you see, the less you need to see, perhaps? Coflein reckons it represents:

"A low, grass-covered stone cairn positioned on a gently sloping terrace with clear views down the Elan valley to the south. The cairn is less than 0.25m high and approximately 5m in diameter, with only a few stones now protruding through the grass cover...." [J.J. Hall, Trysor, 8/9/2009]

As I sit and attempt a mental reconstruction, an approximation of what the scene may have appeared like to an engaged onlooker millennia past, the most obvious difference is the broad expanse of water to the south, a reservoir where once the river continued upon its way unimpeded by the castellated dams which are now such an imposing feature of the locale. And what of tree cover? The hills and elongated spurs of Cwmdeuddwr are green and bare nowadays - overwhelmingly, perhaps brutally so - but I understand this was not always the case? For me, the most important aspect to consider, however, is the ambience, the 'vibe' to be experienced here. OK, one assumes there were more people around back then, working the land below the sentinel ancestors' vantage points, the occasional shrill shout of a child briefly duelling with the cry of the bird of prey; however, it is not difficult to concede that, then as now, it is Nature which calls the shots - and it is her often inclement vagaries which determined the placement of this cairn in the first place. The focus of human thought when we wish to transcend those logical boundaries.

To emphasise the point a weather front duly arrives to lash the plateau with driving rain, a swirling cloak of opaque vapour contracting and expanding in turn as if representing some unstable portal to another, ethereal world fleetingly glimpsed beyond. To be fair, I'm more than happy with this one so settle down for lunch and... well... just to watch for a couple of hours. My curiosity eventually sated, the urge to move on finally manifests itself, my intention, having rejected notions of revisiting Banc Cynnydd above to the west, being to locate a small stone row a little below, and to the east, of Esgair Pen-y-Garreg, again not shown upon the map. And whatever other potential gems 'Jeeves' has up his immaculately attired sleeve.

Baulking at that steep descent - and not wishing to encounter any motorised idiots - I opt to follow the grassy flanks of Esgair y Llwyn downhill to the south-east, a good decision which, in retrospect, would serve as a less taxing ascent route. I reach the track at the ford, my own Ford - thankfully - waiting a short distance beyond. Hey, the day is yet young. Banc Trehesglog it is, then.
21st March 2021ce
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