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

Fieldnotes by thesweetcheat

Latest Posts
Showing 1-20 of 570 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20

Foel Fynyddau (Cairn(s))

Visited 25 February 2023.

The last hill and last site on a hilly walk from Port Talbot. After steep but straightforward visits to Twyn Disgwylfa round barrow and the Buarth y Gaer sites, my post-Covid stamina is starting to fail as I get back to the minor road to the west of Foel Fynyddau. The sporadic sunshine that had accompanied me so far is gone, replaced by failing light, grey skies and a chill wind.

Foel Fynyddau's summit is open access land, with a track heading off from a bridleway to the southwest of the summit, past a farm. For whatever reason, probably fatigue-induced brain fog, I decide to avoid the farm and the easy track, instead heading directly up the rough ground to the west of the summit. Although the terrain is open and the distance not that much, I regret this decision pretty soon, as the tussocky grass, ankle-sapping heather and various small streams and valleys suddenly seem as exhausting as climbing a mountain. By the time I reach the upper slopes I'm practically falling over with tiredness, resorting to a longer but less steep zig-zag along faint sheep tracks to avoid having to tackle the slopes head on. It's a blessed relief to make it to the masts and the cairn.

Despite the inevitable trig pillar and central hollow, the cairn is decent and stands to a good height. The views are excellent, other than the masts and sundry fenced off compounds in close proximity, which sadly detract from the monument's atmosphere. On this grey afternoon, the whole area feels a bit forlorn and unloved.

I sit down on a handy bench a little way off the summit, eat my sandwiches and feel a little less weary. Restored, I have another mooch around the barrow and take in the sweeping views from this very prominent hill. Y Mynydd Du, Fforest Fawr and central peaks of Bannau Brycheiniog are all on display to the north, with the Hafren/Severn and far away Somerset to the south.

To the east and south the hill drops very steeply to forestry tracks which have been co-opted to form a network of suicidal cycle routes. I don't fancy going back to the west, having decided to catch the bus back to Port Talbot from the village at the foot of the hill, so I tentatively head off to the southeast.

This turns out to be a very bad decision, as the very steep descent off the hill this way is perilously slippery, with me clinging to the vegetation to avoid a swift fall. Once past the steepest section, I'm into the cycle tracks, which have been made smooth and slippery by use. Before long I'm on my arse in the mud. Eventually I emerge onto a broad, stony track, but unfortunately it only seems to go back up the hill and so I have to resort to a much smaller track, shown on the OS map but quite badly overgrown. The further I go, the more overgrown the narrowing passage between gorse and brambles gets, and eventually I have to climb underneath a gorse bush to get any further, as there's no way I can face going back now. I emerge with lots of bits of twigs and branches down the back of my neck and under my clothes. Yuck. I slip over again on the muddy tracks before I finally reach a road, battered and exhausted. It's rather taken the shine off what had been a really nice walk! I strongly recommend just following the damn track from the west and returning the same way if you come here.

Gaer Fawr (Briton Ferry) (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

Visited 25 February 2023.

Like Carl I come down here after visiting Buarth y Gaer hillfort and cairn. The fences on the current OS 1:250000 are out of date; the fence to the south now encloses the whole site rather than separating the outer earthworks from the central site.

It's a big site overall, there are two low banks uphill and to the south of the central site, which if continuous would enclose a very large area. Although the OS map describes it as a "fort", the size suggests a big settlement site, with Buarth y Gaer being a more likely position for a properly defensible spot, with extensive views in all directions.

The inner enclosure is however surrounded by at least three lines of banks and ditches, so there is a sense of something more than the mere domestic here as well. There are great views to the north across the Vale of Neath, stretching as far as Y Mynydd Du's distant summits, with the prominent ridges of Mynydd Marchywel and Hirfynydd dominating the middle distance (there are plentiful Bronze Age remains on those ridges).

Interestingly neither the Buarth y Gaer cairn or hillfort are visible from the central enclosure, although they can be seen from the uppermost/outermost rampart.

The sun comes out briefly and casts some welcome light on the scene. Not exactly a first rate site, but there's certainly enough here to warrant a visit coupled with the Buarth y Gaer sites. I head back up to the cairn and then regain the forestry track to the east, which provides an easy and fence-free route up to these sites. I have one more hill to climb, the biggest of the day.

Buarth y Gaer (Hillfort)

Visited 25 February 2023, after Twyn Disgwylfa round barrow. Carl came at this site the hard way; a much easier approach involving no fences is to take the forestry track from the minor road to the east, which leads to a gate into the field to the north of the hillfort, just above the cairn. From here it's a gentle ascent over the grassy slopes to the fort. A rudimentary (i.e there's no foot boards) stile then gives access to the earthwork.

It's a pretty decent univallate ring, well preserved but not particularly big ramparts. The views are excellent, taking in Twyn Disgwylfa, Bae Abertawe across to Mwmbwls and the Gower, then northwards as far as the southern flanks of Y Mynydd Du.

There's a small, dug out round barrow on the high point of the fort's interior, which makes a good place to sit for a bit to get out of the fresh February breeze as the sun goes behind cloud.

From here it's an even easier stroll back down the hill to the north, to visit the cairn and the neighbouring complex enclosure.

Badock's Wood (Round Barrow(s))

Visited 28 January 2023. The first site on a grey winter's day of urban prehistory visits around the north and west of Bristol city centre.

Arriving from the northeast, along a muddy footpath mostly frequented by dog-walkers, this is a very impressive sight as it appears through the trees.

A fine, upstanding barrow, I'd be very chuffed to find something as well-preserved as this in most rural places I visit. Here the urban setting means it lacks much sense of place, but it's still a very decent barrow.

I really like the steel sculpture that's been placed close by, it gives the site a feeling of continuity, that somehow it still means something even as the suburbs have grown around it.

From here I head off to Henbury to visit the first hillfort of the day.

Kilbury Camp (Hillfort)

Visited 23 January 2023.

After leaving Bradlow Knoll and making my way down from Frith Hill, I approach Kilbury Camp from the north. The OS map shows a confused series of earthworks, most of which don't join up. It looks like there's a small hilltop enclosure, with a much larger area enclosed by a couple of lines of ramparts around the base of the hill.

From the road to northwest, some traces of a rampart can be seen following the modern field boundaries. A helpful footpath leads me directly up to the corner of the hilltop enclosure from the west. There are indications of a low earthwork along the west and south of this inner enclosure, but much of the site goes into a fenced-off woodland area and I haven't the energy to engage with trying to get into it.

Instead I follow the footpath eastwards, which crosses the southern part of the larger site. Dropping down to the next field boundary there are indications of an earthwork under the hedge, but there's little to see. There are excellent views of the southern part of the Malvern Hills, particularly British Camp and Midsummer Hill which reward the visit and give the site some great landscape context.

Barbed wire bars a walk northwards along the rampart, so I decide to content myself with this part of the site. I don't think there's going to be a great deal more to see for the effort involved in further exploration.

Heading back to the road, I can see what appears to be two quite well-defined lines of bank and ditch along the southwest of the wider site. Unfortunately this area has been incorporated into a domestic site, in which a line of caravans and motor boats have been parked. It's frustrating, as this appears to be the best-preserved part of the ramparts. I manage to get a further look at it from the road to the southwest where there's a covered reservoir site, but that's the best I can do without seeking permission for a closer look.

All in all, despite the limited archaeology it's been worth scratching the itch of coming here, especially on such a lovely winter's day. Another Herefordshire hillfort and somewhere I've been meaning to make the effort to visit for a long time.

Bradlow Knoll (Round Barrow(s))

Visited 23 January 2023. Taking a spontaneous break of train journey at Ledbury, I walk up the steep, winding lane to Bradlow, then an even steeper footpath up the hill beneath humming pylons.

The January afternoon is sunny but hazy, the views back down to Ledbury all soft blues and greens. May Hill inevitably looms on the skyline south. By the time I reach the treeline and "Chris Johnson's Bench" I'm quite out of breath, my slow winter recovery from Covid not yet behind me. After sitting for a while I head onwards into the trees, a set of rough steps leading up towards the Knoll.

The Knoll itself turns out to be a rounded mound on the southwestern end of the summit ridge of Frith Hill. It could very well be natural, but there's certainly the possibility of a round barrow, and the "low" part of the name adds credence to the idea.

It's quite lovely in the woods, although the trees block the views from what would be a quite prominent viewpoint. I walk the length of the summit ridge, then follow paths down to Upper Mitchell Farm. Emerging from the woods on the eastern side of the hill there are terrific views of the southern Malverns, taking in British Camp and Midsummer Hill. From here I head off to visit Kilbury Camp.

Musbury Castle (Hillfort)

Visited 20 January 2023. After a Christmas and New Year spent slowly getting over Covid, a family gathering takes me to Musbury at the eastern fringes of Devon. A quick check of the OS map reveals a hillfort within a short distance of the village, a test for my weakened legs.

It's a beautiful afternoon when I arrive in the village after a sunny and scenic train journey to Axminster, and I'm raring to get out and visit the fort. A fairly gentle ascent follows a farm track southeast from the church, giving good views of the profile of the wooded fort from the west. A stile gives access to fields, thankfully still frozen to keep the mud at bay, the route gradually getting steeper the further up I get. At length a footpath heads off up to the fort itself, and it's only a few minutes before I'm at the massive southwestern rampart.

The earthwork here is very impressive, cutting off the interior of the fort from some kind of much less defined southwestern annexe. There are great views across the Axe valley to the west, and down to the coast at Seaton, partially hidden by another hillfort on Hawkesdown Hill.

I follow the rampart along the northwestern crest of the ridge. Here the earthwork is under trees and much smaller, relying on a very steep hillside to do most of the defensive work. The interior of the fort is a grassy field, the grass deep and tussocky and not that easy to walk through. Heading further north the way is barred by a fence, over which I can see a second huge earthwork, even taller than the one at the southwest. I follow the fence round to the corner of the field and a pedestrian gate, which gives access to the more overgrown northern part of the fort.

There are two enormous parallel banks here, forming the northeastern defences. Both are heavily overgrown with dead bracken and bramble, but this is definitely the time of year to come as it's possible to walk along the tops of both of them, the undergrowth trying to catch my stumbling legs and trip me over. In the woods at the western end of the banks I startle a couple of deer, which run pell-mell down the field.

After disentangling myself from the vegetation I follow the southeastern side of the ridge round. Again there's a lesser rampart running along the crest of the hill, but the natural slope is utilised to form the defences. Back at the southwestern end of the fort I have a look at the slight bank of the annexe. This a great little fort, the views are terrific on such a lovely day.

It's cold and I'm tiring quickly, my recuperation not yet complete. I head back down the way I came, the sun sinking and the still frozen ground preparing for another hard frost. Tea and warmth await below, and despite the wobbly legs by the time I reach the church, I'm delighted to have been able to visit this fine site in such perfect conditions.

Arbor Low (Circle henge)

5 August 2022. In a few months time it will be 25 years since my first visit to this place; the source, the font, the seed, of the obsession that has filled a quarter of a century, over half my lifetime.

We're staying in Youlgreave for a few days, ostensibly to check out the awesome Burning Man sculptures on display in the park at Chatsworth. After a rainy start, the afternoon has brightened into a lovely summer's day, all big banks of cloud and sunshine.

We stroll along Bradford Dale to the always slightly weird village of Middleton, where Green Men and stone faces peer from houses and wells, and where Thomas Bateman lies a'mouldering in his grave. We stop off to pay our respects to him first; his techniques may have been destructive to modern sensibilities, but he furthered our knowledge and understanding of the prehistoric Peak more than anyone else of his day.

Leaving the village we briefly do battle with the quarry road, but it's quieter than I remember. Up to the farm, pay the fee, is it really 11 years since we last came here? My life is flashing past, but it's all the blink of a gnat's eye to the slumbering stones and banks of Arbor Low.

It's a joy to be back here, especially on such a lovely afternoon. Memories of the place are seared on my brain from that first meeting, but it still feels stupendous and awe-inspiring and fresh each time we come here.

We sit on the bank and take it all in, the long views across Derbyshire given texture by the scudding clouds. Since the last time we came, we finally got to Minninglow (poignant now, recalling Stubob) and it's nice to nod at the familiar trees in greeting across the landscape. After a long while we pop across to Gib Hill, but before long we're drawn back to the henge again.

I have no new revelations or profound thoughts to add about the archaeology. This is very much an embrace of an old friend, a pang of regret that it's taken so long to reconnect and a promise to return again sooner. But then we always think that, and time is a cruel master, running ever faster onwards. For now, it suffices to enjoy the moment and replenish myself once again from the source, the font, the seed.

Tarrenhendre (Round Cairn)

23 July 2011. After the last three Saturdays spent in the foothills of the Carneddau and continuing our slow progress southwards on Offa's Dyke Path across the flat Hafren plain in Mid-Wales, I decide it's about time I climbed some big hills again. An optimistic plan is made for a day trip to Machynlleth and a scoot up the twin summits of Y Tarrenau, the range of steep hills between the iconic Cadair Idris to the north and the Dyfi estuary to the south. Effectively the southern extreme of "North Wales", the range boasts quite a number of round barrows on its lower westerly hills, but only one of its two 2,000 ft summits, Tarrenhendre and Tarren y Gesail, has any monument.

The train drops me at Mach just before 11 o'clock, giving my about 6 and a half hours to climb the two summits and get back again. After crossing the border from Ceredigion into Gwynedd over the Dyfi bridge, there's a mile or so of open hillside climbing up to Bron-yr-aur before I plunge into the deep dark forest. Tarren y Gesail is already looking like a forbiddingly steep climb before it disappears from view behind the conifer screen.

The weather has been forgivingly dry for the last few weeks and the forestry tracks are kind underfoot for once. I'm not a fan of these dense conifer forests and my aversion is going to be deepened before I'm done today. An hour or so after leaving Mach, I'm on the open, grassy slopes of Tarren y Gesail. It's a proper slog up to the top in July heat, but the unfolding views south and west make it much less of chore. There's a great high-level view of the ridge between the two summits that I will take later on.

By the time I stagger up to the trig on the cairnless summit of Tarren y Gesail I'm hot and bothered, puffing and panting; the buzzards circling overhead seemingly waiting for me to collapse into carrion. But the view northwards is sumptuous; my first proper sight of Cadair Idris, a mountain I've dreamed of since reading The Grey King as a child, as well as the dramatic peaks of the distant Aranau to the northwest and glimpses of Arenig. Southwards the view stretches across the Dyfi to Pumlumon. Wonderful. It's a fabulous place to stop for a while and drink it all in.

After leaving the summit and heading back down towards the forest, I make my first bad choice of the day, heading directly into the trees thinking I can cut off a corner to gain the open ridge on Foel y Geifr directly. It's only about a quarter of a mile, but the forest closes around and over me like Mirkwood, any semblance of a path disappears and I'm fighting through dense, scratching, catching conifer branches, up a steep slope with no room to stand up straight beneath the trees. Eventually I reach the top and emerge blinking on the open ridge. I'm sweating profusely and covered in flecks and fragments of gritty twig and branch. Yuch.

From Foel y Geifr (the delightfully named "Bare Rounded Hill of the Goats") everything improves immensely. A really lovely ridge walk with some up and down sections takes me to the base of Tarrenhendre and the second steep climb of the day.

Like Tarren y Gesail, the last 100 metres or so of ascent to the top of Tarrenhendre is punishingly steep. The earlier sunshine has disappeared and the sky is now filled with ominously grey-black cloud that threatens rain.

The round barrow or cairn is reached before the summit. Despite a dilapidated fence crossing right over it, it's a really decent monument, a turfed-over mound keeping its shape under a small modern marker cairn. The views are truly excellent, especially to the south over the estuary and west across the lower hills of Y Tarrenau. Northwards the ground continues to rise, gently now, to the summit. From there the views of Cadair Idris are exceptional. What a marvellous place for a funerary monument this is, high above everything.

What I completely fail to notice, or take any photos of, is a further barrow on the undulating grass-covered area between the main barrow and the summit. It's not on the OS map and my radar is obviously not tuned in properly to realise it's there. No real matter though, there's plenty to enjoy without it.

I reluctantly tear myself away at last. The rain has held off, but the train timetable isn't going to flex to allow me to stay longer. My second forestry mistake follows, as I decide to avoid more narrow paths in favour of broad tracks that won't swallow me whole. Instead they zig zag for what seems like miles, getting me nowhere slowly, dropping down, climbing back up, never apparently getting anywhere. Time vanishes and I'm still zig-zagging through the forest.

By the time I've eventually slalomed my way back to the Dyfi I've wasted a load of time and the walk has lengthened to almost 15 miles.

But this is churlish moaning about route-finding. Concentrate instead on the lovely ridge, the wonderful summits and the fine barrow, devoid of people but overloaded with views. These quiet, unheralded hills (I haven't seen anyone on the whole walk) have absolutely rewarded the effort of the climbs today.

Twyn Pant-Teg (Round Barrow(s))

I wasn’t necessarily expecting much from this, a barrow in a field with all the attendant risk of being ploughed down to nothing. It comes as a very pleasant surprise to find this is a very decent monument, a good upstanding mound with a few stones embedded in its top and sides. As Carl notes, there are good views down to the valley below; the Rhymni valley in this instance, as this barrow is at the top of a southwest-facing slope, unlike the other monuments I’ve visited today. The name (“Hillock of the Fair Hollow”) seems very apt. It’s a great site to finish the day despite the failing light, and lifts me after the irritation of my experience on Mynydd Machen.

Mynydd Machen (Round Cairn)

The final hill of the day is now directly ahead of me. It’s not that steep a climb from this direction though, and the going is easy. I reach the summit area next to the masts to find a few other people up here, enjoying the last of the sunshine, which is rapidly giving way to an overcast evening as the sun sinks behind low cloud. There’s also a 4x4 parked up, overlooking the much steeper drop eastwards.

The cairn is another fine one, but judging by ruts and loose stone on its top and sides it’s being actively damaged by vehicles. It’s a real shame, as the placement here is terrific. Although visibility has lessened with the cloud, there’s still an amazing panorama looking south and east across the Gwent Levels to the mighty Afon Hafren (Severn), with the instantly recognisable Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands.

While I’m taking photos, the 4x4 pulls away from the edge of the drop and comes and parks up right on top of the mound next to me. The driver and passenger grin idiot grins through the window at me, I’m sure they think they’re very clever. I carry on taking photos, now with the 4x4 as an additional feature. Belatedly realising that number plates can be traced, the driver decides he’s had his fun and drives away off the hill. It’s left a sour taste at the end of what has otherwise been a fine ridge walk. It’s so frustrating that people like this are wrecking the excellent archaeology around here.

With them gone, I enjoy the last sun rays on the barrow before making my way down the steep slopes to the east.

Twyn Yr Oerfel (Round Barrow(s))

When Carl visited Twyn yr Oerfel (which appears to translate as “Hillock of Chill” or “Cold Hillock”) he expressed concerns about the barrows being damaged by motorbikes. From my elevated vantage on Mynydd y Grug I can see that the nearer western monument has now been encircled by a double ring of stone blocks, presumably to discourage vehicles from encroaching.

After making my somewhat slip-sliding descent from the spoil, reaching the western cairn reveals an excellent monument. Although there are ruts from wheels cutting its side, they appear to be mostly old and are being slowly grassed over. The mound stands to a good height and doesn’t have the usual signs of antiquarian digging in its top. Best of all though is the view. Perched right on the edge of steep slopes of Cwm Sirhwyi, the cairn enjoys a brilliant vista to the north and east. It’s a shame it’s been badly treated, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a cracking site.

The eastern cairn is similarly poised above the drop. As I approach a number of motorbikes zip along the ridge path towards me, thankfully ignoring the mound which stands next to the track. Like the cairn I visited on Y Domen Fawr last weekend, this one has had the ignominy of a wooden bench being inserted into its top. Fair enough, the view is superb, but surely the Powers That Be didn’t need to actually stick the bench right on top of the cairn? The feeling persists that there is a lack of care or concern about the preservation of the heritage these monuments represent.

Whatever, this is a great pair of monuments; in terms of placement these are the best-situated cairns on this ridge. I stop here for a while and have a late lunch (yes, I am sitting on the bench).

Twyn Cae-Hugh (Round Barrow(s))

Heading southeast, the main ridge path starts to climb gently up towards an area of forestry on my left. And rising rather majestically from the forest’s margins is the biggest barrow so far by some distance, Twyn Hugh-Cae (“Hillock of Hugh’s Enclosure/Close”). When Carl visited it was covered in summer vegetation, but today it has been close-cropped, probably by someone with a strimmer. The fence at its foot has been broken and there are worrying signs of bikes tracks cutting into its edges. Nevertheless, this is a big, impressive monument, regular sides sloping up to a flat top. On further investigation, the summit of the mound has been dug deeply into, a wide crater exposing earth and roots but no sign of any central chamber or cist this high up in the barrow. The construction appears to be more earth than stone. Views to the south are truncated, but the barrow has decent views north across Mynydd Bach (Maesycymmer) and beyond.

Across the main track to the west is an area of open ground, which hides the low banks of a square-cornered earthwork. The shape suggests it’s medieval or later, but it’s curious how close it is to the massive barrow and I wonder if it’s related to the site’s name. Immediately south of the barrow is a pointed standing stone. None of the HER records mention it, and it’s far too obvious to have been overlooked so I assume it has been taken to be modern. However, it’s a nice slab of sandstone and all its sharp edges have been worn smooth in a way that suggests it has been exposed for a long time. Hmm.

Mynydd Bach (Maesycymmer) (Cairn(s))

The first cairn of the day is Mynydd Bach 2, a low monument marked on the Ordnance Survey map. It sits in an area of gorse and scrub, criss-crossed by various tracks and I’m not particularly optimistic that it’s going to be easy to find. I follow one of the broad tracks running west from the main ridgeway, then another heading south. And amazingly, clear of the thick gorse smothering much of the area, here is the cairn. As described in the HER, it’s a low, circular monument. It rises highest above the surrounding ground surface on its eastern arc. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has always been a low monument, rather than the remains of a bigger robbed-out mound, as there are other ring cairns close by. From here I can see the obvious profile of Mynydd Machen, which is on the agenda for later.

Apart from a couple of stones protruding where gorse bushes have been cut back, the monument is covered in turf. Close by are signs of rubbish or motor debris having been burned, but at least it’s not happened on the monument itself. Although it’s not the most exciting cairn, I’m delighted to have found it so easily and drink in the extensive views.

Next I head into the scrubbier ground to the west, where there is supposed to be another ring cairn, unmarked on the OS map. After wandering for a bit and poking around in the gorse and tussocks I declare this one a failure. There’s plenty more to come, so I’m not too disheartened by this setback.

Returning to the main ridge path, the next cairn south (Mynydd Bach 1) is much more obvious. It lies in a grassy field to the west of the access land, and can be seen prominently from the path. The unexpected obstacle to this one turns out to be resident sheep, who take curiosity to heights bordering on belligerent, crowding around right behind me as I cross their field. To be fair I’m intruding on them, but it’s like something between panto season and Life of Brian; my attempts to convince them that I am not the messiah are unsuccessful.

They follow me all the way onto the cairn itself, which makes taking photos somewhat difficult as I’m constantly on the brink of being pushed over from behind by whichever sheep is the bravest of the flock. Nevertheless, this invasion of my personal space doesn’t detract from what is a fine monument, with a cist exposed in its centre. Two side slabs remain, one still in place, the other lying out of position. There’s a bit of rubbish too, unfortunately, although by local standards it’s quite minor. A further small slab lies on the northern edge of the mound, but I’m not convinced it would have been large enough to be the capstone. There are fine views to the northwest, looking towards the higher ridges. To the west Cwm Rhymni drops away. If you can shake off the sheep, this is a very decent monument to visit.

With my retinue following me to the fence, I head south. Leaving them behind, the ground drops quite steeply and according to Coflein (but not GGAT) there is supposedly another very irregular cairn here. Apart from an area of stone exposed from quarrying, I can’t find anything at all in 10 minutes or so of walking backwards and forwards across the sloping field, so I give up and head back to the ridge path.

The next monument, Pont Bren Gwyn ring cairn, sounds like it will be elusive. However, the OS map is helpful in showing an obvious kink in the wall right where it’s supposed to be, and so it proves. Beneath a lone tree, with a broken wall on its west side, the arcing bank around the east side of the monument is quite easy to make out in the low sunlight and low vegetation of this time of year. Definitely one for the enthusiast, but like Mynydd Bach 2 it’s the sort of monument that gives a sense of satisfaction just from finding it at all. The name defies my attempts at translation; although it sounds like it may be related to “Brenin”, it seems that “Bren” may be a proper noun, which would make it “White Bren’s Bridge” I think. Like Mynydd Bach 2, the views are all eastwards, towards Mynydd y Lan.

All in all this little group of sites has been a great start to the walk. There are plenty of other people out enjoying the winter Sunday sunshine, but no-one seems overly interested in these obscure lumps and bumps. No change there!

Tyle-gwyn (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Tyle Gwyn (“White Bank”) stone turns out to be a big upright lump of sandstone. It’s one of those stones that looks too improbably erect to be natural, but too bouldery to be an obvious choice for a menhir. The stone is close to the lane, with a barbed wire fence between it and me. The field has cattle and some farm workers are repairing fences across the way, so I decide not to make the effort of trying to get any closer.

The contrast between the sharp shadows of the lane and the brightness of the field and hills beyond makes getting any decent photos difficult, but it’s a worthwhile stone to come and see. Given the prevalence of South Wales’ standing stones marking apparent routes to upland stone circles and cairns, I can’t help but feel nudged towards accepting this as the real thing and not merely a natural erratic. It certainly sets me on my way with hope for the monuments to come.

Y Domen Fawr (Cairn(s))

(22.1.2022) Leaving Ebbw Vale town centre behind me after my descent of Mynydd Carn-y-cefn, I carry on with the second half of my horseshoe walk of the two ridges either side of the Afon Ebbwy.

My route follows roads into the suburb of Briery Hill, then from a sharp bend turns onto a track which will take me onto the open hillside. It's still bitterly cold, with ice lying in the ruts of the track untouched by the early morning sun that quickly got smothered by the afternoon's cloud.

Ahead of me to the south Y Domen Fawr rises with the appearance of a steep, conical dome. It's partly an illlusion, as it's actually the northern end of a higher section of ridge, but from here it looks like a solitary lofty peak.

Somewhere off to the southwest I can hear the buzz of off-road bikes. I'm hoping to avoid anymore tire damage after the mess encountered on the Mynydd Carn-y-cefn cairn.

My mind is soon distracted by the steepness of the climb and my protesting leg muscles. At length I crest the hill and the parlous state of Y Domen Fawr's own monument becomes apparent. It's a very large mound, but its size and prominent position obviously attracted the attentions of the British Army, who decided it would be a brilliant idea to insert a brick and concrete emplacement into the northern side of the monument. To add insult to injury, a sturdy wooden bench has now been added to the top of the mound. Next to the bench, a rusty iron rod has been draped with blue and yellow ribbons, fluttering in the light breeze. In a couple of weeks' time, Russia will invade Ukraine, although I don't know that yet.

Ironically the obstacles caused by brick, concrete and wood may have spared the surviving mound the threat of motorbikes, and the tire tracks here just about skirt the western edge of the mound.

I decide to make the best of the bench and stop for my sandwiches. While I'm finishing off, I'm joined by an older gentlemen who tells me he's from Nant-y-Glo, a couple of valleys away. We have a chat for a while, he tells me that the brick building was used for radio transmissions at one time. I point at distant hills and talk about Bronze Age barrows and how much I like visiting the Valleys. I enjoy his company and our chat; the "Covid years" have suspended these sort of chance encounters and it's nice to re-engage again.

As he leaves, the sun finally comes out and I get some nice winter light for a while. Eventually I head south along the ridge, before deciding to head straight off the escarpment down the precipitous slopes to the east. A scramble and tumble through bracken, scrub and quarried areas, this may not have been especially wise but it is quite fast! Eventually I regain roads and head back to Ebbw Vale Parkway for the train back to Cardiff. It's been absolutely brilliant to get back into the South Wales valleys after such a long time - I won't be waiting so long for a return.

Mynydd Carn-y-cefn (Cairn(s))

A hot, sunny trip involving a horseshoe walk around Mynydd Coety and the ridges above Blaenavon in May 2021 reminded me how much I have been neglecting South Wales recently, but even so it has taken me until the turn of a new year (22.1.2022) to act.

It's freezing cold when the near-empty train drops me at Ebbw Vale Parkway station, a hard frost rendering the pavements slippery. The sun is shining though, and as I start to make my way uphill on a zigzag path to Waun Lwyd, there is a great view of Y Domen Fawr across the valley westwards. If my legs permit, I hope to get up there later today, but it looks like a long walk to get all the way around the head of the valley and up the other side.

First things first though, I already have one steep hill to negotiate above me. The scruffy path climbs to a reservoir, where further four-wheel vehicle access has been blocked by huge stones. Sadly two wheel vehicles are not prevented, as will become apparent later.

Above the reservoir, the escarpment climbs steeply and I'm soon feeling pretty warm underneath layers of clothing. I'm relieved to make it onto the top of the ridge, although the path becomes increasingly lost in heather and grassy tussocks. From the south a big cloud-front is now moving overhead, and my hopes of a lovely blue sky are quickly smothered.

Still, it's great to be back up on the ridges again. The views are fine despite the overcast sky. My only company as I make my way across the heather to the summit trig is a herd of ponies, wary of me but no trouble. The trig is placed on the highest point of the ridge, giving good long views but absolutely no good views of the valleys either side. For that you need to head to the edges of the escarpments either side. It's not a great place for a Bronze Age cairn and the builders of such monuments have clearly taken this to heart.

To find what I've come up here for, I have to keep heading north along the ridge. Unfortunately the damage caused by motorbikes now becomes apparent; a broad black line cutting through the surface vegetation into the peat below, stretches all the way to the end of the ridge and the solitary cairn at its end. The tracks sadly continue onto the ruined monument itself, no respect given here.

In truth the cairn is in a pretty sorry state even without this latest desecration, a ragged rim of earth and stone around a central scoop, the southern edge almost down to ground level. However, the views and location make up for the state of the archaeology. A sweeping panorama stretches from Y Domen Fawr across Ebbw Vale to the west, taking in the Brecon Beacons (mostly hidden in the cloud), the limestone plateau of Mynydd Llangatwg and Mynydd Pen-cyrn, with the Black Mountains behind, and the solitary peak of Mynydd Pen-y-Fal (The Sugarloaf) beautifully framed by valleys to the northeast, then across eastwards to Mynydd Coety with Blorenge peaking out beyond. A superbly placed monument, for all its unloved, battered state. It's 11 years and a handful of days since I wandered across the limestone of Twr Pen-cyrn and got my first long distance views of Mynydd Carn-y-Cefn. It's taken far too long to get up here.

I stop at the cairn for a good while, partly hoping the cloud will lift but it's not happening. Eventually I follow the scarred tracks steeply down to the flat area below, named Bwlch y Garn (Pass of the Cairn) on the map. At the north-western end of this flat area is another irregular mound. GGAT dismiss this as a clearance cairn and they may be right, but the setting would be excellent for a Bronze Age monument. From here the definite article is clearly visible on the lip of the escarpment rising behind me to the south.

I head off downhill via crumbling paths to Ebbw Vale town centre, a drab place on what has become a grey day. But I'm not stopping, I have another hill to climb, and set my weary sights upwards on Y Domen Fawr.

Tideslow (Chambered Cairn)

Walked up from Tideswell on a lovely late summer/early autumn evening (6.9.2021). I approach along Tideslow Rake from the east, with the extremely disturbed ground and the trees at the top of the hill obscuring the tomb. The trees are full of clearly artificial mounds, but these aren't the mounds I'm looking for.

Coming out of the trees, the mound I am looking for is massive but very disturbed. Sadly I've timed my visit a bit late, so the monument is in deep shadow cast by the trees, while the surrounding countryside basks in lovely low light.

The central pit with the slabs is interesting. Stu describes the pair of slabs at the southeastern end of the pit as coming from a lime kiln. This may be so, but they're also just the right size for the edging slabs you get in some of the chambers round here (I'm thinking of Green Low near Aldwark, for example). There are further smaller slabs lining the long sides of the pit and I wouldn't be surprised if these were also part of the original megalithic structure.

Whatever, it's a fine spot. The resident sheep are a bit non-plussed by my visit and I don't stay as long as I might have done due to the deep shadow making photos rather unrewarding.

I leave the hilltop down the western slopes, the retrospective view back to the top reminiscent of Minninglow. Once you know where this is, the trees and mast make it quite an obvious landmark in this part of the Peaks.

I return to Tideswell via a nice stroll down Brook Bottom, passing a very peculiar wellhouse made of a cone of (presumably) concrete.

A good way to finish the day.

Phillack Towans (Standing Stone / Menhir)

I read about this stone in a little book of Penwith monuments I bought a few years ago. Visited 19 June 2021 at the end of a very pleasant beach and cliffs walk from Godrevy Sandshifter to Hayle Towans.

After leaving the coast, we head past Phillack Church and the Bucket of Blood to the point where the road bends sharply south-east. From here, a path heads north-east then north through a scrubby wood and out onto the dunes. The stone is reasonably easy to find, next to a fence separating the open dunes from a house and garden. It's a nicely tapering 7 foot+ granite monolith, partially covered in hairy lichen.

Looking at the angular edges, my feeling is that it's more likely to be medieval or post-medieval than prehistoric, although its tall height would be unusual for a boundary stone of that type. There are other boundary stones nearby, none of which come close to the height of this one. The Cornwall & Scilly HER says:
Boundary stone. A tall block of granite, about 7 foot above ground, about 1 foot in section, tapering to a point. Possibly a re-used menhir. The stone marks the bounds of Phillack Towans and Kernick Towans and is indicated on the 1842 Tithe Map. Its height, shape and tapering form suggest an early medieval or prehistoric origin, if not always in this location, certainly here for some time.
After a bit of wandering about in the towering dunes, the sky takes a turn for black and the sunshine of earlier is replaced by a swift rain front, so we beat a hasty retreat back to Hayle before the soaking arrives.

Venton Bebibell (Sacred Well)

This one has been on the list for a few years. It's been a bit lost over the years, but is now kept clear and is used in an annual "dolly dunking" ceremony.

We're quite a way into our walk from St Just (18 June 2021), taking in Tregeseal stone circle, Kenidjack Common, Boswens Croft, Chun Quoit and Castle and a rare revisit to Men-an-Tol.

From the latter, a path heads south-east, slowly descending into a shallow valley. In other years, this area is a bog and we're very fortunate that it's dry underfoot for us today. I only have the vaguest idea where the well is, but I figure that when we reach the stream we can just head north-east and eventually we'll find it.

The further we get upstream the boggier it gets, although it's still perfectly passable today. The vegetation also gets higher, blocking sections of stream bank from easy exploration so that looking for a well-head becomes harder.

We press on, and we're rewarded by the sight of some granite slabs protruding from the bank across a small pool - we're here! It's a lovely spot, the relative low-level compared to the rising moors giving a feeling of seclusion and peace. There are tadpoles swimming about in the pool, which is quite deep, and lovely and cool to a hand (we don't sample the water's healing properties!).

Really pleased to have found this and to come on such a lovely day. From here we head north towards the Four Parish Stone, which is probably an easier place to come here from once you know where you're going. Then it's up to Nine Maidens, our place of pilgrimage above all others.
Showing 1-20 of 570 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20
"The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body." Alfred Wainwright

"The movers move, the shakers shake, the winners write their history. But from high on the high hills, it all looks like nothing." Justin Sullivan

Elsewhere: Mastodon

My TMA Content: