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Lamington Park Long Cairn — Fieldnotes

"A radio plays 'White Christmas'; it's been doing that for years"... so noted a young Gary Numan way back in 1979, the seemingly innocuous statement some years later conjuring up images of the dystopian nightmare within the mind of this (then) young listener wondering whether anyone would get out of the 80's alive: a world dominated by programmed machines with (presumably, if only to allow for the narrative) a residue underclass of human survivors from some unspecified holocaust; and the horror of the communist commune force-feeding the subjected population 'what's good for them'... whether they like it, or not; and, as I recall, Jello Biafra's 'suede-denim Secret Police' secreting 'uncool' people away to the gas chambers with always - but always - a smiling face. In retrospect, Mr Webb's choice of song was second to none for it's unrivalled, sugar-coated familiarity. I mean, who doesn't feel a warm and cosy glow at the instantly recognisable sound of old Bing wishing us only the best within the perennial yuletide classic? Only for that sentiment to be ripped away upon the realisation that in this context no-one could - or would? - end that maddening loop. The disturbing implication that even our most revered, favourite things can be party to a journey to the dark side of the human psyche.... if we don't keep our wits about us. Or, to put it another way: that we should question everything we're told.... the very essence of punk, as emphasised by Mr Webb's choice of the distorted guitar in lieu of the rich synthetics of the Minimoog. Are we sure the anodyne are not wolves in sheep's clothing?

Such as one of my favourite things: the tree. C'mon, what is there to not like about trees? Aside from giving us vertebrates a hefty helping hand through their penchant for photosynthesis, very little is guaranteed to elevate my mood with more alacrity than to witness sunlight streaming through a summer woodland canopy, unleashing endless variations of highlight and shade from their overcast dormancy. To experience this is to perhaps access some ancient hunter-gatherer spiritual meme filed deep within the subconscious, to have an all-too-brief epiphany concerning what we once were... and to some extent still remain. Maybe this is why my sensibilities are jarred no end whenever I see a prostrate, lifeless tree - let alone one actually being felled. Suffice to say, if I was a lumberjack, I wouldn't be alright. There is, I think, a sense of reassuring, if somewhat illusory, 'permanence' associated with a plant evolved to devote so much energy to producing a wooden trunk to reach the light... to then display the very anthropomorphic idiocy of engaging in an 'arms race' with its brethren. And yet still we have to endure 'intelligent design' nonsense from the likes of that Meyer and other myopic religious apologists. Yeah, far from being part of a divine plan.... it seems to me that trees, with their often gnarled, twisted, improvised ethic, add yet more potency to Mr Darwin's wondrous theory embracing the perfection of imperfection.

So, consider: how the hell can trees also appear so malevolent to some, such as I? A perceived sense, perhaps, of an organism living within a fragile, complex, interactive society - where, ultimately, it's a case of 'every tree for itself' - suggesting an all too human analog? Maybe tapping into another of those ancient memes whereby a solitary human can easily become prey to unseen eyes watching from the cover of... well, trees. The hunter becomes the hunted. The guardian trees no longer an ally but in league with the darker corners of the psyche, where the light of reason can not penetrate. Where the senses play tricks, previously benign branches and roots seemingly grasping for a firm, permanent hold. For assimilation. The ultimate realisation of becoming 'one' with Nature, of 'going green'. Robert Smith's nightmare scenario echoing that of Numan's: the ultimate betrayal since the most unexpected, unforeseen - when friend becomes foe.

Now, despite not having a fondness for badly applied cosmetics - and not nearly enough hair - I do nevertheless share something in common with The Cure frontman: I've always had an issue with losing myself within the forest. Well, ever since getting lost during Air Training Corps overnight manoeuvres as a kid. Fearful of that moment when the exquisite ambience of the woodland clearing is torn asunder by the realisation that I don't know my way back to the 'outside world'. Consequently, following an overnighter at Strath Rory, I approach Lamington Park having - for once - done my homework. Yeah, apprehensive of losing my way within the trees cloaking the great long cairn depicted upon the map at NH74737800, I am taking this very seriously. So, I've my route all worked out... down to the specific forestry 'rides' that will lead me to the monument. What could possibly go wrong?

Pretty much everything, as it happens. Having parked up at the foresty entrance point a little north-east of the Maybank junction, I set off with the intention of following the track heading more-or-less north, a track that will, if my 'megalithic radar' is functioning correctly, bring me within 'striking distance' of the long cairn, a little to its west. Suffice to say my systems are not functioning to optimal specifications, the anticipated turnings overgrown, camouflaged... not forthcoming, the main track consequently luring me too far to the west before - after what seems like an age - finally swinging north. I should know better, I know... but it is so hard to resist the forlorn hope inherent within 'let's just look around the next corner' which, it has to be said, has served me so well in the past. But not today. Eventually, I call time and return to the car in low spirits. Beaten by the trees?

Not yet. I regroup and consult the map. The hastily improvised Plan B is to approach via the 'waterworks' just before the junction with the road to Kildary a little further to the east. The southern of two tracks, blocked in places by vegetation, bypasses the reservoir enclosure to its west before accessing a ride to the (very) approx north-west, this, in turn, joining another heading to the south-west. Sure enough, a large clearing materialises to my right after a short interval, this occupied by a central, pronounced grassy rise. Clambering to the top, the tell-tale spread of loose rock peeking from beneath the verdure confirms that my mighty quest is at an end! I have to say I'm in agreement with Strathspey, having immediately formed the impression that the majority of material en situ represents the remains of a very substantial monument owing to the consistent, uniform nature of profile. Hey, finding this beauty was not so difficult after all, eh? At least the navigation, that is... since the inclement conditions, aided by the surrounding forest line ensuring wind is kept to a minimum, couldn't be any more conducive to swarming midges this afternoon. Merciless swine that they are. Nevertheless, armed with a compass bearing upon my exit point and a head net to negate the worst excesses of the wee beasties, I settle down to enjoy this fabulous long cairn. For wondrous it is, seemingly almost intact beneath its mostly green mantle... and of significant length.

I wander around the perimeter of the clearing to observe the scene from differing viewpoints, revelling in a vibe of such overwhelming intensity, such complete tranquillity that this traveller may as well be on the moon, not under a mile from civilisation. No wonder Michel Faber saw fit to base the superb 'Under the Skin' around these parts. One almost expects Isserley to turn up in search of vodsels.... such is the other-worldly atmosphere here in this clearing. I wonder whether it was always such: an oasis of light and space within the woodland? As it is, my watch all too quickly records "The swiftest hours observed as they flew", although I doubt even the Bard himself could've evoked the ethereal feeling of belonging, being meant to be here... "Like a door thrown open on a life I've lived before", as Midge Ure noted in 1984 following, or so I understand, a visit to Lewis's great Tursachan (incidentally it was the glossy image of said wondrous stones upon the 'Lament' album cover which first implanted this antiquarian notion in my head... thanks lads).

So, all too soon it's time to leave. However, upon leaving the clearing and heading to the left for some distance.... I find can't locate my 'cleverly placed' wooden directional markers... for the trees. Damn. However, mindful of this morning's farcical failure, I decide not to arse around and to instead return to the clearing, fix my position and take a true compass bearing upon the car. Except, circling around, I can't find the clearing again. Small problem, which perseverance only exacerbates. The forest, a mere quarter of an hour earlier the most magical of environments, is suddenly fast becoming my nemesis, the rain deteriorating - as if on cue - into a downpour. Trees loom in my path this way and that and I find my disorientation begins to escalate, the mind begins to swim. Lost in The Forest. All alone. And I had planned to reach Glen Loth before nightfall.

OK, having a map and compass is all very well... but, just as when caught within hill fog upon a summit, they are of little use when the traveller can not fix his (or her) position upon said map. I, therefore, decide to cut my losses and 'guesstimate' my whereabouts prior to taking a bearing for the road, henceforth attempting to follow it as literally as the trees - with their seemingly grasping branches and roots - will allow. Never has half a mile seemed so far, the water-laden foliage proving way too powerful a foe for my light-weight waterproofs. However, I eventually stumble out upon the road, free from the forest's soaking embrace.... only to find myself nowhere near where I should be. I conclude I've been forced too far to the west and set about remedying this. Back within the sanctuary of the car, I dry off and attempt a quick post-mortem before starting off for the planned night's stop within Glen Loth. In retrospect, it all looks so easy. However, just like repeating 'White Christmas' ad-infinitum can suggest dark, dystopian thoughts, the wondrous tree - when multiplied and set in serried rank - can also seriously mess with the brain. Or at least mine.

Waun Sarn (Cairn(s)) — Links

Elan Valley Past and Present

An interesting local website...

Waun Sarn (Cairn(s)) — Fieldnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarrenhendre (Round Cairn) — Fieldnotes

I once read - in an interview with Andy Partridge, perhaps? - that one of the defining idiosyncrasies of an Englishman (one assumes an Englishwoman, too?) is a propensity to 'make lists'... or was it 'to collect'? Clearly, the memory isn't what it once was. Whatever the case, both could be seen as manifestations of that oft-derided 'insular character' so readily applied to a specific, indigenous male demographic of this island of ours. If so, it's probably fair to say such a generalisation is applicable in my case - with one important caveat: I like to collect 'experiences', memories... not things. Some bad; the majority, hopefully, good. All are worthwhile additions since, as Mr Cope pointed out some years back everything, the positive and the negative, fuels, helps to inform my 'Rock 'n Roll'. Albeit running to a rather more European-esque, sequencer baseline.

Now while naturally, I'm aware that 'writing stuff down' is of benefit to the, er, advancing memory, maintaining the designated hierarchy when planning visits, for example, can be problematic when one is open to influence by external stimuli, by sensory perception. A case in point being Tarrenhendre. Indeed, a return to this relatively obscure outlier of the wondrous Cadair Idris, while certainly upon 'the list' was, to be frank, so far down as to be languishing within the proverbial 'footer'. There simply are not enough days within our fleeting turn upon this global stage, this cabaret... sometimes Liza Minnelli dark, sometimes Ethel Merman bright... this ongoing story of humanity. Factor in the, according to the map, almost prohibitively steep final approach from the south against perceived benefit and we get to the crux of the matter: the vagaries of the human mind (or at least mine)... "So, what's in it for me?" Hey, I guess I'm no different from most other people, right? To attempt to be more succinct: the large, round cairn dimly recalled from my youth crowning this 2,076ft summit - OK, technically a little way to the approx south-east of the highest point (for all us supposed geeks and assorted misfits who've always thought 'Architecture and Morality' wasn't pretentious, simply classic art) - and this inquisitive traveller were not set to rendezvous once again in the foreseeable future... if ever again?

That is until that aforementioned sensory perception saw fit to do its subliminal thang last month as I wandered the bleak fastness of Pumlumon: sea views absorbed, as if by some kind of osmosis, upon the exquisite hillfort of Pen Dinas, rising above Bont-goch Elerch; a shimmering horizon noted upon the sentinel peak herself, Pen Pumlumon-Fawr. Seemingly disparate, peripheral moments, yet electrical impulses across synapses constructing something much more. Yeah, just like the organic, beyond sensual voice of Regine Fetet, infused with 'Je ne sais pas', somehow merged, coalesced with Hard Corps' precise, robotic, Kraftwerkian beats to create a new, sublime synergy back in the mid-80's (or maybe even Vince and Alf, if you prefer?), it required the input of all Mr Partridge's 'senses working overtime' to ensure I find myself parking-up beside the farm access track to Rhos-farch, a little north of Pennal, under a leaden sky promising nothing very positive, to be honest.

The sense of inauspiciousness is heightened by the all too real perception that I am a very unwelcome guest, judging by the brusque refusal of the arriving farmer to even acknowledge, let alone reciprocate, my friendly greeting. What is it with some people? OK, walker/landowner relations can sometimes get a little fraught, with neither party able to claim a monopoly of righteousness... but to my mind, there is no excuse for such sheer bad manners. Whatever, the gurgling Afon Pennal has sufficient class to compensate for any number of apparently ignorant people and I'm nevertheless, inspired to go walkabout. The farm access track bears a ravaged notice proclaiming 'Private Road'... however since such-like are never (in my long experience) an impediment to rural wandering on foot, I head off down the track to join with the public footpath ascending Tarrenhendre's southern ridge. However, upon achieving said junction, a retrospective glance at the exit gate reveals another notice declaring the route I've just taken as 'out of bounds'. I'll leave you to make your own judgement. But what's done in good faith is done, right? The public footpath - or rather stony track - arcs to the left before branching steeply right to advance across the lush grass of Ffridd Rhosfarch, the primary line servicing the old quarry within Cwm Ebol.

OK, before proceeding any further I should declare a fair degree of favouritism toward the Afon Dyfi (Dovey). Yeah, as much as I'm captivated, in turn, by the aesthetic appeal of the Mawddach, the Dwyryd, Snowdon's very own Afon Glaslyn, the wild Ystwyth of Cwmdeuddwr, even... and surely no river executes a more emphatic discharge to the sea than Pumlumon's Severn (Hafren)... only one watercourse rises within the ancient, traditionally lawless heartland of Ardudwy, cradled within the rocky bosom of Aran Fawddwy. I guess, no matter how we might deny it in polite company, we all harbour a fascination for the outlaw, the moody outsider? And this approach to Tarrenhendre offers arguably almost the finest of all vantage points to witness the former Llaethnant continually achieve its full potential. Second only to the view from the summit ridge rising above, in fact. Needless to say, the impact is greater upon the descent.

In due course the path arrives at the bwlch below Tarren Rhosfach, the space more-or-less occupied by sheepfolds, whereby the 'ask' demanded of me by the mountain to reach the top becomes all too readily apparent. Ouch. A near-on vertical ascent upon grass with no discernible path to speak of, the 'zig-zag' depicted upon my map notwithstanding. Which, when you think about it, is not really surprising? I mean, who in their right mind would want to climb up there to see an old pile of stones? Point taken. Particularly with tendrils of unforecasted hill fog beginning to grasp at the summit towering to the north, above the headwall of the cwm of the Afon Alice. Which begs the obvious question, just who was Alice? (wise to leave Roy 'Chubby' Brown out of such a deliberation, methinks?). What is beyond doubt, however, is the fact that I must earn my rendezvous the hard way by expending every joule of energy at my disposal. The fenceline running the length of Y Tarenau's extensive main ridge - some seven miles of it - is an correspondingly awful long time a'coming, something which appears to be a recurring personal theme nowadays. Nevertheless I... eventually... arrive at the crest of what is named Mynydd Esgairweddan upon the 1:25k ODS map, a pretty featureless 'lumpy hump' which refuses to divulge the whereabouts of some apparent monuments listed by Coflein with anything approaching ease. Suddenly feeling somewhat nervous due to the inclement, not to mention deteriorating conditions, I elect to head straight for my ultimate goal... and resign myself to having a detailed look upon my return. The 'umbilical cord' fenceline, reassuringly, heads unerringly to the great cairn of Tarrenhendre. Too unerringly, in fact, ignobly bisecting the monument in the process. But there you are.

And 'great cairn' it certainly is! Despite the dual indignity of wire and rather pathetic modern marker cairn plonked on top, there is no muppet shelter to be found here, the monument seemingly intact and standing apparently inviolate upon its coastal perch. Although featuring a grassy mantle, the cairn boasts a fine profile and relatively consistent elevation. Check! As noted earlier, the great stone pile does not occupy the actual summit of Tarrenhendre. However, to my mind the visitor doesn't need to look far for this apparent oversight, if not error... indeed, the evidence is all around: staring, awestruck, to the south-west, the magnificent vista towards Aberdyfi and Cardigan Bay highlights the anfractuous course of the Afon Dyfi to perfection; to the approx west, the aforementioned ridge of Y Tarenau is seen snaking away toward Tarren Cwm-ffernol and the significantly be-cairned Trum Gelli, the latter visited a few years ago; while to the south, looking across the sinuous river to the upland cemeteries upon Foel Goch and Moel y Llyn - the latter, incidentally, the subject of another localised 'lady in the lake' legend - the gaze, with eyes straining to penetrate the swirling mist, finally comes to rest upon the summit of Pumlumon herself. Pen Pumlumon-Fawr. Mother of Rivers.

And so the subliminal workings of this challenged mind achieve their goal by finally reversing the perspective of last month. Yeah, for me there can be no doubt behind the placement of this cairn. It had to be, surely, the epic outlook such a position presented, the overview of the Dyfi reaching the sea? To check this theory out, as any good scientist would insist an enthusiastic, er, layman should, I make my way to the summit to discover it is, indeed, simply not in the same league as its panoramic neighbour. OK, that's not to say the views toward Dyffryn Dysynni, yet another upland cemetery gracing Allt Lwyd, not to mention Cadair Idris (although the latter is mostly subsumed in vapour) are not expansive - hey, I even reckon I can make out the iconic hill fort upon Craig Yr Aderwyn? - but, let's face it.... the Dyfi is the business around these parts and, owing to the relatively uniform topography of the summit plateau, this traveller can only conclude the great cairn is where it needed to be. Needs to be, in fact.

And there's more. Following lunch perched upon the craggy eastern face of the mountain, looking across to Tarren-y-Gesail (Y Tarenau's cairn-less summit top) progressively losing an ongoing duel with the all-encompassing hill fog, I return to the cairn to chill out - a little too literally, unfortunately - and discover a further, completely grassed-over monument a little to the approx north(ish) of the star attraction at SH6839103998. According to Coflein, this represents:

"Remains of round barrow standing 1m high and eroded away to an almost rectangular shape on the windward sides. Approx. dimensions 7m x 4m. S.D. Lowden, Archaeophysica, 1 June 2006."

So there you are. In fact Coflein cites another prehistoric site, but that is not forthcoming in the billowing mist. Perhaps it's just me? Checking the time I realise I have to make a move to reach the car before dark. Like, er, now? So I begin the descent and, despite another quick review of Mynydd Esgairweddan, do not discern anything I could say, with my hand on my heart (not that I'm attempting to dump Kylie, or anything, you understand?) matched Coflein's descriptions. But there you are. The descent back to the bwlch is not exactly what tired, aching legs would choose if they were sentient, but what has to be done, has to be done... and the views of Dyffryn Dyfi, free from the gathering gloom, really are exquisite compensation. Arriving back at Rhos-farch I briefly consider ignoring the 'Einreise Verboten!' but, in accordance with my moral code, decide to give the landowner the benefit of the doubt and stick to the 'official' route. I mean, how far can it be? And no one with a realistic, holistic view of life in 2019 would deliberately take actions to discourage tourism, the very economic lifeblood of Wales? Surely not? Hmm. Prospective visitors should note that it is, in fact, a considerable diversion so I leave you to consider the intelligence/morality of suchlike. So, more-or-less dead on my feet, I finally arrive back at the car. It's been a long, challenging day, both physically and mentally. And, upon reflection, one I wouldn't have undertaken if it hadn't been for the subliminal deliberations of this lump of grey matter we call the human mind. Ah, introspection. Guess it's what separates us, alienates us from the other creatures inhabiting this crazy, spinning globe. I mean, Molly, my cat, will truculently bite me one moment, yet smooch up 30 minutes later as if nothing had occurred. No sense of 'memory'? Or maybe she's simply ruthlessly manipulating me for her own ends? Dunno. But there's no way she would ever consider climbing a mountain. Lazy cat.

However, if 'introspection' is, indeed, what locked us out of the primaeval forest and gives us so much pain... joy and, crucially, hope for the future... You who are about to be introspective - I salute you!

Pen Pumlumon-Fawr (Cairn(s)) — Fieldnotes

Ah, Pumlumon.... I've never been able to determine, to articulate the origin of the apparent synchronicity that exists between this often world-weary traveller... and the soggy summit of The Cambrian Mountains; this synergy inspiring me to efforts well outside my comfort zone, drawing me back to these bleak uplands time and time again where, or so it would appear, so few modern antiquarians see fit to tread nowadays.

OK, consider: there is the unrivalled rising of THREE major Welsh rivers upon the main ridge according Pumlumon the status of fountainhead extraordinaire; there is its location, both geographically and within the national consciousness, blocking access to the fastness of Gwynedd, natural fortress of yore, from the south - pivotal watershed in more ways than one; then there is Pumlumon's inclusion within the exclusive traditional mountain triumvirate of Wales (the others being, of course, Yr Wyddfa herself and Cadair Idris); and last but certainly not least, the fact that the local Bronze Age inhabitants saw fit to erect Wales', arguably the UK's, finest collection of upland cairns upon Pumlumon and her subsidiary hills. You know, upon reflection I reckon all the above are pretty compelling reasons to visit. But considered in unison the mix is overwhelmingly potent.

Consequently, it's rather ironic that the decision to ascend to the sentinel summit once again was - as seven years previously - a spur-of-the-moment thing made following three days wild camping below. Yeah, packed and ready to leave upon a glorious, cloudless morning the sight - or perhaps the sound, the 'aural sculpture'? - of the cascading Maesnant proves the catalyst for an abrupt change of plan. A volte-face or, if you prefer, Amy Winehouse's '180'. To be fair, it does happen to me. Quite a bit, in fact. Clearly it would take minds far exceeding mine in complexity to rationalise such apparently arbitrary choices in a coherent manner; however should one of those 'engineers' from Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus' happen to suddenly appear brandishing a 'universal translator' gizmo, what odds that the fast-flowing waters were revealed to be saying something akin to "And WTF do you think you're doing on a day like this, muppet? Up you go and let's say no more about this, capisce?"

Whatever, it's good advice since cloudless mornings at Pumlumon, in my experience, tend to be notable by their absence. Hence, despite a gaping hole in my left boot acquired the previous day, I shove everything back in the car boot and set off steeply uphill alongside the left-hand (northern) bank of the tumbling stream. The path, such as it is, is certainly soggy, but since rivers not only run through here but are endlessly reborn here, what else should one expect? Just not ideal with a hole in the footwear such as to cause Neil from the Young Ones to have a really heavy bummer. Indeed, the route soon crosses the access track to one such river's 'womb', the Llyn Llygad-Rheidol (Eye of the Rheidol) cradled beneath the powerful, craggy northern face of Pen Pumlumon Fawr, now beckoning to the approx south-east. From here the view is that of restrained anticipation, rather than head-spinning primaeval beauty - just as I like my approaches. Well, you wouldn't tuck straight into the main course of a cordon-bleu meal without the hors d'oeuvres, would you? Or perhaps you would?

As chance would have it I happen to catch up with another punter, previously some way in front, taking a breather before the final push to the summit. However any triumphant exclamations of 'Get in there! There's life in this old dog yet!' are stifled at source upon ascertaining said gentlemen is not only an octogenarian... but also convalescing from a recent heart attack. Yeah, clad in a 'Cwm Ystwyth' T-shirt - a none too subtle clue to the whereabouts of his retirement home (and, incidentally, site of a wild camp earlier this week) - he's happy to discuss the relative merits of large scale geological maps versus the current OS series.. or rather 'educate' since I know nothing of the former... and can barely use the latter, even after all these years. One thing we can agree upon with more-or-less certainty, however, is there is 'something' about Pumlumon... so quiet, trodden by relatively few boots etc.... and there are surely few more rewarding places to be this morning. The irony - yes, that again - is therefore not lost upon me when having bid farewell and made (very) surprisingly short work of the final ascent, I'm greeted by a horde of ramblers seemingly poured over the summit like Lyle's Golden Syrup over that pudding I used to have as a kid. To be fair the 'person in charge' does apologise for the rather excessive noise of her charges.

Nonetheless, miserable bastard that I am, I instead retreat eastward to enjoy a peaceful, extended sojourn overlooking the aforementioned Llyn Llygad Rheidol. This is arguably the finest perch upon Pumlumon, with the quartzite blocks of the Cerrig Cyfamod Glyndwr, shining beyond the brooding tarn to approx north, drawing the gaze toward a horizon crowned by Cadair Idris and The Arans. Here, at this classic spot making a mockery of all who seek to arraign this wondrous mountain with charges of monotony, minutes imperceptibly become several hours until, eventually, I venture a little further west toward an apparently inauspicious bog to the north of Pen Lluest-y-Carn to labour the point. For here, within this infelicitous marsh, rises none other than the sinuous River Wye (the Blaen Afon Gwy). Furthermore, as if having two prodigious watercourses seeping from the very earth in the immediate locale isn't enough.... just a mile or so further to the north-east, beyond the massive cairns of Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli, can be found the birthplace of the Afon Hafren; the mighty Severn. This traveller knows of no other comparable landscape within these Isles. Frankly, the mind swims at the realisation, at the significance of what we have here set among the great cairns. This is the compelling reason to come to Pumlumon.

But what about the cairns? Yeah, forgot about those. Returning to the now-empty fastness of Pen Pumlumon-Fawr's summit a diverse trio of stone piles can be appreciated, each affording magnificent panoramic views, particularly to the north-west where, gazing out across a multitude of similarly-endowed lesser hills to the distant Dyffryn Dyfi, the rounded green tops of Y Tarenau catch both my eye and deep consciousness. Not that I realise it yet. South-westward, the main ridge connects Y Garn, resplendent with its own massive Bronze Age behemoth, to the sentinel, while to the west Aberystwyth sparkles in the autumn sunshine, in turn, marking journey's end for our pre-eminent senior mountaineer's own river. Of the three cairns, the central has by far the largest footprint, if not elevated profile; in fact, it is so large - and unfortunately so disturbed (has there been significant slippage?) - that it is debatable whether any authority can ever definitively assign dimensions. Suffice to say, the incomparable Miosgan Meadhbha looming over Sligo notwithstanding, it covers the largest surface area of any proper upland cairn I've seen and holds three 'muppet shelters' with ease. Although the educated will weep at the actions of such ignorant people. Stupid is as stupid does, as Tom Hanks perceptively remarked once upon a time. In stark contrast, the northern monument is, by Pumlumon standards, rather small. But nevertheless nicely formed.

Which brings me to the southern cairn, arguably combining the aesthetic best of both worlds with a classic profile incorporating significant volume of stone. By any account a classic upland cairn, particularly when appreciated in context bathed in the warmest of warm light ... but, as usual it's all about where they put it. Crucially, crowning a mountain that, for me, defies all classification. Unique, teeming with prehistory, Mother of Rivers and occupying a salient position within this nation we call Wales... perhaps it is its very idiosyncrasy that places Pumlumon in a class of its own.

"And a man said, Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.... But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure" (thanks Claudia).

Peek Hill (Ring Cairn) — Miscellaneous

In the absence of any other detail relating to the remains of this ring cairn - set a little to the south-west of Peek Hill's summit and offering some excellent panoramic views - Devon and Dartmoor HER has this to say:

[National Monuments Record, 2019, Pastscape, 2007 survey data (Website). SDV362732].

"The heavily disturbed and robbed cairn occupies a high point on Peek Hill that offers an impressive 360 degree vista. The interior is composed of a confused spread of fragmentary rock slabs and boulders that gives the impression of quarrying disturbance. There are numerous leaning slabs but how many have been artificially erected is difficult to discern as some are clearly natural strata. Perhaps a rocky outcrop was cut away when the cairn was constructed. The central rather ragged rectangular pit is heavily disturbed probably the result of an unrecorded excavation. Surveyed and investigated at 1:2500 scale (citing Fletcher, M. J., 11/05/2007, English Heritage Field Investigation)"

Although ravaged, the substantial footprint and excellent placement of this cairn make it well worth incorporating within a short circular walk featuring the Sharpitor stone rows and cairn circle/cist. Hey, why not have a scramble upon Sharpitor itself as well?

Carneddau Hafod Wnog (Cairn(s)) — Images (click to view fullsize)

<b>Carneddau Hafod Wnog</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Peek Hill (Ring Cairn) — Images

<b>Peek Hill</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Carnedd Moel Siabod (Round Cairn) — Fieldnotes

There are, I reckon it's fair to say, both positive and negative attributes to 'spontaneous action'. Ah, spontaneity: anathema to some - the methodical thinkers, planners, those with compartmentalised car boots ensuring everything is always in its right place (one assumes Thom Yorke is an advocate?)... yet a prerequisite to others - the instinctive, inquisitive, opportunistic, the reckless, even? As for myself, I guess I fall between camps... as I do for most things nowadays. Implacable opposition to religious and political extremists (particularly farcically ignorant, far left champagne socialist 'rappers') naturally proving the rule. Yeah, plan for the worst, but be prepared to improvise at short notice. Seize the opportunity. Speaking of which...

A passing shower, pounding upon what back in the day would've been canvas, wakes me with a jolt at Fferm y' Rynys, my tent, if not exactly in the shadow of the great long barrow of Capel Garmon - unfortunately sunshine is required for such a phenomenon - certainly not too distant. Upon gingerly emerging from my erstwhile cocoon I note a seemingly immutable mass of opaque, grey vapour looming where the elegant profile of Moel Siabod should be to the west. Should be, but as experience informs, all too often isn't. Nevertheless, as dawn gives way to early morning, these clouds progressively realize a warmer, more optimistic glow suggestive of change... sufficient, in fact, to prompt me to head toward Capel Curig to see what's what. One of the wettest places in the UK? What could possibly go wrong? However, sure enough, Moel Siabod's facade is present and very much correct, towering above the cascading Afon Llugwy at Pont Cynfyg. Now there are some that maintain rivers 'talk' - divulge their story, if you will - to the susceptible. If so, perhaps the Afon Llugwy should be accorded a PG rating? Whatever, the subconscious duly primed, the penny finally drops upon passing the shiny 4x4s aligned outside Plas-y-Brenin... why not reacquaint myself with the summit cairn? Ah, the moth to the flame....

Spontaneity triumphs in the ensuing deliberations and - before I have the opportunity to reflect and countermand - I set off, skirting the eastern extremity of the Llynnau Mymbyr to ascend into the trees, that familiar, intoxicating blend of nervous excitement/determination/what-the-hell-am-I-doing-you-muppet? to the fore. The path is initially heavy going underfoot: wet rock, slippery following the recent rain, the slitheryness factor exacerbated by fallen leaves... however, as height is gained and the woodland left behind it morphs into a straightforward grassy/muddy plod all the way to the top. Well, almost, that is. More-or-less. That 'the top' is a very long time coming - and takes everything I've got in my available energy reserves - probably signifies more about it being some thirteen years since my last ascent of this mountain than anything else. But there you are. With grandstand retrospective views to Y Glyderau and Y Carneddau, thankfully unimpeded by the cloud of morning, to animate the all too necessary frequent pauses... a traveller can't exactly complain, can he? Not that any spirits or other similar manifestations contravening the laws of physics that may - or may not - frequent this apparent behemoth beached humpback whale of a mountain, would give a monkey's if I did. Eventually, I reach the crest of the summit plateau, whereby the landscape suddenly explodes - hell, like John Hurt's chest in Alien - into a shattered disarray of mechanically weathered dolerite intrusion. Yeah, the 'shapely hill' bears its jagged teeth in no uncertain manner assuring further onward progress is no easy matter.

Finally, there it is. The cairn. Now as upland cairns go... structurally speaking, it is a poor example, having been hollowed-out by successive multitudes of unschooled walkers to provide shelter from the wind. Or rather, to judge by the very significant footprint, a pale evocation of its former self. Unfortunately, all this is to be expected in this day and age. Anyhow, noting that, owing to my early start, none of the aforementioned muppets is as yet on the scene, I take the opportunity for closer inspection. But not before applying every item of kit I have brought with me in an - although not totally successful - at least B+ attempt to keep out the punishingly brutal cold wind. No need to vandalise scheduled prehistoric monuments... if you understand your environment. Funnily enough, it does tend to be windy upon mountain summits. Although it has to be said that the application of thermal underwear over boots is not to be recommended. Not a good look. Although observing what passes for 'fashion' these days I'm pretty sure someone would buy it.

Anyway, the solo exploration reveals unexpected detail: a large slab and associated lesser fragments suggestive of a former cist, an assumption given further credence by what look very much like two small orthostats still remaining in situ within the 'shelter'. How these have survived the millennia upon such a popular mountain is beyond me, it really is. And yes, the circular footprint is indeed much more extensive than I recall. But it is where they put it that counts. Yeah, the archaeology, of course, is but of secondary importance to the sense of place. It is the landscape context that makes this the archetypal spot to set your Bronze Age VIP on the road to eternity. Or David Byrne's 'nowhere', depending upon your point of view.

Although this is my fifth visit over the years, the spellbinding vistas nevertheless continue to blow the mind. The key here is Moel Siabod's isolated location, standing aloof at the eastern extremity of Y Moelwynion and, to be honest, sharing little of the characteristics of its neighbours. Its elevation, measuring up at a very respectable 2,861ft, is also noteworthy thus ensuring the aesthetic dividends to be enjoyed here are among the finest in all Snowdonia. In my opinion. Today, all the old friends are present and correct: to the north, beyond the eastern heights of Y Glyderau and the obscurely wondrous long cairn at Bwlch Goleuni, are the massed summits of Y Carneddau bristling with upland cairns; to the northwest across Dyffryn Mymbyr and its cists, the chaotic, natural rockpiles of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr separated by the unearthly Castell-y-Gwynt... the latter in its element today overlooking the soggy stone circle beside lonely Llyn Cwmffynnon; directing the gaze further west, beyond Llanberis Pass, is the Snowdon Massif, sentinel peak Yr Wyddfa subsumed within its customary cloak of grey; then Nant Gwynant and Y Cnicht... the remainder of Y Moelwynion, some peaks standing in mute, ravaged homage to Wales' former industrial heritage; eastward toward Betws-y-Coed (reversing my dawn view), the moors of Denbighshire, Y Berwyn. In fact, it is only to the south that the iconic 360-degree panorama is interrupted... by the summit itself. Easily rectified. Ah, there you go. The Migneint and Southern Snowdonia. Tick.

Here the uninitiated punter will be in for a shock, the bulbous form of Moel Siabod's northern flank - so apparently benign when viewed from the shores of Llynnau Mymbyr - catastrophically transformed in an impressive display of naked rock plunging toward the gaunt, restored keep of Dolwyddelan Castle, set far below within Cwm Lledr. Here, too, is Daear Ddu, a superb natural route of ascent (one of the finest in Snowdonia) from the glacial corrie tarn Llyn-y-Foel, a shining glint of water visible sheltering far beneath the towering north-eastern ridge. It was here (at SH71005520) that, if Coflein is to be believed, a fabulous Bronze Age shield was discovered in 1784. Surely not? But then again, what an appropriate location! I make an extended stop here to delay returning to the increasingly more popular summit, my mind swimming as a rainbow arcs across the void. Was there really a priceless treasure to be found at its base a couple of centuries past? Whatever the truth, there is certainly priceless treasure of a more metaphysical nature to be experienced here today. Steady now. But don't just take my word for it... similarly impressed, by all accounts, are a couple of 'scally' climbers struggling past... we share a brief mutual epiphany. Top lads, eyes aglow with wonder.

With a little over an hour or so before I must begin my descent, I return to the now deserted summit... and find Moel Siabod has one more surprise for me today. With minimal warning - as if a boxer flooring his opponent with a zero backlift uppercut - the cloud base swirling above Cwm Lledr and the excellent Y Ro Wen suddenly envelopes all, sending me into a claustrophobic environment of looming apparitions and spiralling wraiths of moisture. An abstruse world seemingly for my eyes only. The sun, however, refuses to submit... and, upon executing a 180, I find myself face to face with... myself. A Brocken Spectre, a rainbow kaleidoscope of colour illuminating my shadow as if I've become the 'Ready-brek Kid' styled by JMW Turner himself. That's making the assumption it wasn't the former occupant of the nearby cairn going walkabout? Or a ghostly warrior muttering 'I'm sure I left it hereabouts?' No, definitely the wind. I think. Wow, what a finale.

Returning to the cairn I make a compass bearing for Plas y Brenin and, after confirming this with one taken earlier (as is my way) and throwing a respectful nod to times - and people - past, I set off back down the mountain. Overjoyed, but a little unnerved, too. Emerging from the gloom I find my bearing is true, but nevertheless I'm quite a way to the west of the path. Rain moves in during the final half-mile and I realise my window of opportunity was indeed but fleeting. Spontaneity, eh? I'm all for it. But best take a compass....

Bache Hill and the Whimble (Round Barrow(s)) — Miscellaneous

PLEASE NOTE: Prospective visitors to Radnor Forest and its impressive round barrows should take care to ascertain the current restrictions applicable to the Harley Dingle military firing range following apparent expansion in the recent past. The below UKC link has details:

Stay safe.

Cwm Bwch, Great Rhos (Round Barrow(s)) — Fieldnotes

The Radnor Forest, that compact horseshoe of heather-clad summits rising to the north(ish) of New Radnor, has, for me, always stood aloof within the canon of Welsh mountains; not really belonging, yet nonetheless indispensable to anyone attempting to understand the 'big picture'. Yeah, despite possessing more than a hint of the unforgiving topography of Y Berwyn and - not surprisingly - that of the not-too-distant Black Mountains, culturally speaking, at least, the distinctly Anglo Saxon nomenclature prevalent here sets the region apart. Too distant from the Mam C's to facilitate day trips and not easily accommodated within itineraries focussed upon Rhayader, 'out of sight' too readily became 'out of mind'... that is, prior to viewing - in seemingly glacial time - a sprawling, grasping tsunami of hill fog envelope all from the ramparts of the excellent Cefn-y-Gaer hillfort last year. So, the burrowing worm of curiosity was set upon its impetuous course; not quite as dramatically as the Ceti eel larvae scenes in The Wrath of Khan, perhaps, but inexorably nevertheless.

So, one year hence I happen to notice a brief hiatus in the usually inclement Mid Walian weather patterns actually coinciding with my travel plans. For once. Now if I was a religious man - or even Leonard Cohen - I might well have uttered a 'Hallelujah!', if only inwardly. However, I'm not, so a wry smile must suffice until, sure enough, blue skies overhead, following an exhausting early morning drive from Essex, confirm we are good to go. That's both the determined 'Captain Mainwaring' me and the counterbalancing 'Sergeant Wilson - Do you think this is wise?' me. Somewhat disconcertingly, a full twenty-four years have elapsed since my only previous visit to the 2,165ft summit of Great Rhos; a comparatively recent seven since a sojourn upon the wondrously Silbury-esque Whimble and parent Bache Hill... so Great Rhos it is, then, the approach from the west seemingly most conducive to success, bearing in mind my wonky knees and Harley Dingle-related uncertainties. Well, I like my visits to the hills to be a blast, but not literally so. Furthermore, unlike the aforementioned tops and, indeed, Black Mixen, Great Rhos's trio of Bronze Age round barrows are not located at the summit, but upon the dramatic northern and southern flanks of Cwm Bwch to the north-west, precipitously plunging facades of grass and rock riven with prominent water-sculptured gulleys. Hey, it's almost as if the people who erected these monuments knew what they were doing?

A minor road winds its sinuous way northwards from the A44 at Llanegley to eventually terminate within Cwm Ffrwd at - appropriately enough - Cwm Farm, whereby I'm subjected to a rather farcical 'interrogation' by a young(ish) farmer-type on a quad bike.... 'Where are you staying?'... 'Dunno, depends. Wild camping'.... etc. Mindful of leaving the car unattended for the duration in such circumstances, I bite my tongue. For once. Anyhow, a public footpath ascends very steeply eastwards to attain the summit of Cefn-y-grug at a cross dyke, the western flank of Great Rhos utterly overwhelming the scene beyond despite its 'modest' elevation. From here I follow a rather eroded upland byway to the approx south-east to, in turn, gain the southern headwall of Cwm Merwys... leading eventually to the summit. The retrospective views to the west are as exquisite as they are expansive, the captivated gaze drawn toward the distant Cwmdeuddwr Hills and, further to the north, Pumlumon herself. Perhaps not household names to some. But in my opinion, they should be.

However, the summit can - indeed must - wait for a while since it is time to keep an appointment with the southern-most of Great Rhos's tumuli, this a little to the north at SO17566414. Although bisected by a fenceline, the monument possesses both relatively substantial form and sublime positioning. Although clearly located so as not to overlook Cwm Bwch, the equally, if not superior, setting of the northern barrows is readily apparent across the unseen void. It dawns upon me that the descent to Cwm Bwch will be very, very steep indeed... but such is the overpowering, almost spiritual majesty of this landscape I have no choice but to visit, to experience. To be drawn into the melodrama. I would suggest the Bronze Age architects were only too aware of the possible quasi-hypnotic outcomes of the manipulation of psychosomatic processes up here. I could, quite literally, stay all day upon this wondrous perch... but there is so much to see.

The diversion, to approx south-east, to visit the summit of the mountain is much more arduous than the limited height gain would imply upon the map. Trackless plods across rough, heather-clad upland moor are like that. However, eventually, the concrete OS triangulation pillar is within my grasp, the deep defile of Harley Dingle more-or-less isolating Great Rhos from the rest of Radnor Forest, the craggy, western elevation of Great Creigiau a fine precursor to the great, truncated cone of Whimble itself. Yeah, as monumental an achievement as Silbury is, nobody does it better than Nature. Not so auspicious, perhaps, is the massive antenna standing beside Great Mixen's summit round barrow. I guess I should also mention that Harley Dingle, a live military firing range even during my first foray here 24 years ago is now, so it would appear, 'out of bounds' to walkers following a recent extension of the Danger Area "well beyond the confines of the valley itself." I'll post a link within the Miscellaneous section of the Whimble and Bache Hill page for reference.

So I retreat to the north-west and circle the headwall rim of Cwm Bwlch, keeping the forestry line to my right, to descend to the pièce de résistance of the day: the pair of round barrows at SO17586497 and SO17576494. The southern-most is by far the more impressive, perhaps even mirroring the monument seen in skyline profile to good effect across the gaping cwm... however it is the locale, the landscape context.... which truly blows my mind. Set almost upon the very lip of this grassy spur with vertiginous perspectives down to the valley floor, complete with serpentine stream, one simply cannot ask for more from an upland monument. To the approx west, I make out the 'Shepherd's Tump', another round barrow overlooking Cwm Ffrwdd from the north. I had intended to visit, but all focus is now upon enjoying the moment. And then reaching the car. In one piece. Without plummeting headfirst to oblivion.

The descent to Cwm Bwch is as ludicrously steep as I anticipate, verging upon the perpendicular, in fact. And, furthermore, is followed by an unbidden uphill grind to the cross dyke upon Cefn-y-grug upon reaching the nascent river. Just what I wanted at the end of the day. Not. Nevertheless, the hardship is but fleeting, relatively speaking. The retrospective of the barrow-crowned horseshoe is music to my eyes; the near-silent ambience, enlivened by just the subliminal sound of water upon displaced rock... and my own heavy breathing... likewise to my ears. A near-perfect natural symphony so complex as to overwhelm narrative cognition. Yet so simple.

If the insights of Newton are anything to go by I reckon Nature is pretty pleased with Cwm Bach.

Beinn na Caillich (Cairn(s)) — Fieldnotes

Now while there are obviously much, much worse things to endure than a day (or two) of trademark driving Highland rain seemingly intent upon proving Mr Newton wrong - in every conceivable respect - with its sheer gravity-defying persistence, that's not to say the spirit can't flag somewhat under the sustained onslaught. For what it's worth I rely upon one of WS Churchill's idiosyncratic maxims to see me through: 'When you're going through hell, keep going!'... perhaps better expressed in the secular as 'Keep Buggering On'... or, if 'text-speak' acronyms are your thing, 'KBO'.

Suitably inspired, and not subscribing to the warped doublespeak uttered by the democidal Stalinist apologists Orwell warned us would keep on exploiting the credulous to this very day, but rather the knowledge that the universe very much does not revolve around me, I persevere. To greet the following dawn beneath the exquisitely contoured profile of (Broadford's) Beinn na Caillich - instead of in my bed back home - inferring from the swirling cloud base that there might, just might, be an opportunity to correct a forced omission from last year and visit the 'other' Beinn na Caillich. The one overlooking Kylerhea, that is. Although lacking the titanic summit cairn of its gloriously mammarian 2,402ft namesake, this mountain is nevertheless eulogised as the last resting place of Grainnhe, wife of Fionn, whom students of Celtic mythology will recognise as head of the mystical warrior-giant clan The Fiennes.

Yeah, the folkloric pedigree could not really be any higher, could it? Trouble is I baulk at the prospect of the perceived severity of the climb; forewarned is not always forearmed. Hence, and before I can change my mind - yet again - I set off along the A850 toward the mainland, soon enough veering to the right to follow a wondrously single track road descending through Glen Arrochar to eventually terminate at the Kylerhea ferry. Caol Reithe in the vernacular, this little hamlet apparently name-checks another of those behemoths of lore, Mac an Raeidhinn. Suffice to say it would appear the long jump was not his forte. But there you are; neither is it mine. Aside from said ferry plying its summer trade across the water to the glories of Glen Elg, Kylerhea is home to an Otter Sanctuary, the latter serviced by a more than adequate car park. Now, having found I lacked the extra 'oomph' to ascend both Sgurr na Coinnich and Beinn na Caillich from Bealach Udal last year, starting from more-or-less sea level this time around strikes me as being a somewhat nonsensical thing to do. But hey, two rather Germanic-looking ladies 'doing Skye' override the cautionary inner voice... and no doubt 'tweak' those miscellaneous male insecurities a gentleman is obliged not to mention in polite company. 'OK, let's give it a go', I whimper to myself. What could possibly go wrong?

Despite being nowhere near as hot as last year, those extra c1,000ft of ascent - following the tree line to the north-west of Beinn Bhuidhe across a mercilessly rough, trackless terrain - exact a pitiful toll. Furthermore, as if that was not enough, the Allt Grianach and Allt a' Choire Buidhe have carved formidable gulleys into the landscape, isolating Coire Buidhe, as if by defensive design, behind great 'V-sectioned' ditches complete with glacis scarp, although the cascading watercourses do accord the opportunity to replenish an already much-depleted water supply. Really hard going. In retrospect, it might well be a better idea to circle around to the left instead of right... but hindsight is a wondrous thing, is it not? So, rather the worse for wear I eventually reach the high ground beyond and continue northwards, my not-so-cunning plan being to arc around and make the final ascent of Beinn na Caillich from the (hopefully less brutal?) northern flank since, much to my chagrin, the southern appears prohibitively steep to these glazed eyes. Nonetheless, the 2,401ft summit is a long time coming... so much so that I have full empathy with Craig and Charlie when it comes to collapsing at a feminine threshold. Tell me about it, my bespectacled friends.

The sheer breadth of the panoramic vistas to be experienced from Grainnhe's domain is breathtaking. Or at least would be if I had any breath left in me to relinquish. Surrounded on all sides, save the west, by water, it's fair to say aficionados of coastal viewpoints will want to come here. To the north stratocumulus clouds dispense their erratic aqueous content upon Loch Alsh and its environs... however, keeping a measured distance like predatory border collies only too aware of the consequences of losing control, Beinn na Caillich remains inviolate all day. How's that happen, then? Beyond, the undulating, occasionally serrated skyline of Glensheildaig Forest, Applecross and mighty Torridon stretches away to apparent infinity. It is a mesmerising sight, one within which even the artificial construct of the Skye Bridge does not disappoint with its graceful arching span of concrete. Indeed, select any azimuth upon the compass and it is nigh on impossible to find fault, the optic nerve overwhelmed with data at all times. Jeez. Hey, even looking 'inland' - as much as one can upon Skye - the 'other' Beinn na Caillich more than holds its own in foreground profile before a peerless Black Cuillin horizon, the 'Old Man' looking on from Trotternish with apparent detached indifference to the two 'Old Women'. The nomenclature accorded the landscape by us humans suggests a need to grasp the time immemorial - and not let go. The implication of permanence, being overseen, protected by the ancestors upon the heights still; a palpable exigency of the current state of affairs having to reflect the way things have always been, perhaps? A baseline to help make sense of an ever-changing world.... nevertheless, the hills and mountains remain as they were, the cairns still reassuringly gracing the skyline? Or... were they viewed as Lennon's 'folks on the hill'? Something to be feared, but necessary to maintain order?

OK, a viewpoint to last an eternity. But what of Grainnhe's cairn? How does it compare with 'Saucy Sue's' across the way? Simply put, to my mind it doesn't. What could? Although substantial enough to grace many of the summits I've had the pleasure of spending time upon, clearly this cairn would not suffice to represent the last resting place of a giant... even a presumably elegant, feminine one. However, there are, to my mind, more factors in play here than sheer bulk, the volume of stone. Consider: Undertones versus Beethoven? Well, I happen to think the world is a better place for having both the 6th and 'True Confessions'.... not to mention the sublime 'Teenage Kicks'. Multiple, disparate viewpoints approaching the same dilemma from differing angles. Human emotion, why we feel what we feel. And more to the point, what it actually feels like to feel. Perhaps you do, too? It is those emotional sensibilities, the apparent tactility with the landscape suggested by the extreme environmental conditions... the epic physical and mental struggle just to be here.... the feelings associated with - and driven by - where this cairn IS that makes it so special for me. In short, it's the location itself that matters. The primaeval, proto-monument.

As I sit and ponder whatever comes to mind the two 'Germanic' ladies duly arrive by way of the 'prohibitively steep' (ahem) south flank. Funnily enough, one is indeed German, both as blown away as I am. I assist with photographic duties and in due course, they continue toward neighbouring Sgurr na Coinnich. However, having been there, seen that... done it last year I opt to - if not stand on the shoulders of giants - at least hang out in their 'abode' until advancing time insists I begin the descent or face benightment. Now, being well versed in the legendary antics of another of the ginormous brethren, Idris, I reckon I can be forgiven for not wanting to risk the latter option. Mythical or not, it's all in the mind, you see?

I end the day with The Five Sisters of Kintail a resplendent vision in skyline pink, a widescreen Copeian panorama through the windscreen at Bealach Udal. Brutal, uncompromising... yet compellingly beautiful at the same time. The summa of my visit here, perhaps?

Dyffryn Mymbyr (Stone Circle) — Images

<b>Dyffryn Mymbyr</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Y Ro Wen (Cairn(s)) — Images

<b>Y Ro Wen</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Bwlch Goleuni (Long Barrow) — Images

<b>Bwlch Goleuni</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Carnedd Moel Siabod (Round Cairn) — Images

<b>Carnedd Moel Siabod</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Carnedd Moel Siabod</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Carnedd Moel Siabod</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Carnedd Moel Siabod</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Sling (Burial Chamber) — Fieldnotes

Now, despite being well aware that a visit to Sling - or Frondeg, if you prefer - was long, long, long etc. overdue, a spare hour or so before dark... in absolutely appalling conditions... and with a hole in my left boot, to boot.... probably did not constitute the ideal circumstances to introduce myself to the area, to be fair. But hey, what could possibly go wrong? I mean, how difficult can it be for a guy long practised in locating obscure cairns upon hill-fog cloaked summits to find a monument a couple of hundred yards from the road? Come on, really? But there you are; suffice to say I've never possessed a plan, for better or worse. Clearly, since I never actually located the primary monument, I'll need to return at some point. Preferably not in a torrential downpour conjoining with near-zero visibility to fiendishly diabolical effect, though...

The reason for this lamentable personal muppetry is simply that, like Ironman before me, I had no doubt whatsoever that the secondary 'fallen stone' first encountered when leaving the public footpath represented the capstone of a burial chamber (possibly earth-fast?) supported upon what I saw to be clearly defined orthostats, the whole surmounting the remnants of a cairn.... albeit covered by industrial-grade brambles such as to cause even Br'er Rabbit to pause to consider options. Or, to put it another way, THE burial chamber I'd come to see. As that Kurgan bloke said in Highlander, 'There can be only one'. Who's ever heard of two such monuments so close together in North Wales? Malin More, yes, but Gwynedd? Naturally, the fact that, as usual, I had not done my homework - and therefore was not aware of the specifics of what I was actually looking for - duly negated the need to venture further into the soaking mist. So that was that. But again, there you are.

What particularly puzzles me in hindsight, however, is the almost total absence of detail upon Coflein, or, indeed, anywhere online concerning this secondary site? How can such an obvious - to me and Ironman at least - burial chamber, however it may be subjectively categorised, not have generated some interest? Hey, any interest? Does anyone know what was going on here back in the day, because it seems to me that here we have nothing less than a megalithic cemetery slumbering amidst the quarrying residue west(ish) of Bethesda?

Browsers of the 'Archaeologia Cambrensis' - see link - will notice that pages 62-63 of Volume 13, Series 3 give a brief mention of other internments being discovered in the immediate locale c1855 (to judge by the somewhat nebulous 'nearby'). I know, I know... I hark on. But a traveller can perhaps be forgiven for thinking some professional archaeologists maybe favour the showpiece Wessex sites for, er, non-professional, personal reasons? Let's face it ... you will never see a myopic Guardian reporter turning up at Sling demanding to know why CADW and 'The Tories' (who else?) haven't done more to protect what may lie forgotten, unseen, round about here. It's a scandal, I tell you! The Sling and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Will Himself almost put it. Most certainly not during periods of proper North Walean weather the Bethesda locals take in their stride. Coats? We'll have none of that southern tomfoolery here, and no mistake. So basically, who cares? Well, call me a hopeless romantic, but I happen to believe the prehistoric heritage of Wales is every bit as important as World Heritage show sites. One can't complete the jigsaw with a piece or two missing, can one?

Needless to say, I fully intend to have another look at some later date and form my own opinion... with my own eyes. I hope I have the opportunity since despite - or perhaps even because of - the inclement weather, I sensed this place is the real deal. With a story that deserves to be told.

Sling (Burial Chamber) — Images

<b>Sling</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Sling</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Sling</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Sling</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Cwm Tywyll (Ring Cairn) — Images

<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Cwm Tywyll</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Nant Esgeiriau (Round Cairn) — Images

<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Pennant cairn (Cairn(s)) — Images

<b>Pennant cairn</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Pennant cairn</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Pennant cairn</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Pennant cairn</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Pennant cairn</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Pennant cairn</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Pennant cairn</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Nant Esgeiriau (Round Cairn) — Images

<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Nant Esgeiriau</b>Posted by GLADMAN
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Hi, I'm Robert ... aka Citizen Cairn'd. I've a passion for attempting to understand the lives of the pioneering prehistoric inhabitants of these British Isles, seeking out the remains they left behind in order to ask myself "why here ... why did it matter so... why such commitment?". Needless to say I'm still pondering such intangibles. Just as an empty house appears to retain echoes of past humanity... so does the stone circle, the chambered cairn, the long barrow and the mountain top funerary cairn. Visiting them, I think, helps engender a certain 'connection' with this land of ours, with ourselves - our past, our present and our future; a reference point for those of us perhaps struggling to make sense of this so-called 'computer world' Kraftwerk warned us was a'coming in 1981.... danke, mein herren.

George Orwell - 'The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.'

Martin Gore - 'Like a pawn
On the eternal board
Who’s never quite sure
What he’s moved towards
I walk blindly on'...

Truman Capote - 'Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour.'

Oscar Wilde - 'The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.'

John Lydon - 'It is a reward to be chastised by the ignorant.'

Winston Churchill - '“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

Ultravox - 'Taking shelter by the standing stones
Miles from all that moves....'

My TMA Content: