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Fieldnotes by GLADMAN

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Beacon Hill (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

Fire. Arguably no other natural phenomenon evokes more ambivalence among us homo sapiens inhabiting this crazy, spinning globe. Consider: on the one hand - thanks to our predecessors' ability to (tentatively) harness its positive attributes - fire was the catalyst for human colonisation of the planet, enabling the roaming omnivore to process an increasing diversity of otherwise indigestible flora and fauna; on the other, a merciless predator biding its time, waiting for an opportunity to consume all in its path. Guess it's fair to say fire is intrinsic to our existence. Throughout history - and, so it would appear, prehistory, too - fires have been lit as foci both for celebration and less salutary events... the passing of the dead, the signal beacon warning of impending invasion; even for consuming effigies of a certain conspiratorial, regicidal mercenary. Food, warmth, the metaphysical, communication, bonkers traditional 'celebrations' - our fascination with this dangerous, quasi-life form goes back a long way.

Consequently, I arrive at Beacon Hill with this perpetual curiosity relative to all things 'combustible' far from sated. Unlike the celebrated, c3,000ft 'Beacons' overlooking Brecon some way to the south, the exothermic reference is not expected here, an obscure hill a few miles inside the border and, ostensibly, the former stomping ground of that man Glyndwr. Relatively speaking, in the middle of nowhere. Furthermore, why the association with a quartet of Bronze Age round barrows crowning the summit? If signal fires were raised upon them in lore, why here? One should don the boots and simply be curious, methinks.

A short way south of the little hamlet of Dulas upon the B4355, the thoroughfare shadowing the River Teme through exquisite countryside - and, incidentally, passing a fine round barrow at Fedw Llwyd - a single track road heads roughly SW to access the very prosaically named 'The Farm'. A local, careering around upon a quad bike, doesn't object to my parking within the yard, nor, thankfully, is there any sign of a scouse 'groovy train' in the vicinity. Well, to be fair, the latter would've been most inappropriate within such an idyllic, sleepy, pastoral environment. That being said, there's no sleep 'til Beacon Hill... so, on foot now, I follow the road northward before the route, morphing into a bridleway, veers abruptly to the west to gradually ascend the southern flank of Fron Rocks. It's a pleasant stomp, a fair maiden encountered advising me to 'continue climbing to the end where the path to the top is obvious' - or something like that - no doubt a charitable alternative to 'why don't you use your map, you muppet?'.

Circling the head of the cwm, a track does indeed ascend (more-or-less) NW to the top. At c1,795ft the summit of Beacon Hill isn't going to invoke gasps of awe/amazement from the card-carrying peak bagging punter.... for me its appeal is much more esoteric, insidious even. Deceptively benign... as subsequent events are to prove beyond doubt. Reasonable or not. The distant vistas are expansive, to say the least. That to the west a veritable smörgåsbord of green hills leading the eye in an arc from distant Cwmdeuddwr to Pumlumon herself. Mid Wales observed through the wide angle lens, represented upon a canvas of colours muted by the overcast light. However, it should be noted that owing to the rather uniformly flat topography of this hill, vertigo-inducing views of the near locality are conspicuous by their absence. Yeah, the penny drops.... reverse the viewpoint and Beacon Hill is the obvious place to place a signalling beacon to be visible from a significant distance. Which would be the whole point, would it not?

Which brings me - literally - to the primary round barrow, surmounted by an OS trig pillar. CJ Dunn ['The barrows of east-central Powys', Archaeologia Cambrensis 137 (1988)] reckons it is of '..Approximately 20m diameter and 2m high..'. So pretty substantial, then, a noticeable 'scoop' from the top possibly the work of the usual treasure hunting vandals of yore.... or perhaps representing the former base of a beacon? I sit, ponder, drink my coffee.... and brace myself for the arrival of a fast approaching weather front which in very short order renders all preceding thoughts of 'fire' frankly irrelevant, if not ludicrous, with its sheer, primaeval intensity. Ditto, any musings concerning the views. What views?

So, with not far off zero visibility there's nothing for it but to go walkabout and check out the other three round barrows gracing this hilltop. The most obvious sits (perfectly?) upon the near north-western skyline at SO1754776859 and is 'approximately 25x21m, and 1.5m high' (again according to Mr Dunn). The third, located at SO1772976775 - and to be honest quite difficult to discern within the heather and swirling mist - is 'approximately 16m diameter, 1.5m high.' The final monument stands to the south-east (SO1778876733), again pretty substantial at 'Approximately 16m diameter and up to 1.5m high at the south end'. Stripped of their landscape context by the all-pervading grey, clammy vapour it is, at first, difficult to fully appreciate what we have here upon this windswept Mid Walian height.

Then, suddenly - as Billy Ocean might have noted if he'd ventured up here - Beacon Hill has new meaning to me... as the claustrophobic, orographic condensation is swept away in one glorious instant to reveal the surrounding landscape once more. Fair to say that, for me, an appreciation of upland cairns/barrows and the views from them are mutually inclusive considerations. OK, my perpetual curiosity may have been satisfied for a while; I might have ascertained why Beacon Hill may well have been seen as a focal point of the locale in times past - in a number of ways. However even such adverse conditions as experienced today could not extinguish the fire in the blood that still acts as a siren call, drawing me to these high places. Long may it continue.

Foel Frech (Round Cairn)

About half a mile south of Cerrigydrudion - yes, the village immortalized in song (well, in certain 'antiquarian' circles anyway) by Mr Cope back in 2007 - the B4501 leaves Thomas Telford's A5 to immediately cross the Afon Ceirw at Pont Moelfre, prior to cutting across the hills to Frongoch. Now, should the latter also sound familiar.... well, to be fair, it should. Since it was here that Michael Collins, among others, was interned in the aftermath of the farcically inept Easter Rising of 1916, no doubt busy laying the foundations of his public - albeit ultimately personally tragic - eventual triumph of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The landscape here certainly echoes such lofty ideals and I'm verily captivated by the vivid colour contrast as the low early morning light periodically illuminates the flanks of the valley. Suffice to say the words to further elucidate such natural beauty will not come to me just yet. After all, to paraphrase Dave Gahan backstage at Pasadena in 1988, I ain't no Wordsworth.

So, there's serious history in them thar hills. However as momentous as such events may be I'm today mostly wearing my 'prehistoric hat'; and boy, does it need a wash. Speaking of which.... be careful what you wish for, my friends. Anyway, in due course a single track road at Nant-y-crytiau ventures northward across Cadair Benllyn, subsequently veering westward upon encountering a multi-gated cross roads beside an old chapel, to eventually terminate at the isolated farm of Blaen-y-cwm. As I negotiate the final livestock barrier I have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of, by all accounts, the smallholder, his initial countenance one of bemused bafflement at my very presence. He rather brusquely enquires whether I speak Welsh, presumably since (clearly) no tourist would venture here in a million years? Or thereabouts. As it happens I do not. Although in mitigation of such a heinous crime most Welsh people I know do not speak Welsh either. Including members of my own family. Nevertheless my explanation, to the effect of planning to go for a walk in the teeming rain to find an ancient burial cairn, strikes him as perfectly rational behaviour for an English gentleman. As long as I fasten the gate behind me, mind. Well, after all, one doesn't get much opportunity to venture forth in the midday sun. In North Wales.

At Blaen-y-cwm a green track-cum-bridleway makes it way in a south-westerly direction, ascending across the eastern flanks of Foel Frech to a gated bwlch (col). The track veers approx north-west to (eventually) meet a metalled road accessing the former medieval pilgrimage hub of Ysbyty Ifan astride the Afon Conwy; however, not requiring sanctuary at this time, I instead cut across the western aspect of Foel Frech to (eventually) locate the Bronze Age cairn marked upon the map. Sited overlooking the Nant Llan-gwrach a quite considerable distance below and to the north-west of the summit, the monument occupies - or at least did at the time of the visit - a position that may be plausibly described as, er, 'rather wet indeed'. To be honest this was always going to be the case given both the topography... and fast moving fronts of vicious, driving hail.

Now there are occasions when venturing out in seriously inclement weather - particularly upon the hills - can result in a veritable working over by Mother Nature for no real correspondingly tangible reward. Tell me about it. However it soon becomes apparent that here, set within the not insubstantial remnants of this cairn, we have the clear and rather copious remains of a large cist still extant. Furthermore, the intervals between hail fronts are denoted by the sweeping washes of golden light so prevalent earlier in the day. In such conditions, despite leaky boots overwhelmed by the sheer deluge of frozen precipitation ejected by the looming, at times overbearing, cumulonimbus, this wild hill side is the place to be right here, right now. Well, for a Citizen Cairn'd, anyway.

Those interested in the technical detail should note that Coflein reckons the monument is:

"...circular in plan and measures approximately 6.5m in diameter by up to 0.4m high. It is well constructed with densely-packed stones and has a cist in the centre. The cist measures 1.4m long by 1m wide and 0.4m deep. It has a long vertical cist slab running along the southern side and a shorter slab on the eastern side. There is a further shorter slab that has been displaced and is sat on the northern edge of the cairn... " [P.J. Schofield, OA North, 16/9/2009].

As is usually the case, however, it is the landscape context which makes a visit here so worthwhile, the cairn's obscurity assuring a great, windswept upland vibe. However it is as a viewpoint that the site really excels since, arranged in serried rank to the west, sit the mountains of Northern Snowdonia in all their expansive glory, Moel Siabod standing vanguard to the fore. Well, at least in the welcome, brilliantly lit intermissions between hail storms, that is.

Now should there be, due to some currently unfathomable breech of the laws of physics and everything science holds dear, mountain gods inhabiting these regions, suffice to say they are a bunch of mischievous, nebulous rogues, so they are. Well, put it this way: I've lost count of the number of times when, a mere few hundred yards from reaching the sanctuary of the car nice n'dry... the heavens duly open. Such is the case today. Hey, if one didn't know better it's almost as if....

Foel Ystrodur Fawr (Round Cairn)

Motorists travelling south upon the A470 between Trawsfynydd and Dolgellau may well find their gaze irrevocably drawn to the undulating, albeit somewhat serrated, skyline of Y Rhinogydd… prior to Cadair Idris, Snowdonia's last, emphatic hurrah before Pumlumon, seizing centre stage upon the wide screen. As a result none but the most inquisitive - or possibly pedantic? - tourists will consider heading east to penetrate the wild hinterland of the Afon Lliw sandwiched between the near 3,000ft heights of Arenig Fawr and Aran Fawddwy. Only traversed by a gated, single track mountain road, the paucity of traffic here is perhaps understandable, a cursory glance at the map highlighting many apparently more tasty fillings elsewhere. However there is much to be said for adopting a minimalistic approach once in a while, grasping the opportunity to cleanse the landscape palate, so to speak; to get off the beaten track.

Having said that, the start is not overly auspicious: the mock ski-chalet complex of Rhiw Goch suggestive of muppets in shiny new 4x4s enduring 'outdoor experiences' (the former ski centre having apparently now closed down). However all is forgiven when noting this is actually a recycled army training camp. Furthermore the nearby, excellent monolith of Llech Idris (him again) and Sarn Helen/Tomen y Mur stand (if a track can be said to 'stand', that is) mute testimony to the fact that folk have been passing this-a-way for millennia. Anyway... beyond the wooden cabins the minor road follows the course of the Afon Gain to a rather fine little stone bridge before climbing to the summit of Pen y Feidiog, subsequently descending to cross the fledgling Afon Lliw at the farming hamlet of Blaen Lliw.

I feel a sense of everything having a pragmatic reason to exist here... of there being nothing superfluous, nothing but sine qua non. Although, of course, that may well be just middle class fantasy on my part. What is (once again) beyond doubt, however, is the continuity of the human story here, the evidence for which lies above and beyond in the form of two obscure prehistoric cairns. Obscure? Well, neither are indicated upon either the latest 1:50k or 1:25k OS map, so thanks are due to the wondrous people at Coflein. The larger of the pair sits below and to the south east of the summit crags of Foel Ystrodur Fawr and according to CADW "is circular in shape and measures c. 5.5m in diameter. The cairn is shallow and rounded in profile, measuring c. 0.4m tall". [F.Foster/RCAHMW 04.10.2006]. A little to the east of Blaenlliw Isaf farm a livestock gate allows access beyond a drystone wall and proves the key to locating the monument upon its little terrace: once through it is possible to park within an old quarry(?) a short(ish) distance on the left.

Having donned boots and scrambled a little to the north the aforementioned wall will be discerned heading approx north, then, in plain wiry mode, north-east beneath the slightly higher of the rocky Foel Ystrodur twins to the Afon Erwent. Yeah, potential visitors should note that the official bridleway is not much use here, heading eastward. Contrary to my expectations the cairn sits to the north of the fence line; however a helpful stile eases progress in this respect, so no matter the slight faux pas.

OK, the cairn isn't that large, doesn't show signs of a former cist (that I could determine, anyway), nor kerb. In fact not much at all… yet it is immediately apparent that this monument occupies a special place in the landscape. The mighty Arenig Fawr rises, unseen within a mass of opaque vapour, to the immediate north-east, the shapely Moel Llyfnant - to approx north-west - proving a little more obliging by periodically slipping its clammy raiment from the shoulder to reveal a prominent summit (the peak is incidentally well worth an ascent from Blaen Lliw). To the south Dduallt is visible (head for Pont Aber-Geirw and Cwm yr Allt Lwyd for this one), although no doubt The Arans would dominate the horizon in better weather? The silence is absolute, the vibe consequently superb .... so much so that a Citizen Cairn'd can readily absolve the map makers of the oversight, appreciate why the OS passed this one by. Well, c'mon - the local farmer(s) aside - who but a loon 'off-piste' hill bagger would have reason to venture forth upon this wild hillside? Who indeed?

I decide to return to the car in a circuitous manner, via the second of the cairns (at SH81943306) a little to the south-east of the rocky outcrop Bryn Cau. This is a smaller, more ragged affair set upon a saddle just above the road. In other circumstances I might have been inclined to cite it as 'clearance'.... but here, upon this lonely moor devoid of any loose surface stone? I think not! With a superb vista of the Lliw Valley there for the taking just a little to the east, it is abundantly clear that this cairn was specifically sited NOT to overlook the course of the Afon Lliw now flowing toward Llanuwchllyn.

To be fair I have noted other instances of such apparent constructional pedantry elsewhere in the Welsh uplands - e.g the pair of cairns upon the Nantlle Ridge's Y Garn immediately spring to mind - where the act of negating a field of vision has appeared (to me) a conscious decision requiring not a little effort. Perhaps suggestive of local inclusion at the expense of peripheral passers by? Conjecture, of course. But it is a worthwhile exercise to have ventured here to contemplate such things.

Gelli Ffrydiau (Hillfort)

In my opinion this is an exquisitely sited little hill fort overlooked - nay, completely dominated - by the wondrously sinuous Nantlle Ridge to the south... and the much more elephantine bulk of Mynydd Mawr to the north-east. Needless to say both the latter heights feature their share of formerly interred Bronze Age VIPs, although, as one versed in such matters may suspect, no inkling of cairns can be determined from down here. Indeed, there is more than a hint of Cadair Idris's wondrous Pared-y-Cefn-Hir enclosure in the overwhelming mountain vibe to be experienced at this obscure spot, if not the defensive archaeology, which here is much more compact, more coherent in nature.

The all important water feature, arguably a prerequisite in any classic landscape, is to be found in the Llyn Nantlle Uchaf to approx south-west, the lake perhaps best eulogised - in paint at least - by Richard Wilson in 1765, his focus naturally being upon the grandeur of Snowdon and her cohorts framed by, and rising beyond, the jaws of 'Drws-y-Coed' to the east. One can almost hear the faint reverberations of a mighty 'I don't believe it!' still echoing down across the centuries. Likewise Mr Turner also came here to have a gander. Well, the brusque gentleman did get around a bit, to be fair. And it would've been rude not to pay a visit to such an iconic location in passing.

As it happens, contrary as ever (albeit due to the topography), my eyes are drawn in the opposite direction to those esteemed artists of yore, away from the magnetic pull of Yr Wyddfa-Fawr to gaze across the alternately shimmering/glowering tarn to the 'Three Brothers' perched overlooking the distant Lleyn coastline. Ah, Tre'r Ceiri! The titanic 'Town of Giants' occupying the inner of the far triumvirate. Perhaps Wales' finest hillfort, no less! The small enclosure where I perch riding out a sudden, violent hail storm is no such thing, existing upon a much more unassuming scale; perhaps a temporary citadel for folks living their daily lives below in Dyffryn Nantlle; or maybe just home to an extended family unit not necessarily on their neighbours' Christmas Card list? However I would suggest - recommend, even - that there is 'something' here that warrants a little of your time. Indefinable, perhaps, but none the worse for that. Previously cited as a 'Settlement' upon older OS maps, the substantial nature of the defences for a relatively small site soon convinces this traveller that the current OS denotation of 'Fort' is much more representative. As for Coflein, they have this to say:

"A sub-circular defended hill-top enclosure that measures approximately 30m in diameter. It is defined by drystone walls/banks that comprise of medium to large unworked stones that have been built into irregular courses that measure 2m wide and 0.50m high." [P.J. Schofield, Oxford Archaeology North, 3/2/2006.]

So... motorists venturing through Drws-y-Coed and traversing Dyffryn Nantlle, perhaps intent upon visiting the seaside, will be none the wiser regarding what lies above, such is the obscurity of the 'fort. I eventually parked up opposite the eponymous farm buildings and made my way to the defended crag via a walled track a little to the east. Very steeply. Presumably the former inhabitants actually knew what they were doing and there exists a better way?

Esgair Beddau, Cwmdeuddwr (Cairn(s))

Ah, Cwmdeuddwr. So, what's in a name? Now whilst Welsh speakers will no doubt already have a pretty good idea where I'm heading, those unfamiliar with the vernacular, but nonetheless harbouring a fascination with language, with words... may be interested to discover the prosaic epithet transposed to my mother tongue as 'Valley of the Two Waters'. Or something like that. It would be churlish to deny that there certainly is a lot of water in these parts; however my understanding is we're concerned with two rivers here: the Afon Ystwyth and Afon Elan. Not house hold names to the uninitiated, perhaps, particularly with that superstar of UK rivers - the mighty Wye - flowing a few miles to the east, en route from its enigmatic birth upon Pumlumon to subsequently caress the less rugged landscape of blighty. However it is fair to say both of the underlings have their moments: the nascent Ystwyth undertaking an initial alacritous, youthful cascade through Cwm Ystwyth to finally merge with the Irish Sea at Aberystwyth... clearly with nothing more to prove - an analogy for life itself maybe?; the Elan, flowing in the opposite direction, of course gives rise, in a quite literal sense, to the wondrous water world of the Elan Valley Reservoirs so beloved of travellers and tourists alike. Mind you, I'd wager even Costner couldn't find 'Dry Land' here in Mid Wales.

Yeah, water. For me, one of the signature features of the Cwmdeuddwr Hills is the supporting cast of a myriad crystal clear streams feeding the ever-demanding reservoirs. Arguably, few offer a more impressive spectacle than the Nant Cletwr where discharging into the Craig Goch Reservoir, here spanned by an old stone bridge carrying tourists upon their motor itineraries looping back toward Rhayader. Now, according to a scrawled annotation upon my somewhat distressed map, I stopped here on 15/4/95 and duly observed: 'Good valley and falls'. 23 years later... a stone track leading westward along the northern bank to the (now derelict) farmstead of Lluest Abercaethon beckons the curious traveller onward into the unknown. Should he feel so inclined. I do, as it happens. Well, as Einstein once famously said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious....". Now, whether or not one believes in the faster-than-light neutrino, I reckon Al had 'beauty' bang to rights.

Speaking of which the track, although traversing a working landscape devoted to sheep husbandry, as you might expect in Wales, is not without aesthetic appeal, this courtesy of the aforementioned river. The farm buildings stand in stark profile at the head of the cwm, roofless, gaping door and windows in drystone walls inviting - or rather compelling - the traveller to enter and view what was once a glowing, vibrant hearth in curiously hushed reverence. Beyond the stock control paraphernalia and fence lines: the open hillside. Here, at SN87156877, my map shows.... bugger all. However owners of the latest 1:25K version will note a 'mound' at said spot. I prefer the much more enigmatic 'Tumulus', but there you are. To be honest this is but splitting hairs, not that I've much to spare myself, you understand, since Coflein has no doubt that this represents the remains of a round barrow. A pretty substantial, impressive one, too. Furthermore, the monument has no corresponding issue with 'top cover', duly sporting a mop of that ubiquitous 'tussocky' Mid Walian grass so luxuriant that even Boris might well consider reaching for the shears. When not spouting shite about Brexit, that is. It's all that rain, see? Whatever, it surely doesn't take an Einstein to deduce that the sight of early morning light illuminating the round barrow is infinitely preferable to that upon Mr Johnson's napper? Theoretically speaking... not that I've experienced the latter. The barrow's positioning is excellent: surrounded - nay, encircled - by the bleak, clean lines of the grassy ridges of Cwmdeuddwr stretching away into the hinterland, the latter strangely inviting under blue skies. A natural amphitheatre.

So, that's the 'easy bit' over, then. Yeah, tell me about it. No more tracks to ease a Citizen Cairn'd's progress across this brutally uncompromising landscape. To the (very) approx north-west one of the aforementioned ridges, Esgair Beddau, is my next objective, the site of two obscure cairns. Again, these are absent from my map but highlighted upon the new in that wondrous 'antiquarian' typeface. Don't you just love it? Now this is the point where I reacquaint myself with the equally wondrous Nant Cletwr, the erosive action of the river across millennia ensuring I must descend steeply to, then step over its nascent flow prior to undertaking an equally abrupt upward scramble beyond. Suffice to say the cairns are not exactly upstanding. However, upon electing to follow the vague ghost of a sheep track to the west, I finally notice an orthostat peeping above the grass. This belongs to the western of the pair; there are more uprights, albeit of lesser size, it being - in my opinion - fair to state the sum of the whole representing a former kerb. There is also what appears to be the remains of a cist, although in no great repair. The companion cairn, a short distance to the approx east, lacks the surviving orthostats of its neighbouring monument, but compensates the traveller with a more obvious cist element... if still not conclusive. But there you are. It is the overwhelming sense of place which engulfs here, not the archaeology.

Needless to say both cairns share the same 'other worldly' vibe, their lack of stony profile ensuring the gaze is drawn upward to focus upon the billowing, white galleons of cloud... advancing across a disconcertingly blue canvas in stately procession. Yeah, it's more or less impossible to think of mundane topics in such an environment. Not with the 'big picture' quite literally before my very eyes. Such vibrant colour can not last, of course, as Winsor apparently noted to JMWT himself. So one must enjoy the moment. Time flies, as it always seems to do 'up here'; however, loathe not to explore further, I decide to continue my ascent to the west and, upon circling around the headwall, return to the car via Trumau across the cwm. Looks easy on the map - even an old one - and, for that matter, on the ground, too. However half way 'round I find myself cursing the lack of any kind of path whatsoever... whilst simultaneously revelling in the fact of their very absence. Now this may seem paradoxical, absurd even? Maybe. But then perhaps having the opportunity to experience a landscape so raw, so uncompromising, yet within scope of an average punter is the prime reason, the whole point of coming to Cwmdeuddwr. Truly, it is the Green Desert. Only with water. Lots of water.

I arrive back at the car, intent upon sleeping below the source of the Ystwyth, with satiated questions duly replaced by yet more to ponder. The mystery of why I love these bleak uplands still very much undiminished. I hope Einstein would've approved of the harmonious equilibrium of the universe remaining intact. If not Mick Jones.

Cerrig Cewri (Round Cairn)

There is, I reckon it's fair to say, a widespread view prevalent amongst the 'hillwalking fraternity' assuming a direct correlation between increasing height above OD and quality of 'outdoor experience'... to resort to the annoying modern parlance. Now whilst I'll happily concede there is some merit in this outlook - altitude does, after all, tend to help eliminate periphery obstructions to far reaching vistas, not to mention progressively isolate the potentially transcendental 'up there' from the everyday, humdrum 'down here' - my experience over the course of some 30 odd years inclines me to believe that it is the exceptions which, in this respect, very much disprove the rule.

Consider a visit to the great upland cairn of Cerrig Cewri (Giant's Stones) a little to the approx north of Carn Twrch, an obscure Mid Walian summit looming above the southern, sinuous extremity of Llyn Brianne: a perfunctory, somewhat blurry perusal of the map over breakfast upon Cwmdeuddwr had suggested a relatively easy, straightforward mile and a half (or so) walk along a public bridleway to what is, after all, a hill not quite reaching 1,600ft in height. Yeah, how hard can it be? No, really? Suffice to say I reckon, with the warm glow of hindsight, that the approach from the north is quite possibly one of the most physically demanding ascents/descents of any Mid Walian summit I've undertaken. All things considered.

To be fair, the proverbial penny drops as soon as I park up above Bwlch-y-ffin and lament the initial height loss inherent in following - or rather attempting to follow - the aforementioned official 'bridleway' depicted upon the map. You see, these little details matter when the knees don't want to keep on doing what you want them to keep on doing any more. Furthermore, I soon find myself apparently bereft of any map reading skills I may - or may not - have been born with as my chosen route is abruptly terminated by a semi-trampled barbed wire fence above a stream. Mmm, seems I'm following in the uncertain steps of other, more militant punters before me? Where's the friendly(?) neighbourhood giant to stand upon the shoulders of when you need him. Or her?

Anyway... beyond, the terrain rears up at a seemingly prohibitive angle, the Nant y ffin cascading down the hillside within a seriously deep gulley so steep-sided I baulk at the thought of crossing. Instead I elect to continue onwards and upwards following the natural line of ascent where, theoretically at least, Nature will provide a less overwhelming obstacle. Sure enough, a little before the forestry limit upon Cefn Ystrad-ffin, I step over the nascent stream... and ... straight into deep bog. But there you are. Serves me right for losing the 'obvious' track, doesn't it? The low ridge of Cerrig Cewri is soon visible to the approx south-west, significantly further away than I had anticipated, to be truthful. The landscape is an unforgiving mix of the aforementioned bog and tussocky grass ensuring my yomp is subject to a bovine grace. Hell, this bloody cairn had better be worth it.

It is. According to RCAHMW (12/2/2009) it measures "13.20m in diameter and is up to 2.0m high". So pretty substantial, then, despite being, assuming the 'Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire' (HMSO 1917) is to be believed, but a surviving remnant of what once was: "The carnedd has been so much reduced within living memory as to be now no more than 4 feet high, and it is said that in the course of its disturbance traces of fire and some burnt bones were met with". Ha! Voices from yesteryear throwing light upon our own tentative forays into that yawning void BCE, observations published at a time when the very fabric of society was being torn asunder by the clash of imperialistic titans and the birth of the fledgling, evil spectre of Lenin and his acolytes. For me it is this desire to understand the past, to view what went before as the foundations of an ongoing, hopefully improving story which defines the western democracies; a worldview which, if maintained, will ensure our way of life will always be worth fighting for. Precious detail... adding additional pixels, further definition, clarity to that image of who we were, what we are and, potentially, what we could be. So to speak.

A sun burst streams through a crack in the otherwise minacious cloud base illuminating the ancient stone pile for but a fleeting moment. All too soon it is gone, a tantalisingly brief wash of colour from the cosmic paintbrush rendering all the poetry, prose and whatever other descriptive language you may think of redundant. For a few seconds. To the south, appropriately enough, the great, mountainous escarpment demarcating South Wales rears up, darkly brooding in sombre intensity, upon the horizon. Nearer to hand and on a more intimate scale is Twm Siôn Cati Cave, set upon the sculptured crags of Dinas to the west, the legendary, infamous former owner apparently a sort of Welsh 'Robin Hood'... only without the 'giving to the poor' bit. Which is kinda missing the point of being a 'people's hero', one would have thought? But there you are. A case study in notoriety for a certain Jessie James, perhaps? The dubious heroic ethics of our Twm notwithstanding, Dinas is a striking landscape feature fully prototypical of the harmonious aesthetic of the area. And to think, as compelled to think the traveller most certainly is here, that this haunting, ethereal cairn is not even at 1,600ft. Surely some mistake? I fumble for my glasses and check the map again. No. It would appear not.

All is not rosy up here where giants apparently did not fear to tread, however, for forestry plantations encroach with their attendant widespread devastation, the shrill clatter of logging lorries upon forestry tracks, their whereabouts betrayed by clouds of dust, periodically echoing across the hill side. Indeed the great, summit cairn of Carn Twrch, visible to the immediate approx south(ish) sits within a landscape which may well have brought a shudder to the contemporaries of those 1917-era archaeologists. But there you are.... at least Carn Twrch survives, albeit topped by an OS trig pillar. And pretty hefty it is, too.

For me, however, the Giant's Stones are the jewel within this Mid Walian crown and it is a bummer to have to begin the descent. If anything, this proves to be more difficult than the ascent, the terrain sending me sprawling, head first, into a murky pool at one point. In no uncertain manner. Yeah, I find no sign of the supposed 'bridleway'... although, of course, that might well have just been me. Again. Losing patience, not to mention reserve endurance, I go for broke and fling myself down and up the other side of the mighty defile of the Nant y ffin. The final pull to the car is sheer purgatory. Whether one believes in that sort of thing, or not. But hey, it was worth every step to prove - once again - that spending a few hours or so 'being elevated' doesn't necessarily mean what your average hill walking punter might think it does.

Dun Kearstach (Stone Fort / Dun)

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder... an oft-quoted axiom implying, I guess, that just about everything can be 'beautiful' to someone, somewhere, at some time or another. Depends upon your point of view... whether the sleek form of a fast car floats your boat (incidentally I'm with Pete Shelley here), that packed beach upon the Costa del Sol, or even the tribalistic shenanigans inherent in watching people kicking/carrying/whacking a ball around a field. To be honest I find the ideal of beauty much harder to pin down, to define. A nebulous, intangible concept seemingly spontaneously occurring during perceived moments of heightened awareness; of emotional fulfilment, perhaps? Those occasions when the senses appear to align, attaining optimal equilibrium. Or something like that. Arguably it is better not to attempt to define, but simply to experience? Suffice to say I know beauty when I happen to chance across it. My beauty.

A case in point, perhaps, is to witness dawn beside the chambered cairn at An Sithean, the monument presenting a breath-taking aesthetic vision harmonising with the elegantly sweeping profile of Beinn na Caillich towering above and beyond, the cloudless sky emphatically refuting Skye's 'Misty Isle' epithet. It is, in the absence of any more appropriate adjective, simply spellbinding. Yeah, a 'treasure so rare that even devils might care', to quote a certain Mr Ferry from '73. The moment can't last, of course, a passing bus highlighting the obvious dilemma intrinsic to current public transport solutions by emitting an all-consuming cloud of noxious diesel fumes choking both myself and the otherwise alacritous neighbourhood sheep. Yeah, clearly there is no simple answer to the conservational issues raised through simply 'getting around'.

The landscape is overwhelming in its sheer, naked grandeur as I approach Loch Slapin, passing beyond the reedy waters of Loch Cill Chriosd and nearby churchyard-cum-stone circle, the jagged skyline of Bla Bheinn and its gabbro cohorts rising majestically to the west presenting perhaps every child's vision of what a mountain should look like. Well, it certainly appeals to the child within me, illustrating the unequivocal truth that reality can be every bit as intense as fantasy. No need to indulge in fairy tales when travelling upon Skye, methinks. But I digress...

So... a little before Torrin a very rough single track road exits left to access the foreshore at Camas Malag, the environs popular with 'overnighters' possessing a, shall we say, more communal ethic than I? From the bay a track heads southward, hugging the coast toward the abandoned hamlet of Suisnish, presumably still standing mute testimony to the appalling enforced clearances of yore. It is a fine walk, worthwhile in its own right and, perhaps not surprisingly, reminiscent of another, some way to the west, accessing Rubh an Dunain from Glen Brittle. The route, otherwise defined by a pregnant silence highlighting the absence of those locals who once called this coastline 'home', is enlivened by several streams cascading into Loch Slapin upon abruptly running out of hillside, although it is the vistas across the loch which naturally hold the beguiled traveller's attention. Eventually the track swings to the left approaching light woodland and the bridge across the Allt Poll a'Bhainne; here, after refilling the water bottle, Dun Kearstach can be discerned upon a prominent moorland rise to the east, within Glen Boreraig. As Les notes, there is no path.....

For me, Dun Kearstach is a magical place, a miniature 'Lost World' plateau arguably too diminutive to support even one of Conan Doyle's giant sauropoda. Exquisitely positioned, the coastal scenery, gazing across to Sgurr Alasdair, sentinel peak of the legendary Black Cuillin, is of the highest calibre... certainly when viewed under today's exceptional weather conditions. The location is highly defensible, too, the flanks of the little knoll falling sharply to the floor of the glen and thus accentuating the limited strength of the single drystone wall enclosing the summit. OK, not an awful lot of masonry courses remain in situ but, with clear evidence of an entrance to the west (facing the approach of least resistance), it represents more than enough archaeology to emphasise the point that the previous incumbents knew exactly what they were doing. And let's face it, what with the Allt a' Ghairuillt flowing immediately below to the north fresh water wasn't exactly going to be a problem, was it? All in all this must have been a pretty epic place to live.

As I lie back and take it all in... it becomes increasingly apparent that here, reclining recumbent upon this little grassy plateau overlooking Loch Slapin in the sunshine, I have (albeit with Les's help) chanced upon another obscure moment of sheer natural beauty upon this special island. Ultravox's 'Lament' - the video incidentally filmed around these parts - worms its way into my consciousness and it occurs to me that it is the perceived sense of melancholia, suggested, perhaps, by remnants of times past permanently set in stone within the landscape (whether funerary cairn, defensive enclosure or deserted clearance village) interacting with the haunting aesthetic of the wild mountains... that accords Skye its enigmatic, ethereal status. The human element. All the triumphs, all the tragedies, all the humdrum moments of everyday life.

Curiosity overtakes me and I clamber up the hillside to the east and I'm reminded of the lower settlement upon Foel Offrwm in far off Gwynedd. But, to be honest, Dun Kearstach is unique. I am reluctant to leave and break the spell, only eventually doing so in order to visit the two further duns guarding the northern aspect of the loch. As it transpires this is easier said than done - both the leaving and the subsequent visits, particularly that to the larger of the two fortified enclosures, Dun Mor - but there you are.

Loch Ailsh (Chambered Cairn)

It is perhaps debatable whether the human trait characterised by a marked reluctance to be content with the fleeting view... by finding the superfluous insight less satisfying than none at all... is a psychological attribute or flaw? Whatever, add it to the respective list. Now, whilst subscribing to the view that extremes of just about anything you care to mention are not a good idea (from alcohol to chocolate... religious lunatics... to political extremists such as Trump, Sturgeon, Corbyn.... etc) I have to admit that I find 'whistle-stop' visits of sites - the opportunity to place another 'tick in the box' - counter-productive at best, well aware that the querulous worm of dissatisfaction will insidiously burrow into my subconscious sooner rather than later and ensure I must return. So... just as the intoxicating sight of Cnoc Fillbhear Bheag from the bus en route to the Tursachan inexorably lead to a return three years later, my all-too-brief stop over below Cnoc Charornaidh in 2013 inevitably sees me waking beside the Allt Eileag this morning.

This time I have a plan - well, sort of - in lieu of the on the spot improvisation of my previous visit to these obscure parts. Albeit a rubbish one based upon a more-or-less total ignorance of the topography. Hey, a stroll along a river bank in the sunshine. What could be easier? As I ponder the map, pitifully unaware of my impending ordeal, if not doom, a very hard looking gentleman from Edinburgh is disgorged from a passing car. Seems he's about to go cross country for a few days sleeping in bothies. His primary concern? The midges, naturally. He is a study in meticulous preparation; and then is gone. I follow in short order, heading approx east along the northern bank of the Allt Eileag…. and running straight into deep bog rendered vaguely passable by 'islets' of that ubiquitous, industrial strength grass so familiar to those who care to venture upon the Mid Walian uplands. The occasional presence of a deer fence doesn't help matters either, to be fair. I assume one isn't supposed to venture this way, then? Unless standing on the shoulders of giants, perhaps? Anyway, I eventually reach the confluence with the River Oykel - this being Glen Oykel, of course - and continue, with no let up in the challenging terrain, following the parent water course to the north-west toward its birthplace… Loch Ailsh.

Exhausted - hey, this is worse than climbing a bloody mountain, this - I finally reach the chambered cairn at Garbh Ath Chaoruinn (NC31700853). Although clearly having seen better days the stone pile remains deceptively substantial, a large, elongated capstone having been displaced by persons/events unknown to reveal the remnants of a chamber defined by several orthostats. One can almost hear a pithy Stephen Fry admonition accompanying that QI klaxon as I state that almost anywhere else this site would surely represent a TMA-er's primary focus. Here, however, the quality control is turned up to 11 on the dial. So, I take a well earned breather as the watery sun begins to establish its ascendancy over the morning cloud base, promising a fine afternoon. Just the thing for a full-on wade through bog. The hour I elect to stay here, although not exactly a fleeting visit, is not sufficient, but with so much more to see I must, all too soon, re-engage with my personal struggle. Suffice to say the short absence hasn't made the heart grow fonder. Consequently it is a blessed relief to finally near journey's end.... the chambered cairn lying unobtrusively before the unseen source of the nascent river now beckoning the traveller onward.... Loch Ailsh.

A bridge carries the Benmore Lodge access track (yes, it is possible to drive here should you so wish) across the Allt Strath Seasgaich, a slight deviation from which allows the thirsty traveller to replenish the water bottle, before veering left beyond a damaged deer fence to arrive at the impressive monument. Impressive? OK, the cairn isn't the largest one will ever encounter; furthermore, the chamber is indicated by pretty minimal stonework - at least that remains visible. Nevertheless, at further risk of invoking the Wildean ire of Mr Fry, there is an aura here which even the occasional shrill discourse of picnickers beside the loch can not dispel. So, why is this the case? Hmmm. Perhaps it's partly a reaction to the intense energy expended upon the journey - the pilgrimage - here? At least when coming my way. Sid as opposed to Frank. The calm after the storm, to be (apparently) characteristically obtuse. Or perhaps there is simply something... that indefinable 'something' … about the way Ben More Assynt dominates the northern skyline? Or the pastel hue of the Bryophyta subsuming the stone pile, moss indicative of the tree cover which, according to the map, once restricted the outlook here? Or perhaps some things are always beyond analysis, beyond reason.

As I sit and ponder, amongst other things, the sheer surreality of sunbathing upon a chambered cairn in Assynt, my thoughts turn to the return leg of my journey. Now I want to stop off at the third of my stony triumvirate (at NC31350794), but clearly, retracing my steps along the river bank is a non starter. No shit, Sherlock. I therefore elect to ascend Cnoc Charornaidh by the treeline and attempt to fix a bearing from the summit trig. The retrospective view across the loch to Ben More Assynt is pretty special, it has to be said. As are the vistas from the summit itself, the trig set upon a stony mound which does have a Citizen Cairn'd wondering. Probably no prehistoric ancestry, but it goes without saying folks have been coming up here for millennia. Descending into the trees, the ride soon deteriorates into a soggy, churned up mess. Nevertheless, upon taking a right hand fork, I duly arrive at what is a pretty special monument to end the day at.

Once again there is a lot of cairn still in situ. However it is the clear remains of passage and chamber which ensures, structurally speaking at least, this is - for me - the finest site in the immediate locality. OK, surrounding views are non-existent due to the tree cover, but by crawling face down (not that I have a lot of practice undertaking such a manoeuvre, you understand) it is possible to peer into the void within, eyes adjusting to the semi darkness discerning some pretty hefty orthostats still in situ. The sun dips below the tree tops and seems to imply that I should leave this place to gather whatever it is that engenders such an ethereal feeling in susceptible visitors. It is wise, I think, to comply with the very reason for life on Earth, the ride continuing roughly south-west to eventually strike the A837. In retrospect this is the way to come...… river bank strolls can be fun. But as the Gershwins duly noted, it ain't necessarily so.

Carrol (Broch)

I'm aware that most generalisations proffered are, by their very nature, likely to be sent packing back to whence they came in short order. That being said, however, I reckon it's fair to suggest that many areas of these British Isles feature what might be termed a 'signature' type of prehistoric monument. Consider: Cornwall has its quoits; Wessex has its overwhelming multi-vallate hill forts; Dartmoor has its interminable stone rows; Wales its seemingly boundless supply of upland cairns, to all intents and purposes forming one huge Bronze Age cemetery in the (all too frequent) clouds; Ireland... spoilt for choice... but I'll go with its raths. Yeah, but what of Scotland? OK, Aberdeenshire is famed for its RSCs, granted. But, upon reflection, I think it has to be the broch. Those idiosyncratic, double-skinned, dry stone 'cooling towers' of yore erected with such sublime skill the mind boggles. It would seem we have a consensus that some 500-odd brochs may still be seen gracing the landscape today. Not that I've undertaken the arithmetic myself, you understand.

Of all the brochs I've had the pleasure of spending some time at over the years arguably few (Allt a’Bhurg, perhaps?) offer a better appreciation of the archetypal ground plan, the inherent component parts, than that overlooking Loch Brora above Carrol farm. Now fellow Essex man Martin Gore may well caution against employing a strict 'policy of truth'... however I must confess to not having a Scooby about the existence of the monument prior to some hasty, last minute research a few days before my visit. But there you are. That, after all, is what TMA is for and, following a short drive south along the A9 from my overnight stop within the wondrous Glen Loth, I park up before the (rather fine) suspension bridge spanning the River Brora. A notice informs the curious traveller that said bridge was erected to assist local children travelling to/from school. Tsk... soft, mollycoddled kids of today. What are they like? Commuting in a Ford not good enough, eh?

Anyway, the plod along the estate track following the river back toward its inception is, well, quite a plod, albeit one enlivened by anticipated watery views to the right upon breaking free from forestry above Leadoch. To the left tower the deceptively impressive crags of Duchary Rock harbouring a (so it transpires) rather fine hill fort. My 'plod' morphs into more of a purposeful 'stride' as the way ahead becomes more focussed, an islet within the loch (Eilean nam Faoileag) apparently bearing the remains of a castle (what price replacing an earlier structure?), the tall, wire fence defining my other flank ensuring no serpentine deviation from my route into the once again prevalent forestry. Len's stile, preceding the Allt Coire Aghaisgeig, is easily spotted, a brief, sweaty struggle - sorry, I don't wear deodorant when walking - earning an audience with the elevated broch. So, that's the water source sorted, then? Check.

From afar the broch resembles a rather impressive chambered cairn. That this is manifestly not the case becomes apparent, however, upon clambering up to the summit of the stone pile to find the structure hollow, albeit in a strictly 'structural' sense. For one thing, the circular central court is occupied by some industrial strength vegetation - forget the Weedol, we're talking flamethrowers, or a harangue by that appalling wee Sturgeon woman; furthermore there is nothing remotely 'empty' about the vibe here, the silence, punctuated now and again by the rhythmic call of the cuckoo, pervading an atmosphere seemingly pregnant with implied meaning. If only one had the 'key' to facilitate the delivery of such knowledge, such insight. Hey, just what is the landscape trying to say? After 30 years doing this I actually think I'm beginning to get it, to understand. However trying to communicate it is another matter entirely. Tell me about it.

The broch itself is, frankly, quite superb, the entrance passage arguably the most well preserved I've seen to date, complete with door jambs and draw bar slot, not to mention lintels still in situ. The attendant 'guard cell' - not sure about the veracity of such a classification since the draw bar didn't seem operable from within? - is intact, a crawl inside revealing the superb 'dry stone corbelling' construction technique illuminated by natural light streaming from above, the chamber an oasis of cool from the heat without. Even with me in it. Yes, really. Hey, are we sure this is Scotland? Above, the wall head exhibits intra-mural passages and steps; in fact all the 'brochy things' one would anticipate, but not always get. Hey, there's also a low, surrounding wall and what appears to be a proto-'barbican' protecting the entrance... although whether these are original elements of the design or remnants of later settlement I guess might well be open to debate within musty academic circles.

The sweeping vista across Loch Brora is very much in order, too, complementing the archaeological excellence. To be honest I could've sat here all day watching cars trundle along the minor road traversing the far side of the loch, content in the knowledge that no muppet was likely to venture up here to shatter the idyll, this perfect symmetry of past and present. However the hill rising more-or-less immediately south above Coire Aghaisgeig draws the eye. Not for itself - although it's hard to believe it's only c856ft high - but for what lies beyond: Duchary Rock and its hill fort. I decide to forego an easy return, put myself out a little and go have a look.

Auchoish (Chambered Cairn)

I'm sure Stephen Hawking - now of course occupying his rightful niche between Mr Newton and Mr Darwin in eternity (although why we have the remains of two exceptional atheists within Westminster Abbey is, er, rather puzzling) - would've been able to forward a convincing theory as to where the time goes... however it's 17 years since I first ventured forth into the verdant Kilmartin Glen, a more-or-less megalithic illiterate seduced into undertaking the nightmare-inducing drive from Essex by the siren call of Mr Cope's garishly coloured tome. A lot of water has flowed under both the allegorical bridge and that which connects my home island to the mainland in the interim; however one aspect of my life that has proved pretty constant is the compulsion to seek out new places associated with those pioneers responsible for laying the foundations of the - admittedly 'wobbly' - edifice we call civilisation.

So yes, while the great linear grouping of monuments gracing the glen will rightly take precedent for newcomers, the periphery exerts a far greater attraction for me nowadays. I mean, with time so limited why repeat oneself when there is so much more to discover? Such as the Auchoish chambered cairn where all but Greywethers fear to tread. It is therefore with a fair degree of irony that, following an overnighter beside the mighty Loch Awe, I note, upon perusing the map, that an approach to said chambered cairn will mean passing the tourist honeypot that constitutes the Achnabreck rock art panels. Hey, but while I'm here.... guess it would be pedantic, if not downright rude not to have a look. What can you do?

Furthermore it is doubly - nay, trebly - ironic that, despite consciously avoiding the goddam place for all these years, I duly find myself captivated by the beguiling, swirling, circular motifs and depressions carved into the naked rock. Touch, arguably that most sensual of senses, confirms the growing feeling that executing such designs must've been a very time consuming process indeed. And then some. A serious undertaking surely only justifiable by a correspondingly high accepted 'worth' of the finished 'product'. Hell, this art must've really meant something. OK, no doubt the (almost) complete absence of other punters this overcast, drizzly morning lent a positive cadence to the silent symphony playing out within my head... but even so, isn't it great to have such specific preconceptions proven so emphatically wrong in such an overwhelmingly affirmative manner? Yeah, I can handle that.

So.… moving on I pick up the forestry track heading east. Now stomping along such tracks - while not my favourite of pastimes - does have compensations, such as the clean scent of pine pervading the muggy, moist atmosphere; appealing enough in lieu of a fragrance of a more deciduous origin. Or Chanel No.5 in the nape of a woman's neck. Sadly the compensations do not extend to a chat with Keith Flint... well, seeing as a notice informs the traveller this is also the 'Twisted Fire Starter' mountain bike trail. But there you are. To be fair the unusually coiffured gentleman did appear rather athletic performing within the video back in the day; but then again we are all inexorably advancing in years, are we not? And 'Breathe' was by far a better tune. The route duly swings abruptly south before veering north (thankfully conflagrations are not in evidence), passing an old quarry prior to crossing the Auchoish Burn where one should select the left hand fork.

Unfortunately things now get a bit complicated (I won't say 'interesting' upon the assumption that disciples of Donatien Alphonse François tend not to favour seeking out Neolithic chambered cairns upon Scottish hillsides) the monument being located 'somewhere' upon the thickly afforested rise to the right. According to the 1:25K OS map matters should be straightforward enough; however the trees are so dense that an attempt to head straight to the tomb on a compass bearing is a non-starter. Consequently I head further along the track before making a very rough ascent to the highest ground in the locale and taking a bearing from there. This allows me to pick up the heavily overgrown run depicted upon the map and, knee deep in mud, systematically force my way through to the monument within its clearing. Brute force is not something to be admired. However sometimes needs must.

It is immediately apparent that all this effort is so, so worthwhile: the elongated 'Clyde' cairn is aligned on a SW/NE axis with the significant remains of a façade/forecourt to north-east... a number of the orthostats still standing before the hollow ghost of a chamber, albeit with traces of stone work also to be seen within the latter. For me, however, it is the relatively well preserved lateral chamber subsumed within the lower, south-western section of the substantial cairn that represents the structural pièce de résistance. Greywether reckons there could even be a rare 'porthole' stone in situ. Didn't realise at the time, but in retrospect I'm not going to disagree with the suggestion since there are definitely two segments here with curiously shaped dividing stones.

However at a fundamental level the primary motivation to visit sites such as Auchoish is surely the response to the question 'how does it make me feel to be here?' Hence the discerning Citizen Cairn'd will surely wish to make the effort to come for the - in my opinion - truly exceptional vibe further enhanced by the site's isolation from the general (relative) hubbub of the area. Yeah, unlike the arguably over manicured monuments within Kilmartin Glen itself the silence here is absolute, a serenity so total the atmosphere is electric. If you excuse the oxymoron.

Despite the drizzle-laden cloud sweeping, quite literally, through the treeline according optimum conditions for the midge - that wee awful woman aside - Scotland's most appalling inhabitant, I stay for approx three hours before retracing my steps. A diversion to the enigmatic, moss-clad remains of Dun Na Maraig ensures I reach the car in no fit state to do anything but sleep. To be fair a man can ask for no further reward from a day pottering around in the damp forest: obscure chambered cairn, hill fort and.... well …. how does one begin to describe, to attempt to decipher the meaning inherent in those symbols? Then again, perhaps it is best that we never do so. That we simply allow them to inspire that symphony in the head?

Trum Gelli (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

I don't read too much into symbolism. Generally speaking. However perhaps there is a degree inherent in citing Wales' glory as her abundance of mountains, rivers and coastline. Interdependent components of the hydrologic cycle. A triumvirate, if you will, one pretty much responsible for life on Earth when one stops to think about such things; as I'm pretty sure we should all more often do so. Yeah, intrinsic to existence, utilitarian, yet nevertheless infused with an aesthetic that has long haunted the susceptible such as I. Maybe you, too?

I think it's fair to say that Wales' rivers and mountains share a fundamentally closer infinity (as coastline is obviously not always 'within scope'), the latter channelling precipitate run off to define the former. From the iconic Afon Glaslyn, cascading from its legendary source beneath Yr Wyddfa to a conflux with the Afon Mawddach within its sublime estuary... to the River Dee (the Brythonic "River of the Goddess") flowing to Chester, via Llyn Tegid, from an obscure inception upon the slopes of Dduallt... Wales possesses its fair share of iconic rivers. Primus inter pares, as scholars would say, is probably the River Severn (Afon Hafren), the UK's longest watercourse, rising upon the incomparable 'Mother of Rivers' that is Pumlumon, close by the birthplace of the Wye (Afon Gwy), the latter arguably our most serpentine? Nonetheless it is the Afon Dyfi which gets my vote, all things considered. Sourced and nurtured within the epic, primordial bosom of Aran Fawddwy, the tumultuous birth of the nascent water course perfectly complemented by the final, stately procession to merge with Cardigan Bay 23 miles hence.

Which - finally - brings me to Trum Gelli following a morning drive from an overnight sojourn - as you do - upon said Pumlumon. Set at the south-western extremity of Y Tarrenau overlooking the Afon Dyfi's exquisite journey's end at Aberdyfi, the 1,754ft 'Ridge of the Grove' is, to be fair, not where the thoroughly modern mind would expect to find the locale's premier Bronze Age funerary monuments. Granted, I don't consider myself to be of this ilk; but then again, despite all the bollocks spouted by archaeologists proffering pet theories, what does the thoroughly modern mind really know of the Bronze Age mindset? It would appear there is a conundrum to be considered here. Hey, could it be that my preamble has a bearing and that the view from the summit was all important, an attempt to cement an association between life/death/rebirth... as symbolised by the nurturing waters of the Afon Dyfi merging with the sea prior to repeating the cycle, the process - to go 'round again'? OK, mere supposition, but intriguing nonetheless; and given credence by the location of a similar disposition of monuments upon Allt-llwyd, overlooking the end game of the Afon Dysynni to the north-west? Perhaps placement in relation to water really did have great symbolic meaning back in the day? The mountain/river duology or... even better, as here... the mountain/river/sea sacred trilogy?

Now I first became aware of the potential significance of Trum Gelli's archaeology through a '3m cairns' reference in Dave Ing's 'Hill Walks in Mid Wales' (ISBN 1-85058-433-8). Checking the veracity of this has, to be fair, taken quite a while. But there you are. Although I would, in retrospect, recommend that interested travellers start from the (now 'retired'?) chapel within Cwm Maethlon (Happy Valley) to the south-west and make their ascent via Bryn Dinas, I end up coming from the east. It is possible (even for me) to park a car upon the hairpin bend at Pant-yr-or, west of Cwrt, whence a by-way climbs away to the north-west, accessing the excellent little cairn circle of Eglwys Gwyddelod before heading off west toward Bryn Dinas. This track is unfortunately also the legal preserve of those odd, noisy people whom appear to enjoy the mad adrenaline rush of riding a motor bike at 1mph. But there you are. Whooah! Crazy, far out dudes! It takes all sorts, doesn't it? Anyway, the track is an enjoyable stomp in its own right according excellent, sweeping views across Cwm Maethlon and Mynydd-y-Llyn (the lake in question being the curious 'Bearded Lake', Llyn Barfog) to the wondrous Aberdyfi and, beyond again, Pumlumon.

At the col before Bryn Dinas the track swings to the northwest. I therefore leave it here at the fence junction and head for the southern slopes of Allt Gwyddgwion rising above, the route just to the left of an overgrown cairn featuring remnants of a possible - nay, surely probable? - cist. The path, such as it is, heads straight for Trum Gelli so Citizens Cairn'd wishing to check out Allt Gwyddgwion's two cairns are advised to following the ascending fence line instead. The first, over to the left, is a small yet tidy monument. However that upon the crest [SH65150123] at a further fence intersection is, aside from a concrete 'capstone', actually rather good, complete with what I take to be the remains of a kerb still in situ. According to Coflein [RCAHMW, 14/11/2007] it measures "approximately 10 metres square and 1.5 metres high", the concrete slab perhaps the base of a former temporary OS trig pillar? Curiously they clearly don't seem to know for sure. Whatever, the watery vistas to be enjoyed from here are, quite frankly, majestic. Perhaps unsurprisingly.

The ridge continues approx north-east to finally grant an audience with Trum Gelli's brace of summit monuments. These are in a different league altogether, the southern, just beyond a stile, surmounted by a (presumably) modern beehive very much in the style of Drygarn Fawr topping the Cwmdeuddwr Hills not that far to the south. The underlying footprint is substantial - very much so - and, furthermore, embedded with strategically placed blocks of quartzite. I get the impression some degree of reconstruction has taken place, but nevertheless the effect is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

The northern [SH6561801554], at the actual summit (or so it would appear) is more 'ragged', yet - or perhaps because of this - my favourite of the quartet. Once again the footprint is very substantial, more so than its southern neighbour, perhaps since it possesses a smaller beehive. The onward view across Cwm Ffernol toward Tarrenhendre is excellent, the cwm itself featuring woodland.... although I couldn't decide if this represented forestry or perhaps the vestiges of the original namechecked 'grove'? Coflein gives dimensions as "5m wide, 2.5m in height" [S.D. Lowden, Archaeophysica, 1/6/2006] although their records do appear a little confused at the present time.

As I sit and contemplate H2O-related stuff - fortunately none sees fit to fall upon my head - I elect to enjoy an extra 30 mins up here by not reprising my ascent route in reverse, so to speak, instead descending steeply southwards more-or-less straight down to the byway far below. Suffice to say it is a mistake, the latter regions of this, er, route proving to be malevolent, deep bog. Schoolboy error and most certainly not the water association I was looking for, but there you are. Guess that's one way to retain the child inside. Albeit a rather soggy, smelly one. Whatever, I decide to undertake my own symbolic gesture, my personal homage to the principles of hydrology... by 'closing the loop' and following the Afon Dyfi back into its nursery upon The Arans. I spend the night at Bwlch-y-Groes.

Cader Berwyn (Round Cairn)

Dawn arrives at Bwlch-y-Groes without due fanfare, the elevated 'Pass of the Cross' (presumably another nod to the influence of that Tydecho?) separating the upper reaches of the exquisite Cwm Dyfi from Cwm Cynllwyd too exposed to offer shelter to any of the usual feathery suspects generally contributing to an avian chorus. In lieu, within the pregnant silence, I perceive a sense of heightened possibilities, of unspecified opportunities to be grasped whilst the relatively high cloud base lingers. So, what to do then? Fortunately the answer is forthcoming upon administering a Coco Pops catalyst, my gaze being drawn north across the aforementioned Cwm Cynllwyd to the rounded summits of Y Berwyn. In keeping with the all pervading silence, the call is unspoken. But nevertheless it registers loud and clear. Just need to do something about it, then. Damn. I am aware there are easier hobbies.

So.... following a splendidly scenic drive toward Y Bala, I take the B4391 across the high moors to descend Cwm Rhiwarth to Llangynog and, henceforth, Dyffryn Tanat. Samuel Coleridge came here in July 1794 and noted that the mountains were 'sublimely terrible', which is a pretty classy description, to be fair. One assumes - being a poet and that - that, like I, he made it to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, whereupon a single track road heads NW to Tan-y-Pistyll... and the magnificent c250ft cascade of Pistyll Rhaeadr, the 'Spout Waterfall', traditionally one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. The little café serves alcohol to tourist punters who flock here to gaze at the awesome aqueous spectacle. The Citizen Cairn'd, however, may well wish to drink his/her fill of the landscape beforehand. If so, rocky steps ascend to the right of the wondrous waterfall to access Trum Felen, the southern ridge of Moel Sych ('Dry Hill', appropriately enough in this context, but very much not so in nearly any other!).

To be honest this direct route to the main ridge of Y Berwyn is, in my opinion, better suited to a descent (an ascent through the valley of the Nant y Llyn further to the east is recommended) but there you are. One is compelled to seek out new experiences. Nevertheless as I slowly.... very slowly... gain height I begin to doubt the wisdom of this selection, particularly since this morning's cloud base is high no longer, the summit of the mountain conspicuous by its absence, subsumed within a mass of opaque vapour. In due course I must venture into this surreal environment of curtailed vision and apparent swirling wraiths.... a sensation of mild claustrophobia countered by having (with apologies to Andy Partridge) one, two, three, four senses working overtime to compensate. Navigation, however, is not an issue, the fence line leading unerringly to the 2,713ft summit crowned by the profile of a Bronze Age funerary cairn slowly materialising through the gloom. Although of no significant elevation, the embedded footprint of the monument is much more extensive than I recall from my previous visit here.... some 21 years ago. Hey, it is quite something to return almost half a lifetime hence. What's more, this time around I reckon I can even discern a trace of former kerb.

As I sit in my own private little spirit world pondering imponderables, wondering what to do next, Nature castes a final, emphatic deciding vote by sweeping away the cloud mantle in an instant to reveal Cadair Berwyn standing angular and proud to the north, its form in complete contrast to Moel Sych's broad, rounded dome. Recognising a sign from the heavens when I see one I cross the fence line (via a stile) and head east to Craig-y-Llyn, the escarpment edge towering above Llyn Lluncaws cradled far below. The lake is suitably idiosyncratic featuring a curious surface covering of weed that is quite unique in my experience. A kamikaze sheep track now engenders a somewhat 'airy' onward route toward the castellated, rocky pinnacles of Cadair Berwyn's 2,722ft summit, the cliff line, progressively fragmented in nature, displaying quite literally 'another side' to Y Berwyn, one completely at odds with the gently rolling profile seen to the west. But there you are; Y Berwyn are secretive hills... and all the better for that, in my opinion.

Anyway, cresting the craggy summit the first of a brace of cairns gracing the mountain is seen a little below and beyond. The location is classic, albeit taking great pains to avoid any view of the wondrous Llyn Lluncaws in true Bronze Age style. Yeah, I'm not saying this is pedantic, but what were these people like? There is good news and bad news to relate here. Firstly, the bad: the stone pile is defaced by a large 'shelter' clearly constructed from the original monument fabric; although whether this is to cater for sheep of the Ovis aires variety or homo sapiens is open to debate. I suspect the latter, but happy to be corrected. The good, however, more than compensates: the circumference of the footprint is very impressive indeed. Far more so than vague visions from my youth had led me to earlier surmise. Clearly this was the last resting place of a major personality back in the day. The second cairn lies a little further on, beyond a diminutive little tarn - or lakelet, if you prefer (which, as it happens, I do) - and surmounts Cadair Berwyn's northern summit. This is a much more subtle monument consisting of a very large, grassy (apparent) mound topped by an OS trig pillar. Stonework protruding from the surface confirms that this is indeed a cairn, however. Again, the views are superb, and not without archaeological foci. Looking east, the distant summit of Mynydd Tarw ("Bull Mountain") is crowned by another, massive funerary cairn as is, looking north across Bwlch Maen Gwynedd, Cadair Bronwen, the last of Y Berwyn's big trio. This, a significant 'platform cairn' known as Brwdd Arthur (Arthur's Table - yes, Himself again) is unfortunately about a mile and a half distant. Consequently unless you are superfit - or, as I was back in 1994, somewhat on a mission and only beginning to appreciate the overpowering significance of these cairns - a separate ascent from the north-west, via the wondrous cairn circle of Moel ty Uchaf, not to mention the 'circle at Bwlch y Fedw, is highly recommended.

It is fair to say that Cadair Berwyn is not a spot to leave in a hurry. Exquisite vistas and copious archaeology to boot, er, sort of make that a 'no brainer'. Consequently I linger, let the aura, the atmosphere, the ambience... whatever you want to call that peculiar 'upland vibe' enhanced with the human element.... slowly seep into my consciousness. Although far from unique in this respect, Y Berwyn has nevertheless witnessed its fair share of legendary, historic events to complement whatever 'metaphysical stuff' may or may not have occurred back in those days of yore when the cairns were in use. For it was here in 1165 - well upon Ffordd Saeson, apparently a little east of Moel ty Uchaf at SJ091369 - that the forces of Henry II feverishly engaged in the pursuit of Owain Gwynedd were routed. Given a sound thrashing, so to speak. Not by the then Prince of North Wales... but by the ferociously inclement weather these mountains are able to conjure up on a whim. One can just imagine the poor old Plantagenet dude retreating in soggy shame citing witchcraft and sorcery by the fiendish Welsh as reasons for failure; anything but arrogant incompetence.

With time marching forever onwards - tell me about it - I reluctantly retrace my steps to Moel Sych and begin the descent to the car. However, prior to the obligatory, not to mention essential final gawp at the Pistyll Rhaeadr, I stop off within the glacial 'hanging valley' of the Afon Disgynfa, specifically to take an all-too-brief look at yet another mighty cairn at SJ070297. Citizens Cairn'd may be interested to be reminded that this valley is also graced by a stone circle at Rhos y Beddau (SJ058302). Is there no end to the attractions of this wondrous area? Overtaken by darkness I spend the night upon Coleridge's 'sublimely terrible' mountains... assuming he was heading for Y Bala... below the summit of Foel y Geifr (at the head of the Hirnant Pass). The rain lashes down and, unlike Henry II, I think I get the point.

Aran Fawddwy (Round Cairn)

Aran Fawddwy (2,969ft) is one of Wales' classic mountains, its volcanic crags deeply scoured and crafted by the unimaginably powerful forces of glaciation to form a towering cathedral of igneous rock. Together with its slightly lower northern neighbour, Aran Benllyn (2,901ft), the landscape might be considered by some - such as I - the archetypal hybrid of North/Mid Walian upland topography: the stark, uncompromising brutality of unforgiving cliff faces offset, tempered, by the softer green of subsidiary ridges and rounded hills overlooking sylvan cwms; valleys where farmers ply their trade much as they have done so for centuries past. Beast and beauty writ large upon the southern extremity of Snowdonia.

It is this (relative) geographical isolation from the traditional mountain heartland of Gwynedd that, in my opinion, accords The Arans their sense of singularity, a perceived notion of uniqueness perhaps only approximated by the equally sublime heights of not-too-distant Cadair Idris. Local history suggests that this 'aloofness' may not merely reside in the cognition of the modern traveller, the sentinel peaks namechecking the medieval cymydau (commotes) of Penllyn and Mawddwy... by all accounts, judging by the violent antics of the notorious 'Red Robbers' said to reside in and around Cwm Cywarch during the 1500's, pretty volatile areas back in the day. Furthermore, walkers wishing to visit both main summits will need to set foot upon Erw y Ddafad Ddu... 'Acre of the Black Sheep'. Hmm.. is there something we should know, Mr Cope? It is therefore fitting that Aran Fawddwy should be crowned by what is - in my opinion, all things considered - Wales' finest upland Bronze Age cairn. Coflein has this to say:

"Remains of a large cairn located on the summit of Aran Fawddwy. The cairn is stone built and measures up to 16m in diameter and up to 4m in height. An Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar has been erected on the E side of the cairn"

OK, so the dimensions of the stone pile are impressive, although nowadays perhaps not to the degree suggested by the professionals; however, for me, it is the sheer sublimity of placement, the overpowering exquisiteness of location which sets this monument apart. Perched upon the eastern flank of the summit crags, the cairn quite literally stands upon the edge of the abyss, overlooking a vertiginous, perpendicular drop to Creiglyn Dyfi cradled over 1,000ft below. Now I'm well aware words can only convey so much. So imagine, if you will, the late, great Stuart Adamson standing atop this cairn performing an guitar solo (with E-bow, naturally) expressing all the joy, pain, love, sorrow, exhilaration, frustration, altruism, anger, fear, hope.. that, collectively, we call 'being human'. Hey, that's what I mean.

Needless to say this dark lake Creiglyn Dyfi has form, being none other than the source of the Afon Dyfi (Dovey), the river undertaking a majestic procession south-westward to Cardigan Bay following a suitably tumultuous birth, erupting from the tarn as Llaethnant or 'Milk Brook'. Legend has it that St. Tydecho was responsible for this moniker after, er, somewhat miraculously turning the nascent, cascading stream into nutritious dairy produce to assist impoverished locals during times of famine... wondrous chap that he was. However those who have approached Creiglyn Dyfi via Foel Hafod-fynydd - incidentally a fine walk - may well wish to contest the veracity of this incredulous claim. Or not. Nevertheless it is telling, perhaps, that such transcendental occurrences are attributed to the locale; although whether Bronze Age priests were the initiators of such a metaphysical vibe or merely drawn here by pre-existing spiritual memes kept alive by Neolithic locals is no doubt a moot point. Whatever the truth, there is in my view no denying the 'special relationship' formed between landscape and human psyche in the vicinity, particularly when looking from above seated in the abode of the gods. Just the spot for a people to set their VIP upon the path to eternity, one might say?

The views are inspiring looking upon a more horizontal - albeit elevated - plane, too, with the long escarpments of Cadair Idris and Y Rhinogydd to the approx west, Snowdonia to the north beyond Aran Benllyn, Y Berwyn to the east... and the green hills of Mid Wales stretching away to the southern horizon. Given clear skies, of course. Although, to be fair, swirling cloud does add an additional, ethereal dimension to proceedings if countered by accurate compass bearings facilitating the way down. Note that the unnamed former occupant(s) of the great cairn are not the only legendary VIPs to be commemorated up hereabouts... as a memorial to SAC Michael 'Mike' Aspain upon nearby Drws Bach makes abundantly clear, the RAF St Athan Mountain Rescue gentleman having been killed by lightning whilst on duty during June 1960. There really are no words one can say, so perhaps a brief, silent salute in passing is appropriate. Oh, incidentally two men had to be airlifted off the mountain in January 2014 (just a year before my last ascent) after being paralysed - I kid you not - by another lightning strike. Yeah, Aran Fawddwy can be a dangerous, foreboding place.... primeval forces created it and are at still at work here. Natural forces of a magnitude beyond our limited comprehension. Is it any wonder priests attempted to fill the void?

Arguably the classic route to Aran Fawddwy is the linear traverse of the main ridge starting from Llanuwchllyn at the southern end of Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake). However my three ascents to the summit ridge over the years have, for logistical reasons, all commenced within the dramatic environs of Cwm Cywarch, as mentioned above the former haunt of the Red Robbers. It is to the credit of the Snowdonia National Park Authority to note that, in addition to managing the very militant local land owners, a (relatively) new car park now alleviates parking issues of yore. I speak from experience, having found myself bogged down to my axle whilst parking upon grass prior to an ascent of Glasgwm back in 2008. Surrounded by towering buttresses of rock, it is a suitably epic spot to begin a foray into these wondrous mountains crowned by quite possibly Wales finest upland cairn. All things considered....

Glan Hafon cairn (Cairn(s))

What is it about me and high places? For a man with vertigo to be consistently drawn to hill and mountain tops over the entire course of my adult life could be considered somewhat paradoxical, perhaps? It's a valid point. Furthermore, any attempt to resolve such a personal conundrum is surely doomed to failure, if only due to lack of objectivity. However, for what it's worth.... let's start with punk. As, naturally, you would expect.

Although too young to appreciate the cultural, not to mention social impact of punk as it was happening - in retrospect I much prefer the insubordinate political potency of SLF than the comically naïve pseudo-Marxist bollocks of first wavers, The Clash - it was the 'don't believe them, question everything you're told' mentality which has had a fundamental impact upon my worldview. To deploy 'Why?' at the vanguard of the fight against blaggers and hypocrites. A pretty simple philosophy consistent with the DIY ethic of punk: to always see both sides of an argument by actively seeking an alternative viewpoint. Or at least try to. No-one's perfect. Needless to say putting competing 'stuff' into context can be difficult, requiring a suitable environment to allow the best use of whatever brain matter Nature has blindly accorded me, somewhere mercifully free from the seemingly endemic noise pollution all too prevalent today. Such as the high places of Britain, perhaps?

Yeah, the aerial viewpoint, by its intrinsically 'detached' nature, challenges one's perception of this crazy, spinning globe and, more importantly, of the antics of the human beings that depend upon it, a temporary stage for chasing passing visions. At least until we all bugger off to Mars with Matt Damon, that is. Hey, what a laugh that'll be. Party hats all round! In practice I've found the results to be instructive, the head full of human anxiety and contractions upon the approach to the parking area suddenly of no more consequence, by proxy - in the grand scheme of things - than the concerns of the inhabitants of a nearby ant colony. So, if there is such a thing as 'human spirit'.... a soul... that can (eventually) be determined from electricity flowing across synapses, arguably it is the primeval uplands than best meet the criteria for a 'spiritual domain'. If so, wouldn't it be ironic to note that our Bronze Age forebears appear to already have had that sussed millennia ago?

Anyway, aside from facilitating incoherent musings upon the most fundamental subjects, aerial viewpoints possess other, more tangible benefits... such as the ability to see detail in the landscape that can't be seen from below. No shit, Sherlock? Indeed it was during a visit to the fabulous hill fort surmounting Craig Rhiwarth last year that I first truly appreciated the form of Mynydd Glan-hafon rising across the cwm. Although falling a few feet short of the hallowed 2,000ft mark (1,994ft/608m) - and thus discounted from almost every 'serious' Y Berwyn walking itinerary you will come across - I guess the evidence of my own eyes heard the siren call. So, a hill must be a certain height to be worthy of my boots? Why? Ah, it's that punk ethic again.

Consequently I find myself reprising the ... it has to be said ... rather fine approach to Cwm Glan-hafon upon the green track skirting the south-eastern foot of the overwhelmingly sheer Craig Rhiwarth, one beady eye upon the threatening cloud base. The track forks right beyond some rather delectable woodland to descend to, and subsequently cross, the Nant Sebon. Continuing north, it soon becomes apparent that Mynydd Glan-hafon will offer no easy ride; the ludicrously steep gradient of the path encountered just beyond the deep gash carved by the Nant Ddial makes that as crystal clear as the cascading waters of the latter. The siren's call is strong, however - as Bernard Sumner will no doubt concur - and I eventually arrive at the col between Y Clogydd and Mynydd Glan-hafon itself.

According to Postman, not to mention the lesser authority of Coflein, there are a couple of cairns hereabouts upon this saddle. However I haven't done my homework so press on riding my little pony, so to speak, toward the summit. Despite having used all my vast (and ultimately useless) experience of these things and delayed leaving the path to avoid nasty occurrences of stamina sapping bog... I inevitably encounter an awful lot of the stuff. Too much. But there you are. Nevertheless I reach the summit ridge, taking a bearing from the fence line to the top of the Nant Ddial gulley. Just in case things deteriorate, you understand? As it happens the fence is a useful prompt leading travellers to the actual summit and, beyond a traverse fence to the east, the slightly lower trig pillar. As it is I ignore the latter being more intrigued by a small cairn surmounting a rocky outcrop near the junction.

Mynydd Glan-hafon is a wondrous viewpoint, arguably the best perch to appreciate this fact being the aforementioned cairn. This is not marked upon either the 1:25k or 1:50k map nor, indeed, cited by Coflein. However beneath the obviously modern 'marker cairn' resides a substantial, earth fast footprint. Now to judge by the paths - or rather, the paucity of them - up here upon this deeply unfashionable hill, the possibility of the cairn being erected by walkers is, in my opinion, pretty slim. Furthermore the cairn does not occupy either of the twin summits. So why construct a marker? Just saying. In my opinion this looks kosher. Other opinions most welcome.

As I sit and admire unfamiliar perspectives of the familiar... such as the main ridge of Y Berwyn rising to the immediate north, beyond the natural aquatic wonder that is Pistyll Rhaeadr, the sylvan beauty of the Tanat Valley, the mighty ancient fortress of Craig Rhiwarth etc.... the erstwhile reasonably clement conditions begin to falter as Moel Sych intercepts and subsequently grasps an incoming low cloud base to its not inconsiderable breast. Yeah, in very quick order visibility is reduced to more-or-less zero. For me, it is at times like this that upland cairns invoke the optimum 'spiritual' (here we go again) vibes, the opaque vapour inducing a very localised, almost claustrophobic intensity shutting out the outside world from any deliberations. Perhaps this idiosyncrasy was an integral facet of the Bronze Age plan, the Bronze Age experience? Assuming there ever was one and these monuments were not simply erected by ancient punks disavowing the 'rules'.

Time moves on and, despite having a fence line as my personal guide, not to mention preset compass bearing, the disorienting nature of walking in hill fog never abates. For me. Learning to trust one's judgement when all the senses are saying "Are you sure, you muppet?" has proved a major challenge across the years, one I doubt I will ever meet. But then again, so what? Leaving the sanctuary of the wire - and having opted to place self preservation before additional cairns - I manage to locate the Nant Ddial. Following a very steep, rough descent, the towering flank of Craig Rhiwarth slowly materialises through the dissipating gloom like a cosmic hand operating a rather dodgy natural cloaking device. Bit unpredictable, apparently. The return to the car is joyous, a feeling prevalent of being allowed brief inclusion within a spectacle outside of the normal human remit. Bit like hearing the opening bars to New Rose for the first time.

So... not at all sure I've managed to answer my autobiographical question posed at the start: why do I seek out the high places? Hey, maybe to some degree, perhaps? Although simply pointing at Mynydd Glan-hafon and uttering 'Why not?' might sum it up nicely enough. But then again, if Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible taught me anything growing up it's not to be afraid to challenge my preconceptions, to continually push my limitations. But primarily to try not lose the child inside... that sense of inherent curiosity and wonderment. That alternative 'aerial' viewpoint. Don't let the Ed Sheerans and Adeles of this bloody autotuned computer world we now find ourselves in drag you down. Yeah, who's to say what can and can't be done? Have a go and see. Just try not to kill yourself in the process should you choose to stumble in my footsteps. For me that's the true legacy of the punk ethic, my friends. The freedom to choose.

Bryn Castell (Hillfort)

Ah, hill forts.... of all the myriad monument types featured within - or should that be on? - TMA I would have thought the hill fort would be the simplest to define? A fort built upon a hill, right? What could be easier? Hmmm. For starters, how does one define a hill? My Oxford English Dictionary reckons a hill is "A naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain", whereas a mountain is "A large natural elevation of the earth's surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level; a large steep hill". Pretty woolly explanations, to be fair. Open to interpretation, particularly when, for example, the locals upon The Isle of Skye refer to the peerless, 3,000ft plus naked rock of The Black Cuillin as 'hills'. Depends on your point of view.

Herein, then, lies my dilemma when attempting to categorise the superb little fortress of Bryn Castell. As we human are wont to do. In my estimation a 'mountain' imparts a certain mind set upon the visitor, irrespective of height above ordnance datum. An (apparent) appreciation that primeval forces - represented, perhaps, by the extreme application of adverse conditions such as cold, wind, precipitation etc - are acting upon the human cognitive process, somehow accessing seemingly forgotten memes (or other ancestral 'group knowledge' cascaded down the millennia - hey, clearly I'm no expert here) long since subsumed beneath an accumulation of modern behaviours and values which, I guess, only time will reveal may or may not represent an incremental advancement of our species. A feeling that, just perhaps, the landscape may actually be 'speaking' to us, unlocking that door in the psyche behind which a lot of interesting 'stuff' lies in cold storage. Reminding us that we should really be taking a lot more notice of the base forces which shape our environment. That we should show more respect to the Nature of Darwin and Hawking, venture forth from the geodesic dome on a more regular basis. Like Michael York who, upon finding that his 'life clock' is now blinking, decides to do make a break for reality in Logan's Run. Making sure not to forget Jenny Agutter as he does so, naturally. Or something like that. Whatever the truth... for me, Bryn Castell is a 'mountain fort' since it causes me to think of such things.

The current 1:25K OS map depicts Bryn Castell as a 'Settlement'. Not something to raise the antiquarian pulse, to be honest. However, needs must, the site featuring upon my 'bad weather list', invoked upon those unfortunately all-too-frequent days (such as today) when cloud sits upon the North Walian uplands like a gigantic mothership piloted by intergalactic beings having much to learn in the parking department. As if maintaining solidarity with said cloud base, my mood is not lifted by the presence of one of those pathetic, black-clad 'heddlu', er, individuals avoiding doing any worthwhile police work by pointing his little laser at me, so ensuring I miss the turning at Bontddu first time around. Look for the massive blue (I think) 'chapel' and follow the very steep, very minor road to its eventual terminus at a parking area beyond a gate (at SH657202).

I ignore the rough track heading left, instead venturing forth straight ahead through a gate to ascend a green track... the old London to Harlech 'road', no less, travelled when 'horse power' was quite literally just that. And employed by all. At a (presumably relatively modern) marker stone a track veers to the left (west) while the main, walled route continues to ascend the excellent, grassy Y Braich - or 'The Arm' - reaching down from the heights of the southern Rhinogydd above and beyond. Now since Bryn Castell is located upon the southern-most extremity of Y Braich sticking to the main route will do; however I veer to the west to enjoy what, in my opinion, is a much more memorable approach, the site towering dramatically above to my right.

So... a short climb finally brings me to the fine, univallate 'fort. As Postman says, the view southwards across Aber Mawddach toward Cadair Idris is absolutely stunning, even when viewed under somewhat less than ideal conditions. However it is that to the north, looking up the aforementioned Y Braich to the high summits of Y Rhinogydd, the latter obscured by swirling vapour, that seems to awaken the hunter-gatherer in me. The 2,462ft Diffwys periodically beckons through the gloom, the brutal landscape occasionally illuminated by washes of sunlight all too quickly extinguished, as if by the silent admonition of a cosmic Warden Hodges: 'Put that bloody light out you ruddy 'ooligan!'. The path appears tempting, the foreshortened scene promising an memorable afternoon... if only the cloud would break. I wait in vain, deciding to return and make the climb some other time. As it is the weather provides an opportunity just two days hence. The route is a lot steeper than it appears.....

Suffice to say, then, that Bryn Castell occupies a damn fine spot. But what of the archaeology? Well, for such a small site the defensive wall is pretty strong (albeit clearly robbed to the east to build a dry stone field wall). Furthermore, the northern high point of the enclosure features the remains of an enigmatic round structure which could, I guess, be variously interpreted as 'round house', proto-donjon or round cairn. Or none of the above. For what it's worth, the feature is perfectly profiled upon the skyline when viewed from the valley below, a characteristic suggestive of a cairn. But then again... Guess only excavation will confirm. Yeah, right. A retrospective perusal of Coflein suggests that, as with a number of other upland defensive enclosures clustered around Cadair Idris, the small size of Bryn Castell might suggest use as a temporary citadel rather than permanently occupied home?

Despite the impressive, nay, intriguing remains, for me the primary reason to come here is to enjoy that (obviously) indefinable 'mountain vibe'. As with Crug Hywel upon the southern slopes of Pen Cerrig-calch far to the south, Bryn Castell belongs to the uplands, as if a small, wild bird cupped in the grasping hand of Y Rhinogydd. To call it a mere hill fort is to do it an injustice.

Craig y Castell North (Hillfort)

It is - I would assume - one of the lesser debated imponderables of relatively recent Welsh history to contemplate whether or not, when faced with a barrage of questions from inquisitive Ordnance Surveyors, the rural peasant simply 'made stuff up'. And, if so, was there mischievous intent? Consider a theoretical example: OS man (pointing fervently): 'I say, you, peasant. What is the name of that big, round hill over there?' Exasperated Peasant: 'Oh, that'll be 'The Big Round Hill', sir'. OS Man (scribbling into his notebook): 'Jolly good. Carry on, doing whatever it is you peasants do'. Smirking Peasant (tugging his cap, then muttering under his breath): 'Heh, heh. You muppet.'

OK, a fanciful scenario, perhaps... but it would certainly explain why here, in the quiet, green foothills between the summit peaks of Cadair Idris and the wondrous Aber Mawddach, we have two Craig y Castells depicted upon the current 1:25K map within a mile of each other. Surely some mistake? For what it's worth I don't buy the alternative to local wind up... that a people steeped in the lore of giants and fairies would apply such rigidly pragmatic, localised nomenclature. Not when hoodwinking gullible officials can be so much fun, methinks. Incidentally Coflein namechecks the northern of the pair as Craig-y-Waun. Yeah, you do the maths.

But enough of such facetious, unsubstantiated conjecture! Like Thomas Dolby, way back in 1982, it's time to defer to a more, er, scientific approach, in my case that of logical deliberation (hopefully) informed by personal observation. Or, to put it another way, time to blunder up another Welsh hillside in the teeming rain and 'see what happens'. Hey, whether such action is more demonstrative of lunacy than the wildly exaggerated antics of the former synth boffin's eccentric associate, Magnus Pike, is perhaps a moot point. But there you are. Anyway.... travellers approaching from Dolgellau (Love Lane, as I recall. Nice touch) should keep their eyes peeled for an obscure right turn servicing the farms of Gellilwyd Fach and Fawr. Continue beyond the latter and park up at Tal y Waen, whereupon a track heads north through the farm yard of Tyn-y-llwyn. This, now a green 'path', of sorts, crosses a stream and sweeps to the left under the inquisitive gaze of grazing ponies seemingly oblivious to the downpour. Or perhaps scornful of the approaching creature so woefully adapted for such conditions? Surely not?

After a short while Craig y Castell/Craig-y-Waun (tack your pick) looms above to the left. The towering profile of the ancient fortress is somewhat disconcerting viewed from below, it has to be said, the steepness of attack putting a noticeable damper upon the previous alacrity of my approach. Hmm. Nevertheless, I follow the left flank of a rather splendid dry stone wall and - eventually - arrive upon the small, craggy summit. As one might have expected from the vernacular. The 'front door' is approached by looping around from the south and is defended by a quite substantial drystone wall... or at least the remains of one... this continuing along the eastern flank in the ubiquitous 'fill in the gaps' style of such upland defensive enclosures. The western flank falls sheer to the cwm below and, together with the northern aspect (supporting a modern wall) would appear to have required little artificial protection back in the day.

The position is wild and inspiring, particularly when the low cloud base, which has been prevalent all week, caresses the hillside with swirling, grey tendrils of opaque moisture. Once again I'm a little overawed until, having ensured I know my way back down again by compass should the clammy embrace becomes more than temporary, I can afford to relax and, basically, do bugger all. As it is the conditions remain in a state of flux, glimpses of the exquisite Mawddach to the north periodically rescinded, only for views toward mighty Cadair Idris to open to the north. To be fair to locals past it is easy to imagine such a landscape being the haunt of otherworldly creatures at times such as this. Woaah! Mind where you're placing those big feet, Mr Idris.

As I ponder 'stuff' (e.g. are giants all in the mind, to be feared, or merely misunderstood gigantic.. sorry, 'size challenged'... creatures possibly taking The Human League a little too seriously?) I decide a visit to the trio of cairns shown on the map below to the south is in order. However I duly abort a direct approach - too many walls - in lieu of returning to the car and heading west at Gellilwyd Fawr. But that's another story.

As for my observations of Craig y Castell? Well... guess it's fair to relate that I was not so much blinded with science as seduced, held in thrall, if you will, by the stark, ethereal beauty of this landscape under such inclement conditions. Poetry? Well, yes, but the more brutal King Lear as opposed to wandering lonely as a cloud, perhaps? Although wandering lonely in a cloud might be more apt, come to think of it. But none the worse for that. And should a nameless rural peasant have, perchance, taken the piss out of a wandering map maker once upon a time.. thanks for the prompt, my friend.

Crugyn-Llwyd (Round Cairn)

Approaching from Domen-ddu, a mile (ish) to the approx south, I find the large, grassy cairn crowning the 1,873ft summit of Crugyn-Llwyd to be far less obvious - topographically speaking - than I had envisaged. Indeed, upon arrival, I'm not at all convinced that Coflein haven't got this one badly wrong (the shame if it - oh me of little faith]. Yeah, all hill and no cairn. Please move along. Nothing to see here. However.... persevere, since, as it happens, this is very far from the case. For although Crugyn-Llwyd has reclaimed its eponymous Bronze Age monument as if clutching it close to its evergreen breast (so to speak) for safe keeping, it is nevertheless very much still here. As it has been for millennia. Hidden in plain sight, one might say. Without doubt the most effective camouflage.

So, following my own advice (for once) I go walkabout around the summit and, upon viewing the apparent monument from various angles, find that the artificial intent underscoring what we have here soon becomes all too obvious, the grass mantle no longer sufficient to deny the insight of a somewhat wonky prehistoric antennae now tuned to more-or-less the correct band width. Hey, just needed warming up a bit. Furthermore, albeit with some not inconsiderable effort, I manage to identify some stone subsumed beneath the turf and thus satisfy any lingering doubts. This one is a 'grower', as they might say. If 'they' were ever to venture up here, of course.

Note that not everything is rosy here. The cairn is unfortunately bisected by a boundary fence. Furthermore, the summit area to the east isn't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing in all Wales. Nevertheless this is a memorable place to be, even when lashed by periodic weather fronts, alternating with washes of golden light. A wild, uncompromising location seemingly divorced from everyday life 'down there' by some currently unquantifiable, additional dimension yet to trouble the scientists. Although to be fair Mr Hawking has probably already considered it. Whatever it is. As if to emphasise this sense of apparent 'other worldliness' a fox comes ambling by... sees the intruder.... tarries a while to check him out... then duly buggers off on his way again with a carefree 'skip' worthy of Father Dougal McGuire. Ha! Nothing to fear from that muppet, methinks...

As with neighbouring Domen-ddu, the west facing vista is quite superb; haunting, even, when perused at length under an ethereal September sky. A suitably expansive panorama for contemplating the sheer nebulosity of any notions of the passing of time, even those within scope of human comprehension. Or something like that. Maybe, on a much baser level, it's just damn beautiful. Inspiring, even?

Pegwn Bach rises to the approx north-north-west surmounted by an obvious - therefore presumably significant - 'Tumulus'. Further 'Cairns', not to mention serried ranks of wind turbines, are visible upon Pegwn Mawr beyond to the north. What with the Fowler's Arm Chair monuments located about a mile to the east it is clear quite a few homo sapiens called hereabouts 'home' back in the day. Yeah, word on the hill is a lot was goin' down back a few mill. Consequently strong walkers, or perhaps those content to spend less time sitting about than I, might consider expanding their itinerary to include the whole lot in one fell swoop?

But then again, in my opinion at least, there is a lot to be said for 'sitting about' upon hill/mountain tops.

Domen-ddu (Cairn(s))

The hills to the north of the Rhayader, lacking the tourist foci of the Elan Valley Reservoirs to the Mid Walian market town's west, may fairly be described nowadays as being 'somewhat off the beaten track'. Nevertheless, rising to as near-as-dammit 2,000ft (1,923ft at Pegwn Mawr) and crowned by numerous Bronze Age cairns, not to mention those enigmatic 'tumuli', this lack of popularity is a veritable blessing for those Citizens Cairn'd willing and able to satiate their curiosity by donning boots. Hey, no incoherent, clueless tourist sightseers to shatter that all important upland vibe with mindless jibber jabber... as Mr T might observe with characteristically unconcealed distain: "Hey crazy fools! This ain't no 'old pile of stones' but the dawn of civilisation! I pity the fool who thinks otherwise!"

However I must confess to knowing nothing of this pleasant state of affairs prior to blundering north upon the B4518, upon experiencing my (hitherto rock solid) resolve to set foot upon the large round barrow at Ty Lettice (SN99026866) blown asunder by ludicrously heavy rain on site. Yeah, 'ludicrous' even for Mid Wales, that is. That'll be bad, then. But here even clouds without silver linings can have beneficial consequences.

So, riding along in my automobile.... with no particular place to go, the day is fast disintegrating into a big, fat nothingness when I'm struck by the impressive escarpment profile to my right as I pass through Pant-y-dwr. Noticing the downpour seemingly having abated I pull over and check the map.... whereupon Crugyn-Llwyd appears to offer a potential solution to Chuck's perennial, not to mention best selling conundrum. But in these conditions? What new lunacy is this? The meteorological ceasefire is maintained as I tentatively navigate the minor roads eastward to park a little south of farm buildings at Garth (where the straight road beyond Bryn Hafod turns sharply to the right to eventually lose its tarmacadam in apparent homage to Owain Glyndwr, near Esgair Fedw). I opt to forgo following in the former Tywysog Cymru's boot steps - if, indeed, yer man ever came this way - instead heading steeply uphill through trees to the south-east... to be seduced, in short order, by a nice, green track to the right of a fence line... retrospectively determined to be heading roughly east instead of the planned north-east. Spying a substantial cairn crowning the high ground some considerable distance across the Rhyd y Clwydau Brook to the south I realise I've gone wrong. As is often the case with my lamentable map reading. However opportunity knocks. Why not visit Domen-ddu and loop around to Crugyn-Llwyd later. If I've got enough puff? It'd be rude not to try, to be fair.

The intervening ground is rough, the monument - in actual fact there are two - occupying the 1,814ft summit of a southern spur, bounded to the east by the forestry-clad flank of Cwm Llygod and to the west by the abrupt line of the escarpment edge. The cairn noted earlier (at SO01697826) is indeed impressive, Coflein citing dimensions of "...23m by 13.1m and 2.3m high..." [J.Wiles 02.08.02]. Furthermore, a little to the north at SO01687828 there is a "..circular, flat-topped mound.... 18.6m in diameter and 1.0m high". Two for the price of one, then.

So, the archaeology here upon Domen-ddu is worth writing home about.... should you happen to have relatives who give a monkey's about old piles of stones and earth set upon obscure Mid Walian hills lashed by the inclement elements of September, that is? OK, not very likely, is it? But technically feasible, I guess. However, as is often the case with these upland monuments, it's where they decided to erect them that truly matters, the real reason to put oneself out to come here. Hey, perhaps some metaphysical force told the Bronze Age architect "Build it and they will come. Albeit it not very many of them." Yeah, the topography is truly special, the sweeping vista westward quite exceptional in my opinion, the vibe equally so. Whether Pumlumon (Herself) is looming upon the far north-western horizon is a moot point since, with temporary cease fire rescinded, multiple weather fronts sweep along the Wye Valley to give me the proverbial periodical pasting. Potential visitors might be interested to learn that, somewhat bizarrely, there is currently a little wooden seat set overlooking the drop to the west. Carpentry? Is there no end to Kevin Costner's talents? Aside from trying to play Robin Hood.

As I sit and contemplate 'stuff' - as I confess I'm apt to do when in these uncompromising environments liable to banish common place notions of everyday existence from my head - Crugyn-Llwyd beckons ever more emphatically to the north. I duly assess the situation... hmm... a small deviation from my return route back to the car. Yeah, guess I don't really have a choice.

Pen y Foel Goch (Cairn(s))

Should the somewhat more adventurous visitors to Ceredigion happen - whether by chance or design - to arrive at the hamlet of Ponterwyd, astride the A44, with a desire to head north... I dare say that, upon pondering awhile (as you do) they may well be tempted to emulate the locals and take the single track 'short cut' across Pumlumon in lieu of the looping, coastal route via Aberystwyth. And why not, since, although by no means endless, the possibilities that will present themselves are nonetheless multiplex, albeit at the mercy of the not infrequently inclement weather? Particularly for a traveller with a megalithically calibrated mind and/or an eye for an inspiring landscape: one, even today, still infused with legend; that subliminal, pseudo-metaphysical condiment forever seasoning the human story. For this is the land of Glyndwr and Taliesin, where almost every summit is crowned by a Bronze Age cairn, as if echoes of mighty deeds literally turned to stone upon the Medusa's searing gaze. Ah, if only these mountains could talk, what tales would they tell, eh? Well, perhaps all is not lost in the mists of time, for listen carefully and Pumlumon really does speak for itself: the 'piping' call of the soaring Red Kite; the cacophony of the nascent Hafren (Severn, Britain's longest river), Wye and Rheidol as they cascade from their lofty sources upon the main ridge following heavy rain; the wind audible in ubiquitous long grass concealing wetlands which once ensured Henry II's knights floundered to their doom...

But what of the green foothills which sweep northward toward Dyffryn Dyfi from Nant-y-Moch, fleetingly glimpsed upon traversing our aforementioned minor road? Surely but a minor diversion before entering the domain of Idris and, on.. er.. somewhat firmer historical ground, Vortigen, Owain Gwynedd and Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, not to mention Edward Longshanks himself? The answer to that is, in every respect, a resounding 'NO'. Firstly, access to the area is far from straightforward, it being necessary to negotiate the descent of Cwm Ceulan to Tal-y-Bont and approach via very minor roads exiting the A487 to the north; secondly, there is simply so much to see... from one of Wales' premier waterfalls (Pistyll y Llyn), Moel y Llyn (with it's very own 'lady of the lake' tale, to Cwm Einion. Ah exquisite Cwm Einion, perhaps better known to the occasional tourist as 'Artist's Valley' owing to formative visits from one JMW Turner and, much more recently, home to a certain Mr Plant who (apparently) was inspired to write 'Stairway to Heaven' here with some other bloke amongst the ancient tilio-acerion native woodland. Furthermore, with almost every hill top once again crowned by a Bronze Age cairn, stone circle or chambered cairn, the Citizen Cairn'd must really take notice...

Which brings me, eventually, to Foel Goch, a seemingly minor coastal hill overlooking the Afon Dyfi as it nears the end of its short journey to the sea from Creiglyn Dyfi, the latter cradled beneath the mighty crags of Aran Fawddwy. I say 'eventually' because I make a farce of the initial approach by car... losing my nerve as I pass Bedd Taliesin and backtracking to the A487 to finally park up, rather sheepishly (appropriately enough in these parts) in a farmyard east of Tre'r-ddol, at Llety-lwydin, Cwm Cletwr, to my mind the only feasible option. Now on foot, the road descends very sharply from here to a T-junction, the right hand selection arriving in due course at a habitation on the left overflowing with free range chickens and other creatures pleasing to the senses. A public footpath sets off to the east ranging above the northern bank of the Afon Clettwr, the initial lush, green pasture giving way to a more coarse, upland domain. That'll be Foel Goch, then.

As usual I haven't done my homework - note to self: don't... it's far more interesting this way - so, having found the 'Cairns' depicted upon my map here, upon the southern flank of the hill/mini mountain, to be less than convincing, I head for the obvious, large cairn crowning the skyline to the north-east. Clearly this must be Pen y Foel Goch. Except, of course, it's nothing of the sort, being in actual fact Carn Wen, a little below and to the west of the summit monument at SN68979274. According to RCAHMW (Dave Leighton, 30/7/12) this, one of numerous 'White Cairns' to be found in Wales measures "13m (N-S) by 17m (E-W), its shape distorted by slippage of material down steep west side of the summit; height 1m-2m." Yeah, it's a pretty substantial cairn... but the compelling reason to come here is the location which, to these eyes, is extraordinary for the relative low altitude. It really is. The stunning Dyffryn Dyfi, its river meandering to its all-inclusive conclusion, takes centre stage... but there is much more: the brooding, central ridge of Pumlumon surmounting the horizon to the south-east, Cadair Idris - with the seriously be-cairned, tautological Tarren Hills to its left - soaring sentinel to the approx north. Things (arguably) get even more interesting nearer to hand, initially just across the Afon Clettwr at Caer Arglwyddes, 'The Lady's Field', where there are a number of cairns, one with impressive cist still in situ visited back in 2012. But why 'The Lady's Field'? Well, according to Dr Gwilym Morus ( "All became clear when I had a conversation with an old lady who’s father had been born at Cae’r Arglwyddes, and according to her the name of the farm refers to a ‘lady of the lake’ folktale about the small lake up on Moel-y-llyn". Things begin to fall into place... since Moel y Llyn, rising due south-east of Carn Wen, possesses a quartet of cairns in addition to its legendary feminine bathing facility.

A short, yet sweet scramble brings me finally to Pen y Foel Goch, featuring a further substantial cairn at SN69519285, that is a little to the approx north-west of the actual summit. Again according to Dave Leighton, this "measures some 10m across, allowing for distortion caused by slippage of material down the steeper west side. Robbing has left the eastern perimeter of the cairn as a grassy ring, its height 0.3m". If anything, the vista to be enjoyed from this monument is even more impressive/expansive than from its neighbour below to the west. The fundamental difference, I guess, is the sight of yet another cairn, upon Cerrig Blaencletwr-Fawr (aka Esgair Foel-ddu) just under a mile distant to the east, beckoning the footsore modern antiquarian onward with its silent siren call. Nevertheless, what with a significant height loss to contend with - all too often the tired hill walker's nemesis - I immediately give up any notion of an attempt today as falling within the 'so near, yet so far' category... only to find my impetuosity, if not curiosity, has decided otherwise and launched me half way down the slope before counter-revolutionary reason can react. Ha! Emotion over reason? Right on!

The intervening terrain is rough, trackless, featuring areas of severe bog. Standard practice for Pumlumon, to be fair. However the cairn is worth the not inconsiderable effort and is again exquisitely sited, this time gazing down into the equally compelling Cwm Einion at SN70779256. Now I've no idea whether Mr Turner made a foray up here - to this very spot - to be similarly entranced by the ever-changing light playing upon the legendary Moel y Llyn to immediate south-east. I doubt it. Hey, perhaps Timothy Spall might know? But if he did, it would explain a lot, methinks... for his work invokes, nay encapsulates the vibe I feel at places such as this. Mr Leighton reckons the much more mundane technical specifics are "11m NE-SW by 9.0m & 0.9m high". Unlike both Foel Goch's cairns Cerrig Blaencletwr-Fawr's monument has unfortunately been defaced, given a hollow centre. The reasoning behind this is even more obscure than the usual 'built by ignorant muppets' since, clearly, no such fool has taken shelter here in a very, very long time, to judge by the presence of a tenacious tree of indeterminate (to me) type occupying the space. Now that, together with the other 'Plant' life formerly found within The Artist's Valley, I can live with. Way to go, my woody stemmed friend! As if to mark the moment.. a rainbow arcs across the valley. Time to leave. Since it is a long way back... and who knows what other legendary idiosyncrasies these unassuming northern 'foot hills' of Pumlumon have up their collective 'sleeves' to bestow upon unsuspecting punters after dark? Hey, perhaps some of the more artistic people associated with this magical area were brave enough to find out? Perhaps.

Carnau, Cwmdeuddwr (Cairn(s))

Now it might be considered paradoxical - in the extreme - to talk of a 'Green Desert of Wales'. Particularly when an already saturated ground simply can not absorb any more of the seemingly incessant torrent of water issuing forth from looming nimbostratus. Nevertheless I understand where that celebrated Welsh raconteur and walker, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, was coming from when he employed the epithet to determine the wild, upland region of Mid Wales between the military domain of Mynydd Eppynt and Pumlumon, doyen of Welsh rivers. Yeah, despite only breeching the 2,000ft criterion in a handful of places, these deceptively brutal hills demand the utmost respect. Paths, where they exist at all, possess the disconcerting habit of luring both the wary and unwary alike into lugubrious bog, the 'industrial strength' grass the very antithesis of terrain suitable for ageing knees and ankles. Tell me about it.

So why do I return again and again to submit myself to such privations? Well, aside from subscribing to the teachings of Marx - Groucho, that is... not the dialectical German, nor his modern far left 'disciples' - and not wishing to belong to a club that would willingly have me as a member, I guess it is because the implied feeling of 'wilderness' here is - arguably - without parallel in all Wales. Even the UK, perhaps? And nowhere is the aura more apparent, for me, than at the highest point of Cwmdeuddwr, the summit ridge of Drygarn Fawr itself, crowned by the remnants of two ancient cairns in turn surmounted by massive, idiosyncratic beehives worthy of association with the soulful jazz canon of Amy Winehouse. Yeah, it was whilst chilling out here last year that I noticed a small cairn below to the east... Carnau... with another a mile or so further north. Duly noted for future reference. Intrigued, it seemed to me there is no end to the Bronze Age sorcery of Mid Wales?

The great reservoirs of Cwm Elan have their southern terminus at Llanerch y Cawr where a restored medieval long house still affords a glimpse of times past... right here in the present. However to briefly shine a light upon an aspect of the human story a little more obscured by the mists of time - and, usually, the aforementioned nimbostratus - it is necessary to don walking boots and follow a track westwards above the access road for Rhiwnant farm, subsequently veering south to head for the exquisite Nant Paradwys. After approx a mile the cascading river is my cue to scramble up the flanks of Esgair Ceiliog to the left (east) in order to visit a fine cairn at SN897599. To be honest this is a more than adequate prime destination; however my curiosity gets the better of me and... well, you know how it is?.... I find myself continuing along the bank of the river toward Bwlch-y-Ddau-Faen upon a path that is, in reality, more stream than anything else.

Bwlch-y-Ddau-Faen - the 'Two Stone Pass' - is an enigmatic place. Assuming wild, windswept moorland a couple of miles from the nearest road is your thang? Firstly there is a natural spring here amongst the peat hags; secondly, a number of standing stones protrude from said peat to varying degrees forming an irregular 'ring', as opposed to 'circle. So why the colloquial reference to 'Two Stones' when there are substantially more than a pair of stones here? As I said, enigmatic place, augmented by a fine, sweeping view toward the Great Escarpment of South Wales dominating the southern horizon. Reassuring to find everything in its right place, so to speak. For what it's worth, I'm tempted to think what we have here is a typical, if disrupted upland Welsh ring. With numerous diminutive orthostats barely breeching the current surface it just feels 'right', you know? It is difficult to hypothesise a satisfactory reason why these tiny stones should otherwise be here. But there you are. All is silent now, almost overwhelmingly so; however the location is significant, the past cacophony of untold drover's agitated cattle seemingly hanging in the wind just out of human audible frequency.

Carnau rises a little further on, the route, somewhat ironically perhaps, marked by a couple of boundary stones clearly of relatively modern genesis. Although not in the same league as its neighbour overlooking the cascades to the north, the cairn, although dishevelled, is substantial enough and, unexpectedly, features an arc of kerbing still in situ. Although, in retrospect, its very isolation is probably to thank for such welcome preservation. With Drygarn Fawr looming to the west and Gorllwyn to the east it soon becomes apparent that, far from being in the middle of 'nowhere' as the map, not to mention my preconceptions suggested, Carnau is in fact an integral piece of the Cwmdeuddwr Bronze Age jigsaw situated close to a main thoroughfare across this landscape. Furthermore, what a wonderful, invigoratingly wild vibe this place possesses! A rarefied, somewhat esoteric atmosphere further amplified by a succession of progressively more brutal weather fronts sweeping along Nant Paradwys. Not everyone's cup of tea, but there you are. Needless to say this contrary Englishman duly satiates his thirst with coffee.

Time marches on toward inexorable darkness ensuring I must all too soon leave and retrace my soggy steps to Llanerch y Cawr, boots long since succumbed to the sheer volume of surface water. Yeah, The Green Desert of Wales is no place to be benighted without shelter. As Vaughan-Thomas would've known only too well.
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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 - '...during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act'....

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 best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.'

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

My TMA Content: