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

Fieldnotes by GLADMAN

Latest Posts
Showing 1-20 of 619 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20

Carnedd Pen y Borth Goch (Round Cairn)

I can't remember the last time I visited North Wales outside of October, that wondrous Autumnal month when, with the barbecues finally extinguished and the tourists drifting away on the wind like the acrid smoke to warmer climes, the landscape exhales, unleashing a seemingly infinitesimally complex riot of reds, yellows and oranges to overwhelm the senses. Yeah, Nature's last hurrah - if one didn't know better, an outpouring of pent-up rage at her treatment by the ignorant masses? - before the battening-down of the hatches for winter. It's therefore positively odd to see such otherwise familiar hillsides resplendent in a more-or-less uniform raiment of green. Not to mention the Easter hordes clogging up Snowdonia's roads like fatty deposits within ageing arteries. However, following a couple of years of the COVID plague, recently exasperated by that sickening, equally sub-human Communist variant, I figure opportunities to breathe deeply the benefits of freedom must be grasped with both hands. Albeit with a touch of arthritis in the fingers, perhaps?

Simply put, the traveller in search of more than 'cheap thrills' has to adapt. Rise with the dawn chorus and choose itineraries with care. Hence, upon scanning the map - admittedly rather wearily - I settle upon Pen y Castell as an ideal objective to soak up some more of that precious upland vibe in peace. Let's face it, despite being one of Snowdonia's most easily ascended 2,000ft summits, no thrill-seeking tourist is going to venture to the empty north-eastern sector of The Carneddau in a hurry. Wot, no zip wires? I set about negotiating the somewhat 'minor' roads above Tal-y-Bont to eventually arrive at Bwlch-y-Gaer, the magnificent hill fort Pen-y-Gaer looming to the east. Tempting as the easy option of reacquainting myself with the latter is, I maintain focus and set off along the green track heading west below the little pyramidical top of Pen-y-Gadair.

It's a pleasant stomp, to be fair, the route initially delimited by tall, drystone walls prior to advancing across an open hillside, views of the looming high peaks of The Carneddau becoming progressively more intimate with every stride. In due course, beyond a plunging, traverse wall, a short yet steep pull finally sees me reach the craggy, 'castellated' summit, over 20 years since my last visit. In anticipation of the likely conditions at altitude, I've taken the precaution of wearing thermals; nevertheless, the severity of the wind is such that, rain or no rain, overtrousers are clearly an additional requirement today. As I struggle to put them on I lose my balance, feeling a sharp pain in my left hand as I steady myself against the summit rocks. Checking the damage, a stream of scarlet flowing from a gash in the webbing between my fingers is all too painfully obvious. Happy days. Jeez, clearly this 'castle' takes no prisoners.

A touch of improvised first aid later, I take stock and survey the scene from my none-too-welcoming perch. As expected, Pen y Castell is a truly wondrous viewpoint from which to take in the course of the sinuous Afon Conwy during the short journey from its rising upon the Migneint above Penmachno... to the sea beneath the drum towers of Edward's superlative fortress-town, a tumultuous beginning morphing into confident, if serpentine procession. Closer to hand, the magnificently strategic siting of Pen y Gaer is all too apparent - hey, how often does an antiquarian-minded traveller get to enjoy an aerial view of a hill fort? - as is the sublime 'place' in the landscape occupied by Tal y Fan itself.

Looking the other way, however, the brutal uplands evoke quite different emotions, a juxtaposition of awe and perhaps a little nervousness when faced with such an uncompromising landscape, familiar summits viewed from unfamiliar angles: the witch's slide; Pen Yr Helgi Du; a distant Moel Siabod; Craig Eigiau... and Carnedd Llewelyn, the sentinel peak itself. These are mountains I may perhaps never set foot upon again, yet such resignation is ultimately of little consequence if one accepts life is but a collection of memories; an individual the sum of what he/she has done. Ewan MacColl may have asserted that 'No man has a right to own mountains', but that does not invalidate the feeling I somehow possess a 'connection' to Y Carneddau. 'Blood bonds', courtesy of wind-rated incidents, notwithstanding. Yeah, it would appear the 'high places' have been messing with our minds since the beginning of time, enticing us to venture into the mist to learn more about ourselves.

Bracing against the wind, the far from steady gaze once again settles upon the most uniform skyline to the approx west: the high ridge of the Northern Carneddau rising from Carnedd y Delw to Carnedd Pen y Borth-Goch, Drum. The intervening landscape rising across Foel Lwyd to Drum appears 'do-able' but is of course greatly foreshortened. Very much aware of the effect of such 'optical rose-tinted glasses', the knowledge that the extension will demand everything I have precipitates a forlorn attempt to justify staying put. Needless to say, the siren call is too intense, the inner 'Sergeant Wilson' cautionary challenge noted for the record yet overridden.

In short order 'Wilson' appears right: substantial height loss followed by a steep ascent is perhaps my primary bummer when walking in the hills. However, an encounter with a pair of ubiquitous Carneddau ponies raises the spirits and renews my vigour. OK, lacking 4x hoof drive as I do, they soon leave me standing, but for a brief moment, I savour stumbling along with the wild horses. Hey, living the dream! The ascent of Foel Lwyd alongside the fence line is very steep indeed; consequently, it's a marked relief when the angle eases for the final approach to the great cairn surmounting the near skyline. Naturally, there's a price to pay, the landscape a veritable bog in places. But there you are. One last push and I'm finally there: Carnedd Pen y Borth-Goch.

Now in most other upland contexts Drum, rising to a very respectable 2,529ft, would represent a primary focus of any day spent in the Great Outdoors. Here, upon The Carneddau however, it is readily apparent that only Citizen Cairns can appreciate the true significance of the summit, for as I vacate the lee of the ridge and once again feel the sledgehammer force of the wind, facial muscles contorted as if auditioning for Peter Gabriel's iconic 80's MTV stalwart, the presence of 3,092ft Foel Fras rearing above to my left makes it abundantly clear that Drum, topographically speaking, is but a relatively minor player. That much is obvious. However, observe the massive circular footprint extending beneath the farcical 'muppet shelter' (preferably not headfirst and wind-assisted!) and it SHOULD also be obvious that relative height is but a part of the story, a simplistic view ignoring other important factors lost in the mists of time integral to who we once were. Yeah, so why doesn't Foel Fras possess the remains of a once-massive cairn if it is so much higher? Do people just not think anymore?

It's not just the route-marching SAS wannabees and 'jolly hockey sticks' trekkers who appear unable to interpret a map, or at the very least wonder why the word 'cairn' is annotated here in antiquarian typeface? To consider why the summit is covered by such an extensive circular feature serving no apparent modern purpose? Oh no. Check out most guide books and Drum is summarily dismissed as either a 'staging post', a 'meeting of fencelines', or featureless top lacking 'inspiration', whose one redeeming feature is apparently a 'large shelter' to take refuge within from those nasty mountain elements. I have two observations: 1) that this 'shelter' exists due to the wanton vandalism of a once fine Bronze Age funerary cairn by an ignorant - not to mention criminal - element of so-called hillwalkers seems to have escaped such authors; 2) shouldn't those experienced enough to publish 'guides' to our high places exhort the need for visitors to dress appropriately and not rely upon huddling within 'shelters', like frightened sheep avoiding the views they presumably came to enjoy, in order to mitigate their dangerous lack of foresight? Just saying...

Surveying the scene I, unlike our expert writers, am immediately consumed within the melodrama of simply being right here, right now. Senses battered, optic nerves overwhelmed by the sheer volume, the intensity of light. As one might have expected, the vista to the east is an expanded version of that from Pen y Castell earlier in the day.. think of those 'definitive versions' of classic albums record companies flog to ageing punters (ahem) nowadays: extra tracks, copious sleeve notes.. stretching all the way beyond Tal y Fan and the former Axe Factory upon Penmaenmawr (not electric guitars, apparently) to the Great Orme, sweeping right to gaze out across the Conwy Valley to the distant Denbigh Moors etc. Continuing right, the heart of The Carneddau takes centre stage, insight brought to an abrupt hiatus by the bulk of the aforementioned Foel Fras. Unseen from here upon Drum, the ridge continues beyond Garnedd Uchaf to Foel Grach (both featuring Bronze Age summit cairns) to the highest of them all: Carnedd Llewelyn itself. Well, at least if you discount the burial cairn which presumably once graced Yr Wyddfa (aka Snowdon), that is.

Hahaha. So, in a manner of speaking, our myopic authors are correct in that evidence/context suggests the former great cairn upon Drum was - hey still remains - part of a much bigger picture. One might surmise an integral part of a major Bronze Age ritual procession approaching the sentinel peak from the sea? Suffice to say I pity the fool that views such a notion as 'insignificant'. Incidentally, I also note with a degree of tragi-comic hilarity, mingling with disbelief, the substitution of Garnedd Uchaf upon the latest iterations of OS mapping with 'Carnedd Gwenllian'. That (apparent) welsh nationalists should choose to attempt to score cheap political points in lieu of actively promoting - and more important still, PROTECTING - the remaining tangible remains of the prehistory of these uplands is, frankly, to court nothing but contempt from The Citizen Cairn. Shame on you! Surely the past needs to be acknowledged and, as far as possible, understood, warts and all - not warped for political ends like the mechanical deceptions of a myriad doomed Winston Smiths complicit in their own subjection? What about the ancient VIPs who were PHYSICALLY commemorated upon these high summits millennia before the Princes of Gwynedd drove a wedge between North and South Walians that exists to this very day? A division that not even Glyndwr could, even temporarily, fully overcome? I ask again: What about them? What about those who lived and died here before the concept of 'Wales' apparently even existed. Do they simply not matter?

To the west, Cwm Anafon carves a deep fissure between Drum and Llwytmor (2,785ft), the latter not only one of the most strenuous ascents of The Carneddau (the brutal south face of Pen Yr Ole Wen notwithstanding), but also cairn-less, this, to my mind, re-enforcing the idea of 'procession' inherent here? The mountain was the scene of a Heinkel III crash during WW2, the ghost of the decapitated ventral gunner said to still walk the environs. Suffice to say I haven't seen him myself and would no doubt say "Serves you right", if I did. That, or run away as fast as I could. Although, come to think of it, do ghosts retain a gender? Can 'headless' ghosts even hear? It is all very puzzling. Anyway, coming full circle, Anglesey and the coast take centre stage once more. Time to retreat from the summit to drink it all in away from the steady stream of Easter Bank Holiday arrivals. Along with some very welcome coffee.

Sure enough they all - without exception - huddle within the 'shelter', hurriedly consuming unseen lunches. We observe each other with shared bemusement: just who IS that crazy man sitting out in the wind taking in the glorious views while we enlightened ones huddle here clad in entirely inappropriate attire missing it all? One such occupier asks me if I'm waiting to enter and takes great offence when I inform him that I wouldn't in a million years since this 'shelter'- and all others like it - should not exist. Needless to say, he has no idea he is cowering within the rearranged material of the last resting place of a Bronze Age VIP. "But doesn't every mountain have a cairn?" A-ha!!! By jingo, I do believe he's beginning to think! I leave him to ponder the thought that, since this cairn was recorded as apparently intact as recently as 1956, where is the former occupant now? Cast aside to the four winds? To his credit, the realisation appears to hit home.

The more I regard the footprint of the former great cairn, the more substantial and well-defined it appears to these eyes. Consequently, it is a major drag to come to the realisation that I must leave to begin the downward journey. To be fair, if this had been October such a point would have been reached hours ago. 'Horses for courses', as they say. One must trade such a benefit for the downside of mixing with the Easter hordes. Speaking of things equine, my gloriously unkempt friends wisely keep well clear of the stumbling biped this time around as I retrace my soggy steps to Pen y Castell, the ponies albeit visible - not to mention audible - from a distance.

Here I pause for a while to survey the wondrous scene amongst the crags, somehow managing to keep my balance and not fall over in a bloody heap. I have to say that this summit deserves a full day's hang on its own merits. Duly noted. Looking down into Cwm Dulyn I think I pinpoint the ring cairn/four-poster/kerbed cairn/take-your-pick at Hafod-y-gors-wen (SH73366742)? Or maybe not. I certainly identify Moel Eilio across the way, but not the iconic tree adorning the Cae Du cairn at SH75206616.

Whatever, I reflect upon a day very well spent as I finally make the car and properly attend to my physical wounds. Hey, I conclude I'll live as long as I keep the wound clean, I guess. As for my current state of mind, having experienced what remains of the great stone pile Carnedd Pen y Borth Goch upon 'insignificant' Drum? Well, suffice to say even our trekking friends may understand this one: to say it's good is a 'no-brainer'.

Banc-y-Gwyngoed (Round Cairn)

The weather goddesses decide - for once - to give me a break. C'mon, whoever heard of a capricious weather god? Yeah, the day dawns above Cwm Berwyn in a manner that is truly a joy to behold for this traveller camping rough in the hills. With this privilege, however, comes opportunity... the realisation that now is the time to once again either put up or shut up. Another potentially exhausting excursion into obscurity beckons, with every possibility of the failure that may bring. Speaking of which, I've still yet to figure out how the hell to approach Banc-y-Gwyngoed in the first place?

Yeah, Mid Wales is like that. What might look straightforward enough upon the map... invariably is anything but: a paucity of recognised tracks to the tops (if any) exasperated further by the frustrating lottery of locating anywhere to park a car that doesn't add prohibitive extra road-bashing into the equation. Or seriously piss off the locals. Now I'm aware that some view the latter as a laugh... reckon all farmers struggle with copious anger management issues when, perhaps, they should be looking a little closer to 'home'? For what it's worth, The Citizen Cairn likes to treat as he may find; to engage locals in conversation wherever possible. Granted, some landowners are clearly beyond reasoning with. Others, however, can teach you a lot if you are prepared to listen.

After extensive deliberations (yeah, right) I decide to climb Banc-y-Gwyngoed from the north-west(ish), initially heading for Tregaron prior to travelling south upon the B4343 to arrive at Llanddewi Brefi. As is customary, my route finding is not, ahem, precise; I, therefore, overshoot a little prior to locating the minor road (a little due north of town) accessing the local cemetery. This thoroughfare services the farms of Gwyngoed-fach and Gwyngoed-fawr, beyond which the traveller must don boots to enter Cwm-du. Sure enough, my size 9's might've been made for walking, but Gwyngoed was, as I feared, certainly not made for parking. Thankfully I eventually manage to squeeze in beside titanic black bales of animal feed between said farmhouses and head for Cwm-du, eyes peeled for a route to ascend the towering bulk of Banc-y-Gwyngoed looming to my right.

Upon passing through a ford, I see my opportunity: an open field gate servicing green pasture, rising above which hillside beckons beyond a low fence juncture. Keeping to the left (east) of said fence-line I struggle (rather badly, to be fair) against the gradient to quickly gain height during the heat of the morning, the combination of angle of attack/conditions ensuring frequent pauses are a necessity. These 'breathers' also afford the opportunity to gauge the ever-expanding retrospective panorama taking in yesterday's ascent route. A tumbling watercourse has carved its own path of least resistance to my right; I decide to conserve my energy reserves by sticking with it and only finally striking off west(ish) for the final ascent to Banc-y-Gwyngoed's summit near its (apparent) source.

Thanks to the rough, trackless topography, I make hard work of what is after all (once again) a 'minor hill', the vision of the large cairn surmounting the near crest arriving not before time. Like its neighbour standing proud upon Bryn Rhudd almost exactly due east, the monument crowning Banc-y-Gwyngoed has been disrupted over the millennia, a 'sheep shelter' having been fashioned within the stone pile at some (indeterminate) point during times past. Although clearly not a welcome situation by any means, in my opinion, this is nevertheless preferable to the usual farcical muppet shelter one tends to encounter upon the uplands nowadays. As it happens, sheep are conspicuous by their absence today - however the same can not be said of the local honey bees. Hey, tell me about it!

Sure enough, as I advance to check out the cairn in detail (as you do) I'm met by an advance picket guard of several aggressive insects literally smacking into my body in an attempt to drive me off. I can sympathise, but hey, live and let live, right? As in the past, I try to blag it out... but these Banc-y-Gwyngoed bees are made of tougher stuff and are having none of it, quickly summoning reinforcements to counter-attack the intruder. Realising I've met my match this time - in no uncertain terms - I withdraw to hang out upon the cairn's grassy extremities instead. Luckily the stripey little Apis mellifera are cool with that arrangement and settle back down to doing whatever it is bees do when no one's looking - presumably content that I'm no wannabee (sorry) Honey Monster. Like yesterday, the upland vibe - the occasional 'buzz' notwithstanding - is truly exceptional, this hilltop the perfect place to laze in the sunshine and not do a great deal, if the truth be told.

Eventually, curiosity - and inactivity - get the better of me and I go walkabout to the south-west to overlook the aforementioned Llanddewi Brefi; to gaze towards Tregaron; and, upon the northern horizon, Pumlumon herself... prior to returning to the summit once more. Exquisite vistas, these. Suddenly I'm aware of peripheral movement and completely unexpected noise. Noise? Here? Yeah, quad bikes carrying the landowner and a visiting guest who, inevitably, make a 'beeline' for me. The farmer appears bemused that ANYBODY is up here at all, let alone an English chap professing to be here to inspect the cairn. Whatever for? I decide to control the situation and proceed to ask far more questions than I receive.

The farmer appears convinced and is happy to chat: yes, he does see a future in Welsh hill farming, no matter what other ill-informed 'doomsters' may say; no, he didn't fashion the 'sheep shelter' within the cairn... it's been in situ as long as anyone can recall; no he's never considered the cairn as particularly ancient or special... although, come to think of it, it is a local tradition to scatter funeral ashes here (if that's not lingering folk memory I don't know what is!); oh, and that circular 'silo' across the valley is part of a 'bio farm'... which recently leaked into the river duly poisoning wildlife for miles around.. although you wouldn't have heard that since, well, it was 'hushed up'. Can't have people thinking environmentalists can do damage as well, can we? All in all, it's an education. I'd like to think for the three of us.

I'm left alone once more to ponder stuff upon my rocky seat for a while - hey, even the bees have apparently accepted me as part of their world and allowed me back on - before advancing time inevitably prompts the final descent. You know, it's all very well ostensibly diffident comedians attributing success to the simple ability to arrive somewhere... to merely 'turn up'. However, I reckon life's rather more complicated than that.

Bryn Rhudd (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

Woody Allen - if I'm not mistaken - once noted "Success is 80% turning up". Come to think of it, perhaps it was 90%? Whatever, I guess the moral of the story is you need to be 'in it to win it'. Can't really argue with that. Now I've never been much of a gambler... calculated risks taken with reasonably favourable odds of success being much more my style (suffice to say the spectacle of The Citizen Cairn - attired in a gaudy 70's Elvis get-up, naturally - placing 'everything on black' in Vegas is not likely to astound the mug punters any time soon). Nevertheless, I reckon there's a pretty good chance Mr Allen wasn't referring to visiting upland cairns in Mid Wales, irrespective of arithmetic......

To perhaps explain - or not - consider the twin, grassy heights of Bryn Rhudd and its neighbour Banc-y-Gwyngoed, rising due east of the charming village of Llanddewi Brefi: both are annotated with the siren call of the antiquarian type-faced 'Cairn' upon my map and, at just c1,575ft and c1,456ft respectively, both seemingly offer a lot of potential prehistoric 'bang' for one's buck, so to speak? And that they certainly do. Problem is the curious traveller can not simply just 'turn up', as at a lowland site - sardonically or otherwise - meaning the chances of a successful visit are subject to diminishing returns even prior to pulling on one's boots. Then again this may well be an inherent part of the appeal of the upland cairn: the distinct element of pilgrimage?

Anyway, rising from my wild camp within the wondrous Abergwesyn/Irfon Valley some distance due east, an unseasonably clear dawn sky ensures I envoke 'Plan A': a day upon the high hills. To be fair, these 'plans' do tend to progressively rival the hapless Baldrick's shenanigans these days. So, after launching the poor car up 'The Devil's Staircase', as one is obliged to do, a road closure necessitates an unforeseen detour south (without even the contents of one of Max Boyce's fabled 'billy cans a'brewing' as recompense), prior to crossing the Afon Tywi and swinging back northwards, via Soar-y-Mynydd. The onward drive to Tregaron possesses intrinsic value so no need to rush, the beyond-velvet voice of Karen Matheson upon the CD player further emphasising the point. Inevitably, I miss my turning to Tyncae, being thus obliged to double back from town before parking up as near as I can to said farm.

A green track heads uphill to the approx southeast toward Tan-garn-felen, prior to ascending Bryn Du subsumed within forestry above and beyond. The supposedly great cairn of Garn Felen - not positively identified last year - is located (somewhere or other) within the trees above and to my left; however, I (wisely as it happens) decide to focus upon the task at hand. Forestry tracks are a bit of a slog at the best of times so the sight of open hillside when it finally presents itself is welcome. Yeah, the north-eastern ridge of Bryn Rhudd drawing the gaze toward a large cairn perched upon the summit.

The going is rough. Trackless, in fact, the physical effort demanded of me upon this very un-Mid Walian morning making a mockery of any notions of Bryn Rhudd being a 'minor hill'. Haha, yeah, methinks even Billy Ocean might well have had cause to pause for thought faced with an ascent of Bryn Rhudd. There are, however, compensations: the initial (apparently nameless) top is found to bear a couple of small Bronze Age cairns at SN7006156248. Not bad for starters. The obvious line of ascent continues to the south-west, the views opening up across Cwm Brefi to the Mid Walian heartlands as height is gained, before approaching the summit from the approx south alongside a fence-line. Coflein lists an array of additional monuments here upon the southern flank of the hill, some of which I reckon I identify, hidden/partly hidden within the industrial-strength upland grasses. No doubt I walk right by others, either hidden in plain sight or perhaps too weathered to say one way or another? Topping the list of the latter is an apparently substantial ring cairn unfortunately nowhere to be seen. I conclude it must lie prohibitively too far down the slope for an audience today. Another time, perhaps?

Initially, I somehow contrive to find the great summit cairn a tad disappointing after expending so much effort to get here, the ancient stone pile defaced by a surmounting dry-stone wall in a manner (vaguely) reminiscent of a dodgy postcard punk's mohawk, the effect rendered all the more bizarre by the otherwise all wire fence-line. What's that all about? The deflation is short-lived, however - not to mention farcical in retrospect - a gate allowing access to the western arc of what is actually a very substantial monument, indeed. Of far greater importance, of course, I'm pleased to relate that the summit of Bryn Rhudd is a superb viewpoint. As always, ultimately it's where they decided to place these funerary cairns that counts, regardless of how large or small they are.

The vibe - that beyond-special 'upland ambience' I have sought out all my adult life - seemingly hangs in the air like a super-oxygenated Cretaceous atmospheric throwback. Yeah, stay here overnight and perhaps Martyn Ware (the bloke from the original Human League with the dodgy 'politics') might feel compelled to pen a song about your accentuated dimensions? Whatever - and leaving concerns of potential gigantism to one side - the stone pile is truly the optimum spot to plonk oneself down and enjoy. Just enjoy 'being' for a while. Hey, that's what it's all about, right? Why (if one is able) should a personage limit his/her experience to viewing the environs of a noisy, crowded beach, dodging footballs hoofed about by annoying little blighters... when, with a little more effort and imagination, one may literally gaze into the ever-expanding infinity of the heavens? Nuff said.

The (what appears to be equally) large cairn crowning Banc-y-Gwyngoed is clearly visible a little over half a mile to the west, beckoning the traveller on like, well... a beacon. OK, I admit I'm tempted. However, I reluctantly make the decision that I simply do not have enough energy 'in the tank' to carry on any further today. Mañana, mañana, my friends. Besides, these visits are not about 'ticking sites off of lists'... but relishing the moment while one can. I use the time to hang out upon Bryn Rhudd's summit plateau, stalked from above by Red Kites... and from below by all manner of creepy-crawlies. And there's more, a subsequent foray to the northern rim revealing not only superlative downward views but a further couple of small (potential) monuments. Yeah, it would appear the great cairn is the focal point - the crowning glory, if you will? - of an extensive Bronze Age cairn cemetery? As the late, great, Michael Caine probably never said: 'Not a lot of people know that'. Not bad for a supposedly obscure Mid-Walian hill.

Needless to say, time flies... here upon my sun-drenched perch; consequently, all too soon I must reluctantly consider the descent. Duly considered, I reckon a reverse of the outward route is the safest option in the circumstances, given the dodgy terrain underfoot. So that is what I do, finally arriving back at the car upon very, very tired, achy legs. 'Running on fumes', as they say. I decide to spend the night above (and somewhat to the east of) Cwm Berwyn, fingers crossed for the weather to hold, so permitting a visit to Banc-y-Gwyngoed the following day.

Carn-Ddu (Cairn(s))

Now I have been aware of this 'Black Cairn' for about a decade now, initially following TSC's visit, then having baulked at an extra 2 mile diversion while scanning the map upon the summit cairns of Coedcae'r Gwarthog - to the southwest - back in 2013. Jeez, time flies for us humans, does it not? Although for Carn-ddu... hell, that was only yesterday!

I start from the A470 service area beside Llwyn-onn Reservoir, the haunt of comically posturing local boyos emerging from moron-mobiles to consume fast food from a vendor clearly onto a good thing. One might even credit that the occasional rustle in the trees represents the perennial landscape 'sighing' at such puerile nonsense... if it wasn't for the near-constant interruptions of the morning traffic rendering any thought at all pointless. So, time to don boots and ascend steeply past Fedw farm, continuing through forestry prior to a traverse of the soggy crest of Garn Ddu rising beyond. Upon the conclusion of a c1 hour slog the cairn, standing aloof above the source of a stream (hence some industrial-strength bog must be negotiated), is not immediately obvious, despite my compass bearing being more or less 'on the money'. For once. This state of affairs is somewhat ironic, given the fact that the great stone pile is almost 60ft across! Yeah, this is a top-rate upland cairn, make no mistake about that.

The central peaks of The Brecon Beacons grace the northern skyline in a linear array, no doubt overflowing with punters on a clear day such as this. Here, however, all is quiet, save the wind... and the farmer pootling about on his quad bike in the distance, engaged in moving sheep here and there. To the east, the great ridge Cefn Yr Ystrad is crowned by numerous great cairns of its own, rising beyond the Pontsticill Reservoir, the latter cradled unseen within the folds of the mountainside.

The topography of Garn Ddu is not in itself dramatic. No, the palpable sense of drama - for it is indeed to be found here, regardless of the dearth of exposed rock face or soaring arete - is derived instead from the acute sense of isolation; from the massive skies putting everything 'earth-bound' into perspective. Yeah, Carn-ddu is a place for those who appreciate the chance to chill out away from the constant information bombardment of the 'modern world'. If only for a few hours.... for there can be no subterfuge here, no hiding from what one really feels. Only a naked truth arising from unfettered input of the primary senses.

Speaking of 'truth'.... having just listened, with utter incredulity, to the moronic monotone rantings of pathetic Putin puppet Sergey Lavrov - apologist for an indefensibly evil gang of Communist criminals - methinks the existence of such physical oases as Carn-ddu suddenly becomes all the more precious, allegorical to human beings possessing the fortitude, the courage to think for themselves, to reject the demonstrably false dogmas and cowardly unsubstantiated belief systems of violent extremists. Whether such lunatics be Communist, Fascist or religious, wherever they may infect this planet.

Hey, having now (hopefully) come to terms with one Global pandemic, what say you we concentrate upon consigning another mindless, murderous virus to the dustbin of history? Once and for all. So get yourself to your personal Carn-ddus whenever possible... and never stop thinking for yourselves.

Twyn Ceiliog (Cairn(s))

"One day in a nuclear age; they may understand our rage...". So sang a clearly much-troubled Sting back in 1985, the erstwhile Police frontman lamenting the terminal decline of the coal mining industry in favour of 'non-fossil fuel' alternatives. Yeah, there are many things one may note about wor Gordon; however, he most certainly is NOT a moron, the catastrophically incompetent reactor meltdown at Chernobyl fulfilling his doom-laden prophesy in very short order, the Communists thus paralyzing progress in yet another critical field of human endeavour. Nevertheless, looking back - with the invaluable benefit of hindsight, granted - from a 2021 blighted by (amongst, er, other things) 'climate change' catalysed by the exploitation of those very fossil fuels Sting (not to mention many a myopic card-carrying comrade) wished to safeguard... the dilemma was nowhere near as straightforward as 'right/wrong', folk way too eager to man those ideological barricades of political dogma instead of talk. On both sides, it has to be said. Ultimately, it was not just those mining communities that suffered from the co-opting of madmen such as Scargill to face off to intransigent politicians seemingly blind to the fact that 'collateral damage' meant actual people's lives (incidentally, did the miners' nemesis ever reimburse the NUM for that Barbican flat?)... but every one of us. No one is dispensable.

For me, such scars are still very much evident in the industrial valleys of South Wales. Both the weeping ulceration of the landscape, the physical rape of once green hills - despite valiant attempts to mitigate the destruction with 'landscaping' - and those of a much more personal, yet no less devastating form: resentments manifesting as psychological 'ball and chains' perpetuating 'closed loops' of divisive behaviour, given form through hostility to the outsider, inevitably reciprocated. Yeah, 'a welcome on the hillside' there most definitely is not. Not here in the official 'highest village in Wales'. Given the above, I 'get' why several young men, in quick succession, attempt to force me off the road as I negotiate those 'Priority' junctions driving through Trefil this morning. As Mr Sumner noted, the cancerous impact of the loss of 'community spirit' was never addressed by those 'economic theories'. But nonetheless, does that justify such lunatic locomotion, particularly when the offending drivers' vehicles are more expensive than mine? Yeah, if history teaches us anything, it is (surely?) the realisation that errors are all too easily repeated ad infinitum by seeking refuge in the entrenched position... people too inclined to put their faith in ideological charlatans in lieu of thinking for themselves.

I head for the private road serving the limestone quarry - a former Carboniferous coral reef - elements of which are still being 'worked' and park before the barrier. Despite the early morning cloud questioning the veracity of the forecast, I nevertheless kit myself out in an ultimately forlorn attempt to preserve as much of my pale complexion as possible: T. E. Lawrence styled by Rab C. Nesbitt, perhaps? Lack of any sartorial elegance notwithstanding, I cross the Nant Trefil and ascend Trefil Ddu, an expanse of billowing moor crowned by the massive summit cairns of Cefn Yr Ystrad, guided by a none too convincing compass bearing... when factoring in frequent diversions around enormous 'shake holes' and rocky outcrops, the former utterly surreal, the latter having seemingly been ejected by a landscape at the limit of storage capacity. The terrain is brutal, to say the least, the lack of even a sheep track ensuring the 'going' is anything but easy, this despite a recent paucity of rainfall mitigating any expected boggy conditions underfoot. Truly, this is the untrodden corner of The Brecon Beacons. Well, almost.

I head for what I suppose to be Twyn Ceiliog, below and to the left (southeast) of Garn Felen and Carn-y-Bugail, the huge stone piles prominent upon the skyline. In retrospect, the rather smaller, but still substantial monument I seek is visible all the time, camouflaged in plain sight by the dearth of aforementioned shattered rock. To be fair, even when standing in close proximity I'm none too sure at first. I decide to fix my position by locating a diminutive lake a little way to the northwest. Sure enough, it is there, an oasis of cotton grass and behemoth dragonflies that might have had Peter O'Toole reminiscing about childhood Connemara, if not the Middle East? Returning to the limestone ridge of Twyn Ceiliog, the first thing to strike the blissed-out traveller is the colossal shake hole immediately to the southwest. Yeah, as with the close proximity of the Saith Maen (SN833154) and Cefn Sychbant ring cairn (SN98321087) to such wondrous natural phenomena, the Citizen Cairn surely has the right to postulate an intended association? Whether this related to notions of 'gateways to the underworld' is, I guess, a moot point.

So... what of the cairn itself? OK, once the eye has 'settled in' it is actually pretty obvious to behold, set upon the apex of a sloping outcrop riven with deep fissures. Coflein (RCAHMW, 14 July 2010) cites the dimensions as "10m diameter and 2m high" which I have to say I found hard to judge... perhaps the '2m' is a little excessive? Whatever, there is no doubt this is indeed a fine monument, splendidly sited overlooking its shake hole. Again, the 'panoramic views' might be said to be a tad overstated, with the bulk of Cefn yr Ystrad naturally curtailing any appreciation of distant horizons to the west. Pride of place here must immediately go to the excellent view of The Black Mountains rising above Mynydd Llangynidr (featuring the prominent profile of Garn Fawr) to the northeast, Waun Rydd and the higher tops of The Brecon Beacons peeping into view as the gaze veers to the left. To the east, however, things get a little complicated, a juxtaposition of the ugly and sublime; beauty and the beast, if you will, the shapely cone of Mynydd Pen-y-Fal (aka 'The Sugar Loaf') rising above the dust thrown into the air by the Trefil Quarry workings.

Here, however - unlike at ravaged Mynydd Llangyndeyrn a good distance to the west - industry does not (as far as I'm aware) appear to progressively threaten ancient heritage, the two co-existing in an uneasy alliance between the economic reality of local jobs and respect for an earlier epoch of the human story of the locale. I have to admit a pang of regret at not having made the effort to come here sooner and, more to the point, the reason for such an omission: not wishing to acknowledge the damage we as a species are still doing to the landscape. Suffice to say, I'm well aware the luxury of such a choice is a privilege not forthcoming to everyone and that, sooner or later, one must confront unpalatable facts.

I lie back upon the summit of this wondrous cairn and take in the sunny vibe, watching the stately majesty of the Cumulus drifting by merely hint at the unfathomable enormity of existence, content in the surety that my dodgy hat will protect me from that great nuclear fusion reactor in the sky. I'm sure the ultimate irony that occurs to me would not be lost on Sting either: that nuclear power is crucial to life upon this crazy, spinning globe; might possibly go a long way to solving - or at least arresting - 'climate change' in responsible hands, yet could ultimately destroy us all. Curious what comes to mind when said mind is given free rein to ponder 'stuff' upon hilltops, isn't it just?

Back at the car, the local hostility encountered 'early doors' is unexpectedly countered when I'm approached by a group of young quad bikers, girls riding pinion. Bracing myself for the 'witty' sarcastic jibes at my - admittedly non-conformist - appearance, I'm taken aback when, upon screeching to a halt in a cloud of dust, a tough-looking youth almost reverentially enquires "Are you going up or coming down?" Hmm, the Great Outdoors, the allure of Nature? Perhaps - as with music - the great leveller, a universal constant... language, even? Could the flowers now growing upon Sirhowy Hill, in lieu of the former collieries, finally be adopted as tentative metaphors for social healing? After all, we all work the occasionally black seam of life together, right?

Mynydd Llangyndeyrn (Cairn(s))

We live in confusing times. Hey, tell me about it. Now while the mainspring of such a fragmented current state of affairs is undoubtedly nearly a year and a half (and counting) of world pandemic, the situation is, in my opinion, not mitigated by a lunatic-fringe which inevitably senses opportunity in periods of extreme social and political flux: the wretched anti-government conspiracy theorist; the far-right nationalist bigot; the apologist for murderous Marxist doctrine and regimes... extremists incapable of rational thought or cohesive debate. I look on with a sinking heart as apparently sincere, well-meaning 'activists' proffer the most naively simplistic, self-righteous 'solutions' to the salient issues now facing humankind. Making the assumption that society can be thought of as a complex 'machine' of mutually-supporting 'components', surely only those seeking a common consensus are capable of effecting positive change? If this is indeed so, those advocating 'My way or the highway' resolutions will only cause further division and failure.

Far from providing relief from such tribalistic nonsense - a temporary balm applied to the ragged psyche - a visit to the wondrous, rocky ridge of Llangyndeyrn Hill, not that distant from Cross Hands in the old Welsh kingdom of Dyfed, raises more questions than it provides answers to those still outstanding. Nevertheless visit one must, whether dedicated Citizen Cairn or a traveller imbued with a more casual curiosity, an affinity with the 'underdog'. Firstly, allow me to tackle the obvious 'elephant in the room': if it's so great here, why haven't I, with 30 plus years experience in these parts, visited much sooner... particularly since Kammer noted the existence of the Neolithic chambers of Bwrdd Arthur/Gwal-y-Filiast some 17 years ago?

Well, a brief perusal of the map will suffice to explain - although not excuse - my long-standing oversight by highlighting the Torcoed Quarries devastating the northern aspect of the hill. OK, UNESCO may have seen fit to allocate two of its bizarre quartet of Welsh 'World Heritage Sites' in apparent celebration of the irreversible rape and destruction of the landscape (that is their choice) but I am made of a less robust fibre, such destruction tearing at the very soul. My thanks, therefore, to author Sian Rees, whose CADW guide to Dyfed ultimately left me no choice but to come and discover what I had been missing all these years. For here upon this obscure, industrially ravaged minor hill can be found quite possibly South Wales' finest, most diverse collection of prehistoric monuments. Now one might have expected the aforementioned 'activists' to have taken Llangyndeyrn Hill to their collective hearts, given the outrage exhibited upon Salisbury Plain? My apologies if I am in error.

The morning, although free from the customary precipitation inherent in these parts, belies what would evolve into a blisteringly hot afternoon with a pretty much unbroken canopy of grey as I leave the Mam C's and head down the M4 towards its morphing - at Pont Abraham - into the A48. A touch further north, west of Cross Hands, I weave my way through the quintessential South Walian town of Cwmmawr (if you've ever seen a cartoon by Gren, you'll know what I mean) to Pontyberem and, finally, the open moorland beyond. Parking here, a little before the small village of Crwbin, a track heads north into the hinterland to the left of the farmhouse. I don't feel inspired, to put it bluntly, wondering whether I'm about to squander a precious day's freedom - and a dry one at that - on not very much? Nonetheless, I negotiate my way through thick bracken (an initial hint of the extreme travails to come) and ascend to the low summit rising to my left.

Upon attaining the OS trig station, however, any expectations of disappointment are instantly chucked in the proverbial trash can where they belong. For starters, said optical feature stands upon a 'platform cairn' of substantial diameter, albeit of low elevation; furthermore, a short distance to the approx south-west can be found a rather fine 'kerbed cairn' [SN4820013250] which, if located anywhere else (Dartmoor, for example?), would've been lauded years ago. As indicated, the latter monument possesses the extensive remains of a kerb, several elements of which would appear to have formerly stood upright, mirroring an existing orthostat still in situ. An obvious anomaly is a large stone standing at the approx centre beside the apparent remnants of a cist. Put simply, it looks out of place, doesn't 'fit'. Coflein subsequently resolves the conundrum, the upright identified as being a component of the cist (the capstone?) erected in the recent past by some unknown loon.

I feel rather sheepish as I sit and drink my coffee while the sun inexorably triumphs - for now - in its unending battle with our atmosphere. Yeah, to think I've avoided this place for years when all the while the quarry cannot even be seen from the summit, such is the topography. Not seen, but most certainly heard! A more-or-less constant series of metallic 'clangs', 'thuds' and assorted 'industrial noises' sufficient to have had 1983-era Depeche Mode reaching for their Stellavox SP7 in a frenzy. Hey, should you choose to come here out of work hours, result! As it is, I'm roused from my semi-stupor by a much more organic source: suddenly I'm aware of the presence of a wonky phalanx of bovine muscle intent upon ousting me from their 'manor'. Time you were moooving on up, mup.

Taking the hint - wisely as it turns out since I not only avoid getting squashed but also pass the first of an extended procession of teenage 'trekkers' as I vacate the summit - I search out Bwrdd Arthur, slumbering beneath a rocky outcrop some way to the east. En-route I encounter several cairns marked upon the map of which only the ring cairn [SN4830013250] is positively identifiable, such is the excess vegetation. There is no such impediment when identifying 'Arthur's Table', an excellent (earthfast?) megalithic chamber still bearing impressive capstone in situ. Sadly the Gwal-y-Filiast (Lair of the grey hound bitch'... or shall we say 'She-Wolf's Lair'?), sited to the immediate left (east), has collapsed in upon itself over the course of millennia. Happily, though, the massive capstone and supports remain on-site to hint at what once was. Clearly, this would've been a monster chamber, fully justifying the attributed folklore and legend. The thought arises as to whether both chambers were originally subsumed within a giant long cairn, now long robbed?

I lie back in the sun and watch the world go by... more labouring youths, some not exactly enjoying the delights of the Great Outdoors to a degree perhaps forecasted by the adults... and find myself silently humming (if there can be such a thing?) the melody underpinning "Get out the crane; construction time again..". Psycho cows, giant wolves, notions of Berlin.. or perhaps that should be the 'Kling Klang' of Dusseldorf? Whatever next? How about extreme physical exertion upon the lower eastern flanks of a mere 863ft hill? That'll do. Ha, as that muppet says on the TV ad, it'll more than do. Upon circling around Bwrdd Arthur's rocky outcrop to the east, I find my way barred by chest-high bracken as I attempt to reach a rather fine - nay, excellent - cist at SN48961354. Furthermore, I soon painfully ascertain that this bracken is reinforced by lethal bramble hidden within, impeding onward progress to a farcical degree. I mean, who would have considered the possibility in high summer? OK, obviously not I. A naive, schoolboy error which I determine to overcome with sheer brute force and bloody-mindedness.

To be fair, the cist truly is a magnificent example of the genre, a personal audience worth a couple of minor lacerations. Again, it is almost intact, featuring capstone still in situ, albeit moved aside by the inevitable treasure hunters of yore? Unfortunately, however, a fine ring cairn - said to lie just to its south - is almost undetectable within the mass of verdant green. Time, not to mention energy resources, are now quite unexpectedly at a premium meaning I cannot dally as long as I wish. Particularly since I must somehow retrace my steps through that murderous bracken....

Upon eventually returning to the summit, the dried 'hoof holes' of my bovine friends further impeding progress as I go, I chill out for the final time at the kerbed cairn before making for the car. Needless to say, Mynydd Llangyndeyrn has one more surprise in store: an excellent monolith [SN48021304] which, although not featured upon the map, is of clear prehistoric origin having been excavated and re-erected in the original hole. I can not locate yet another cairn shown upon the map in my current state, so out of necessity, I must call it a day.

With such a magnificent tour de force of prehistory on display here upon this otherwise unremarkable, modest Welsh height, the Citizen Cairn can only hope the quarrying activity so gravely impacting the northern aspect has been set incontrovertible limits. A line drawn in the sand which can not be violated, so to speak. I truly hope so. Perhaps those so heroically protesting against peripheral events upon Salisbury Plain may choose to divert the myopic gaze for a brief time to appreciate what is happening where Guardian journalists can't be bothered to tread... for lack of political capital. I would love to be proved wrong... to stand corrected that Mynydd Llangyndeyrn is already under close local scrutiny to ensure things do not get any worse. "Thanks, but no thanks for stating the bloody obvious... It's all in hand". One can but hope.

Having said that, what with Liverpool having its 'precious' UNESCO WHS status recently rescinded by a panel hosted by that shining world beacon of Marxist human rights and moral integrity, China - which would appear to have reckoned the city's docks should remain a derelict industrial wilderness.. and sod the local people - I wouldn't be too surprised if Wales' fifth UNESCO WHS entry is soon forthcoming: for the Torcoed Quarries, naturally. Let us celebrate another devastated wasteland. Hey, far be it for me to postulate a political motive in UNESCO's actions against the UK Government? Yeah, these are confusing times all right. The safeguarding of our prehistoric heritage as the bedrock of a vibrant, progressive society is too important to let those with ulterior motives go unchallenged.

Pupers Hill (Cairn(s))

Arriving from the sublime 'Heap of Sinners', that monumental stone pile gracing Huntington Warren across the valley to the west, the traveller is required to experience rapid height loss, followed by immediate - and just as accelerated - gain... as if those immeasurable natural forces of yore had simply taken an axe to the interim landscape upon the shrill exclamation of the cosmic factory whistle at clocking-out time, perhaps? Whatever, I find the going 'difficult' for such modest hills, particularly since, owing to the steep topography, the summit of Pupers Hill recedes from view until one is almost upon it. The rocky tor outcrop of 'Outer Pupers' appears to my left but, since obviously not at the highest point, I do not deviate until finally... there it is.

Ah...right.. ermm. I cannot suppress a sense of anti-climax, a pang of (relative) disappointment. Since, far from encountering the gargantuan twin of 'Heap of Sinners' supposedly viewed from the latter earlier in the day, the monument surmounting Pupers Hill is a far different affair. Thankfully, however, the disillusionment is but temporary, the result of my ignorance rather than any lack of intrinsic worth pervading what can be found upon this windswept hilltop. I set about educating myself, soon discovering that, far from consisting of a possibly modern marker cairn upon the summit rock formations, what we have here is the remains of a large 'tor cairn', arguably that most enigmatic of Dartmoor's ancient monuments: the veneration of the very living rock itself by the act of its incorporation within the ritualistic plan?

As I go 'walkabout', the tell-tale signs manifest themselves in due course: traces of what would appear to be formerly loose stone long since subsumed within an earthy mantle filling in the gaps between crags; cairn material visible elsewhere upon the periphery, likewise just under the surface. Yeah, clearly a traveller must 'tune in' to the vibe here - tweaking the antiquarian 'antennae' to obtain a robust signal, in contrast to being fully immersed in that generated by the overpoweringly intense spectacle experienced early doors today. And what a fine vibe it is, naturally not dis-similar to that to be enjoyed in the company of the 'sinners' to the west, albeit subject to subtle differences in timbre, in topographical outlook. There is, of course, a unique aspect of this summit, one alluded to by the name accorded it by our former perplexed puritans. As I understand it 'Pupers' is a linguistic mutation/variation of 'Pipers', the eponymous musicians... you can see where this is going... said in local lore (of indeterminate age and providence) to have been turned to stone for dancing upon the sabbath. Sure enough, two admittedly rather 'truncated' orthostats still stand in situ upon the south-western arc. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a proper TMA welcome to.. 'The Height Challenged Pipers of Pupers Hill'! Or rather 'Piper's Hill'?

Two points (more come to mind, but these will do for now) strike me as pertinent here: assuming our 'men of the cloth' wished to cow the illiterate peasant into submission, best not pick upon musicians, eh?... yeah, as any artist from Elvis, through Jim Morrison to the Frankie scallies could have made clear, the bad boy has a certain 'allure' that endures; secondly, the very inference that our heroes had to climb this hilltop in order to have some fun - so, by definition knew the consequences of what they were doing - has inherent within it the seeds of the eventual downfall of such an intolerant ruling class. A precedent for resistance. Consider: it is the 'sinners' who are immortalised upon this hilltop... not the long-forgotten priests. The human spirit has always and shall always prevail until we shuffle off this mortal coil, so take heed ye suicide bombing lunatics. You cannot win. Once music - leading to the joyous rebellious expression of rock 'n' roll - was thus let out of Pandora's Box, there is always hope.

Of course, it's not just the religious fundamentalist that is, in my opinion, the scourge of humankind... but any dogmatic, myopic bigot: the redneck storming Capitol Hill upon the (apparent) urging of a ludicrously coiffured madman in the name of 'democracy'; the far-left 'comrade', somehow unaware of the Ribbentrop/Molotov Pact and oblivious to the brutal Soviet suppression of Dubcek's '68, let alone that people were prepared to die to cross that accursed former Berlin Wall; the far-right inadequate railing against immigrants 'taking' jobs he/she could no more imagine than fulfil; the racist community leader/rapper making a very 'good' living espousing division, not integration. Yeah, it would appear there is no limit to self-delusion in the face of contrary evidence. Indeed, perhaps the greatest self-delusion is to believe oneself to be untainted by self-delusion? A-ha! Alan Partridge writ-large. Needless to say, I do not absolve myself from this, finding the opportunity to clear one's head, to put things in perspective by seeking out enigmatic open-air locations - such as sojourns upon Pupers Hill and Huntington Warren - to be cathartic to essential self-criticism.

You know, over the years I've sometimes wondered if, upon screaming that punk maxim "Question everything you're told!" into the microphone in '79, SLF's Jake Burns considered what - if any - future impact his actions might have? OK, The Clash and Pistols may have made a joyous noise, but their cartoon 'politics' were straight out of a Ladybird book. SLF, for me, were different, the stance arguably the Belfast youth's equivalent of that heroic lone figure facing down the infamous line of Communist tanks in Tiananmen Square? It was subsequently gratifying, when knocking upon a farmhouse door in County Tyrone during 2006, to be directed to a (fabulous) stone circle by a young man who held the entrenched religious sectarian positions of both Irish Nationalist and Unionist in utter contempt, citing the need for new thinking. Perhaps it was the 'ancient vibes', perhaps not? Nevertheless, more green shoots...

As I sit and gaze out across the wild, windswept expanse of western Dartmoor I contemplate a visit to nearby Snowdon. Mmm, more cairns. Another tick in the box, perhaps? However, the 'magnetic attraction' of Pupers Hill is overriding, too intense to break until the fading light makes leaving an imperative. Suddenly a lone woman appears to break the spell, clad in what would appear 'jogging gear'. It transpires she is armed with one of those little OS guide books - but no map, no compass, no jacket... and is completely lost, contemplating walking further into the hinterland early evening. You what?!? Directing her on her way from a distance - damn you COVID-19! - I'm simultaneously aghast at her apparent self disregard, yet slightly in awe of her - admittedly reckless - spirit of adventure. As it happens, I reckon the 'pipers' would've approved. Ha, maybe they do, looking on from some as yet unidentified 'further dimension(s)'. But that still wouldn't make the priests right, would it? Far from it.

In conclusion, as I make my way back to the car, this 'connection' with the past, of whatever form and however obtained, seems to me an essential prerequisite enabling us to move forward as a species. To evolve. 'Facts' after all, are only any use with context applied to give them meaning. To me 'blind faith' signposts the dead-end road to nowhere. I'd therefore like to thank the 'sinners' and 'pipers' of legend for representing the irrepressibility of the human spirit. And, in a strange way, thank the religious bigots for making them anonymous beacons of hope, residing upon their hill and mountain tops, hidden in plain sight to engage the curious traveller. Hey, go and see them if you can, I urge you. As Christopher Hitchens noted: "If someone says I’m doing this out of faith, I say, Why don’t you do it out of conviction?"

Why not, indeed?

Heap of Sinners (Cairn(s))

The weather forecast appearing reasonable enough for a foray upon the high moors... I scan the map - while munching the ubiquitous granola - seeking a reference to 'Heap of Sinners', this eventually to be found a few miles west of Buckfastleigh. The initial comic intonations are soon tempered by the realisation that those who named this massive Bronze Age funerary cairn, set high upon Huntington Warren were, far from having a laugh, in all probability po-faced dogmatists with deadly serious intent. OK, perhaps the choice of nomenclature was not overtly driven by malice - rather to save the souls of any 'black sheep' of the local flock tempted to revert to the heathen 'old ways' - but nonetheless, such a blatant allusion to the mass murder of 'heretics' by a vengeful god fair sends a shiver down my spine, so it does. Yeah, as Mark Twain (apparently) noted: "The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive... but in spite of their religion, not because of it". Whether the result of a perceived kinship with these metaphorical victims of past intolerance, or morbid curiosity, I realise I must indeed don the boots and go see for myself.

In my opinion, there's something deeply unsettling about those willing to take dogma at face value. You know the sort: the 'faithful' who will brook no challenge to their chosen doctrine; those who refuse to even contemplate that there might be (at least) two sides to every story; those who simply 'know' they are right without the need for any corroboration. Arguably, the most noxious of this class is the religious fundamentalist: not content with their own 'infallibility' and forthcoming 'salvation', they are furthermore consumed with a burning desire to purge every dissenting viewpoint, too... OK, as the perceptive Mr T suggested, the malign aspects of Christianity are, thankfully, progressively losing their grip upon the Western European world view. Nevertheless, when monotheists of another ilk see no mutual-exclusivity between being a human being and the beyond-vile act of flying a packed passenger jet into a tower block, we've clearly still a very long way to go before a corporeal Captain Kirk, Picard, Janeway or - hey - Archer could one-day state something like: "We humans used to be intolerant of others, but we learned to overcome that". Indeed, it might be argued that divisive, tribalistic tendencies are so inherent within human behaviour that this will remain forever out of reach? Perhaps, but then again, maybe the allusion to 'education' here really is the key to attaining what may now appear an impossible dream? If so, it seems to me it will be a slow process of incremental gains effected by stepping back and actually stopping to think. Question everything you're told. Ah, that old punk chestnut again.

So - in solidarity with our petrified 'sinners' of yore - Huntington Warren it is, then. Now I would appropriate Mr Armstrong's timeless epithet for this personal act of irreligious defiance but, well... it's actually quite a trek (for me). And besides, very few give a monkey's what a modern antiquarian gets up to nowadays, right? Hey, just look at the paltry number of Citizen Cairn's YouTube 'likes' and you'll get the picture. Suffice to say, one mustn't kid one's self. I might as well be... say... walking on the moon? Let's just 'hope my leg don't break' in the process.

Anyway, I decide to approach from the east, an initial obstacle - the temporary closure of the road accessing the Venford Reservoir (from the B3357) - rendering my prior directional calculations null and void, subsequently casting me adrift within a maze of 'local' roads dependent upon signage - never something to be savoured. Eventually, however, I locate the junction at Cross Furzes and manage to park upon the verge a little before the lodge to the northwest. Heading due west now, the road morphs into a stony track near Hayford Hall to finally access open moor at Luds Gate.

Pupers Hill - another apparent focus of local puritans back in the day - rises immediately ahead. I, however, decide to follow the path traversing its southern shoulder, briefly tagging along with the 'Two Moors Way', before swinging westward again at a boundary to head straight for Huntington Warren, its prominent cairn now visible upon the horizon. Hickaton Hill is to my left, the site of a prehistoric settlement, beyond which lies the Avon Reservoir, the environs of which are home to a rich abundance of further significant reminders of former human habitation. Ah, 'home'. Curious isn't it - hard to fathom, one might say - how a landscape nowadays perhaps the epitome of 'getting-away-from-it-all' wilderness, was clearly once verging upon a prehistoric metropolis? OK, nothing Fritz Lang would have recognised, but nonetheless there must've been a fair few punters out and about back then. Only stone foundations, enclosed within retaining circular drystone walls, now remain to stand mute testimony to what once was 'everyday life'.

The forebears left more for us to ponder, of course: their great - and more modest - cairns. The path descends to Western Wella Brook prior to scrambling steeply uphill, to the right of prominent husbandry pens, to attain an audience with a fine example of the former. An involuntary [self-censored] exclamation escapes the lips upon dawning realisation of the huge dimensions of this 'Heap of Sinners'... the Citizen truly Cairn'd. The sheer audacity of those assigning such nomenclature - assuming they really weren't just taking the piss - beggars belief, leaves me gobsmacked at the implied horror worthy of the deranged mind of a Hitler, Stalin, Franco or Mao. Surely such (presumably relatively) educated people did not REALLY believe this huge stone pile represented the petrified mass grave of human beings, each of whom having subsequently been smashed to smithereens for the 'crime' of flouting the 'will' of their god? Any more than the current priestly castes believe in the literal content of their respective 'holy' texts? One is left with an overriding sense of empathy toward - of standing 'in the corner of' - the uneducated 'flock', some of whom were perhaps not so credulous, held private misgivings that their preacher was feeding them a load of bollocks to maintain the status quo, the mutual power monopoly of church and state? It is a privilege to stand here and contemplate that, despite the earlier pessimism, my basic comprehensive education has engendered personal actions indicative of progress. We, in the UK at least, really have come a long way, haven't we? The priests may reckon the Israelites brought down the walls of Jericho with their trumpets, but I place much more importance upon Dexys' brass section 'Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache'. Green shoots, eh?....

Time to sit and take it all in. And what a spot this is, the vast monument occupying a classic upland landscape position with, thanks to the relative uniformity of elevation, far-ranging views in all directions. A glint, a shimmer of sunlight upon water, highlights the Avon Reservoir below to the south-east, a number of settlements gracing the lower slopes, beyond which is the cairn-crowned Grippers Hill; to the south, the massive profiles of the White Barrows are clear, the eastern to the fore... albeit well out of range today; sweeping to the west, the very sharp-eyed (or optically-enhanced) viewer may discern a veritable cornucopia of archaeology: Stalldown and the sublime 'Kiss in the Ring', Ditsworthy, Down Tor. Classic country for wandering, indeed. Looking north, a path leads to cairned Ryder's Hill with a similarly-endowed Snowdon (no, not that one) to its right. Finally, the gaze is held by what appears to be a very substantial monument crowning Pupers Hill across the void to the east. Clearly, I must pay it a visit upon the return leg.

For now, however, one must enjoy the moment. The silence is not total - unlike at the majority of Mid Walian sites earlier in the year - the serene calm subject to brief interruptions, notably by a couple intent upon 'collecting' the trig ID of Ryder's Hill who are, by all accounts, enamoured to learn of the providence of the cairns hereabouts. Nice people, even kept at arm's length due to COVID-19. After a couple of hours hanging out with fellow - much quieter - sinners, however, it's time to go see a couple more: the pipers upon Pupers Hill. Now, what is THAT all about?

Great Links Tor (Round Cairn)

Spike Milligan once noted that "a sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree". Now I guess one could either take this 'nugget' of wisdom at face value - can't exactly argue contrary to such logic as long as said tree is not itself located upon a maritime vessel of some description - or assume the surreal comic loon was making a wider point here: that rubbish things happen, deal with it. To be fair, any Citizen Cairn'd worth his/her salt (50% sodium-reduced, naturally) is already well aware that things don't always go to plan, particularly when seeking out stony stuff in the uplands of these Isles. Yeah, tell me about it. Near the top of any such copendium... my apologies, compendium... of 'variable factors' is, surely, the weather? Not that we British like to talk about it, of course.

Now when I was a kid I would frequently wear my 'medieval head' (no, in case you're wondering, we're not talking 'Frank Sidebottom in a bascinet'... although the notion is tempting) in order to visit yet another castle - still do, on occasion - whereby my mum would ostentatiously place a 'weather spell' upon proceedings to mitigate against any unwarranted soakings disrupting the event. OK, not exactly the opening scene of that 'Scottish play', granted. But, now I come to think of it, the ritual did seem to work more often than not. Unfortunately, now that I've got to look after myself, it's pretty clear I do not possess any similar deftness of touch... if only to judge by the pretty grim scene which greets me as I arrive at the copious parking area behind the Dartmoor Inn this morning, said establishment located midway between Mary Tavy and Sourton upon the A386.

To be honest, October is.. err.. probably not the optimum time to go wild camping upon Dartmoor, inclement conditions not exactly an unexpected occurrence; however, what with the Mid Walian wilderness out of bounds due to Wales' tragi-comic administration's ineptly 'political' COVID-19 response, one has to make the best of it. I check the forecast again and, with another front moving in later in the afternoon, decide Marilyn Monroe's maxim "Ever notice 'what the hell' is always the right decision?" is probably apt in the circumstances. Probably. So, with the cloud base suggesting possible scope for some early views before the deluge - Great Links Tor it is, then. Taking an age applying the garb appropriate for the hostile conditions - the delay not so much Arnie-like precise preparation, but perhaps childish forlorn hope for an eleventh-hour stay of execution? - I eventually venture forth from my aluminium carbuncle, purposely heading approx north-east across a level 'heath' occasionally populated by that hardiest of all persons: the dog walker.

The path descends to the River Lyd, flowing from its rising south of Branscombe's Loaf, the pedestrian presented with a choice of method to negotiate the watercourse dryshod: footbridge or stepping stones? Despite the abundant rain of late, the elements of the second option (mostly) stand proud from the torrent so, well, you simply have to, right? I now begin the ascent of the col between the well-matched Arms Tor to north and Brats Tor to south, the latter crowned not by a prehistoric funerary cairn, but by the gaunt profile of the Widgery Cross (a 'commemoration' of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee erected by one sycophantic William Widgery in 1887). The angle of attack eases, prior to eventually levelling-out out as I traverse wild, inhospitable moor towards 'Dick's Well' (SX551860) some distance to the east, my initial goal being a 'Cairn' shown upon my 'well-thumbed' 1:25k map in that wondrous 'Antiquarian typeface' a little beyond.

As with all high moorland - indeed, the 'uplands' in general - the traveller's state of mind is heavily influenced by the prevailing weather conditions: what would no doubt be a 'Julie Andrews-hands-a-cartwheeling' frolic under a blue sky requiring a no less intense, but more focussed mindset beneath monochrome. This being Dartmoor, however, there is an additional 'layer' inherent in the vibe with the sporadic report of automatic weapons fire from the army's Willsworthy Range to the south only too audible. Now I like to think I'm pretty resourceful, but, hell, I'm no soldier. Furthermore, I'm reasonably fond of my (admittedly rather windswept 'n' craggy) features and would rather wish to retain them... so one observes the tattered red flags flying from the summit crags of Rattlebrook Hill warning the visitor to keep within bounds... and takes heed. Let's face it, it's a hard enough job without some civilian muppet complicating matters further through sheer stupidity (please check the official MoD detail online at - or call 0800 458 4868 to be sure).

This was tin-mining country, a fact evidenced by various spoil visible as the walk proceeds; peat working, too, the nearby ruins of 'Bleak House' apparently that of the former site manager... one assumes Inspector Bucket never paid a visit, however? To the north, two isolated rock formations (Higher and Lower Dunna Goat) are my cue to leave the track for the rough hinterland. Here at SX556862, I locate the 'Cairn'. Set in a wild, windswept location, with the aforementioned outcrops complementing the broody, serrated skyline of Great Links Tor itself to the north-west, it certainly looks the part. However something seems wrong, not quite right... since a tinner's gully approaches the 'monument', stopping just short. Hmm, industrial spoil? A distinct possibility, methinks. Damn and blast. Consider:

"Gerrard, S., 1993-2002, Monument Protection Programme Alternative Action Report, 27/04/1993 (Report - non-specific). SDV145710. (27/4/1993) Lower Dunna Goat. Not a cairn. Overlies a gully associated with tinwork. Considerred [sic] under the Monument Protection Programme but not recommended for scheduling."

Unlike our malleable, ductile tin, however, the looming summit tors of the sentinel peak exert a seriously magnetic 'pull' that is impossible to resist, despite my trackless 'off piste' route ensuring the 'going' underfoot is a lot more strenuous than it might otherwise have been - such are the vagaries of exploration, I guess. And on this occasion nothing to do with poor map reading, to be fair. Upon arrival, the effect of all that towering, naked rock is quite overwhelming in its brutal intensity. OK, we aren't talking The Cuillin here... but there is simply 'something' about Dartmoor that 'connects' with some deeply primaeval part of the human psyche, as Conan Doyle knew only too well.

I decide to check out the summit views before the steadily darkening skies see fit to descend upon me like a 'Vitalstatistix the Gaul-ian' nightmare. It is not easy to attain that special 'aerial' view today, the topography of the central tor - c40ft high, ensuring Great Links Tor reaches a very credible 1,939ft - clearly well out of my league. That to the east(ish) is more promising and, despite the ludicrously high wind, I find myself a very precarious perch in due course, away from the other punters who, intermittently, arrive to consume hasty lunches, huddled below to the lee, before executing equally rapid departures whence they came. I note the great summit cairn visible downhill to the southwest (SX549864) and take a precautionary bearing.

For now, however, it is the inclement elements which utterly dominate proceedings, the wind not quite attaining sufficient velocity to dislodge me, but nevertheless making it crystal clear just what 'pitiful, microscopic nobodies' (to use Cope's phrase) we are relative to the 'strategic view', that great algorithm driving the ever-expanding scope of existence. It is exhilarating, my gear thankfully just about up to the task. Just about, mind. Although one can be pretty certain those miners and peat cutters of yore would've found my actions absurd, to say the least. Yeah, times change, albeit in some places - such as this wind-lashed summit - the pace would appear much more glacial.

Taking a fearful battering, I direct my gaze to the north toward the site of the iconic 'tor cairn' surrounding Branscombe's Loaf upon Corn Ridge and, beyond to the right, High Willhays and Yes Tor, highest 'swellings' of the great, billowing, soggy mass that is Dartmoor. Incidentally, whether or not the central tor of Great Links Tor is itself surrounded by the remains of a 'tor cairn' is perhaps a moot point. On balance, I would say not, although there does appear some material in situ. Eastward, swinging subsequently to the south, the scene is devoid of habitation nowadays - seemingly desolate, empty... but with so many tales to tell should one wish to take the trouble. I can see with, I admit, a little nervousness, the advancing weather front promised earlier in the day, wispy 'fingers' of hill fog momentarily engulfing the summit and flanks of Brats Tor, to then relinquish their clammy embrace. Nearer to hand, the eyes pick out the great cairn below. Time to move on.

As I approach it is clear this round cairn is much more substantial than I'd foreseen. Suffice to say, while the 'monument' at Lower Dunna Goat was ultimately a disappointment, the main event certainly is not and is worthy of such an iconic location: a large, round cairn c60ft(ish) in diameter and around 5ft high in places, historic robbing, unfortunately, negating any discussion regarding previous internal detail. Nevertheless, I did discern an apparent - albeit incomplete - ring of small stones just breaking the turf beyond the existing circumference. Now, whether this represents the remnants of a kerb demarcating the original extent of a now reduced footprint... a freestanding feature... or is it a figment of my imagination, well? As I ponder imponderables the weather takes a significant turn for the worse, the tor-side suddenly engulfed with hill fog and subjected to industrial-force, horizontal rain driven upon the unabating wind. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, but nonetheless, the conditions are pretty grim.

Eventually, the cold bites and a tactical withdrawal in the face of overwhelming Natural odds is called for. Besides, it's getting somewhat late. Thankfully my bearing is sound, Mr Widgery's dodgy erection materialising in line of sight to guide me towards the safety of the outward track. Yeah, I may be beneath the cloud mantle now, yet the rain sees fit to - if anything - increase its intensity, a veritable 'power shower' tracking me all the way back to the car. Indeed, such is the volume of water falling down on me I'd wager dear old Spike might even have reconsidered his seemingly otherwise indisputable advice.

Upon reaching the car I sit within - immobile and a little shellshocked at the abrupt change in environment - and wonder what to do with all the excess water from my waterproofs. Ah, 'what the hell', eh? Saves on washing...

Esgair Ceiliog (Ring Cairn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banc Trehesglog, Cwmdeuddwr (Stone Row / Alignment)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esgair y Llwyn, Cwmdeuddwr (Cairn(s))

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carn Nant-y-Llys (Cairn(s))

Cwm Ystwyth is pretty quiet these days... even during the height of a Ceredigion summer, with punters enjoying a brief respite from the all too necessary COVID-19 restrictions. Traffic making use of the single track road traversing the valley is 'sporadic', at worst, the scene primed for the shrill cry of a bird of prey - the magnificent red kite, perhaps? - to emphasise the silence by glorious exception. However, by all accounts, it was not always thus. Yeah, if a landscape can be said to be evoked by the universal language of music - and, to my mind, the gruff old 'punk' maestro made a pretty good case for this with the premiere of his 'Pastorale in F major' in 1808 - Cwm Ystwyth would surely require nothing less than a symphony to interpret its complex diversity. For me, the best place for a prospective composer to seek initial inspiration is upon the summit of Craig y Lluest at SN84997587, at the cwm's eastern extremity, a small Bronze Age cairn cemetery assisting no end with the all-important vibe. Here, the cwm stretches away to the west, arguably as sublime a representation of scenic splendour as Mid Wales has to offer.

The Afon Ystwyth - sourced from a series of contributory watercourses, including the Afon Diliw - begins its journey westward with alacrity... our composer considering an allegro con brio, perhaps?... the pace abating to, say, moderato as the cwm widens and dissipates some of the initial constrictive foreboding of the chasm formed by Esgair Elan and the aforementioned Craig y Lluest. Beyond this, however, the sight of the shattered flanks of Bryn Copa invokes apocalyptic notions of a bonkers Wagnerian prelude... or, at the very least, portentous Yamaha CS-80 synth chords (I'd go with the former unless Vangelis happens to be a mate). Not that it helps the ecology, granted - what's gone is gone and it ain't never coming back - but this industrial devastation has form. A lot of form, in fact, with silver, lead and zinc having been mined here stretching way back to Roman times, the apparent average life expectancy of miners (32) indicative of the savage disregard for human life by your progressive entrepreneur back in the day. True, time is a great healer, but nevertheless, the heart is sometimes torn asunder at the injustice of it all, isn't it? There is more, however: evidence of copper mining by Bronze Age locals upon Bryn Copa itself and, perhaps best of all, the discovery of the fantastic golden Banc Ty'nddôl sun-disc in 2002 (cue those Vox Humana Polymoog strings, methinks).

It, therefore, comes as blessed relief to travel through the eponymous hamlet to enter the lushly wooded - including beech, so I understand - Hafod Uchtryd, ragged senses soothed by... an allegretto? Here, the B4574 to Devil's Bridge nowadays bypasses a curious, somewhat ragged arch erected in 1810 to celebrate George III's Golden Jubilee. Since the Hanoverian is now generally considered not to have been 'mad' - but rather a victim of bi-polar syndrome - it could be said, bearing in mind the extremes of the landscape itself, that the siting, a couple of years after the chaotic birth of Beethoven's masterpiece, is actually rather apt. 'What, what?' Anyway, the arch stands in a 'picnic spot which is, coincidentally, the starting point of several forestry walks... one of which happens to lead to the sentinel peak of the locale: Pen-y-Garn. Needless to say, contrary as ever, I decide, having made my way here from a wild camp upon the wondrous Pumlumon, to forgo the obvious in order to reprise a visit to the same made way back in 1999.

About a mile(ish) south-east of 'The Arch', just before the B4574 loops back towards Pont-rhyd-y-groes, a mountain road heads steeply to the left, arcing to the east, above Cwmystwyth village, to a prominent 'plantation' of trees on the right (south). Here there is plenty of space to park the car before, plastered with 'Factor 60' to combat the unfeasibly 'seasonal' Mid Walian weather, I continue on foot to where, at approx SN793754, a heavily overgrown 'sunken track' heads north beside a copse. Passing a ruined dwelling, ducking and diving under the impeding branches of trees as I do so, the green track continues through lush pasture to, eventually, meet converging tracks sweeping in from the right and left. The route, 'stony' underfoot, now begins the ascent proper, fording the cascades of the nascent Nant Perfedd, prior to cutting through a further copse and zig-zagging up Banc Myheryn. Increasingly expansive retrospective views alleviate some of the - it has to be said - relative monotony of the climb, the track making its serpentine way (one assumes those bloody Romans never ventured up here, then?) in a generally north-easterly direction to, in due course and not before time, arrive at the 2,005ft summit of the mountain.

That Pen-y-Garn (incidentally, you might also find it referred to as 'Bryn Garw' upon some older maps - assuming there are any pre-dating mine still extant in this digital age) is, despite being one of only three peaks exceeding 2,000ft within Cwmdeuddwr, in my estimation not exactly one of Wales' premier mountains... one can assume to be a 'given'. Nevertheless, there is a very good reason why I would recommend a visit to the dedicated Citizen Cairn'd, not to mention the incurably curious: it possess another small piece of the Bronze Age jigsaw of this land in the form of the shattered, but considerable remains of a funerary cairn. Not to mention a fine upland vibe... with sweeping views to the south across Cwm Ystwyth to the wilderness of 'The Green Desert', the watery heart of Mid Wales; west to Aberystwyth and the coast; east across brutal upland moor studded with small lakes, water sparkling in the sunshine... and, last but certainly not least, northward, the great crags of Craig Dolwen, towering above the deep, afforested defile Cwm Rhuddnant, leading the eye to Pumlumon. Herself. Hang on, that's more than one good reason, isn't it? Suggest you do the maths to save further confusion. As for the technical detail, Coflein notes the following:

"A ruinous Bronze Age round cairn, 15m in diameter & 0.4m high, is set on the summit of Pen y Garn. Only the base of the cairn has survived, the rest of it used to create a shelter which now occupies most of its interior. Towards its north edge, between shelter and cairn edge, is set a triangulation pilar." [D. Leighton & T. Driver, RCAHMW, 17 June 2013]

Hmm. If I may be permitted to raise a point of order, I would dispute the assertion that the shelter occupies 'most' of the cairn's interior, such is the extensive circumference of the circular footprint (making the arguable assumption that subsequent slippage across millennia has not inflated dimensions somewhat). That being said, the vertical profile of the monument is certainly minimal, at best, the considerable size of the parasitical shelter clearly indicative of heinous redistribution of material. The alternative name quoted for the monument - Carn Nant-y-Llys - suggests an association with a former 'law court' somewhere in the locale (unless my Welsh is even worse than my maths), although where the remains may be sited I couldn't say at this point. One assumes - indeed, would hope - that, what with such evidence of wanton destruction to a scheduled ancient monument extant, it is not current? Perish the thought.

Silence - for the most part, anyway - reigns supreme upon Pen-y-Garn. A decent composer might be thinking 'andante'... or not. However, obviously, this was not always the case with, as noted earlier, mining taking place on and around Bryn Copa for more-or-less the monument's full tenure as stony sentinel of Cwm Ystwyth. To tell you the truth, it is a difficult concept to take in, such is the unfettered tranquillity. Yeah, only the eolian tones of the wind acting upon the radio antenna 'stuck' within the OS trig pillar (a notice states the benefit to the local community in these COVID-19 impacted times of said 'aerial' aerial) - combined with the rather more inhomogeneous 'notes' caused by my good self simply being in Nature's way - are audible prior to the sudden arrival of two very poorly attired 'student-types from the direction of 'The Arch'. What they make of me, sun-bathing in full kit upon the footprint, is not evident since they immediately disappear within the 'muppet shelter' like, well... muppets, to hastily consume whatever it is such people eat before buggering off to once again leave me in utter peace. I mean, who would've foreseen it being cold upon a mountain top when it's hot down below? I ask you?

As it happens the great cairn - or at least what's left of it - is not the only iconic construction for the visitor to contemplate up here since, some way to the north, stands an extensive wind farm stretching across Rhestr Cerrig and Cefn Groes, like something out of that dystopian sci-fi novel Windy Miller so wanted to write after being evicted from Camberwick Green in '66. The sheer scale of these structures is emphasised when I spy a figure arrive at the base of one unfortunately skewed out of alignment with the others. Hey, is that a retro-styled hat and cider flagon in hand.. no, surely not? Funny thing is I've actually grown rather used to these wind turbines now... as long as I'm not directly beneath them... or they are located upon 'classic peaks', why not? Perhaps it should be up to the locals to have the final say in such circumstances, methinks?

With the continuance of such excellent weather into the early evening, I'm even more loathe to depart than usual, but there you are... in the final reckoning there really is no choice. Back at the car, following a leisurely descent, I elect to camp up for the night below Craig y Lluest. It is a wondrous spot, the Afon Ystwyth fading from sight through the entrance 'jaws' of the cwm, Highland 'coos' adding the occasional distinctive 'vocal embellishment' to the proceedings, harsh bovine utterances rising above the persistent 'gurgle' of the fast-flowing water. Once again, it is hard to reconcile what used to occur a little to the west: all the trials, tribulations, triumphs, failures.... danger, exploitation and death. Nevertheless, it is a story well worth recounting for its intrinsic human interest. All the time overseen by that pile of stones upon Pen-y-Garn...

Hafen stone pair (Stone Row / Alignment)

There is an extended section within Dexy's 'difficult' third album - perhaps one of the '80's lost classics? - during which frontman Kevin Rowland attempts to convey the 'essence' of his girlfriend to guitarist Billy Adams. Now, to be fair, it may appear a straightforward enough question by the latter: "What's she like?" Nevertheless, one is subsequently awestruck by the sheer stoicism exhibited by the erstwhile associate as Rowland resorts to a series of 'whoahs', trademark 'strangled yelps' and assorted guttural utterances to (finally) make himself understood by his wingman. Yeah, even with the almost infinite nuances of the English language at his disposal, clearly, where the emotional content is too intense, sometimes words are not enough. Despite being the catalyst - along with the dextrous opposable thumb - for the arrogant supposed primacy of us homo sapiens over the other non-microbial species inhabiting this crazy, spinning globe, there would appear to exist a threshold, an unseen, yet all too real barrier, beyond which the vernacular is of little, if no further use? Where we must delve into the deepest recesses of the human brain searching for reference points... for precedents from our primordial past.... in an attempt to articulate how we feel. The 'howl' of anguish, the 'whoop' of joy. To discover, beneath the thin veneer of civilisation applied by successive agricultural, industrial and information revolutions, that we differ so little from our so-called 'primitive' forebears at base level - indeed, from other coexistent life forms; the absurd Victorian notion of humankind 'created in god's image' starkly laid bare as the sham it is... when our crowning achievement - compositional language - cannot cope with the range of our experience.

Sure, it could be alleged that we know a lot about the world these days. Why, anyone with internet access can now espouse fact after fact at the click of a mouse, or swipe of a smart screen. But what IS knowledge without context? Indeed, what use are facts without the means to utilise them for the common good? Perhaps T S Eliot summed up our dilemma as well as any in 1934:

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?.."

Eliot, of course, was writing convinced of the surety of his Anglo-catholic tenets, the implication being religion is the ultimate source of wisdom, offering pre-formed 'templates' for living. For what it's worth, I agree with the entreaty but disagree with the conjecture, rather suggesting personal knowledge lies in experience... collective knowledge - or 'wisdom' - in corroborated experience. Not in uncritical acceptance of the spew of 'information' Kraftwerk warned us was a'coming in 1981 - let alone ancient so-called 'holy' texts - but in the personal journey. That, in other words, Darwin was right: there is no higher authority to defer to for clarity, life simply making it up as we go along. We are all 'winging it', so to speak. To learn, we must therefore boldly go. Yeah, any 'meaning' inherent in existence is down to us alone. And if the words do not come, improvise.

To perhaps illustrate my (no doubt rather vague) point, consider the pair of small standing stones located a little to the south-west of the highest point of Cwmdeuddwr's Hafen, an archetypally truncated hill rising to the south of the bustling Mid Walian market town of Rhayader. Not referenced upon either the current 1:50k nor 1:25k OS maps, Coflein notes the following:

"Remains of a stone alignment on the SW-facing flanks of Drum Ddu.... aligned from NE to SW along the ridge of the summit. Both stones measure c. 0.9m in height, 0.7m in width and 0.3m in thickness; they are situated 17.5m apart.." [FF/RCAHMW 09.05.2007].

So, we have the technical detail, granted. But, crucially, there is no image. Nothing to 'speak to', to communicate with the human psyche on an emotional, or what we might refer to as 'artistic' level. The prospective visitor, therefore, finds himself reprising Kev's conundrum: 'What are they like?' I mean REALLY like? Why expend serious effort to visit a couple of stones stuck on, or rather in, a hilltop? More to the point, why did people put them up there, in that inhospitable location, in the first place? Yeah, I guess it is the subsequent response to such questions which drives the Modern Antiquarian (or not, as the case may be) to attempt to define that which, perhaps, can not be defined.

I confess that I do not start quite from scratch, a dimly recalled memory of an image posted by TMA user Cerrig (noted for a predilection for fieldwork over and above the 'armchair' PC-based theorising advocated by others) surfacing from the depths of my subconscious, like a compromised submarine, as I attempt to match the prevailing weather conditions to the 'bad-but-not-that-bad' potential itinerary over the breakfast granola. Yeah, that'll do. The starting point is not exactly terra incognita, the terminus of the minor road heading approx south-west from the village of Llanwrthwl the springboard for a number of expeditions over the years. Nevertheless, I turn too early approaching from the A470 and follow the course of the River Wye for a while before realisation dawns: should've continued past the church (to its right) before swinging to the left. D'oh! The tarmac ends at the access track to Erwllyn, the route continuing as green trackway toward Cwm Chwefri, beneath the seriously be-cairned escarpment of Y Gamriw (the latter an essential visit for the dedicated Citizen Cairn'd in its own right). I manage to park - with consummate care since space is very limited for the considerate - before setting off along the aforementioned track.

In my opinion the walk is worth undertaking for no other reason than to experience the 'ambience' of the looming hills, regardless of any deviation to the extensive archaeology that surmounts them. For me, it is this unspoken, yet nevertheless subtly communicated aura of unforced existence, of things being the way they are simply by default, that represents the quintessence of the Cwmdeuddwr Hills. That's not to say it's a cosy, sugar-coated impression. Far from it. Copious evidence of recent rainfall combines with the heavy, leaden sky to portend a soaking for the unprepared; the uniform topography of the surrounding heights, devoid of what one might term traditional 'mountain' features, is somewhat bleakly disconcerting - threatening even, in a 'Dartmoor-esque' manner - alluding to navigational issues within hill fog which frequently blankets the locale. Yet, despite this - or perhaps because of this? - this visitor feels at home.

A half-mile (or so) along the track a path branches right to ascend the as-near-as-dammit 2,000ft Y Gamriw and so access its formidable array of cairns... and to the left for the somewhat lower Drum Ddu, crowned by the Bronze Age 'Carn-y-Geifr' ('Cairn of the Goats') at its north-eastern apex. I follow the latter, initially passing through the great cairn cemetery 'Carnau Cefn-y-Fordd', a primary visit if ever there was one owing to the very considerable footprint of several of the monuments, not to mention ethereal vibe. However, I've been here before.... and Cerrig's image is driving me onward. And, hopefully, upward. Yeah, just what lies upon that ridge? I mean, what is it really like? Having decided to stop off on the way back, I put my head down and make for the 'summit' of Hafen, this distinguished by a very marshy lake (or lakes, subject to the water table?). My navigational prowess, for once, proves adequate for the task in hand and I eventually spy two small orthostats beyond the crest.... ostensibly just as Coflein describes, complete with a small, associated cairn a little way to approx north-east. Needless to say, however, Coflein actually can not begin to convey what it is like to be here. What with the sun having seen fit to slip through a crack in the sullen cloud mantle and illuminate the hillside, the best I can manage is an involuntary series of exclamations more reminiscent of the anarchic pages of Viz than anything else... and certainly not appropriate for a community web-site. We'll leave Dexys Midnight Runners out of this, methinks. Such is the sublime perfection of the stone pair's placement within the landscape - sweeping vistas drawing the eye towards Gorwllyn, Drygarn Fawr and the Cwmdeuddwr heartland to the west, Builth Wells to south-west and Y Gamriw to north-west (etc) - that the visitor can be forgiven, I think, for failing in the poetry stakes.

And there's more: according to Cerrig, there is method in this aesthetically pleasing madness, the stones apparently being erected upon a summer solstice sunrise/winter solstice sunset alignment. So there you are, quite literally the implications are cosmic. 'Whoah!' Yeah, one can be told such things... but it means little, if anything, without personal context. To stand and gawp at Nature's doodling and subsequent attempt by local humankind to effect some emotional 'connection' with the planet... with existence... with notions extending beyond the mundane to consider what it means to be human. To gain some insight beyond the capacity of mere words regarding just 'who we are'. As Dave Gahan once observed, ultimately 'words are very, unnecessary'. OK, a clumsy Martin Gore-ism, granted. But true nonetheless. Once the inability to verbally articulate is noted - even to oneself, as humans are apt to do on occasion - other media must be employed, whatever they may be. Yeah, at such times one can only sit back and enjoy the silence. So I do, the waterproofs serving their purpose when the weather, inevitably, periodically changes the available palette of light. And time flies. Well, doesn't it just?

The map depicts a cairn - Pantmaenllwyd - some way to the south-west. However, I concede that the combined distance/height loss will be too much for me today. However, I'm aware there are (apparently, since again not shown upon the map) a couple of cairns gracing this wonderful landscape somewhat nearer to hand at SN95675937. Certainly worth a look.....

Returning a couple of hours later - I think, could be wrong... since time appears to blur up here, the visitor consumed by a paradoxical perception of stark reality (wind, rain, cold) co-existing with, well, I don't know what... a sense of transcending the here and now, as if peeking beyond a door ajar to somewhere where time has no meaning - it is clear that I am truly in thrall to this place. Yeah, a couple of small, intentionally(?) 'wonky' stones stand upon an obscure Mid Walian height. Why bother? Well, until we can learn to truly articulate what our ancestors, perhaps, were attuned to from our hunter-gatherer days... the subliminal forces which other species with more 'calibrated' senses relate to in everyday life - e.g the Earth's magnetic field - I cannot answer that. As with sexual attraction, it's a personal thing. To travel to spots such as this and experience is, perhaps, everything. To be able to say, in the words of the great South Walian comedian Max Boyce, 'I know. Cos I was there!'

Jolted out of 'the mist' - as I recall Cope once referred to this mind-set - by a glance at the watch, I realise I still have to make my way back to the car in order to camp up before dark. The ubiquitous upland ponies regard the lone figure forcing his way - occasionally stumbling, at other times sinking - through the tall summer fern and bog with an apparent fusion of fear/curiosity as I give up all pretence of remaining dry-shod. Great rock piles materialise around me as I pause to survey the scene: Carnau Cefn-y-Fordd. All is silent, save the wind acting upon my jacket and the familiar calls of (now similarly unseen) Equus caballus.. neigh, neigh and... well, not quite, Francis. As it happens I do not like to reprise previous visits to 'lowland' sites - not when there remains so much that is new to see - but the urge is inexorable. Standing in the 'bwlch' between Y Gamriw and Drum Ddu/Hafen, the landscape context of this great Bronze Age cemetery is now all too obvious, the vibe hanging in the air like overwhelming humidity before the storm. The thought occurs: why aren't places such as this and its surrounding hills venerated and cherished to even a fraction of the degree of, say, Stonehenge or Avebury? I would attempt an answer, but, as usual... I don't have the words.

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

I approach from Carneddau Hill's great cairn at SO06625407:

Hastily revised notions/aspirations (whatever) of circling around the 'rim' of the Carneddau to the northwest - in order to take in the other cairns depicted upon the map - are, just as quickly, discarded when it becomes obvious time is running away with me. Furthermore, the equally obvious realisation of the sheer size of the fort's inner cross-bank ensures I must focus upon one thing or another. Yeah, there can only be one, Highlander. So... the promontory fort it is, then, although it should be noted that the intervening topography is not conducive to being fast-moving, light upon one's feet. Having said that, I cannot recall being suchlike since 1994, now I come to think about it.

Heading north, my attempt to 'cut the corner' and save a little time only serves, inevitably, to bring me to the crest of the sheer face of the escarpment edge - not that this inexorable outcome wouldn't have been obvious from a proper perusal of the map, but there you are - rocky crags falling more or less vertically to the floor of the cwm below. Hmmm. I may be many things, but clearly, I ain't no mountain goat and, furthermore, have some features I quite like and wouldn't mind keeping for a while longer (to paraphrase the gorgeous Sarah Cracknell). I therefore quickly improvise yet another plan, this iteration requiring clambering/slithering down steep grass some way to the left, prior to forcing another passage through bracken to, thankfully, access a path ascending to the promontory rising above. As earlier in the day, it is worth the expended effort, the defences of the fort proving very substantial, to say the least. Far more impressive than I had supposed from the car, with a towering inner rampart supported by a lower outer rampart, together isolating the interior from the ridge to the north. A wander around the interior allows the spellbound visitor to confirm - in short order and with little likelihood of credible contradiction - that no additional artificial defences would've been necessary back in the day. Yeah, not even a 'berserker-type' warrior-loon would (surely?) have been able to get up those near perpendicular flanks in any fit state to fight. With apologies, certainly not Gary Numan in that iconic 1984 blue/white 'Iceman' get up.

All in all, the sum of the parts represents a classic inland promontory fort, if ever I did see one. It would appear that Coflein, which categorises the site as a 'defended enclosure', concurs with my perception of overwhelming majesty of scale, citing the following dimensions:

"...The inner rampart is 1.8m high on the inner side, 8m high with ditch on the outer, northern, side. The outer northern rampart is 5m wide and 1m high on the uphill, southern, side and 2m high with the ditch on the north side..." [R Hayman, H&H, 24/2/2010].

Noteworthy statistics, indeed, for such an apparently obscure 'defended enclosure'. Suffice to say, whoever built this place would appear - unlike certain visitors - to have had no tendency to 'cut corners'. Point taken, until the next time. As I've postulated at other sites, I can't help thinking that, being set within an (assumed) non-secular upland landscape, there was more to the physical attributes of the site than simply defence? Interestingly, perhaps, Coflein has only - and tentatively at that - identified one hut circle within the enclosure at SO0727754830:

"Possible hut platform, a near level terrace 4m diameter, with a 'hood' 1m high on the upper (S) end...." [R Hayman, H&H, 24/02/2010].

C'mon, surely there were more, if only to account for, to justify all the effort of construction.... unless there were other, intangible, metaphysical factors in play here? As I walk the twin cross banks in turn, the fiery orb of our local star - not so much 'rock' as 'cosmic' - yeah, Bowie... or 'Krautrock', perhaps? - breaking through the cloud base to flood all with light of almost inconceivable intensity, the splendour of this glorious place hits home like the proverbial sledgehammer, the moment the very paragon of the 'otherworldly' experience... right here in Powys, no less. I sit and gawp across the cwm to the north-east, the clearly also magnificent Castle Banks hillfort demanding I visit before the week is out.

Diverting the gaze (with difficulty), a series of medieval 'cultivation ridges' to my north emphasise the continuity of human occupation in the locale, the sense of linear time stretching way back into the past... and an uncertain future, perhaps? A subconscious affirmation that 'history' is not merely something written in 'boring books' to enable geeks 'n dorks (ahem) to pass the time.... but is somehow 'suspended', not quite fully absorbed, within air seemingly pregnant with energy transmuted from the corporeal long ago. Into just what I cannot say; however, to quote a certain Mr Churchill: "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Indeed, illustrious sir. You know, seems to me that to understand the plot of any epic story - and it has to be said that that of 'Humanity' is pretty well up there in the Homeric stakes (tell me about it, D'oh!), demanding a Charton Heston-esque lead - best start at the beginning, right?

I pick out my poor, overworked vehicle in the distance, a familiar reference point to - if you pardon the pun - usher me back down to earth for the night from my extraordinary perch. Reluctantly I leave the cairns to the north for another day and descend steeply (and then some) to the east to pick up a path heading south to the stream, and, once across, reverse my former ascent route to Cwm-berwyn farm. A (relatively) senior woman inquires after my day and appears to 'get' my replies. It is refreshing, to be honest with you. Yeah, best keep out of that summer bracken, if you've any sense. Yes, well.... Anyhow, the gentle incline of the farm access track is, it seems to me, not proportional to the effort it takes me to negotiate the final few hundred yards, but there you are. I did say maths are not my thing.

Back at the car, there's time for one final improvised plan - where to camp tonight - before I must leave and make it so before the onset of darkness. I head for the hills above Rhayader. Cwmdeuddwr....

Carneddau Hill (Builth Wells) (Round Cairn)

I must confess to never having been the most enthusiastic of travellers. Yeah, Virginia Woolf might have reckoned 'the journey is everything', but I tend to regard motion between two points as, well, a means to an end, to tell you the truth. The price one has to pay... what must be endured... to experience, first hand, the more interesting locations these Isles have to offer. And since there are no mountains gracing south-east Essex, this Citizen Cairn'd is required to venture (considerably) forth to enjoy that special 'upland vibe'. Needless to say, the opportunity for such forays has been strictly - and, to my mind, rightly - limited during the past year. Indeed, some might say that faced with such calamitous global misfortune, the pursuit of personal solace ought not to be high upon the collective agenda following temporary relaxation of restrictions. However, I would argue that it is this very focus upon the individualistic act - upon independent thought/action symbiotic with the common good - that forms the crucial bulwark holding back the implacably noxious totalitarian siblings of the far left and far right. At least for now. The finger in the dyke.

So, with the opportunity to escape the coronavirus-denying loons, lockdown-ignoring half-wits and asinine conspiracy loons temporarily raising its head, I reckon there's no time like the present. Well, as Noel Coward sardonically noted, there's no guarantee that the next life (should one believe in that sort of thing) will be 'any less exasperating than this'. As usual, I'm woefully lacking in the homework stakes. Consequently, a brief 'cramming session' is required to decide upon a characteristically vague notion of 'lower Mid Wales', starting at the attractive market town of Builth Wells (Llanfair-ym-Muallt). And take it from there... on the premise of necessity being the Mother of Invention etc (with apologies to Frank, if not Plato). Hence, following a pretty 'exasperating' early morning drive - what with closures upon the M4 and a farcically busy Storey Arms overwhelmed with tourists unintentionally complicit in the erosion of another few inches from the summits of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du - I finally arrive below the Carneddau, a compact range of low hills to the north-east of the spa-town, the latter at the confluence of the rivers Wye (Gwy) and Irfon. Builth, incidentally, is somewhat notorious/controversial in Welsh lore, the garrison of the castle (impressive surviving earthworks will interest the medieval-heads out there) having refused sanctuary to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd prior to his death at Cilmeri, a little to the west, in December 1282... the act highlighting the lack of solidarity between Gwynedd and the 'rest of Wales' that persists to this day. Yeah, the 'Hwntws' versus the 'Gogs'. As an interested outsider - I have family in the south... and friends in the north - let's just say there are two sides to every story, each deserving to be heard, methinks. Just saying.

The approach road to Cwm Berwyn passes beneath 'Gaer' - at SO08545482, the experts, the name of the landscape feature notwithstanding, apparently none too sure of archaeological providence - before terminating at Cwmbychan farm. As I manoeuvre, with the optimum inherent lack of grace, I'm approached by a young woman who, basically, wants to know what I'm doing in these parts. I request advice as to where to leave the car since I'm heading for the Carneddau... to be informed there are no rights of way in the direction of my sweeping arm. Producing my map, I beg to differ, whereas the mood suddenly changes; it seems she's actually all in favour of archaeologist-types (even those who can't agree when a hillfort is or isn't a hillfort) and says it's fine to park at the entrance to the trackway servicing Cwm-berwyn farm. That'll do.

The landscape is classic Mid Wales, the stony access route drawing me deeper into the beckoning hinterland looming beyond - a fine study of perspective. My intended objective, the great promontory fort overlooking Cwm Berwyn, can be seen rising above the farmhouse to the west. However, my close-quarters map reading being what it is (i.e not very good) I elect to take the public footpath to the south-west, this following the southern bank of a tumbling stream, deep within its heavily eroded, wooded couloir, towards distant Carneddau Hill, before heading north. Or at least that was the plan. For a short time. Needless to say, as I break-out upon the open hillside, I duly change my mind: the cairn upon Carneddau Hill it is, then. Now a direct ascent, initially across deep bog, then through chest-high summer bracken may well have seemed a good idea at the time, but, having been dragged to my knees on a number of occasions by the all-powerful, industrial-strength vegetation, the final slog to the summit is verging upon sheer purgatory itself. The subsequent realisation that all that sweaty struggle, all that effort, could've been avoided by simply cutting up the ridge to the left... and following a clear path... was not helpful. Or at least wasn't appreciated at the time, shall we say? Then again, I guess there's the possibility, like the wondrous Mrs Doyle herself, of possessing a subconscious predilection for the hardest option? For authenticity's sake, you understand. Hmmm, 'maybe I like the misery, Father?'

Suffice to say that, if I had found the great cairn crowning the c1,417ft summit to have been rubbish, I wouldn't have been happy. However, fair play, the cairn is worth the effort. With metaphorical bells on. And, come to think of it, the locals clearly rated it enough to reference the monument - and presumably the others to the north - when naming their environs? Whatever, the people at Coflein have this to say:

"The Carneddau Hill Cairn is 19m in diameter, much robbed of stone and now only up to 0.8m high, but with depressions. The site was probably chosen for its commanding position with panoramic views. On top of the cairn are a stone shelter and a modern marker cairn, using material from the cairn." [R Hayman, H&H, 22/2/2010].

Yeah, robbed it may well be, but there is an awful lot of stone still in situ to emphasise what an important site this must have once been... hell, still is! And then there are those 'panoramic views'. Tell me about them. Although, to be fair - as the old adage goes - a picture is worth a thousand words. Not that the likes of Wordsworth would've necessarily concurred, mind. But there you are. The vistas are not only richly endowed with scenic splendour of the highest order, but also liberally 'sprinkled' with a copious array of additional prehistoric archaeology: looking south-west towards Builth there are two small hillforts; to the north, as noted above, a brace of upland cairns; to the north-east, the great promontory fort I came here to see with, visible to its right, to my mind one of Mid Wales' finest hillforts per se, Castle Bank. The penny drops (possibly 50p now, taking account of inflation) that there's no way one afternoon is going to be anywhere near enough time to explore the extended area... so probably best to simply enjoy the moment. Hey, what's not to like? The intermittent drizzle of the ascent having, rather fortuitously, been superseded by sunshine (albeit also somewhat sporadic), the cairn now sparkling - or as John Foxx might say - 'glistening' in the intensity of the light. A glittering prize, indeed.

As I gaze out across the surrounding hills, the 'place in the landscape' occupied by Builth Wells becomes clearer. Too far from the Mam C's place on the South Walian coast to feature within my usual itineraries; too far south to draw me away from Cwmdeuddwr and the wilds of Pumlumon before now... otherwise, I'm generally just a' passing through en route to somewhere else. However, I'm glad I stopped off this time around, took the time to discover what is secreted away from the general gaze. As the light plays across said landscape, illuminating the great stone pile once more as it has for millennia past, I try again to resolve the conundrum of fitting all the remaining Carneddau 'pieces' into my puzzle. However, they won't go. Not today, anyhow. Not allowing sufficient time to do them all justice. OK, maths was never my strong point, but quality over quantity is a pretty sound guiding principle, right?

So, the great promontory fort beckoning to the north-east will be my second, and final visit of this afternoon. Assuming I don't make a hash of that, too. Yeah, right...

Garn Fawr (Tregaron) (Cairn(s))

I'm occasionally asked why - for what possible reason - I continue to brave the inclemencies of the UK's uplands... merely to look at 'heaps of old stones and earth'? I mean, I'm not getting any younger, right? So what's the deal: a misplaced sense of solidarity with 'spaced-out hippy-types' looking for cosmic significance in the mundane; a penchant for masochism, perhaps; or simply feeblemindedness brought on by the advancing years? Surely no-one in their right mind could cope with the boredom of all that silence without the ubiquitous 'electronic device'? Hmmm. So just how does one respond to such a sweeping question in a reasonably succinct manner? I guess "Zoinks!" - in homage to that wondrous, Olympic-grade slacker from Scooby Doo - followed by a quick exit would suffice. However consider this sure-fire winner guaranteed to bring any such tiresome ordeal to an expeditious close: "Evelyn Waugh makes me do it".

OK, that's not strictly true, of course. For one thing, I'm not that widely read. Nevertheless, there is a germ of inherent truth since the celebrated author did state: "The pagan soul is like a bird fluttering about in the gloom, beating against the windows when all the time the doors are open to the air and sun". Now don't get me wrong... I'm all for free speech; however, to quote one half of contemporary P G Wodehouse's classic double act: “I don't mind people talking rot in my presence, but it must not be utter rot." While it seems to me Mr Waugh's political opinions might be excused, in retrospect, as naive representations of his tragi-comedic outlook on life (after all, Orwell waited until 1937 to experience his own epiphany regarding the sheer evil of Bolshevik totalitarianism), when an educated Catholic proffers utterly unsubstantiated religious credos as 'fact' it really does get my goat. I prefer to eschew all collectivist dogma - be they fascist, communist or monotheistic - in lieu of the individualistic act of seeing things first hand with mine own eyes. To experience reality, the world as it really is... or at least how it appears to us Homo sapiens... and then make up my own mind. Yeah, to 'beat myself against the window' of my own Socratic ignorance, rather than sitting safely within the cocoon of self-righteous religious - or political - assurance. To add a little more to my already incalculable canon of 'don't knows'.

Funny though, isn't it, how such grandiose ruminations can fade to (almost) nothing when one is suddenly required to 'walk the talk', so to speak? That moment when the indolent devil upon the shoulder would clearly much rather take the easy option than launch the aching body up another bloody mountain. After all, when fundamental precedents have been set by two of life's pre-requisites - water and electricity - who are we to argue? Whatever, it's probably not stretching the point to say that a grey dawn overlooking the Llynnoedd Teifi ('Teifi Pools') in bleakest Ceredigion does not represent the optimal environment to resolve such an inner conflict. Furthermore, Mother Nature sees fit to deny me any easy way out of my dilemma... the sullen cloud base, mirroring my mood this morning, keeping resolutely above the hilltops. Consequently - and before I can change my mind - I head south towards Tregaron, veering to the east within the town to follow the initial stages of the glorious single track road which traverses the backbone of Mid Wales, prior to snaking through majestic Cwm Irfon to Abergwesyn.

That journey is reserved for later, however. For now, I park up within the wide entrance to the track servicing Llwyngaru farm (approx SN705587), receiving an unexpected, cheery wave from the occupant of the dwelling across the road. I follow the track to the south, veering left in short order to follow a right of way, littered with farm detritus and seemingly untrodden in years, through woodland to access open hillside near Cefn-yr-esgair-fawr. The summit of Garn Fawr, my objective, rises more-or-less south: only c1,591ft high, granted, but since there is not even a hint of a path to mitigate the rough terrain encountered during the ascent, I make predictably hard work of it, stumbling into several industrial-strength bogs as I go. Garn Fawr roughly translates as 'Big Cairn', emphasising the inordinately prosaic, localised nature of nomenclature in these parts... say what you see, right? Sure enough, the stone-pile crowning the highest point of the ridge certainly has a significant, grassy footprint with much-embedded material. Unfortunately, however, the passage of time has not been overly kind to this monument, the profile not that upstanding owing to an absence of naked rock, although whether this is the result of slippage or subsequent robbing I couldn't say with any conviction. Perhaps both? For the record Coflein states the following:

" A spread and denuded cairn, 20 metres east-west by 16 metres, 0.5 metres high, on the ridge, more visible on the northwest side, topped by a small later cairn and triangulation pillar enclosed by wall" [J. J. Hall, Trysor, 16/2/2013].

Unsurprisingly the 'spread' is most evident upon the north/north-western arc where the topography dictates this should be so, suggestive of some natural slippage. So, granted, there's nothing here to rival the magnificent cairns crowning Garn Gron and Carn Fflur, rising beyond the deep defile of Cwm Berwyn to the north-east. Nevertheless, the placement, with sweeping views toward Tregaron and the surrounding green hills, is first class, as is the isolated, windswept vibe. Ah, yes, evidently none but the farmer ever comes up here to interrupt the magisterial sovereignty of silence. If only to judge by the (mercifully) pathetic marker cairn plonked upon the monument... presumably by some... plonker. As noted by Coflein, the OS trig pillar is enclosed by a collapsed, circular wall. Suffice to say, if this is supposed to represent a 'muppet shelter', it is among the most farcical of that farcical genre. No, it must be something else. Surely?

As I sit and take in that indefinable 'nothing'/'everything' I'm (once again) fully aware that this 'upland ambience' - for want of a better term - is the reason I continue to haul myself up to such places as this. While I still can. In fact, I don't feel I'm drifting into hyperbole when stating that the Garn Fawr and similar monuments are, in my opinion, only located where they are because our ancestors also tapped into the emanations of the high places. Now don't get me wrong here: I'm not suggesting there is actually anything tangible (if that's not paradoxical?) at work - no metaphysical agency - but merely ('merely', huh!) a peculiarity - an idiosyncrasy, if you will - of the human brain that causes it to auto-execute an innate algorithm... a program... upon input of the necessary stimuli, generating a feeling of inner peace, of wellbeing. The realisation that - contrary to millennia of accumulated group knowledge, memes and what-not - when subjected to a suitably 'raw' environment we remain fundamentally the same as all the other fauna when relating to this crazy, spinning globe. Is this what we call 'spirituality'? That is to say the realisation of undiluted emotion, perhaps on a par with a salmon's inexorable yearning to return to its place of birth, rather than Mr Waugh's pre-packaged 'faith'? Hmmm. For what it's worth, I reckon 'spirituality' is too nebulous a concept to be neatly defined, let alone readily attained by climbing a mountain.. and certainly not to be experienced by simply reading the 'right' religious book. Ah, the recurring 'easy option'. As regards the latter, in my opinion, Nietzsche put it far more succinctly than I ever could: "Faith is the path of least resistance."

Garn Fawr is, as one might expect in Mid Wales, not the only Bronze Age funerary cairn within the immediate locale, there being another marked upon the map - Garn Felen (Yellow Cairn) - some way to the approx south-west at SN70105696. I feel the compulsion to explore further and, after all, one's gotta move on sometime... and it's about time. So, neglecting to take the essential compass bearing, I venture forth... from the sublime to the ridiculous. The subsequent realisation that the forestry cladding the hillside beyond has been somewhat 'tinkered with' in recent times accounts for discovering the 'obvious' monument actually consists of twisted tree residue and assorted detritus. I rectify my error, but still cannot locate the cairn within the tightly-packed, regimented conifers, despite Coflein reckoning it remains quite substantial:

"A round cairn, 15m in diameter & 1.6m high, set on the summit of a ridge, the S part of which has been cleared to ground level" [J.Wiles 23.07.04].

Damn it! I will not be that easily beaten - stumbling up and down various forestry rides over fallen trees, decomposing trunks collapsing upon the imprint of my boots, abrasive spicula occasionally drawing pin-pricks of blood from my exposed hands, sweat running down my back, the cold notwithstanding - yet beaten I eventually am. Vanquished by elapsed time, by the awareness of that dwindling reserve of energy within the 'tank'; and by that infamous 'one last look around that final corner' not bearing fruit this time. Hey, perhaps I clambered right over a moss-covered stone pile without even clocking it? Perhaps... but I think not. Whatever, I decide to return to Garn Fawr and dwell a while longer before making the descent. To flush the frustration away into the ether and focus upon the moment. Yeah, this is a great spot alright.

I make my way back to the car via Craig y Fintan to the approx north-north-west, thus prolonging the walk and claiming a bonus reward of an excellent view down into Cwm Berwyn, early evening sunlight momentarily illuminating the great crag face with a golden iridescence. In retrospect, this should be the ascent route, too, methinks? Upon negotiating the covered track to the north of Cefn-yr-esgair-fawr, I reach the sanctuary of the car with enough time to attain my overnight camp spot, overlooking the Afon Tywi, before dark. Always a good idea upon these roads, I find.

As is often the case nowadays, I am left to ponder more additional questions than answers as a result of the day's wanderings. OK, I readily admit I don't like not finding what I set out to locate. However, to put things in perspective by paraphrasing a certain Michael Lee Aday (and actually use my 'loaf'): 'One out of two ain't bad'. I suppose one could always settle for the 'certainty' of faith, of belief without reason, and leave it at that. Nothing further to know. Hey, perhaps there are things we really SHOULDN'T know? But nah, don't think so. That's not for me. To explore, to be curious, to try, fail, yet get up and do it again regardless - Chumbawamba style - is, in my opinion, to exhibit the best of what it is to be human. Truly a joie de vivre in this age of AI, of the onward march of the machine. This, Kraftwerk's 'Computerwelt' writ large. So yes, in a way you could say Evelyn Waugh inspires me to do what I do. Since I wish to be - and remain - contrary to such a mindset. For better or worse.

But what of Norville 'Shaggy' Rogers world-view? Like, man, why can't TMA'ers ever investigate a Burger King, or something? You know, now I come to think of it, perhaps a little misplaced solidarity can have its benefits, too?

Pen-y-Bwlch (Ystrad Fflur) (Cairn(s))

I guess it's a sure sign of advancing years when one notices a progressive tendency for retrospection. OK, scholars may well debate the relative merits - or otherwise - of the human brain's ability to store seemingly countless memories until the proverbial cows come home; however, on balance, I tend to agree with Saul Bellow that memories help 'keep the wolf of insignificance from the door' and are worth the price of alienation from our mammalian brethren. Nevertheless, despite the penchant to 'sugar coat' with lashings of nostalgia, some years really don't have a lot going for them, do they: Callaghan's 'Winter of Discontent'; the Twin Towers atrocity and Foot and Mouth calamity of 2001; the Financial Crash of 2008; Dave's Brexit Referendum and the looming spectre of Corbyn's antisemitic Stalinists in 2016.... which brings us to 2020 - not yet concluded, but already probably the worst global annus horriblis in recent living memory?

Now don't get me wrong; I'm not in the habit of opposing the views of legendary poets. However, when W H Auden saw fit to state 'Put the car away; when life fails, what's the good of going to Wales?', I can only disagree; take the contrary view (although, for balance, note that references to 'Spender' do tend to conjure up visions of Jimmy Nail's sardonic Geordie detective... as opposed to Golden PEN awardees). Consequently, upon (temporary) relaxation of lockdown, I find myself seeking sanctuary upon the relatively untrodden hills of Ceredigion, experiencing another dawn beneath the brutal, yet reassuringly familiar mass of Pumlumon prior to shadowing the alacritous Rheidol as far as an unfeasibly deserted 'Devil's Bridge'. Further south, beyond Pontrhydfendigaid and its superb hill fort Pen-y-Bannau, a prosaically named 'Abbey Road' guides the curious traveller to the Abaty Ystrad Fflur, aka Strata Florida. Yeah, established by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century and later buggered to oblivion by Henry VIII, no less than Dafydd ap Gwilym (himself) is said to be interred under a yew within the grounds. Nevertheless - for me - the finest poetry still lingering here is that inherent within the exquisite Romanesque archway which, as Indian philosophers would no doubt agree, can surely never sleep, regardless of the tranquillity of setting? (presumably, the monks here didn't generate, albeit by proxy, any more 'earthy' verse through the production of Holy Swally, a la Buckfast?). OK, so not 'ancient, ancient' (as Micky Flanaghan might observe) but worth a look in passing before taking the left fork past waterworks to park up just before road's end near a chapel refurbished for better ends than the spouting of dogma: for living. Here it is possible to follow a public path to check out the Llynnoedd Teifi ('Teifi Pools') from the south... another time, perhaps?

My route continues along the road to the south-east, tarmac soon giving way to rough, stony track as it shadows the little Afon Mwyro back towards its source at Blaen Mwyro... or wherever else one might wish to venture within the great green yonder. The track swings to the east, whereby, at the confluence of a plunging stream with the river, the map depicts a right of way ascending the hills to the south accessing the bwlch (col) a little west of my intended destination: Pen-y-bwlch. Unfortunately, the OS's genius for converting topographical detail to the planar... is not matched by my ability to reverse the process. So I miss my cue and walk right by. All is not lost, however, my route-finding shortcomings mitigated by an ability to improvise somewhat after the penny drops. Luckily for my socks, the Afon Mwyro is 'step-over-able' here, enabling me to head across the verdant, soggy pasture to begin a full-frontal assault of Pen-y-bwlch to the left (east) of the stream. Although reasonably short, it is nonetheless a steep, taxing climb to gain the escarpment edge, time enough to ponder why on earth I didn't decide to approach through the forestry to the west? The answer is forthcoming as I finally reach the crest: the retrospective panorama truly a boon for the soul. Looking the other way, the summit of the hill can be seen some not insignificant distance south (more-or-less) across a rough plateau demarcated by the aforementioned forestry.

As I draw nearer, it becomes apparent that the right-hand extremis of the ridge possesses a rather large cairn. Nevertheless, first things first: the summit, approx a third of a mile to the east. Now it has to be said that the monument to be found here isn't, like the c1,650ft hilltop itself, exactly overwhelming in stature, initially corresponding to the brief Coflein entry:

"Described as 'a scatter of stones', but considered ancient." (J.Wiles 31.01.02)

Upon closer inspection, however, more material can be discerned beneath the turf and, furthermore, within slippage to the west, this stone spread including that magical embedded quartzite. More of this wondrous 'non-foliated metamorphic rock' (well, everyone believes the Wiki, right?) is incorporated within a rather wobbly marker cairn - I won't call it a 'walker's cairn' since, clearly, few see fit to venture this way - surmounting the whole; and it is a fair assumption that the remainder of this modern parasite is but remodelled monument. Yeah, as is often the case in this game, the beauty is in the detail, assuming the eyes and ears of the beholder are receptive enough, naturally. Such as the panoramic 180-degree vista (the other arc curtailed by the forestry) taking in most of the Cwmdeuddwr wilderness, prior to sweeping north to Pumlumon herself; or the 'tumultuous silence' which, while sparing the ears, can almost be said to assault the psyche with its ferocious intensity. Indeed, I'm soon accorded a consummate example of the 'exception proving the rule' when a distant 'whirr' to the east in due course reveals itself to be an RAF Chinook roaring past just above my head in a cacophony of rotary discord before receding, hugging the terrain, making very light work of my ascent route (incidentally I read with alarm reports of a Chinook crashing into power lines in Carmarthenshire a few days later... thankfully with no fatalities).

With silence once more restored to the hills, I sit and attempt to 'take in' the vastness of the sky, the endeavour a summation of seemingly mutually exclusive emotions... the fleeting exuberance of alpha male physical achievement tempered by a very real awareness of being Cope's "Pitiful, microscopic nobody" in the grand scheme of things, fading to nothing when considering the sheer scale of Nature. Hey, perhaps it was these conflicting keynotes which were integral to the Bronze Age locals choosing to intern their VIP dead up here - and in so many similar locations across these isles - in the first place? The subordination of mortal concerns to the immortal: the very earth itself. As if to emphasise the point, the existing expanse of cerulean stratosphere is rapidly obscured by an unforecasted gathering of cumulus congestus discharging yet more water upon this already, er, moist landscape. Just so as this traveller knows where he stands. Or sits, as the case may be.

Waterproofs donned - please, don't ever go without them - I decide to finally make my way to the larger cairn overlooking the bwlch to the west, a possible unmarked 'cist' noted en-route probably nothing of the sort (in retrospect) since Coflein also cites a medieval settlement below at SN77686398. Hey, who knows what the inhabitants of that got up to? A medieval historian, probably. Anyway, the topography here allows for a much larger, stable stone-pile, albeit with an inevitable truncation of view vis à vis the summit monument. Although nowadays largely hollow, there is enough detail still remaining in situ to postulate a former cist with greater certainty than for the feature noted above. There is also clear evidence for a former kerb, which, together with the substantial volume of stone, makes for a pretty pleasing site. The main focus would appear to be looking across the bwlch towards the distant abbey to approx northwest, an association which might be considered appropriate enough, come to think of it.

A perusal of the map while finishing my remaining coffee reminds the wide-eyed traveller of the existence of further cairns overlooking the isolated farm of Blaen-Glasffrwd to the south-west, one apparently featuring arguably Wales's finest cist. However, I reason I have neither the time nor - OK, I admit it - the 'puff' to visit today, let alone do any vibe justice; indeed, my descent now beckons. Baulking at the prospect of reversing the rather 'steep' ascent I decide, in lieu, to follow the forestry line beyond the bwlch and then swing northward, heading for what appears to be an abandoned farm building overlooking the left hand (western) bank of the stream cascading to join the Afon Mwyro far below. OK, not that far below. But far enough. This route follows the public footpath missed on the way up, so how hard can it be? Yeah, right.....

You know, there is something about derelict dwellings - particularly in a rural, upland setting - that I find difficult to elucidate.... as if humanity itself has seeped into the very walls... all the triumphs, disasters, love, fear... hey, life itself, perhaps? I find I have a very real sense of 'intruding' upon something that is private, not my concern, so consequently hurry on by, blundering into head high fern as I do so. Er, OK. Not this way, then? Reversing my steps, I find the path actually descends, very steeply, through slightly less formidable vegetation to the left of the buildings to eventually ford the Afon Mwyro and reach the main track traversing the valley. I glance back at where I have come from and reckon this wouldn't be much easier as an ascent route, to be fair.

The car beckons, bringing the day's walkabout to a close, together with that most English of all elixirs: the cup of tea. Or rather, mug of the same. As I pass Strata Florida Abbey once more, bound for the night's camp at the head of Cwm Ystwyth, I'm more certain than ever that Mr Auden must've had his metrical tongue very firmly within cheek back then. Having a laugh. No poet, surely, could walk a landscape such as this and not be moved by the song inherent within the rushing water; not appreciate the timbres emitted by the natural orchestra of vegetation conducted by the wind... or within the call of the buzzard and kite circling overhead? Surely? Yeah, as Spender might've said: "Give ower, y'a kiddin."

Llan Ddu Fawr (Round Cairn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pumlumon and its Environs

Following a (very belated) visit to Craig-y-Dullfan last month, the thought occurred that regular browsers of this, Mr Cope's wondrous community resource, may well feel somewhat bemused by my constant eulogising of Pumlumon over the last decade or so... even should they happen to possess more than a passing interest in upland cairns - those massive, sometimes not so massive stone piles generally acknowledged to represent the funerary monuments of Bronze Age VIPs that still grace the high hill and mountain tops of these Isles - and view walking Britain's skyline as a life-affirming privilege to be savoured while one is physically and mentally able. As I do. Particularly those punters who have glimpsed the, frankly, rather nondescript profile of the mountain when travelling along the A44 'Aberystwyth road' to the south, rising above the industrial spoil of former lead mining once so important to the locale and thought 'What is he on?' To be honest, 'Plynlimon' - to fleetingly adopt the nonsensical anglicised version of the name beloved by an older generation of hillwalkers - is no stranger to negative press: the Reverend William Bingley (1774 – 1823) tartly dismissed the opportunity of a potential visit with "..there did not appear any probable compensation for my trouble in going so far... to ascend its summit. I, therefore, continued my route and passed it at a distance". Predictably perhaps, the views of another cleric, the Reverend Richard Warner (1763-1857) are in a similar vein and arguably typical of any number of myopic early commentators... views which, so it would appear, are unfortunately still very much prevalent today:

"Plynlimon is a vast mountain, surrounded by many others of humbler height, which occupy a great extent of sterile and dreary country, without a house or tree to relieve the eye, while their natural horrors are encreased by sounding cataracts and deep ravines. In this solitude, all the miseries and penury and desolation rush on the heart; and the spectator feels what a dreadful blank life would be without the society of his fellow men. Yet the hope of a precarious donation from transient visitors, has induced a guide to fix his abode, in summer, in a hovel, at the bottom of this dreary mountain; and, without a conductor, the ascent should never be attempted. After all, there is nothing particularly attractive in the character of Plynlimon, but it is remarkable for giving rise to no less than five rivers, the principal of which are the Severn, the Wye and the Rhydol." [A Walk through Wales in Aug, 1797, (Bath, 1798), p. 84].

Hmmm, never let it be said that men of the cloth lacked objectivity, eh? What a complete muppet, highlighting that partisan travel 'reviews' are not solely the preserve of dodgy Trip Advisor contributors. Clearly it required the 'poet's vision' of Shakespeare contemporary Michael Drayton (1563 – 1631) to place the significance of those five unprecedented river sources in a suitably epic perspective:

"Plynillimon's high praise no longer, muse, defer;
What once the Druids told, how great those floods should be
That here (most mighty hill) derive themselves from thee;
That all the Cambrian hills, which high'st their heads do beare,
With most obsequious showes of lowe subjected feare
Should to thy greatness stoupe; and all the brookes that be
Doe homage to those floods that issue out of thee.
To princelie Severne first."

E. R. Horshall-Turner (again quoted from within his Walks and Wanderings in County Cardigan,1902) notes:

"Pymlymon, as it is called by the people of the hills, is said to signify five beacons; and if we are satisfied with the derivation, we may imagine that the cairns which top the five peaks are thus explained; rather than believe them to be memorials of ancient heroes. Rising from the semicircular chain of mountains which exposes its steep convex side to the sea, the mass of Plynlimon shows more lofty and abrupt on the Cardigan than on the Montgomery side. Its summit is readily accessible, and is most easily reached from 'Steddva, the head of the pass between Llanidloes and Aberystwyth. Eisteddva Gurig (the resting-place of Curig or Cyrus), is itself 1360 feet above the sea level. It consists of a few houses nestling in a basin enclosed by rocky heights. Through the western gap, the mountain gale sweeps from the Castell valley with terrific violence. Often have we entered Cardiganshire at the little bridge of 'Steddva, and not unfrequently have passed from a heavy banner cloud which obscured the road before and the valley below and soaked us with mizzled rain into a completely changed scene. Over the pass we suddenly left the cloud, and entered clear air under a sky of deepest blue ; and when the broiling sunshine beat upon us as we descended towards the sea, looking back, we admired the white, feathery streamers of cloud which, flung from the mountain summits, blended into the dull purple and grey. Not yet, however, must we make the descent, but see...

High o'er his mates, how huge Plynlimon lifts,
His many-beaconed head ! O'er coronalled,
With still and shadowy mists or rolling storms,
That speak loud-voiced thunder to the echoing hills,
And rouse repeated thunder."

Mr Horshall-Turner also sees fit to highlight Pumlumon's propensity to issue forth principal watercourses of the finest pedigree, adding:

"The mountain is most widely known as the home of famous rivers. Everyone has surely heard the nursery legend of the Severn, Wye and Rheidol. The fable represents the streams asleep within Plynlimon bogs. They had arranged that on the morrow each should choose its course to the sea. Severn first awoke, and priding itself upon early rising, took a graceful curve through the broadest vales and visited many a renowned city. The Wye awoke next, found the Severn had already gone and rushed to overtake her. The Rheidol awakening last saw her chance was gone, and rushing tumultuously down the western slope, dashing over rocks and foaming through gullies in her haste, reached the sea first and felt quite consoled."

However, it is George Borrow (1803 – 1881) who seems to me to have finally got that unique Pumlumon vibe, asserting in his classic, trailblazing tome 'Wild Wales' (1862):

"Its proper name is Pum or Pump Lumon, signifying the five points, because towards the upper part it is divided into five hills or points". Rising from his hotel at Dyffryn Castell, the inquisitive gentleman then proceeded to ascend Pen Pumlumon-Fawr singing Lewis Glyn Cothi, as one does:

"From high Plynlimmon's shaggy side
Three streams in three directions glide;
To thousands at their mouths who tarry
Honey, gold and mead they carry.
Flow also from Plynlimmon high
Three streams of generosity;
The first, a noble stream indeed,
Like rills of Mona runs with mead;
The second bears from vineyards thick
Wine to the feeble and the sick;
The third, till time shall be no more,
Mingled with gold shall silver pour."

To be fair, it probably wouldn't have been the same singing a Tom or Cerys ditty. Or even something as devastatingly sublime as once emanated from the chaotic notebook of Richey Manic. Whatever, clearly the venerable George was made of much tougher stuff than your inveterate travelling cleric.... far more enlightened, open-minded, inspiring... more human. Even, by all accounts, than some contemporary antiquarians who really should know better. Yeah, unfortunately - despite the wealth of information now available at the click of a mouse, the swipe of a finger across the 'smartphone' screen - Pumlumon would still appear subject to the same adverse prejudice infesting those early ecclesiastical travellers. As for myself, I first tentatively stumbled in the great man's boot prints - well, sort of - in 1993 during my early 'peak-bagging' forays away from the heartlands of Snowdonia... the introduction a shambles of route finding, if the truth be told, this utterly confused 'stone illiterate' finally surveying the majestic, sweeping vista from Pen Pumlumon-Fawr's summit via an unforeseen ascent of Carn Hyddgen.... to find (in very short order) that there was something 'different' about Pumlumon.

OK, there was the topography: an absence of those soaring aretes of naked rock so prevalent further north; in fact an (apparent) dearth of ANY rock to temper the brutally unrelenting tussocky grass and eroding peat hag. But no, that wasn't it. A refreshing lack of other visitors - of chattering voices? Well certainly, the resulting silence enabling the wind to bring distant, otherwise barely discernible hints of Mother Nature going about her inexorable business to the fore: the unseen erosive clash of cascading water against rock, the bleat of a far-off sheep, the shrill cry of a circling buzzard or raven overhead (the red kite still far from common in Mid Wales back then). Yes, there was that. But also a perceived lack of corporeality seemingly infused within the very air itself, an other-worldly atmosphere at odds with the only too tangible, endurance-sapping, industrial-strength bog sucking at the boots, as if caught in some powerful undertow intent upon dragging the doomed mortal down into the depths, the interior of the mountain... to meet those who came before. Yeah, a vibe, a feeling that Nature still held sway here, the visitor merely granted a temporary permit to pass quickly by on his way. Hey, before preternatural forces decided to the contrary.

Granted, this is all in the mind... after all, earth is earth, rock is rock, a cairn ultimately a pile of old stones... but how we relate to the physical landscape informs our own personal reality, does it not? Suffice to say, right from the off, Pumlumon 'spoke' to this inexperienced young man pushing his boundaries, devoid of plan... although certainly not of incompetence and a fair degree of nerves when regarding the sheer 'wildness' of the terrain. Not to buttress pre-existing dogma, as in the case of our travelling clerics and pseudo-antiquarians, but, following in the purposeful strides of George Borrow, to question. Yeah, if your mind can open doors... explore, my friends.

Indeed, returning soon after to walk the main ridge from Eisteddfa Gurig (in mitigation, my one and only approach from the south), I vividly recall stumbling into an area of the aforementioned bog to find a small marker post announcing - with scant ceremony - the source of the Afon Hafren. Yeah, the River Severn.... scarcely conceivable that a small, muddy pool could represent the birth of a watercourse so mighty, with such an overwhelmingly powerful - hey, world renowned - bore, that crossing its confluence with the Bristol Channel, via either great suspension bridge, is something to linger within the memory. The massive twin cairns of Pumlumon Cwmbiga were not my primary objective that day (incidentally I was to discover in 2011 that there is another, much smaller adjacent monument - I hesitate, for obvious reasons, to claim forming a third trio - plus others nearby... a veritable cemetery); neither was the great triumvirate crowning Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli, nor Pen Pumlumon-Fawr itself, for that matter. But it is clear in retrospect that the seed of curiosity had been sown, the germination of which would bring me back many times since over the following decades to ponder unanswerable questions: with so few walkers, just who erected these vast cairns? And why? Why here? So, far from having my curiosity sated.... I merely found it elevated to feline proportions.

Perhaps there is a clue, a hint as to what is going on here, inherent within the name 'Pumlumon' itself? OK, consider: 'Pum' is Welsh for 'five', right?... but five of 'what' depends upon which of the meanings of the vernacular 'Lumon' one favours: beacon, chimney, peak, stack? As mentioned earlier, viewed from the south the topography of the range is such that it would be far from clear how many 'summits' Pumlumon possessed, even if the traveller was lucky enough to pass by and not be engulfed in suitably ethereal vapour. Indeed, so relatively featureless are the southern flanks that, back in 1993 anyway, stakes had been driven into the turf to guide those seemingly foolhardy enough to venture forth. So maybe the name originally referred to great stone piles, 'chimney stacks'? Perhaps featuring the enigmatic 'beehive' profile still to be seen not just upon Pumlumon's isolated subsidiary summits, but across the hills of Cwmdeuddwr to the south. The great Bronze Age cairns, no less, which appear in unprecedented numbers at altitude upon the main ridge and sweeping towards the exquisite aesthetics of the Dyffryn Dyfi to the north/north-west.

In fact, Pumlumon and its supporting cast of northern acolytes possess so many upland cairns - a dozen or so at c2,000ft upon the main ridge alone - that, taken as a whole, I believe they form the most extensive, impressive upland Bronze Age cemetery in these Isles. Bar none. Yeah, I'm aware that is quite an assertion. But one that anyone with the necessary curiosity and drive can verify for themselves by donning their boots. Granted, none of the monuments here is anything like as structurally impressive as, say, the magnificent hilltop passage graves of Carrowkeel; or as extremely located as those funerary cairns surmounting the domed summits of Y Carneddau up there in Gwynedd; but then, in my opinion, Pumlumon surpasses both in the sheer scope of human endeavour. And, of course, there's the hidden ace up the sleeve - or more correctly, three of them: that mind-blowing trilogy of river heads upon the main ridge! Is it any wonder that Pumlumon is traditionally one of the 'Three Mountains of Wales' alongside Cadair Idris and Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) herself. Quite an accolade for reputably 'the boggiest mountain in Wales' (as quoted by Horshall-Turner), one would have thought? Unless there was a lot more to it than meets the casual gaze, known only to those who understood these hills intimately? I think you get my drift.

So, for me, the location of such an unprecedented number of funerary cairns - particularly where featuring THREE multiple sets (furthermore with the two central summits bearing a trio of primary monuments each - I'll suspend judgement upon Pumlumon Cwmbiga for now, pending other viewpoints?) across the THREE of those 'Pum Lumon' straddling a ridge bearing the sources of THREE major rivers in the close vicinity - cannot be mere coincidence. Oh come on, surely? In retrospect, the association appears to be as crystal clear as the water which ceaselessly cascades from the Llyn Llygad-Rheidol, 'three' being the recurring theme here.... the 'magic number'. Although how the oft-sodden traveller to Pumlumon chooses to interpret the significance of this singularly unique state of affairs is, it goes without saying, open to endless debate. One theory - that the placing of the remains of Bronze Age VIPs amongst river heads, quite literally the essence of carbon-based life upon this crazy, spinning globe, was seen as beneficial to their re-birth within some 'spirit world' - seems as plausible as any. The fact that Pumlumon gives birth to three rivers within such a small area might well have been seen as very significant to locals perhaps attuned to notions of the Triple Goddess? Significant enough to maybe attempt to infuse their mountain with a 'numerical homage' to their deity? Or should that be deities? Can never get my head 'round that one, to be fair. A logical enough progression for superstitious people struggling to make sense of their environment, one would have thought? Hey, was Pumlumon regarded as some sort of 'transitional portal' between this world and whatever one imagined to form the 'next'. Between life, death and subsequent elevation into the collective consciousness, as determined by the collective? Unanswerable questions, but what an apt location to ponder them. To be curious. To think. To be human.

It is apparent to me that Pumlumon is now no longer as neglected by tourists as it once was, the number undertaking the plod from Eisteddfa Gurig on the increase (incidentally, and quite rightly, recompensing the landowner for the privilege of easy access for at least the past 25 years). Perhaps a curious recent re-designation of 'The Cambrian Mountains' as relating specifically to the Mid Walian uplands - thus according Pumlumon with the accolade of 'Highest Point' - is a catalyst for this potentially double-edged development? Now I always thought the magnificent Aran Fawddwy - also well worth a visit by the discerning Citizen Cairn'd - was the holder of that honour, but there you go. Needless to say, the creation of the Nant y Moch reservoir in 1964 inevitably changed the locale forever, a tarmac road driven as far as Maesnant to the north opening up the formerly isolated 'hidden' flank to personnel of Dwr Cymru and the more informed walker alike. However, as with the green fastness of Cwmdeuddwr to the south, the sacrifices of former local residents have given a new opportunity for waterfowl to flourish.... silver linings to even the darkest clouds. As with other communities impacted by our insatiable demand for water straight from the tap - e.g Capel Celyn - we should remember them.

But what of those green hills viewed stretching way in an arc west to north of the great summit cairns of Pen Pumlumon-Fawr? Well, Drosgol and Banc Llechwedd-mawr sport a brace of large cairns a piece, the sparkling quartzite blocks of Cerrig Cyfamod Glyndwr, located at the eastern foot of the latter, traditionally the site of Owain Glyndwr's victory over an Anglo-Flemish force in 1401 and forming the most enigmatic of Pumlumon's limited collection of standing stones (although the Buwch a'r Llo stones at SN722833 are also well worth seeing). Note that access here has recently been improved no end by the construction of a footbridge across the Afon Hyddgen at SN779891 negating the need for a potentially problematic fording (there is also a new bridge at SN766888 across the Afon Llechwedd-mawr connecting the two peaks). While to the north-east, overlooking the eastern flank of Cwm Hyddgen, are the twin 'beehive' cairns of Carn Gwilym crowning Carn Hyddgen. As postulated above, the thought occurs as to whether such iconic profiles have an archaeologically sound origin? Those 'Chimney stacks' perhaps?

Directing the gaze to the north-west, the sharp-eyed may note the substantial Carn Owen, while another large cairn cemetery occupies Moel y Llyn looming above Cwm Ceulan, the eponymous summit tarn the subject of one of those wondrously mysterious 'Lady in the Lake' myths with an origin lost in the mists of time, if not the watery depths. Moel y Llyn not only overlooks the diminutive stone circle of Cylch Derwyddol (SN699910) but is also adjacent to Esgair Foel-ddu and Foel Goch, again the location of numerous Bronze Age cairns. There are yet more upon the south bank of the Afon Clettwr and Cae’r Arglwyddes...'The Lady's Field', the latter presumably a nod to our aqueous maiden of yore? Note also the Bedd Taliesin chambered cairn at Pen y Sarn Ddu ('The End of the Black Road' - SN671912), traditionally the final resting place of the actual Brythonic 'Chief of Bards'. Those who relish Welsh lore and Arthurian legend will appreciate the importance of the tomb's later association with the main man of King Urien of Rheged. But that's Pumlumon for you.

Arcing to the north, aficionados of cascading water could not do much better than to visit the small quartzite cairn of Carneddau Hafod Wnog (SN7643994301) standing sentinel beside surely one of the finest waterfalls in all Wales: where the Afon Llyfnant, the fourth of Pumlumon's maternal rivers, tumbles down sheer rock faces as the Pistyll Gwyn. Although, in my opinion, far superior to the nonetheless justly famed Mynach Falls at the not-too-distant Devil's Bridge, my suggestion would be to visit both? Pumlumon's final river source is the gaunt upland lake of Glaslyn to the south of the splendid little 'mini-mountain' Foel Fadian (again bearing a prehistoric monument) from where issues forth the nascent Afon Dulas, tumbling down the shattered crags of Uwch-y-Coed. Due east is another magnificent waterfall near the old mining hamlet of Dylife (at SN872940), whereby the Afon Twymyn cascades 130ft as the Ffrwd Fawr - 'Big Torrent'. Hey, say what you see, right?

There is a further multitude of lower-level funerary cairns in the extended locale, including a long cairn within Cwmbiga (SN86338902)... not to mention numerous hill forts (arguably the finest being Pen Dinas at SN67728767, the largest Dinas overlooking Llyn Clywedog at SN90538893, the most obscure perhaps Esgair Nant-yr-Arian at SN710816) and - even - cairn-circles. The approach from Ponterwyd to Maesnant (SN774880) - the recommended starting point for any expedition upon the main ridge or peaks bordering Cwm Hyddgen or upper Cwm Hengwm - will take the traveller past both the Hirnant kerbed cairn (SN753839) and that at Lle'r Neuaddau (SN755846) so ensuring any Citizen Cairn'd aiming to 'do' Pumlumon in a short flurry of activity will inevitably leave frustrated. And feeling rather stupid at lack of personal foresight. (Incidentally, please do the farmer the courtesy of 'checking in' before a visit to Lle'r Neuaddau... taking a cue from those recently established crossings spanning the Llechwedd-mawr and Hyddgen, let's ignore puerile notions of 'them' and 'us' proffered by cartoon 'class warriors' such as Monbiot... and look to build bridges, not destroy them. Yeah, talk to people. I think Mr Borrow would've approved). Lle'r Neuaddau is overlooked to the east by the towering presence of Y Garn, as its name implies, crowned by a massive cairn... and to the west by Disgwylfa Fawr, 'The Watching Place'. The latter is particularly notable for the 1937 discovery of two dug-out 'canoes' (with associated funerary remains) within its summit cairn. I'll leave you to ponder just why it was thought necessary to intern such aquatic grave goods upon a hilltop? I mean, we're not exactly talking Russel Crowe and his dodgy ark here, are we? But fact, the real deal. It is, nonetheless, pretty hard to escape the association of Pumlumon with water, is it not? Yet again, you do the maths, my friends.

Finally, a note of caution. It should be fairly evident that those who plan the locations of reservoirs tend, on the whole, to know roughly what they are doing: it rains a lot upon Pumlumon (by all accounts, it always has!) and, owing to the topography, shelter from inclement weather upon the main ridge is minimal and route finding in hill fog problematic, to say the least. Furthermore, poor drainage, peat hags and tussocky grass can make the 'going' very difficult indeed. So, should you decide to come and see Pumlumon for yourselves... please bring not just an open mind... but also map, compass and waterproofs as standard kit. Please don't underestimate what may appear an easy enough route on the map since it's probably much harder than you might think. Plan ahead and stay safe.
Showing 1-20 of 619 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20
Hi, I'm Robert ... with 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.

Should my amateur posts prove an inspiration for others to venture into the Great Outdoors... please bear in mind the hills and mountains of these Isles are unpredictable, potentially dangerous places. Ensure you have map/compass/waterproofs... and know how to use them, even in high summer. Weather conditions can change bewilderingly quickly, so don't get caught out. Unlike some, I prefer to engage with landowners wherever possible. Being a cartoon 'class warrior' - such as Monbiot - might be jolly good fun for the frustrated 'rebel'... but not for those who follow in their footsteps. I find requests for access are rarely declined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My TMA Content: