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Fieldnotes by GLADMAN

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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.

https://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/19436/craig_y_lluest_cwmdeuddwr.html

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).

https://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/5072/copa_hill.html

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.....

https://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/19763/hafen_drum_ddu.html

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:

https://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/19831/carneddau_hill_builth_wells.html

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.

Lamington Park Long Cairn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waun Sarn (Cairn(s))

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarrenhendre (Round Cairn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen Pumlumon-Fawr (Cairn(s))

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carnedd Moel Siabod (Round Cairn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beinn na Caillich (Cairn(s))

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sling (Burial Chamber)

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

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

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

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

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

Beacon Hill (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foel Frech (Round Cairn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foel Ystrodur Fawr (Round Cairn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gelli Ffrydiau (Hillfort)

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

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

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

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

So... motorists venturing through Drws-y-Coed and traversing Dyffryn Nantlle, perhaps intent upon visiting the seaside, will be none the wiser regarding what lies above, such is the obscurity of the 'fort. I eventually parked up opposite the eponymous farm buildings and made my way to the defended crag via a walled track a little to the east. Very steeply. Presumably the former inhabitants actually knew what they were doing and there exists a better way?
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Hi, I'm Robert ... aka Citizen Cairn'd. I've a passion for attempting to understand the lives of the pioneering prehistoric inhabitants of these British Isles, seeking out the remains they left behind in order to ask myself "why here ... why did it matter so... why such commitment?". Needless to say I'm still pondering such intangibles. Just as an empty house appears to retain echoes of past humanity... so does the stone circle, the chambered cairn, the long barrow and the mountain top funerary cairn. Visiting them, I think, helps engender a certain 'connection' with this land of ours, with ourselves - our past, our present and our future; a reference point for those of us perhaps struggling to make sense of this so-called 'computer world' Kraftwerk warned us was a'coming in 1981.... danke, mein herren (RIP Florian).

For the record: I make no claims for my contributions. My views are based upon observations made in the field, the inevitable factual errors mine alone. Needless to say, I'm happy to be corrected by the better informed. Should my posts prove inspiration for others to venture into the Great Outdoors, why thank you! I hope you receive as much pleasure as I have. But please bear in mind hills and mountains are unpredictable, potentially dangerous places. Ensure you have the appropriate survival kit and know how to use it (even in high summer). Don't be the one airlifted to safety - or the morgue - because he/she thought it didn't apply to them.

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: