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

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 light upon one's feet. Having said that, I cannot recall being suchlike since 1994, to tell you the truth.

Heading north, my attempts to 'cut the corner' only serve, inevitably, to bring me to the sheer face of an escarpment - not that this 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. D'oh! I may be many things, but clearly I ain't no mountain goat, so I duly proceed with yet another improvised plan, clambering/slithering down steep grass someway to the left, prior to forcing another passage through bracken to, thankfully, pick up a path ascending to the promontory rising above. As earlier in the day, it is worth the 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 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 lived here would appear 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 glowing orb of our local star breaking through the cloud base to flood all with light of almost inconceivable intensity, the splendour of this magnificent 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 gaze across the cwm to the north-east, the clearly magnificent Castle Banks hillfort demanding I visit before the week is out. Diverting the gaze, a series of medieval 'cultivation ridges' to my north emphasise the continuity of human occupation in the locale, the sense of linear time. A subconscious affirmation that 'history' is not merely something written in boring books to enable geeks to pass the time (ahem).... 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.

I pick out my car 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) elderly woman inquires after my day and appears to 'get' my replies. It is refreshing, to be honest with you. The gentle incline of the farm access track is 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. Besides, as WS Churchill famously said 'My education was interrupted only by my schooling'. One might argue there is so much more to learn, methinks.

Carneddau Hill (Builth Wells) (Round Cairn) — Fieldnotes

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. 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 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 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 half-wits and asinine conspiracy freaks temporarily raising its head, I guess there's no time like the present? Well, as Noel Coward sardonically predicted, 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, a brief 'cramming session' deciding 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 (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 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 Dec 1282... the act highlighting the lack of solidarity between Gwynedd and the 'rest of Wales' that persists to this day. The 'Hwntws' versus the Gogs. Bollocks, of course. But there are two sides to every story, each deserving to be heard, methinks. And understood. We really are not so different. It may take a little time, but... rise above the bullshit. I have family in the south... and friends in the north. 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. Producing my map, I beg to differ, whereas the mood 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. The landscape is classic Mid Wales, the stony access route drawing me deeper into the beckoning hinterland rising above and beyond.

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 elect to take the public footpath to the south-west, this following the southern bank of the 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 copious 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 that there's no way one afternoon is going to be anywhere near enough in the area... so best enjoy the moment, the intermittent drizzle of the ascent having, rather fortuitously, been superseded by sunshine (albeit it also somewhat sporadic), the cairn sparkling in the intensity of the light. Hey, what's not to like? Presumably, a more contemporary wordsmith such as (early period) Jim Kerr, although possibly not into this 'hauling-yourself-up-hills/mountains-to-check-out-piles-of-rock-vibe', would nevertheless get what I mean. 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 on my usual itineraries; too far south to draw me away from Cwmdeuddwr and the wilds of Pumlumon before now. Yeah, generally just a' passing through. But worth top billing, it has to be said. As the light plays across said landscape, illuminating the great stone pile as it has for millennia past, I try to resolve the conundrum of fitting all the remaining Carneddau 'pieces' into my puzzle. However they won't go. No today, anyhow. Not allowing sufficient time to do them justice. OK, maths was never my strong point, but quality over quantity, 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)) — Fieldnotes

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)) — Fieldnotes

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."

Gualachulain, Loch Etive (Round Cairn) — Links

Ancient Scotland


An instructive amateur site covering some major - and more obscure - Scottish monuments. I recommend the author's lack of that counter-productive 'partisan viewpoint' allied to good photography. Interesting to note an objective perspective of the 'tidying-up' of the Gualachulain cairn that has occurred post my 2015 visit.

Llan Ddu Fawr (Round Cairn) — Fieldnotes

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.

Rippon Tor (Cairn(s)) — Images (click to view fullsize)

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Horridge Common (Round Cairn) — Images

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Horridge Common (Round Barrow(s)) — Images

<b>Horridge Common</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Horridge Common</b>Posted by GLADMAN<b>Horridge Common</b>Posted by GLADMAN

Corndon Tor (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery) — Images

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Yar Tor summit cairn (Cairn(s)) — Images

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