|After a three month absence, North Wales finally reappears in my sights, courtesy of Postman. Leaving Crewe and England in our wake, we hit the highway to the sun (as it proves to be) and on into Wales. We speed past Dolgellau, into the mountain fastnesses of the Brenin Llwyd below Cadair Idris.
The first target is the little-known rocky hilltop fort of Craig y Castell, one of two so-named forts occupying a scree-strewn, boggy wilderness between the Cadair massif and Penmaenpool. We park at the Ty-nant carpark, busy today with intrepid sorts off up the mountain, which as we arrive is clear of the ragged mist that often covers the slopes. A bridleway from the carpark leads us northwest, past Tyddyn Evan-fychan farm, where a pair of dogs bark ferociously, trying to herd us like sheep. But we don’t respond well to being herded and carry on past, once past the farm and over a fence we’re onto access land and can roam freely.
The ground climbs immediately, a mass of broken down walls and scrubby grass. A steep slope, liberally scattered with moss-covered blocks of scree, bars the approach to the fort from this side. This is a very organic feeling place. The whole site is surrounded by a ring of scree, which encircles the top of the hill on its southern side, but lies at the foot of the slopes on the steeper northern side. How much is natural and how much is the product of human endeavour is unclear, the distinction perhaps so blurred as to be unimportant.
We head on up to the top of the fort. Within the well defined rubble bank is a small grassy plateau, perfectly defensible but less attractive as a habitation. What it does boast, however, is a superb mountain panorama. The northern face of the Cadair Idris range is presented at is most intimidating to the south. To the west the darkly jagged ridge of another hillfort, Pared-y-Cefn-hir
draws the eye. North the ground drops abruptly, giving way to the wilderness of outcrops and bogs that would be our next destination.
We wander about the interior, watching as the first signs of mist and rain appear on the summit of Cadair, the breath of the Brenin Llwyd coming down to keep his mysteries, well, mysterious. At the south-east corner there is an apparent entrance, now choked with rubble leaving the encircling ring unbroken. We head out through here, down towards the small stream that runs below the northern slopes of the fort’s outcrop. From this aspect the fort is at its most impressive, a near-vertical jumble of shattered stone jutting upwards from the little valley.
Another ridge separates the fort from the group of cairns that is our next objective, so we have the luxury of a bird’s eye view down onto the landscape we are about to enter. From above it appears to be an arid place, brown grassland between rockier outcrops.
A single cairn lies to the southwest of the rest, separated from them by both a stream and a trackway running east-west between two tumbled stone walls. Tracing the field shapes on the OS map tells us where this cairn should be, but we can’t see it (or at least we can’t recognise it). There is no defined path down from the ridge, so we head straight down through the scrubby vegetation to where the cairn should be, next to a small triangular field.
And so it proves to be. The cairn is actually very large, at least its footprint is. But it is covered in grass and heather, seemingly set on blending into the landscape. It could be a ring cairn, as little remains beyond the circular bank of rubble that defines its outer edges. Perched on a little knoll, next to a clear-running stream, it positioning reminds me of the cairn across the stream from Maen Llia
in the Brecon Beacons, far, far away to the south.
We cross the stream and join the walled trackway. It’s a fair bet that this is an ancient route, a drove track perhaps, which might make it a thousand years old or much, much older.
Not far along and the first of the main cairn group, the “cairn, on a woodland saddle” comes into view. The dry-looking grass land that we saw from above turns out to be anything but, concealing an expansive bog. No woodland either! Postie has been here before and is expecting this, but my shorter legs are not so well-equipped for tussock-leaping and I soon experience that unpleasant trickling feeling that tells you the water’s just gone over the top of your boot. Ho-hum.
At length, having crossed the worst of the wetness we head for the first of the group, the cairn with kerb
. This turns out to be a real beauty. The top has been scooped out, inevitably. But around its base, to my surprise and elation, is a wonderfully intact kerb of stones. Some are practically hidden by gorse, but can be seen after pushing the spiky shoots aside. The stones appear to be graded, with the larger blocks (and they are large) on the southwestern side, the smallest on the northeast. Postie comments that you don’t expect to find Clava cairns in North Wales, and indeed it is very reminiscent of such structures. Alternatively, with internal mound removed the stones would be sufficiently large and widely spaced to make for a very convincing freestanding stone circle.
The OS map shows another cairn in the group lying “in” the wall to the north of the kerbed effort, so we head off in search. But after a bit of walking up and down, along the wall, we have to admit defeat. There is however a lovely view northeast across the Afon Mawddach valley to the conical Rhobell Fawr and even further to the distant Arenigs. [A post-visit check of Coflein offers no additional help, the sum total of description is “round cairn”.]
We head back to the kerbed cairn, passing a small clearance cairn, then over to the cairn on the saddle. Like its kerbed sibling, it's been mutilated in the usual way, with a large scoop missing from its centre. It is another large cairn though, occupying a slightly more prominent position than the others in the group (and visible from the nearby trackway).
There is a final cairn shown on the OS map, at the southeastern end of the semicircular group. We head off for a look at this, but only find some apparent clearance cairns. One is slightly bigger than the rest, but we couldn’t hand on heart say that this was the one on the map.
As we regain the trackway for our return journey the first spots of rain are starting to fall and the “sunshine and showers” forecast is starting to look accurate. We head west, past the knoll of the southwestern cairn and then head across open slopes towards a wooded stream. On the way we pass a number of suspiciously megalithic gateposts, all weathered and none drilled for latches. Back at the cairns we had agreed that this area was crying out for a stone circle, perhaps it used to have a lot of standing stones too. But it’s easy enough to start seeing every lump as a barrow, every stone as a megalith. That way madness lies, so we head onwards.
The walk along the bridleway back to Tyddyn Evan-fechan turns out to be lovely, mature trees clinging to steep slopes, and every now and then the ruins of old cottages, the walls of one thatched with moss and just waiting for a romantic poet to come along in search of inspiration. Back at the farm, the guard dogs are back out, even more aggressive than before, probably irritated by their failure to round us up earlier. After a brief stand-off, we carry on into the now heavy rain, soaked but happy by the time we reach the car. And with much more to see!
Posted by thesweetcheat
4th March 2012ce
Edited 4th March 2012ce
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