|By the time we leave the carpark below Cadair Idris, the rain is already passing over. The road southwest follows the ancient Ffordd Ddu trackway (“the Black Road”) along the valley, below the slopes of Tyrrau Mawr. Over a cattle grid, we pass the massive Hafotty-Fach cairn in a field next to the road, then at a parking place “for fishermen only”, the chunky Carreg y Big standing stone. But we’re not stopping, not while there’s a big pointy hillfort to go and explore.
There’s a handily placed (and free) carpark next to the picturesque Llynnau Cregennen. From here the hillfort takes on a daunting aspect, what Postie describes as a mini-Matterhorn. An obvious path winds up from the lakeshore, looking like a fairly straightforward ascent. And so it turns out to be, although steep enough to leave me puffing and panting as we get near to the summit ridge. The views are lovely, the twin lakes below us and the Mawddach estuary away to the west, crossed by its neat rail/foot bridge. The higher we climb the more we find ourselves entering the drizzly mist that clings to the much higher ground of the Cadair massif to our south. A choice of paths, little more than sheep tracks takes us up to the top of the ridge. The name of this hilltop, “the Wall of the Long Ridge” I think it translates roughly as, is certainly apt. There is little to show in the way of a fort, even the interior space is cramped and rocky. I get the impression this would a place of desperate refuge, somewhere to make a last stand after abandoning homesteads and farmland in the fertile valleys below.
For all its wild desolation, there is a compelling grandeur, even in the wind-lashed rain that prevents photography in most directions. The views on all sides are stunning, from the mountains, past lakes to the still-shining sea. To the east, serried ranks of lower hills, including Craig y Castell
where we were earlier, march away into the gloom. The ground drops away vertiginously over slick black rocks.
We have a good nose about the interior, but at this western end of the ridge there are no signs of any ramparts. Postie suggests we make for the next mini-summit eastwards, for a retrospective of the fort. The path now takes us along a gully between rocky walls, slightly odd but at least sheltered from the rain and wind. Emerging from the other end we realise that we haven’t left the fort at all, as in front of us is the first tangible proof of manmade defences. A clear rampart of rubble cuts across the neck of the hill, with a gap in the centre, now partially choked with collapsed stones, indicating the (presumably) original entrance. Rather better than we had been expecting!
We decide to carry on eastwards along the ridge, as there is a cairn and hut circle shown on the map to look for below the hill’s slopes. As we turn away from the rampart, we are rewarded with a spectacular rainbow arcing over the eastern end of the hill, its pot of gold ending somewhere below us. A breathtaking display of nature. She comes in colours, indeed.
A final climb up to another mini-summit (this ridge sure ain’t level) gives us yet another perfect retrospective, the hill behind now a near-black mass before the bleached-out seaboard beyond.
We finally make our way down, as the clouds are lifting and the slopes below are lit up, revealing what appears to be the patterns of a small field system, very like the “British” fields you find in rural Cornwall. As we descend, we also come across the ruins of a circular structure, which could easily be a hut circle, or maybe it’s just a sheepfold. Neither of us can say for sure. There is no clear path down, or at least if there is we’re not on it, instead it’s a matter of cutting through knee-deep heather while trying not to fall flat over the slippery rock hidden beneath. I’m tired by the time I get to the bottom!
Our descent has been guided by an obvious bulge in the drystone wall below, as the map shows a cairn right next to it. At length we reach the bulge, but at first can see nothing of the cairn. Eventually it reveals itself as a barely visible bump in the heather, slightly lighter in colour than its surroundings. A bit of poking and prodding in the vegetation reveals about three stones, enough to convince us we’ve found the cairn, but not enough to get us overly excited. Anyone planning a visit should perhaps bring a flamethrower (not really).
From here it’s an easy and pleasant stroll along level (if wet) ground to the shore of the northern Llyn Cregennen, during which we fail to see the hut circle marked on the map, but do stop off for a quick look at an apparent standing stone on a little knoll above the lake. It turns out that this is probably a naturally placed rock, what Postie describes as a “fortuitous outcrop”. At which point his camera dies and we head back to the car for emergency battery changing.
On our way again, we stop briefly in the “fishermen only” parking area, where I get ready to pretend I’ve just misplaced my rod, so that I can have a quick scoot up to Carreg y Big. What a lovely stone, what Burl might describe as a playing card. I always like stones that present different aspects from each side, this is one of those. Squat and chunky looking from the south, it becomes thin and pointy from the west, looking along the valley. The mist-wreathed Tyrrau Mawr
provides the unbeatable backdrop to the south. The view of Pared-y-Cefn-hir
to the north is entirely blocked off by a little hillock that the stone seems to shelter beside.
The road winds ever on, passing through a series of tedious gates and below the lovely-looking Waen-Bant stone. After this we turn north, descending a steeply sloping lane to park up at the end of the Llys Bradwen track. Postie knows what’s in store, but I have no idea. The map is inscrutable, merely showing “stones” in non-antiquity script. A short walk along the track brings us to a lovely clapper bridge, which could happily grace chocolate boxes the world over. Over it we go, noting the square footprint of a (presumably medieval) building next to the path. We head straight up the hill, where the wrecked remains of a very large cairn come into view.
On reaching the cairn (definitely wrecked), Postie points towards the stones. And I’m hooked instantly by the huge blob of quartz, before I even see the other stones, arranged in a ring. Sorry, arranged in a line. No, it’s a ring. And a line. I have no idea what it is. Apart from the quartz block, none of the stones are anything special in themselves. But the arrangement is so weird and inexplicable that the site is a complete winner. My own view is that the locals decided to try something different, an abstract piece, modern art. They would have invited the neighbours round, to inspect this addition to the area’s megalithic creations. “Oh yes, I can see what you’ve done there, very thought-provoking (aside: what the hell is it meant to be?)”. I’m entranced. This is the highlight for me, today.
As we drag ourselves away, time is pressing on rapidly. We decide to make a final stop off at the two western Hafotty-fach cairns as the sun starts to sink. The overcast gloom that has dogged most of the afternoon has largely lifted, except on the highest slopes, and the light transforms into that beautiful evening glow that illuminates the best of winter evenings.
The cairns are in a field next to the road, access land with a ladder stile providing easy access. The field is very wet and boggy near to the gate, but relatively dry where the cairns themselves are. We make for the southwestern cairn first, as it’s the more obvious of the two on the ground. It turns out to be huge, but denuded to little more than a low ring of rubble. It may have been a ring-cairn in the first place, but equally the surrounding drystone walls may tell a tale of robbing out. The sun sinks lower, brushing the hilltops to the west and painting everything with a soft glow.
The northeastern cairn is even more robbed out than its companion, so it’s not easy to see until you’re practically on top of it. Stones protrude from the grass, but you could easily be forgiven for walking past without a glance unless you knew what to look for.
But who cares? The surrounding hills, the soft evening light, the end of a brilliant day out, all make such quibbles sound petty. I would like to think that the builders of these cairns would appreciate their purposeful, infrequent visitors, providing a continuity of interaction stretching back into the long distant past. As someone once said, “all those people, all those lives, where are they now?”
The sun goes behind the hills and we finally bid our adieus to this wonderful part of Wales, a place packed with so much to see that further visits must be assured.
On our way back to England, Postie pulls over to point out Jupiter and Venus in the night sky, a wonderful sight and yet another reminder, were any needed, of the fact that we are the tiniest of specks in an infinite universe. Days like today give me some sense of belonging to all of that, if only for a fleeting instant. That'll do though.
Posted by thesweetcheat
7th March 2012ce
Edited 7th March 2012ce
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