The lane winds onwards, dropping down into a shady valley before re-emerging into the sunlight. And there, in a field on the left hand side, is Wern Derys stone. Not much changes in this part of the county. I don't know if many other TMA-ers have been to visit this stone since Baza's fieldnotes almost 8 years ago, but what I do know is that there's still a sign saying "Stock – please close the gate", and still no sign saying "bugger off". Thus encouraged, a closer encounter is had. This is a shapely, tapering stone. Herefordshire's tallest, just beating the Queen Stone
to it (in the face of not much other competition, it has to be said).
The view of the stone from the lane presents its widest face, clad in yellow lichen. The north and south sides are narrower and face down the valley towards Ysgyrd Fawr (sadly hidden by trees from the stone itself). The whole of the south-western vista is taken up by the Black Mountains' escarpment. It hardly seems likely that the placing was indifferent to such a brooding presence.
I head northwest to Llanrosser, where my route runs between the higher ridges of Cefn Hill
to the west and Vagar Hill to the east. Keeping on for another mile or so, I reach a sign-board on the left, telling me about Cefn Common. Opposite, a bridleway gate leads onto a permissive track running eastwards.
This little track, running along the south side of Mynydd Brith wood, is the way to approach the Mynydd Brith stone. Sadly, as it comes into view, my first thought is "is that it?" I had expected something taller, especially after the lovely Wern Derys
stone whetting my appetite earlier. But this is a much smaller affair, only about four feet tall. SMR has it down as hesitantly "prehistoric?" and I can see why there is doubt. It has clearly been worked. The angles are very sharp, despite weathering. It has a "W" carved on its top (could be an "M" I suppose) and looks like a boundary stone. Oddly, although it is actually on a parish boundary, the reports I have read suggest that this is coincidental and the stone was not known as a boundary marker. Which seems very unlikely. "Disputed antiquity" I think.
But fear not, because it's still worth coming up to see it, for another reason entirely. Walking further ESE along the track, it emerges onto Vagar Hill near a telecoms mast. And it becomes apparent that, unadvertised at all, Vagar Hill is quietly one of the best viewpoints in Herefordshire. At 433m, it hardly towers above the surrounding countryside – even nearby Cefn Hill
is higher. But it's situated Just Right. To the south, especially on a day of cloud, sunshine, rain and shadow, the Black Mountains escarpment is spectacular. To the east, the jagged ridge of the Malverns and, inevitably, May Hill (which you seem to be able to see from everywhere). Northwest, the mountains of the Radnor Forest – Great Rhos, Black Mixen
and Bach Hill
, for once not shrouded in mist and cloud. Further NNW, something more prominent, which must be one of the southern North-Walian ranges. North-east, looking down a straight-as-an-arrow enclosure road, are the South Shropshire hills of Brown Clee
and Titterstone Clee
. Magnificent. So, the stone may not be the most exciting, but it's still a very worthwhile trek to come up here.
And suddenly it's right there, the capstone the first thing to appear over a little hump in the road. There's a small motorhome parked up alongside, and a chap sitting quietly by the chamber. We say hello and then I get on with being utterly impressed with this place. First, the monument itself. What an astonishing size the capstone (now broken) is, what a feat of engineering it was to have built this. It's supported, table-top like, on a number of upright slabs, which look barely big enough to cope – but obviously do. A couple of upright stones at the south end may mark a false portal, while an entrance passage (roofless) leads away from the north of the chamber before turning to the west. As I do, to be even more awestruck by the views. I don't think the photos and descriptions I have read really prepared me for the views from this monument. The Black Mountains north-eastern escarpment fills the horizon, from Ysgyryd Fawr
(The Skirrid or Holy Mountain) to the south, right up to Hay Bluff (Pen-y-Beacon
) at the northern tip. Wow. No-one is telling me that this monument wasn't sighted with this in mind – particularly when you realise that the western curve of the passage faces Hay Bluff and the orientation of the chamber faces Ysgyryd Fawr.
Obligatory photos taken, I chat to the guy with the van. He tells me he's staying here tonight, with the prospect of sunrise and sunset to look forward to across this wonderful landscape. Lucky man. He lays a bet that I will be the only person he sees here today. As I haven't seen anyone but him for about three hours (cars excepted), I'm prepared to believe this. Then, while we chat, another couple come in a car, take some pictures and leave. Then another couple, who tell us that they've just been to see the lovely (and very pagan inspired) Saxon church and Kilpeck. They also come and go. It rains and the chamber makes for a neat shelter for a few wet minutes. The sun shines again. Van man tells me he intends to spend to summer in his van, crossing Wales to look for interesting places. Maybe we'll meet again!