There are here two white stones, known as 'y fuwch wen a'r llo,' 'the white cow and calf,' standing close to one another on the moorland near the source of the Severn. They are best approached from Eisteddfa Gurig. The larger of the stones is 6 feet high, and the smaller 4 feet high. no local tradition would seem to be connected with them. -- Visited, 5th July, 1910.
Now I'd been saving a visit to this prosaically named hillfort for a spell of clear weather in order to do justice to the views it obviously possessed. Nevertheless today I find myself leaving the sanctuary of the car to ascend to the ancient fortress, perched at the northern apex of a rocky ridge... in pouring rain. Eh, how did that happen? Yeah, as John le Mesurier might well have laconically observed ...'Do you think this is wise, sir?' He'd have had a point, too, since mist swirling around summit crags surely does not promise great vistas. However my ageing waterproofs begin to 'wet-out' as soon as I step outside and the climb from the bridge to the south, as Kammer notes, is not overly taxing relative to Pumlumon. Besides, I can always come back.
The single rampart defining this enclosure is not particularly powerful but, to be fair, it had no need to be, not with topography such as this to provide overwhelming natural defence. Coflein reckons the hillfort is:
"...pear-shaped, 107m N/S by 51m E/W. Hogg (Cardiganshire County History 1994, 270) described the rampart as `'a stony bank, about 5.5m wide and just over a metre high externally.'... The original entrance, an unelaborated gap, is centrally placed in the rampart on the south side and commands panoramic views to the south. T Driver, RCAHMW, 15 September 2004."
Ah, 'panoramic views to the south'; not that these are immediately apparent, of course. However as I undertake my usual (ritualistic?) circuits of the banks the 'unseen hand' of Mother Nature clearly takes pity on the sodden traveller, quickly dispersing the annoyingly opaque vapour along with its residual aqueous cargo. Ah, that's better. Always good to be able to see what one's doing. The Afon Rheidol, it goes with out saying keeping its reservoir duly 'topped up' in the circumstances, provides the water feature to the east and south-east. That lying below to the west is the Nant Dinas, as you might expect from the general nomenclature utilsed in the area. To the north-west Disgwylfa Fach watches (appropriately enough) over the site, its Big Sister, complete with massive round cairn (the source of those enigmatic 'dugouts'), looming to the right. Below to the north-east, across the Rheidol, sits the excellent little cairn circle at Hirnant; whilst the main Pumlumon massif dominates the northern horizon. Yeah, it would have been a shame to miss all this... let's just say I had an inherent feeling I wouldn't. Or else was just plain jammy, for once?
Coflein cites the existence of a number of possible hut 'platforms', a certain example located near the centre of the enclosure. Other points of interest include the incorporation of the summit crags upon the western flank in the defences, as well as a possible original cross bank. But wait; this being Pumlumon, there's more. Controversial, too. It short it seems that during 1938 - the year after THOSE excavations upon Disgwylfa Fawr - what has been described as a 'hurried burial' [R.S. Jones, Cambrian Archaeological Projects, 2004] was discovered here featuring 'human bones and 'plate armour'' within a stone cist... as reported within the Western Mail of 6th Sept. 1938 ('Historical Finds on Welsh Mountains'). 'Plate armour'? As with the 'dug-outs' located further north, guess it's all a question of interpretation. Was it an Iron Age inhumation, with a slab of the new 'stuff' as grave goods... or that of a medieval knight fallen in the battle local legend attributes to the site... a warrior who, by all accounts, must have been deemed quite a dude?'
Hey, the cloud may have left Dinas today.... but the nebulosity, it seems, remains....
I'll begin with an admission: I didn't actually intend to make my way to Pumlumon's summit today, a sojourn upon Y Garn the relatively modest limit of ambition. However these mysterious uplands of Mid Wales are intoxicating, truly beguiling to this traveller. Lacking - for the most part - the stark, angular rock formations to be found further north in Snowdonia, the attraction here is more subtle... more, well, feminine..... with an innate strength of character. Consider Katherine Hepburn, if you will. Yeah, Pumlumon's contours are generally soft, rounded, the frequent veneer of mist perhaps reminiscent of the alluring movement of silk across the female breast, representations of which the ancients saw fit to erect upon their summits. How can a man resist? As it happens all is clear today, but nonetheless, perched upon Y Garn's great cairn, I am drawn to Pen Pumlumon-Fawr as a moth to the flame.
It is further than I anticipate, much more so than I recall. Ha! Truly, my eyes and memory doth deceive me, the hamstring beginning to tighten as I swing north to follow the fenceline along Pen y Drawsallt to the summit (a handy guide should you find yourself engulfed by the mist.... not so beguiling then, it has to be conceded). Despite such physical 'idiosyncracities' I duly approach the top after a little over 30 minutes, the first of a trio of cairns, erected in north-south alignment upon the summit ridge, crowning the skyline. It is a fine monument, seemingly more or less intact and utilising the bedrock to great effect. According to Coflein:
'The southernmost and best preserved cairn on Pen Plynlimon-fawr. It is 55ft in diameter and about 10ft in height, including a modem cairn on top.... The cairn appears to be founded on a natural boss of rock.... (CADW Scheduling description, 1993)'.
Nice, a great spot to hang out for lunch and take in the majestic, extensive views toward distant southern Snowdonia and the Elanydd, not to mention the coastline of Cardigan Bay and Pen Pumlumon-Fawr's myriad supporting, cairn-endowed peaks clustering around mother... with the added bonus of avoiding the walker punters drawn to the summit as ferrite to the magnet. Ah, yes. It has to be added that, although a worthy cairn to crown the summit peak of Pumlumon, this 'un actually sits a little below to the south. The reason for its survival, no doubt. Guess we should be grateful for small mercies.
Sadly the 2,467ft summit is actually home to a massive, sprawling - it has to be said - shattered mess of a cairn set a little further up the ridge to the north. I have to admit to conflicting, mutually exclusive emotions as I stand beside the OS trig pillar and survey the carnage... overwhelming, breathless wonder at the fabulous vistas stretching to every horizon, humility at the sheer priviledge of being here on such a day as today... alternating with the realisation that here resides a monument with a dual purpose, recognising not only the considerable, back-breaking efforts of our ancestors, but standing also in mute testimony, a damning indictment of sheer ignorance engendering mindless, pointless 'walker' vandalism perhaps unequalled in all Wales? Yeah, what have they done to what must originally have been a true behemoth of a cairn? Again, Coflein:
'One of three cairns upon a summit of Plynlimon... c.10m in diameter & 1.0m high, having several shelters & an OS trig. pillar set upon it. (source Os495card; SN78NE9) RCAHMW AP955040/44-5 J.Wiles 16.01.04'
Note the reference to 'several shelters'.... speaking of which, two 'tough' Welsh walkers arrive to interrupt my bemused ponderings, attired only in T-shirts (for some reason). They agree with my observations regarding the loss of their heritage... before heading straight for the largest 'muppet shelter' to eat, cower from the wind and avoid the views. What is it with these people? I am loathe to share the summit with suchlike, taking my leave in order to view what is arguably Pumlumon's 'jewel in the crown'.... who knows, perhaps for the last time? I head north, passing another cairn, again cited by Coflein as being of Bronze Age origin. On this occasion, however, I'm not so sure - although the positioning is consistent, it just 'doesn't look right', you know? Consequently I must reserve judgement.
Beyond, the summit ridge falls away to the north-east to form the crags overlooking the still waters of Llyn Llygad-Rheidol (the 'eye' of the Rheidol). As the nomenclature suggests, this mountain tarn is indeed the source of the Afon Rheidol, and how wondrous does it look nestling within its rocky bowl! I plonk myself down and ponder once again... Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli rises above to my right, the source of the Wye to its right, that of the Severn (Hafren) obscured by the mountain's tri-cairned bulk. Panning north... Carn Hydggen, with a pair of massive cairns of its own, lies across the Afon Hengwm and..... yes, there they are.... the quartzite blocks of Y Cerrig Cyfammod Glyndwr shining in the sun beneath the (inevitably) be-cairned Banc Llechwedd-mawr. There is more. Hey, it's easy to get carried away and forget I still have to get back down again with a tight hamstring. Hmm.
Time expires.... the universal constant. I decide to retrace my steps and so hopefully minimise any unforeseen eventualities and avoid any 'tarmac bashing'. As the light begins to fail upon Y Garn's massive cairn the horizon develops a pink hue that somehow seems to epitomise Pumlumon today. Understated, yet with an inherent character to take the breath away. Just like a certain film star from Hollywood's golden age, perhaps?
In my experience it is often the case that either end of a linear mountainous ridge will receive its fair share of walkers coming and going. As usual, however, Pumlumon does not subscribe to convention... in fact I reckon you will be hard pressed to find any more unfrequented 2,000ft plus hills in all Wales than Pumlumon Cwmbiga at the northern apex. Y Garn, occupying the southern end of the Pumlumon massif, in my opinion possesses a very similar atmosphere. The difference here, however, is that - despite being higher than its distant counterpart - it is much easier to achieve that special upland ancient vibe.
I would suspect that most of the visitors Y Garn does pay host to are 'peak bagging' - after all the the mountain does rise to 2,244 ft, very respectable for Mid Wales - either taking a detour during the ascent from Eisteddfa Gurig to the east, or engaged in an 'out-and-back' from Pen Pumlumon-Fawr itself. Indeed it was by way of the latter that I first came here way back in 1993. There is another option, however. One that offers up the chance to visit a rather fine cairn-circle as either a suitably splendid hors d'oeuvres... or else a classic prehistoric finale to the day; namely an ascent from Lle'r Neuaddau more or less directly below to the west. Great site....
Most prospective Citizens Cairn'd will presumably approach via the (signposted) Nant-y-Moch road from Ponterwyd [As it happens I came the opposite way, following a look at the Nant Maesnantfach cairn... but no matter]. If so, look for the copse of trees on the right (not shown on older editions - i.e mine - of the 1:25K map) just past the Lle'r Neuaddau farm buildings, noting the track heading through the trees. I parked a little way up the road to avoid being in the way of 'farm-related business' (as I recall the occupants are 'proper' decent people) and, after emerging from the forestry upon the aforementioned track, simply made a steep ascent to the east all the way to the summit, crossing one fence by way of a conveniently positioned stone. Of course it isn't quite as straightforward as that.... the climb is very steep in places, not to mention more or less trackless (so far as I noticed).... but further directions are, frankly, superfluous. Er, up. That-a-way. Great retrospective views across Nant-y-Moch, of Disgwylfa Fawr and to the coast provide ample reasons for comfort breaks... in addition to the most obvious.
The summit cairn, when it arrives, is a very welcome sight indeed and much larger than I recall from that visit 19 years ago. Sure, it is defaced somewhat by a section of dry stone walling across the southern arc.... presumably for the benefit of livestock, not homo sapiens? The monument is also not that tall; if ever it was so, the cairn has now collapsed and spread to form an extensive footprint. Nevertheless there remains a very significant volume of stone piled upon this mountain top, complementing the 'greener' example upon Disgwylfa Fawr across the Afon Rheidol. Unlike Disgwylfa Fawr, however, whatever was interned within Y Garn's cairn has been lost forever.
I stay on site for a couple of hours to revel in the exquiste vibe in such fine weather. Yeah, it's not often one can enjoy absolute, complete and utter silence... incidentally I spy a couple of punters striding the far ridge to Pen Pumlumon-Fawr. But none bother to come here to break the spell. Nonetheless the seed is planted and begins to germinate... quickly, too. Pen Pumlumon-Fawr doesn't look that far away, does it? 'Passionate Gladman' and 'Conscientious Gladman' battle for supremacy, the latter surmising that the hamstring won't hold up. For better or worse, however, the former wins. In the end he is proved right. But only just.
I arrive gone 1pm.... but then again wouldn't have arrived at all - suffering a complete alternator failure upon the M1 - if not for the consumate skills of RAC mechanic Dave Perry.... so thanks Dave. The job was a good 'un. Anyway, loathe to waste the fantastic autumnal light, I take a leaf out of Kammer's 'book' and finally head for Disgwylfa Fawr... 'Disgwylfa' apparently translating as 'Watching Place'. Hey, how cool is that? 'Bid me farewell, fair maid with the snow white swan neck.... since I must leave you now and seek my destiny at the mystical Watching Place... I may not return'. Well, hopefully not the last bit.
An approach from the west seems the best bet in the circumstances, the minor road from Ponterwyd (not the one signposted 'Nant-y-Moch', but that climbing above the western bank of the Rheidol) passing a trio of worthwhile ancient sites en-route.... Dinas hillfort, Nant Geifaes and the Buwch a'r Llo standing stones. Having seen these last month I actually manage to complete the journey and park at the sharp hair-pin bend north of Llyn Blaenmelindwr. A forestry track (a public right of way) veers right a short distance down the Llyn Syfydrin access road, a subsequent (signposted) left turn duly emerging from the trees with Disgwylfa Fawr visible upon the eastern horizon. I follow a fence line to descend a very boggy hill side and cross the Nant Glan-dwr via, as I recall, a plank bridge. So, no wet feet, then. Nice. I toil up past the ruins of Syfydrin - nursing a cold I'm not in the best of nick, to be fair - and begin the final ascent.
Suddenly a bloody 'tally ho' horn shatters the silence and the reason for numerous 'farmer types' patrolling the area with binoculars becomes clear.... what I assume to be a group of 'sabs' stand a little below to the south. Of course there are two sides to every story, but suffice to say I have no respect whatsoever for the morality of any person who thinks hunting an animal to its death in the name of 'fun' is a legitimate occupation. I'm conscious numerous eyes are probably fixed upon me, wondering what the hell I'm doing here... but then again is this not 'The Watching Place?' Apparently so.
Not before time I arrive at the summit; only 1,663ft (507m) but it seemed much more! A large round cairn - albeit looking more like a grassy round barrow - crowns the top. I always find it difficult to judge relative heights, but thankfully the conditions are benign enough to allow a scale photo. Yeah, this is a substantial monument. As Kammer before me notes, the centre of the cairn bears a slight depression, no doubt the result of the 1937 excavation. Then I recall what was actually discovered within this monument back then.... two dug-out 'canoes' with associated funerary remains (see the misc post). Whaa the? Dug-out canoes? Up here ?!? Yeah, apparently so... or at least what remained of them... with published Bronze Age radio carbon dates to boot. I gaze at the 360 degree vista and suddenly feel I've gained a fleeting insight into something very important ideed. What is it about Pumlumon and its (apparent) association with water? This is 'The Watching Place', alright.
Pendinas hillfort stands sentinel above Aberystwyth to the west, the point in the landscape where one great Welsh river completes its journey to the coast. Another, the Afon Rheidol is viewed at a much more nascent stage, linking the Nant-y-Moch and Dinas reservoirs below to the approx south-east..... hey, perhaps the very water course our Bronze Age 'sailor dudes' went a'fishing in/upon their cool canoes... sans reservoirs, naturally. Unless the whole thing was symbolic? (Presumably) a little further along the proverbial time line the locals fortified and occupied the crag of Dinas, perhaps to control the natural passage through the mountains. The mind reels, it really does. North-east rises Pen Pumlumon-Fawr and the rest of the central Pumlumon massif, massive complementary cairns surmounting every top. Clearly height was not the primary consideration since Disgwylfa Fawr's monument is by no means peripheral. Pumlumon is more or less devoid of inhabitants now, just a couple of farms with attendant cairn circles in the back garden.... the usual. By all accounts, however, the evidence would suggest it was not always this way.
Failing light announces that I must leave. All is quiet down below with no 'mighty hunters' to be seen... assuming there were any in the first place. If so, with any luck Reynard gave them the run around. No need for his mate 'Stanley'. Furthermore I discover that somehow I left my storm jacket in the car (a rather poor error, to be fair). Pumlumon, however, was kind to me today, not least with its weather, concluding the day by bathing the Buwch a'r Llo stones in exquiste light. Needless to say I have to pause for a while.... it would be rude not to after She's gone to all that trouble.
Drosgol is arguably the most awkward of Pumlumon's 'supporting cast' to visit due to the expansive waters of the Nant-y-Moch reservoir barring a direct approach from either west, south, or east. Assuming you aren't in possession of a boat, that is. Consequently the twin cairns which crown its summit are the last of the area's extraordinarily extensive canon to experience the dubious pleasure of Gladman's wobbly boots, if only for a couple of hours, or so. Yeah, just a blink of the proverbial 'eye' of time.... albeit one peering from behind suitably cool Ray Bans this wondrous day (other makes of sunglasses are available; as for myself, I make do with none).
Now I've spent the night beside the Maesnant cascades, due east of Drosgol, on a number of occasions over the years, the mountain's profile rising across the water to invoke in the sleepy head emotions harmonising with the prevailing weather conditions.... from the ethereal, mystical (however you may define that, although like sexual attraction you sure know when you experience it) to the 'what the hell are you doing here, you muppet?' as rain lashes down during the storm. More or less the full range of human cerebral interaction with what we, for want of a better word, continue to call 'wilderness'. Always, however, there was the nagging thought - like the little devil perched upon the shoulder in those Tom and Jerry cartoons; or is it Itchy and Scratchy? - that I really must visit one day. Well......
Dawn arrives with the psychological impact of the allegorical freight train, to experience such perfect conditions to my mind the primary benefit of wild camping. All is still... save the almost imperceptible movement of a cloud bank inching its way, as if by sentient touch, across the bulk of Banc Llechwedd-mawr and Drosgol, their progressively exposed flanks bathed in a combination of orange/red/gold that only Nature could ever reproduce again. All is quiet... save the reassuring action of the Maesnant cascades upon rock. Some things are simply meant to be, inexorable. Such as me finally having to ascend Drosgol today. Having no wish to ford the Afon Hyddgen again (wuss) I decide to approach from the north-western extremity of the Nant-y-Moch, plenty of off road parking available opposite a rough byway beneath Carn Owen. Heading east a bridleway leads down the hillside before veering approx south to follow the northern shore of the reservoir. The surface is firm, too much so for my poor shins in walking boots; however the archetypal green 'centre line' affords welcome relief. The route swings north to skirt a prominent inlet, Drosgol now rising across the water and looking a lot higher than it is, Y Garn looming behind its right shoulder like the reassuring presence of a celebrity's bodyguard.... 'Mrs Drosgol isn't receiving visitors today.... but seeing as you're a friend of Mr Cope's...'
In retrospect I would suggest it is preferable to cross the deep gulley cradling the Nant-y-Baracs sooner rather than later, struggling up the boggy far bank to (hopefully) pick up a grassy track to Drosgol's summit. However - and not for the first time - I am deceived by the effects of foreshortening, deciding an approach from the north-west looks less demanding. Consequently I blunder into the yard of a (thankfully) deserted farm, concealed within a copse of trees, before retreating and cutting across the gulley anyway. Again, in retrospect, the map is clear. Still, no harm done and I squelch up hill to locate the necessary track (not shown on the map) and, eventually, complete a short scramble up a rocky spine to stand upon the summit before the twin cairns. The erectors chose well, Drosgol proving arguably a better viewpoint than similarly endowed Banc Llechwedd-mawr to the north-east. Like those of its neighbour, the former's cairns have emerged from the mists of time in differing states of preservation. The eastern monument has faired by far the better of the pair, a substantial, low cairn seemingly intentionally set upon the northern slope of the summit ridge to face away from Pen Pumlumon-Fawr and the main bulk of the massif... that is to say I do not think the orientation is the result of significant slippage over the course of millennia. I could be wrong, of course. As you might expect, a modern construct occupies the highest section of the cairn. Thankfully, though, there is no 'muppet shelter' defacing this cairn. Sadly the same can not be said for the western example. By contrast this is now reduced to a mere outline in places, patches of the ubiquitous tough upland grass in evidence within the footprint. Having said that the cairn still retains a fair few rocks in situ. I've seen much worse.
A visit to Drosgol was never primarily going to be about the archaeology, of course; decent enough though it may be, it will not blow the traveller away for its own sake. No, what 'does it' for me is the vibe to be encountered here... an 'aloofness' which engenders a feeling of more or less complete isolation - of positive detachment - from the world below... enabling a purity of thought, if such a thing is possible without disappearing up your own backside, whilst nevertheless retaining a mental 'umbilical cord' to the familiar. A safety net. Or perhaps 'a toddler's restraint' is a more appropriate allegory? Yeah, my car always remains in sight, albeit at a considerable distance. Speaking of which, I gaze down at a car occupying the space mine did this morning - and will again tonight - and reflect upon how tiny, how insignificant it seems. So that's how I appear in the big picture, the overall scheme of things? Inconsequential, a mere detail in the landscape. Trivial. The realisation that that's what mountains do.... present those who wish to expend their energy ascending them with a different perspective of the world and the place us homo sapiens have upon it. Sure, we may have had a major impact, most of it detrimental, but we are nonetheless just a'passing through until replaced by the next tenants-in-chief. I make no apologies for thinking anything which can highlight this basic premise can never be a bad thing.
I find no reason to go back down until the possibility of benightment becomes just that. A real possibility. Retracing the morning's route along the shoreline the surrounding hills and mountains are bathed in a crimson glow so, well, 'red' as to once again defy categorisation. The circle is closed. Well, for today anyway.
I approach heading south from the twin Carn Gwilym cairns which crown Carn Hyddgen, the landscape bathed in light so intense, so vivid... as to render the resulting colours beyond any description I might attempt. Some things are best left unsaid if we are to avoid the descent into pastiche..... save to give due credit to the 'lighting department'. Out of this world....
Sadly the scant remains of this small cairn do not do justice to the magnificent scenery this evening. Set above a small tarn, I must admit I'm by no means convinced that this is in fact the 'genuine' article. Having said that, the site is not one that one would perhaps expect the archetypal 'walker's cairn' to occupy, there being (arguably) much better potential locations nearby. Another for the 'await excavation - if ever' file, then.
The final, very steep descent to the Afon Hengwm affords a superb view toward Cwm Gwerin and Pen Pumlumon-Arwystli, shattered outcrops of rock rearing like proto-standing stones in the foreground. Pen Pumlumon-Fawr itself lies across the river, illuminated in blood red by the dying sun. Yeah, I wish I could stay and revel in it all for much longer... but nightfall approaches. As it must. And I've still a bit of a tramp to reach the car and (hopefully) sanctuary from the ghosts of any of Glyndwr's host still with issues to settle during the night. Nos da.
It's rather disorientating - odd, even - to return to a location after a prolonged absence, to stand at a spot where you last set foot nearly 20 years before. For me Carn Hyddgen is such a place, a (it has to be said ridiculous) map reading error having first drawn me to the twin cairns of Carn Gwilym in 1993. Simple arithmetic aided the conclusion that this was indeed not Pen Pumlumon Arwystli as I had planned. Yeah, three cairns into two doesn't go. No such errors today.... I think Pumlumon and I understand each other a little better now. Although 'She' still refuses to make things easy, the terms still very much 'take it or leave it', the descent from Banc Llechwedd-mawr and re-fording of the Afon Hyddgen no easy skate... in fact I would say incorporating some of the roughest grass-land in Wales.
However all that is consigned to the latest batch of 'Gladman history' as soon as I reach the summit. The sheer bulk of the cairns, albeit greatly accentuated by later 'marker' edifices constructed from the copious base material, takes my breath away. The revised profiles - although when the revision took place is anyone's guess (the miscellaneous entry refers) - are hauntingly evocative, particularly viewed against such an angry sky so full of character. In fact the vibe reminds me somewhat of Drygarn Fawr isolated, albeit to a greater degree still, in not too distant Elanydd. The vistas to be had from here are, as one would expect, similar to Banc Llechwedd-mawr across the bwlch. However the subtle differences, the variance in angle of shadow, in apparent landscape texture suggested by the play of light, in depth of colour... are all important. Perhaps the primary difference is the insight Carn Hyddgen affords the viewer of the 'forgotten corner' of Pumlumon, the north-eastern sector whence resides the monuments of Carn Fawr, Carnfachbugeilyn and Carn Biga. This evening the emptyness of the landscape is total, overwhelmingly so, populated solely by washes of sunlight dueling with shadow. Hey, I doubt if the 'dark side' ever looked so appealing? The question 'why people chose to bury their dead up here' never seemed so superfluous, so rhetorical. I mean... just... well... LOOK!
OK, perhaps it isn't as simple as that. I confess it is an easy matter to get carried away when the mountains put on their 'light show'. But surely theatrical spectacle was fundamental to the Bronze Age ritual experience, the timing of visits to these places specifically chosen to maximise the impact, to blow the mind?
Incidentally Coflein cites two further small cairns upon Carn Hyddgen as having Bronze Age associations - at SN7924290848 and SN7924390834. Bearing in mind the 'amendments' to the primary pair I must admit I'm not convinced. However, unlike during my 1993 visit, I have no need of maths this evening.