Maybe it's relevant, maybe it's not, but there are a number of distinctive conical hills near Old Radnor: Stanner Rocks, Worsell Wood, Hanter Hill. Apparently these contain some of the oldest rocks in Wales - Precambrian and 700 million years old. Old Radnor was called 'Pen-y-Graig': 'head of the rock'. The geology means Stanner Rocks supports some pretty strange and rare plants, and it was said: "by the common people it is called the Devil's Garden." You can't help wondering where the stones for the local monuments came from. Probably.
"The Cambrian Balnea: Or Guide to the Watering Places of Wales, Marine and Inland" by Thomas Jeffery Llewelyn Prichard (1825).
Extracted from "Betwixt & Between" by Mary Dodsworth and Iain Steele in "The Cauldron" no.115), themselves drawing on "The Folklore of Radnorshire" by Roy Palmer :-
Beguildy church, on raised site by River Teme, probably a B.A. settlement.
Bleddfa church on a B.A. mound.
Bryngwyn: The Six Stones near N boundary of village is a stone circle of ~12 stones.
Llanfihangel Cascob cut into a burial mound.
Llanfihangel Cefnllys a B.A. site. I.A. fort on Cefnllys Hill turned into mediaeval castle.
Discoed church south of a five millenium old yew - a circular site about an antient mound and a Neolithic tree.
Disserth church a circular site with a well nearby formerly dressed with mistletoe.
Kinnerton church within an earlier circular wall. By the road to Old Radnor there is a standing stone.
Llanbister church has tower behind altar, at the E end. Sulfur well overlooks church.
Llandegley church very late, healing well on Cymaron riverbank side nearby.
Llandeio Graban tower bedroom for last Welsh dragon.
Llandewi Ystradenni. Giant's burial at Tomen Beddugre nearby.
Llanelwedd church has thity tumuli within half-a-mile and a lost standing stone.
Llanfihangel Nant Melan ringed by ancient yews, with one holding solitary remnant of a stone circle.
Nantmel church has 6 two millenia old yews in precinct. 2 standing stones called the Devil's Clogs on nearby Tan-y-cefn farm.
Old Radnor church font cut from fifth stone of Four Stones group at edge of Kinnerton-Walton road. In 1994 a vast stone circle revealed from the air in the Radnor valley - probably defined by 1400 oaks, it covers 34 hectares but doesn't have a precise location !
Pilleth church has well behind that was resorted to by people with eye problems.
St. Harmon chuch first dedication in Wales, but he wasn't buried in Bedd Harmon near it. Two stone circles also near, though Cwm y Saeson only has two stones left out of 14 and that on Hendre Rhiw farm only one of 5. Dogs and people treated by sulfur spring on Temple Bar farm.
Whitton church lies in an earlier circular llan.
It would appear - according to our friends at Coflein, anyway - that the grassy, round cairn which surmounts the modest 1,581ft summit of Y Foel is (somewhat confusingly) known as Carreg Bica... that is 'Bica's stone', perhaps a reference to the erstwhile giant of Welsh folklore said to have done the rounds locally. Probably a bit grumpy, too. Not to mention jealous, seeing as Idris, similarly endowed with gianthood, had the dramatically eponymous Cadair Idris to call his own. Legend can be so unfair.
However relative merit is, funnily enough, relative, Y Foel proving a rather fine rocky 'perch' towering above an abrupt volte-face by the Afon Elan to the south, a movement albeit somewhat protracted by the creation of the reservoirs. I'd recommend an ascent from the west, via the Beddau Folau chambered cairn, although it may well prove difficult to vacate the lower monument, once encountered. If successful.... carry on along the path and, ignoring the obvious left hand fork (likewise a number of lesser sheep tracks), keep heading east before veering right to ascend the shallow northern 'ridge' - for want of a better word - of Y Foel to the cairn.
Carreg Bica is a deceptively substantial monument. Upon arrival, no doubt seduced by the excellent Beddau Folau earlier, I initially think 'not bad'. But it is better than that, as time and a succession of differing viewing angles make clear. Perhaps there are even remnants of a now trashed cist in situ? Perhaps. Anyway, according to Coflein the round cairn is a:
"Cairn of stones and slabs. Mostly grass covered. Approx. 9.8m x 10.7m x 1.5m high. Summit occupied by modern cairn and boundary post. Cairn appears to act as viewing site giving clear vistas toward other cairn sites across valley N/S/E/W (RSJ 2000)"
The reference to the monument appearing to function as a 'viewing site' is perhaps assumptive; however I can confirm that the spot chosen is indeed an excellent viewpoint, particularly when scanning the southern arc... and identifying numerous other prehistoric sites, including the Crugian Bach complex and the highest summits of Y Elenydd. Such a focus upon the surrounding uplands, as opposed to the lowlands, does seem to be a recurring feature of these high Bronze Age cairns in my experience.
Following a wander south-west along the mightily vegetated Craig Y Foel... excellent views.... I return to the summit to endure a bit of a kicking from the weather, to be honest. Nevertheless the compass reassures as cloud engulfs all and subsequently leads me back down to Beddau Folau. Yeah, despite the dodgy weather it is a great place to end a fine day.
Despite the weather having taken a pronounced turn for the worse - or, arguably, reverting to Y Elenydd's uncompromising default position - dawn ushers in no compulsion to leave. Far from it. So, what to do upon a grey day heralding... not a lot, to be honest? Munching a (blue plastic) bowl of Coco Pops for inspiration - although apparently an 18 year old Shelley stayed nearby in 1811 (clearly not Pete from The Buzzcocks, then... but the other poet) - the answer arrives, courtesy of the old OS map. Yeah, a brace of cairns in the vicinity of Y Foel, the craggy hillside overlooking the southern extent of the Afon Elan, the river's course somewhat, er, interrupted here to form the famous reservoirs. That'll do.
Upon driving south past the uncomfortably substantial tourist facilities below Pen-y-Garreg Reservoir, the Creigiau Dolfolau immediately present a reassuringly wild 'n' rocky facade above to the left. The Nant Dolfolau breaches the cliff line midway(ish) along, so allowing a public right of way to head steeply to the approx north-east... but not prohibitively so. Parking is possible beside a roadside cascade. Which is handy.
To be fair, the path is still a tad on the 'uphill' side; but nevertheless enjoyable, traversing a quality landscape. Easily fording the aforementioned Nant Dolfolau, the route swings more or less directly east and, with the crags of Y Glog Fawr rearing to the north, in short order I literally stumble across the chambered cairn of Beddau Folau. The monument, although large, is not exactly 'in yer face', then. Although having said that it might well have been with a touch more slippery mud under foot. The big surprise is a number of large orthostats standing upon the heavily overgrown, grassy cairn. Hence Coflein citing Beddau Folau as being a 'chambered cairn', the structure clearly far too substantial to represent a cist, and to my mind, the orthostats too central to represent the remains of a kerbed cairn or cairn-circle:
"Situated below rocky outcrop. Approx. 8m diameter. Central sub-rectangular hollow approx. 3m wide.. 4 upright stones each c. 0.8m high x 0.8m width x 0.1m-0.2m depth. Stones in round flat central chamber area with 1 fallen? stone on base(RSJ 2000)."
Just goes to show that the impulsive antiquarian traveller can never really be sure what the ubiquitous 'cairn' depicted upon the OS map actually represents on the ground. What a wonderful location this is! A short distance above a major tourist location.... yet it might as well be in the middle of nowhere, such is the vibe. Furthermore, one of the orthostats is mightily impressive for an upland cairn.
Speaking of which... there's another apparently ancient cairn, Carreg Bica, located upon the summit of Y Foel to the approx south-east. Worth a look. Indeed, with the weather appearing more 'doubtful' by the minute, I decide to make the visit to the higher monument sooner rather than later to (hopefully) catch some views before they are subsumed within a mass of vapour. However I determine to return to hang out awhile at Beddau Folau in the afternoon. For once, that's how things actually pan out. Whatever next?
The Coflein entry by J.J. Hall [8 Sept 09] notes the following:
"A low cairn, up to 0.5m high and measuring 6m north to south by 5m. Most of the cairn body is in fact very low, less than 0.2m high, but stone has been piled up to create a marker cairn... on the northern side of the monument. There is no evidence of any intrusive activity."
Yeah, I'd concur with that. Incidentally Coflein cites the cairn to be located at SN8922773383, slightly off from what I made it. Happy to be subsequently corrected.
This cairn lies a little downhill from, and to the approx south-west of the 1,765ft summit of Esgair y Llwyn ('ridge of the grove / bush' ... an indication of how the topography of Y Elenydd has changed over the years, I guess, since tussocky grass reigns supreme nowadays). It is not indicated upon either the current 1:25K or 1:50K OS maps.
As I approach, the initial impression is that of modern 'marker cairn' occupying a classic Bronze Age location overlooking the Afon Elan, arguably the finest such position in the immediate locality. Pity. However, what's this? Yeah, closer inspection strongly suggests - to myself, as well as (retrospectively) Coflein - that, although the marker cairn is no doubt modern, it is actually set upon a much larger, grassy footprint of probable ancient origin. What other credible explanation is there up here upon such an obscure hill? Furthermore, it could be argued that the 'greener cairn's' circumference is, albeit intermittently, defined by traces of a kerb.
To be honest I wish I had more time to spend here, the vista south beyond Pont ar Elan toward the Graig Goch Reservoir and Cwmdeuddwr skyline proving to be excellent, as is that looking north-west to the Gors Lwyd wetlands and distant Pen-y-Garn. However I've promised myself a short sojourn at the superb Rhiw Afon cairn before the final descent back down to Pen-yr-ochr farm.... such is life.
Needless to say Banc Cynnydd is not at all bad for a bonus site and, in my opinion well worth primary focus. From the south, perhaps? I would say instinct brought me here. But there are enough gobshites in this world already, thank you very much.
Less than 300 yds - I think - to the approx NW of the shattered Carn Wen stands this beauty near the 'brook of the fold'. An historic reference to sheep husbandry, perhaps? Carn Nant-y-Ffald is by no means a massive monument, but, for me, possesses an inherent quality that is not immediately apparent during the short approach walk from its dishevelled neighbour. The grassy cairn is well defined and shapely. However there's more, the centre possessing a well preserved cist - albeit lacking capstone(s) - shielded by a small dry stone sheep shelter. Yeah, that'll do nicely... well, at least the former, although the shelter is perhaps appropriate, bearing in mind the nomenclature.
The location is archetypical of Y Elenydd, the monument set upon a bare, windswept ridge that, even when basking beneath today's period blue skies, or illuminated by sunbursts, exudes a somewhat primeval, potentially malevolent vibe. Yeah, this is a brutal, unforgiving landscape. In some ways perhaps that is one of its key attributes.... the area representing an ever-shrinking oasis of unpredictable wilderness within a cultural desert of pre-programmed 'life experiences'. Or something like that. Anyway... by all accounts the modern world seems to have passed Carn Nant-y-ffald by. Consider Coflein's RCAHMW field report from 1913... when the monument was described as:
"... a grass-covered stone mound.. some stone protruding through the vegetation. Some cairn material has been used to construct a sheep shelter.. enclosing the open central cist, which survives in remarkably good condition...1.3m east to west by 0.6m and..0.4m deep. It is stone-lined and of solid construction, but its covering stone or stones are no longer present. [RCAHMW 1913]"
As I said, very little seems to have changed upon this hill side in the intervening years. Odd, when you consider it. As I sit and ponder... the aforementioned vibe works upon my consciousness and I subsequently decide to have a wander westwards along the ridge (Gwar y Ty), veering south toward Esgair y Llwyn, searching for views. It seems like the only proper thing to do. How was I to know that Banc Cynnydd also possessed a probable Bronze Age cairn not marked on the map? How, indeed? Well, for what it's worth, it's where I'd have put one, overlooking the Afon Elan.
A short, steep onward climb from the mightily impressive Rhiw Afon cairn brings me to the 'White Cairn', although, to be fair, 'Grey Cairn' would arguably have been more appropriate. Sadly the monument has been well and truly trashed, any lingering remnant of internal detail now lost for ever through the superimposition of a parasitic dry stone shelter. Whether my assumption that the latter was probably erected for the benefit of sheep - those of the Ovis genus, that is, and not ill-equipped walking muppets - makes it any more palatable is perhaps a moot point. The damage has been done, regardless.
Nevertheless enough remains to encourage the visitor to focus upon the positives, to look on the bright side in true Eric Idlian style. Yeah, according to Coflein the monument is:
"A disturbed, grass-covered, stone cairn, which is still a prominent landscape feature, partly due to the use of the cairn material to build a solid stone shelter... Nevertheless the essential form of the cairn is still easily understood being a stone cairn 14m in diameter and a little over 0.5m high [J.J. Hall, Trysor, 8/9/09]."
Mutilation, hey, desecration notwithstanding, the monument is still a substantial stone pile affording a superb view looking south toward the Graig Goch Reservoir and the (relative to these parts) high peaks of Cwmdeuddwr. Not that the cairn's founders would have recognised it, of course! The primary focus here is upon the sky, an impressive cloudscape providing welcome definition to what is all too often a featureless, opaque, grey mass of vapour. But not today. No, today I feel an overwhelming sense of 'space', - of place - of being but a small component of a very large 'whole' indeed. Hey, an infinitely large cosmos! The Great Outdoors, to coin a phrase.
As I sit and ponder a-while the eyes are inevitably drawn to the approx north-west where another, seemingly minor cairn stands some distance away across rough.... very rough... grassland. Checking the map I reckon this must be Carn Nant-y-ffald.... (you don't say Sherlock?) and, since the 'burial chamber' mentioned by the farmer at Pen-yr-Ochr has yet to manifest itself, I guess it must be there. No rest for the inquisitive, then.