Two substantial round barrows crown the large summit plateau of Bryn y Fedwen providing (on an unexpectedly fine morning such as this, anyway) wondrous panoramic views to the north and north-west of Cadair Idris and southern Snowdonia. Assuming my understanding of the vernacular is not that limited, it wasn't always such a great viewpoint, the reference to birch trees (I think) suggesting a fundamentally different prevailing landscape context in the past. I find it difficult to visualise. But there you are. Times change. Nevertheless the traveller is here presented with an opportunity to experience an excellent upland vibe with relatively little effort, the latter courtesy of the minor road which traverses the moorland to the west before sharply descending the escarpment edge. It is possible to leave a car at the entrance to the impressive Glaslyn nature reserve (needless to say don't block the cattle grid like the mindless muppet I encountered).... and simply step over the fence across the road. If not, try the Vaughan-Thomas memorial a little further down the road (not forgetting to tip your hat in posthumous tribute to a true outdoorsman and raconteur) where it is 'just' possible. Incidentally this is also a convenient starting point for an ascent of Foel Fadian, the shapely mini-mountain featuring a large barrow mid-way along its eastern flank.... and a quite wondrous skyline of Pumlumon rising across Uwch y Coed and Glaslyn.
Anyway, I digress. The ascent of Bryn y Fedwen from the road is short, the angle of attack shallow, an audience with the first of the barrows soon attained. According to Coflein this measures "20m by 18m and 1.5m high, foreshortened to the NW by a track and bearing the scars of excavation, an inurned cremation being recorded in 1938 [J.Wiles 15.04.02]." So, no doubt about this being the 'real deal', then. The monument is surmounted by a standing stone almost obscured by the long grass which, unfortunately, turns out to be a boundary marker. Shame, but not unexpected in these parts.
A touch of low cloud, formed by temperature inversion, begins to peel away from Cadair Idris resplendent upon the northern horizon. Closer to hand Foel Fadian lies enticingly to the immediate west, its barrow particularly well defined from here. I quickly come to the conclusion that a visit is required later, a brief interlude at the Gladmobile to replenish coffee stocks notwithstanding. In the interim there is also the magnificent vista of Pumlumon to enjoy prior to the gaze being duly drawn to the east to focus upon the second round barrow to grace this hill top. The short walk across the intervening distance requires negotiating another low fence (or perhaps two?) but, despite the damage suffered by the monument, it is worth the effort. Again according to Coflein... this barrow is actually a little taller than its western neighbour, but, in my opinion, less upstanding. If that makes any sense? Probably not. Anyway the dimensions are given as "18m in diameter & 1.7m high", the monument "...devastated by profitless excavation." Well, one out of two aint bad.
As I sit and revel in the conditions upon my little hill top, convex, grassy contours within pastureland to the south-east suggest to me the possibility that Bryn y Fedwen's Bronze Age cemetery was once more extensive than currently supposed. Whatever, I leave Bryn y Fedwen impressed by what I consider an important addition to the Pumlumon prehistoric canon.
The adjective 'obscure' could well have been devised for the location of this long cairn, although, to be fair, much of the 'secret garden' vibe is no doubt due to the wooded environs.... and the fact that the monument is conspicuous by its absence from both the 1:50K and 1:25K OS maps. This is not a site to accidentally stumble across on walkabout (although stumble the visitor will, believe me) but instead a temporary haven from the more annoying manifestations of what we term the 'modern world'. Yeah, I would rate the chance of an undisturbed hang here close to 100%, since I reckon even the Coflein people must've sourced local knowledge to find it. Surely? As for myself... I simply asked the Postman.
It is true to say that the locality does not exactly display a paucity of Bronze Age and Iron Age sites. Oh no. A little to the approx NE a cluster of round barrows duly, well, cluster around the small village of Staylittle, whilst the looming, soggy heights of Pumlumon - Itself - are crowned with perhaps the finest extended concentration of upland cairns in the UK. There are hill forts and lesser enclosures, too. But what of the Neolithic, you may ask? Well....the long cairn is set in a classic location for the type, a short distance east of Cwmbiga Farm overlooking the Afon Biga, one of the lesser rivers sourced upon the aforementioned 'Mother of Rivers'. There are, er, others. Only a couple of hundred yards from the road it may be, but to all intents and purposes it might as well be on the moon for all the likelihood of a casual visitor venturing here. Needless to say Michael Stipe won't be coming, then. Pity.
Speaking of REM, assuming you manage to cross the ridiculously mossy 'lost world' landscape eloquently described by Postman and actually locate the monument, the vibe here is so ethereal the scope for day dreaming is extensive, to say the least. I've no idea how long the Hafren Forest has hidden the long cairn from prying eyes, but assume such a state of affairs was not the original builders' collective intention, something the visitor should take into account. Nevertheless the cairn's grassy 'crust' suggests it's been a while; in fact only a couple of (excavation?) pits and a small area of stone breaking the green mantle confirm that this is indeed a cairn. Definitely a long one, too.
So.... visitors in search of high drama should look elsewhere. Hey, venture up to one of Pumlumon's great round cairns, why don't you? But if an understated, slumbering woodland vibe appeals, make your way to Cwmbiga Farm and follow the southern bank of the Afon Biga - very, very rough going - to the approx east. The monument is not obvious, but isn't that all part of the appeal?
Unlike the larger cairn occupying the summit of this rocky ridge (SN879867) CPAT [PRN4960] reckons this cairn probably represents additional field clearance upon an original monument:
"Poss cairn some 7m dia built around natural outcrop may be natural feature (CPAT site visit, 1978). Area now afforested site unlocated - prob destroyed (OS, 1981)....Site is now occupied by a modern clearance cairn. Probably an ancient site reused (Gibson, A M , 1998 , Prehistoric Funerary & Ritual Sites: Upper Severn Valley)."
I was actually looking for the nearby Pen-y-cerrig cairn shown on the map a little to approx north-east. However I failed to positively identify that one - make of that what you will - but stumbled upon this instead as compensation. That'll do. Some great views, too, particularly toward Pumlumon.