Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1889 has a translation of the 12th century confirmation charter of Strata Florida abbey. It mentions 'the Grange which is called Castell y Flemmis', so the name is clearly an old one. The c19th notes offer an explanation for the name: "a considerable encampment, supposed to have been formerly thrown up and occupied by the Flemings of Pembrokeshire". Maybe that theory about the name draws onGiraldus Cambrensis's report of people from Flanders being settled in Wales.
Baring-Gould mentions another name in his 'Lives of the British Saints': Vuarth Caraun / Buarth Caron - meaning Caron's cattle-fold. He says "at" Castell Fflemish, near Tregaron. But what else round here would act as a good cattle-fold? It must surely refer to the fort?
Caron is the patron of nearby Tregaron (Plwyf Caron).If you wanted, you could see mixed up in the story a barrow and a christianised site?
The local tradition, still curent, varies - that he was a prince, a brave chieftain, or a bishop - but it agrees in saying he was buried where the church tower now stands, and that over his grave a large mound was raised. We have here evidently traditions of two distinct persons, a chieftain and an ecclesiastic, who have become mixed up in the popular mind.
Back in Tregaron on the other side of the Teifi, there was and is his well:
His Holy Well there, Ffynnon Garon, was at Eastertide, in days gone by, a centre of great attraction for the young of both sexes. On Easter Eve crowds of children resorted thither, each one bringing a small mug or cup and a quantity of brown sugar, and drank copious draughts of the water sweetened with sugar. On Easter Day, or Low Sunday, the swains met their sweethearts at the spot, and made them gifts of white bread (bara can), which they ate, washing it down with the crystal spring water in token of affection.
Edward Lhuyd gives us to understand that the parish church of Cellan, in Cardiganshire, which he writes "Keth-Lhan," is dedicated to [St Callwen], and that there is a spring there called "Ffynnon Calhwen." All Saints is the dedication now usually given to the church. On one of the mountains in the parish is a cistvaen called Bedd y Forwyn, the Virgin's Grave.
Maybe this is the right place. Coflein doesn't mention the name. But The Cambrian Traveller's Guide says "Upon the mountain to the N. of the river Frwd, are two beddau or graves; and on an eminence to the S. are two more, one of which is called Bedd-y-forwyn, or the Virgin's Grave." So it's in the right sort of place.
Edward Llwyd was writing in the 17th century.
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.
Coming straight from a - it has to be said - magical visit to the Dinas hill fort to the (approx) east... featuring enigmatic warrior burial and glorious views... Pen-y-Castell might well have proved an anti-climax, a disappointment. That it is nothing of the sort could mean I'm easily pleased; or that Pen-y-Castell is simply a great site in its own right? Needless to say this is no doubt a rhetorical question... utterly subjective. For what it's worth, however, I reckon the latter option holds sway.
For one thing there is no direct comparison between the landscape context of the two sites. Not at all. Passing the llynnau of Blaenmelindwr and Pendam along the Penrhyn-coch road from Ponterwyd, I park up opposite the dwelling of Bryn-goleu. My (library sale) OS map helps, but is not conclusive... I decide the public footpath heading downhill to the left is a better bet than the unmade vehicular track. The thought occurs..... 'why am I heading down hill to a hillfort?' Surely this can't be right? I guess the question is valid at the time. However in short order the hill fort is visible below, rising above the 'Rheidol Study Centre' through a break in the forestry. I'm reminded somewhat of Exmoor's wondrous Cow Castle. Ok, this isn't in the same league, but then again... what is?
The soggy footpath directs me to tarmac and hence a path following the left hand bank of a small lake, the hill fort rising upon a hill.... funnily enough.... to my left. Ignore the initial gate unless you have fingers of steel - I can not for the life of me open it and am aware that people at the 'Study Centre' may well be 'studying me' - since there is an 'official' entrance a little further along. The ramparts are but a short climb away, an apparently prehistoric monolith yours for the visiting en-route, if that's your bag.
The setting of the enclosure is sublime, if not as dramatic as the previously mentioned Dinas, with an excellent, open panorama to the west contrasting with encircling hills to the other points of the compass. The natural defences are more than sufficient, the ground falling away sharply except to the east where, as you would expect, the main (only?) entrance is situated. The single bank is more substantial than I expected, albeit subject to significant erosion in places, damage which nevertheless affords an insight into construction techniques, as noted previously by Kammer. Another feature of the site is the presence of a number of boulders of no discernable function; I've noticed these at a number of Welsh hillforts... what were they for? Surely some genius out there has a theory? Whatever, Pen-y-Castell provides a fine, evocative hang for a few hours.
So, Pen-y-Castell solves the conundrum of 'how to follow Dinas'... by being completely different, there being no relevant criteria for comparison. Hey, I can live with that. Still, it's bloody weird ascending a steep hill on the way BACK from a hill fort to the car. Right on! I can live with that, too.
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.