It would be tempting to speculate that this deceptively well sited monument was so named in honour of Pumlumon's greatest (known) son, Owain Glyndwr. Well, seeing as we are obviously ignorant of the identities of the numerous other great persons once interned in the iconic 'Mother of Rivers' myriad upland cairns, surely no one could argue with the selection of Shakespeare's 'worthy gentleman exceedingly well read'? Then again this could all be spurious conjecture on my part... the name-checked celebrity the late, much lamented Bill Owen from Last of the Summer Wine? Hey, I'd go with either.
'Compo's Cairn' certainly has a bit of a 'ring' about it and, to be fair, appears appropriate to my (admittedly idiosyncratic) mind as I struggle up the steep, southern flank of Cerrig yr Hafan in driving rain, not at all impressed by the accumulation of household rubbish within the abandoned quarry at its foot. Yeah, sadly the old mine/quarry tracks to be found here offer easy access to those in possession of a 4x4... and beyond all help. And to think this is my third attempt to see the cairn. Er, come again? Well, I first noticed Carn Owen last year across the Nant-y-Moch, basking under a peerless blue sky during the ascent of Drosgol. Needless to relate the 'morrow dawned in appalling fashion.... and an attempt last month was curtailed by the closure of the trans-Pumlumon road at both ends. Bastards! Isn't it strange... and primitive... how the desire to 'have' increases with every successive denial, seemingly inversely proportional to the potential prize? Hence, despite having endured a typically turbulent night upon Pumlumon, I'm resolutely determined to be most probably distinctly underwhelmed this morning.... even if it kills me. Happily neither scenario occurs, although I did wonder about the latter for a second during the ascent. OK, a bit longer than that.
Struggling to the top I immediately encounter what looks like a reasonably large, grassed-over cairn. No bad at all. However the map shows Carn Owen to occupy the very summit of the ridge, to the approx south-west. In retrospect this grassy monument is perhaps related to what Coflein cite as 'small satellite cairns... noted to the north-east'? Perhaps. What is certain is the substantial size and excellent siting of Carn Owen itself, the monument located, as promised, at the summit of Cerrig yr Hafan ('Haven Stone'?). The stone pile is a superb viewpoint, worthy of Glyndwr himself in my opinion, particularly looking down upon the Afon Cyneiniog to the approx west, not to mention south toward Llyn Craigypistyll and Disgwylfa Fawr, hill of Bronze Age 'canoe' fame, no less. The vista of Pumlumon across the Nant-y-Moch reservoir upon the northern arc is pretty good, too.... would be even better in clear weather with the main ridge standing proud of cloud. Yeah. But then you would wake up...
There is a wee problem, however. It is far, far too windy to stand anywhere but in the cairn's lee. Consequently I'm obliged to sit. Well, better than involuntarily prostrating myself, head first, in homage to past heroes. As you might expect the centre of Carn Owen has been badly disturbed over time, a notable volume of material subject to slippage. However there is a welcome, unexpected detail in the form of a small stone setting (a cist perhaps?) to the immediate north-west. Nice. What's more, the sun sees fit to break through for a while and make doubly sure I'm truly glad I persevered with Carn Owen. It may well be upon Pumlumon's periphery - and not rise much above 1,500ft - but this is surely a final resting place for heroes.
If you fancy it the easiest approach - although, as mentioned, not necessarily the most salubrious - entails parking above the northern extremity of the Nant-y-Moch Reservoir (same place as for Drosgol), that is a little before the cattle grid and track leading down (eastward) through woodland toward the water, assuming arrival from Ponterwyd. A prominent track heads diagonally uphill here (approx south-ish). Follow this and, upon reaching an abandoned quarry, veer very steeply uphill to the right. Worth the effort. Incidentally it would also appear possible to combine a visit to Disgwylfa Fawr if you fancy making a full day of it?
A quartet of large Bronze Age cairns stand upon the summit and western flanks of Carn Fflur, a substantial, afforested hill rising to c1,650ft a couple of miles south of the Cistercian abbey at Strata Florida (Ystrad Fflur). Despite the pedigree of the monastic site - the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym is thought to be buried within its environs, accompanied by numerous Welsh princes of Deheubarth - I'd probably raise a somewhat quizzical eyebrow in surprise... Roger Moore style.... should any member be able to pinpoint Carn Fflur's great cemetery on the map at the first time of asking. No cheating now. Needless to say we will never know the identity of the Bronze Age forbears once interned within the great stone piles; however I can't help feeling they should be accorded at least the same respect as their illustrious followers. A naive notion, perhaps?
I approach the 'Cairn of Flowers' from Bryngwyn Bach, the unassuming high ground to the west. Now there are at least two good reasons for this; primarily to visit the excellent half dozen Bronze Age cairns located upon the latter's north-western slopes... and also to avoid sinking, possibly without trace, within the unfeasibly boggy valley separating the western bank of the Afon Fflur from the lower hill. The river, sourced upon the flanks of Carn Gron to the south, certainly appears to be the focal point of this landscape, not least for an almost 'Pumlumon-esque' concentration of funerary cairns. It is very difficult not to assume at least some correlation between these monuments and the naturally exuberant, flowing water.... the very epitome of vitality, of life itself. Not that I feel that 'vigorous' - at least in the physical sense - as I struggle to cross the deep gulley inexorably carved in the hillside.
Carn Fflur's western cairn lies just beyond at SN73956233, although not depicted upon the current 1:50k OS map. According to Coflein it is a.."probable ring cairn, c.16m in diameter & 0.75m high set eccentrically within a possibly later turf-covered stony ring, c.36m in diameter". Although the least substantial and well defined cairn of the quartet, not to mention rather overgrown, the site possesses a large, well preserved cist. Can't argue with that. Next up is a nice round cairn set upon the north-western slopes of the hill at SN74206245. "10m in diameter & 0.5m high", the outstanding feature is the "remains of an orthostatic kerb-ring on the S & W.."
So, onward and upward to the summit? Er, not yet. Since set upon the steep rise to the approx south of the northern monument at SN74276228 stands a massive cairn which, to be honest, appeared much more substantial than the dimensions attributed to it by Coflein ("24m in diameter & 1.5m high"). The location is excellent with far reaching views to north, west and south toward Carn Gron, the summit cairn of Carn Fflur rearing up upon the eastern horizon to complete the set. The cairn possesses internal detail, Coflein noting "a central disturbance / hollow revealing possible cist elements". Yeah, I concur with that. In addition there is "an embayment on the NW side & an annex, 6.0m across on the NE, are thought to be original features". Clearly this was - is - a complex, enigmatic monument. What is it doing here languishing - or should that be 'revelling' - in utter obscurity? I'm truly gob-smacked. And that's a fact.
I finally clamber up through woodland to the top of Carn Fflur to find the summit cleared of trees. Unfortunately this has resulted in a hill top perhaps resembling a landscape in the devastated aftermath of a hurricane strike. Not a pretty sight. There are compensations, however.... yeah, the large round cairn crowing the summit "25m in diameter & .8m high" is accorded sweeping views, except upon the eastern arc where forestry still prevails. Although by no means the largest such sentinel cairn I've had the great pleasure - not to mention privilege - to spend some time upon, this is a fine, well preserved example of the genre. Again Coflein cite "a central hollow shows possible cist elements". Regrettably I found the internal space defiled by a beer bottle discarded by some individual with 'issues'. The beer was of classy origin. Very unlike its erstwhile owner. Needless to say it is there no longer. Anyway as I sit several rain fronts sweep in to give me quick 'working overs'. Soon, however, they are gone and the sun illuminates the scene with a golden glow. Aye, perfection, my perch the ideal spot to observe the surrounding landscape. Carn Fflur might not be the biggest of peaks, even relative to Mid Wales. But it certainly doesn't disappoint in the vibe stakes.
Walking - nay, wading at times - back to the car (no doubt much to the amused bemusement of the farmer working the field across the river in his tractor) I deliberate upon how Strata Florida has laid claim to the 'spiritual' musings of the majority of visitors to this part of Wales. As for myself.... I much prefer the high ground .... of Carn Gron and Carn Fflur. If you decide to come, please make sure you don't lose your bottle.
[Note: all Coflein quotes are courtesy of J.Wiles (22.07.04)]
To my mind the best way of appreciating the layout of an upland landscape - in the absence of the personal aircraft piloted by an Honor Blackman lookalike clad in black lycra - is simply to climb a section of it and use the Mark I eyeball. Admittedly this particular observer may need to conclude his observations a bit sharpish on occasions, courtesy of hill-fog, but such frustrations literally come with the terrain..... and are a small price to pay for such insights as a distant glimpse of Carn Fflur's massive summit cairn from Carn Gron the other day. Some - myself included - may well argue that such experiences were possibly an orchestrated facet of The Bronze Age upland experience... intervisibility... an ancient, albeit no doubt much more profound predecessor of those tours of celebrities' houses we have nowadays. Maybe, maybe not. There are also completely unexpected bonuses. Yeah, while Carn Fflur is therefore today's primary destination, a group of (apparently) small cairns depicted upon the north-western flank of Bryngwyn Bach (on the 1:25K OS map, not the 1:50K) appear worth a short diversion en-route.
Heading toward Pontrhydfendigaid on the B4348 from Tregaron look for Old Abbey Farm on the right after about four(ish) miles. Duly noted, ignore the next left, instead taking the right hand turn soon after. There is currently plenty of room to park near an old chapel (I think) undergoing renovation at the approx limit of the tarmacadum. A public footpath leads from here to a footbridge across the idyllic Afon Fflur, the c1,295ft hill top of Bryngwyn Bach but a short walk to the south. Ok, the intervening landscape is a trifle boggy, but in retrospect about as dry as it gets around here! Ascending the hill to the north-east (duh!) I note what look more like rather poor clearance cairns. Never mind, the view north is worth the effort, that it is. True... but so are the half-dozen excellent Bronze Age cairns I suddenly encounter, funnily enough, just where shown on the map.
The southern trio are of most - hey, considerable - interest, two featuring cists, that within the higher (eastern) monument proving to be very well preserved, merely lacking capstone. In addition, examples of kerb orthostats, a few pretty hefty, remain in situ to further enhance structural form. These are fine upland funerary cairns indeed. In comparison the northern three monuments are less well defined, retaining less internal detail. Nevertheless the opinion is relative to the excellence of the southern grouping; taken as a whole I reckon this is a fabulous Bronze Age cemetery with reasonably straightforward access and great views to boot. Not to mention great vibe. Silence may be golden, but here it is made of stone.
Bryngwyn Bach is impressive for such a seriously obscure site and I would've liked to have stayed longer than a couple of hours... but thoughts of that massive cairn crowning Carn Fflur resurface. As Mick Jones once (sort of) sang, the question is 'Should I stay, or should I go?' I decide upon the latter, inquisitive Citizen Cairn'd that I am.