It was The Jesus and Mary Chain who (rather melodically, it has to be said) declared that they were 'Happy When It Rains' back in 1987. And to be fair there are occasions when, safely cocooned within waterproofs, I heartily concur with Jim and William's sentiments concerning precipitation. However following a couple of months of what has been - by all accounts - 'the wettest winter ever'... to say I'm somewhat pleased that it's NOT raining this morning would be an understatement of significant proportions. Yeah, even if a thick mass of cloud has seen fit to obscure the high summits of Y Mynydd Du, 'The Black Mountain', hopefully the car won't be in danger of being swept away by the raging outflow of Llyn-y-Fan-Fach. So.... in the circumstances a long overdue first visit to the stone circle upon Waun Lwyd fits the bill very nicely indeed. About time.
Now the first challenge to would-be visitors arriving by car is to safely negotiate the ... er.... how shall I put it?.... very, very minor road from the Red Lion public house, a little north of the village of Llanddeusant, to a parking area at approx SN 797238. [Incidentally there is a 'red kite feeding station' nearby, so be prepared for more visions of feathery wondrousness than you might have otherwise anticipated]. Seriously, the road is pretty rough, although thankfully the 'sump destroying' cattle grid at Blaneau was fixed some years back now.
So, duly fortified by tea - as is the English stonehead custom - the Mam C and I proceed up the gated Llyn-y-Fan-Fach access track for a short distance before veering left to climb steeply above, and roughly parallel to, the near bank of a major gulley carved by the Sychnant 'stream', that is heading approx north-east. A little way further on another gulley, this one cradling the Nant Melyn, can be seen climbing away to the south-east toward the foot of Fan Foel. Ignoring this to persevere with our line, the sight of several enigmatically dark stones soon cresting the horizon announces that, for once, my map-work is spot on. Eh, how did that happen?
The 'circle stands upon (or should that be in?) a saddle between somewhat higher ground to the west and the wild moor of Waun Lwyd to the east, the latter incidentally cradling the source of the River Usk. It is a pretty brutal landscape, particularly with what should be a superb mountainous skyline to the south truncated by low cloud. Coflein reckons there are "at least 18 stones" within the circumference ... "two of these are buried (discovered by probing) and there are two possible outliers to the NW." Note, however, that only a leaning upright toward the east and a large stone to south-east are of any reasonably significant dimensions. But then experience has determined that the stone circles of the Welsh uplands are patently not about size/number of uprights. Not interested. It is the LOCATION of the area subject to demarcation that was clearly of paramount importance to the locals back in the day. To paraphrase the saying, it wasn't the size... but where the stones were put that mattered. Hey, I can live with that 'less is more' minimalist outlook.
Having located the 'circle with such unfeasible ease the sterner challenge is thus to find a spot to hang out and enjoy the superb upland vibe... that isn't under several inches of water. To literally hammer home the point we are subsequently subjected to an intense five minute working over, courtesy of a passing shower. However such tribulations come with the territory, a small price to pay for the privilege of spending a couple of hours or so in such a wondrous place. As mentioned, by far the largest upright stands upon the south-eastern arc, together with a recumbent and number of smaller stones. Intriguingly the RCAHMW lads [Brian Malaws / David Leighton, 6/11/08] hypothesize that the sum of these parts might have once been a substantial monolith not unlike the Maen Mawr, currently shepherding the not so distant Y Cerrig Duon. A possibility, I guess? Whilst pondering such ponderables the mass of cloud I assured the Mam C "would not lift today.... trust me" sees fit to peel away and reveal Y Mynydd Du in all its considerable glory. Yeah, the reverse of Shakespeare's "The clouds methought would open and show riches". The sun, finally able work its fiery magic, sets about flooding the landscape with washes of light of such intensity, such vibrant colour, that I reckon even the aforementioned Reid bothers would have approved? Yeah, fleeting instances of such high drama are what these diminutive Welsh stone circles are all about for me (and I know the Mam C agrees or she wouldn't come)... those jaw-dropping seconds when Nature's arc lights, focussed upon such a spartan stage, seem to fuse landscape, monument and walk on actors together as one.
The final site of the day proves to be a winner. By the time we reach Bannau Sir Gaer, all but one of my friends has had enough, and don’t even make the effort to leave the path the look for this. The one who is left at least comes to the circle, but isn’t massively impressed, to be honest. Which just shows that this game isn’t for everyone!
And so it comes to be that I’m left here on my own for a while, just as the sun re-emerges to illuminate the site in a golden glow, while the mountain backdrop is silhouetted into a wall of dark browns and black shadow. Spectacular. The circle is a wreck, it doesn’t matter a bit. A fine addition to the utterly compelling megalithic complex spread across these wild uplands.
I parked to the southwest of the circle, in the carpark by the meeting of two rivers, the Sychnant and Afon sawddle, on the Beacons way footpath.
The way up to the stone circle is long and hard, and the ring isn't easy to spot, but it is in a spectacular setting. Just follow the Sychnant east gently climbing the hill and when the river branches of to the left follow that uphill, when it has ceased being even a stream and gone underground break of at 90 degrees and go straight up hill. This should take directly to the stone circle.
Though if you do find it you may wonder why you bothered, most of the stones are just a bald pate amongst the grass, one stone was loose so I picked it up to get an idea of how hard it is to build a stone circle (a piece of cake as it happens)
and under the stone was its original stone hole so I re-erected it, Yaaay. Only two or three are of any size, two to three feet tall, and I would guess three men could haul it up from the rocky valley below.
But all of that is just by the way, its the scenery
that takes ones breath away specifically the Bannau sir Gaer ridge, Fan Foel and Fan Brcheiniog, it is truly gorgeous, and red kites everywhere.....ace !
Below the ridge of Bannau sir Gaer is llyn y fan fach, the lake from which a faerie lady emerged and had family with a local farmer whose offspring are the physicians, said to be the Pant Meddygon stone row a few miles north at the usk reservoir. http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/9087/pant_meddygon.html