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Good Friday. Despite being a candidate for perhaps one of the most ironic epithets ever conceived... when stripped of its religious connotations, the thought of quality time spent upon the Gower today is nevertheless an appealing one. Needless to say the plan didn't involve an unscheduled drive along the northern coastline of the peninsular, courtesy of a navigational error in the vicinity of Gowerton; however to my mind there are less salubrious ways to spend time. (Eventually) arriving at Pilton Green there is parking to be had on the verge of the access track for Pilton Green Farm (incredibly, notices appear to indicate that previous punters have actually seen fit to leave their cars upon the track. No wonder some farmers get pissed off with tourists). More or less opposite, across the B4247, a public footpath heads approx south-west (ish) along the border of a cultivated field, slowly losing height as it approaches the dramatic, crumbling cliff-line that constitutes 'the coast' in these parts. Where better, by definition, for a modern antiquarian with a penchant for cliff-forts to indulge himself on a sunny afternoon?
In a little under a mile (I think) the path reaches said coastline, continuing down a rocky cove toward the equally rocky foreshore below the famous Paviland Cave... you know, the one that was the last resting place of the 'Red Lady'. Clearly well worth a look, but some other time, perhaps? Instead I head to the right along the coastal path and, in short order, come face to face with some pretty substantial defences isolating the cliff top from the hinterland to the north-east, demarcating a reasonably sized enclosure. I count three, successive barriers which, although obviously now pretty denuded - understandably so after being subjected to a couple of millennia of storms and what-have-you - nevertheless must have proved a formidable deterrent to any marauding war band back in the day. Steep, rocky flanks and plunging, vertical cliff-lines rendered any further artificial fortification superfluous to the other points of the compass. So, that's the archaeology, then. Or at least my basic interpretation of it. Good, solid, but not overwhelming. Not so the location.... what a glorious place to be!
Having a 'mooch' about the enclosure, as you do, trying not to be blown over the edge by the powerful - not to mention freezing - wind (again, as you do), I notice an iron ring affixed to a rock. The mind retrieves the image of Neil Oliver (the hirsute archaeologist chap on TV.... Scottish, apparently) standing in what must be this very spot, trying not to appear utterly terrified prior to abseiling down to the Paviland Cave, the cave therefore no doubt located immediately below me. Yeah, buried in the very bowels of the living rock. Fair play to him, I say... it does seem a very small piece of metal to trust your hopes, dreams and aspirations - your very life - to. As for myself, I lie supine and simply enjoy the moment, the sheer aesthetic beauty of the location matched by an overwhelming feeling of belonging, if only for a short while, to something that transcends the here and now, if you get what I mean? The association of what it is to be human, to be part of humanity (and all the good, bad and humdrum 'stuff' that entails) with the imperium of time itself. Hence the need to lie down.... wouldn't be a good idea to get overly dizzy with all that thinking. Not when perched upon a towering cliff face.
There is more. Much more, the enclosure set above the Paviland Cave but one of a chain of fortified settlements located, like a string of precious pearls, along this wondrous coast. One such example, in fact, lies immediately to the west in plain sight upon the Horse Cliff. It'd be rude not to go have a look while I'm here... a good Friday after all.
Although a deep mantle of snow is blanketing the high tops - but thankfully not the valleys - of the South Walian hills.... and despite a c40mph wind assuring some very serious windchill at altitude... the Mam C is nevertheless in the mood for an Easter upland sojourn. To be honest I'm rather more of a wuss at the prospect of freezing to death upon some godforsaken (right on!) mountain, consequently deciding to play it safer than might otherwise have been the case. Why not pay a (very) overdue visit to the Bronze Age cairn said to stand upon the eastern shoulder of Fan Nedd? Yeah, I've no problem with rhetorical questions such as that.
Passing the wondrous Maen Llia - is there a finer standing stone in all Wales? - we park just prior to where the minor road suddenly plunges diagonally down the precipitous face of Llethr to the Senni Valley below... a couple of vehicles can be safely left here, the spot, a great viewpoint, worthy of a visit in its own right. From here a stile crosses a dilapidated dry stone wall heading approx south-west toward distant Bwlch-y-Duwynt rising above the source of the Afon Nedd... and Fan Gyhirych. After a short while, however, we veer left and, upon breeching the snow line, commence the ascent toward the prominent 'marker cairn' visible crowning Fan Nedd's northern prow. Now some 'experts' will have you believe the Welsh mountains are a doddle to stroll up, completely failing to take into account the most obvious mitigating factor.... the weather. Well it does has a tendency to be somewhat, er, inclemental on a regular basis. I would suggest you pay them no heed and treat the uplands with the respect Nature demands, commands... and in any event deserves. I like to think we take matters seriously and 'walk the walk', although today 'stagger', 'slither' and 'stumble' are perhaps more appropriate descriptions as we do whatever it takes to traverse deep snow and attain an audience with one of South Wales' more strikingly placed Bronze Age cairns.
Bronze Age? Well, yes, the aforementioned marker cairn, quite well built with an inherent 'wonky' charm, surmounts a deceptively large footprint far too substantial - I would suggest - to proffer a credible alternative origin in such a landscape context. Once again placement is everything, the summit of the mountain, without cairn, lying a considerable distance to the south and thus not party to the fabulous northern vista of the fertile Senni Valley to be blown away by here. Furthermore there is an uninterrupted view of the iconic tops of Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan to the east, rising beyond Maen Llia; looking west, those of Fan Gyhirych and Y Mynydd Du fill the skyline. All bear Bronze Age cairns in situ, several excavated to reveal cists. This is truly a location to linger for ... ooh, hours and hours. Except not for quite that long today. The cold is overwhelming, Nature in a most brutal mood indeed. Suffice to say we must move at incremental intervals simply to cope, taking the opportunity to visit the summit and partake of lunch overlooking the nascent Afon Nedd, its waters sourced upon the boggy col before Fan Gyhirych. It's instructive to ponder this is the very same water course which engages in such spectacular aerobatics further down its eponymous cwm.
So, finally.... after all these years.... we proceed to lipslide (yeah!), with occasionally alarming alacrity, down the eastern flank of the mountain heading for the only position I would have conceivably placed a second, lower cairn. Had any Bronze Age big man been mad enough to put me in charge of operations, that is. Funnily enough I am correct. No, really. In solidarity with its higher companion the cairn is low and, to be fair, we might easilly have walked right over it if the snow hadn't been somewhat patchy 'down here'. However I concur with Coflein and reckon it is beyond reasonable doubt, the tell tale covering of moss failing to obscure what could quite probably be the remains of a kerb. Elements of a cist, however, are open to much more debate. Too fanciful, perhaps? Whatever the truth the cairn (once again) occupies a superb site overlooking the Maen Llia, be-cairned and settled Fan Llia providing the riven backdrop. As we hang out in the comparative warmth of this wondrous place a family wander up and seem somewhat bemused by our presence.... although I've a feeling the dad was actually a bit of a closet 'head'. Welcome my friend and spread the word. Leave your cars and take to the hills!
The Bronze Age cairn crowning the summit of Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr can not be seen from the fabulous monolith that is the Maen Llwyd, situated a little under a mile below to the south. Nevertheless aficionados of such monuments will probably require no directions save the prosaic 'up', common sense ensuring Citizens Cairn'd keep to the left of the lacerated hillside carved by the numerous sources of the Gargwy Fach. To be fair it is probably a pretty straightforward, albeit steep and tiring climb under 'reasonable' conditions, similar to that from the Grwyne Fawr to the east, I'd have thought? However today, suffering from the effects of fatigue having 'merely' made it to the standing stone (it is enough, to be honest), the flanks of Gadair Fawr loom.... nay tower... above me overpoweringly, overwhelming any fledgling resurgence of male bravado at source. Nevertheless the call is too strong.... I resolve to see how far I can get, if only to take a few snaps. Making no promises, now.
The early stages are not too taxing, the occasional stumble down a snow-filled gulley notwithstanding, such indignant episodes proffering the opportunity to study the form of icicles in detail - too much detail for comfort, perhaps - exquisite water crystals shimmering in the sunlight. Then, however, the angle eases and the summit duly takes its place upon the horizon... the intervening landscape appearing positively benign, welcoming even, a winter wonderland resplendent beneath a well broken cloudscape advancing with the wind across a startlingly blue sky. Yeah, looks wonderful, but what a bugger of a landscape to try and walk across for those not used to such things, deep snow topped by a crust of ice tough enough to resist a walking pole, but unable to support 12 stones of me.... like trying to stagger across polystyrene, perhaps? Half way there it is time to see if I have another gear in reserve, so to speak. Seems I have... well, sort of.
Eventually, rising beyond a more or less vertical cornice taking a couple of attempts to negotiate without crampons, there it is. The summit, unrecognisable from my visit with the Mam C some years back (but none the worse for that), the full winter raiment truly mind blowing in its brilliant, shining intensity, the upland landscape in complete contrast to the usual ubiquitous upland grass. The conditions are technically not the best for studying the form of Bronze Age cairns.... nevertheless the size of this one can not be camouflaged by a blanket of snow and protective shell of ice. Sure, there is an obligatory small walkers' cairn on top - thankfully no muppet storm shelter, though - but it is the massive underlying footprint which impresses, the ancient cairn clearly well worthy of the site chosen for it millennia before. It is perhaps noteworthy that Waun Fach, rising to the north-west, is actually the highest point of the Black Mountains' summit ridge, but, lacking the distinctive profile of Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr, does not possess a cairn. For what it's worth I reckon it never did so, suggesting the Bronze Age locals had a fundamental, sophisticated appreciation of landscape form. Indeed, the Mam C and I have referred to Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr as 'the nipple mountain' for years, the cairn set in profile upon its breast. Check it out for yourselves....
Despite the bitter cold I am in no hurry to leave; no way, not after such a pilgrimage to get here again, the landscape exhibiting a 'purity' seemingly not apparent at other times. To the west the Brecon Beacons reside like a veritable cathedral of marble upon a patchwork of green fields, to the east the ridge carrying the Offa's Dyke path defining the border with England, similarly attired. I think of numerous other cairns.... round, chambered, long... which still stand sentinel upon this landscape together with the ancient settlements, the hillforts where people used to live. Hey, the standing stones, even, and ponder - as you do - that the cairn upon which I sprawl for a couple of hours before starting the long trek back to the car was part of a very Big Picture indeed. Back then. Come to think of it, it still is today.
Solitary standing stones are, I confess, generally my least favourite genre of prehistoric monument. Rules, however, are defined by exceptions.... and I've had my beady eye upon the Maen Llwyd ever since the previous posters highlighted the wonderful location it occupies. But how to get there? Forestry complicates matters from the south and west, Pen-y-Gadair-Fawr and its peers rendering an approach from east and north impractical for all but the most dedicated of stonehead. There are other adjectives. Since the other two gentlemen chose the latter option I, in the interests symmetry, you understand - not to mention altruism for those that may wish to come after - elect an low level approach from the Grwyne Fechan.
From the charming, bustling town of Crickhowell, chambered cairns still overlooking both banks of the Afon Wysg (River Usk) as they have done for millennia, the Llanbedr Road heads uphill past the DanyGrug cottages, trending left beneath the decapitated, fortified summit of Crug Hywel to eventually terminate near Hermitage Bridge. A little beforehand it is possible to park several cars - or it would have been if not for the large blocks of ice littering the environs.... the usual - and, covering the final section of tarmacadum on foot, I veer left upon a bridleway ascending the western flank of a forestry plantation, heading roughly north-west. Pen Twyn Gwyn rears up above the Grwyne Fechan, its crest the location of precious finds of artefacts mislaid/deposited (?) by prehistoric hunter dudes way back when.... truly, it is worth the walk simply to follow in their footsteps. As for the other flank of the valley, that is formed by the highest ground in The Black Mountains, my destination today. As mentioned earlier forestry complicates matters of route finding, although, to be fair, the conditions are soon to prove the primary consideration. Initially I elect to head for Tal-y-Maes farm and pick up a forestry track parallel to the Gargwy Fawr.... however the farm track is sheet ice, dangerously impassable unless one happens to possess the balance and grace of a Katarina Witt... needless to say I have neither. Wouldn't say no to one-on-one lessons, though.
Plan B (no, not the rapper bloke.... that would have been surreal) heads north across fenced fields, west of the farm. Fencelines aren't an issue, unlike the deep snow which renders progress painstakingly, exhaustingly slow. Not used to this. Nevertheless I eventually manage to struggle up to a forestry track following the near flank of the far treeline to the north. Plan B would have been pretty cunning if it had included following this track all the way to the forestry's northern limits, leaving just a short ascent to the right at the end in order to attain the stone; however I decide to head for the little hill of Twyn Du and find myself more or less marooned up to my bits in drifting snow, a sad, forlorn figure pondering what to do next... literally out of his depth. Yeah, in hindsight it was a rubbish plan, so it was. In an attempt to make headway I cut back into the trees, but find the interior choked with a twisted mass of organic debris. Emerging into the light once more two shaggy ponies back away as if not wishing to be seen with such a muppet. Not good for the equine image, mixing with the tourists, you know?
Nevertheless the prize is near at hand, albeit still requiring a final considerable uphill effort to attain. I prepare to be distinctly underwhelmed following such an overwhelming approach. But I am not. Far from it. In fact I'm greatly impressed by the elegant menhir which stands before me, more or less human height and leading the beady eye along the forest-line toward the bwlch between distant Mynydd Llysiau and Pen Trumau to the approx north-west. The upper section of the monolith features a 'step', an argument connecting this with possible sighting upon the aforementioned landscape feature perhaps not excessively fanciful? Then again I'm no expert in these matters. For me that fact that it is so goddam beautiful here, so peaceful, so serene, possessing such an evocative vibe, is what matters.
The serenity can not last, however..... yeah, there it goes again, insidiously burrowing into my psyche.... the unspoken siren call of the high places. Like a moth unto the flame, as they say.
After almost (but not quite) making it to Dinas Emrys last October - actually ending up on the hill opposite, like a prize muppet... must do better next time - an opportunity to visit another site associated with the legendary sorcerer is some recompense. To be fair the name does give prospective visitors a hint of sorts...
Merlin's Hill is (very) prominently sited a little to the approx east of the busy former Roman port of Carmarthen, the latter cited by Gerald of Wales, in 1188, as being nothing less than the wizard's birthplace. Needless to say yer man Emrys wasn't around to contradict such tomfoolery, allowing Gerald to no doubt dine out on the local innkeepers' generosity for months.
The locals are still in touch with the Arthurian vibe, the Alltyfyrddin Farm playing host to the 'Merlin's Hill Centre' offering activities (presumably) for those with children - B&B as well if you like, something which would certainly get you in the little blighters' good books... for a while, anyway. Of course some of the more traditional heads out there (he says) may well tremble at the prospect, like I did... but there is no need to fret... a public footpath ascending the hill from the approx west through woodland. In short everyone's a winner. The centre is signposted from the A40, those not visiting the farm currently able to park at a left hand junction some way beyond and walk back, the hillfort towering above to the south.
Upon arrival at the summit, following a somewhat steep clamber up the aforementioned public footpath, this visitor initially doesn't see a lot of 'hillfort', to be honest. The site is more subtle than that. What is immediately apparent, however, is the inspired setting, the enclosure completely dominating the Dyffryn Tywi to the south, the Afon Tywi executing a series of wondrous, lazy loops as it meanders its way to Carmarthen Bay to the south-west, incidentally beneath the watchful gaze of another Iron Age enclosure (surmounted by later medieval castle) at Llansteffan. Perhaps the best view, however, is that beside the main entrance to the east looking toward another distant castle at Dryslwyn. Unfortunately the defences of said entrance - pretty substantial, it should be noted - are located behind a barbed wire fence, as are what transpire to be equally formidable (if disintegrating) univallate earthworks upon the southern and western flanks, the terrain here sloping away sharply. Arguably there is a case for some serious conservation activity here? Happily, however, the northern bank - again, apparently univallate - is accessible to everyone and remains very powerful indeed, facing the direction of probable attack in times past.
So, clearly Merlin's Hill was an Iron Age enclosure of some stature, well worth the diversion if you happen to be in the area. And of course we're all suckers for legendary tomes of sorcery permeating our past like the wreathes of mist clinging to our mountain tops. Here is a place to linger a while and appreciate why this is so. Hey, why not follow the Twyi's example and let the mind 'go serpentine' for a few hours? And if you do happen to discover the old dude imprisoned up here, kindly inform the local police. Oh, and needless to say keep him away from that J.K Rowling woman... he would no doubt have suffered enough across the centuries as it is.
Situated more or less due west of Twr Pen-cyrn's summit cairns - the monuments just about intervisible - this smaller cairn possesses a less spartan vibe than its peers owing to the absence of surrounding boulder field. Then again I guess such considerations are relative... the terrain not exactly offering up a staggering diversity of exotic flora. You want tussocky grass? You got it. Anything else, jog on.
Nevertheless with more time at our disposal this would have provided a great place for an extended stop.... I'd reckon the odds on being disturbed here are about as high as a bar of Dairy Milk surviving an afternoon in the Mam C's rucksack. You do the maths.... All things considered well worth the continuation from the summit of the ridge, then. As TSC notes Nature has clearly taken a greater 'hands on' interest here, the central hollow (presumably the work of 'treasure seekers' as opposed to walkers?) having been reclaimed by organic matter. Having said that there is enough bare stone in situ to ensure an impression of a fine upland cairn.
Briefly we consider heading directly north to visit (yet) another cairn a little south of Eglwys Faen; however this is duly vetoed so as to provide an excuse to return and enjoy the exquisite northern views some other time. Yeah quality, not quantity... that is the byword for this, Pelagius's Day.
St David's Day 2013. To be fair I don't know a great deal about the bloke... aside from an apparent fondness for a certain liliacaea vegetable and his vehement condemnation of Pelagian heresy. Don't get me wrong - I can deal with a nice leek soup; but both the Mam and I are firmly with Pelagius in respect of the doctrine of free will, at least to the extent human psychology will admit of such a concept. Which is why we pair of Citizens Cairn'd freely choose to visit the (apparently) great cairns which surmount Twr Pen-cyrn upon this freezing Pelagius's Day. Yeah, because we want to!
In some respects the shattered ridge of Twr Pen-cyrn could be said to mark not only a physical demarcation between the grim landscape of 'industrial South Wales' and the scenic splendour of the Black Mountains to the north, but also that of mindset, too. It goes without saying that the social realities contributing to what appears to me a fundamental division are complex... and very real. Nevertheless the contrast between the two landscapes, the two societies, the two outlooks on life, is striking - overwhelming, even - as we approach the parking area at approx SO209154 from the south, the magnificent vista of the River Usk, backed by the sculptured heights of The Black Mountains rising above Crickhowell, literally taking the breath away.
An old green quarry track heads westward from the car park beneath the soaring crags of Darren before ascending the eroded hillside, incidentally near the location of a cave where it appears the ancestors once took shelter. The usual, then. Once upon the crest the low summit ridge rises more or less due south across what - I guess - would normally be a featureless, boggy plateau. Today, however, it bears a greater resemblance to frozen arctic tundra... not that I've ever been to the Arctic, you understand? The 'going' underfoot is thus pretty firm - although the resident ponies remain resolutely static some distance away refusing us an audience - so we soon find ourselves scrambling up the left hand (eastern) end of the ridge to discover a pair of very substantial cairns gracing as brutally chaotic a landscape as you could wish to find in upland South Wales. As mentioned by TSC there is actually a third cairn, the Hen Dy-aderyn, sited immediately adjacent to the northern monument and crowned by an OS trig pillar. The parent has unfortunately suffered at the hands of the usual walker muppets; having said that, however, it remains a fine testament to the efforts of its anonymous builders millennia ago. The second major cairn, standing some way to the south-east at the ridge's terminus is - for me - a superior stone pile with a much more substantial interior than its neighbour. To be honest this is perhaps to be expected, bearing in mind the predictable summit-fixation of the average rambler. Indeed we are paid a fleeting visit by such a walker whom we duly send on his way in short order.... the Mam C is not impressed by 'know it alls'; even less so by those actually knowing bugger all and reminding us of the current Mayor of London. Cripes! Particularly when there is chocolate to be eaten. Mind you Boris himself would no doubt have been bizarrely entertaining....
Either cairn offers a fine perch to view the far horizons capped by a multitude of further monuments to Bronze Age VIPs... in fact you could say they represent the best seats in the theatre, truly 'up in the gods'. To the west the eyes are drawn toward the distant high peaks of The Brecon Beacons, beyond Garn Fawr and Cefn yr Ystrad. The dark mass of Blorenge rises to the south-east whilst, best of all, the serried ranks of The Black Mountains fill the northern aspect. Only the vista to the south would (arguably) appear totally alien to the original Bronze Age gaze. My, what have we done? The rape of the land, no less. However it is something that should not.... can not.... be ignored. We must look, no matter how painful it is. Not to mention deal with the resulting inherent issues. Easier said than done.
There is more to be seen upon this windswept - tell me about it - mountain. Firstly an alleged 'stone circle' located within a boulder field a little to the approx north-west of the main summit cairn. Hmmm. Suffice to say we agree with TSC here in that the form of the monument - if indeed it is a monument - is subject to confirmation by a member with greater expertise in the field. And secondly.... another cairn visible some way along the ridge to the approx west. Well, it would be rude not to.
This shattered cairn, the eastern-most of a triumvirate of such Bronze Age upland monuments sited to the approx south-east of the Ffawddog Ridge of the eastern Black Mountains, would appear - from the map, at least - to offer a credible approach from most points of the compass (which, of course, any prospective TMA Citizen Cairn'd will be tightly clasping within a hand clammy with anticipation, if not soaked through courtesy of the borderland precipitation not exactly unknown in these parts!). The most direct route is probably that from Llanthony via Troed rhiw-mon, a public footpath rising above the southern bank of the stream cascading through Cwm Bwchel.... however having 'taken in' the Cwm Bwchel cairn earlier on in the day I approach from the summit of Bal Mawr, that is from the west across trackless heather. I've experienced worse, however, as will have everyone who has ever gone stone hunting in Mid Wales. Needless to say the direct route, although steep in places, proves invaluable during a descent in fading light later on in the day.
The monument, located below and to the south of the summit of the hill, is unfortunately in a sorry state of repair.... Coflein reports of an excavation-cum-ransacking of the cairn - incidentally resulting in the discovery of 'bone fragments and pottery sherds' from a centrally placed cist - no doubt tell us all we need to know in this respect. Hey, at least we know for certain this cairn was - hell, is - the real thing. That doesn't happen very often, to be fair.... to be 100% sure is pretty unusual. In addition, the shattered remains of the cist, as with the monument's neighbour to the north-west, remain in situ. This means a lot. One of the orthostats is split longitudinally, the cleft of such precision as to render the result an enduring testament to the incredible natural forces inherent in the action of ice upon rock. Exquisite....
So, once again.... here we have an upland Bronze Age cairn - albeit one ravaged by 'excavation' - still retaining vestiges of original internal features simply because it lies 'off the beaten track', away from the predictable wanderings and destructive tendencies of yer average hillwalking punter. The realisation, at first overwhelmingly positive, leaves a bitter aftertaste. How much more of our Bronze Age heritage would still remain if only ignorant ramblers could keep their vandalising hands to themselves and not indulge in erecting pointless 'storm shelters'. A rhetorical question, naturally.
The Graig-ddu cairn, though similar in many respects to its counterpart beyond Cwm Bwchel, certainly trumps it when it comes to on site panoramas. Whereas the latter stands in insularity, apparently focussed upon Bal Mawr, Graig-ddu overlooks a classic vista, the glorious southern skyline featuring the distinctive profiles of Mynydd Pen-y-Fal (aka The Sugar Loaf) and the sacred-hill-cum-hillfort of Ysgyryd Fawr, with the mighty Iron Age fortress of Twyn y Gaer rising between. The great promontory fort upon Hatterrall Hill fills the horizon to the south-east, the ridge to the south-west duly crowned by the (apparently) massive Bronze Age cairn of Garn Wen, the third of the triumvirate. It is truly a classic spot, much better than I supposed and worthy of much more time than the cycles of Nature will allow. Sadly I ascend to the summit and subsequently begin the descent to Llanthony, pausing by some grouse butts to enjoy a truly monumental, mind blowing view of the Vale of Ewyas. Suffice to say the irony, being privy to such natural wonder whilst perched upon the haunts of utter scum who enjoy killing for pleasure, is not lost on me.
Set deep within the beautiful borderland Vale of Ewyas overlooked by the lofty, parallel ridges of the eastern Black Mountains, the little hamlet of Llanthony perhaps represents the very epitome of 'rural tranquility'. The vernacular settlement name apparently translates as 'Church of St Dewi on the River Hoddni'... however it is the ruins of the priory, established (according to CADW) around 1100, which provide the architectural focal point nowadays. Turner came here to undertake a preliminary sketch in 1792; less favourable visits include a severe thrashing during Glyndwr's uprising, not to mention Henry VIII's dissolution. Illustrious - and not so - names from the past aside, Llanthony has much to offer the modern day traveller, particularly since the large, free car park provides a fine gateway to the aforementioned mountain ridges with all their Bronze Age treasures. I'm here today to ascend The Ffawddog Ridge rising above Cwm Bwchel, the pretty comprehensive cloud cover not ideal, although not an issue as long as the cloud base kindly refrains from descending for a committee meeting with the landscape...
Upon exiting the car park look for a public footpath - signposted 'Bal Mawr' - across the main (ha!) road, said path shortly crossing the Afon Honddi, via a steel bridge, prior to beginning the ascent above the northern (right hand) bank of the stream cascading down Cwm Bwchel. The path is steep and uneven, as you would no doubt expect, intermittent icy patches adding an appropriately wintry, not to mention slippery vibe to proceedings. The 'going' eventually eases as I reach the headwall of the cwm, the bare ridge of Bal Mawr crowning the bleak horizon ahead. Here it is necessary to abandon the path and veer right (approx north) in order to locate amongst the heather a tangiable reminder of the people who lived and worshipped their gods in this small corner of Wales millennia before The Bastard and his bleedin' Normans arrived bearing trumped up apologia for conquest. Locating the Bronze Age cairn is not easy, to be fair, probably even less so in high summer when the hillside's covering of heather is at its zenith. However a glint of exposed stone eventually gives the game away.
Despite its isolation away from the main path to the bwlch the cairn is very denuded. However there is an inherent detail which makes the effort expended getting here more than worthwhile, namely two large side slabs of a former cist remaining in situ, quite a rarity in upland cairns nowadays, it has to be said. Oh, not to mention that fabulous 'hear a pin drop' upland aura. Two details, then. Furthermore, as I recline betwixt the stones and drink my coffee, it appears to me that there may well be a case for suggesting the chamber was intentionally aligned toward the southernmost aspect of Bal Mawr... that is to say there was a direct association between mountain and monument? This aside, views are otherwise limited, the cairn apparently located so as to remain aloof from the pastoral wonders of the Vale of Ewyas far below to the east. Perhaps to ensure all focus was upon Bal Mawr? Yeah... the situation is bleak, brutal even. A wondrous place for contemplation.
As I sit and ponder I notice my poor old 1:25k OS map, annotated to within an inch of incomprehension over the years, nevertheless indicates another cairn in antiquarian typescript located upon the far (southern) flank of Graig-ddu, the hill rising beyound the head of Cwm Bwchel to the approx south-east. I decide it'd be rude not to pay a visit seeing as I'm in the area..... following a venerative sojourn upon Bal Mawr of my own, that is. I reckon the former occupant and builders of this now lonely - but once perhaps not so lonely - cairn above Cwm Bwchel would approve. It's the least I can do in the circumstances.
**Please note that this site does not correspond to the prominent - presumably modern (see relevant image) - marker cairn crowning the tip of Mynydd Bychan's summit ridge at SO1968032030.... but to a less upstanding - but potentially much older - low 'mound' situated some way to the approx east**
A week characterised by a series of rather low cloud bases - anathema to those who tread lightly upon the hills 'neath massive skies - ends, appropriately enough for unpredictable South Wales, with the promise of a fine day. Consequently a snap decision is taken to introduce the Mam C to the upper reaches of the wondrous ridge of Y Grib, beyond Bwlch Bach a'r Grib.... and take it from there. Not a comprehensive plan, then, although it has to be said it is always good to turn a 'must do it one day' into 'let's do it today'. So, leaving the car near the farm of Blaneau Uchaf, the farmer, in hulking great cattle truck, acknowledging a self preservingly considerate bit of parking, we ascend the northern flank of the serpent's back to the aforementioned pass. Pausing to breathlessly take in the primeval sight of a crow - the top bird around these parts, bar none - make mince meat of what the Mam C reckons is a peregrine falcon against a western backdrop of Bronze Age cairn and the enigmatic Castell Dinas, the eyes are soon inexorably drawn across Cwm y Nant to the handsome crests of Mynydd Bychan and Y Das. The latter is cited by Coflein as possessing a round barrow, only identified as such during a CPAT upland survey during 2007.... the prominent, slender rock pile crowning the former apparently a modern 'marker cairn'. To be fair it looks to be 'in the wrong place' for a Bronze Age funerary cairn, the ridge seemingly too narrow at that point, or at least appearing so upon the map. Having said that there is undeniably 'something' about Mynydd Bychan, an intangible sense of mystique that nevertheless draws us in like one of James T Kirk's tractor beams... and this despite being completely unaware of TSC's miscellaneous post at the time. In short Mynydd Bychan simply looks the sort of place where one would choose to intern a Bronze Age VIP. The plan, such as it was, is duly revised to include a descent via the peak. Yeah, we'll worry about the gradient of descent when we get there....
The ascent of Y Grib to Pen-y-Manllwyn is exhilarating, the ridge narrow enough to see below to either side, but nowhere too exposed or technical for the average pilgrim. Upon arrival we abandon the lee of the summit ridge in order to seek solitude away from the route marching groups of punters, happy to accept the consequences of a biting arctic wind in lieu. The north-eastern flank of the mountain, subject to an icy blast which might even have made Jean-Claude Van Damme consider a jacket, is today a shimmering mass of sunlight upon icicle... the two primary sources of life on this planet interacting in a display of exquisite beauty upon such a brutal landscape. A delicious irony, perhaps?
Lunch... hey, picnic.... and a couple of hours fly by... as they seem to always do up here. All too soon we must head north where the ridge is populated by a series of indistinct 'stone features' previously interpreted - or so I understand - as evidence of prehistoric settlement, expertly positioned in the lee of the ridge overlooking Cwm y Nant, fresh water nearby. Although living at around the 2,500ft contour may seem pretty extreme to us nowadays, the 1:25K OS map does indeed cite a hut circle here.... which needless to say we do not manage to positively identify. Nevertheless it would appear Coflein are now more inclined toward a later 'post prehistoric' date for habitation. Whatever, it must have been a pretty dramatic place to live.
It is here that the walk takes on an altogether more serious aspect, the Mam C suddenly complaining of feeling faint and losing her sense of balance / co-ordination as we approach Mynydd Bychan. A touch of sunstroke, perhaps? Or overheating caused by not adjusting layers of clothing to changing circumstances quickly enough. What else could bring on such symptoms with such alacrity? Hopefully a short rest by the frozen tarn as I take some pictures of the truly exquisite scenery upon Mynydd Bychan will do the trick?
So, what of Mynydd Bychan's 'marker cairn'. Sad to report that the base certainly looks modern to me, far too insubstantial to claim any prehistoric origin. There is an interesting feature a little to the east, however, but since I recall quarrying was supposed to have taken place here in times past I'm not sure what it represents. Ha! According to Coflein, as related in TSC's post, this is actually the 'platform cairn'. So there you are... the mountain probably was the resting place of some Bronze Age dude after all. What's more there is another feature a short distance downhill to the west of the marker cairn which appeared a much more likely candidate without the power of hindsight, a disrupted cairn containing what - for all the world - looks to me like a shattered cist (ironically Coflein reckons this represent quarrying debris?). The overwhelming fiery orb of the low winter sun frustrates further photography so I return to the Mam C and find the rest has not had the desired effect.... far from it... and, to be frank, we are in trouble, the acute descent to Cwm y Nant, not a problem under normal circumstances, now a major obstacle with sundown just an hour away. Never underestimate the strength and sheer determination of a woman, however... at least one with such a concentration of natural life forces flowing through her being. Where she got the strength from I'll never know. But there you are. The descent is not elegant, but it gets the job done. Safely back at the car we pledge that we shall return to Mynydd Bychan one day, given the chance, and give this complex mountain the time it clearly deserves. Not to mention to pay the ancestors due respect for seeing us alright that day....
Several days later back in Essex I'm struck down by a severe bout of gastroenteritis seemingly coming out of nowhere. Most definitely not 'sunstroke', then. Case closed, m'lud. Needless to say I shudder to think what I would have made of such a daunting challenge.... feeling like that on top of Mynydd Bychan. Hey, always wanted a ride in a helicopter... but not like that.
It's difficult to know where to start... what to attempt to relate .... following a visit to this wondrous place. Truly, this is one of those ancient sites that I would wager not even the linguistic genius of a Shakespeare could adequately describe. To my mind Treaclechops' succinct few lines are the most representative use of 'words' to date; however since this is my third visit over the years guess I need to finally make an attempt in my own gobshite way. I owe it that.
Now there are undoubtedly finer stone circles, from an architectural perspective (Swinside immediately comes to mind); there are those that are arguably better placed in the landscape, too (consider Castlerigg, Uragh, Moel Goedog?). However I reckon none of those other 'circles I've seen (be they open, embanked, circle-henge, RSC, cairn-circle, or any other variant) combines all the necessary 'components' - form, placement, vibe - to such devastating effect, to form such a unified whole, all things considered....as the cairn-circle at Moel ty Uchaf.... like the master perfumer using all his/her expertise to create a classic Chanel fragrance in lieu of Brut 33. Yeah, it all comes together here, regardless of whether or not the 'all' can ever be properly defined. Perhaps the perfect blend of megalithic attributes?
The setting is excellent, nay, exquisite, the ring crowning a well defined rise [the 'high(est), bare hill'] set upon the lower slopes of a great, grassy ridge thrusting approx north-westward from the high Berwyn summit of Cadair Bronwen toward the Afon Dyfrdwy, better known in the non-vernacular as the River Dee. Stark, rounded profiles of mountain and hill top form the skyline to south and east, the more synclastic contours of the river valley to the north. But it is the outlook to the approx west which I reckon makes the situation of Moel ty Uchaf so beguiling, so intoxicating, the view incorporating more or less the whole of Snowdonia, for me perhaps the finest (relatively) low level vista in all Wales? Burl cites forty-one stones within the stone circle's circumference, 'all about 1ft 6 ins (0.5m) tall'.... with a 'probable entrance to SSW'. I assume the learned gentleman is correct, the assertions of Aubrey being some of the few things I am prepared to accept more or less verbatim... on 'faith', if you like. Yeah, he has been right too many times in the past, to be fair. Which makes it all the more odd that, standing at the 'probable entrance to SSW', it appears to me that the landscape is beckoning me toward the high ground.... Cadair Bronwen, rising more or less to the south-east. As I said, odd, my perception, it would seem, somewhat skew-whiff. Autosuggestion, perhaps, some subconscious instinct, some desire to return to the haunts of my youth? Go on, go on.... you know you want to. Obviously it would be far easier not to. No-one would ever know. Except me. And, standing within Moel ty Uchaf, that is enough. Jeez, those ancients knew what they were doing, did they not?....
I return at sunset, perhaps the most evocative, yet difficult time to visit a stone circle.... isn't it human instinct to rush for the sanctuary of 'home' as darkness falls? The 'dying' sun illuminates the stone circle with a light that is beyond my capacity to evoke, to describe. Really, it is. Hey, I am a cynical atheist, opposed to all notions of the 'supernatural' outside those created within our human brains. And sunset at Moel ty Uchaf only re-enforces the awe - I guess that's the right word - I experience witnessing the natural cycles of this home we inhabit, this Planet Earth. To think I am literally a part of all THIS is humbling beyond words.
Is this what the erectors of this cairn-circle wanted to convey? Obviously we will never know for sure, but I have a hunch it was. Why not come and experience, come and feel for yourselves? The vibe is superb, the silence total... hell, there's even a cist in the centre.
T'was a clear night last night (27th October)... the light reflected by the - for once - unobscured moon appearing unusually bright from within the sanctuary of my frozen tent at Fferm y 'Rynys, a little below the great tomb at Capel Garmon. Conditions not condusive to sleep although, to be fair, the shrill cry of an unidentified bird of prey (apparently) perched in the tree just above my head, may have had an impact, too. Dawn resolves Madame de la Luna's little conundrum.... a great tear rent in the fabric of my tent roof. Cause unknown.... but nevertheless I entertain suspicions of 'fowl' play (sorry!). The tent's a 'write off' so, resigned to spending the next night in the car, I decide to break for the border and head for Y Berwyn, following the course of the great Afon Dyfrdwy (River Dee) as it winds its way toward Llangollen. Yeah, reckon I might try and find the small stone circle - according to Postie - to be found at Bwlch y Fedw below Moel Pearce.
A little way north of Llandrillo the B4401 crosses the Afon Llynor, by way of a bridge you'll be glad to hear, a caravan park located upon the bank of the Dee opposite. Looking the other way, to the (approx) east, a 'dead end' road ascends into the foothills of Y Berwyn. It is - in theory - possible to park beyond the field gate at its terminus. Note, however, that there are numerous additional gates to potentially block in the close vicinity, the farms hereabouts possessing some pretty hefty tractors.... I'll leave you to do the maths. As for myself, I park lower down where a bridleway veers left beyond Ty'n-y-parc, settling for an unwelcome uphill slog to start the day. Beyond the tarmac the minor road morphs into a green public bridleway - contrary to the rather disgraceful barbed wire 'garlanding' the upper bar of the gate - heading for the distant high peaks of Y Berwyn. Nearer to hand a short, albeit rather steep, scramble up to the crest of the high ground to the left affords an audience with arguably one of the finest stone circles these Isles have to offer.... Moel ty Uchaf. Now I've had the pleasure before, but nevertheless the diversion is too much to resist.
Respects duly paid, wonder re-affirmed, I head further along the track toward Bwlch y Fedw. However it transpires I've left Postie's directions in the car... was the circle east or west of the track? Uphill or downhill? I come to a snap decision. Yeah, I'll have a proper look.... on the way back from Cadair Bronwen. What! How did that happen? In retrospect I guess it was probably the (apparent) alignment of Moel ty Uchaf's 'entrance' upon the peak that did it. Whatever, here we go again.... the call is unspoken, never unheard. Tell me about it. As I gain height, a pair of 'fell runners' in short order leaving me (thankfully) in their odd wake, the conditions underfoot begin to progressively solidify, a sort of 'permafrost' aiding motion across what would otherwise be notorious Berwyn bog. I traverse Moel Pearce, an apparent 'prehistoric' standing stone found upon its north-west flank (not sure about this myself), hence Trawsnant, capped by a cairn (again I'm not absolutely convinced by the ancient origin - but it would be nice if it was 'kosher') before the final struggle to the 2,572ft summit of Cadair Bronwen.
Standing at the northern apex of the main ridge of Y Berwyn - an approx three mile round walk from its neighbour Cadair Berwyn - Cadair Bronwen is consequently isolated from its peers across Bwlch Maen Gwynedd and thus a magnificent viewpoint Yeah, the vistas to be enjoyed from the summit of the mountain are of truly epic proportions.... that to the approx west possibly the finest, most expansive view of Snowdonia extant. Therefore it is not really a great surprise to discover that our Bronze Age forebears chose this location to - presumably - intern one of their VIPs. There are arguably few places more worthy in all Wales. What is a surpise to these eyes is the sheer size of the round cairn - a 'platform cairn' if you will - they erected. Much more substantial than I appreciated back in 1994, the last time I stood here. In my defence appearances are deceptive up here, a significant, unusually well built modern 'effort' drawing this freaking out walker's attention away from what lies beneath. Postie's post, appropriately enough, gives the dimensions of this very large circular, well, disc, its grassy mantle acting as natural camouflage, monument merging with mountain top. Step away, however, walk around and perceive the cairn from different angles... and the deception is revealed for what it is.
There is apparently some doubt as to whether the epithet 'Bwrdd Arthur' - 'Arthur's Table' (yeah, him again) - relates to the cairn or to a large erratic boulder resting nearby? For what it's worth I reckon it has to be the platform cairn.... a gigantic, flat, not to mention circular...hey, round... table. Despite the bitter, bitter cold I try it out for size, and 'do' lunch. Yeah, reckon a dozen mythical warriors could hang out here, no problem. Despite its isolation the summit is far from deserted today; however there is, thankfully, no storm shelter... so people keep their distance as I lose myself in the melodrama, sheltering from the wind behind rocky outcrops. At least I think that's the reason? Conversely, I have no choice, no option but to sit/lie transfixed by the ever changing light, my kit just about sufficient to take the onslaught. It is worth it just to look at those colours! 'Epic' doesn't even come close to being a suitable adjective, the sky at times Wagnerian as opposed to Authurian. If there is such a thing as the latter.
The hours fly, as usual... and of course I still want to try and locate that fabled stone circle at Bwlch y Fedw....
Unfortunately I don't have a great deal of time to spare upon finally coming down from the warm - did I say warm?! - seductive bosom of Mynydd Carnguwch.... seeing as it appears both my car headlights have blown, bulbs 'shorted out' by some electrical surge. Yeah, although sadly I reckon the alternator's the culprit, as opposed to bombardment by magical cosmic rays. So no need for Mulder this time around .... always a need for Scully, however. Whatever, I'll still need to get back to camp before it gets too dark. Or risk the very unwelcome attentions of the black-clad, 'machine gun wielding' heddlu.
Garn Bentyrch appears on the map to be but a minor deviation from my quickly improvised route 'home' - via Porthmadog and Beddgelert.... hey, probably not much there anyway, but worth a look nonetheless. The craggy hilltop rises to the north(ish) of the small village of Llangybi, so named after a certain St. Cybi, apparently rather fond of holy wells.... funnily enough I'm getting an image of TMA's Goff here, although no doubt lacking the self-effacing humour. Ffynnon Gybi, the 'holy' water in question, is signposted from the main road and reached by way of an attractive public footpath beside a rushing river... aren't they all around here? I ascend the hillside to the right of the ancient buildings harbouring the spring which, needless to say, is incorrect.... the path actually climbs through woodland to the left, as I duly ascertain on the way down. Nevertheless it's but a short pull to the summit of Garn Bentyrch and the subsequent realisation - albeit a very welcome one - that, not for the first time, there is much more here than anticipated by the weary traveller.
In summary, the ancient fortress appears to consist of a small, very powerful, bivallate enclosure supplemented by a larger, less well fortified enclosure to the approx north-west.... the latter for general living and the protection of animals, perhaps? To be honest the innermost defence line looks out of context, a massive, collapsed dry stone wall which, judging by the 'dry stone field boundary to end all dry stone field boundaries' which bisects the site in the eastern quadrant, was once much more substantial still. Coflein quotes Frances Lynch (1995. CADW: A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales Gwynedd p197) as stating that 'The triple defences are probably of different dates. The innermost ring with its thick, high stone wall may be early medieval; the other two lines consist of walls and banks and are probably prehistoric with later alterations and additions'. I'd concur with that. Frances will no doubt be pleased....
The outer ring of the inner defences is, to my mind, worth the price of admission alone - not that there is any monetary toll to be paid in this instance - consisting of a fine, grassy bank standing favourable comparison with many an ancient enclosure feasted upon by these eyes over the past decade or so. As noted the 'fort extends its eastern arc beyond the aforementioned massive field wall, the latter no doubt plundered from its very fabric. Bearing that in mind... perhaps the dedicated may want to take a look? I couldn't possibly comment.
So, Garn Bentyrch remains a very impressive ancient fortress, possibly adapted, South Cadbury style, to serve as home for some early medieval Authurian-style warlord? And of course the views are simply stunning.... from the jaw-droppingly feminine profile of Mynydd Carnguwch (with Yr Eifl and Tre'r Ceiri as close consorts to the right) to the approx north-west.... to the isolated, fortified crag of Moel-y-Gest rising above Pothmadog to the (approx) east... the Rhinogydd standing serried across Tremadog Bay.... the Eifionydd taking it easy under the not unusual cloak of vapour...
A couple of hours here are not enough. But they are all I have and it is time well spent.
I've wanted to come here for ages... but then I always find it difficult to prise myself away from the psychological embrace of the high mountains whenever I'm up north, you know? However dawn ushers in a thick carapace of low cloud to envelope the peaks of central Snowdonia in opaque, clammy vapour.... the mountain gods' equivalent of sticking a 'Do not disturb' sign on the outside door knob. So why not take the opportunity to head for the Lleyn Peninsular today? Why not, indeed? The bwlch at Drws-y-Coed affords this motorist access to Dyffryn Nantlle, and hence the A499 coastal road. There are worse. Heading south-west(ish) I take the B4417 toward Llanaelhaearn beneath the towering triumvirate of Yr Eifl.... the innermost summit of which is, incidentally, crowned by arguably - no, probably - Wales' finest hillfort.... Tre'r Ceiri.... the 'Town of Giants'. But then you get superlatives like that around here. Such as the truly massive cairn upon the hill opposite.... Mynydd Carnguwch. Yeah, tell me about it. I continue uphill before taking a minor left opposite a public house (the name of which unfortunately now escapes me), carrying on across a crossroads in a vaguely south-easterly direction prior to swinging to the left around the base of Mynydd Carnguwch itself. The road is a 'dead end' in the strictly technical sense only, boasting excellent views to the coast before terminating - in its tarmac guise at least - at Carnguwch Fawr farm. A little beforehand, just past the buildings at Ty'n-y-Mynydd and cattle grid, it is currently possible to park upon 'waste ground' partly occupied by piles of assorted aggregate, should you so wish. I do, as it happens.
A dry stone wall, seemingly defying Newton's law in that inimitable Welsh style, acts as my guide upon the very steep ascent of Mynydd Carnguwch, the mini-mountain rising behind me to the north all the way to 1,179ft (359m). It seems much more. Needless to say there is a 'false crest' half way up - just to take the piss, you understand - but nevertheless it is not that long before the great cairn rears up on the horizon... although not before time! And 'great' it surely is, certainly amongst the most substantial of Snowdonia's upland cairns I have had the privilege of meeting to date... possibly numero uno, in fact? According to Coflein the monument is:
'A ruined, dressed rubble-revetted oval cairn, 17.7m NE-SW by 11.6m and 3.2m high, set within a c.40m by 30m area loose rubble, thought to derive from its colossal wreck (source Os495card; SH34SE8) RCAHMW AP965031/68 J.Wiles 14.03.03'
However, as is more than often the case with these Bronze Age stone piles, it's where they put this one that really matters, the sheer bulk 'merely' the 'cherry on the top', if you pardon the analogy. As mentioned, the bulk of Yr Eifl dominates the northern view, Tre'r Ceiri to the fore. Yeah, it seems inconceivable that people actually lived up there... but there you are. Just because there doesn't seem to be a logical answer, doesn't mean it didn't happen. The evidence speaks for itself. The central Snowdonian mountains, still blanketed in the morning cloud, rise to the east(ish), and no doubt would furnish a mesmeric skyline under clearer skies? However today I guess the finest vista is that of the Lleyn Peninsular itself stretching away to the south-west, filled as it is with wondrous portal tombs, hillforts (such as Carn Fadryn) and, oh, much else.
But what of the cairn fabric? How do you describe a whopping great pile of rocks other than eponymously? Well, as Postie mentions, the erectors of this monument made canny use of an existing rocky summit - hey, cheated! - in order to achieve an even greater effect than would have otherwise been possible with the same volume of the hard stuff... Foel Grach style. That said, the sheer volume of stone here is astounding. As usual the effort required is mind bogglingly incomprehensible. Consequently I sit, stare out to sea, watch light play upon the landscape.... and come to the conclusion that.... assuming 'they' were trying to achieve some sort of meaningful 'statement' to posterity upon Mynydd Carnguwch back then.... attempting to communicate a sense of who they were, how their community saw the landscape they inhabited, how they came to terms with existing at that moment... I think they were successful. In an abstract sense, perhaps? Or maybe these locations simply 'do' something to the human psyche. Open some 'door'. Always have? At the very least I thank them for the effort and enriching my life millennia later.
Oh.... and Postie's right. From a distance the hill does indeed resemble a sensuous, exquisitely - hey, wondrously - detailed female breast. What odds that was always the idea?
Firstly a confession. I actually planned to visit this very obscure stone circle back in September last year... yeah, had the map co-ordinates and everything... until I proceeded to lose them like a prize muppet, consequently spending the time at the wondrous Carn Gafallt cairns instead; not a poor substitute, it has to be said in my defence. However one of the annoying idiosyncracities of 'unfinished business' is the manner in which it manifestly refuses to stay filed away in that compartment within the subconscious labelled 'for future action'. Oh no, the brain - at least mine - doesn't work like that, instead wheedling its way into conscious thought when least expected; hence one year on, I'm back. No choice in the matter.
Dawn arrives over the Elanydd - incidentally not far from the Roman camp upon Esgair Perfedd - accompanied by close-set fronts of vicious, driving rain. Nice. One would have thought a good spot for locating a reservoir or two.... Thankfully, however, the clouds possess not so much a silver as a golden lining, sunshine breaking through the intervals in the mantle to flood the landscape with light of an incredibly intense hue .... the sort of intensity that only occurs when the atmosphere has literally just been cleansed of its impurities. Magical. Mustn't waste this. So, heading toward Rhayader, I veer right along the B4518 before crossing a bridge signposted 'Elan Village'. Following the minor road to Llanwrthwl, climbing steeply past Cnwch farm, I park at the entrance to the tarmacadum road giving access to 'the Clyn farm' (if you pass Talwrn farm you've gone too far). Another rain front hammers upon the car roof and I wonder what motivates me ... what drives me... to do this? No really, what? To be honest, I think I know. Perhaps one day I will find the appropriate words. As I step out into the downpour the farmer approaches. Appropriately in the conditions he 'fishes' for information. 'Returning, or just off out?' says he, or words to that effect. Put on the spot, I volunteer that 'I might just go have a look at the cairns marked on the map'....in a torrential downpour... and wait for the incredulous retort. It is not forthcoming and, consequently, I'm intrigued. I go for broke, waiving an arm vaguely to the south-west... 'and apparently there's a stone circle somewhere up there I'd like to see'. It seems there is and the farmer's bloody well proud of it. He gives me directions.... 'stand with your back to the trees and head for the cairn upon the far ridge.... the circle is just before the final rise to Y Gamriw' (or something like that). Blimey. Top bloke, a credit not only to himself, but to his family and to Mother Wales. See we CAN get along if BOTH sides act like adults, treat the other with due respect. Needless to say one good turn deserves another, of course, the Essex boy helping to move the farmer's herd of cattle down the road prior to setting off uphill.
Passing the forestry I revert to type and, instead of following the farmer's directions, proceed to make a right pig's ear of finding the 'circle by logically seeking out the OS co-ordinates as given [note that these have been subsequently amended - and I reckon are more or less accurate!] In short, the 'circle is not where it should be, that is just below the south-western end of the rocky ridge that is Crugian Bach. Plan B is to orientate myself upon Y Gamriw's prominent cairn - as, er, advised - and walk forward in circular sweeps until (eventually) I notice an orthostat which looks 'wonky' enough not to be a boundary stone.... but something ever so much older. Aye, it is.
Coflein states there are 18 stones incorporated within the circumference of this stone circle. Perhaps, although some are so diminutive, so (apparently) inconsequential that I reckon only a thorough excavation could arrive at a definitive count. But then again, so what? The largest standing stone here would probably go unnoticed at Avebury.... yet the vibe here is - in my opinion - so far in advance of that justly famous site as to be beyond compare. It really is. Don't get me wrong, I'm awed by Avebury. But here I feel as if the very landscape itself was deemed so special, so evocative, that anything other than a distinctly underwhelming demarcation of a sacred space was thought to be taking the piss out of the gods residing upon the surrounding high places. The pattern is indeed repeated across Wales... inconsequential uprights standing beneath the high peaks. Nevertheless this clearly represented the real deal, at least for the people dwelling in the shadow of Y Gamriw millennia past, if only because both Coflein and CPAT cite numerous outlying standing stones and cairns in the immediate vicinity. Obviously there was a lot more ritual activity occurring here than might immediately be apparent to a casual visitor. Ha! As if a 'casual visitor' would ever come here! A further point of interest in this otherwise archaeologically low key stone circle is the presence of a centre stone - according to my experience, as well as that of a certain Mr Burl (by all accounts) this is pretty unusual.
I stay and enjoy the exquisite vibe for - I think - some three hours. Time seems to have little meaning here as the sunlight illuminates the moor and Y Gamriw broods above. Some natural sequences appear, well, simply meant to be. Inevitable. Eventually, however, the farmer's earlier complete acceptance of my wish to see 'the cairns' becomes too much. I must go take a look... what does he know that I do not? Probably quite a lot...
Some landscapes are iconic, taking the breath away through sheer force of imagery sent cascading along the optic nerve, a tidal wave of electrical impulses temporarily 'short circuiting' the brain. The appeal of others, however, is not so direct, less obvious, more subtle; dependent upon the non-visual complement of senses available to us humans but, arguably, woefully underemployed nowadays. In my opinion The Radnor Forest falls into this latter category. Set within a border 'no man's land' north of The Black Mountains, there is to my mind a real sense of inherent insularity to be found here... local hills reserved for local people, so to speak. Perhaps this has something to do with knowledge of an MOD rifle range located within Harley Dingle, the deep valley driving a north-south cleft through the very heart of these mountains? Perhaps.... but I reckon there is more to it than that, something that can only be provisionally understood by donning the boots and venturing into the 'mists', preferably not the literal kind of course.
New Radnor is key to an attempt to further your knowledge of these uplands, an attractive village still retaining remnants of medieval earthwork defences, not least a substantial Norman motte and bailey castle, the sort of place I (almost) wish I didn't have to disturb with my presence. From Water Street turn right onto the B4372 and then immediately left to ascend a minor road past the aforementioned castle. I park up a little beyond at the entrance to an old quarry... in my ignorance. In retrospect - as long as your car is happy enough with steep inclines - I'd recommend carrying on to park in a forestry car park at the road's terminus. Yeah, save yourself a very steep bit of road bashing at the start. Just prior to the forestry a sunken bridleway heads left, subsequently veering to the right (north) to ascend the tree line. The retrospective and western views become more expansive with every (laboured) step, but it is that which eventually materialises through foliage to the east that I've primarily returned here to see.... a veritable 'Silbury-esque' natural cone whimsically called 'Whimble'. How good a name is that? Marvellous. The 'Silbury' analogy is valid only to a point, however, since Whimble is much, much larger, rising to as near as dammit 600m at 1,965ft. In addition it's what lies on top - rather than what lies within (if anything) - that is of interest here..... a stonking big, grassy round barrow.
The climb to the summit of Whimble is not overly taxing, relatively speaking, from either the west or, in particular, the north-east. Sadly the summit ridge is not of uniform profile being much disturbed by quarrying, although Coflein nevertheless cites a possible enclosure here. Fortunately, however, the round barrow remains very much in existence. Coflein gives the monument's dimensions as being '19m in diameter and 1.2m high.... a more recent cairn, 11m in diameter and 0.6m high, superimposed upon it [(source Os495card; SO26SW14) J.Wiles 14.10.04]'. To be fair it seemed much more substantial when on site.... perhaps the scale image I've added is more conclusive? What is not in doubt, however, is the sublime nature of the views to be had from upon the barrow. It would be a cliche to state they are worth the effort alone, but 'if the cap fits...' Here the 'cap' happens to be a fine prehistoric monument in a more than reasonable state of preservation.
Looking west across Harley Dingle three great gulleys - The Three Riggles (right on!) - can be seen adorning the eastern face of Great Rhos, a striking landscape feature. To the north the gaze is directed across the craggy flank of Whinyard Rocks, one of the few incidences of naked rock in an area noted for its paucity, toward Bache Hill, fractionally higher at 2,001ft and boasting a much more substantial round barrow. There are other examples located upon the intervening ridge, including another of very significant proportions. To the approx north west the summit of Black Mixen is surmounted by an ugly antenna (is there any other kind?), an unwelcome companion to yet another large monument. Rest assured, there are more. To complete the picture - and at the risk of labouring the point - the fine 'Four Stones' four poster (funnily enough) lies below to the approx south east, the apparently once extensive ritual landscape in the vicinity of Walton beyond, not to mention the great Burfa Camp... and Offa's Dyke itself. South, of course, lies the eastern flank of South Wales' great escarpment. Yeah, Whimble is thus a classic spot to sit and..... just.... 'hang'. Eventually, however, I must reacquaint myself with Bache Hill and its ancient wonders. 17 years after the initial event. Is it really that long? 'fraid so.
As mentioned above, one of the barrows upon the subsiduary south-western hill remains substantial, the others, eroded away to varying degrees, extend in an arc towards the north-east.... and the main monument crowning the summit of Bache Hill itself. This is quoted by Coflein as being:
'A round barrow, 20m in diameter and 3.0m high, diched, with traces of a counterscarp. There are indications of possible excavation trenches and an Os triangulation pillar atop the mound (source Os495card; SO26SW11) RCAHMW AP965028/66 J.Wiles 09.09.02'
3m? I can well believe it. Yeah, this is truly an excellent round barrow... a real beauty in fact. To say the location is also rather good would be a bit of an understatement, too, to be fair. Owing to the topography the views it oversees are (arguably) not as dramatic as those from Whimble, but I reckon this fact is countered somewhat by the much more 'isolated' vibe to be enjoyed here... a sense of wilderness, of being in the 'middle of nowhere', neither in Wales nor England, but in some 'otherworldly' place defying adequate definition. Perhaps the cloud sweeping in, thankfully at altitude, colours my perception somewhat? Perhaps I should leave it at that? Whatever, sitting upon Bache Hill's summit is a good place to be.
I return to the car via the western flank of the mountain, the gaping void of Harley Dingle a sight to behold, what with Whimble towering above it to the left. I reach the car at dusk. Out of time, the forestry car park seems an appropriate place to spend the night. Indeed it does.
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.
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Gladman... aka Citizen Cairn'd. Yeah, every monument blows me away, but in particular those highland piles of stone with the appropriately monumental views. Visiting them, I think, helps engender a certain 'connection', however intangible, with this land of ours, providing an indispensable reference point for those of us struggling to make sense of this so called 'computer world' Kraftwerk warned us was a'coming in 1981. And hell, it makes me feel good, truly alive... on top of the world in the most literal sense. A perfectly natural 'high'.
Suffice to say, then, that mine is not an exercise in dryly cataloguing sites for the benefit of future generations - as much as I might try I haven't yet been able to embrace altruism to that extent - but rather an attempt to try and reconcile why I am so incredibly moved by these constructions of stone and/or earth representing a time when everything was, by all accounts, literally a matter of life and death. Yeah, just as an empty house appears to retain echoes of past humanity... the raw emotion that apparently sets us apart as a species... so does the stone circle, the chambered cairn, the long barrow and the mountain top funerary cairn. We may be only able to make an (hopefully educated) guess as to what forms the human interaction may have taken - but clearly it mattered. A lot.
I make no special claim for my contributions, particularly since the majority of my earlier images are (variable quality) scans of archive prints.... and my opinions are, well... those of an enthusiastic amateur with a bog-standard 'comprehensive' education. Consequently I'd recommend visitors to TMA refrain from taking my - or anyone else's - word for anything. If you like what you see, why thank you! But please go see for yourself and post what you saw, relate what you think, share what you experienced... that is the greatest compliment you can accord me. Yeah, make up your own mind and do your own thing and help keep the facists, authoritarians and religious freaks from the door. As the great Ian Dury once said, 'Be inspired, be inspiring, be magnificent!' ... and thus the circle turns in on itself to go round again, as upon the great slabs at Bru na Boinne....
However... let's not get carried away. Steady now. In a society where computer generated fantasy is all too prevalent please be aware that reaching some of the more remote upland sites in the British Isles can be potentially dangerous, even life threatening, for the unprepared... or arrogant. Treat the landscape and weather with the respect they deserve (take map, compass, waterproofs etc) and you hopefully won't go far wrong. If in doubt, pop a question in the Forum. That's why Mr Cope puts up the readies to run TMA.... Thank you Julian.
So cheers... to Mr Cope for being his inspirational, confrontational self, showing that field archaeology can be FUN! - hey, who'd have thought it? ...to my sister (Mam Cymru) for using her wondrous female 'macro' vision to help me see the detail throughout an ongoing re-exploration of the South Walian uplands, albeit upon dodgy ankles, knees etc... to my own mam for insisting 'young men should have adventures'.... and my Dad for unwittingly inspiring a profound love of high places. Oh, and to Aubrey Burl for those pioneering guides BC.... 'Before Cope'.
For what it's worth some of my other inspirational people are:
Charles Darwin (for his peerless humanity... amongst, er, 'other things'... although let's not forget Wallace for forcing the great man's hand with his own magnificent contributions);
And then, in no particular order:
George Orwell (peerless essayist with the ability to change his mind); Michael Collins (things are not often black and white... there are two sides to every story); Winston Churchill (for obvious reasons... but especially for all his faults); Martin L. Gore (my favourite songwriter...from just up the road!); Richard Dawkins (much maligned, yet helping to carry the torch of reason during an age of religious resurgence); Shane MacGowan (for making Christmas that little bit more tolerable); Sophie Scholl (words fail me); W A Mozart; Manic Street Preachers (the true spirit of South Wales, not the bleedin' Treorchy Male Voice); Pat Jennings; Stuart Adamson; Will Shakespeare; Harry Hill (there's only one way to find out!); Claudia Brucken (proving Germans do have passion); the (Allied) generation of WW2 for making all this possible; Mr Beethoven; Marc Almond; Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy; Christopher Hitchens; Mulder and Scully; John Le Mesurier (do you think that's wise, sir?); Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider.... not to mention anyone who has ever asked 'Why?' - the true legacy of punk. Last but not least, Gaelic beauty Karen Matheson... 'the call is unspoken, never unheard'.
George Orwell - '...during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act'....
Norman MacCaig - 'I took my mind a walk. Or my mind took me a walk — Whichever was the truth of it'.
Alan Bennett - 'Life is rather like a tin of sardines, we're all of us looking for the key'.
Martin L. Gore - 'Like a pawn on the eternal board; Who's never quite sure what he's moved toward; I walk blindly on....'
Truman Capote - 'Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour'.
Winston Churchill - 'KBO'.