Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 7: Preseli

I’ve never walked the Preseli mountains before. They’ve been in the background of photographs and they’ve been visible from other places I’ve walked, but I’ve never climbed them. So today was a new experience for me. And, of course, Rufus. I memorised the route and we set off in the commuter chaos that is Sketty at 8.30am. I’d read about the area and planned a route that would take us onto three separate peaks over about 6 miles.

I missed the correct turning off the A40 and took a secondary route. By the time I’d actually found the village nearest to the start point, I must have completely circumnavigated the mountains and we’d driven 50% further than the route I’d planned. But eventually, we got to the little layby and we were off.

The moor between the gate and the slope of Foeldrygarn was covered in sheep, but they parted before us as we made our way north. Once we’d cleared the sheepline (there was a definite line above which there were a lot fewer sheep) Rufus was off the lead and charging all over the moor while I tried to slow him down so he wouldn’t wear himself out. I knew this walk would be the longest we’d done this year and I didn’t want him struggling towards the end.

We passed over the ramparts of the iron Age hillfort and on the the central burial cairn, where there is a trig point. From there, the views were wonderful, although they would be even better in clear conditions; a haze was coming down over the mountains. To the west was the peak that had first attracted me to this part of Wales. Carn Menyn (Butter cairn or top, also known as Carn Meini) was where the Bluestones that form the inner horseshoe of standing stones at Stonehenge were quarried and worked.

We dropped down off the hill and walked parallel to a managed forest on our left. This track was the main route across this part of the country and is reckoned to be up to 5,000 years old. It provided safety from the wild animals (wolves and bears) that once roamed the valleys below. The whole area is home to a number of ancient monuments and dwellings. Graves and standing stones line the track; likely to be travellers who didn’t get to where they were going. Hut circles and platforms litter the hillsides and the remains of hillforts sit on the mountain tops. Near by the wrecks of two WW2 planes can be found.

After 20 minutes or so we were at Carn Menyn. The rocks are weather in such a way that they form natural rectangular blocks which would need relatively little effort to quarry and shape into the stones that form part of Stonehenge. The great mystery is why they used these stones, and how they got to Salisbury Plain. A little while ago, there was an experiment to see if a Bluestone could be transported to the site of Stonehenge in modern times, using ancient methods. They got the stone as far as the sea, where fell from the boat being used to sail it around the coast. An altenrative theory is that glacial action moved the stones to Salisbury plain, where they were found and used by Stonehenge’s builders.

Scattered around the outcrop were large and small slabs of Bluestone, some of which may have been quarried but not used.

By now the day had turned grey and hazy. The Preseli Mountains are bleak and remote despite being fairly close to the major centres of Pembroke and Cardigan. They reminded me of the granite tors of Dartmoor – smooth moorland dotted with rocky outcrops in a seemingly random pattern. A wind was blowing but it wasn’t cold. After a wander around Carn Menyn, we set of for the final mountain of the day; Carn Bica. A walk of a mile across open moorland got us to the top of the mountain and a solitary figure sitting amongst the rocks. I waved and called a greeting but it was met with stoney silence. Still, we weren’t here to make friends so we sat sheltered from the wind by the rocks and snacked.

A few yards from the mountain top was a small setting of stones called Bedd Arthur. This translates as ‘Arthur’s Grave’ – one of many such places throughout Wales. King Arthur is supposed to have chased a wild boar up along this ridge, following the ancient trackway. It was an odd ring of stones. It was decidedly oval, almost rectangular, with the long axis aligned roughly NW-SE. From the northern end, looking along the axis, it seemed to line up with the trackway. The stones had been placed to line and earth bank and ditch (henge).

It was time to turn back and we retraced our steps for about half the route before continuing on the ancient track and bypassing Foeldrygarn. We dropped down towards the gate and crossed the sheepline once more. It was as if we were herding them along as they refused to turn off the route we were taking. As we descended, the sheep in front of us built up as they were joined by others seeking safety in numbers. Then, all of a sudden, they all veered off towards the left and we were left with a clear path to the gate.

Just down the road is Gors Fawr stone circle. I’d visited there a few years ago and since it was on our route back, I decided to make a brief stop there again. Rufus didn’t complain and we spent a few minutes at the small arrangement of stones. They were overlooked by Carn Bica, where we’d been less than an hour before.

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Death Rays

The weekend doesn’t really count for our fortnight of fun as I’d be off anyway. Instead, I had planned on having a weekend of rest. Of course, Rufus wasn’t quite so keen on the idea despite the rest being for him. So yesterday morning we went off to the woods for a stroll and around Broadpool in the evening, where we dodged cows and watched the heron lit up by the red evening light.

Today was slightly different. I wanted to visit Carn Llechart, a Late Neolithic or early Bronze Age ringed burial cairn, a little to the north west of Pontardawe. As I remembered it, it was a short but steep climb from the lane to the top of the hill (imaginatively called Mynydd Carn Llechart). I saw this as a relatively simple and short walk. I hadn’t counted on the local farmer fencing off the common access land along the lane. Undeterred, I drove on a little further and found proper access as it should be.

We climbed the short incline to the ridge but I knew we’d have to double back to make our way to the cairn. It was a gorgeous morning with not a cloud in the sky and clear visibility for miles. In the distance to the north were the Carmarthen Fans, all of which we’ve climbed in the past. Little wisps of fog were gathering just below the summits of some of the hills. The sun was warming the morning up.

After about a mile, we reached the cairn, overgrown with reeds. It was the last time I was here, too. The cairn is an almost perfect circle, with upright flats stones forming a ring around a central earthen mound. At the centre is a small cist chamber in which a burial was made. The cairn is just over the top of the ridge and would have been visible from the south. Beyond the cairn, southwards and in a fenced off field, are three large stones which may have been contemporary with the cairn, marking an approach of some sort.

Rufus explored the cairn while I tried to take photos of it. Then, once he and I had finished, we set of northwards until we got to a spot that gave us a great view over the hills. I know Rufus doesn’t have the same appreciation of landscapes that I do, but even he was impressed, judging by the time he spent stood still just looking.

I’d checked on the map before heading out this morning and I knew that we would be on the opposite side of the Clydach Valley to the one we normally are when we go to the wind farm. I’d been reading a book on local history and it mentioned that one Henry Grindell Matthews had a small laboratory on the the hillside we could see from Carn Llechart, Tor Clawdd. There he set about perfecting several ‘secret weapons’, including a ‘death ray’ that could stop engines, ignite gunpowder and knock out humans. The buildings were surrounded by a fifteen foot high electrified fence, and he even had his own little airstrip for the private plane he flew. I’m fascinated by things like this so I made a mental note to explore that area at some future date.

Back at the car, I decided to carry on along the lane rather than turn around and go back the way we came. I knew from checking on the map where we’d come out and sure enough, we were heading towards the wind farm on Mynydd Betws. The drive was pleasant and scenic along a narrow lane and almost as quick as the journey up on the main road.

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Rhossili

This morning, we went up Rhossili Down. I’ve been meaning to go back there for a while, but one thing or another has meant that I’ve been tempted to go elsewhere. This morning, nice and early, we set off with the intention of walking along the ridge above the beach. It was a windy morning but not cold, and only a thin layer of cloud to the north west spoiled the day.

I’d forgotten how steep the initial climb was (or maybe I’m just a bit more unfit than I realised) so by the time we’d got to the bit where the hang gliders launch (about half way) I was out for breath. The view from there was spectacular across the village on on to Worm’s Head, so I didn’t mind stopping for a minute or so. Rufus was happy for the opportunity to explore his surroundings. We got to the trig point and the wind was blowing quite hard. But it still wasn’t cold and it wasn’t as strong as we’d experienced in the past.

The heather was in full bloom. Mostly a uniform mauve colour, there were some patches of darker purple and some of yellow. And in the wind, the scent wasn’t overpowering. We had the ridge to ourselves and no deadlines to worry about. We took it easy. I was snapping away and Rufus was sniffing away.

Slowly we made our past the Bronze Age cairns to the remains of the old radar station, which kept watch against enemy raids during WW2. From the highest point there, there were fantastic views along the beach and down to the campsite at Llangennith. It was packed and although I like camping, the density of tents wasn’t something I’d be happy with.

We left the main path to head down to the Neolithic burial chambers, known as Sweyn’s Howes. There wasn’t a clear path, so we set off across the heather. After a few minutes, I checked on Rufus to find him hopping gingerly and hesitantly behind me. I hadn’t noticed that in amongst the heather were little thorny plants. They were obviously getting between Rufus’ pads and he was finding the going hard and uncomfortable. So we turned around and I picked him up to carry him to a clearer part of the hillside. He’s a heavy boy, and there was much huffing and puffing from both of us. Thankfully, I didn’t have to lift him far!

We carried on back along the ridge, passing horses and curious foals who were unconcerned by our passage. We were on much smoother ground and too quickly, we reached the path heading down to the car park. I could see three people watching and trying top photograph something and as I looked, I saw a Hen Harrier stationary in the sky. It was being mobbed by other, smaller birds but didn’t seem to be too concerned by the attention it was receiving. I watched and tried to photograph it for about 5 minutes and it only occasionally flapped its wings to move position. Most of the time, the wind blowing in from the sea was enough to allow it to remain hovering over one spot.

We got back to the car refreshed and ready for second breakfast.

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The best laid plans of Rufus and Dave

Today was meant to be an opportunity to get out on the hills, to spend our first full day of the season in the mountains. The weather was looking good, we’d discussed a route (Rufus’ input was that it had to have running water available for him to swim in). Then I managed to get a niggly little cough at the beginning of the week. It bore a close resemblance to the one mentioned in this blog and I have my suspicions that it was given to me by the author.

Anyway, by Thursday my voice was going and on Friday, the constant coughing had worn me down. I had to pull out of two Insiderz gigs so they had enough time to find a replacement (even then, it was short notice). They’re playing in Neath as part of the Oxjam festival tonight and in The Strand on Sunday. Of course, there was no chance of a day on the hills.

This morning, I decided I needed to get some fresh air and Rufus concurred. So we headed off for a curtailed stroll along the top of Rhossili Down. We haven’t been this way for a while so it was a refreshing change from our usual routes. Apart from the initial climb, it’s easy going (which was important for me) but there’s enough height to give it a sense of open space that I like, too. Another thing about Rhossili Down is the range of history in such a short area.

In Rhossili village there are the remains of open field strip farming that was the medieval way of dividing land up to be farmed. On the way up to Rhossili Down there is a Royal Observer Corps bunker from the Cold War. On the top of Rhossili Down are several Bronze Age burial cairns. Below the ridge, facing the sea is a World War 2 radar station, used to detect shipping and low flying aircraft from 1942. On the opposite side of the ridge are two Neolithic burial sites, Sweyn’s Howes. That’s about 5000 years of history if you include the Millennium stone erected in 2000.

Typically for us, as soon as we got to the top of the hill, the rain started. It stopped again, waiting for us to get further from the car before coming back with more vigour. We headed back to the car, but then the rain stopped, so we went for a look at the Neolithic tombs.

Despite the cloud, there was enough sunshine to raise the spirits and the wind wasn’t cold. The fresh air was most welcome and I had a cough free couple of hours before we finally made it back to the car and home for coffee, 2nd breakfast and, for one of us, a chance to flop down on the sofa.

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More Holiday

As part of his holiday (but I’m not sure what his holiday is from), Rufus has been staying with me so that we can get out and about early. Over the last few days, we’ve been on mountains, on beaches and for long walks in between.

Fan Nedd is a favourite and has featured here before. It’s a short hill, less than a mile from car to top, but it has a number of extensions we can add, including a long one to Fan Gyhirych. This time we were content with walking along the ridge and past the trig point until the ground started to drop away again on the far side. In all, we managed about 2.7 miles. Compare that with the 42 miles a walker we met was doing for charity and it pales into insignificance but it was enough for us.

Cefn Bryn needs no introduction, and on Friday, we walked the whole length of the ridge until we were overlooking Three Cliffs and Penmaen on the coast. It was windy but not cold and the views from the top down to the sea were beautiful. It reminded me that I hadn’t been to Three Cliffs for ages. When I was in college, a bunch of friends and I would meet up during the summer holidays and head off to Penmaen and Tor Bay, just to to the right of Three Cliffs. We’d spend the day on the beach and every so often, one person would have to walk back up to the car park where a little shop sold ice cream and cold drinks. It was a hard slog up dunes before a long walk along a hot path to the shop. It’s still a  great memory, though.

On Saturday, we went down to Three Cliffs and Penmaen very early in the morning. Still we didn’t have it to ourselves. A sea fisherman was casting into the incoming tide. I couldn’t see if he was catching anything. Joggers passed us by and one or two local dog walkers shared the beach. Beneath Pennard Castle, we saw cows making their way down the dunes to the river. It was a warm morning and pleasant walking along the beach. But eventually, we had to make our way back up the dunes and that was hard going. At the top, I made a detour to visit the remains of an Iron Age fort on the headland overlooking the cliffs. All that remains now are earth banks with a gap between them, but they are still quite impressive and give an idea of what it must have looked like in the past. Much of the interior has eroded way so its not clear how big it would have been.

Beyond the fort is a chambered burial tomb that would have been there long before the walls and ditched of the defensive structure were built. But it might have influenced it’s placement; the area was clearly important to the early inhabitants of Gower. Now all that it left of the tomb is a massive collapsed capstone and the uprights that would have supported it. Two stones set at right angles to the line of the monument form an entrance portal and there are two more stones that seem to form a short passage outside the tomb.

Then it was back to the car and home for second breakfast.

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Cefn Bryn

You’ve encountered Cefn Bryn before in this blog. I used to go up there quite often. It’s the spine of Gower, with views across the peninsula of the northern and southern shores, and the bulky wall of Rhossili Down to the west. It’s the site of a number of Neolithic and later monuments, the most famous being Maen Ceti, or Arthur’s Stone. The story goes that King Arthur, walking in Carmarthenshire (some say Llanelli) on his way to battle, found a stone in his shoe and threw it away. It landed on Gower. The truth is that this is the remains of a Neolithic chambered tomb some 4,500 years old. The great capstone, now split in two, was probably deposited on Cefn Bryn by glacial action as the predominant rock on the ridge is Old Red Sandstone. Beneath the capstone is double chambered tomb.

Just after I started college, some friends and I were making movies during our summer holidays. We used Arthur’s Stone as the location for a sacrifice scene. I don’t know what the visitors must have thought of us there. Since then, archaeologists have uncovered a number of cairns, most of which are probably piles of stone cleared from farmland. But three large cairns have been identified as tombs. These days, there are wild horses all around the area.

I’ve been in that area a few times to take photos of the night skies. The streelight glow from Swansea and Llanelli is still quite strong but directly overhead the light pollutions is minimal. Over the last few years I’ve taken part in the Gower Gallop long distance sponsored walk and the route always passes over Cefn Bryn. The first few times I did the challenge, the summit was a half way check point at which chocolate cake was available. Very welcome!

Rufus likes Cefn Bryn too. There is lots of space for him to run around in, plenty of mud and puddles for the cooling of paws and the odd rabbit for him to play with.

These photo were taken yesterday morning with the Infra Red camera.

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Back on Top

I’m on holiday. Not your run of the mill Bank holiday plus one day stuff. This is real holiday material. Two whole weeks (yes, two). This means several things:

  1. The weather will get worse and we will have the worst May 8th to May 18th on record, followed by the warmest, sunniest June known to man.
  2. I have no excuses not to do the jobs around the house and in the garden that need doing but can be effectively put off by chanting ‘I’m tired from work’ or ‘I need daylight to do that’.

So, in order to deal with 1 and put off 2, I spent the day on the hills (to take advantages of the sunny and warm morning). Rufus and I set off from the car at about 10.30, heading first to the River Tawe (more like a stream with dreams  at this point, so close to its source) and we followed it up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. As mentioned in several other posts, this is out favourite body of water and Rufus knows when we’re getting close. He disappears at that point, and several minutes later I arrive to find him ankle deep in the cooling water waiting for me to throw him a stone. Ahh, if only it was just the one!

No difference today. He was grateful for the chance to cool off as the sun was warmer than I expected. There was enough of a breeze to keep my temperature down to a comfortable level, but Rufus does twice the distance I do with his running around and coming back to check on me/see if I’ll give him a treat (I like to think the former but the truth is probably the latter). So he needs more cooling down.

After a snack break, we trudged up the slope on the side of Fan Brecheiniog, scattering sheep before us as we went. Rufus was great and didn’t chase them Probably because he was wisely saving his energy for the rest of the hike. As we climbed, the breeze died away and for a few minutes it was a lovely summer’s day. The views east to Fan Gyhyrich, Fan Nedd, Corn Du and Pen y Fan were splendid, with the peaks all in sunshine. We’ve done all of those several times and one of the things I like about Fan Brecheiniog is that once at the top, I can look east and west to see mountains and hills I’ve walked. It gives a sense of scale and place that can’t be experienced from looking at a map.

On top of the mountain, the wind picked up and despite the sun I had to put my gloves on as my fingers were getting very cold. We walked along the ridge line, fabulous views either side, until we got to the cairn at the pointy bit of Fan Brecheiniog. We took another water and snack break and Rufus and I indulged in some play fighting. I couldn’t believe that after the climb, he was still able to race off and then charge at me at full pelt, jinking at the last minute and turning to ‘attack’. I love watching him play like this as it’s obvious he’s really enjoying himself. Of course, so am I!

We went on a bit further as I wanted to take some photos of the Neolithic cairn on the top of Fan Foel. If your read my Nant Tarw blog (and if you didn’t, leave your apology and excuse in the comments box below) you’ll know that this is part of a complex set of monuments that make up a ritual landscape. But this cairn, at over 2,500 feet, is by far the most magnificent. It overlooks the whole valley and from here you could spot every other monument when they were complete. It must have been a fantastic experience to see this valley. Whoever was buried in this cairn must have had status.

We headed south from the cairn and instead of going back down to the lake (despite all the protests Rufus could muster) we went on to Fan Hir. A short detour but I was enjoying being on the mountain so much I wanted to make the most of the weather. I sat on a rock and drank in the views of hills and woods and ridges and streams while Rufus had a good look around.

Finally, we went back down to the lake. Rufus was there before me as usual and I spent ages throwing stones for him. Today, he wanted to catch them so he was leaping up out of the water, soaking me every time he kicked his front paws out to gain height. Suddenly it was time to go back tot he car. Darker clouds were coming in from the south west. Last time we were here, we got drenched, so I decided to to make for the car. By the time we climbed in, we were both tired but happy. It’s good to be back on top again. I’ve missed it.

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