Romancing the Stones – The Preseli Hills   16 comments

I used to work as a sales rep for a small company that sold plastic building products (they were famous for their yellow buckets which my so-called friends found disproportionately amusing for some reason). Most of south Wales was on my patch and one very dark, grey and dreary afternoon I drove across the high road over the Preseli Hills and saw them as nothing more than a drab bit of moorland and never gave them another thought as a walking destination. In my quest to visit the lesser known corners of our uplands I thought it was time to give them a proper look on foot. As you’ll see, neglecting them for so long was an error.

Preseli Hills, Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

Preseli Hills from Foeldrygarn

We’ve been spending our October half-terms in my parents caravan at Clarach Bay for the past couple of years. When I say “we”, TBF and the kids spend the week while muggins goes to work and only spends the weekends away. This year was no exception and I’ll post up about the family times in an upcoming report. On the first Sunday the weather forecast was looking great so I agreed with TBF that I’d head out early for a morning walk while they went swimming and be back to spend the afternoon with them. I was up early on a cold, clear and frosty morning which when living in a caravan means a very cold making of breakfast and sandwiches with my gloves on – caravans are not great providers of early morning warmth.

Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

Foeldrygarn

It’s an hour’s drive down the Ceredigion coast and the day’s weather and the views were absolutely superb. I arrived at the small and chilly parking area just outside Crymych before 9 and eagerly headed off towards the hills under a deep blue sky.

5.5 miles, 550 feet of ascent

The Preseli hills are arranged as long broad ridge arrayed east-west and I was headed first for the most easterly top Foeldrygarn (the  rounded or bare hill of the three cairns). The car park is quite high up and the summit less than 400m so it only took 20 minutes to reach the summit, crowned with 3 huge bronze-age burial cairns and the remains of an iron-age hill fort.

Ceredigion Coast, Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

Ceredigion Coast from Foeldrygarn

The views were breathtaking and revealed the majesty that are the Preseli Hills. A rolling ridge of grassy tops crowned by a succession of rock outcrops marching westwards. Out west was the Ceredigion coast and Cardigan Bay and the patchwork of fields in between.

Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

North from Foeldrygarn

It just begged to be walked and had an impression of remoteness and altitude that belied its proximity to the coastal resorts and modest height. Foeldrygarn itself is an impressive little mountain in its own right, bristling with rocky outcrops of its own and numerous winding paths. It’s another to add my list of “Small mountains with disproportionately great views”. On a calm summers evening it would make a magnificent spot for wild camp.

Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

Foeldrygarn

Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

Foeldrygarn

I was eager to explore so I was away and positively bounding with enthusiasm. My inherent laziness crept in though as I sought to cut the corner on my way to the next summit. What I got for my trouble was wet feet as I discovered another of the Preseli charms – they are seriously boggy and wet. I retreated from a tussocky swamp to the path I should have been on in the first place thinking it would be drier. These hills however are made of sterner – and wetter – stuff and every yard of path was either boggy, squelchy or just water, or a combination of all three. Not a place for trail shoes 🙂

Carn Gyfrwy, Preseli Hills

Carn Gyfrwy

Still it wasn’t in any way detracting from the views which were still amazing. The next rocky tor is Carn Gyfrwy, a grassy mound topped with jagged rocks that gave a fine view across the nearer tors to the higher summits beyond. Onwards across the grassy boulder strewn summit towards Carn Menyn and a quintessential piece of British history.

Carn Menyn, Preseli Hills

Carn Menyn

It was from here that the bluestones (or spotted dolerite to be more correct) that form Stonehenges inner circle were taken. Each one weighed an estimated 4 tonnes and was transported over 200 miles to where they now stand. Still, no-one knows why they were taken such a huge distance from this particular spot or more importantly how. As I stood alone amongst the rocks it makes you think what a strange and wonderful history we have in the most sublime and unexpected of places.

Carn Menyn

Carn Menyn, Preseli Hills

This section of the ridge was rippled with rocky tors and I wandered amongst them, fascinated by their shapes against the backdrop of the blue sky. In the distance I noticed a group and an argo-cat clearly out hunting. I’ve heard a few worrying tales of unfriendly landowners with guns of late so my pace slowed and I felt a little apprehensive as I headed towards them. However I heard no gunshots and by the time I reached the summit of Carn Bica and the Beddarthur stone circle they were long gone. Beddarthur is another supposed burial-place of King Arthur (blimey that bloke covered some ground) and the local legend tells of him and his happy band chasing a giant wild boar called Twrch Trywyth across the hills.

Carn Gyfrwy, Carn Menyn, Carn Bica, Preseli Hills

Carn Gyfrwy, Carn Menyn from Carn Bica

As I sat on the top for a breather I unfurled the map. I had thought I could reach Foel Cwncerwyn (the highest point) or even Cerrig Lladron at the western end of the ridge. It was clearly a ludicrous plan given I only had half a day. The ridge looked inviting but rather than race to the top I thought it a better plan to wander back through the tors to Foeldrygarn and take a leisurely lunch on the summit. The full ridge traverse would have to wait for another day.

Foel Cwncerwyn, Carn Bica, Preseli Hills

Foel Cwncerwyn from Carn Bica

The problem with the these hills is that there is no obvious circular route – unless you fancy a long road walk along its southern flanks. As I wandered back it occurred to me that I am a little preoccupied with not retracing steps when I plan walks but without a good reason why. The views in the reverse direction were different to those on the outward leg and every bit as good. The same tors I’d examined took on a new character. I suppose where there is an obvious circular route it will always draw you on but this walk was telling me that when there isn’t one, simply retracing your steps is not necessarily a bad thing. I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s view on this topic.

I saw my first walkers of the day on the summit of Foeldrygarn (although I had passed a couple of very energetic and very muddy mountain bikers) but they soon departed leaving the summit all to myself.

Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

Lunch on Foeldrygarn

Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

South from Foeldrygarn

I found a cracking grassy shelf amongst the rocks, sheltered from the wind with views out to the coast and along the ridge. The summit of Foel Cwncerwyn had a huge bank of cloud like an alien spaceship sitting over it. Perhaps that was how they moved those stones 🙂

Foel Cwncerwyn, Preseli Hills

chariots of the gods!

Foeldrygarn, Preseli Hills

Alone with his thoughts (and a brew)

Time to make the short walk back to the car and head home for some family time. I was home by 2 and back out again for another walk on the local coastal hill – but that’s another post….

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16 responses to “Romancing the Stones – The Preseli Hills

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  1. An area I have yet to walk Andy, when we were in Pemrokeshire last year I thought about a visit but the weather was never good enough. Looks like you had some rather fine views on your visit.

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    backpackingbongos
    • Get yourself down there, they are quality hills. The numerous rocky tors are fascinating to wander about with loads of decent campsite sif you can carry some water up there (or just wring out your socks!). The Stonehenge connection and the stone circles give it a very mystical air.

      It was an absolutely stunning day with an exceptional clarity to the light. Slight shame I only had half a day as the long walk across the rest of the summits looked so inviting. I’ll be back there as its feasible as day out from home as well

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  2. Foel Drygarn is a great camp spot, in fact I do believe you were ‘Alone with your thoughts’ on the very spot where our Voyager was once pitched!.
    Those pictures capture the landscape at its best, very clear and sharp (and hardly any people).

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    • As soon as found that spot I thought “what a campsite!” Just read your post on the walk in the area and these rocky hills are great. I’ve now also got my eye on a circular route over Mynydd Carningli and back along the coast. Amazing how these areas never get noticed and yet have so much interest. I was a lucky boy with the weather to get such great photos. I must be due a real soaking soon 🙂

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  3. Those sweeping views look great – in fact it definitely looks like my kind of area that, but I have to confess I’ve never set foot in the southern part of Wales. In fact I’ve never been anywhere further south than Snowdonia.
    I’ve never had a problem with retracing steps on a walk, although Geoff always resists that as an idea unless he’s bagging a summit. Any walk will do me! My favourite though, are linear ones. I find there’s something extra about travelling from A to B on foot; sort of historic somehow.

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    • Never been to the mid-Wales mountains, Brecon Beacons, Black Mountains?? What you need is a blog from someone who lives down that way and has walked those hills extensively to give you some ideas 🙂

      They are a great range just right for grassy strolling and the views across to the coast are majestic. I know what you mean about A-B walking although I’ve not done it very often (I’m ashamedly tied to my car for both day walks and my infrequent backpacks). I once walked through from Kingussie to Blair and it was a classic (I have some photos I should post some time). Something committing about it even though I just hopped on a train to get back to the car

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  4. How wonderful post full of great photos. I was inspired by Your photos from Foeldrygarn.

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  5. Left a comment on this post last night – can’t believe it’s disappeared into the ether. More of my pearls of wit and wisdom lost to posterity! I think the gist of what I had to say was that this looks like a cracking walk in an area about which I was hitherto completely ignorant. I’ve always been fascinated by the transportation of the Stonehenge dolmens.
    I’m totally with Chrissie: linear A to B walks are the tops. In fact I have one pending in my ‘to post about’ tray.

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    beatingthebounds
  6. One of my regular walking areas. Find a nice crisp frosty day and your feet will stay dry. Couple of outliers worth a look – Frenni Fawr and Foel Dyrch.

    Scroll through my blog http://randomdailywalks.blogspot.co.uk/

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    • Hi Bob! Thanks for dropping by and real pleasure to see another trip report on these wonderful hills. Frenni Fawr looked well worth a trip as did Foel Dyrch and loved your report on the latter! I’ll subscribe to your blog and add to my blogroll and feeds.

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  7. Fantastic photos. We live at the foot of Foel Drygarn at Maen-Offeriad holiday cottages. We walk up here every day with our dog. We really enjoyed reading this blog and your photos are truly wonderful and certainly show the spectacular landscape. It is amazing – we were walking today up Foel Drygarn looking at the defence wall near the top and thinking about the people who last touched the stones all those years ago when they built the wall. The presence of the numerous hut circles surrounding the summit makes you realise how many people lived here in the Iron Age. Thank you and we’re glad you enjoyed the Preselis. We love it here. Norma and Tim

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    • Thanks Tim/Norma. Glad you enjoyed my write up and photos of your “doorstep hills”. Never realized there was so much of interest up there as well as being a great walk with stunning views. The full traverse of the ridge end to end is high on my list. A full trip back in time.
      Cheers, Andy

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