To the Maen Mawr and Cerrig Duon; Dusk riding a deserted valley road in South Wales

I made this ride at the beginning of August when we went to South Wales, but it has taken me this long to put it together and load it up. I smuggled the Brompton in under the luggage in the boot of the car, and one evening I walked it up the steep stone chipping track of the cottage where we stayed, out of the farm gates and turned the bike up-valley on a deserted unclassified road. The dusk was slowly gathering over the mountainside as the sun dipped beyond the horizon. The river Tawe, freshly sprung from the mountain and not yet the torrent that rages over the rocks two miles seaward, rushed past playing sweet, watery music as it danced from pool to pool, this was the only sound in the valley. Sheep moved slowly out of the way as I eased the Brompton over the crest of the hill. At a small gravel layby I folded the bike up then carried it down to the water’s edge, following the river toward its source, looking for a safe and easy place to cross. Eventually I elected to wade through where it widened slightly, the current was not too strong, but the water was freezing, a shock to the system as it numbed me from my feet to the knees. I scrambled up the bank, immediately my sodden trousers and trainers felt incredibly warm in contrast to the chill of the river. As I followed the tracks of a sheep trail I could see the standing stone known as the Maen Mawr appearing on the horizon ahead of me. When I reached the plateau on which the stone stands, I put down the Brompton and walked round the attendant circle, Cerrig Duon. This is a small circle, the largest stone being only about two foot in height, curiously it’s not actually a circle, more of an egg shape. What most people don’t realise about this site, is that there is an avenue of small stones nearby with the flat sides of the stones all aligned in one direction. With the flat plateau, the large stone, the circle and the avenue, it’s actually a significant complex, carefully aligned north to south (or south to north) and set up for processional ritual. The view down the valley toward Dan yr Orgof and Craig Y Nos was spectacular, a few lights glowed gently, marking out the country park buildings. Back the other way the sun had solidly set, but strangely left two areas of glowing golden light on the horizon due to the nature of the mountain, the effect in the sky was quite magical. I wondered if this was significant to the builders of the complex?

As the darkness raced silently over the mountain, the dew settled gently on the spiky grass and the sound of the river became clearer and sharper. A soft mist appeared above the river, even in the 21st century, the atmosphere became liminal, other worlds felt close by, within easy reach.

This was not at all unpleasant or eerie, I felt very comfortable there, but with the light disappearing I thought it best to wade back over the river and head for the road. By the time I reached the track there was no light to guide me in save starlight, and the warm glow of the cottage windows where the moths battered softly against the panes, the whisper of their wings audible against the ubiquitous piping music of water over stone.

Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 11:29 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Eternal Reek of Damp Wool

I have just returned from a weekend away in Wales with my family. A good time was had by all even though the rain was near continuous. I’ve been going to the Brecon Beacons since I was too small to remember, my father was from the area, a little farm called Forest Lodge. He used to have to cycle into school, looking at the undulating hills and narrow roads it becomes apparent how my Father was able to keep cycling into his forties (he died age fifty) even though he smoked forty a day. That basic level of fitness and ability to cycle long distances, up and down all but the steepest gradient was forged on the anvil of those hills. I remember him once telling me how his brakes failed coming downhill into Heol Y Senni and he came off onto the tarmac. The bike was fine and he painfully carried on, having to sit a maths test with blood seeping through the gauze bandages covering his road-rash.

Normlly the only cycling you hear about in the Beacons is mountain-biking, but this year we saw loads of road bikes powering down the excellent A roads around Sennybridge and Glyntawe. At the Mountain Centre near Libanus there was a display of ’50 years of the Brecon Beacons National Park’, I took a snap of this rather nice photo of a touring group resting above Talybont. Witness the geezer in the beret.

Picture of cyclists on display in the mountain centre

Sunday was of course Father’s Day. The Boys got me this Tour-de-France guide which came with a free History of the Tour DVD. It’s published by the people who create Cycling Weekly so it’s a pretty good lowdown of all the teams etc.

Cover of the Tour De France Guide

It also came with a free Rapha catalogue. My Birthday isn’t until October, but seeing this catalogue, I feel the list is already starting to be compiled! Result!

The title of this post comes from the Mint Sauce cartoon strip drawn by Jo Burt for MBUK magazine. I have Mint sauce stickers on my Mountain Bike.

Published in: on June 18, 2007 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment