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Thursday, 8 May 2014

Exploring Fan Llia to Fan Dringarth with the Big Welsh Walk 2014!

Throughout May, Ramblers Cymru is holding its annual event, the Big Welsh Walk. The event aims to encourage people to get out and about walking, with a programme of group-walks around Wales. Last Saturday (3 May) the Royal Commission provided the historical expertise for an 8.5-mile walk on the Brecon uplands planned by Cadw. 25 walkers and 4 Royal Commission staff members assembled near a Roman camp on the slopes of Fan Llia, some 400m above sea level. We were led on the walk by David Leighton, the Royal Commission’s Uplands Project coordinator. This long-running project aims to survey and record archaeology on all moorland over 244m above sea level. Although some 2380 square km have been surveyed to date, this area has yet to be covered. The 8.5-mile circular walk revealed the extent and variety of archaeology existing in upland areas such as this, from prehistoric cairns through to nineteenth-century sheep folds!

The walk proceeded along the western side of Fan Llia, where we saw a group of circular and oval platforms representing the remains of a prehistoric settlement which could date to as early as 2000 BC. This is an exciting site, as there are few examples of platform groups such as this in Wales: they are better-known in the north of Britain where the majority of those excavated are Bronze Age in date.

A short distance to the north-east lie the remains of a Bronze Age burial cairn. Its centre has been robbed out and a slab on the edge of the mound is thought to have been the capstone.

David Leighton explains how the burial chamber would have looked, with upright stones defining a stone-lined burial pit and supporting a larger capstone.
We continued north, crossing the Afon Llia at Rhyd Uchaf, a ford over the Sarn Helen, an old Roman (and post-medieval turnpike) road. We then headed towards Maen Llia (NPRN 84541), one of the largest standing stones in Wales.
Walkers fording the Afon LLia on line of the Roman road.
Although Maen Llia reputedly bears traces of a Latin/Ogham inscription, its precise geometric relationship with nearby bronze-age monuments suggests that it is prehistoric in origin. We paused exactly 320m south-east of Maen Llia at the remains of a Bronze Age burial cairn (NPRN 84539). David Leighton explained that the cairn forms the apex of an isosceles triangle whose other two corners are formed by Maen Llia and a multi-banked Bronze Age ring barrow (NPRN 84544). Distances between the three sites have been measured by the Royal Commission and the cairn was found to be equidistant from the other two sites. Intriguingly, a platform (possibly for a structure of some kind) sitting inside this triangle of sites is equidistant from the ring barrow and Maen Llia.
Platform lying precisely equidistant from ring barrow and Maen Llia.
More recently, a possible recumbent standing stone (NPRN 409642) has been identified projecting from a field-bank at the current roadside to the south-west of Maen Llia. GPS readings indicate that the stone is also at the mid-point between the ring barrow and Maen Llia.

Walker standing on possible recumbent standing stone, positioned at an equal distance between Maen Llia and the Bronze Age ring barrow.
Maen Llia, measuring 3.61m high and 2.75m wide, is located at the head of a pass between Fan Llia and Fan Nedd. According to legend, at Midsummer’s eve the stone walks to the river to drink. This story could refer to the stone’s shadow, whose evening shadow reaches towards the nearby river and is, according to local people, the shape of a forked tongue.

Maen LLia, one of the largest standing stones in Wales.
Lunch was eaten overlooking the Llia Valley and much fun was had flying kites kindly supplied by Ramblers Cymru!

Looking south down the Llia Valley.
After negotiating the 500m+ upper slopes of Fan Dringarth, we made our way down to the eastern slopes of Fan Llia and followed the line of the Nant y Gaseg stream towards Ystradfellte Reservoir. There are numerous abandoned post medieval dry-stone sheep folds and other tumbled stock enclosures in the vicinity of the reservoir.

One of many abandoned folds known to have been used from the medieval period up until at least the nineteenth century, possibly built on an earlier structure.
The reservoir, constructed in 1907-14 to provide water for Neath, has the remains of a number of probable later medieval or post medieval building platforms close to its northern and western shores. Some are thought to represent seasonal dwellings, occupied in summer when cattle grazed the upland pastures.

The Royal Commission’s David Leighton and Richard Suggett (Buildings Investigator) discuss the interior layout of a probable longhouse on the reservoir’s northern shore.
Given the close proximity of the reservoir, it is likely that further remains lie under the water itself.

Remains of medieval or later longhouse bisected by the western shore of the Ystradfellte Reservoir.

From the reservoir it was a short walk back to our start-point. We all agreed that the walk was invigorating, informative and fun!

Ramblers Cymru’s annual Big Welsh Walk continues throughout May. See their website at for details.

A list of heritage walks planned by Cadw can be found on the events page of Cadw’s website at

 By Nikki Vousden.

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