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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: Along An Ancient Path

29 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Carn y Defaid. Photo: Tom Maloney

In a year long series Tom Maloney, from Abersychan, shows how you can love a place so well it becomes a part of you.

Sometimes you just get an overwhelming feeling that you want to get to a high place, take in big views and feel the freshness of a cooling breeze.

Following the ridge above Cwmavon ending at Carn y Defaid, Blaenavon does just that and a bit more.

I have enjoyed several walks along this path over the week. Mood of place changes dramatically as the sun dips in the sky.

Though I feel I should also say from the outset that the fresh feel to the wind on a mountain also has the potential to be deceptive when the Sun is hot and care should to be taken to avoid sunburn.


After the period of warm weather that we have enjoyed recently, protruding stones are exposed like the vertebrae of the backbone of a dinosaur on a palaeontology dig.

It makes my thoughts drift and I wonder about just how old this path is?

An Ancient Path. Photo: Tom Maloney

A lovely book by Toby Driver ‘The Hillforts of Iron Age Wales’ reveals the wealth of ancient history there is within the locality, with quite a number of hillforts localised around the Newport area, one being Twmbarlwm, which is sited on the ridge above Risca –

“Good examples of Welsh hillforts built in iconic locations include … Twmbarlwm hillfort and later castle which commands a supremely strong 419m-high ridge at the south-eastern edge of the South Wales Valleys.”

There are clear views towards the ridge, the Bristol Channel and Newport from the top of this valley and I wonder did the Ancients walk this way from their settlements near the coast.

Bog pool marked by a standing stone. Photo: Tom Maloney

In Autumn and Winter the path presents a very different picture and is often waterlogged and boggy.

Even in the Summer the surrounding terrain is surprisingly spongy under foot.

Dotted here and there are bog pools that have a curious attraction for me, which once again feed into my thoughts of olden times.

Standing stone

A standing stone, which can be seen by the naked eye over some distance, marks one pool. Is this by accident or design?

Gazing down at the peat brown, sparkling surface of the pool a strong feeling of déjà vu whelmed up inside my whole being, but … but even as I felt this strange sensation the logical side of my brain was warning that my imagination may be being overactive once again!

Common Cotton Grass
Photo: Tom Maloney

In a landscape like this Nature pushes itself into your consciousness.

I was lucky enough to be able to watch the soaring flight of a Red Kite on one of my walks, but the stand out sight for me was the banks of Common cotton-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium) glistening like diamonds from afar, but having the look of cotton wool when seen up close.

Larger cairn at Carn y Defaid. Photo: Tom Maloney

Further along the trail and even to my untrained archaeological eye the distinctive stones that make up Carn y Defaid sited on a commanding position have a purposeful look about their structure.

‘Carn y Defaid’ means ‘Cairn of The Sheep’ in English and there are in fact two cairns here, one considerably larger than the other.

Bronze age

Coflein, the online catalogue of archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage in Wales dates these structures to the Bronze Age. I cannot recommend this fascinating website too strongly, it has a wealth of easily accessible information about our Welsh heritage to be enjoyed.

To my mind the location of the cairns cannot have been an accident. The views here are simply spectacular and must have been so to the eyes of the Bronze Age folk as well.

In their minds I think their thoughts must have been, “This is our land!”

Fading light over the smaller cairn
Photo: Tom Maloney

I think it must be something about the profile of the cairns or possibly the views of Ysgyryd Fawr in the distance that for me is reminiscent of the paintings of Paul Cézanne.

I think particularly of Mont Sainte-Victoire located in Aix-en-Provence, which Cézanne painted many times. There is so much to inspire an artist at Carn y Defaid.

Sunset over the stones
Photo; Tom Maloney

Sunset is a special time in this landscape.

The stones reflect pink orange hues, as they are touched by the fading glow of the sun and you feel your soul connected to something that has been held in time here.

There are more people in the evening too, standing and gazing, walking and talking, taking in the tranquility of place, as they have done for thousands of years.

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