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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: The Story in the Stones

17 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Mynydd Garnclochdy image by 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.

Magical is a word that can be used a little too easily at times, but … there is something definitely magical about Mynydd Garnclochdy, especially on a day when low grey, clouds blanket the landscape in mystery.

The name translates from the Welsh as ‘Mountain of the Bell Tower Cairn’, but locally it is better known as the ‘Devil’s Heap of Stones’.

Both names are linked with the story that lies within its stones.

Flooded Path to Mynydd Garnclochdy image by Tom Maloney

But first a little about the way up! Of all the paths that I walk locally this trek should be treated with the utmost care.

On a clear day I can see the mountain from my house in Abersychan and more often than not I will walk from home to the top.

My route will take me up a steeply, winding lane, aptly named Waterworks Lane because it was once the way to the reservoir that collected the fresh water for the village.

A cattle grid connects the lane to an old mountain road that could have its origins in ancient times. Jet-black ravens and buzzards in low flight are never far away here.

Catching sight of the speckled pattern of the underside of a buzzard’s wing is always a joy as it takes to the air, but the ground is a different story.

Even in summer the terrain approaching the stones is prone to being very boggy and you have to pick your way ever so carefully between long grassy tufts, hiding deep pools that can fill your boots in seconds!

In Spring, Autumn and Winter the watery bogs can be so much more challenging. I don’t think I have ever seen the landscape as wet as it is just now, even the mountain road resembles a stream!

Ar Ben y Byd: View Looking Towards Mynydd Varteg image by Tom Maloney

Mynydd Garnclochdy is only a short distance away, but it feels a world away.

Curiously it is one of those places that from a distance seems so unobtrusive, it blends so naturally into the horizon.

Everything changes when you see the stones up close and stand on the giant jagged boulders, there is such a sense of being on top of the world, in Welsh ‘Ar ben y byd!’

The Devil’s Heap of Stones image by Tom Maloney

In places, the angled forms of the rocky outcrop look like a fall of stony arrows from the sky and herein perhaps is a clue to their story, that goes back to times of myth and legend, perhaps even to the medieval period in origin as it has such a ring of The Mabignogion about it.

Heroes come in all shapes and forms and in the tale that I have come to know through an oral tradition that still exists locally, the hero is a saint by the name of Cadoc.

Cadoc had been moved to build a church at Trevethin, Pontypool, but his daily toil to build a tower was thwarted by the devil stealing away the layers of his industry each night.

Not to be outdone by the devil, Cadoc had a large, bronze bell cast with a mighty sound and on the next occasion that the devil stole the stones he ordered that the bell be rung!

It’s booming burst of sound disturbed the devil in his flight, who promptly let the stones fall on the mountainside at Mynydd Garnclochdy!

Medieval wall Painting at St. Cadocs Llancarfan image by Tom Maloney, by kind permission of the Church of St. Cadoc

Getting into ‘the medieval mind’ and trying to understand how the people thought about the landscape then I can easily see why they would think that the stones fell from the heavens, but I have wondered about the link with the devil.

There are other places in Wales with similar such themes like the story of Devil’s Bridge, but the answer for me came a couple of years ago when I found out about another Church of St. Cadoc, at Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan with an amazing, intriguing find.

For hundreds of years the interior walls of the church were coated in lime wash, no different from many churches, but all the while hiding artistic treasures.

During renovation work in 2025/6 a ‘Red Line’ was uncovered underneath the lime wash indicating the existence of a wall painting.

Conservationists were called in and after a patient process of restoration beautiful medieval paintings were uncovered.

Amongst the paintings are depictions of devil like creatures, which surely must have loomed so large in the lives and thoughts of the parishioners as they attended church.

Sunset over The Devil’s Heap of Stones image by Tom Maloney

Mood of place can be so different and no walk is ever the same at Mynydd Garnclochdy.

I enjoy its mystery and when the sun is setting and casts its rays over the rugged features of the stones I sometimes think I see a face staring towards the sky!

You can  find out more about the paintings at the Church of St. Cadoc, Llancarfan here.

Read the earlier installments of Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile by Tom Maloney

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