Y Garn Goch (the Red Cairn), a site in the western side of the Brecon Beacons National Park near Llandeilo, consists of two forts; a smaller unfinished fort called Y Gaer Fach (The Little Cairn) and a larger fort – the second largest in Wales at 11.2 hectares – called Y Garn Fawr (The Big Cairn) which has at least 6 separate entrances.
The location of many of my childhood archaeological visits and more recently the subject of my penchant for amateur photography, Y Garn Goch is as beautiful as it is spectacular and continues to amaze me each time I visit.
The first fort encountered on a walk up Y Garn Goch is the smaller of the two. Some of the original structure still remains and can be seen as lines of rubble segmenting the landscape.
The views from this vantage point are rather incredible. From here miles of the Towy Valley can be seen stretching across to the mountains in the distance. If you take a moment here to survey the landscape below it is almost possible to imagine how the landscape would have appeared approximately 2500 years ago during the site’s hey day during the Iron Age; the hills are the same and although the river has changed its course over the millennia it would have meandered in the same manner as it does today. Replace the modern field boundaries, farmhouses and bridges with settlements of round houses and animal enclosures and you may be able to imagine the landscape as it could have been witnessed when the Romans arrived during the 70s AD.
It is possible to see the larger of the two forts whilst stood within the boundary of Y Garn Fach. The remains of the walls of Y Garn Fawr can be seen hugging the contours of the higher summit. Legend has it that these walls once stood 10 meters tall and would have been faced in shaped stone. The walls would have been the sky scrapers of their time and even though stones have been robbed from these forts for many centuries for use in other buildings in the local area, these structures are still very impressive today!
It is uncertain what these forts were designed for – for years it has been assumed that they were for defensive purposes; a means for protection and a base for warfare between rival tribes. However, more modern interpretation suggests that these forts were in fact towns used as trading centres and homes by many of the local people at the time. The large walls could have been a show of prestige, an indication of a town’s location or could purely have been built to keep out dangerous wild animals such as wolves.
When the Romans conquered Wales, they generally built their forts within view of the already existing Iron Age forts. Bearing in mind that the Roman forts in Llandeilo would have been visible from the top of Y Garn Fawr, it seems likely that this was a strategic Roman plan; the people living at Carn Goch would have been able to see the Roman fort with its mod-cons and snazzy facilities such as under-floor heating and fast food shops. Perhaps Roman forts aren’t built in the sight line of Iron Age forts for stand-offish reasons but rather were designed to lure the younger generations to the ‘bright lights’ of a new way of life?
There are plans within the National Park to develop the interpretation of this site in the near future. This work will be carried out as part of Cadw’s pan-Wales Interpretation Plan and the Romans in Carmarthenshire project.