Explore Ancient Ruins While Trekking through Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire

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Preseli Hills Hike

This article was crafted by the team at National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Phil Wheeler, the proprietor of Preseli Hills Cottages, issues a cautionary tale as we gather around steaming cups of tea, reviewing an OS map highlighting the Golden Road pathway, a seven-mile hike straddling the hills. He admits to the potential dangers, stating, “Just recently, I found myself navigating through fog so dense, I could barely see in front of me.” As a former military mountain guide and competitor in the Preseli Beast fell-running race, Wheeler is not one to overstate things.

The subsequent day introduces us to a grey, cloud-covered morning. The mournful call of a red kite resonates overhead, casting an isolated shadow across the heather-scarred moor, as I navigate towards Foel Eryr (known as ‘eagle’s peak’). The second tallest peak of the Preseli Hills, standing at 468 meters, Foel Eryr is crowned by a Bronze Age burial mound. Visibility can stretch for miles on a clear day, but today, a persistent drizzle obscures the panorama completely.

The enigmatic fog appears fitting for the Preseli Hills. The landscape is littered with rock formations reminiscent of dormant dragons. Hills appear and disappear like phantoms, silent except for the wind’s gusts along the rugged heights and my own muted grumbling as I misstep into a marsh. I sense an uncanny feeling of being observed in the desolation.

The vast hills and moors, devoid of modern-day distractions like GPS signals and light pollution, remain largely unaltered since our ancestors left their imprints millennia ago. Even the most unassuming rock formation could potentially be a Neolithic stone circle, dolmen, Iron Age hillfort, or standing stone. The Preseli Hills hold unmatched historical significance among other regions in Wales.

A loyal dog is ideal company while navigating this mostly deserted landscape.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GETTY IMAGES

Tomos Jones, an archaeologist at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, concurs, stating, “The Preseli Hills are a rare gateway into the lives of our ancient ancestors.” This serene place, he adds, maintains its tranquility even on bustling days.

My trek through these tranquil hills gives me the feeling of traversing a forgotten land. As the mist thickens, the trail vanishes, echoing a scene from a classic horror film. My surroundings abound with stone structures resembling various figures, from a man in prayer to a skeletal stegosaurus and even a devilish creature.

The Golden Road, once a major transportation route used by Romans, early Celtic saints, pilgrims, and Welsh cattle drovers, now lies hidden in plain sight. There’s evidence suggesting this path’s history extends back 5,000 years when it was possibly used to transport precious bluestones to Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, 140 miles away.

In a land filled with myths and legends, I find myself at Foel Cwmcerwyn, the highest point in the Preselis at 536 meters. This area is famous in Welsh folklore as the location of King Arthur’s epic battle with the enchanted boar, Twrch Trwyth.

Welsh hill standing stones are believed to have been transported from the area for the construction of Stonehenge.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GETTY IMAGES

As I make my way towards the rocky tors at Carn Menyn, where it’s speculated the Stonehenge’s inner circle bluestone originated, the weather worsens. Yet, the importance of the site overrides the dampness and limited visibility. If these ancient stones could talk, the tales they could tell! Some of these ‘singing stones’ resonate when struck, mirroring the acoustic properties of those at Stonehenge.

Sat beneath one of Wales’ most impressive Iron Age hillforts at Foel Drygarn, I marvel at the three Bronze Age burial cairns that crown its distinct summit. As storm clouds gather from the coast, the clouds part briefly, bathing the moors in a golden hue partially lit by a rainbow.

Practical Information:
The seven-mile hike commences from Bwlch Gwynt car park on the B4329. Ensure you have a map and compass as the trail isn’t always marked, and check weather conditions prior to departure. Preseli Hills Cottages offer comfortable lodging and the hospitable owners, Jennifer and Phil, can assist with hike preparations.
Published in the UK & Ireland supplement, distributed with the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Preseli Hills Hike

What is the Golden Road?

The Golden Road is a seven-mile hiking trail along the spine of the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire. It is steeped in ancient history and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Who is Phil Wheeler?

Phil Wheeler is the host at Preseli Hills Cottages. As a former military mountain guide and a competitor in the Preseli Beast fell-running race, he offers valuable advice and caution to those embarking on the Golden Road hike.

What can be seen on Foel Eryr?

Foel Eryr, also known as ‘eagle’s peak’, is the second-highest peak in the Preseli Hills. At its summit is a Bronze Age burial cairn. On clear days, the peak provides stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

What archaeological features can be found in the Preseli Hills?

The Preseli Hills are rich with archaeological sites, including Neolithic stone circles, dolmens, Iron Age hillforts, and standing stones. Additionally, the Golden Road pathway itself is an ancient route of historical significance.

What is Foel Cwmcerwyn known for?

Foel Cwmcerwyn is the highest point in the Preseli Hills, standing at 536 meters. It holds significance in Welsh folklore as the location where King Arthur battled the enchanted boar, Twrch Trwyth.

How do I prepare for the hike?

To prepare for the Golden Road hike, bring a map and a compass as the trail isn’t always marked. Check weather conditions before setting out, as visibility can often be poor due to mist and drizzle.

Where should I stay when visiting the Preseli Hills?

Preseli Hills Cottages offer a comfortable base for those wishing to explore the Preseli Hills. The friendly owners, Jennifer and Phil, can assist with hike logistics and offer valuable advice for navigating the area.

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6 comments

Samantha92 July 24, 2023 - 3:48 pm

Sounds like a truely unforgetable hike. Myth, history and natural beauty all together! Cant wait to pack my bags.

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FairyMeadow July 24, 2023 - 8:34 pm

the bit about the singing stones gave me goosebumps. I’d love to hear them myself. They should start stone concerts!

Reply
MountainBear July 24, 2023 - 10:59 pm

Phil Wheeler sounds like a right character! Love to meet him and hear his tales from the Preselis. cheers for the article, great read.

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CelticLore July 25, 2023 - 9:26 am

As a welshman myself, i know how steeped our lands are in legend. Arthur’s battles, the enchanted boar… Brilliant write-up capturing the spirit of Preseli!

Reply
OldHiker July 25, 2023 - 9:38 am

Ive walked the Golden Road years ago. The mist was so thick, i could barely see a thing! But somehow, that only added to the magic.

Reply
EcoJourneyer July 25, 2023 - 11:41 am

I’m in love with the untouched, ancient landscapes. Its like time travel. Stunning images by the way…

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