The Golden Road
A walk across the spine of Pembrokeshire
The Golden Road, running along the spine of the Preseli Hills (Mynydd Preseli), is one of the finest high ground walking ways in Wales.
This gently undulating route, with views as far as Ireland, deep into South Wales, and north up the majestic arc of Cardigan Bay towards Snowdonia, links ancient monuments and burial places, cairns and rocky tors.
Its star features are two of the possible quarries from which stones are believed to have been taken to Stonehenge 4000 years ago.
Archaeologists still dispute the importance of the road, which may date back 5,000 years to Neolithic times. Was it one of the hundreds of ridgeways, high trails which people and animals used to avoid the dense forests and difficult and dangerous terrain at lower levels? Or was the Golden Road altogether more important, part of a trade superhighway, along which gold mined in the Wicklow mountains in Ireland was carried south-east as far as Wessex?
The seven miles west-east trail begins at Bwlch Gwynt, not far from Foel Eryr. (Allow four hours in one direction. Bwlch Gwynt is on the B4329, about 2 miles north of the crossroads with the B4313. The end is a lay-by at Llainbanal, one mile west of Crymych).
Foel Eryr is a dramatic start indeed, the “Place of the Eagle”, with a Bronze Age burial cairn at its summit. That majestic bird is no longer seen, but buzzard and red kite glide overhead, and wild ponies browse this raw grassland.
Just after the path passes the Pantmeanog Forest (to the south), it’s worth taking the footpath the short distance to the highest point in the Preselis, the 1,759 high Foel Cwmcerwyn.
The Mabinogion, a collection of ancient Welsh stories, tells of King Arthur and his knights fighting a terrible battle with a terrible boar caller Twrch Trwyth in the grassy cwm below Foel Cwmcerwyn.
A line of rocky outcrops at Cerrigmarchogion are supposedly the graves of some of Arthur’s knights killed in that battle. The whole area is steeped in myth and legend.
The rocky tor of Carn Bica, with its large lozenge-shaped rock, overlooks Bedd Arthur, a ring of stones in the shape of an eye, one of many places recorded by antiquity as the grave of King Arthur. There may well have been a burial mound inside the stones that have since eroded away but in truth, this monument likely dates back to Neolithic times, long before when Arthur is believed to have lived, between 400-600AD.
Walking east you also come across notable ancient (man-made and natural) landmarks, such as the Bronze Age burial cairn at Foel Feddau, one of the finest in the Preselis. There’s a view north to the coast, and the site of Castell Henllys, the reconstruction of an Iron Age fort.
Close to the path’s end is the formidable Foel Drygarn Iron Age fortress (around 350 BC) with its double ramparts and ditches. 1200ft up, it is on the site of three Bronze Age burial cairns. Look for a large flat stone, Bwrdd y Brenin (King’s Table). But you won’t find the pot of gold said to be hidden there.
Just below it is Carn Meini, its bluestone rock eroded into jagged shapes. For many years it was believed that the bluestones in the inner circle at Stonehenge were quarried here. Then, in 2013, new research was published suggesting that the particular stones might, in fact, come from another Preselis location, the nearby Carn Goedog and Craig Rhosyfelin
Another intriguing, discovery was made in 2013. Scientists found that as many as one in five of the stones scattered across these mountains give off metallic sounds like bells, gongs and tin drums when tapped with small, handheld hammer stones. This ringing quality is replicated in the same bluestones at Stonehenge. This raises the intriguing possibility that they were chosen for some kind of ritual musical value.
If you walk east-west, (or come by car) an excellent place to end your visit is the Tafarn Sinc (Zinc Tavern) in the nearby village of Rosebush. The pub has a wood-burning stove, and its own brew, Cwrw Sinc. Rosebush was the centre of a once-thriving slate quarrying industry in the Preseli hills.