While filming a pilot for a history series (watch this space!) I stumbled across some surprising and amazing archaeology buried deep in the heart of the Brecon Beacons; which got me thinking what amazing repositories of history Mountains landscapes are.
To make the pilot I was looking for a dramatic barren landscape with no views of houses in the shot and no hedges or field systems. (We’re going back a while in history!) Luckily in the beacons this kind of place is pretty easy to find. However you’re always looking for the best possible shot and of course the sun has to be shining! The constraints of time and practicalities meant that I need somewhere relatively accessible from the road. So out comes the OS map of the western Beacons. I settled on a spot below the soft old red sandstone cliffs of Llyn-y-fan on the very western edge of the Beacons. Id walked in this area before but never trudged across the open moorland and in to its dark heathery heart. I noticed on the map that there were several standing stones marked and to my surprise a fairly extensive stone circle.
On the morning of the filming we parked up and walked across the moorland a few hundred yards to a spot which gave me a dramatic view of the plunging red edge of the Llyn-y-Fan ridge. It was a stunning autumn day with the sun in front of us. I walked up to a good spot but couldn’t help but follow my nose to the standing stones Id seen on the map. After a good half hour we came across them. An impressive Bronze Age stone circle with few surrounding standing stones. That’s between 4500-2500 years ago. The landscape may have looked very different back then when the temperature warmed and the beacons were up to a certain elevation covered in trees.
There is something ancient and timeless about mountain landscapes, that maybe more than any other landscape connects you to the past in a way that no other landscape can. Connecting me anyway to the people who picked up these stones and shoved them in to the ground for some ritualistic reason thousands of years ago.
Looking around this ancient landscape I began to realise the very ground was saturated with history and Myth. The Roman road Sarn Helen cuts across the moor very near here at Mynydd Bach Trecastell, and the huge grassy ramparts of a Roman marching camp can be seen just off the side of the road to Llanddeusant.
Further up the moor the land is peppered with sheepfolds, remnants of the shepherds who once roamed and gathered their stock out on the moor. I noticed that there was a spot on the map called Gwely Ifan y Rhiw which means Ifan the hill’s bed. I assume Ifan was some kind of Shepherd who used to sleep out on the mountain.
Out on the high tops of Llyn y fan there is Afon Twrch, the Twrch River or Boar River. It refers to the wild pig of welsh mythology called Twrch Trwyth who was chased in to the sea by pesky hounds Aned and Aethlem.
Before the human drama was played out elemental forces gripped the land and formed a narrative that unfolded over millennia rather than years. Ice two kilometres thick laid its hand on the land and scooped out giant handfuls of rock and sculpting out a land of secret mountain hollows that nestle mythical mountain lakes like Llyn y fan ( lady of the lake fame) and the huge and dramatic red sandstone cliffs so indicative of the beacons landscape.
After this rather off-piste sojourn in to the rarely trodden heart and past of the Mynydd du (Black Mountain) we eventually got filming! Shooting in to the sun the timeless landscape formed a perfect backdrop to our pilot. I used a C100 a 17-55mm lens and a 70-200mm and a 90mm F2.8 macro lens for those ultra-close paper thin depth of field shots. Those kind of shots really work if you’re trying to do some non-cheesy drama recon shots. Wide shots in my opinion just look like a bunch of blokes from Cardiff walking across a moor in helmets and hemp shirts! Keep it close if you don’t have the budget!
So this filming trip was a kind of lesson I suppose. If you can just take a little more time to explore you don’t only get a better shot for your film but also you can learn a lot about the fascinating dramas and stories both human and elemental that have been played out in our landscapes… Just make the effort to walk a bit further off the road and you will be rewarded!