Twyn Barlwm is a very special landmark particularly for people who were born in Newport or within sight of this hill, which has a distinctive pimple like summit, 1,374 ft above sea level. Local people away from their homeland for a long period, especially during the two World Wars, would have found it a very welcome sight on their return. 

 The origin of its name lies deep in the ancient past and on some old maps it was anglicised into Tumberlow Hill, which is of course completely meaningless. It is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as Twm Barlwm,  but to my mind, this should really be spelt Twyn  which translates as tump or mound. Other examples in Monmouthshire are: Twyn y Cregan (Tump of the Hillock), Twyn Panteg (mound of the beautiful vale). W.N. Johns, writing in 1897 speaks of ‘the tumuli which exist in great numbers in Monmouthshire which the Welsh people call twyn or tumps.’ There are no less than forty Iron Age hillforts in Monmouthshire and we can even boast that we have the highest consentration in the world!

 On the summit is an Iron Age hillfort which is the most visible one in Monmouthshire as it can be seen from the M4 and it has been estimated that the elliptical ditch and rampart earthworks date from 1000 to 100 BC. Strangely, it appears to be unfinished, for at the western end there are some gaps in the ditch and rampart. 

  I try to imagine Silurian warriors standing behind the rampart of this fort, when one morning they would have looked down to see the advance guard of the Second Augustan Legion, the great army of Rome advancing up the hillside. A terrible battle may have been fought here and it took the Romans 17 years to subdue this fierce tribe, but they were finally pacified in the mid 70s AD.

 It is possible that Barlwm  is a corruption of Baram who was a Celtic prince or chieftain of very early times and there is a tradition that he was the son of Ceri, who gave his name to Porth Ceri (Ceri’s Harbour) a sea port in Glamorgan. We are told that he was a mighty king surpassing any of his predecessors in military courage.

 According to local stories handed down through the ages, an important Celtic chief is supposed to be buried inside the mound. Historians disagree and insist that it was constructed by the Normans as a motte. However, it is possible that both theories are correct, for perhaps the mound was first constructed as a monumental tomb and in much later years during the eleventh century was converted by the Norman invaders into a motte supporting a simple wooden watchtower.

 Whatever theory may be held regarding the tump, there is no doubt that it marked the extremity of a prehistoric elliptical camp, some two hundred yards long and eighty yards wide. The water supply for the camp was the spring which bubbles out at the eastern base of the tump.

 Some years ago I heard a local story that during a strike period some colliers from the Risca area dug a tunnel into the mound hoping to find something of interest, but no doubt found nothing of any importance. At least they managed  to relieve their boredom and get some exercise!

 In 1984 Gwent County Council set up a scheme, funded by the Manpower Services Commission to restore the mound which had become badly eroded by wind, rain, countless feet and illegal motorcycling. It involved repairing the erosion, returfing the sides, raising the height of the mound, constructing a flight of steps to the top and erecting a low fence around the base to deter motorcycles.

Building the steps at Tywn Barlum
Building the steps (Chris Barber)

 The team supervisor, Terry Wilmot, on 4 June  wrote the following report on the day’s progress: ‘At around 1pm, while myself and my men were working on Twyn Barlwm, constructing steps, a swarm of bees forced us to stop work for around twenty minutes. Where they came from I don’t know. All I know is that they were around thirty feet from us at the south end of the mound and it was like a long black cloud. After around twenty minutes they went away and we then continued working. At around 1.45 pm I went down to the van and as I got to the driving door I found that side of the van was half covered with a swarm of bees.’

The completed steps
The completed steps (Chris Barber)

 I then told Terry of the legend that anyone who disturbs the mound  would be attacked by a swarm of bees. He had not heard of this before and was quite perplexed by the idea. The story was even published by the South Wales Argus that week and in 2016 I included a mention of it in my book Mysterious Wales .

 Another  strange story is also told of a mysterious sound that can sometimes be heard on the summit plateau. It seems that under certain weather conditions sweet chords of strange ‘music’ resembling an organ playing float over the southern slope.  I know of two separate people who have heard these ghostly sounds, which one of them described as ‘bagpipe music’. My only explanation is that, perhaps when the wind blows in a certain direction it passed through an opening lower down in the hillside  and then up through narrow shafts that act like organ pipes to emit these uncanny sounds.

 The view from here is very extensive in all directions. You can gaze to the south over Uskmouth, the Severn, Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Then rest your eyes on the Carn Valley and the summits of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wentwood and the Vale of Usk.

 Archdeacon William Coxe writing in 1801,  was the first writer to describe Twyn Barlwm in detail  and he commented that: ‘Twyn Barlwm, being situated on the highest point of the chain which bounds the rich valleys watered by the Usk, commands one of the most singular and glorious prospects which I have yet enjoyed in Monmouthshire.’ 

 In the days when fires were lit to signify threats of invasion or to commemorate important events such as the diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, beacons were fired throughout the country and the pimple on  Twyn Barlwm was an obvious site.

 To view Twyn Barlwm from the aptly named Ridgeway on the north side of Newport  is always a worthwhile experience. This completely unspoilt vista has even been called ‘Little Switzerland’  

Sunset at Twyn Barlwm (Chris Barber)

 I shall leave my final words concerning Twyn Barlwm to the Newport historian Fred Hando, who in The Pleasant Land of Gwent (1944) wrote: ‘Stark and forbidding on a March morning and inviting in June; an upland paradise of blazing glory, its bracken flesh-pink beneath an October sun; or white in its winter cloak, Twyn Barlwm is always impressive. Its lure at sunset, however is compelling.