Sugar Loaf and Skirrid

September 25, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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These are two of the most accessible hills in the Black Mountains but they provide wonSkirrid Hill from Sugar Loafderful views. Skirrid, Ysgyryd Fawr or Holy Mountain as it also known, has for hundreds of years inspired a host of intriguing myths and tales.

I was with G, and we began with Sugar Loaf, walking up from a car park on the Abergavenny side. The paths are wide and easily followed (though we still managed to wade through bracken after missing the track while talking). The hill’s isolation provides excellent views, particularly over to Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr.

Sugar Loaf from SkirridThe weather was fine but cloudy and there was a chill in the wind on the summit of Sugar Loaf, but by the time we got to Skirrid (after a relaxing pint at The Bear in Crickhowell), the sun had broken through. Skirrid is a shorter and steeper climb but the views are as good if not better than from Sugar Loaf. As we climbed along the distinctive cloven ridge to the summit, the Black Mountains provided a wonderful backdrop beyond the summit. From the summit itself, we looked back as far as the Severn to the south east as well as over Sugar Loaf to the Brecon Beacons. A few stones are all that remain of the old chapel at the summit, but they add to the sense of this being a rather special hill.

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Pen Y Gadair Fawr and Pen Twyn Mawr

August 27, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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This was unfinished business. Both peaks are probably best walked as part of the long Nuttall walk taking in the seven summits starting with Pen Carreg-calch and passing round to Waun Fach and then on to Pen Y Gadair Fawr and Pen Twyn Mawr. I walked  the other side of the valley in the winter, but I didn’t have time to do the whole loop, so instead I started from the Grwyne Fawr valley. The biggest benefit of this approach was to give Izzy, our spaniel, a good work out by taking a winding path up through the forest. This was a good way up (as long as you don’t mind getting a bit lost in woodland). It’s then a simple climb up to the summit of Pen Y Gadair Fawr. This is a better peak than the higher – and very boggy – Waun Fach. There are excellent views across the whole of the Black Mountains, even on a cloudy day like this. The wind was bitter for August though, so we moved quickly on to Pen Twyn Mawr skirting the forest at first then across a clear track to the summit. From cairn marking the summit, there are good views down to Sugar Loaf and Skyrrid. I’d hoped to return by going down through the forest but couldn’t see any clear entry point so we back-tracked on a slightly lower path to the forest below Pen Y Gadair Fawr. Just before we entered the forest, a fox ran out of cover about 30 metres ahead, it ran across the path with a rangy gait and then disappeared into the high moorland grass. After that we passed through the edge of the forest emerging on the path that runs steeply down by the forest edge and then follows the river to valley bottom and a short walk back to the car.

Twmpa and Black Mountain

February 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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I arrived at Gospel Pass in thick mist and there was no improvement as I walked up to the summit of Twmpa. The far ridge over Black Mountain, my eventual destination, was little more than a shadow, and I just hoped that it might lift for my return leg along the ridge.

Things improved as I walked down the Nant Bwch valley and dipped below the mist. The valley itself is marked by the gentle river running through it and by the series of three streams running down from the bluff above creating small waterfalls. The middle stream has carved out a small grassy and rock strewn plateau. Just before reaching this spot, I came across a dead fox strewn across the path. It wasn’t clear what had killed it, some of its innards were showing and the crows and buzzards had obviously made a start. It had a strange grimace on its face, suggesting it may have died painfully and aware. It seemed forced to tie this image to the peacefulness of the valley – balancing the brutal facts of nature against its beauty seems trite – the dead fox was just that in all its honest brutality and the landscape carved out by water and wind and ice was similarly true and untouchable. They were juxtaposed only by the accident of death and of my being there that day.

I emerged out of the valley at Capel-Y-Fin and after a few mistaken steps started the long climb up to the ridge, meeting the Offa’s Dyke Path at the top, where the mist was thick again. Black Mountain’s southern peak is marked only by a few stones. Though there were glimpses of the fine views across to the Vale of Ewyas on one side and Olchon Valley on the other, sitting on the cairn for lunch was an ascetic experience, but at least there was no lashing rain. Then it was on over the peat bogs, easy walking only because of the work done on the Offa’s Dyke Path.

On the whole walk I saw only one other group of walkers, and there was something majestic about the quietness and the greyness, but it’s a route to do again in fine weather.

The Black Mountains: Crug Hywel, Pen Carreg-calch and beyond

December 14, 2008 at 11:02 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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A wonderful winter’s day, crisp and clear with little wind. My plan was to do a loop taking in the five peaks on the western side edge of the Black Mountains, but first I climbed up to Crug Hywel and its iron age hill fort .Crickhowell from Crug Hywel

The stone remains of the hill fort are scattered across the broad plateau (hence the familiar name of Table Mountain) at the end of a long ridge of higher peaks. Across the valley, Sugar Loaf stands in isolation, while the limestone peak of Pen Carreg-calch rises to the north. Below the southern lip of the plateau, Crickhowell lies in the broad valley. The view is majestic and offers a thought-provoking context for the stone bones of the old hill fort. What must it have felt like to look down on the ancient settlement like this – either as defender or aggressor? Such remains typically lie on isolated hills giving a sense of remoteness and antiquity, but with little indication of the life they would have been tied to: communities, settlements, power, wealth and vulnerability. Soft hills and rounded dykes give only an impression of the value of such sites for defence and protection. On Crug Hywel it’s different, all those elements seem to rise out of the stones because you can feel the combination of vSugar Loaf from hill fort at Crug Hywelulnerability and impregnability that such a site provides.

Walking on up the ridge to Pen Carreg-calch the perspective shifts. From the ridge above the view is that of the predator, but also of the bare, naked animal on the moor, unwound of civilisation, or not inured yet to its comforts. The fort lies open to view caught between the peak and town lying safely below in its modernity and wrap of rural tradition. It was if layers of history and of security were removed, the hill fort with its bones of protection seemed to be a point between the hearth and the threatening wildness. Standing there, camera in hand, I felt I’d captured little or none of this but the context rippled through the clear winter’s day, washing over, leaving a sense of connection that could never be fully grasped.

The hill fort was obscured as I began the final climb to the summit of Pen Carrig-calch and these thoughts faded.  From the summit there was a clear view of the remainder of the ridge and the rest of a splendid walk taking in the peaks of Pen Alt-mawr, Pen Twyn Glas and Mynydd Llysiau. The normally boggy path in many sections had been turned into an crisp sheet of cracking ice. The sky remained clear and while there were a few walkers on the first peaks, by Pen Twyn Glas I was on my own.

There is an option to continue the walk on to Waun Fach and Pen Y Gadair Fawr, but the light was fading as I reached the pass, so I returned by the broad and easy path through the pretty Grwyne Fechan valley.Pen Allt-mawr

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