Blue Skies, Black Mountains

Ok, so I havent posted for a couple of months. In between now and my last post there has been illness, Christmas and illness. Ah well, at least I am posting now and I have been out and about too. My latest walk was a cracking 17 miler on a horseshoe route around a ridge or two in the black mountains. The sun was out, the sky was a definite azure blue. I walked from sun up to sun down. I loved it.

The day began with an early wake up call from the alarm. Normally I would do an overnighter but the temperature was a balmy -6 and I was recovering from my man-flu. Got in the car in the dark and drove the 35 miles from my house to the start of the walk. I drove towards Abergavenny as the light began to filter through the murk. I always love the drive from my house to Abergavenny. Fields and hills giving way to ridges and mountains. Always gives me a lift, whatever the weather. So I drove through Abergavenny and beyond to Crickhowell, the sun now smiling down above the opposite ridgeline. It was still only 8.30am but it felt like I was losing hill time so I pushed on through country lanes to llanbedr, the actual start of the walk.

The air was crisp and cold as I climbed out of the car, a quickly judged decision saw me reaching for the Paramo Velez smock as opposed to a micro fleece and wind top. I felt that it was cold enough for my normally warm person to cope with the Paramo without overheating……. It turned out to be a good choice.

So to the start, a brutal but short climb up to Crug Hywel or Table Mountain. I love this “little mountain” and have often spent 1/2 an hour or so on it just taking in the views.

On top of Crug Hywel looking towards Pen y Fan

On top of Crug Hywel looking towards Pen y Fan

I have noticed in the past that many people often circumvent Table Mountain up to the ridgeline directly instead. I dont understand this as I feel it is a special little place. Today was no exception and I found myself watching 4 walkers skirt around my vantage point and straight up to the ridge. Ah well each to their own. Pushing on I walked up the rising slope of Pen Cerrig Calch and onto the plateau. Pen Cerrig Calch is a little oddity for me as the top is like a moonscape with limestone rock strewn all around.

The Moonscape of Pen Cerrig Calch

The Moonscape of Pen Cerrig Calch

Before long I had picked my way through the rock garden and stood gazing on along the ridgeline leading to the next “summit” , Pen Allt Mawr. Taking stock, this was where I had done a bivvy night back in the summer and a lovely spot it is too. A lee off the side of the downslope of Pen Cerrig Calch gives a small amount of shelter and the view to the front is Pen Allt Mawr with ridgelines to the left and right.

The view towards Pen Allt Mawr

The view towards Pen Allt Mawr

I decide against a stop as I know I have 17miles to do in 7 hours and would rather have a good lunch break on the return ridgeline. Walking on, I start to see the end of the Black Mountain escarpment and the plains of Powys and Herefordshire stretching out into the distance. I can also see the ridge I am following bending around in the horseshoe curve that signifies halfway. As I reach the end of Pen Allt Mawr, I pause at the trig point for a breather and a photo opportunity.

Trig Point on Pen Allt Mawr looking towards Pen y Fan

Trig Point on Pen Allt Mawr looking towards Pen y Fan

I then glance back to be rewarded with a stonking view of the ridge I have just walked and sugar loaf in the distance. The hoar frost is deep and heavy and the sun smiles at me in his blue heaven. Bliss

glancing back to Sugar Loaf from the top of Pen Allt Mawr

glancing back to Sugar Loaf from the top of Pen Allt Mawr

The descent is steep and occasionally dicey as I find small patches of ice on half buried flat stones. A passing kite gives me a 5.9 for artistic ability as I spin a couple of times on the downward slope. Catching my breath and grinning to myself as I manage to retain dignity and vertical positioning I walk on.  The next point I pause at is Pen Twyn Glas. On the little rise there, a couple of boundary markers declaring the counties of Monmouthshire and Powys (my favourite 2 counties of course). They are often mistaken for gravetones for obvious reasons………

Boundary markers on Pen Twyn Glas

Boundary markers on Pen Twyn Glas

Another glance back from this point picks out the distinctive shape of Pen Allt Mawr

view from Pen Tywn Glas back towards to Pen Allt Mawr

view from Pen Tywn Glas back towards to Pen Allt Mawr

I glance forward and my path starts to head towards the “curve” . Walking on, I drop down but soon begin climbing up again. I am now looking up to Waun Fach, the highest point in the Black Mountains. Climbing beneath the midday sun I pass a dozen walkers on their way down. Its the most people I have seen all day. Huffing and puffing I finally reach the plateau that is Waun Fach. Is it stunning? Is it pointy? Is it memorable? Uh, no. Unfortunately, Waun Fach is just a high plateau that is unremarkable apart from the fact that when it rains the top turns into a peaty mud bath. Luckily today, the hoar frost has been and its a whiteout on the top and the ground is frozen allowing me the luxury of not sinking into the mire.
Waun Fach all frosted out

Waun Fach all frosted out

I am now just a stones throw from my lunch stop on Pen y Gadair Fawr. My stomach is grumbling and my legs are complaining. Ah well another 30 minutes sees me crest the peak. Instead of stopping on the top (there is a cold wind blowing), I move off and head to the shelter of the first trees that adorn the latter part of my ridge walk. I have a leisurely stop for lunch, as well as making time for a brew up. The view is gorgeous, I stretch my legs and make a quick calculation in my head that I can still finish and get back to the car before darkness descends.
the view from my lunch spot

the view from my lunch spot

I start the home straight even though it is still 7 miles to go. I allow my mind to freewheel as I walk, my feet eating up the miles. I am already thinking of the photos  have taken and the satisfaction of getting out on the hills on what has turned out to be a perfect day.  I am glad of the paramo choice now as the temperature is -4 but with the windchill its approaching -10. The Velez shrugs off the cold and the wind with ease and more importantly I dont overheat. Good choice. The next stopping point is Crug Mawr, a lovely vantage point with a trig point on the top. I take a few pictures and even manage a few of myself as a reminder that I did do the walk. The sun is starting to go down but the view is fabulous, even if my ugly mug is in it.

me, sugar loaf and the evening sky

me, sugar loaf and the evening sky

After Crug Mawr the last few miles are ahead of me, all downhill….blimey and sooooo downhill…. The sun is beginning to sink behind the ridgeline in the distance and I continue downwards. Passing through fields and light woods I finally bottom out in the valley, cross the river and make my way back to the car. I reach the car just as the sun finally disappears and the gloom of evening begins in earnest. I am tired but I am happy. I have a small drive to get home but I have the evening to look forward to downloading my pictures. Its been cold out but I have been warm. I have had a great day. A day full of sharp sun, the black mountains and a deep blue sky


About Saddlebags and Backpacks - a brewer's outdoor adventures

I am a keen hiker, camper, cyclist and general all round gear addict..... I also manage to be a professional brewer in my non-spare time :->
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13 Responses to Blue Skies, Black Mountains

  1. Martin Rye says:

    The deep blue you get on cold days is amazing. I like that and must go have a look for myself.

  2. backpackbrewer says:

    Martin, the pictures dont do it justice. When you get blue skies in the beacons they are really blue! It was a fabulous day. And yes, you will have to check it out for yourself!!!


  3. backpackingbongos says:

    Looks like you had a great day out in the Black Mountains. Heading that was myself next weekend. A friends uncle owns a bothy deep in the forest just under Crug Mawr – a couple of days of long hikes and evenings by a roaring fire. Can’t wait! Just started my own blog – check it out.

    • Pamela Dunne says:

      Hello. I live and love to walk all over the Brecon Beacons and my favourite walk of all is up past Ffordd Las Fawr, up the rocky path through the dense, dark tunnel of trees and up to Crug Mawr and down to Partryshow Church – and every time I wish I could stay in that lovely old farm corrage, Ffordd Las Fawr. Does anyone have any details for me as to whether this is a self catering property or a bothy and who I can contact to arrange a night or two there, in its lovely solitude. Many thanks. Pamela

      • backpackbrewer says:

        its a lovely part of the Brecon Beacons and I have done many a walk in that particular area. I dont know that particular cottage off the top of my head but someone else might….?

      • backpackingbongos says:

        Hi Pamela, unfortunately the cottage was sold a couple of years ago and is in private hands.

  4. backpackbrewer says:

    cheers James,

    thats not the bothy next to the reservoir is it? I guess you are talking about one on the flanks of the valley just below Crug Mawr instead? I hope you have a good time next weekend. The Black Mountains are fabulous and have endless options for forest, valley, river, mountain or ridgeline walks.


  5. backpackingbongos says:


    Would not fancy a night in the bothy next to the reservoir – a bit on the small side! Really damp last time I stayed there. I will be staying at Ffordd-las fawr. I call it a bothy but it is really a very very basic cottage without any facilities.

    Would you mind putting up a link to my blog

    It is very new but building it up!



  6. backpackbrewer says:

    not a problem James. Consider it done re the link.

    I know the bothy by the reservoir is a bit pokey. Thats why last time I choose to camp next to the reservoir itself on the narrow strip of grass with the side wall adjoining it.


  7. backpackingbongos says:

    Thanks for that Dave.

  8. backpackbrewer says:

    not a problem James. Had a look at your blog and its a damn fine start. Lots of nice pictures of wild camps. Gives me the itch to get out soon for another trip …….

  9. andy says:

    sorry to hear about your illness…
    very nice pictures looks awesome up there!

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