The Cambrian Way 2010

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 3 - Days 4 and 5 Abrgavenny to Crickhowell via The Black Mountains


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Day 4 - Friday 4th June - GPS 15.6 miles - 3,443 ft ascent

Abergavenny to Capel-y-ffin via Sugar Loaf and Chwarel y Fan

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map, depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.

My roommate left early at about 6.45, so I never get chance to speak to him or to find out where he was walking. I got up myself at 7.30 and went down for breakfast at eight o'clock. The general idea is that the kitchen is stocked with cereals, bread, margarine, jam, milk, tea, coffee etc and hostellers just help themselves to the food and the self-catering facilities. There was not a great deal of choice and some of the items were running very low, but there was just about enough of the things I needed to get by with corn flakes, toast and marmalade and tea. However, as a few others started to arrive, they were faced with dwindling supplies. Some who had been there for a few days complained about the lack of restocking, especially when they had notified the young lady in the bar that things were running out.

I had less distance to walk today, so got off to a leisurely start at 9.15, going through town, where I took a look at the castle and called into a Tesco Express at the northern end of the town centre to get a few things for lunch. A 2 meal deal bought me some sandwiches, a bottle of orange juice and a small bag of fruit and I also bought a malt loaf and some Welsh cakes that would keep well enough in the hot weather for tomorrow. It was 10.05 as I set off out of town, having downed the orange juice before I did so.

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Abergavenny
Abergavenny
Ruins of Abergavenny Castle
Abergavenny Castle
Approach to Sugar Loaf
Approach to Sugar Loaf

The weather was bright and sunny again with distant haze, giving good views of Sugar Loaf ahead and Blorenge behind, from various places along the way. There are several routes up Sugar Loaf, but the guidebook route goes via Llwyn-du, where I passed through a field of buttercups on the way to the ridge. I followed various signs to Sugar Loaf, but soon realised that instead of heading towards the top of the ridge, I was following a track along the western side through woodland halfway down the slope, leading towards a different ascent of Sugar Loaf. The trees blocked off any views, though they did shade me from the sun, which was already getting rather hot. Rather than turning round, I carried on and made way up to the top of the ridge at a convenient place further along. There was a steep climb up the hillside to contend with and I gained a few scratches from the hawthorn and gorse, but I was rewarded with a view of Sugar Loaf ahead.

A number of people were ahead of me, some with small children, and more were already at the summit, which I reached at 11.35 (checkpoint 6), after a steady climb most of the way with a steeper bit towards the end. There was a fresh breeze at the top and a good view of the Black Mountains, albeit a bit hazy. I was feeling quite refreshed today despite two rather long days, and I had been able to make quite good progress so far. There were a few minor problems with my feet in that one small toe was sore but not quite blistered and my heels were a little tender, but again had not yet got any blisters, so I was trying my best to keep them from getting any worse.

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Sugar Loaf Summit
Sugar Loaf Summit
Black Mountains from Sugar Loafy
Black Mountains from Sugar Loaf
Towards Forest Coal Pit from Sugar Loaf
Towards Forest Coal Pit from Sugar Loaf

After a rest at the summit, I set off down towards Fforest Coal Pit at 12.10. I met up with a couple on the way down. They were reasonably local and came up here quite often to walk their dogs, but they were quite interested in my walk, so I chatted with them for some way before they turned off. At the bottom, the path can get very boggy, but with the lack of rainfall recently, it wasn't too bad today. Whereas there had been a cooling breeze at the top, it was more sheltered and much warmer down at the bottom, and when I started my ascent up the road from Fforest Coal Pit, I was getting very hot, so just took it steadily. However, further up I caught some breeze again and on top of the ridge it was very pleasant.

This was a good place to stop for lunch at 13.25, and I then settled down for some sunbathing, as I now had only about six miles to go, so had plenty of time to relax and take things easy for a change. A number of horse riders and pony trekkers came along whilst I was there, as this is a very popular area for these activities, but I didn't see any other walkers whilst I lingered there until 14.40, enjoying the lovely weather, the peace and quiet, and the views.

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Ridge leading to Garn Wen and Bal Mawr
Ridge leading to Garn Wen and Bal Mawr
Vale of Ewyas and Skirrid
Vale of Ewyas and Skirrid

After the initial climb, the ridge was now quite easy walking most of the way with just a few steeper bits here and there, but nothing very taxing. At Garn-wen I met a couple of chaps who had just come up from Llanthony, where they were camping. They had come up the steep valley side and had found it quite hard going, as they were obviously not very fit. I chatted with them for a while before making my way further along to Bal Mawr. There was more cloud around now but still patches of sunshine and it was easy to see why this area is called the Black Mountains, as they look very dark when the sun is not shining, though I suppose that this could be said for most mountains. Despite the cloudier weather, there were still good views across to the other ridges on either side and back towards Sugar Loaf.

I was quite surprised to get a text message from home, as this was the last place I would have expected to get a reception on my phone, though it is often surprising on the mountaintops just how good a signal can be received from a distant transmitter. As it was unlikely that I would get any signal at all once I dropped down into the valley towards my accommodation at Capel-y-ffin, I called back home to report that all was well. By now it was getting cooler and the wind was much stronger with more cloud about, so I continued on over to Chwarel y Fan, at 2,228ft, the highest point of today's walk, though the summit is only like a pimple on the top of the ridge. As I reached there, a chap with a mountain bike did so too and he flopped down looking quite exhausted, which was not surprising if he had lugged the thing all the way up.

From here it was just a matter of looking out for the fork down to Capel-y-ffin by a stone called the Blacksmith's Anvil, though now it is almost impossible to miss because of the large cairn that has been built up over recent years. The path down the hillside is quite steep and stony in places, leading down right past my B&B at the Grange Trekking Centre, where I arrived at 17.40. On my previous walks, I stayed at the lovely youth hostel on the nearby hillside, but this was unfortunately closed down a few years ago, like so many hostels serving walkers in remote places. Needless to say there was no mobile reception down here, so it was just as well I phoned from the ridge.

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Capel-y-ffin from north of Chwarel y Fan
Capel-y-ffin from north of Chwarel y Fan

I had a welcomed shower and noticed that, although I had been trying to walk carefully and steadily, a blister had formed on my left heel, which was quite worrying as it was likely to get worse before it got any better. I also had a blister underneath one of my small toenails, but this didn't concern me so much.

I was the only one staying tonight - there were others booked but they had to cancel because one of them was ill. I was told that dinner would be at 19.00, so went down into the lounge a little before then and sat browsing some National Geographic magazines. Two girls were also in there watching a video, there being no television reception here. There was no sign of any meal at the appointed time, but at 19.30 the landlady came to say that it wouldn't be long, though it was 20.15 before I was called into the dining room to eat. There was a mountain of food, with soup and a roll, then chicken in bacon with potatoes and four vegetables followed by plum crumble with ice cream and coffee. The two girls waited on and one of them brought in her pet hedgehog for me to look at. I made a good attempt at eating things, but had to leave quite a lot of potatoes and vegetables, as there was just so much. The dining room had a huge, magnificently carved Welsh dresser and I marvelled at how it had been manoeuvred into there in the first place. There was also a large collection of porcelain and old bottles around the room.

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Dining Room of Grange Trekking Centre
Dining Room of Grange Trekking Centre

After dinner I was asked what time I would like breakfast to which I replied eight o'clock, but that appeared to be a little too early, as the response was eight to quarter past. Some sides of the house had marvellous views of the surrounding hills out of the windows, with more sunshine having returned in the evening. I retired to bed and did Sudoku for a while and then noticed that the heating had come on, even though it was not particularly cool, so I took the opportunity to hang the washing I had done earlier over the radiators to dry.


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Day 5 - Saturday 5th June - GPS 17.3 miles - 2,652 ft ascent

Capel-y-ffin to Crickhowell via Twmpa, Waun Fach and Pen Allt-mawr

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map, depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.

The blister on my heel seemed to have hardened off a bit overnight, but it looked as if I would lose the nail on my middle toe, as there was a lot of fluid underneath, which I released by bursting the blister next to the nail. Looking at my walking socks, I noticed that the ones I had been wearing were rather old and nearly worn through at the heels, so I threw them away, as this had probably contributed to the blister and soreness on my heels.

Breakfast was served shortly after eight o'clock, so I was able to get off at 9.05. As I was leaving, the landlady mentioned her mother and I then remembered what she had told when I booked some weeks ago. Her mother was the one who normally ran the B&B side of the business, but she had been rushed into hospital with a heart attack just before I booked. She was still in there, having had a triple bypass operation, so her daughter had been left having to take charge of everything: seeing to the animals, organising the pony trekking, running the B&B, and making evening meals, which explained why things seemed a bit disorganised last night.

There was a short walk down the road into Capel-y-ffin (checkpoint 7) which I reached at 9.15. From there the guidebook takes a route along the bottom of the valley for a couple of miles, only heading up towards Twmpa or Lord Hereford's Knob near the head of the valley. I thought that it would be better to take the path that starts to climb up the ridge of Darren Lwyd and then follow it on a diagonal up the hillside towards Twmpa. There were a number of paths at varying levels up the hillside, most of them joining up again near the head of the valley, giving some fine views of the valley below. These were at their best about halfway up the hillside before it started to round off near the top of the ridge. After a lot of gradual ascent, there was just a short final climb to the top after joining the main path at the head of the valley, where there was quite a bit of erosion on the steep slope.

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Looking back towards Capel-y-ffin from Darren Lwyd
Capel-y-ffin from Darren Lwyd
Summit of Twmpa (Lord Hereford's Knob)
Summit of Twmpa
Rhiw y Fan and Rhos Dirion
Rhiw y Fan and Rhos Dirion

I reached the summit of Twmpa at 10.35 (checkpoint 8), stopping for a rest and to look at the views. A layer of thin cloud had now formed following the bright start, and there was some haze limiting the visibility to about ten miles, but there were still good views of Hay Bluff and Rhiw y Fan, though the Brecon Beacons were not quite visible though the haze. It had been getting hot lower down, but there was a refreshing breeze at the top making it more pleasant for walking.

At eleven o'clock I got on my way again, retracing my steps back down the steep slope and heading towards Rhos Dirion. The views were not quite so good in the overcast weather, but there were a few patches of sunshine here and there. The best views are along the edge of the ridge, but after a while the path leaves the edge and the views are lost but then regained on the approach to Waun Fach. There were not many walkers about at first, just a couple and then a lone walker, but when I reached the trig point at Pen Rhos Dirion, I met a group of five girls with large backpacks doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award. I took a photo for them by the trig point and asked them how far they had to walk, which was 20km a day. This didn't seem all that far when I considered how far I was walking most days.

The walking was mainly easy, though there was a moderate climb to the summit of Waun Fach, which I reached at 12.30 (checkpoint 9). Normally, the area of peat surrounding the summit is a quagmire and it is often nearly impossible to reach what remains of the base of the trig point. After all the dry weather, though, it was all bone dry and there was no problem at all in reaching it, not that it is either attractive or offers particularly good views, being a rather round topped mountain. There were far better views just past the summit, so I stopped there for a lunch break, though the weather conditions were deteriorating to dull and grey with no sign of any brightness anywhere.

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Base of Trig Point on Waun Fach
Base of Trig Point on Waun Fach
Pen Allt-mawr and Pen Cerrig-calch
Pen Allt-mawr and Pen Cerrig-calch
Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr from Pen Twyn Glas
Marker Stones on Pen Twyn Glas

After a good rest, I set off again at 13.35, with some fairly easy walking along the ridge except for occasional ascents onto the various peaks along the way. Much of the view was lost over Mynydd Llysiau due to its flat top, but it was regained on the narrower ridges further along. It was now rather heavy and sultry, but cool enough on a ridge that is over 2,000ft. I stopped for a twenty-minute rest and drink at 14.45 just before Pen Twyn Glas, on a mound with twin slabs looking rather like headstones. One of them had an inscription, but I couldn't make out all the letters, only DINAS SIR J BAIN* BA*T MP 1847. I couldn't see any particular reason for their existence other than perhaps to mark the boundary, and I have been unable to find any explanation since on the Internet.

The cloud was breaking up slightly, but not enough to brighten up the landscape, though I was just thankful that I was not in the mist or rain and that there were still some good views to look at even if they were not being shown off to their best advantage at the moment. There were several more walkers about including a group consisting mainly of teenagers that may have been a school party. I continued along the ridge to the steep ascent of Pen Allt Mawr, which looks quite formidable, but is only about 300ft up from the ridge and didn't take very long to climb. This was checkpoint 10 at 15.40 and I had just stopped to finish off my drink when a couple of very amicable walkers came along. He was from South Wales and she was from Sheffield and I took a couple of photos for them and chatted for a while until 16.00. They departed one way and I departed another, taking the obvious looking path from the summit. As I progressed along, I realised that I had made the same mistake as I did last time and was following the western edge of the ridge rather than the eastern one. A bit further along was a large shelter where I was able to find a faint path through the undergrowth back to the main path to the east.

The next summit was that of Pen Cerrig-calch which was a fairly easy climb with only a short, moderate ascent. This was the last of the main peaks along the ridge, so it was downhill for the rest of the way except for the small climb up to Table Mountain on the way down to Crickhowell. I took a short rest on Table Mountain and was treated to a rare ray of sunshine to finish off the day. My B&B was a little way out of the town centre and I arrived there at 18.10. After a shower I went out for something to eat and drink and passed a fish and chip shop, which I decided to give a try, as some of the eating establishments in Crickhowell can be rather expensive. Even so, I was quite surprised to find that fish, chips and peas cost 5.95, though the portions were huge and far bigger than I could possibly eat, even after a day's walk over the Black Mountains. There was a cricket match in progress near the castle and I sat on a bench overlooking the cricket field to eat my fish and chips. As in Abergavenny, the peas were almost cold and tasted revolting, probably coming from the same supplier, but it made me wonder why nobody around these parts knew how to use a microwave oven properly on things that they must sell regularly. The fish and chips themselves weren't too bad but were still rather greasy, so I decided that this was an area where fish and chips were best avoided.

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Table Mountain
Table Mountain
Crickhowell Castle
Crickhowell Castle

When the cricket finished, I went of in search of a drink. There were a few pubs in the High Street, so I tried the Corn Exchange first and had a pint of Brain's at only 2, but it was full of rowdy yobs shouting and screeching at the top of their voices, and that was just the women! It was a Saturday night, so I suppose this behaviour was to be expected in some places. Outside it was the same, so I went down the road to the Britannia Inn, where it was much more peaceful, even if the beer was a little more expensive at 2.60 for a pint of Black Sheep. I then returned to my B&B to watch television for a while before going to bed.


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