Part Cambrian Way 2016

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 3 & 4 Abergavenny to Crickhowell


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Day 3 - Monday 6th June - 14.0 miles, 3600 ft ascent (Map measurements) - GPS 15.0 miles

The GPS mileage figure includes 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.

Abergavenny (Great Western Hotel) to Grange Trekking Centre, Capel-y-ffin via Sugar Loaf, Bal Mawr and Chwarel y Fan

After two long days, it was nice to think that I only had 14 miles to do today, so there was not the constant need to keep pressing on, and I could get off to a fairly leisurely start with breakfast at 8.30. Chatting to John, he said he was an old friend of Mary, at the Grange Trekking Centre in Capel-y-ffin, which was where I would be spending the night. He was 72 and had been a fell runner for many years and still continued to do so. He looked very unwell with pale, sunken features and a skeletal frame, but he was still running and said he might be calling in to see Mary on his way to Hay on Wye where he would be catching a bus back home. When I asked if he wanted me to give her a message if he didn't call he said "Just tell her I am still having treatment", which I took to mean cancer treatment bearing in mind the way he looked.

It was another hot day, especially through town and along the roads to where the path heads up towards Sugar Loaf. There was still no breeze lower down, so it felt even hotter as I started climbing upwards, so I needed to stop for a drink and a short rest. A bit higher up the route goes through woods, with the shade making it feel cooler, though this meant losing the views. Eventually, I emerged from the trees onto the bare hillside and at last found a cool breeze, which was a great relief, and this stayed with me more or less for the rest of the ascent to the summit. Most of the way it is quite a steady climb along a ridge, but the last few hundred feet is quite steep, which meant having several short stops on the way, reaching the summit at 12.00. There were several people already at the top with a few more coming up along other paths, as this is a very popular mountain. The present good weather also a good inducement to people to get out walking. It was not like me who, being on a schedule, had to just keep on going regardless of the weather.

On hot days, having sufficient water is always a problem so, although I had set off with 4 pints, I took advantage of a small stream on the way up to replenish some of it. A lot of the moorland areas have no streams at all, but there was one which had emerged from a spring not far away, so I considered it safe enough to drink.

There are great panoramic views from Sugar Loaf, with the vast area of the Black Mountains to the north and Blorenge, Skirrid and other hills to the south and east, so it is not surprising that it is popular, especially as it is easy to reach from Abergavenny. However, light cloud was now starting to form, which took the edge off the magnificence of the scenery, and there was also a slight haze that limited the long distance views. I stayed around the summit for half an hour, having a snack and a rest, before heading down the path to the north. This is quite steep near the summit, but is an easy, steady descent for the rest of the way.

As I got lower down, it became very hot again and the cool breeze disappeared as I passed through Forest Coal Pit, named after charcoal, not coal and headed across the valley to start my ascent of the ridge leading to Bal Mawr in the Black Mountains. The minor road at the start of the ridge had overhanging tree branches, so I tried to find as much shade as I could in the heat of the day. As I reached the top of the ridge, the breeze returned, making it much more pleasant for walking, with splendid views, quite good visibility and not much cloud. At Bal Bach, I met a couple of girls coming the other way. They were looking for the way back to Llanthony, having climbed from there to Bal Mawr and walked south along the ridge. They had no map, so I showed them where we were on my maps and where would be the best place to find their way down. It is surprising how many people go up into the mountains unprepared for any eventualities, assuming that because the weather is fine when they set off that it will stay that way and also assuming that they can find their way without a map.

After a while, more cloud started to gather, not so much ahead of me but the area around Sugar Loaf looked very black indeed and it wasn't long before there were flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. I quickened my pace, hoping that I could keep ahead of the bad weather, at least until I started to drop down from the ridge. I was just approaching the highest point of the ridge at Chwarel y Fan, which is not an ideal place to be in a thunderstorm. Some light rain came my way and a rainbow formed, but the worst of the weather kept at bay until I had started my descent towards the Grange Trekking Centre, and I had to stop to put on my waterproofs when the spots started getting bigger. It rained quite heavily for about ten minutes and the lightning came closer, but at least I was away from the top of the ridge and less exposed. The rain eased off again and I reached the Grange at 6.00, where I was welcomed with a cup of tea and some cake by Mary.

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Rainbow, Chwarel y Fan
Rainbow, Chwarel y Fan
Rainbow ,Chwarel y Fan
Rainbow, Chwarel y Fan

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

I mentioned John and she said he had called in earlier. My observations about the state of his health were completely wrong, as Mary said he has always looked like that and she thought he looked better than usual. His reference to still having treatment may have been because he had been suffering from depression and he may have been having some therapy or counselling for that. Then, whilst I was drinking my tea, the phone rang and it turned out to be John who had arrived in Hay on Wye too late to catch his bus and was wanting someone to come and pick him up. Mary was alone at the Grange, and Jessica, her daughter was still at a show at her daughter's school and didn't want to leave until it had finished. The trip to Hay on Wye may only be nine miles, but it is along winding single track roads over the Gospel Pass, so the journey there and back takes quite a long time, and there was still dinner to make as well, so it would not have been easy to collect him. Eventually, he was persuaded to look for other accommodation in Hay and to ring back if he couldn't find any.

It turns out that the 'friendship' was rather one sided and involved John calling in for free cups of tea and cake, taking advantage of their kindness and hospitality. Had they gone to pick him up from Hay on Wye, he would have expected accommodation and meals at a heavily discounted price. It was apparent from my encounter with him that he had some personality disorder or mental health problem, as he just expected people to drop everything and do things for him without consideration of how much it put them out. He could be quite abrupt if they didn't respond immediately. Apparently, he has lived with his sister most of his life, so she must have been helping to cope with life in general. However, this has allowed him to lead a fairly fulfilling life in spite of his problems.

John didn't ring back again, so he must have managed to find some other accommodation for the night and it meant that Mary and Jessica were spared a lot of inconvenience.

After dinner, Jessica had a long chat with me, and we discussed ways of promoting the business and other things. Although I was able to offer some help by adding a few things to the Accommodation Guide on the Cambrian Way website, such as the 'Glamping' Pods and Shepherd's hut, which would appeal to people who are looking for a cheaper option that B&B, this would only be of minor assistance, due to the limited number of Cambrian Way walkers.

The Grange is in a magnificent setting with beautiful views out of the window, but being in such a remote location it must be difficult to make a living, especially in the winter. The number of Cambrian Way walkers is very small, though they do pick up some Offa's Dyke walkers as well and that is a more popular walk. As well as the B&B accommodation, they have camping with optional meals as well as the 'glamping', and also the slightly larger 'Shepherd's Hut'. There were two Offa's Dyke walkers staying in one of these, and I met them at breakfast time. Otherwise, I was the only one there, though their main business comes from groups of pony trekkers. Mary was complaining that the modern pony trekkers are a lot lazier than those of years ago. Being in a valley with steep climbs up onto the ridges, pony trekkers used to lead the ponies uphill, whereas now they just expect to ride all the way with no consideration for the ponies nor the fact that many of the riders themselves are grossly overweight.


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Day 4 - Tuesday 7th June - 16.5 miles, 2650 ft ascent (Map measurements) - GPS 18.1 miles

The GPS mileage figure includes 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.

Grange Trekking Centre, Capel-y-ffin to Crickhowell via Twmpa, Waun Fawr and Pen Allt-mawr

Examining the state of my feet revealed a few blisters that I had been trying to ignore in the hope that they would go away. The original one on the sole of my foot was getting better with the aid of a Compeed dressing and I also had a blister on the side of each heel, but these were not giving me too much pain, and were just a minor annoyance. I had taken the opportunity to wash out two days of washing, as I had noticed that the central heating was on so I was able to dry things on the radiator. The Grange is more than 1000 ft above sea level, so it can get quite cool in the evenings, especially with a clear sky.

I was down for breakfast at 8.00 and the weather looked quite reasonable, though it was overcast and quite cool as I set off at 9.15, first taking a quick look at the Monastery next door before heading down the road to the hamlet of Capel-y-ffin meaning Chapel on the border, with its tiny chapel that still holds services and is kept open for the public to see inside. Making my way to the hills, I was not sure whether to follow the guidebook route which goes along the valley for a while and then goes diagonally up the open hillside with no path to the summit of Twmpa. This always seemed a rather odd route to take when there is a ridge route with a marked path that used to be the hostellers' route before the hostel closed. However, I realised that the valley route goes past a farmhouse where they used to offer B&B, so it was a sensible route for anyone wanting to stay there. Now, there is no real reason to take that route, so I decided to take the ridge route up Darren Lwyd. Some years ago, lower parts of this route were very badly churned up by excessive pony trekking, but now the track was quite reasonable. It is quite a steep climb up to about 1800 ft, but I was feeling refreshed after a less taxing day yesterday, so I didn't find it too difficult. The views from the top of the ridge down the Vale of Ewyas can be beautiful, though it was quite hazy today so visibility was considerably limited. However, I could see The Grange and the Monastery very clearly as they were only about half a mile away. There are also good views to the east, overlooking the Gospel Pass across to Hay Bluff but, further along, the ridge flattens out and this restricts views down into the valleys. This is the main criticism of the route taken by Offa's Dyke Path along the Hatterrall Ridge, but this goes on for a much longer distance.

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Monastery, Capel-y-ffin
Monastery, Capel-y-ffin
Monastery & Grange from Darren Lwyd
Monastery & Grange from Darren Lwyd

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

Once up onto the ridge, the walking became much easier with just a gentle slope to Twmpa or Lord Hereford's Knob, where I stopped for a rest and a drink at 11.00. This was almost into the cloud and I could just about see downhill through the gloom but nothing much else. I expected that I might have phone reception there as it overlooks Hay on Wye, but there was no signal at all, so I set off again after 10 minutes, heading southwest along the ridge. In clear weather this gives some spectacular views, but in the misty conditions the only things that could be seen were nearby features such as the heads of steep grassy ridges. One of these, Y Das, was stripped of all its vegetation over quite a wide area, and I assume it must have been washed away by heavy rain, as I don't remember it looking like that before. Just when I was thinking that there was nobody else out on the hills, a soldier with full kit came jogging towards me giving just enough of a chance to say 'Hello' before he was gone.

Further along, I got a text from home, so knew I must have come into an area of reception and I phoned back with a progress report. I was now a bit higher up and into the cloud giving me only about 30 yards visibility, so it was very useful to have my GPS to remove any confusion about which route I should be taking. Earlier in the walk, my main problem had been the heat and trying to make sure I didn't run out of water, but these cool conditions made the walking more pleasant and easier even if there was not much to see. I had seen reports about major footpath work around Waun Fach, so I was quite interested to see how this had worked out. The problem in this part of the ridge is that it is very peaty, and the base of the trig point used to be sitting in a sea of oozing peat, the trig point itself having gone. This area had now been covered in heather clippings with some sheets underneath to help stabilise the ground and give something for grass to put roots into. Other badly eroded paths in the surrounding area had been built up and finished with fine gravel, bringing them up to a very high standard, but there was still more work to be done.

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Waun Fach Summit after Repair Work
Waun Fach Summit after Repair Work
Waun Fach Summit before Repair Work
Waun Fach Summit before Repair Work

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

Waun Fach was the highest point of the day's walk, so it was a convenient place to have a lunch stop at 1.10. One chap arrived at the summit from the south saying that it had been sunny the way he came until the last 20 minutes, so there was hope that I might see some brighter weather further on, and sure enough, as I headed down west from Waun Fach, it did start to clear a bit and I could at least see the scenery even if it were still hazy. At one point the sun actually came out for a brief moment and it felt as if someone had just switched on a giant infra red heater, as even at over 2000 ft there was still no breeze.

At Pen Twyn Glas I stopped for the rest of my sandwiches and a drink at 3.00, then on to Pen Allt-mawr and Pen Cerrig-calch, the last mountain of the day. As I descended from there, it became sunnier, giving lovely views over Table Mountain and Crickhowell. It also meant that the cool walking turned back into hot walking as I dropped further down into town and made for my B&B not far from the centre, arriving at 6.10.

I was given a warm welcome by Jean at Porth y Berllan and, seeing that I was very hot, she brought me a large bottle of chilled water from the fridge, which is just what I needed to cool me down. After a shower and a rest, I went into town to see about a meal. There are a few places to eat, but some are quite expensive, so I went into one of the pubs with a selection of real ales. It was quite busy at the bar and the very smartly dressed lady who was serving was having difficulty with the pumps. When it eventually came to my turn I ordered a pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, an old favourite of mine from years ago, but that ran out as she tried to pull it. I then switched to Bass and that did the same, so it was third time lucky with the Wye Valley Gold. Even that was not without its problems, as she sprayed it all over her smart dress in the process. There was a beer garden out at the back, so I went out there to enjoy my pint in the pleasant evening sunshine. It was very enjoyable and refreshing, so I had another pint before going for something to eat.

On my way around I had spotted a Chinese Takeaway that also advertised fish and chips close to the pub, so I had decided to go there. However, the owner said that they had opened another place across the road serving pizzas and fish and chips, whilst their first place just concentrated on Chinese meals. I found the place slightly hidden down a side street and decided on a peperoni pizza to eat in their little café.

Back at the B&B I started watching Springwatch and the next thing I knew it was 11.30, so I switched the TV off and went to sleep.


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