Exploring the hills of south Wales

I have very fond childhood memories of holidays in and around Hay-on-Wye, and some of my first ever hills (albeit carried on my Dad’s back!) I went up were Black Hill and Hay Bluff in the Black Mountains. Of recent, however, they’ve become somewhat neglected in favour of the bigger mountains of Scotland, and it’s not very often that we get the chance to travel south to explore the hills of south Wales once more. Another bank holiday weekend meant another chance for a few days away in the mountains, and as my parents and aunt and uncle (Paula and Pete) were heading to Pencelli – just outside Brecon – we decided to tag along to make the most of the opportunity.

The campsite was Pencelli Castle, which is probably one of the most expensive campsites in the UK. The facilities are good and the site very well maintained and with a lovely atmosphere, but I find it hard to see how they justify £23.80 per night for two people in a small backpacking tent – you can stay in a youth hostel for much less than that!

We headed to the quieter Black Mountains on the Saturday, and did a brilliant loop of Black Hill and Hay Bluff from the Glospel Pass. It was a lengthy but enjoyable walk in down the quiet and peaceful Monnow Valley – to the east of Black Hill. We traversed the entire length of the hill, over open fields and through wooded paths, before joining the more popular main route up from the southern tip of its south-eastern ridge. The ridge itself is spectacular, offering a good deal of exposure but always on a good solid path. I’ve come to think of the Black Mountains as big rounded lumps, so this surprised me a bit! From the main summit, myself and Lorna – under the false promise that point 703m directly to the west was another Nuttall – hacked across the heathery mass of open moorland to gain the Offa’s Dkye as it passed over, before jogging along it to catch up with the others who had taken the more conventional route to the summit of Hay Bluff (which was “deleted” from the Nuttall’s list a number of years ago for not having the required prominence).

 

Black Hill's southern ridge

Black Hill’s southern ridge

 

The pub we were heading to for tea wasn’t open until 7pm, and we were well ahead of schedule at this point. Fortunately, the weather was, as it had been all day, nigh-on perfect – warm sunny skies with just the odd breath of a cooling breeze from the south. This meant it was perfectly comfortable to lounge around in the sun, and we did so whilst watching the scores of paragliders attempting to take off (albeit somewhat unsuccessfully for the most part) from the summit. Those that did manage to take off and caught the updrafts correctly soon soared thousands of feet above us – mere dots in the sky. It looked like mighty good fun and I made a mental note to check out how much it would cost to get a license.

Paragliders on the summit of Hay Bluff

Paragliders on the summit of Hay Bluff

Pete and Paula chose the pub – the Bull’s Head in Craswall. It’s a unique little place with great beer and cider straight out the box, and absolutely delicious food. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area, even if it’s just for a drink!

The campsite on Sunday morning

The campsite on Sunday morning

The following day, we joined hoards of others on the route up Pen-y-Fan from the Storey Arms. We continued along the ridge, taking in all of the Brecon Beacons’ main summits in our traverse which ended up back at the campsite in Pencelli, via the Royal Oak for a well-deserved pint of course! The weather was, again, hot and sunny, and we used the opportunity once more to have an hour-long snooze on the summit of Cribyn. The route got steadily less tourist-tastic the further away from the Storey Arms we got, and we had the final few miles almost all to ourselves.

Lorna infront of Fan-y-Big

Lorna infront of Fan-y-Big

This traverse is one of my favourite routes in area, if not the country. It takes in some fantastically interesting scenery with some lovely views. The Beacons themselves are quite unique and I struggle to find anywhere else in the UK quite like them. From a distance, they look like that they should be made up of rocky crags and buttress, but up close you realise that most near-vertical slopes are mostly turf and grass.

We couldn’t have the weather completely our own way, and it got considerably cloudier, windier and wetter for the bank holiday Monday itself. As we were driving back that afternoon, a shorter route was picked, up Fan Frynych from Cwm Du. The route passed through the Craig Cerrig Gleisiad Nature Reserve, a beautiful area playing host to many rare Arctic-Alpine plants, and it made a great change from the previous day.

Summit of Fan Frynych

Summit of Fan Frynych

All three walks were completely different, re-affirming to me that south Wales is one of the best walking areas in the UK, with so much to offer. I’m already looking forward to our next visit to the area!