Mynydd Ddu – The Black Mountain in Spring   21 comments

I’d been domestically housebound for a couple of weeks with such exciting things as car cleaning and fitting new roof racks and boxes for our summer trips. This weekend I was not to be denied and it was time for another decent walk. D seems really keen these days and despite being off school with a virus for a couple of days he seemed fit and well so we headed out. The Black Mountain (not to be confused with the Black Mountains) lies to the west of the main Brecon Beacons range. It’s a personal favourite and much quieter than the Brecons, although I’ve not been here since I started blogging so good to share this one for the first time.

Black Mountain, 9.3 miles, 2,700 feet of ascent

The main escarpment is set at a right angle with one edge facing north the other east. Making a circular walk is not easy but I came across this particular route more or less by accident when I was exploring a few years ago and I happen to think it’s a bit of a classic.

We parked up on the narrow high road that leads from Trecastle to Glyntawe. I was a little gutted to find my usual parking spot full of minibuses from a local school (DofE I guessed) so had to drive down the road a mile or so for another spot. A fortuitous happening as this meant that rather than the usual mile or so of bog-trotting to get to the path, I picked it up from the start (why has this never occurred to me before!) with the added bonus that it follows a rather splendid stream, the infant Afon Tawe that hits the sea at Swansea.

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Looking to Fan Brycheiniog

We headed off on a glorious spring day and the first thing that struck me was the pale brown colour of the hills. At this time of year I’d expect dark greens and blacks (perhaps even a little white) but it was more like June than March. Clearly there has been some seriously dry weather in these parts as well and I’m sure the risk of fires will grow again if it continues into summer.

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Waterfalls on the Afon Tawe

The river was enchanting and a perfect spot for a summer family picnic with plenty of spots a few minutes walk from the car and even places to swim. As we started to climb towards the hills the dry ground was a real surprise, this section is normally extremely soggy. D was feeling the frustration of what seems like an endless climb to Llyn y Fan Fawr but I was enjoying every step. As we crested the rise the lake looked magnificent under a clear blue sky and we stopped for a little rest on one of the beaches. It was more reminiscent of some of the wilder parts of Scotland with wild tarns and sandy beaches, a marvellous spot.

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Llyn y Fan Fawr

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D by the lake-shore

We headed on up the steeper climb towards Bwlch Giedd and towards Fan Brycheiniog, the highest point in the range. D seemed a little concerned about the steep climb but introduced him to the notion of a steady plod and that before he knew it we’d be on the summit drinking in the views.

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Deep blue Llyn y Fan Fawr

So it was and whilst the distant views were extremely hazy the nearby vista of peaks and lakes was superb. As always my brain was planning routes and wild camps I’ll probably never get around to but they say planning is half the fun (so just do the math, plan 2 trips and then you don’t need to go out at all).

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D on Fan Brycheiniog summit

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The edge of Fan Brycheiniog

The walk along the edge was simply magnificent with the lake at our feet and warm sunshine, t-shirt and shorts for the first time this year.

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Llyn y Fan Fach and Bannau Sir Gaer

Only downside was a very keen and cool wind that was making our search for a lunch stop a little trying. As regular readers know, I prize a decent long lunch stop on any walk and on a day as good as this it was worth seeking a good one. Rather than a cold hurried stop in the wind and despite both of us feeling hungry we pushed on. I figured that we’d find a spot tucked down on the northern slopes as we turned west heading for Bannau Sir Gaer. No such opportunities arose and we were forced to keep going. As we approached the summit D was feeling weary but I recalled that there are several ledges just west of the summit a few feet below the edge that I figured would do the job. We found a rather precarious perch with just enough room for both of us but out of the wind and a truly stupendous view.

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Lunch on the edge

Vast tracts of mid-Wales spread out before us and the crag-girt lake of Llyn y Fan Fach under our feet. Simply breathtaking. D polished off most of his food and I did what I do best and sat with a fresh brew contemplating life in all its glory. I’ve been very lucky these last 12 months with some truly magical days out so I guess I say this a lot, but life doesn’t get much better than this. The pleasure intensified with D sat beside me enjoying the situation, embracing the same simple pleasures that I’ve come to enjoy over the years. Timeless moments these and one of the pleasures of writing my blog is capturing the moment in words as well as photos and memories, helps to keep them special.

Time to move on and we continued along the escarpment in the sunshine with both us enjoying the sense of exposure standing on the edge of the cliffs.

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Edge on Bannau Sir Gaer

These corries are some of the most magnificent in the UK in my humble opinion and the spring sunshine was lighting them to great effect. Reaching the end of the long line of crags the path descends gently to the lake with views up to the summits equally as rewarding as the views from them.

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Llyn y Fan Fach and Bannau Sir Gaer

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Bannau Sir Gaer

Every time I walk here I’m always reminded of a sad story from the first time I walked these mountains. As me and Jane walked down towards the lake we were aware of a commotion at the top of the cliffs with a lot of shouting and a man scrambling down. As we watched it became clear that his dog had fallen off the edge and he was desperately trying to reach it. We waited and hoped for the best but it was clear that the poor dog had not survived the fall, a fact made horribly, hauntingly clear as we heard the owners sobs echo across the water as he reached his companion. Every time I’m up here and see people out with their dogs it sets my heart racing with fear and the memory of that afternoon returns. As an ex-dog owner who explored many a mountain with his own four-legged friend its a tragic reminder of what can go wrong.

I chose not to share that with D at the time, so we pressed on past the lake. The afternoon sun was glorious but as we had to be back so Jane could head out for her second performance of the play she’s in we had tp keep moving. On the map it looks like the route back involves a serious distance of rough ground to get back to Llyn y Fan Fawr. There are however a cunning connection of sheep tracks and walkers paths that take you through some lonely and stunning corries and cwms beneath all the edges you walked on in the first half of the day. If you want to follow the route then leave Llyn y Fan Fach by the small man-made water channel flowing in from the east. When you reach the first bridge follow a very faint sheep track that heads up towards the edges. Ignore the higher branch and take the lower path across a natural and very intriguing small moraine-like ridge to reach the open slopes. Above on the right you’ll see a couple of sheep tracks traversing the hillside. Traverse up to either of these and then follow this path all the way back under the edges to Llyn y Fan Fawr

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The wild northern corries

It’s a stunning section of walking taking into the heart of lonely corries under brooding vegetated cliffs. The whole section is a wild camping dream although fresh water would have to be carried in. It’s much further than it looks on the map and D was starting to feel a little weary. I decided the lake shore would be a better place to stop as we’d lost the sun behind the edge. It turned out to be an inspired move as the wind had dropped by the time we reached the shore and we found a lovely beach to relax on. D just collapsed in a heap while I had another brew.

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Llyn y Fan Fawr

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D rests on the beach

I felt a little guilty for stretching the pace a little but after some food he was soon up and about again and enjoying the scene as we had the lake to ourselves. This would be another superb site for a wild camp although you’d need to filter water from the lake as it has no outflow to speak of.

The scene was as good as it gets and I could have lain on the grass and rocks for hours. I enlightened D that this was what wild camping would be about and how wonderful it is to spend an evening in a spot like this, snuggle down in the tent for the night and then watch the sun come up and enjoy breakfast in the same surroundings. Hopefully I can get him out this spring and summer and really introduce him to this next stage of his outdoor training.

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D on the beach at llyn y Fan Fawr

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Dad has a rest too

Time to head back to the car. The walk along the lake-shore was stunning and after a bit of schoolboy navigating by yours truly we got back onto the right path!

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Weary D heads for home

Just before we reached the car there was a man wild camping in a perfect sport by the river as if to emphasise my discussion with D earlier. We chatted for a few minutes about what a great evening it was to be camping out and how jealous I was before we had to head back up the car and home.

D looked shattered but he also had a look that I recognised well. The look of calm satisfaction of a simple but challenging and rewarding day spent amongst the hills in the warm spring sunshine.

Enjoy the slide-show!

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21 responses to “Mynydd Ddu – The Black Mountain in Spring

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  1. Wow! Clearly another corker – stunning views (and photos). You didn’t fancy a swim then?
    When will D be writing a guest post? And – hasn’t he offered to take over the navigation yet – I suspect his map-reading could put us all to shame.

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    beatingthebounds
    • Certainly was a corker. I did suggest D took a swim but one dip of his hand in the water was enough to convince him. Maps are for wimps – we (I) managed to forget the maps, just felt our way around. Might take everyone up here for a little stroll when you come down to visit if we get some decent weather. The river is s stonking place for a play and picnic and its only an hour or so up past the lake to the first summit

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  2. What a super day!
    I remember walking the hills of Snowdonia with my daughter when she was D’s age, it was a special time .
    Enjoy it while you can, they grow up too quickly.

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    • Thanks Geoff, I told D that one of the real thrills of the day for me was seeing him enjoy the day. Hopefully he’ll carry his love the outdoors into his teenage years and adulthood

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  3. That looks like a cracking day out in the best part of the National Park. A very sad story about the dog, has made me want to keep Reuben on a lead when near cliffs.

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    backpackingbongos
    • Thanks James. One of the reasons I retold that story was that I’ve become quite attached. in a virtual way, to the various blog-dogs I read about and I hate anything similar to happen. It really was a distressing event. Escarpments like these are deceptively dangerous as you romp along the grassy tops without realising how close and precipitous the edge is. Well worth a liitle note of caution I thought as it always comes back to me whenever I walk this area

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  4. Cracking Llyn y Fan Fach and Bannau Sir Gaer photograph – what a fantastic day for the walk

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  5. What an amazing looking day and some superb looking wild camping spots there. The dog story reminded me of a boss I used to have who lost his dog over a cliff in Cornwall – dogs have no idea about convex slopes at the top of cliffs. In fact I have to admit that we once had to put our Collie on a lead sharpish in Snowdonia, when a gust of wind took her off her paws near an edge. She was the most sensible dog we’ve ever owned, but no match for the wind that day.

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    • I really must get out to do some local wild camping, I keep talking about it but never getting round to it (mind you I’m off to Rum over Easter so that should be good)

      Hopefully these cautionary tales will prevent any horrible incidents like the one I witnessed. As I said in my reply to James, I’ve become virtually attached to Reuben, Dixie, Tilly, Dougal, Maisie et al, so I’d be mortified if anything like that were to happen

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  6. great post…..fantastic photo’s …

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    antiquityandadventures
  7. What a lovely day for you and your son to share. I love the lunch stop photo – both for the view and the experience is conveys. I smiled too at your comment about feeling so fortunate to have experienced some magical days this past year. Neil and I are now at the stage were we look back on our family days out (I make us sound like a couple of old fogeys 😉 ) and last weekend were discussing one such trip with our sons over a meal. We were amazed at some of the small details they remembered (and we had completely forgotten!) and what had all added to the experience at the time.

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    • I often walk solo and whilst I enjoy the solitude there is nothing finer than sharing a great day with another like-minded soul. This even more true now I can share these days with D. It’s always been a secret hope that they will take to the outdoor life and love it like me so seeing D revelling in what was a proper long mountain walk away from busy paths and out in the wilds was brilliant. I just need to work on the other one now although my hopes aren’t high!

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  8. Once again some excellent pictures from a new viewpoint: we’ve walked the ridge a few times end to end but never been down to the lakeshores. I believe it’s a well known camp spot area, one to avoid for me then!.
    I agree about the greater attraction of Mynydd Du over the peaks further east, excellent walking and a wilder feel to it.

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    • Thanks Geoff. Llyn y Fan Fach is near the road and has a scabby little bothy full of beer cans so not a good place to camp but anywhere under the cliffs further round or by Llyn y Fan Fawr would be superb with few people around. We were there at 5pm on a glorious aftrenoon and the whole area was deserted (other than the guy camping by the stream). The other area that would be good is off to the SW with a load of lonely valleys and limestone crags.

      The walking up there is so carefree, one of those areas where it seems you can just stroll briskly for miles without too much effort

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  9. Andy, great looking walk with some fine photos. I will put this on my ever growing walk list 🙂

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  10. Cracker of a walk Andy…we did a similar walk just this week on the north escarpment of the Campsies. Sadly we didn’t have the amazing water feature that you were treated to. 😆 Looked a great day out!

    Sad tale about the dog. Maisie has always been hitched up anywhere near crags, steep drops, gorges. Basically she’s a dithering airhead and is liable to back off over when mooching food or “ski” over when doing the bum-scratching bit. I’ve ended up knackered having been dragged up steep scree paths because I reckoned she needed to be on the lead at that point.

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    Where the Fatdog Walks
    • I was eyeing up the Campsies from Ben Vane when I was up that way a few weeks back they really do looom rather good and I’d guess reasonably quiet with more famed mountains nearby

      Dogs aren’t all that well furnished in the brains department so keeping an eye on them is a must. That was a terrible way to see how a slip in concentration can lead to tragedy. I very rarely took my dog Harry off the lead when out walking. I used to thread my hip belt through the handle on his retractable lead as a pretty good way to be towed around 🙂

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