A walk on the White side of the Black Mountains   10 comments

My temporary lack of work could end at any time such is the uncertainty so I’ve been trying to grab as many bonus days out as I can. A couple of days after my trip to the Berwyns I headed out again into the Black Mountains, this time with TBF for company.

8.2 Miles, 1,300 feet of ascent

8.2 Miles, 1,300 feet of ascent

The weather was grey and a little dreary looking but looked reasonably settled. Heavy snow had been forecast for the day after so I wanted to get out while I could. We headed for Capel y Ffin to take in a high quality route along the western side of the ridge enclosing the Vale of Ewyas. There was already a good covering of snow and the road in had a few interesting icy patches.

Chwarel y Fan

TBF plodding in the snow

As we set off from the car it started to snow, heavy enough for me to worry whether the roads might be a little more white when I got back. Never really amounted much though so there was no real worry. As with all cloudy snowy days there was a monochrome feel to the views so not much in the way of photographs. I needed some foreground to help and TBF was the only option hence her regular appearance in this post.

Chwarel y Fan

TBF smiles through adversity

Chwarel y Fan, Nant Valley

Nant Valley

The route climbs steeply up to a very nice grassy shelf about halfway up towards the summit and then climbs very steeply through the broken crags onto the main summit ridge. I descended this way in winter a couple of years back and it was like the Cresta Run, everything was just a long frozen stream. Took me an hour to descend about 300 feet. This year I had the ideal gear to tackle it – Microspikes. They hadn’t been much use in the Berwyns but here on steep icy frozen ground they really came into their own and made the ascent plain sailing. They really are rather handy little pieces of kit, easy to put on and take off, light and effective. I’m a convert.

Chwarel y Fan

Steep section on Chwarel y Fan

Chwarel y Fan

Cresta Run

As we crested the edge up onto the wide broad ridge the wind howled in and it was proper winter up there. Driving spindrift and icy cold blasts had us retreating into our hoods as we pushed on past the Blacksmiths Anvil and on towards the high point of Chwarel y Fan.

Chwarel y Fan

TBF on the summit ridge

Chwarel y Fan

Into the clouds

In better conditions it’s a cracking high level ridge. Not exactly narrow but airy enough to give fine views and  sense of height. It was no day to be hanging around though so we pressed on along the ridge and down towards the end of the ridge at Bal Mawr. I’ve said before that I take a perverse pleasure in wild and wintry days like this. If you treat it with the right approach and are well protected from the elements you can feel a real sense of invigoration – makes you realise you are alive. The Black Mountains are not especially high or remote but weather like this gives them an altogether more serious air. I was loving this little battle with the elements and I was pleased to say TBF was too.

Chwarel y Fan

“Not cold – no really its not”

There is a very short sharp steep section just after the summit of Bal Mawr, easy with spikes but TBF found it a little harder. We were soon at the far-point of the walk and picked up the cracking path that doubles back and traverses the slopes below the ridge we’d just walked and slowly but surely descends back to the valley. It had stopped snowing by this time and the weather brightened a little. The sun nearly came out as well and for a while it was quite pleasant.

Vale of Ewyas

Crossing the wild moorland above the Vale of Ewyas

Vale of Ewyas

Vale of Ewyas

We took advantage and stopped above the valley for a cuppa and some lunch, enjoying the peace and quiet of midweek day in the mountains (we didn’t see anyone all day). The path returns to Capel y Ffin along a path that stays on the open moorland side of the farms and fields. It’s a really nice path but today it was a mix of wet snow and slimy mud. That combined with the fact that we needed to get back to pick the kids up from school pressured us into a quicker pace and we didn’t enjoy it as much as we should. I was quite relieved when we re-appeared at the grassy shelf we’d crossed earlier and could drop back down to the car and head for home. The roads had completely cleared of snow so my worries of earlier were unfounded.

Chwarel y Fan

The ascent route

One of those days where the pleasures are less obvious but you don’t always need blue skies and sunshine for a fine day. Sometimes just a wild challenging walk in winter conditions with the other half will do very nicely.


10 responses to “A walk on the White side of the Black Mountains

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  1. “I needed some foreground to help and TBF was the only option hence her regular appearance in this post.”
    Hmmm – a remark not too dissimilar to that got me into hot water back in November. Tactless apparently.
    Sounds like I need to put some microspikes on my wishlist. We followed the footprints of someone wearing crampons on Arnside Knott last weekend. Thought that might have been a little unnecessary! Hopefully, it was somebody taking an opportunity to try out a Christmas present. Found some nice crisp snow yesterday but only in isolated patches. More anon, obviously.


  2. They just don’t seem to appreciate that we’re raising their global profile, bringing them fame and fortune 🙂

    Micro spikes are well handy for the 1-2 times a decade we get the right conditions. Seriously a great addition (buy the expensive variety, much better), very quick to fit and light to carry.


  3. I hope you’d got some microspikes for TBF to use as well 🙂 It wasn’t clear in your post………..


    • Well, errr, actually, errr, no! Mind you I’m much clumsier than she is. I have a whole range of scars from careless incidents both in the hills and elsewhere. I should have that black and yellow tape cordoning me off!


  4. Invigorating it looks too, well suited to the monochrome landscape. Just the weather for a good hat with the hood pulled up over it.


  5. Hi Andy, I try to reach you this way because I couldn´t find an e-mail.
    I started a blog about the nature of the Cantabrian Mountains (northern Spain), which will have a lot of information about walking and landscape, and also about wild flowers (orchids), animals and geology which can be found in this region.
    I think those mountains are a lovely place for walking.
    The link is


    I invite you to have a look, and if you think it´s worth it, I would appreciate a link from your website.

    Sincerely yours,

    Marius van Heiningen


  6. Two winters now I have had microspikes and not yet needed them, the snow never being icy enough. One day though when I have left them at home…………..



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