Still catching up on past adventures and walks. Mind you looking at the weather we have currently this walk could have just have easily taken place today rather than back in mid-February.
The little hill of Tor y Foel sits just the other side of the Talybont Reservoir from the main summits of the Brecon Beacons. It’s caught my eye on several walks, mainly as the end point of a long spur of moor and forest. It would make a great start or endpoint for a long circuit from Talybont, up over the eastern edges of the Beacons and back over this long ridge to Tor y Foel, in effect a round of the reservoir. But that was for another day. This day was grey and cold so just a short jaunt for me and TJS. I’d spied a nice circuit taking in the top and returning along the Usk Valley Walk by the canal. Rather than try to park in the busy village of Llangynidr we opted to park high on the ridge and take in the circuit from there. Not sure why it should feel so odd to start high, walk down and then back up to the start point but it always does. Must be my synchronised and ordered mind 🙂
6 miles, 1,700 feet of ascent
The views from the lofty perch where you park the car would be superb on a sunny day but today it was grey but the cloud was off the tops so not too bad. It was however startlingly cold with a keen wind and temperatures below freezing making for a chilly walk.
A brisk walk to the top and the wind was even keener. It was as cold as I’ve been out on the hills for a while and we barely paused as we admired the summit and ran off to find some shelter. It was a nice summit with great views as its fairly isolated, need to go back on a warm summers evening after work to enjoy it properly
TJS on the summit of Tor y Foel
Tor y Foel summit, Sugar Loaf & Black Mountains behind
The wind was blowing through every clothing gap, chilling us to the bone as we walked and half ran down the ridge. The ground was frozen solid and there was a very light dusting of snow. Be a good slope to ski on as it’s grassy and steep. Probably should have gone out this weekend but I’m prepping for a cold and wintry backpacking trip to the Western Highlands over Easter so I’m keen to keep my gear dry
Descending Tor y Foel
There is a band of trees about halfway down and this suddenly and unexpectedly gave shelter from the wind. It was amazingly calm and nothing like as cold so we stopped for lunch. Despite the weather it was actually warmer than the lunch stop we had in the sun on Crug Mawr the previous weekend.
From there it was a pleasant stroll over the frozen fields to Llangynidr. Quite an unusual feeling to walk on firm ground rather than the boggy muddy mess of the previous few months
Tor y Foel from Llangynidr
From Llangynidr it was onto the Monmouthshire a Brecon Canal. There were a few boats docked below the locks seemingly in for repair ready for the new season. Other than that there wasn’t a soul around so it was a very easy-going stroll along the banks of the semi-frozen canal.
Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal at Llangynidr
TJS had some fun poking holes in the ice with my poles
Breaking the Ice
I was surprised that TJS had not seen a canal lock before so I had to explain how the boats use them and what a marvellous and simple invention they were at a time before true industrialisation. I imagine cruising along in summer would be a nice day out but it’s not for me. I’d prefer to walk along these old byways and on this day it was undeniably enjoyable, especially as we were out of the cold wind
Tor y Foel from the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal
After a couple of miles the Usk Valley Walk makes a steady rising traverse across the fields back to the road where we parked the car. Unspectacular on such a grey day but all part of a varied day with some decent views across to the western Black Mountains and the Sugar Loaf
Black Mountains from the Usk Valley Walk
All that remained was a walk back along the road to the car. Cold and grey but a fine walk to be repeated and you can have too much blue sky and sunshine
I like to think of myself as a budding local expert on the Black Mountains having been exploring them since I moved to the area in 2002 and especially in the last couple of years. I’m always on the look out for new routes to get some new perspectives and experience a different flavour. After a comment exchange with James over at Backpackingbongos I came across his route on Crug Mawr and the Twyn y Gaer Hill Fort. The latter with its long low ridge towards the main Black Mountains summits has caught my eye several times without ever tempting me enough to scale it. Crug Mawr I never really noticed before so the route was confirmed. As always these days the budding mountaineer and walker that is my son, the Junior Sherpa accompanied me.
9 Miles, 2,300 Feet of Ascent
It was fairly cloudy when we set off from home and the start of the walk in Grwyne Fawr Valley was in dark woodland. As we set off through the forest there was a promising glimpse of blue above the canopy.
Sun through the canopy
I’m not a great fan of forestry plantation roads but this one was fine with shafts of bright sunlight to lead the way.
Pastures in the forest
We headed onwards through the trees to emerge at the buildings of Ffordd Las Fawr. James had mentioned that he stayed here with friends when he did the walk before and how fantastic a spot it was. It’s no longer occupied and boarded up but the charm of the place is still apparent. There was a sign at the bottom of the hill noting a planning application so hopefully someone will restore it to greater glory. For now I took some photos for James, dreamt of turning this into my home and moved on.
Ffordd Las Fawr
Ffordd Las Fawr
Ffordd Las Fawr
From here the route climbs steeply through the woods and boy are the trees dense here. It was quite extraordinarily dark. I was expecting fire-breathing dragons and ogres to lurch from the depths and take us for a snack. No such excitement but it was strangely eerie and unsettling nonetheless. I tried a few photos but it was just too dark. After passing through a couple of clearings we emerged on the ridge into bright blue skies and blazing sunshine, it felt almost springlike.
Black Mountains from the ridge to Crug Mawr
Across the Vale of Ewyas to Hatterrall Hill
All around was the desolation of cleared forest. I guess it will take generations, if ever, for the landscape to recover its former state. I’m really not a fan of the blankets of coniferous plantations that cloak large portions of our uplands but they seem to be clearing now slowly but surely. We turned and headed for Crug Mawr at the southern end of the long ridge that stretches from Waun Fach, the highest of the Black Mountains. As we approached the top the wind kicked in and it suddenly turned from spring back to winter. It was bitingly cold.
TJS on Crug Mawr summit
The views more than compensated. All a round was blue sky and dark brown heather and bracken clad mountains. The summit is only 550m but it feels higher such is the feast of views spread out beneath.
Waun Fach from Crug Mawr
Sugar Loaf from Crug Mawr
I could have lingered longer but the cold forced us to move off and down the faint path along the slopes towards Partrishow . After a rather brief and cold lunch spot (it was one of those days when the wind searches you out wherever you sit) we headed down to the valley bottom again past the beautiful stone church of Partrishow.
Time to head back up again and we followed a succession of green lanes and paths, twisting and turning this way and that until we finally emerged onto the open slopes of the Twyn y Gaer Hill Fort.
The top was surprisingly crowded with several families playing army and rolling about on the slopes of the old grass ramparts. It had clouded over a bit but the wind had dropped and we found a quiet sheltered spot behind a gorse bush for a snack. The long ridge stretched out before us towards Bal Mawr and the sun returned as we rested. The views were as excellent as I hoped.
Black Mountains from Twyn y Gaer Hill Fort,
Hatterrall Hill from Twyn y Gaer Hill Fort
I was pleased to add another mental chapter to my book “Small Hills with Disproportionately Great Views” I checked the map and realised it was quite a stroll back to the car so we pressed on down the easy angled slopes and along the ridge. The first part was enclosed by forest and walls but soon opened out to a narrowing grassy ridge with superb views out to the NE over the Vale of Ewyas.
Twyn y Gaer Hill Fort
As the path climbs the ridge towards Bal Mawr, our route took us off on a quite splendid path traversing back above the Grwyne Fawr Valley. The skies had cleared again and we were treated to more spring-like sunshine and golden hillsides.
Black Mountains and the Grwyne Fawr Valley
TJS on the final leg
It really was a terrific walk this one and one I’d be glad to repeat in stages as a post work walk. All that remained was to follow the path down to the forests and back to the car. Quite a long day in the end at just over 9 miles, both me and TJS were a little weary by the end, both ready for our Sunday Roast when we got home.