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FA Cup Final Warm-up – Hay Bluff and Black Hill   4 comments

As part of my personal drive to get out more often, keep my weight in check and so protect my knees, I woke early and decided to head out for a half a day. My footy team Manchester City were playing in the FA Cup Final so I could do a brisk walk and still be home in time for a lazy afternoon in front of the TV to watch the match. I didn’t want to drive far so I headed to the car park at the foot of the ridge known locally as the Cats Back for a circuit of the upper reaches of the Olchon valley

The forecast was for a sunny morning with heavy showers for later in the day so I was out of the house and in the car park with my boots on before 8am. To say I was a trifle disappointed to see that the clouds were on the ridge and looking dark and threatening with rain in the air is an understatement. It was cold and windy which made my choice of shorts instead of trousers something of a schoolboy error. If the clouds continued to build I was likely to get a real soaking but seeing as I was here I thought I’d give it a go. The advantage of this kind of weather is an exceptional clarity to the light especially at this early hour.

Main ridge looking south from the car park

The car park is up at 400m and is a cracking place for a picnic (in warmer weather). There was no-one about as I set off, choosing to walk down into the valley before climbing up to the main ridge and then back along the Cats Back rather than face the steep climb back to the car at the end of the walk. The early morning views were stunning in particular this photo of tree in full bloom and a rainbow against the backdrop of the mountains.

As always I needed my mate ED to tell me what the tree is as I’m hopeless. I really must get a pocket, interactive or holographic version of him to take on walks with me – where is Star Trek Tech when you need it. Or a book!

The fields under the trees as I climbed out of the valley were still thick with Bluebells although dying off now. As you exit the trees you face a long raking climb right across the east flank of the main ridge.

The bracken was still just unfurling but it grows at an astonishing rate and to an equally astonishing height. Once you get beyond June it can be real barrier to the higher hills on the Black Mountains unless you stick to the popular paths. At times it’s like walking through a hedge maze but for now it was just a pleasant green addition

One of the other minor problems with these less-frequented paths is they tend to disappear as the gradient eases leaving with you a few hundred feet of heather, grass and bilberries to wade through. Finding them from the top is a matter of pure luck, another reason I chose this way round. By the time I reached the broad path along the ridge I realised it was very windy and very cold, time for fleece, gloves, hat and trousers – oh of course I’d forgotten the trousers – idiot. Still the weather had improved markedly and the black clouds had pretty much melted back.

Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr

I strode on briskly (too cold to do much else). One of the nice things about the Black Mountains is once on the ridge it’s pretty flat so you can lose yourself in your own world and just plod or motor on as the mood takes you. Between admiring the view and reliving the many routes I’ve done in the area my mind wandered all over the place from the usual work problems, to planning the upcoming holidays and of course how the game was going to go later.

Looking south, Ysgryd Fawr and Sugar Loaf in the distance

Almost before I knew it I was at the point where you can decide whether to turn right and start heading back over Black Hill or extend the walk to take in Hay Bluff. I was feeling pretty chipper so decided to do the extra bit.

Looking north to Hay Bluff

Well worthwhile as Hay Bluff is a cracking viewpoint over the Wye valley and across to the Brecon Beacons.

Lord Herefords Knob and Brecon Beacons from Hay Bluff

Wye Valley from Hay Bluff

Still too windy to linger so I immediately started heading back. Just after I headed off towards Black Hill I suddenly felt weary and found a sheltered spot for a rest and snack. Checking my GPS tracker I realised I’d done 6 miles straight in a little over 2 hours – no wonder I was knackered. As I set off I was overtaken by several fell runners, then more and more and more. It was clear there was a bit of race or event on, confirmed by the presence of a couple of tents and some people with clipboards on the path. I was going to stop and ask them what it was all about but they were all busy checking people in and recording times etc so I pressed on. As I continued towards Black Hill I came across an excellent sheltered spot for a campsite tucked away next to the path, an excellent place for an overnight stop although you’d have to carry a load of water up. I reached the trig point where the sun came out again and the views were great.

Black Hill

You can even see my house from here (well nearly). The photo below is of the Madley Satellite Earth Station and I live about a mile to the left in this photo.

Madley - nearly

To finish the route you walk down over the Cats Back – what passes as a narrow ridge in the Black Mountains. Not exactly Crib Goch but an airy walk with wonderful views over Herefordshire and back across the Black Mountains. Its a short walk and easy climb from the car park, so I’ve been up here several times in all seasons. The kids like it as there are plenty of rocky bits to scramble about on. L was up here last week on her Longtown adventure trip.  I took loads of photos to try and capture the sense of the ridge so hope the one’s I’ve chosen do it justice.

Cats Back Ridge

Cats Back Ridge

Cats Back Ridge

Looking across to where I’d gone up you could clearly make out the blueish tint of the bluebells in the meadows I walked through on the way up. I tried a photo or two but it didn’t show through. The weather had held off for me and it was almost warm as I started to head down.

Olchon valley

When I reached the car I was surprised to find that the walk was a few yards shy of 9 miles (I thought it was about 6) with 2,500 feet of ascent that I’d done in about 3.5 hours. Not bad!

Full Flickr Photo set here

Time to head home for a well-earned brunch of Mexican scrambled eggs and then settle down for the cup final.



Days don’t get much better than this!

Posted May 14, 2011 by surfnslide in Black Mountains, Walking

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