Archive for the ‘Black Mountains’ Tag

Grey Autumn   14 comments

Short post from a short walk on a grey day. Grey seems to be the over-riding colour for this autumn. Probably a little unfair as my previous post was sunny and my next one will be. Probably my impression is coloured by my efforts to take outdoor exercise every day so I see a lot of grey as it were!

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Bryn Arw is a favourite for this sort of outing when you need a short walk or the day just doesn’t justify a full outing.

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Small, perfectly formed and with great views of the surrounding mountains.

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It still surprises me that on dozens of walks up here I rarely see anyone else. I suspect everyone heads for the more popular hills of Ysgyryd Fawr and Sugar Loaf. The latter in the background here.

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Distant brightness beyond the Forest of Dean, likely Avon or Somerset.

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The aforementioned Ysgyryd Fawr.

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The grassy path along the summit ridge is always a pleasure to walk even on a grey, cool and windy day like this one.

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The highest summits of the Black Mountains.

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And on our way back, a Dovecote with some real Doves resting on the roof! I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen that before

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Posted October 31, 2021 by surfnslide in Black Mountain, Wales, Walking

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Beat the Heat   9 comments

It was now a proper heatwave – by that I mean it was far too hot in the middle part of the day for any form of strenuous exercise. Keen to keep my regime going I tried an early morning walk in the Black Mountains before work.

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Only partially successful. As you can see, the views were magnificent but even at 7am at a thousand feet it was still 20C with barely a breath of wind.

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The steep climb to the Cats Back ridge had me sweating even at this early hour, compensated by the fact I had the whole place to myself.

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Once the steep initial climb is done, its pretty much level all the way along the ridge to the summit trig pillar on Black Hill.

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I was enjoying being out and wondering just how hot it would be up here at the height of the day.

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Summit of Black Hill in the distance.

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North over the valley that sources the Monnow river.

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Across the Olchon Valley to the highest summits of the Black Mountains.

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I stopped for a cuppa when I found a spot with the merest hint of a breeze.

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Not a bad spot for the first brew of the day.

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Time to head back down the ridge and head home – I do have a job you know!

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Hotter and more tiring than I imagined but the best time of day to be out and about. Back at my desk just after 9.

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Next Local Classic on the To-Do List   4 comments

With a new job seemingly in place I was down to my last couple of days of freedom. The weather was still in uncertain mode, plenty of showers but I was determined to make the most of every chance I had.

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The day after my birthday trip I’d been up Merbach Hill to see if the bluebells were out. They were, but in nothing like the display of last year so on a grey day I took no photos. Possibly the cooler spring was holding them back or reducing their numbers.

The day after looked more promising albeit still with showers forecast so it was time to revisit another old favourite, Ysgyryd Fawr. My new preferred route is from Llanvihangel Crucorney. Its a longer more varied route across the fields to the base of the hill and more importantly you can park for free!

Things didn’t look promising when I set off with dark brooding clouds and a spit of rain.

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However there was blue sky so I was hopeful I might see the sun. Fortune favours the brave.

These dead trees (I’m guessing they may be Elm’s killed by the ravage of the disease) are a stark and evocative sight on the way up

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As I climbed the weather brightened and my hopes for a dry sunny walk improved. A couple of calls from my agency and it appeared my return to work would have to wait a few more days while the paperwork was sorted out. A few more weekday walks then!

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When I reached the summit there was plenty of blue sky and sunshine mixed with dark brooding clouds. A perfect day for clear views.

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Looking along the ridge to Abergavenny and Blorenge.

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The main Black Mountains range.

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The Sugar Loaf and Bryn Arw.

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Last time I was up here the summit path was very badly eroded. Since then it appears they have been doing path repairs. I used to find these gravel paths a bit unsightly but I should trust that these people know what they are doing. Similar paths in the Black Mountains are now grassing over around the edges, narrowing into what look like more natural paths. Lets hope the same effect is achieved here on this very popular and busy summit.

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The walk along the ridge was, as always a delight. One of the most prominent peaks in this corner of Wales.

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I returned along the eastern flanks to stay in the sun while it was still out. There were impressive, if small, patches of bluebells on display among the sparse trees.

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To complete a circular I followed the Beacons Way for a while across the wide open fields. The weather had really delivered a huge slice of luck for me and this stretch in abundant sunshine had me reaching for sunglasses.

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Looking back to Ysgyryd Fawr.

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Out to the Black Mountains.

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The gorse has started to flower now as well and makes a great foreground to any photo.

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Back to Lllanvihangel and its church just before the heavens opened. Lucky indeed!

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Different Perspectives on the Sugar Loaf   6 comments

Another day and another forecast of morning sunshine and afternoon showers. Rinse and repeat then, early start and breakfast on the hill.

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A stunning morning, crystal clear sharpness to the air and warm sunshine (out of the wind anyway)

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Just a delight to be out and about on a morning like this.

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Ysgyryd Fawr showing itself.

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Sugar Loaf rising above us.

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Never noticed this little pond before. Provides a nice foreground to the Black Mountains behind.

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The forecast was for showers to move in by late morning but so far there was no sign of anything in the way of significant clouds.

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We took our usual and now preferred route, following the balcony path that cuts up and across the NE slopes of the Sugar Loaf.

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Clear views all the way to the Beacons.

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The short rocky ridge that leads to the summit.

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The summit was unsurprisingly busy – its a very well known and easily accessible peak – but also chilly in the wind.

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I reckoned I could find a much better spot for breakfast just below the top, out of the wind with not a soul in sight. Another cracking hill breakfast was in order.

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We’d planned to head back to the car straight after breakfast but the weather seemed set fair so we extended the walk.

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The Sugar Loaf radiates out several ridges to the SW so we followed the one marked as Rholben on the map down towards the outskirts of Abergavenny.

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Downside it involves a significant descent and then re-ascent to pick up one of the other ridges back towards the car. Compensation provided from the stunning open woodlands and their spooky moss covered trees.

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Both the ridges (the second one marked as Deri) make for superb easy walking on grassy paths that always put a spring in my step.

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The clouds were gathering but not before we’d squeezed in another stop for a brew.

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A great view of Ysgyryd Fawr from here.

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Storms passing us by.

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Looping back round, we completed this ridge (first time I’d ever walked either) back to the car.

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Like the previous day we broke away from our standard route of a walk to explore something new that delivered another great day.

New Beginnings   12 comments

31st March represented a change of circumstances for me. After over 9 years (with a couple of breaks), I completed my project and program at EE and decided it was time to move on to something new. I’ll be looking for work over the next couple of months but for now it was time for a break and spend some time with the family over Easter.

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Good Friday looked dull and cloudy but late morning saw the skies start to clear so we decided to head out for a short walk. By the time we’d parked up it had turned into a glorious day of sunshine and cloudless blue skies, if a little chilly in the brisk wind.

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Time for classic short circuit around the Black Darren land slip, short stretch of the ridge along Offa’s Dyke and back to the car.

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The little ridge looked fantastic on such a clear day.

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The views were stunningly clear.

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Me and TBF decided to tackle the short steep scramble while TJS preferred the easier walking option.

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It’s a grand little ridge with some interesting moves although over all too quickly.

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TBF in action.

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And posing for the photo after the crux move.

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The little grassy ridge that follows is a delight, expansive views and much like the Cats Back ridge (seen here in the background to the right) very much out of character with the rest of the range.

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Magnificent views across the Shire.

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TJS playing catch up.

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Ascending the final path to the broad ridge.

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The little pool that marks the point where you follow the thin paths back down to the road.

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Looking back to our way up.

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And a final view across to the Olchon Valley and Cats Back ridge. Easter and my own brave new world off to a great start.

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Above the Clouds Part 2   6 comments

Enough of grey cold days and wanders around local fields, time for some sunshine and some mountains.

Our new approach of early starts delivered big time. It was cold and foggy when we set out from home but 30 minutes later we through and above it at the Cats Back Car Park with sensational views.

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Not quite as spectacular as our visit to Hergest Ridge in November but not too shabby and an altogether sunnier day.

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Most of the Shire was blanketed in fog with just a few isolated small hills poking through. Not only that, at this early hour we had the hills to ourselves.

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The sky was a spectacular clear blue and the walk along the Cats Back was amazing, awesome etc, choose your own adjective.

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The fog bank below showed no signs of clearing so the white wonderland beneath our feet stayed with us most of the day.

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I’d dressed for winter but with almost no wind and the sun starting to generate some warmth as winter recedes I was soon removing thermals.

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The ridge is a pretty special walk on most days but under these conditions was truly wonderful.

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A mile or so grassy ridges with the odd rocky outcrop. A ridge like this is very unusual in South Wales.

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It took us a long while to walk its length such were the frequency and length of the stops to take it all in and capture some images.

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This is looking across to Aconbury Hill and Garway Hill – two of our little local hills.

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The colour of the sky is amazing at this early hour – well worth the 7am alarm call.

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The ridge comes to an end at Black Hill, all too soon really.

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We agreed that the walk out to Hay Bluff was worth it today. Its a long stretch but we wanted to see if there was some “above the clouds”effects in the Wye Valley.

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Its an easy and pretty much level stroll so hardly a chore on a day like this.

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Clouds hugging the top of Lord Hereford’s Knob.

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TBF enjoying a short break on the top of Hay Bluff

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And our reward, a spectacular cloud inversion over the Wye Valley

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And the author enjoying the day (I find it hard to smile in a selfie)

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We had bent the rules a little as the stretch across the background is actually entirely in Wales! Rest assured we parked up in England and the vast majority of the walk is either in England or along the border.

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As we took the long easy amble along Offa’s Dyke atop the main ridge the mists still seemed to be hugging the low lying land to the east of the mountains.

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We had our only tweak of ill luck when planning a lunch stop. The sky was still largely blue but there was a static and persistent block of cloud that obscured the sun just where we wanted to stop. The next couple of images make it look like the weather had turned but either side of this cloud bank all was sunny.

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Still with expansive views across the Olchon Valley you can’t grumble.

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The fog seemed to clear almost without noticing in a very short time period. By the time we were back at the car about an hour later, it had all gone and the skies were clear and blue and the sun shining abundantly again.

A superb 3/4 day out and back in time for afternoon games.

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Cold!   6 comments

A short post remembering that winter is still fresh in the memory now that we have the first signs of spring appearing.

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One of our go-to short walks in the Black Mountains, a circuit of the landslip at Black Darren above Longtown. Another early start to fit in walk before the forecast snow arrived in the afternoon.

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Not that many photos, partly due to the fact it was a bleak grey day and partly because it was shockingly cold. Car was showing -5C when we parked up and the brisk wind made taking hands out of gloves for a photo an undesirable experience. Easily feeling well into minus double figures with windchill.

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It was bracing to be out and we had the hills to ourselves at an early hour on a chilly day.

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The walk back along the lane to the car had its interest. Wet roads had frozen into solid patches of ice that needed some precarious traverses to get past. Out, walked and back home before 11am for late breakfast and our now regular weekend activity of board and card games.

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New Take on an Old Favourite   10 comments

With the weather being less than sunny the past few weeks, my chances to get outdoors for exercise have been few and far between (indeed its pretty awful today and not much better tomorrow). Spending most of my working day in front of laptop screen means that spending another hour doing the same thing has not been an attractive proposition, hence the blog silence for a couple of weeks.

Time to rectify that with memories of cracking day (3 weekends back I think) at the start of the cold spell.

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Trying not to drive too far and with Wales out of bounds, the eastern edge of the Black Mountains was the target. We normally only take short walks on this side parking high up but after our walk from Longtown the previous week we decided to start from there and walk all the way up to the main ridge, not something we’ve ever done before.

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A gorgeous morning, clear blues skies set off against the verdant green fields and a dusting of snow on the summits.

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We followed the same route up to the base of the open access land that we took the previous weekend. There are plenty of paths but not all of them are easy to navigate (as we also found out the previous weekend), so knowing this was easy to follow and no muddy impediments made for an easy choice.

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On a sunny day these are enjoyable sections and we didn’t see a soul all the way, another good reason for choosing this route.

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We reached the same point as last weekend but this time turned the other way to head for a path up onto the main ridge.

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There is an easy, if long, gently ascending diagonal path all the way to the top of the edge.

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Views across the Shire.

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As we climbed we reached a patchy line of wet snow.

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The path reaches the edge at the point of the Black Darren landslip that we’ve climbed many times.

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Almost within a few metres underfoot conditions were transformed to full winter with powdery snow and everything frozen solid.

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From here on, with all the ascent done, it was a pure delight to walk along the top in the crunchy snow and ice.

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I can’t be 100% sure but I think the couple of miles we walked SE along the ridge was the first time I’d done this particular stretch. If so it added and extra frisson of excitement to what was already a magnificent day.

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No greater feeling than walking on crisp snow on a clear blue winters day.

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And a Trig Pillar I don’t think I’ve bagged before.

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I love the contrast between winter in the foreground and the green fields below.

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Looking to Hatterrall Hill with Sugar Loaf in the background.

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The higher summits in Wales seemed to be experiencing much more in the way of clouds and likely that’s where we’d have been in normal circumstances.

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It was windy and pretty cold up top, but we did find a sheltered spot for lunch and a cuppa. It was here that we saw our only 3 people of the day, a couple out hiking and lone mountain biker taking extreme care on the icy path.

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We had thought about carrying on to Hatterrall Hill but decided we’d been far enough on a short winter day. We took another diagonal rake back down to the base of the access land.

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For a time we were full on into the face of the wind and out of the sun. It was perishingly cold and I pretty much ran down to reach the sun again!

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The path along the base of the edge was better than I thought. Rather it being the mud-bath I’d assumed it was more rocky and therefore running with water, effectively a stream and easy to stay dry. Where it did turn muddy there was a grassy field to traverse just above it that gave a very pleasant walk.

We dropped down to the valley bottom and crossed more delightful fields to Clodock and its church.

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We’ve stopped for a picnic with the kids here a few times and as with all our local churches it gives a fine backdrop to a blue sky.

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Apart from one extremely muddy stile the walk is finished by more fields of sunshine.

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Back to our new favourite walk start point at Longtown village hall. 8 miles of winter wonder.

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Local Walks for Local People   17 comments

So back into Lockdown we went. As with everything this government does with the pandemic the rules and guidelines are vague, ambiguous and confusing. This is especially true when it comes to outdoor exercise. Having checked the legislation, travel and the associated distance to take exercise is not specifically limited. Its just states “local”, wahtever that means – different things to different people. Personally I don’t see an issue at all with a short drive to take a walk, providing you take your common sense with you. Here are two walks on consecutive days to illustrate my point.

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On the Saturday we needed some food shopping and drove into Hereford, our nearest location for Supermarkets. We decided to take a walk while we there, trying to follow the guidelines to keep it local, much as we would have done if we lived in the City. I’d worked out a walk along both banks of the river that would likely be about 3-4 miles and give us some fresh air and exercise on a largely gloomy day. We parked up in a far-flung and quiet corner of the car park.

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Despite having lived in the area for 18 years I know little of the city outside its shopping areas. It was nice to take some time out to see the local sights. Some classic views of the cathedral and old river bridge and this pedestrian crossing, named either the Jubilee or Victoria Bridge depending on who you talk to.

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We were lucky to take the walk when we did as a few days later this entire area was completely underwater after heavy rains. As I write those floodwaters are rising again after another wet weekend.

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Sadly the walk didn’t work out as well as expected. The riverside path on the south bank is no more and looks like its hasn’t been there for years. We had to resort to walking through housing estates, along busy main roads and then cycle paths to reach this, the Canary Bridge (no idea why its called that)

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An unusual construction and not something I even knew existed although TBF uses it a lot as she works round there and uses her bike to get to work some days.

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We squelched back into town across a few very muddy fields (likely they get regular deluges of flood water). There was a path along the north bank but the first section is by a large sewage works so I didn’t fancy that.

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Some more classic views of the cathedral from the Victoria Bridge. Finishing the walk through Castle Green Park and the very pretty back streets that surround it. Again not an area I’ve ever strolled through before.

So keeping it local. Number of people encountered or passed during the walk, I’d estimate around 100.

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Next day we did the unspeakable thing of driving a short distance (around 10 miles, maybe 3-4 miles further than we drive to collect shopping) for a walk from the small village of Longtown. It was a cold and dreary grey day so we planned a walk across the fields and along the base of the Black Mountains ridge and then back.

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While there I took another chance to see a local sight I’ve never visited before. Longtown Castle. Its small and free and would make a very nice spot for a summer picnic.

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There is a local myth that there is an underground passage from the castle to Llanthony Priory on the other side of the Black Mountains ridge. This would be a major acheivement seeing as the castle actually sits on a ridge of its own that falls away a few hundred feet down to the valley floor before the ridge rises. Its a nice story though!

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There are a whole array of paths across the fields so its always something of a voyage of discovery as to how easy they are to find and how muddy they might. The route up was excellent, paths well marked and not all that muddy. This is the path that runs along the bottom of the access land and for a half a mile or so was a rather fine grassy trod.

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It then deteriorated into more of a mud-bath with a built-in water supply so we decided to head back down. The route across the fields from here was the best part of the day with some fine walking across dry grassy fields with expansive views.

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Our planned route down was via the church and riverside walk at Clodock. However one of the fields had a mix of dense crops protected by an electric fence with sheep that had turned the rest of the field into an extreme muddy mess. Not fancying a slide or electrocution, we just headed back down, happy with our walk and the required exercise and fresh air.

So driving 10 miles out into the countryside to take a walk. Number of people encountered or passed during the walk, an exact 4. I know which walk I think was the best and safest option in the circumstances.

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White on Black (Hill)   14 comments

Our return from confinement coincided with the arrival of winter. We don’t see snow all that often down here, even less often to have it coincide with holidays or weekends. With plenty of the white stuff around we’d normally have head to the Welsh Mountains but they are out of bounds again for a while. Luckily the eastern side of the Black Mountains are in England so we headed to the base of the Cats Back ridge on Black Hill to take in some winter walking.

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The snow line was perfectly placed at just above car park height! Driving the narrow lanes in this part of the county can be a challenge in winter conditions (as the minibus driver who got stuck as we parked up found out!)

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A steep start had us quickly onto the Cats Back ridge and into the surprisingly deep and crisp snow.

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The clouds and watery sunshine setting off the scene perfectly.

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I’ve walked up here many times but never in snow. It’s a narrow ridge by south Wales standards, never difficult at any point but the compacted snow gave it a new sense of enhanced seriousness.

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Not exactly Crib Goch, Striding Edge or the Cuillin but a fabulous walk none the less.

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Its one to really savour in the right conditions as once you reach the start its pretty much level going for over a mile easy walking over the small rocky steps. To do so in snowy conditions was magnificent and a rarity in these globally warmed southern climes.

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Looking back down from near the summit of Black Hill.

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It’s a popular walk and most people turn back at the Trig point. We pressed on with a vague intention to reach the top of Hay Bluff.

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However as hardly anyone had walked this far, the compacted snow was replaced by deep drifts and it became hard going. The clouds and low angled light more than compensated for the exaggerated effort.

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We passed a couple and their very lively labrador who was having enormous fun in the snow, doing “zoomies” around us while we chatted.

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We decided that it would be a long and tiresome challenge to reach Hay Bluff in these conditions so we found a sheltered spot for lunch and decided to return down the Olchon Valley.

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No hardship in that, it’s a fine valley and very quiet. The steep section near the top took some care with the snow and icy rocks.

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The real care was needed near the bottom where the wet snow on the slick muddy ground increased the risk of an unwanted mud-slide!

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Our luck was in with self-isolation done, time at home and snowy conditions on our local hills to enjoy!

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Posted January 3, 2021 by surfnslide in Black Mountains, Walking

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