I’ve been making promises to myself to get out and do more back packing and wild camping. I read lots of blogs and trip reports about cracking trips, mostly short to take advantage of quality weekend time but I never seem to get around to it. That’s all going to change. Armed with a new tent and after a rushed packing/eating session we’d eaten tea and were out walking in the Black Mountains by 6pm
It was great to be out after work. Less than two hours after shutting the lid on my work laptop at home I was on my way up the Cats Back ridge
As we raced up the sun went down
The light was spectacular and of course at this time on a Friday we had this most wonderful ridge to ourselves
We hurried on past the trig pillar on Black Hill towards our intended overnight stop
I’d had my eye on a spot a mile so beyond for several years. A small sheltered area of grass just off the path. Its always been dry but after the recent snowfall and heavy rain it was very soggy. We managed to get the tent up and settled inside just as it got dark.
Also had a new tent to play with. Since the demise of my Quasar I don’t have a two-person tent (other than my Lightwave which is really for 3 people and is pretty heavy). Bring on the Nigor Parula 2. I’m pretty impressed as it’s amazingly light for a two-person tent (around 1.8kg) and fits my needs for two porches and an ability to sit up in comfort. I’m still getting used to its pitching subtleties (especially the porches to stop them sagging) but so far so good. It did pass my first major test in that the very light and thin groundsheet was pitched on some seriously wet ground without any water ingress. I should however point out that seriously impressive tents are seriously expensive!
Not the driest or flattest pitch but we slept well through a cold night.
We woke the next morning to a frosty and damp tent and glorious sunshine
I left TJS to snooze while I wandered about to soak up the scene. I can almost see our village from the top but it felt a world away up here.
I smiled as abundantly as the sun shone, and settled down for a hearty and not very healthy breakfast of bacon butties and jaffa cakes. TJS joined me eventually and we savoured the morning and a long leisurely feast
Packed and ready for the off we considered our route. It was only a one night outing as I’d planned some cycling in the Peak District the following day. Originally we were just going out to Hay Bluff before returning to the car via a round of the Olchon Valley. As the weather was so grand we decided to extend the walk by taking in Lord Herefords Knob and heading back to the car via Capel y FFin
The high level path along to Hay Bluff was superb
The views from the summit over the Wye Valley to the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain even better
We both seemed untroubled by the heavier packs than we’d use for a day walk and made swift and easy progress to the summit of LHK.
The views were still superb but there was a very keen and very cold wind so we didn’t linger. Rather than walk along the Darren Lwyd ridge, right into the wind we opted for the Nant Bwch valley for some shelter
Its a lovely valley with a series of small waterfalls and grassy patches for a lunch stop. Make a decent camp as well although its only a few minutes from the end of the road
The Vale of Ewyas is one of the finest valleys in the UK in my opinion. A walk along it or above it as always a pleasure especially on a warm sunny day. Spring really did feel in the air down here
The downside of the walk extension was having to climb up, over and down one of the Black Mountains main ridges. Sheltered from the wind it was a steep and sweaty climb. I was beginning to think I should have brought shorts
That changed swiftly as we reached the ridge. We were exposed to the wind and thoughts of shorts turned to thoughts of hats and gloves. It was bitterly cold and we had to move quickly to descend the other side to try and reach shelter from the next ridge
Ample compensation was provided in the views across the pastoral Herefordshire countryside and the ridge we’d walked the night before
One last steep descent and one last final climb back up to the car completed a very fine short overnight adventure.
TJS hasn’t been out much recently and he really seemed to enjoy the trip and the long walk in the sunshine. He’s badly out of shape though and was stiff for the next day or so and struggling to keep up with the old man on the ascents. He does take over on the downhill bits but I have my bad knees excuse for that
First part of adventurous weekend for me. More two-wheeled outdoor action planned for the Sunday
Back to a gloomy January day in the UK. Our first weekend home after the holidays really made us feel at home. Grey skies and seemingly endless drizzle. Well not totally endless as it did stop for a couple of hours allowing a quick dart up the Cats Back ridge in the Black Mountains with TBF
The weather changed pretty quickly from gloomy to a rather impressive interlude of watery sunshine and above the cloud effects
Any walk of this local ridge is a fine one, being one of the very few narrow (ish) ridges in south Wales. We were lucky to catch such an atmospheric interlude
As we reached the summit of Black Hill the lower cloud was starting to dissipate and the blue skies were being replaced by gloom again. We had thought of extending the walk but it looked rain was heading back so we did as well
It may have been a short walk but it was a nice one all the same to liven up a typical January weekend
Back to mid-April and an opportunity for a short walk with TBF along The Cats Back
Another chance to play with the Panorama function on the camera. Still rather difficult to get right but its coming along
There was some bright sunshine but also dark stormy clouds
We got caught by one rather nasty hail storm as it bounced its way on us and through, but it stayed dry after that
The return along the Olchon Valley is a fine one. Alas the local hill plague that are trail bikes have found it. The path was one long line of rutted wheel tracks where once there was a grassy path. Every step I took just mad me angrier and sadder. These monstrosities are slowly destroying most of the paths in the Black Mountains. The damage in some places is heartbreaking and likely irrepairable. Its rare to walk in these fine austere hills without hearing their annoying waspish buzz and smell of petrol at some point. Something should be done about this but I can’t see what
Makes me very depressed now as I think about that walk down the path
And rain it did. We had a day of solid rain and after another morning of it I was going stir crazy. 1pm it stopped and I reckoned I had enough time for a very quick blast into the Black Mountains. The nearest spot is Black Hill at the end of the Cats Back ridge so the plan formed itself as I only had a couple of hours daylight. I’ve done this walk and it’s derivatives many times before in many seasons so you can read about previous visits in May 2011, January 2012, July 2012, May 2013
This time I decided to walk up the road to the path at the head of the Olchon Valley and return along the ridge in the hope that the clearing weather would be at it’s best just as it was getting dark. It was dark stormy and very windy when I set off.
Now for reasons that escape me I had decided that trail shoes would be ideal for these conditions. Within 5 minutes I had reached a flood that filled the road completely. Being something of an agile sort I fashioned a technical route around by hanging onto a fence above the water. Being something of a clumsy sort I promptly fell off into the water. No need to worry about how waterproof my trail shoes were as the water was shin deep.
I squelched on safe in the knowledge that I had the answer to a question I’d posed myself as to what trail shoes are like in winter when your feet are wet. Answer = wet (and cold).
There were a few hardy souls out but in essence I had the mountains to myself. The streams were roaring to compete with the howling wind.
The photos show I hope the flavour of the afternoon, essentially very dark with the threat of storms in all directions
Still, after a couple of days indoors I enjoyed the bracing air and the sense of challenge from walking in wild conditions with light fading. I was back at the car before dark, glad to get my soaking trail shoes off and head home for the warm comforts and couch potato fulfilling activities that I’m best known for
After our nice weekend down in the Gower we had friends coming to stay. My mate Mark of Beating the Bounds fame (of sorts) was bringing his family down for another visit to my adopted Herefordshire home. They paid us a visit last year and despite the worst of the weather that a British summer can throw at you, we had a great time. They were so impressed they bought the T-shirt and decided to do it all over again.
The signs were not promising. After heavy rain forced us to abandon our Gower trip half a day early, it carried on raining through the night and the rest of the next day. It was still raining when they arrived to much rolling of eyes. Surely it couldn’t be that bad again. The next day was a carbon copy of the previous year, dull, cold, dreary and wet. Corners of mouths were very much down. We got lucky however and the rain stopped just long enough for a short drive and walk up on Garway Hill.
The views from up here on a clear day are expansive but despite the sun and some blue sky putting in appearance it was clearly just a small window in the wet. The dark clouds completely surrounded us and closed in. We timed it nicely though, reaching the car just as the rain started up again. At least we’d got out and had a stroll and some air. Tomorrow would be better surely
Summiting Garway Hill
It wasn’t. It was still dull and cloudy with frequent showers. TJS had been telling us that the weather was due to improve but he has a habit of using the BBC Weather website for his forecasts. Anyone who has ever been led down that particular garden path knows just how unreliable it is. Still we thought we had to get out and I handed out the options to the kids and they unsurprisingly chose the castle one. White Castle to be precise, quite close to home and somewhere I haven’t been for a few years. When we got there the weather looked brighter than it had done for a few days. Our luck had finally turned, we wouldn’t see rain again for the rest of the week
White Castle as you can see isn’t white at all but a rather fetching dark brown (or grey if you listen to TJS). In terms of the classic castle features of stairways and passages it’s a bit lacking and quite small. However it is very picturesque, tucked away in the quiet hills and off the beaten track, and it has a proper moat, something any self respecting castle should have. Even in holiday week we were pretty much the only visitors
It doesn’t take all that long to wander around the inner and outer courtyard and climb it’s only tower where there is a splendid view across to the nearby Black Mountains and Forest of Dean
Ysygyrd Fawr from White Castle
The kids were having fun though and there was bags of space to run around in and play medieval games of death
It’s a very tranquil place which more than makes up for it’s lack of spiral staircases (something else all castles should have if you ask me)
White Castle moat
The view across the moat is particularly evocative
After an hour of wandering and play it was time for lunch. I have to say that castle courtyards make very fine places for a picnic. The sun came out from time to time and we all spent a happy hour playing games and eating, or in my TBF’s case lying down on the picnic rug
TJS and The Dangerous Brothers
TJS & A
ED/TBF & DB Jr
Our castle fix fully satisfied we needed another place to fill the gap before tea. We headed for Rowlestone Court, home to a rather fine ice cream making facility and an adventure playground in the woods. After gorging ourselves on large cones we headed off to play. The rain of the previous days had turned the place into a mud-path (the farmer kindly scraped the slurry from the path for us where it crossed the farm track). Just the sort of place for sandals or so ED thought 🙂
The zip wire provided fun for all ages. Me and ED are far above such tomfoolery and kept a respectful distance.
DB Sr zipping it
TJS zips along
TBF having fun!
A pile of tyres full of muddy water provided a degree of fun out of proportion with its appeal. Together with the zip wire, a couple of climbing walls and some monkey bars we passed a happy couple of hours before it was time squelch back to the car.
Tyre’d out 🙂
TJS promise of good weather was finally delivered. The next day dawned warm and sunny and I declared it officially “play in the garden” day. Out came the paddling pool and the waterslide and the kids were as happy as pigs in mud. Which was just as well as all that water on top of a soggy lawn turned my garden into something approximating a pig pen. Still the kids and TBF’s seemed happy and content so I put the second part of my plan into action. ED needed, I felt, to see the local hills so off we sneaked for a swift stroll. I decided that the classic round of the Olchon Valley, returning via the Cats Back ridge would give him the flavour of the Black Mountains with the added advantage that its only 30 minutes from my front door. I’ve walked this route many times so just head to my categories section and you’ll find 3 or 4 posts, winter and summer that follow this route
ED, Olchon Valley
Olchon valley & the Cats Back Ridge
We followed the usual route down to the river and then steadily upwards through the sparse woods and bracken onto the edge. It really was quite hot, which came as a surprise to both of us. Rather than cut up to Offa’s Dyke and along the centre of the ridge we followed a succession of sheep tracks that kept close to the edge. I’ve never walked this part before so I rather enjoyed the change of scene. We put the world to rights, moaned about each of our work issues and generally talked about nothing in particular, the perfect way to spend a day in fact.
Head of the Olchon valley
At the head of the valley (having followed a group of sheep along the track for a couple of miles) we stopped for a flask of soup and a cuppa. We lazed on the grass and soaked up the sun, a pleasant change from the rain we’d soaked up the year before. We both love our kids to bits but sometimes it is nice to just enjoy a walk at your own pace without the constant nagging from one or other of them 🙂
Head of the Olchon Valley
Time was pressing and we’d promised everyone a BBQ. We decided against an out and back to Hay Bluff and settled for the glorious and easy stroll that is the Cats Back. I never fail to tire of this ridge. Black Mountains to the west and the carpet of green and fertile countryside that is Herefordshire to the east. I hope ED was impressed, nothing better than showing off your own favourites to an appreciative audience
ED on the Cats Back Ridge
Cats Back Ridge
Over all too soon and back to the madness of the family. We had a fine BBQ in the warm sunshine in the garden. A pretty good day if you ask me.
Onto the next day and sun was still shining so I plumped for a day out in the Elan Valley. Me and TJS had walked down the Rhiwnant Valley back in the winter and had decided it would be a fine place for a sunny stroll, picnic and a swim in the pool at the far end. Unfortunately whilst it was sunny it, the temperature had been removed for the day and it was more like March. Not a day for swimming. Undeterred, we walked up the valley for lunch.
Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley
We sat by the river, huddled in various nooks and crannies trying to stay out of the chill wind. Not exactly lazing on the grass sunning ourselves like I’d imagined the previous day but there you go. After lunch we decided to walk to the end of the valley by one of the old mining tracks
Climbing the Miners path
It was a really fine route with expansive views across the Rhiwnant Valley and to the wild and empty moorland above
High above the Rhiwnant Valley
The path had it’s interesting sections. In several spots it clung to the cliffs and was exposed enough to need a little care. In others, bog and tussocks cascaded down the hill like a waterfall making for some “challenging” walking (or wet feet to put it another way)
The path ends abruptly where it meets a narrow stream that tumbles down to the Rhiwnant in a series of dramatic gorges and waterfalls. Just my kind of playground, I need to come back in warmer weather and do some serious gorge scrambling here
Waterfalls at the head of the valley
The water empties into a stunning pool at the bottom, deep and clear and perfect for a wild swim if it hadn’t been so cold! Still it was warm enough to sit for a snack and brew and to allow the kids off the leash.
The junior Dangerous Brother seemed intent of trying to fall into each and every wet spot but to my amazement he never did. All the kids seemed to find the place interesting
DB Jr at play
It’s become one of my favourite spots in the UK. Don’t tell anyone about it!
Picnic in the sun
It was time to head home, back through the mine workings where the kids all found some wonderful minerals and crystals
DB Jr and the Rhiwnant Valley
Time for our friends to head home but ED had an idea to pay a visit to Stokesey Castle on the way. It’s less than an hour from home but I’ve never been. It was still warm and sunny so we took little persuading to make another day of things
It’s a splendid little spot, more a fortified manor house than castle. English Heritage do a great a line in audio commentaries at their properties and this was no exception. They can be a little cheesy but it really brings the place to life
In most castles you have to try and use your own imagination to visualise them as proper lived-in dwellings. In a well preserved place like Stokesey it’s so much easier and we spent a happy hour wandering into all it’s rooms and sharing in the passion for the various owners who have cared for and restored it over the years. It even has a tower and some steep stairs from the top of which are fine views across the Shropshire countryside
View north from the keep
Gatehouse from the keep
Ready for lunch
The story of the how the castle came to prominence and then fell into decline and dis-repair is a fascinating one. Luckily the right people came into ownership at just the right time to restore to what we see today. How many other similar places have not been so lucky have fallen into dereliction or worse, simply crumbled to dust. Sobering thought that so much history is likely to have been lost forever
Still we enjoyed the castle and returned to the grassy lawns outside for lunch
We concluded the day with a gentle stroll around the dry moat, providing an opportunity to view the castle from another angle. In DB Jr’s case to view it from a patch of nettles
Main Hall from the dry moat
The moat walk
TJS and ED on the final leg
An ice cream in the garden finished of the day perfectly but it was with a sad and heavy heart that we waved our guests goodbye. It’s great having them all down to stay, the kids get on really well and creates a lovely relaxed atmosphere that made the house feel rather empty when we got home. We’d had a really great week and the weather had been really good to us. There was so much more I wanted to show them but there will be other times I hope. To our friends from the North, thanks for being such great guests and we hope you enjoyed the stay. Reciprocation next year I hope 🙂
A little postette and a few photos from a short walk I did with TBF and D a couple of weeks back.
Cats Back & Black Hill
L was off at the Pantomime (Oh yes she was!) so we took a quick dash to the nearest high level walk I know. I’ve posted about this walk before so you can read about it here.
The death of Autumn
Safe to say it’s a short, sharp and sweet stroll – or in this case very cold and windy stroll – up on to the eastern-most ridge of the Black Mountains, along Offa’s Dyke for a mile or so and then back down through an old landslip area to the car.
Sugar Loaf & Black Mountains
I’ve done this walk many times. It’s ideal for a short time span, an after work walk or a short weather window. You get a great reward of views for very little effort and the scenery amongst the wreckage of the landslip is fascinating. We were forced to wait out a snow shower in the car before we set off and although it was darker and gloomier than the forecast there were enough shafts of sunlight playing on the fields and hills to make splendid views.
Black Darren & views across Herefordshire
Shafts of Sunlight
It’s great that D is a real mountain man now and seems to appreciate the mountains even in the less than perfect conditions. I’m taking great pleasure from his ever-increasing confidence and appreciation of the mountain environment and sharing my passion for the outdoors with him. TBF enjoys it too of course>
End of the day
Enjoy the Photos and the Slide show
Just a brief little postette of a walk that any regular readers of mine will know well now. The ridge of the Cats Back up to Black Hill doubles as the best and narrowest ridge in the Black Mountains and also the closest point of access to the hills to my home. I’ve been up here numerous times since I relocated to Herefordshire in 2002 and you can read about a summer trip last year and new year visit earlier this year for the full details.
This trip was a quick jaunt on a day of heavy showers with just me Jane and D while L was away on a Brownie trip to Warwick Castle. Jane is a supply teacher and has been taking a topic on the mountain environment at a local school for the last couple of terms. Part of this was a day trip to said mountain environment and I suggested the Cats Back and Black Hill as you start high and it’s a very easy walk to reach a significant point.
This walk doubled as nice afternoon in the fresh air and as a reconnaissance mission for Jane’s trip. She took a whole class up here a couple of days later and they absolutely loved it despite some wet weather. I guess many kids don’t ever get to experience the mountains (some were apparently rather poorly equipped :)) so it must have been a real sense of proper adventure for them, something us outdoor aficionados can often take a little for granted. While we were out there was another gaggle of kids making the walk so Jane got to see first hand what dragging a bunch of kids up a hill was going to be like
Anyway, safe to say we had a fine little stroll and we avoided getting wet and the sun even peeped out a couple of times. Just a couple of photos and a slideshow courtesy of Flickr to prove it