On a cold clear winters day the best time to be out is early morning. Having convinced TJS into an early start we settled on a route around Cwn Banw in the Black Mountains, one of my favorites. We were walking at just after 8am and it was a glorious albeit chilly morning at -5C
The silhouettes of the trees are always something that fascinates me and this morning at the early hour was a great time to capture them
The low morning sun also lights up the bracken and heather to very dramatic effect. It seems to glow with a warm deep brown contrasting to the frosty cold air
The plan was to breakfast on Table Mountain (this allows the early start and is also a rather fine thing to do). Even though the air was cold even in winter the sun has a little warmth. What we hadn’t banked on was the surprisingly strong wind that turned the chilly air into an a more arctic feel
Luckily Table Mountain has a terrace below its sloping flat top and we found a great spot in the sun but sheltered by the wind and overlooking the Usk Valley and the Brecon Beacons
Is there a finer way to spend a winters morning than a freshly cooked bacon sandwich and cup of tea overlooking the mountains under a deep blue sky? Answers on a postcard please
The pimple of the Sugar Loaf prominent in these parts as always
We ambled back over the grassland of Table Mountain and then onwards towards the higher summits
It really was most extraordinarily cold in the very strong wind. I would love one of those portable Kestrel weather stations but I estimated that with an air temperature a few degrees below freezing and the strong wind, the windchill must have been around -15C. We certainly didn’t stop!
We summited Pen Cerrig Calch from where the views were equally magnificent
Our goal of Pen Allt Mawr visible in the distance
A long and bracing walk along the edges above Cwm Banw brought us to the summit where we found a little shelter to admire the views once more
The views over Mynydd Troed and Mynydd Llangorse were especially fine from here
A pretty decent sunburst shot with some vapor trails to add interest
From here its always tempting to make a long round and include the main summits of the Black Mountains themselves. My knees aren’t really up for that at the moment and forecast was for increasing cloud through the day. No sense spoiling a great day so we plodded down the very fine and very frozen ridge of Tal Trwynau, pausing at the end for a final stop and snack in the sunshine
These two photos show what its like to go hiking with a 21st Century teenager. Head always looking down at their phone, lest they miss a vital social media message.
Over the fields and back to the car to finish a superb day out
The Xmas and New Year holiday had one overriding theme – RAIN – loads of it. This was I think the only day while I was off work when it didn’t rain at some point. Me and TJS made the most of it with a walk in the SW corner of the Black Mountains. By way of contrast me and TBF did pretty much the same walk in late September a couple of years ago in a mini-heatwave withe temperatures in the high 20’s. Route map and descriptions are in that post for the factual amongst you.
This time we had to amend the walk as the small parking space was full so some road walking was needed. We headed up direct onto Table Mountain past a couple of rather nice holiday cottages where much Xmas celebration had been going on judging the piles of bottles by the cars waiting to be taken out. The sky was a deep blue and the autumnal views (we haven’t really had a winter this year) were sublime
Up on Table Mountain there were groups of people watching the beagles following a trail on the hills
The summit of Pen Cerrig Calch there were flecks of snow to remind us that despite the warm start it was winter
The walking up here is easy and we covered good ground looking for a spot out of the wind for lunch. We managed to find a ledge near the top of Pen Allt Mawr tucked into the heather
We had an excellent view over Mynydd Llangorse and Mynydd Troed that we climbed last New Year
The Sugar Loaf with its prominent summit held my gaze and my lens all day especially as it caught the late afternoon sun
It wasn’t a day for stopping. Daylight is in short supply in December and this walk pushes ten miles. We managed to get back down to the road before it got dark. The long tramp back down the road to the car was pleasant in the encroaching darkness as we chatted over a fine expedition. Total darkness had enveloped us as we reached the car. An excellent and dry day, a rarity in the months that followed
As you may know if you’ve ever read my About page I’m employed by the communications giant Nokia as a Project Manager. Well at the end of September they decided in their infinite wisdom that they no longer needed me and several colleagues in Bristol and that they could run my small part of the Nokia world from the good old US of A. Well thanks a bunch. Luckily I have several months of consultations and what have you before I become another statistic of the economic crisis so no need to get a cardboard box out of the attic and pop down the off-license for a bottle of Thunderbird wine just yet.
As you may remember the end of September yielded a mini-heatwave in most parts of the UK. The day after this rather disappointing news I considered various options open to me and thought. “£$%! Nokia – I’m off to the hills for the day!”, so I shut down my laptop and accompanied by my lovely wife Jane headed into the Black Mountains between the school runs. I decided to show her the delights of the little known south-west ridges although most of the Black Mountains are “little known” to be fair.
We were parked up by 10am and said a cheery good morning to a couple of gents who looked like they were heading to Waun Fach. Our route was a round of Cwm Banw taking in Table Mountain, Pen Cerrig-Calch and Pen Allt Mawr. It was a stunning day with hazy sunshine and exceedingly hot (my car thermometer was showing 27 degrees when we pulled up).
As we traversed across the bracken slopes towards Table Mountain I began to hope that there would be some sort of breeze to cool us down – luckily there was and it was a perfect walking day.
Jane striding out
Table Mountain is prominent flat-topped eminence above Crickhowell, topped off by an old Iron-age hill-fort. It’s also known as Crug Hywel after a 10th century Welsh character responsible for a range of escapades including fighting off the Vikings on Anglesey and developing the “Laws of Wales”, aimed at freeing the common man from tyranny. There you go, history lesson over. Homework to be handed in on Friday
It’s also a top spot for a late breakfast in the warm sun. There wasn’t a soul about, one of the advantages of sticking two fingers up at your ungrateful employer on a Friday.
looking from Table Mountain to Pen Cerrig-Calch
Refreshed, we headed for the long pull up to Pen Cerrig-Calch, the highest limestone peak in a National Park dominated by old red sandstone.
They thought long and hard before coming up with the name for this one; cerrig is stone and calch is lime. See, you’re learning here.
It’s a strange summit of dark heather and peat and white limestone rocks.
Pen Cerrig-Calch summit
Pen Allt Mawr
As we headed on we were joined by gliders from the nearby airstrip at Talgarth.
Gliding over the Brecon Beacons
On to the high point of the day and lunch on Pen Allt Mawr again all to ourselves.
The views across to the Beacons and the rest of the Black Mountains were stupendous. Amazing to lie on a mountain top, in the warm sun in T-shirt and shorts on the last day of September. It felt that we had the whole national park to ourselves.
Waun Fach - highest point of the Black Mountains
Alas time was moving on and we had kids to collect so we strolled down under the dark mass of Pen Allt Mawr, past the ubiquitous group of wild horses, on to Pen Twyn Glas and turning SE to head along the Tal Trwynau ridge above the stunning Grwyne Fechan valley.
It’s a great extension to this walk to traverse Mynydd Lisiau and return down this valley but sadly we didn’t have time today (you can see a few photos on my Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains page)
The path works its way through some old quarries where we stopped for a final sunbathe.
The end of the ridge, Sugar Loaf behind
Jane is never happier than sitting with her face to the sun for a snooze. As we headed back to the car we came across one of the biggest wild mushrooms I’ve ever seen. It was at least a foot across and my Collins guide says it’s a Parasol Mushroom which is good enough to eat. This one would have fed the whole family!
"Call Roy Castle"
All in all, 8 miles and 1,700 feet of ascent. I’ve included my usual slide show below – I do these for almost every trip I take, primarily for my own benefit as it’s much better looking at the photos on my TV with the family. Hopefully some of my readers may also enjoy a these and the expanded photo set. The music for this one seems a bit obvious and cheesy but when I listened to the words and remembered my frame of mind for the day after the disappointment of the day before and who was with me on the walk it all seemed to fit.
Over the following weekend my sister-in-law came to visit and we had a fine and final BBQ of the year in the garden on a day so hot we were forced to sit in the shade – in October!
The Jones family garden
On the Sunday we headed to the Shropshire Hills near Church Stretton for a picnic in the Cardingmill Valley and some walking. The weather wasn’t quite as good as we’d hoped but we still had a nice lunch by the river.
It was hugely crowded and we only just got a space, clearly everyone else in the West Midlands had the same idea. Fortunately once you head off into the complex knot of valleys that slice into the Long Mynd you can lose the crowds.
Peace and quiet
Walking in this area is a real gem and with some effort you can find some quiet valley’s with streams and waterfalls. We took a simple route up onto the summit plateau and then back down over some of the small knolls on the way back to the car.
The views out past Ragleth, Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler Hills and The Lawley towards the Cheshire Plain were still good. You can combine these hills into a long a fairly challenging walk based from Church Stretton which me and Jane did a few years back.
The Lawley, Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler Hills
After a nice little walk of 4.5 miles, we headed back to the car for a brew. Water: check, stove: check, kettle: check, milk: check, mugs: check, tea bags: Ah……. b*llocks!
As it was a pleasant day, spent largely in the valley and it was a Sunday the music for this slide show chose itself.
PS – I’ve since been told that strictly speaking and Indian Summer is a warm spell after the first frost of the autumn – can’t let that spoil a good blog title though