I’ve now reached Talybont which marks approximately 2/3 of the walk for this southern section of the Cambrian Way. Replanning this stage as a 4 day rather than 3 day walk was the right thing to do, with the result that I arrived at the youth hostel in much better shape than I arrived in Abergavenny at the end of the first, similar length, stage. Here are some highlights of the last 4 days:
Day 5 – Thursday 2 May
A fine day dawned and it felt like a new start, my main concern being whether all of the supplies I’d bought would fit in my pack, and also whether I’d be able to carry it. Well, it did all dir, just, and although noticeable it wasn’t impossibly heavy.
With another poor excuse for a breakfast from the pub inside me, I set off through the town and out into lanes. Upwards slogged the road, but surprisingly I didn’t and an hour into the walk I’d logged 3 miles and 225m of ascent which was a really good pace. The rest day had clearly worked.
I emerged from the trees onto open hillside and climbed to the crest of the ridge which then took me to the summit of Sugar Loaf (checkpoint 6). Ahead of me the colours on the Black Mountains belied their name on this warm sunny day. I descended along pleasant paths to the valley and took a break to air my feet.
Steeply up a lane at first and then a more gradual incline yielded another joyous ridge walk. I’d probably set out too fast earlier as now my pace slowed and I briefly flirted with the coward’s option of the campsite in Llanthony, but made myself carry on – this perfect day really needed a wild camp to finish it off. I found a spot just off the crest of the ridge on Chwarel y Fan and pitched up overlooking the Vale of Elwys.
Day 6 – Friday 3 May
The wind picked up in the night and when I looked out of Monica cloud was pouring into the valley below. The bright paintbox colours of yesterday were gone and now replaced by duller specimens – clearly the weather gods had concluded they were too generous yesterday and decided to claw some if it back. A stiff breeze accompanied me all day.
I walked along the ridge to the summit and then followed the path down to Capel-y-ffin, following lanes to the base of Twmpa. A narrow path zigzagged up the steep face and I darted up, temporarily shielded from the wind. At the summit by 11, I had a short break and looked at the last of the snow patches on Hay Bluff. Memories of my previous visit to the Black Mountains came back to me and were it not for the wind, I’d probably have sat there in my reverie for a while. But I did sit there long enough to send the obligatory juvenile Lord Hereford’s Knob tweet.
Rhos Dirion next which was soon polished off before setting about the long down and up onto Waun Fach, the highest point in the Black Mountains. And heavily eroded, so much so that I struggled to think of a worse example that I’d seen.
A planned out and back detour to Pen y Gadair Fawr was nearly abandoned due to the hard going through the erosion and the potential lure of overnighting in Crickhowell that cutting it out might enable. But I carried on although the thought of going the extra distance further along the ridge to Pen Twyn Mawr was quickly discarded.
Now it was simply a matter of whether to attempt Crickhowell or settle for a pitch somewhere along the other arm of the ridge extending from Waun Fach. Trying to avoid the worst of the erosion, I opted to contour around by thwacking trough rough grass. I came across a small gully in which a stream ran down the mountainside and immediately spotted the flatish Monica sized patch out of the wind. Instinctively I dropped my pack – I’d walked far enough for stopping to be justifiable. But it was only 2:30 and so far too to pitch, although having only seen one person all day, I wasn’t overly concerned about matters of wild camping etiquette.
It was tempting, but I weighed it against the glory option of getting to Crickhowell, and on went the pack again. I forged ahead onto the other arm doing calculations and estimating distances and times as I went – and it came to me that being bank holiday weekend, I could easily arrive and find the campsite full. Moreover, why would I want a noisy camp site anyway? The only other reason for the push was to make for an easier day tomorrow, but I could easily end up in a day 3 state if I did.
As I ascended Mynydd Llysiau I began looking out for suitable spots, finding one on the east side next to a stream. Not the flattest pitch but it would do. Monica and I fought the wind to get her up and then I simply lay inside listening to and watching for signs the wind might get its revenge.
“Hello, anyone home?” came a call out of nowhere, shocking me into the thought that I was just about to be moved on. But it turned out to be Mick from Bristol, up for a bivvy on his way home from work. We sat and chatted and admired out matching trail shoes and then it got dark and Mick went back to his more minimal setup.
Day 7 – Saturday 4 May
As rain hit Monica during the night, I thought of Mick further along the hill, especially as the wind still hadn’t let up either. But the wind did also mean that not much of the precipitation stayed on the tent.
I waved to Mick as he headed back up to the ridge and followed shortly after, heading for Pen Twyn-glas. Easily dispatched and then the hardest climb on this ridge – up onto Pen Allt-mawr. A track on the east side of the summit plateau took me to Pen Cerrig-calch.
Cloud, some light rain and of course the wind saw me over this final summit in the Black Mountains, and then I was heading down to Crickhowell.
Lunch was taken in the Corn Exchange whose decor consisted entirely of signs advertising how reasonable the drinks prices are. That wasn’t why I chose it though – it was simply the only pub that seemed to be open and serving food at 11:30. Bangers and mash and 2 pints of Stowford Press later and I reluctantly dragged myself from the pub heading through the streets and across the river to Llangattock.
I picked up the old tramway which climbed stupidly steeply up to a ledge below imposing cliffs. But after that it was easier walkinf for a while and I soon arrived at the cave of Eglwys Faen, surprising a “courting couple” as the older generation would say. What with seeing wild horses at it yesterday on Lord Hereford’s Knob (sort that one out innuendo police), this trip was turning out to be quite eye opening as to Welsh leisure pursuits.
I continued along the ledge, missing the discrete narrow path that descended steeply and which I should have taken. This oversight eventually saw me climbing upwards over the lip of the cliffs and onto Mynydd Llangattock proper. This left me far too high for intercepting the road and so I ended up in a descent anyway. This little adventure had taken it out of me a bit and I slogged up the road into the wind to Blaen-Onneu just wanting to stop and camp for the night.
The crisis came on a rock at the junction, feeling drained and low and enviously eyeing the sight of Crickhowell below. I made myself carry on but rather than head straight on up onto the moor, I stayed with the safety of the road before leaving on a track to look for a spot near some woods, ending up some way above them. A bit of a trek to find flowing water then ensued.
For the second day running, I lay in Monica unable, or rather unwilling, to move. The wind was doing its usual job, I was camped on sheep shit, and the pitch sloped enough to be uncomfortable sitting.
I felt drained and had come close to giving up. My mojo was missing in action. I ate junk, washed it down with a mug of tea and just lazed the evening away.
Day 8 – Sunday 5 May
It was only after I’d chilled out a bit last night thay I looked again at the map, and in particular at the BMC mountain map that I’d bought in Abergavenny. I realised I hadn’t done too badly or even strayed too far from my original planned route. My Waun Fach calculations of the day before suggested I had 11 miles to go to the hostel at Talybont, but my route card and the maps made it look nearer 8, opening up the possibility of a lunchtime finish. Moreover, it wasn’t quite as devoid of paths as I’d thought.
The best night’s sleep so far certainly helped too, and I began to feel the benefits of the approach I’d taken. I stumped uphill and soon found the path described as faint in the Cambrian Way book, which in reality was really quite obvious.
So good was it that it took me unerringly to the Chartist Cave and soon after the summit. I was really starting to enjoy the walk today, in spite of the gloomy and overcast setting. From the summit I easily spotted the quarry road and I calmly made my way down, my pack feeling light and even a bog near the road not managing to irk me. Somewhere along the way my errant mojo slipped unobtrusively back into my entourage, presumably having stayed in the pub yesterday afternoon.
I was soon on another old tramway winding its way around the top of Dyffryn Crawnon, narrow and squelchy in places but otherwise easy to follow. It wound be down through the woods to Talybont, arriving at the youth hostel a mere four and a half hours early. I spent the afternoon catching up with the outside world and thoroughly editing my notes from the trip.
The next stage
On the strength of the success of the rescheduling of this second stage I repeated the exercise for the next stage, aiming to do it in 3 and a bit days. It would have been 4 but for the constraint of being booked in YHA Llwyn-y-celyn tomorrow night giving me a hard day. That’s why it was important to achieve an early finish today and making today a semi-rest day.
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