Each year three friends and I take a few days out and find somewhere to stay from which we can take decent days out on the hills. This year we chose the ‘Black Mountains‘ area covering the border between Herefordshire, England and Powys, Wales, with Hay-on-Wye as our base (the most delightful town full of amazing book shops, great pubs, the River Wye, a castle and lovely people). We wanted a lengthy hike in a dramatic landscape so chose a 14 mile hike along the high ridges East and west of the Olchon Valley as our preferred route (map below). The drive to the start point from Hay-on-Wye was tortuous. We chose to park a car at each end of our route which involved an hour of navigating twisting minor roads to park one then get to our start point in the car park under the ‘Cat’s Back’ and the ‘Black Hill’. We started at twelve noon, later than we would have liked given it was early November but decided that the route would take about five or six hours dependent on stops so we would only have an hour or so in the pitch black. With a couple of head torches between us it would be fine, the route simple.
The climb up the Cat’s Back is a tough start but a brilliant way to get up high really quickly and appreciate the vast landscape, rising about 800 ft. The path flattens and gently climbs up to Hay Bluff at 2200 ft. We lingered to draw breath and take in the spectacular views for a while from Black Hill. We hadn’t enough time time to take in Hay Bluff and the ridge to the North but as it adds only twenty minutes or so to the whole I have included it as part of the walk and added some pics from Hay Bluff (which we walked to from Gospel Pass on another day). Having reached the head of the valley, we turned SE onto the 11 mile ridge route which picks up the ‘Offa’s Dyke Path’ over ‘Black Mountain’, the highest point of the route at about 2300 ft. Even in bright November sun the chill was noticeable after a while on the high exposed ridge. Gloves and extra layers went on as the sun began to sink to our right. We thought we could make out the Brecon Beacons in the gaps between the ridges. The path is excellent, one foot in Wales, the other in England. This is an upland bog and a great deal has been done to provide a firm, dry path across the boggier bits. Large slabs have been laid between stretches of scalping pathway. It makes the walk really enjoyable and rapid, not having to tackle interminable bog. It is also a classic route so the impact of heavy footfall is restricted to the defined pathway, rather than the creating side paths eroding the peaty soil.
A few of hours later, as we reached Hatterrall Hill, we were in near darkness and the torches went on. The lights of AvonMouth and Cardiff shone in the distance as we covered the last few miles to the tracks and small roads that led to Stanton where we had parked. We were lucky enough to come across a van delivering to Lower Pentwyn and in return for closing a gate the driver kindly allowed us to pile in the back and took us back to our car near the bridge North of Stanton.
An incredible walk with some of the best far-reaching views I have seen. I would love to repeat this in May or June with a longer warmer day to take the time so soak up the experience. Probably from Gospel Pass – getting to the start by cab – 20 mins from Hay, then staying overnight near Pandy or getting a cab from the pub there back to Hay.
I wore waterproof trail shoes, my friends boots. Trail shoes will do if it’s dryish. The temperature really dropped as it got darker, I’m glad we had layers.
The Bristol Channel in the distance to the South, Table Mountain (I think – it sort of makes sense) to the right