A couple of walks in the Black Mountains in wonderful Spring sunshine
For years the Black Mountains in Wales have been a fabulous place to appreciate vast open skies with height, dozens of mountain walks and interesting weather, all accessible from Southern England and close to friends in the West of England. Having visited before in October and experienced the hill fog and rain associated with with dark Autumn afternoons, my three walking partners and I thought it about time we saw the views at their best and relax into a couple of long possibly warm days on the hills without worrying about getting off them into civilisation before nightfall at five in the afternoon. So we chose late May this year which didn’t disappoint.
In previous years we have stayed in Hay-on-Wye but there wasn’t the availability so made our home the Harp Inn in Glasbury, for a couple of nights which is an excellent local with great pub food, good value and excellent atmosphere just three miles from Hay. We were hoping to use cabs to get to and from our start and finish points of our expeditions but here we failed. There simply weren’t cabs available to drop us off and pick us up at the start and end of the day. We would have needed to pre-book several days in advance to make sure we had transport to and from our base as the buses are also few and far between. So were were resigned to walks from and back to our one car – maps below. But this did give us the freedom to know we didn’t have a deadline to meet so could stop and enjoy the scene as we saw fit.
Arriving on Friday morning, we took the car to Gospel Pass car park which at over 500m altitude is an excellent starting point for the various options available for walking. We took the route to the NE for the first mile or so along the ridge to the trig point of Hay Bluff which is a nice initial climb to the ridge then a long easy pull up to the 677m mark. We then walked SE picking up the route of the Offa’s Dyke Path with England to our left and Wales to our right. This is quite easy walking along the backbone of one of the Black Mountain ‘fingers’ that lead off the Northern scarp with deep valleys between. After three miles there is an eroded area where the peat appears to have been washed away which is a real contrast to the heather, Bilberry and Hare’s Tail Cotton Grass which is more abundant where the ground is damper. The path is excellent. The interventions, large flat rock pavings and grit surface, make the going easy and the views – North over the Olchon Valley to Black Hill and South along the Vale of Ewyas – can be fully taken in. At about 4.5 miles we reached the 637m point on the map where we had lunch before heading back to the car. In previous years we have continued SE meeting the A465 at the 13 mile mark from where we caught a cab back to Hay.
On day two we again parked at Gospel Pass car park. It being a Saturday we were fortunate to get a space at 10am. For this 11 mile walk we took the route along the scarp to the SW with amazing views to the North into the heart of Wales and West to the Brecon Beacons, the flat peak of Pen y Fan on the horizon. The route is simple and popular, keeping the edge on your right, it heads SW before turning with the ridge to the SE towards Waun Fach where, rather than following the Western path, we headed south towards the highpoint at 800m. We stopped at the 5.5 mile point for lunch and basked in the May sun, finding a spot for lunch out of the breeze with Skylarks the soundtrack. Heading back the weather just got better and the greens and bright blues of the scene made it a fabulous return leg.
Had we been able to get a cab back we would have continued to Crickhowell – about 13 miles in total heading South along the Cambrian Way. There are a couple of good pubs in Crickhowell and the cab ride back to Hay takes about 30 minutes.