For the past three years I have had the pleasure and privilege of using a beautiful and remote old farmhouse in the Black Mountains. A rare place of solitude, isolation and retreat in a hectic world. I arrived there for probably the last time last weekend for a final farewell as it has been sold by the current owners. Driving from Nottingham the modern world slowly drifts away as you drive the final seven miles of narrow twisting lanes into a dead end valley surrounded by mountains and forest. The keys to a locked barrier soon see you climbing up a muddy forestry track to a signpost pointing along a bridleway. A decision has to be made here, park up and carry the tons of gear accumulated in the van or risk the steep, bumpy bridleway though a tunnel of deciduous trees. Laziness always wins in the end and you duck as the branches of the trees scrape the roof of the van and the wheels slide over wet rock. Suddenly sky dominates once again as a clearing is entered and the final rocky steps of the track brings you safely into the walled enclosure of a special place.
A journey I have made many times but this time was a little more special. Just before reaching the farmhouse a flash of white caught my eye, behind the barn I spotted two fell ponies watching me nervously whilst grazing on the lush green grass. Pure wild magic.
I had a day to myself before a couple of friends from Nottingham joined me for the weekend. Many of the footpaths in the vicinity of the Farmhouse had felt the tread of my boots over the past three years, so I braved the track once more and headed for Cwmyoy. Its crooked old church that twists like a corkscrew has a splendid backdrop of Hatterrall hill with its massive landslip, which reminded me of Alport Castles in the Peak District. I will let some photos tell the story of the day:
A sunken path through a canopy of gnarled twisted old trees.
Looking up the lush green Vale of Ewyas from the top of the landslip.
Returning along the Offa’s Dyke path and the final trig point before descending. The ridge gives a clear boundary between the mountains of Wales and the rolling hills of England.
The ridge snakes down terminating in a hill fort.
The scenery turned pastoral as I crossed the fields heading for the small wooded nature reserve above Strawberry cottage.
Back at the farmhouse I embraced the solitude whilst I had the place to myself, a comfy chair being dragged out into the garden. A sweat was later worked up as I attempted to cut wood with a bow saw to light a fire for when it got dark and the night would push me inside. A distant motor signaled the arrival of Steve and Tash who also embraced the magic of the surroundings and our accommodation for the weekend. A convivial evening and night was spent burning wood, drinking beer and putting the world to right. My pile of musty mattresses were pure luxury as I sank into them for the best nights sleep I have had for weeks.
The following morning was leisurely, spent just being in the forest and in and out of the ancient building full of character. Exploring with my camera I started to notice things that had previously passed me by.
Ferns growing out of almost every single wall like mini hanging baskets.
An old drain pipe that nature is slowly turning the same colour as the surrounding stone.
The rusty old loo!
The dreamy porch inviting you into the house.
The old garden wall that is being reclaimed by nature.
A retreat deep in the woods hidden in a fold on the mountainside.
The afternoon was spent walking up the local mountain behind the farmhouse, the 800 metre peak Pen y Gadair Fawr. Unfortunately the approach is less than attractive being along a rather dull forestry track. However this means that the miles are quickly eaten up and open countryside is soon reached, just before the final moorland rise to its summit cairn. Unfortunately the surrounding countryside was eaten up by pretty murky conditions and the views were less than extensive. The surrounding hills simply being grey outlines on the horizon. The returning ridge line however is a joy to walk, high above two valleys and free from the conifer plantations. The weather conditions meant that it was not really worth getting the camera out, except for the two below. These will simply be labelled, “Ex punks turn last of the summer wine”.
Achy legs were amply rewarded on return to our accommodation later than afternoon, the two fell ponies had taken up residence in the garden. Tiny nervous things they were too, although one did square up to an interested looking Jack Russell. Does anyone know the origins of the Black Mountain Fell ponies?
Another wildlife spectacle revealed itself later that evening when Steve excitedly called us outside. There was a steady stream of bad flying between the barns, darting through gaps with surprising speed and agility. Movement on the rafters of the porch above our heads caught our eye. Our torch beam picked out two bats hanging upside down just a couple of feet above us. A wonderful sight although they quickly moved on to join the others feeding between the barns.
The excesses of the night before and tired bodies from the walk meant that we were all dozing in from of the fire not that long after it got dark. Nights are atmospheric there with the combination of a huge open fire and gas lights. Outside there is no noise apart from the owls and a distinct lack of light pollution. The stars really get to shine!
The good old Met Office once again showed us how inaccurate their forecasts are. We were promised sunshine, we got heavy rain and low cloud the following morning. Our walk before leaving for home was high on atmosphere but low on views!
Farewell my forest and mountain retreat…………………