Solitude in the Black Mountains

by backpackingbongos

Last weekend I did a 4 day solo trip to stay in a remote farmhouse in the Black Mountains.  I waited for the rush hour traffic to die down on Friday evening before the drive from Nottingham to Wales.  I was turning off the main road at Llanvihangel Crucorney at about 10pm to drive the few miles into the Grwyne Fawr valley.  I soon arrived at the locked forestry gates, unlocked them and drove the mile to the farmhouse, first along a forestry track before bumping my way along a steep muddy bridleway.  When I got out of the van it was pitch black and to welcome me an owl hooted in the forest.

I was soon unloading the van and establishing myself in the farmhouse, lighting the gas lanterns (no electricity) and making some food as I was starving after the drive.  It was too late to light a fire so it was off to bed in fairly spooky surroundings for a good nights sleep.

Mac the owner met me the following morning for a days walking in the surrounding hills.  We were soon off climbing steeply through the forest to the col below Crug Mawr.  We immediately headed down a path following Nant y Ffin into the Grwyne fechan valley.

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Although cloudy and overcast there was a definite feeling of spring in the air and as we followed the minor road north there were large patches of snow drops along the road side.

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We turned off the road at the Hermitage and forded the Grwyne Fechan river to follow the watercourse of Gargwy fawr through the forest.  We soon emerged from the forest into a beautiful spot of open country, a place that I would like to return to pitch my tent one night by the river.  We continued following the watercourse onwards and upwards as it twisted though areas of hawthorn, scrambling up steep banks or splashing through the river to avoid getting tangled up in the thorny branches.  We soon reached the higher part of the river as it turned into the Gargwy Fach for the final steep pull onto the slopes of Pen y Gadair Fawr.

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The temperature had dropped with height and there was a chill wind blowing as we plodded up to the summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr, past the last few remaining patches of snow.  This is one of the best summits in the Black Mountains with far reaching views in all direction.  We watched as the first people we had seen all day were walking up the final slopes from the direction of Waun Fach.

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After a brief chat we headed south for a long stomp along the ridge via Pen Twyn Mawr to pick up a path down into Cwm Ffrwd to get back to the farmhouse.

Mac soon left me to my own devises and I spent the rest of the daylight hours collecting dead fall out of the forest and sawing up logs for the night ahead.  I would be on my own now for the following three days.

I spent the rest of the evening sitting by a roaring fire eating curry, reading and planning my route for the following day.  I decided that I would go a little further afield and climb the hills above Llangorse lake.

The next morning I was driving down narrow twisting lanes with high hedges, praying that I did not meet any oncoming traffic.  Often there was not any passing places for a mile or so on some of the roads.  I parked up by the village hall in Cwmdu and headed up the ridge of Pen Tir in warm spring sunshine.  A lovely grassy track takes you easily along the ridge and it was here that I heard my first Sky lark of the year.  A sound to lift the spirits and draw thoughts to long sunny days ahead (if we have long sunny days this year!).  Another easy grassy track led to the summit of Mynydd Llangorse with views back to Pen Allt-mawr.

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I wondered around for about 10 minutes trying to decide what was the actual summit as it was not marked by a cairn, after deciding on a spot I rejoined the path as it headed north down a narrowing ridge to the summit of the road through Cwm Sorgwm.  The sunny weather had brought a few people out and there were several cars parked alongside the highest part of the road.

Mynydd Troed looked formidable as it towered steeply nearly 300 metres above me.  It was grit the teeth time and steadily pod upwards to its summit trig with wide reaching views.

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A narrow path leads along the full length of the hill before steeply dropping into a minor Cwm before hitting the road through Cwm Sorgwm.  Here I found a concessionary path through fields that ran parallel to the road, a donkey entertained itself by following a foot behind me and stopping whenever I stopped!  Made me a little bit nervous to be honest.  A short stretch of lane brought me back to Cwmdu.

Another night was spent along in the woods with not another person for miles.  The usual routine of collecting and chopping wood then setting it on fire!

I decided the next morning to head to the Brecon Beacons to hit the high hills whilst the weather was nice, also being a Monday hopefully the hills should be quiet.  I was lucky to get a parking spot at the start of the roman road just south of Upper Neuadd Reservoir.  I headed up the roman road to the col between Fan y Big and Cribyn, a nice easy gradient to start the day.  There were good views of the main hills from this track.

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It was a steep pull to the summit of Cribyn which was the main reason for this walk, being the only hill I had not climbed in this part of the Brecon Beacons.  I particularly enjoyed the view back to Fan y Big, the hills here have a very distinctive shape.

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As I left the summit, there were a few spots of rain and the cloud started to lower onto Pen Y Fan ahead of me.  I decided against putting on my waterproof trousers as hoped it would be a brief shower.  I was wrong and as I climbed Pen Y Fan the clag dropped lower, the wind picked up and it started raining heavily.  On with the waterproof then to stop my trousers getting any wetter!

Due to the mist I decided to contour round Pen Y Fan and Corn Du and climbed onto the ridge of Craig Gwaun Taf.  By now it was freezing with the rain turning icing with flakes of snow mixed in.  I was disappointed with the lack of view as I had been looking forward to this section.  The ridge narrowed but still no views on either side until suddenly the mist to my right cleared leaving cloud hanging in the valley below.

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The cloud soon swept back so it was hood up, head down until I could descend from the ridge and walk back to the van.

My fourth and final night in the farmhouse alone followed a familiar pattern of preparing and lighting a fire before relaxing in its glow.  Tomorrow I would have to face the world again……………………

Getting the Bongo out along the farmhouse track

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5 Responses to “Solitude in the Black Mountains”

  1. Very good James, I was with you all the way.
    Will email you.

  2. Wonderful photos.

    The M25 seems to have been allowed to get a little rundown in that last picture though…

  3. Firsty I’d just like to say that I’ve been a massive fan of your blog for a number of years now and that your posts were a big inspiration for me to start a blog of my own.

    This Welsh trip really does sound like paradise. I can’t get enough of choping wood! The last time I went to the Black Mountains I didn’t quite manage solitude but ended up having the most bizzare camping trip of my life! https://thingswhatihavedone.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/two-nights-for-zero-pounds-in-the-black-mountains/

    • Hey there, thanks for dropping by! Yes it does sound like you had a bizzare camping trip, I think that I would have ended up packing up and moving off in a bit of a huff though!

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