A fond farewell in the Black Mountains

by backpackingbongos

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…………………

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19 Comments to “A fond farewell in the Black Mountains”

  1. What a fantastic place. A shame that it has to be your last visit, but nothing lasts forever. I wish I had the money to buy it for you, though. That is exactly the kind of place I’d like to live. Some great pictures as we’ve come to expect, James – well done for capturing the ponies and punks in their natural habitats. An existential question: is there really such a thing as an ex-punk, or is it always a part of you? I’d subscribe to the latter.

    Cheers!

  2. What a wonderful old farmhouse. I hope it is not ‘developed’ too much by the new owners. How nice for you that you had somewhere you could escape to from your city life. You gave a lovely photographic record of your last visit to the place.

  3. Pete if you win the lottery I would be very happy to accept such a place as a gift. Not sure if there is such a thing as an ex punk, I was going to put ‘Old punk’ but thought that may not go down very well. I have never been a punk so cannot comment on the matter!

    Thanks Sheila, I also hope that it remains as it is, not many places like that left these days. I need to find a new bolt hole now.

  4. Beautiful pictures, must have brought back great memories writing this post. The photo above Strawberry Cottage perfectly captures the Black Mountains.

  5. Old farmhouses in isolated spots are so appealing, especially in the shadow of picturesque hills. That one looks idyllic – for a short stay that is, I wouldn’t want to live there though.

  6. There’s a small cottage I used to rent some years ago, every year, above Eyam (I note with interest your last piece) and I’d walk along to the Barrel Inn in Breton and enjoy Lamb shank on the day between my explorations of the area. The owners had left a 1:25,000 OS Explorer map and I pretty much went everywhere I could using it. Don’t go there much anymore so I have an idea what you mean – it was a lovely period in my life and it got me back into hillwalking after a bit of a layoff.

  7. I am truly, utterly biased but The Black Mountains are, for me, one of the best spots in the whole of Wales. When I need a break from the Madding crowd, I jump in the car and find myself tromping up to Crug Hywel for a view, or Pen y Gadair Fawr for a feeling of getting away from it or just sitting on Twmpa gazing out to the north and the undulating hills of the Welsh Marches.
    Its a timeless place and I have had the privilege to have wandered over its green covered heights for the past 30 years.
    Of course it does help that I only live half an hour away……!

  8. It sounds like your farmhouse was a beautiful place to get away from it all. I hope you find another such place to rent soon.

  9. As you were the inspiration for us setting up our own blog for our world cycle trip. Here it now is:-

    http://estherwarren.wordpress.com/

    I recently ate Christmas pud with custard again without first checking if you were doing the same

  10. Geoff, I would move there in an instant although I am sure that the darkness inside would probably get me down in the winter.

    Maz, the barrell Inn is a great little pub, nowhere better than to sit on the bench outside with that massive view down over the rolling fields.

    Dave its not fair that you live only 30 mins from the Black Mountains. Did you manage your overnight trip you had planned the other week?

    Thanks Phillip, I hope that I can find something simular one day (if it also costs £5 per night each like the last place did I will be very happy!).

    Hey Warren, a good start and I will be looking forward to reading about your trip as it goes along. New Zealand is somewhere I have always wanted to visit. Have a good one! I can also tell you that I have not eaten a Xmas pud for a while now, you will be safe to eat another one!

  11. Hi Backpackingbongos

    I have walked past that farmhouse many times and thought that it would be a wondeful place to stay or live, I always thought it was owned by an outdoor group or something like that, Sad to hear that it was owned by friends of yours and that they have sold it, are the new owners private owners and are they planning on living there or renting it out ?

    was going to pitch my tent on the lawn where you photed the ponies but then thought what if the owner turned up and kicked me off.

    As you said it is a Gem of a place to be, quiet and secluded and places like that are definatly hard to come across.

    Wish i’d known it was up for Sale.

    Will pop into your blog and give you an update of the place next time i wonder that way.

    p.s, i live 10 mins from the black mountains and regulary visit the Grwyne fawr Valley and the Vale of Ewyas, last weekend i did a bike and hike to the Twyn y Gaer hillfort at the base of the Vale of Ewyas and Grwyne fawr valley’s. A place i’d passed many times over the past ten years. Gave me some wonderful views of moutains and valley’s i think i know so well.

    • Hey Cozy good to hear from you. It really is a splendid place. It was brought by a cooperative of folks from the Hereford Mountaineering club back in the days when the forestry commission were selling off land and farms. I think it has been primarily used by friends and family although at one point scout groups used to rent it. I think it has been sold to private owners. I think there may be the risk off a gentle telling off if you pitched in the garden! Would be good to be kept updated when you next pass that way as to how the place is doing.

      The Twyn y Gaer hillfort is in my opinion one of the best viewpoints in the Black Mountains, great to see down two valleys. The ridge from that following north is superb for something so low.

  12. A very evocative post BPB. Like Backpackbrewer, I also live close and have a soft spot for the Black Mountains. It hasn’t quite got the rugged impact of the Central and Western Beacons but it has that special something. For me it always feels so remote, despite being 30 mins drive away from home.
    I’ve read all your posts about the Farmhouse, Iit seemed particularly appealing during winter with snowy conditions outside and a roaring fire inside.
    What a shame the Farmhouse is being sold on, but it just means you can explore new places to stay in the area.

    Keep the Blog posts coming, always a cracking read.

    Regards

    Mark

    • Thanks Mark. I am now on the look out for new places to stay, at least there is always the Bongo, my bothy on wheels! Bleak and remote that is why I enjoy the Black Mountains……………..

  13. Hi,

    My girlfreinds Mum had been looking for a farm/small holding and i found a link to the estate agent that was selling Ffordd las fawr, She rang the agent to try and view it but the farmhouse sold that day. 3 interested parties were wanting to buy it and one of them walked into the estate agent and paid for it there and then. hope the purchaser enjoys there new home.

    • Wow you would have to be pretty loaded to pay for a property like that there and then! If I had the money it is a place I would definately buy.

  14. I have walked past the farmhouse for many years. In 2011 I stayed there with family and had a wonderful time. No internet and no mobile signal, bliss. Easy walks, harder walks to suit all tastes. Just around the corner is Partrishow Church, what a gem. It is now April 2014 and the main farmhouse is now white on the outside. I understand that it may be possible to stay there again once the work has been finished.

    • Hi John. You must have visited just after I stopped going there. It is a cracking place to stay, I got to know the surrounding area very well. It would be great to pay another visit.

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