North of the Black Mountains and to the east of the Cambrian Mountains sits a little know tract of hill country. Between Hay-On-Wye in the south and Newtown in the north there is a long line of hills close to the English border. These are gentle, whale back hills which culminate on the heights of Great Rhos and the Radnor Forest, just rising above the 2000ft contour. This hill range does not really have a name, so for the purpose of these two posts I am going to refer to them as the Radnorshire hills. Although Radnorshire itself was long swallowed up by the huge county of Powys.
Sandwiched between the heights of Great Rhos and the Black mountains is a large area of empty moorland. Lush green valleys cut through the moors giving a contrast between the bleak and pastoral. This area has been on my radar for years now but I have never really managed to put together a satisfactory backpacking route. Although very remote in terms of nearby towns and villages it is a landscape dotted with farms and criss-crossed by narrow lanes. Finding a hidden pitch and locating suitable water sources could be an issue.
The Bongo has been neglected recently and these hills looked like a perfect area for a spot of van wild camping. The many high moorland roads with the potential to provide ideal spots to park up for the night. My ankle was also playing up from a fall a couple of weeks previously so some short walks with a day pack would be ideal. Due to the ankle, Reuben sadly had to be left at home. I wanted to be able to use my Pacerpoles for support rather than being dragged along by a mass of muscle!
Llandedr hill and Red hill – 7.3 miles with 470 metres ascent
It was nearly 2.00pm by the time I parked the van and had finished a lengthy faff. I had chosen to start the walk high up at 430 metres, aware that I may regret that most of the climbing would be at the end of the day. However it was nice to start effortlessly with extensive views back across the English borders.
To the south sat a long line of high mountains, clearly broken down into three parts. The whole of the northern escarpment of the Brecon Beacons National park filled the horizon. I could make out the Black Mountains in the east, the Brecon Beacons themselves, and far to the west the Black Mountain. I planned to spend the evening on a hill further to the south which is supposed to give one of the best grandstand views of them.
Llanbedr hill is a breeze to walk across, a wide track allowing swift progress. This is excellent open country, empty hills rolling into the distance. If you want thrills with your hills I advise you to stay away!
Gareg Lwyd is one of a few outcrops that break the landscape and provide a feature on this long finger of moorland. It is a particularly attractive spot with a pool at the base of the rocks.
It was an excellent spot to sit, the rocks providing shelter from the breeze. I watched a cyclist pass on the track I had walked, the only person I would see for the rest of the day. I got so relaxed that it was a bit of an effort to get myself moving again.
A narrow path across rough ground took me to Cwm Lago where I picked up a path that contours across the northern slopes of the hill.
This path was simply a joy to walk with its sheep nibbled grassy surface, it almost invites you to remove your shoes and walk barefoot. I floated along high above the Edw valley, the escarpment dropping steeply to a patchwork of fields. Everywhere I looked there was a riot of every shade of green and there was a smell of summer on the warm air. This played havoc with my hay fever!
I would have been happy for the path to go on for ever as it descended gently towards the valley. Unfortunately it soon deposited me onto a steep minor lane. I soon branched off towards Rhulen along another lane that was barely wide enough for a vehicle, the high hedgerows towering above me. I was thankful for the shade they provided as I had lost the cooling breeze from the moorland heights.
I don’t normally get very excited about churches but the one at Rhulen is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s a lovely old building and I spent a while nosing around its cool dark interior before utilising the bench in the churchyard. There was a real feeling of time having stood still there, the hustle and bustle of city life felt far far away.
The road at the head of the valley turned into a track which gave an easy ascent back onto the moors. At its highest point I headed directly for the trig point on Red hill. The heather looked like a huge square had been mown into it, a curious feature but one I took full advantage of to get to the top. Views to the north were restricted by the bulk of Glascwm hill but to the south the line of the Brecon Beacons revealed their full glory.
It was an easy yomp back down to the Bongo which I could see glimmering in the distance. The wide grassy tracks across these moors mean that it is real hands in the pockets striding country.
I had noticed on my maps an isolated hill just to the south of Paincastle which stood out when I got back to the Bongo. The Begwns are owned by the National Trust and I thought it would be an ideal place to watch the sun set. I drove the few miles south, fingers crossed that I would not meet any oncoming traffic on the steep and very narrow lanes, which are rather lacking in passing places.
I parked on the common next to the road, a cracking spot with the Black Mountains looking rather special behind me in the sunshine. A farmer came rumbling down a track on the hill opposite and waved as he passed, which I took as an endorsement for the spot I had chosen. I sat and cooked dinner in the van, entertained by a young foal running about and making a right racket.
The Begwns – 1.2 miles with 60 metres ascent
At about 9.00pm I made the short ten minute amble up to The Roundabout, which is the summit of the Begwns. The top itself is unmarked and hidden amongst some trees that sit within a large circular dry stone wall structure. A large seating area had been built inside by the millennium project of Painscastle. I would imagine that it would be a welcome spot to eat lunch on a wild windy day.
I wandered over to the trig point for grandstand views of Pen y Fan, the setting sun just beginning to give the sky a pinkish hue. In terms of view versus the effort involved in getting to the top, this hill probably has the best ratio in the whole of Wales! Isolated from other high ground there is an extensive 360 panorama and I wandered around for a while taking it all in.
Even the sheep appeared to be transfixed by the view and the setting sun.
I walked a little way to the west and watched the sun slowly sink below the horizon, a light show that I will never tire of.
With the spectacle over I slowly headed back down to the van, passing a group on their way up. Sadly they had missed the sunset by a few minutes. However the show was not over and the sky caught fire once more, turning yellow then orange and finally a deep red. Magical.
I got back to the Bongo a happy man. I had picked a truly peaceful spot and I was not aware of any vehicles passing in the night.