I am quickly coming to realise that it is pointless weather watching during the week leading up to a backpack. Each day the forecast changes and you watch in dismay when the promised sunshine is replaced by a weather warning. In the end I took it as an omen that the Lakes should never be visited during the mad season called the School Holidays. Instead I headed south to the Black Mountains, a promise of sunshine and a much quieter weekend in the hills.
14 kilometres with 640 metres ascent
A small car park in the Olchon valley is a superb high level springboard for the narrow ridge that leads to Black Hill. It was a bit of a challenge finding it though the maze of narrow high hedged lanes. As I locked up the car the heavy rain on the journey south had been replaced by shafts of sunshine piercing the heavy brooding clouds. After being cooped up in the car for four hours, Reuben was given his freedom. He was lucky enough to be off lead from the moment he left the car until he got back in it the following afternoon. I’m very happy to say he acted impeccably, remaining within a couple of metres of my side the whole time.
The ridge to Black Hill is a gem. It’s nowhere near knife-edged but contrasts greatly with the surrounding rolling hills. Height was quickly gained, although I frequently had to stop to look at the views. The mountains of Wales finish abruptly and meet the green rolling English countryside. It really is rather beautiful and there is a good feeling of height walking the eastern Black Mountain escarpments.
One final shower had me hurriedly pulling on waterproofs which were soon removed again. A warm and windy afternoon followed which made me glad that I had decided not to go to the Lakes.
Hay Bluff is a cracking viewpoint and the only section of my route that could be considered busy. The Gospel Pass gives easy access and there were also folk climbing up from the car park directly below. Looking north into the hills of Wales I once again told myself that I will have to at some point put some time aside to walk the Offa’s Dyke Path.
Descending towards the Gospel Pass the scourge of the Brecon Beacons shattered the peace. A trio of trail bikes were speeding down the path from Lord Hereford’s Knob. A cloud of dust, the whine of engines and the smell of petrol followed in their wake. Not a good mix with the hikers, families and dogs enjoying the hills. They also churn up the hills as I was soon to see.
On the summit of Lord Hereford’s Knob (or Twmpa) I found myself humming Half Man Half Biscuit as we sunned ourselves in a sheltered hollow.
Twmpa Twmpa, you’re gonna need a jumper
It gets a bit chilly on Lord Hereford’s Knob
Thankfully it was a warm and sunny August afternoon on the hill.
The walk along the escarpment towards Pen Rhos Dirion was a delight in the late afternoon sun. The Brecon Beacons rolled off into the distance, the distinctive summit of Pen y Fan easily identifiable. There were still a few people out enjoying the hills, everyone friendly and happy to be out. One family was jealous of the fact that I was going to be spending the night pitched high on the hills. I did not envy them that they would soon have to return back to their car and civilisation. Walking on I have to admit that my hackles did rise a bit due to the state of the path, wide and rutted by the passage of many motorbikes.
I found an idyllic pitch right at the head of Cwm Cwnstab, so before putting up my shelter I went in search of water. I was pleased when I found a tiny trickle but less than impressed when right next to it I discovered a turd and piece of toilet paper. Instead I moved on wishing the culprit a slow and horrible bowel related death.
In the end I settled on a substandard pitch on the moors above Grwyne Fawr, hidden from sight from anyone using the track. It was only during the night when I discovered just how substandard it was. It was both lumpy and on a slope. I had put some silicone on my groundsheet to stop my mat slipping off. This worked. However it did not stop me sliding off my mat. Every time I adjusted my position I could feel gravity slowly exerting its force. It felt like a long night.
Day 2 – 13 kilometres with 530 metres ascent
I had plenty of time during the night to ponder the importance of selecting a good pitch. Reuben had no such troubles, curled up on his mat he snored the night away. When we got up we surprised a nearby group with their long hair and long faces. I don’t think it had crossed their minds that a man and dog would emerge from the pyramid pitched in the middle of the moor. The whole family stood there in a line watching us, Reuben providing the most interest. If we moved then dad would rush to the front of the group and flex his muscles before they all backed up and reformed in a line. Mum had lovely long blonde hair which nearly reached the ground. It was awkward performing my morning ablutions in front of them but they did not appear too bothered by that.
Leaving the Welsh Mountain ponies behind we retraced our route back to the track. This quickly led us to the Grwyne Fawr reservoir and typically I spotted loads of idyllic looking camping spots along the way. I was tempted to pop down to the tiny bothy but really could not be bothered to bash a way through the tall bracken. Having visited a few times in the past it’s not one that I would be interested in staying in unless in a real emergency. It’s far too accessible and small.
After the relatively easy stroll the day before, I now had the challenge of crossing the grain of the Vale of Ewyas. This first involved a climb up to the intervening ridge, a long descent to Capel-y-ffin, followed by a bracken dominated climb to reach the Offa’s Dyke path on the border ridge. The route was stunning, the vale a myriad of greens and the general buzz of summer. The only downside was that much of it involved bashing through various tunnels of bracken. Half of the time I only knew that Reuben was there due to him banging into the back of my legs with his pack. I think he was glad of the shade from the summer sun though.
There was one more long descent, this time down into the Olchon Valley. On the way I found a spring gushing with the coldest, tastiest water imaginable. I drank until my throat was numb and wetted my cap to cool my head. A lofty perch was found to sit and eat the rest of my food and take in the extensive views.
We were once more descending through bracken and into the depths of the valley. It’s a quiet hidden place and I enjoyed the stroll through the fields and woods. There was some impressive fungi growing from a dead tree near the river.
The handily located car park which I left the previous day was not so handy on the final climb of the day. The contours had not seemed very significant when I had been hurriedly throwing together the route. It was good to get back to the car and get my steaming boots off. Reuben quickly fell asleep on the backseat and provided no input on the drive home.