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Eastern Black Mountains / 3 days / 41 miles (66km)

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Date: 14 Mar 2007
Start / Finish: Hay-on-Wye. Roadside parking at the western end of the town, also a pay-and display with toilets in the town centre.
Maps: Outdoor Leisure 13: Brecon Beacons East.

Day 1Black Mountain11.6 miles / 2250 feet (18.7km / 685m)
Day 2Bryn Arw & Y Fal15.5 miles / 3500 feet (25.0km / 1066m)
Day 3Chwarel y Fan, Rhos Dirion & Twmpa13.6 miles / 1380 feet (21.9km / 420m)

A tour of the eastern ridges of the Black Mountain range, including our first ascent of the prominent and popular Y Fal (Sugar Loaf), one of two new Marilyns on this circuit. Once on the long ridges, they give miles of good high level walking with little ascent and descent.

Day 1 - Black Mountain

The ODP leaves the town and follows footpaths to GR 237409, where a notice dated 08 Mar 2007 is attached to the stile at the roadside announcing closure of a section of path with "no alternative routes on the rights-of-way network". This is to do with the laying of a gas pipeline. As always with this type of nanny notice, we just ignored it and there was no problem at all. The path climbs steeply and levels out at an open expanse of cropped grass with the escarpment of Hay Bluff ahead. The ODP veers off L and misses this, but we turned R along the road to a car park and climbed the slanting path to the edge and back along to the trig point, which gave extensive views.

View from Hay Bluff
View from Hay Bluff (14 Mar 2007__13:02:21)
Twmpa from Hay Bluff
Twmpa from Hay Bluff (14 Mar 2007__13:03:06)

A good path marches off SE along the broad heathery ridge and ascends gradually to the main top of Black Mountain, but as we remembered from the last time we were here, the top was so flat that wherever we stood another point looked higher, not that it matters!. The wettest parts have been paved and made progress easy. A few people had ascended from the car park at this end, but from here onwards the ridge was completely deserted, a very pleasant surprise even for March. The S top is clearly defined, and a little further on we descended to collect water at the springs which were running not far down the slope. We made a very good pitch near the 552m trig point.

View along Black Mountain ridge
View along Black Mountain ridge (14 Mar 2007__14:33:07)

Day 2 - Bryn Arw & Y Fal

The sun rose beneath a grey mantle that would set the dull cloudy scene for the day, but it was a lovely early morning walk along the ridge past the 464m trig and down to the valley road at Trawellwyd. We joined the Beacons Way briefly above the fields and descended to a footbridge and road via Strawberry Wood, a site of the Gwent Wildlife Trust.

Dawn sky from pitch at trig point 552m
Dawn sky from pitch at trig point 552m (15 Mar 2007__06:36:10)
View along the ridge with Y Fal beyond
View along the ridge with Y Fal beyond (15 Mar 2007__07:10:24)

A byway leads through Stanton Manor farm and climbs to the foot of Open Access land on Bryn Arw, largely covered in dense bracken that would make a direct ascent tortuous even when the dead stalks are lying flat. A good track of cropped grass ascends southwards towards the corner of a plantation where a path departs R to slant easily up the northern flanks of the hill - this is marked on the OS map. Where it levels out at the western end, we hairpinned back a short way on a very good path to the summit at 384m in an area of gorse bushes. The scene was a bit gloomy but there were pleasing views back to the ridges and on to Y Fal, where the mist cap was coming and going. The good path descends easily NW and down to a valley track to Old Coalpit.

The NE approach to Y Fal is signed from the lane "Sugar Loaf 3.2km", a climb of around 1200' with a really steep but short section at the end. As expected a few people had arrived here from all directions but the summit was clear, giving rewarding if rather murky views. From here Bryn Arw is a most unlikely looking Marilyn, its low profile almost disappearing into the background of hills.

Pen Cerrig-calch from Y Fal
Pen Cerrig-calch from Y Fal (15 Mar 2007__12:21:35)

It would have been nice to traverse Y Fal but that would have added a long road walk along the valley, so we descended through the rocks at the western end of the little summit ridge and took the good slanting path back below the face to rejoin the upward route. A short walk along the valley lane brought us to the 5-road junction at Pontyspig. The onward road was of course the very steep one opposite leading to New Inn Farm. A plethora of tracks and paths lead northwards from here but the excellent track we took was via Coed Robin and Coed Mawr, an easy gradual approach that gives great views over the valley. From Coed Mawr there is an obvious path directly onto the ridge, but we forked L on the lower track to intercept the small streams and collect water. At 272261, a damp path climbs to the ridge at Bal-Bach where we made a good pitch as the cloud thickened and obliterated the views, watched by some of the many fell ponies that graze the ridges.

Y Fal from Coed Robin track
Y Fal from Coed Robin track (15 Mar 2007__14:27:22)

Day 3 - Chwarel y Fan, Rhos Dirion & Twmpa

The temperature dropped markedly in the night and there was some ice and frost on the tent. The sky was clear at first as we climbed to the trig point on Bal-Mawr but veils of mist formed briefly on the tops as the sun rose and a biting wind blasted the ridge. All was clear again on the fine walk to Chwarel y Fan and Grwyne Fawr reservoir came into view, with the large sprawl of the broad ridge ahead.

Approaching Chwarel y Fan
Approaching Chwarel y Fan (16 Mar 2007__07:57:03)
The Black Mountain ridge from Chwarel y Fan
The Black Mountain ridge from Chwarel y Fan (16 Mar 2007__08:02:02)
Grwyne Fawr reservoir and Waun Fach
Grwyne Fawr reservoir and Waun Fach (16 Mar 2007__08:36:51)
Pen y Gadair Fawr
Pen y Gadair Fawr (16 Mar 2007__08:38:25)

The character changes here on the very long and gradual ascent over the expanse of Rhos Dirion, a damp peaty swathe through a vast sea of bleached tussocks and bits of scrubby heather yet looking attractively bright in the sunshine. A spring near the path provided excellent water and the trig point finally came into view, giving once again the great views from the escarpment edge with Pen y Fan in the distance.

Twmpa from Rhos Dirion
Twmpa from Rhos Dirion (16 Mar 2007__10:16:36)

An excellent walk along the edge gains the final top Twmpa, and as the path descends to the Gospel Pass there are grand views down the clefts in the face of the escarpment. A track drops down beneath the face to the valley road and footbridge at Pennant. Our return route followed the rights of way NW along the Digedi Brook valley to the road head at Darren, leaving a quiet lane walk through Llanigon back to Hay-on-Wye.

Hay Bluff from Twmpa
Hay Bluff from Twmpa (16 Mar 2007__11:06:07)