The Cambrian Way 2000

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 2 - Days 2 to 4 - Risca to Crickhowell via The Black Mountains

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Day 2 - Thursday 1st June - 19.5 miles - 3,200 ft ascent - B&B 15

Risca to Abergavenny via Twmbarlwm, Pontypool and Blorenge

I woke to a morning with rain and mist. The weather forecast gave some improvement in the afternoon, but with a wet morning at least. I appear to have been the only one staying at the Darren Inn, as I had breakfast on my own in a large function room. It was a substantial meal with sausages, bacon, egg and beans, and enough to last me until Pontypool, where I could get something for lunch.

I set off at 8.50 into the rain and mist, having tried to pack everything so that it would keep dry. There was a steady climb up a road followed by a steeper path to the summit of Twmbarlwm, which is the site of an ancient fort with a small defensive area at the top and another circle of defence further down. A long ridge walk followed, with visibility down to about 100 yards at first, opening up to a couple of miles after a while. Even in the rain and mist, I preferred this walk to that through the forests on the previous day. At least I felt that I was up in the hills and out in the open rather than being boxed in by tightly packed trees.

I was not quite sure whether I was keeping to the recommended route as there were few landmarks, but I wasn't worried as the main path I was on would lead me to the summit of Mynydd Maen, which was not far off the route. It did, in fact, lead me to the radio mast not far from the summit, so I was able to get my bearings and head off in the right direction to pick up the remainder of the route. In clearer conditions the recommended route would have been preferable, as there would have been more of a view, but in these conditions it made little difference. By this time my feet were getting rather tired, as I had not been able to find anywhere with sufficient shelter for a rest in the eight miles since Risca.

In Pontypool I was able to buy some hot pies from a filling station right by the route, rather than having to make a detour into the middle of town. The weather had improved somewhat and there were even occasional glimpses of sunshine between the mist and cloud, so I stopped in the entrance to Pontypool Park to eat my lunch and have a rest.

When I set off again, I chanced taking off my waterproofs, only to find that it started raining again after about a mile or so. It made for pleasant walking over Gern Wen and Mynydd Garnclochdy with lots of undulations and grass close cropped by the sheep, even though there were no real view to be seen. The only problem apart from the visibility was having to dodge round puddles left by the rain. After Mynydd y Garn Fawr the grass changed to heather moorland - very flat and monotonous. There was a well defined path but it suffered from a mixture of soggy peat and very stony ground - in the first instance it was difficult dodging round the worst of the puddles, and in the second it was difficult missing the sharply angled stones. The landmarks provided by the radio masts and the grave of the famous horse Foxhunter assured me that I was on the right route as I started the ascent of Blorenge. It has only a gentle incline from this side and is not much higher than the route of the past few miles.

The summit of Blorenge was not very spectacular, but I took shelter in a ring of stones before starting the descent. At first the descent is gradual but eventually a very steep edge is reached which, I am sure on a clear day, would give some fine views across Abergavenny to Sugar Loaf and the Black Mountains beyond. A round-about zigzag path avoids the steepest slope on the way down but still involves a few steep stretches. The path eventually descends to a tunnel underneath a house and canal. It looked pitch black on first entry until I had gone down far enough to see the light at the other end, but even so it was quite difficult to see in there. After a little way along roads I reached the centre of Abergavenny and found Ty'r Morwydd House where I was booked for the night.

Ty'r Morwydd House is actually an environmental study centre, which also can be booked by parties, as a hostel. It just happened that on the night I wanted to stay there was a party of ramblers booked in and I was able to join them, otherwise it would not have been available. It is a very good hostel with a Wales Tourist Board 3 star rating. It offers a higher standard than Youth Hostels with proper beds rather than bunks, bathrooms rather than showers, and better meals but, of course, is more expensive. They had laid a separate table for me apart from the ramblers, and the portions that they gave me were far more than the normal portions that were being shared out between eight on each other table. I was feeling rather bloated as I left the table, although I was sure that I would soon work it off the next day.

I did a lot of washing and hoped that it would dry on the radiator which was only slightly warm, then had a walk round the town and the outside of the castle before calling for a couple of pints of not-so-good Bass and then to bed.

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Day 3 - Friday 2nd June - 14.2 miles - 3,913 ft ascent - YHA Dinner, B&B and Packed Lunch 21.45

Abergavenny to Capel-y-Ffin via Sugar Loaf and Chwarel y Fan

I had a good night's sleep and woke at about 7 a.m. but drifted off again until 7.50. I was not sure whether breakfast was at 8.00 or 8.30, so went down at 8.05 to find it was already in full swing. I was also not sure at which place I was supposed to sit, as my place from the previous night was being used for tea and coffee. It ensued that I was to have breakfast with the manager of the centre, at a table laid for the two of us. We had a good chat about the walk and several other topics before I left to pack my things and set off into town to get something for lunch and to post back the first of my seven maps. The maps don't weigh a great deal, but it is something of a symbolic gesture to post them back as each section is completed. I looked all around Tesco's but couldn't find any sandwiches, so I got a few other things and queued at the checkout. When I eventually reached the checkout the lady there said "You could do with some nice sandwiches to go with that" and pointed out where they were. Unfortunately, I then had to queue again to pay for them but, as I had only about fourteen miles instead of the previous day's nineteen and a half miles to walk, I was not in too much of a hurry.

I set off from town at about 10.10 with cloud hovering at about 1,000 ft but as yet, no rain. There was a fairly steep ascent up a road and path onto a ridge, then a much more gentle ascent most of the way until the final steep ascent onto the summit of Sugar Loaf. The latter part of the climb was in cloud and, therefore, with some drizzle but not really enough to class as rain. The Trig Point on the summit had a sign saying 'Adopted by Longtown Mountain Rescue Team'. These days the Ordnance Survey use 3D aerial photography and other such techniques to produce maps so Trig Points have no practical use. Nevertheless, they serve as good navigation guides to walkers, so it is good to see that some of them are being preserved in this way.

On the descent of Sugar Loaf I seemed to be going too far off to the right so I stopped to check my compass, which is something I very rarely have to do, as I can generally see where I want to be by the lie of the land. I found that I had missed the path, so had to backtrack and regain a couple of contour lines to regain the route. Further down I had some consternation when my compass showed that I was going in the opposite direction from where I should be. After a mild panic, I then found that I was looking at the wrong end of the compass needle - perhaps I should use it more often!

I stopped for lunch just below the cloud level on the descent of Sugar Loaf, and was pleased to find that my feet and legs were still feeling fine, apart from a little soreness from a couple of small blisters. Quite often, on a long walk, a feeling of lethargy sets in during the first few days, making it very difficult to get started in the mornings. This generally wears off a few days later as the system adapts to the extra demands being imposed. On this walk, however, I seemed to have escaped most of that, possibly because I had done a few strenuous walks in the previous couple of weeks and had gone through that stage then, rather than on the main walk.

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SE from Bal Mawr
Vale of Ewyas towards Sugar Loaf
Vale of Ewyas N from Chwarel y Fan
Capel y Ffin and Hay Bluff
On YHA route variant
Chapel at Capel y Ffin

Coming though Fforest Coal Pit, named from charcoal production rather than coal, and climbing onto the next ridge, I found that the cloud had lifted from Sugar Loaf and most of the hills around. There was still some cloud around but at least there was a reasonable view. The ridge along the west side of the Vale of Ewyas makes a very pleasant walk with a grassy track and good views to both sides. Further along there were even a few patches of sunshine and even better views across the beautiful Vale of Ewyas. The ridge to the west is marred, in parts, by forestry plantations, but otherwise would look just as good as that to the east. At this point the walk follows the adjacent ridge to the Offa's Dyke path, although the views from that ridge are supposedly not as good. After the fairly gentle ascent of Chwarel y Fan, the route drops down steeply from the ridge to the pretty little village of Capel-y-ffin (meaning Chapel on the border). My destination was the Youth Hostel about a mile further on, along a 'hostel variant' of the route which meets up with the main route again at Twmpa or Lord Hereford's Knob.

It is possible to follow the road, which is very narrow, to the hostel but, as this presents some danger from vehicles, it is better to take the recommended route, which starts by climbing steeply up a path on the hillside for about 250 ft. This, however, takes a bit of effort at the end of a day's walk. The path then contours round the hillside and eventually drops down to the hostel. Unfortunately, the path was badly churned up by horses in places, even though it is not a bridleway, and was, hence, very muddy and not quite as good an option as it might have been.

I arrived at 5.25 p.m. at this lovely, traditional hostel, which has a friendly atmosphere, and is geared up for outdoor pursuits. I was in 'The Barn' which can sleep about twenty, but there was only one other sharing it with me that night, the rest being in the main building. My feet were aching somewhat, as is common on long walks, and was probably a build up from the long walk of the previous day. I had also been having some trouble with my left foot which I had twisted slightly on the first day, and this gave me quite a bit of pain from time to time. On the plus side, however, the soreness that I had suffered earlier caused by the base of my rucksack rubbing on my back was now much improved after I had adjusted the straps to lift it higher up.

There was a good oil-filled radiator in the dormitory, so I took advantage of it to dry out some of my previous day's washing which was still damp and I also did some more washing before going to dinner. In traditional fashion, this hostel had communal tables which encourage conversation with other hostellers. One group were from a local riding stables and they appeared to use the hostel regularly as overflow accommodation when their own place was full of guests. There was also a family with two young children, who were camping there, and an elderly Canadian couple who were walking the Offa's Dyke path. They had retired to a remote island where they had to generate their own electricity and had to haul all of their supplies half way up a cliff. They had still kept their normal home, which they had been renting out, and were considering returning there in a year or two, as they were now finding the primitive lifestyle rather difficult with increasing years.

Dinner was very good and I had onion soup, pork chop and spotted dick.

When I mentioned to the warden that I was walking the Cambrian Way, she pulled out a book that had been provided by Tony Drake in which walkers were invited to enter details of their start dates and planned finishing dates etc. It started in 1991 and there were typically about 20 people a year who had made entries in the book, although not all of those were doing the complete walk in one go. Obviously there are quite a number of others who would not have stayed at the hostel but it still doesn't indicate a large number of people doing the walk, which went along with my suspicions, having not yet met a single person who was doing it.

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Day 4 - Saturday 3rd June - 15.5 miles - 2,347 ft ascent - B&B 20

Capel-y-Ffin to Crickhowell via Lord Hereford's Knob and Waun Fach

The weather was wet in the morning - it had started raining the night before. Breakfast was at 8 a.m. and I could see low cloud hanging around most of the hills, but not completely covering them. At 9.25 I set off up the path from the hostel and decided to take a path straight up the hillside rather than make my way back along the very muddy path to meet the main path up onto the ridge. It was a good grassy path at an angle, so was not too steep and joined the main path at the top. It was not far before I entered the cloud and the visibility then dropped to about 100 yards.

At a cairn that I took to be the top of Lord Hereford's Knob, I stopped for a snack. When I set off again I soon realised that this was not where I thought, as the summit was about half a mile further along the very flat topped ridge, which suddenly drops steeply away after the summit. Despite the poor visibility, it was not too difficult to find the route and it was only in one or two places that I had to check my compass. In one case I had gone about a quarter of a mile down the wrong track and had to retrace my steps, but otherwise it all went well.

The weather was alternating between drizzly mist and rain, and the ground was saturated. A couple of chaps from Bristol were going the same way as me, and I walked with them for a couple of miles to the summit of Waun Fach, where they went off in a different direction. Chatting to them helped to pass on the time during some fairly monotonous walking through the rain. The most annoying thing about this part of the walk was knowing that there must be some magnificent views from this ridge walk, if only the cloud would lift. The summit of Waun Fach was a huge quagmire, with a sea of peat surrounding the trig point, so I skirted a good way round all of it to the path leading along the ridge.

Further along I stopped in the shelter of a cairn for my lunch and a couple of other walkers stopped to join me. It was a Saturday, so there were still a number of walkers about despite the bad weather. They were taking a different route than me, but were eventually going to end up in Crickhowell, where they planned on having a meal in the Bear Hotel and they suggested that I might join them there.

From the start of the day I had been wearing my waterproof top but not my leggings and, by the time it started to rain properly, my shorts were so wet that there hardly seemed any point in putting on my leggings. Consequently, by the time I reached the end of the ridge and descended onto grassy tracks, my legs were so splattered with peat that I decided to stand in a stream to rinse off the worst of the dirt from my legs and boots. My boots filled with water, but they could hardly get any wetter than they were already, after squelching along for the last several miles.

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Just below the cloud
Table Mountain and Crickhowell
The Bear Inn is at the end of the street
Crickhowell and Table Mountain

Just above Table Mountain I finally dropped below the cloud and was able to get a view both of Table Mountain itself and Crickhowell down beneath. It was a great relief being able to see around me again after about fourteen miles of mist and rain. I reached my B&B at about 4.50 p.m. and it was wonderful to be able to change out of my wet things, have a shower and get warm.

After a rest, I set off in search of something to eat and decided that I would call in the Bear Hotel to see if I could see the walkers I had met earlier. However, I felt very much underdressed in there, as most of the diners were dressed up for dinner, so I just had a quick pint and went in search of somewhere a little more down-to-earth. This was not as easy as it may seem in that many of the pubs only served meals at lunch time and not in the evening. Eventually, I found the Six Bells, having been directed there from another pub. Crickhowell is not a cheap place and most of the bar meals were 6.50 or more. I decided on Lamb Rosemary, which was very good, but the meal was not without some problems as I was asked to move from my table into another bar so that some others could sit there.

I went back to my B&B to watch television for a while before going to bed. I am not one who normally needs a lot of sleep, but with all the strenuous walking I needed the rest, even if I did not sleep all the way through.

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