Backpacking the Black Mountains.

Backpacking the Black Mountains.
When it comes to backpacking trips they always entail some serious imagination. Dreaming and planning a trip for me whets the appetite, and raises the sense of anticipation of the solitude, peace and hard work to come. Approaching the beginning of February however I suddenly realised I had holiday left to take which hadn’t been taken. Sadly the family needed to stay at home for School and social stuff, but on the plus side I had a green light for some hill time. A lack of time to plan for my trip then ensued with life at Webtogs being rather busy, so I ended up thinking aloud on the Twitterverse as to where to go, flitting between the moors of Dartmoor or the hills in Brecon. In the end I decided to head to the Brecons after being tweeted a photo of a potential campsite from @Nigep that looked like a little spot of paradise.

My plan was to head up to Llanthony and park up by the priory there. The first day would be up and over Offas Dyke, before heading back down in to the Vale of Ewyas to camp. The Second day would be to head back over the Black Mountains grabbing a few peaks on the way. I was tentatively keeping my eyes on the weather, come Monday evening I packed swiftly as Tuesday & Wednesday looked the best bet with the chance of rain, clouds and sunshine in equal measure. Those of us who wander in the hills want to escape the hurly burly of ordinary life and the Brecons do seem to get passed over more often than not, whether that is because people feel they are too busy or too easy I’m not sure. I’ve done the Brecons many a time but surprisingly hadn’t been to the Black Mountains previously and after the disappointment that was my Christmas walking. I was fairly stoked about heading out in to the hills.

I left after 9 to avoid the worst of the Traffic and a fairly damp miserable drive commenced. Heading across the Severn bridge is a journey I have done so many times since a child that it always gives me a lift. It was even more poignant this time with the knowledge that my Aunt is moving down to Bexhill to be closer to my cousin, leaving one family member left in Wales. I resisted the familial urge to carry down the M4 however and turned right after the Magor services, heading up to Abergavenny and Llanthony.

The road in to Llanthony is a single track road and the mountains soon grew steeply on either side. The weather also started to brighten up, and the green luminescence on either side grew stronger. I parked at Llanthony priory and experienced that rarity in the outdoors world these days – free parking. Doing a small yet subtle dance of joy in the car park, I still managed to draw stares from the other people there. It’s the small victories that make life pleasant however, so I refused to blush.

Llanthony Priory was a beautiful sight but I had one mission on my mind – hills. I set off at a brisk pace around the outside and made tracks for the Beacon Way, climbing steeply through fields, woods and then more fields before hitting moorland. I find the start of a trip before you settle in to a rhythm curiously unsatisfying, but as the cloud drifted and dispersed across the hill, the sunlight soon became more of a welcome companion and the pleasant stress of my body working hard to ascend soon settled me down.

Offas Dyke looking to the Black Mountains

Click on me to make me bigger.

Reaching the top of Offas Dyke I found myself in shirt sleeves and wondered whether I really was walking in February. Wandering the top, I came across pools stacked with frog spawn, mum or dad lazily glooping down to the bottom of the pools before returning to look at me with distrust. I allowed myself the luxury of a day dream as I followed the clear path onwards and felt my shoulders dropping slowly as I relaxed more and more.

On top of Offas Dyke

Frog spawn

Clouds streaming off the Black Mountains

All too soon however the path down in to the valley appeared and as I moved lower, the cloud re-appeared and descended with me, cloaking the valley in mist and clag. The sharpness of the red mud from the hillside laid out the path below me clearly and I rejoined the agricultural lands below. By now I was impatient for a brew and pushed on quickly to days end, a camp on the banks of Nant Bwch which turned out to be as perfect a spot as I had dared to hope for. Water, shelter, peace and quiet were in abundance and I settled down to watch the fuzzy colour changes of the evening from the seat shaped stone outside my front porch.

Nant Bwch wildcamp

Rivers do have their blessings for the wild camper, but they also encourage a fair amount of ablutions in the night. As I found myself asleep early though, I forgave the occasional interruption and celebrated the ability to get a decent nights kip without getting woken up by two blond haired bundles of energy in the morning. Sleeping soundly I awoke to the light slowly creeping in to the tent as a misty, claggy day gathered pace outside. I found myself slow to get going and enjoyed a lazy get up of porridge and bananas, letting the sounds of the river mark the start of the day with it’s light chuckle.

Claggy start to the day

Packing in no real hurry, I soon make my way towards Lord Herefords Knob. This slowly drew a steady chirp of tweets from those following me on Social Hiking – keen to point out a multitude of things to with that point on the map!  Visibility was pretty dire and although practicing my navigation was useful, after finding myself slightly off course I turned my GPS on to increase my speed and pleasure from the day. Slowly the mist lifted, revealing the terrain around me as I bog hopped across Waun Fach and on to Gadair Fawr, making me very grateful I had gone for my Meindl Burmas rather than lighterweight alternatives. Reaching Gadiar Fawr, a haze was all that was left as the hills around me rested easily in the sun. All too soon the time came to drop down off the hills. A little bit of interesting navigation ensued through the Mynydd Du Forest before I dropped back in to the valley below with the Priory beckoning, tired, but full of memories.

View from Gadair Fawr

Mynedd Du

View back to Llanthony

If you’re keen for more of this, check out the full set of Flickr photos here and of course there are more of my tracks on Social Hiking as well.
  • http://www.terrybnd.blogspot.com terrybnd

    Enjoyed that mate. Be better if the pics were larger on the blogpost mind. So, I can read then stare as opposed to clicking on the pics 🙂

    Years and years since I’ve been round that way. Some tough terrain too.

    • http://www.webtogs.com Gareth

      Cheers for stopping by Terry and for your feedback on the photos, I need to sort out my wordpress settings for importing them, you’ve just given me the nudge I need 😉

  • Malcolm

    Just wanted to say I came across your blog last week so this weekend 4 of us headed out to replicate the trip. Just to say thanks for such a great posting as it made our trip easy being able to follow your description. We did almost the same timings, drove from Reading and arrived at the Priory at midday which is still free to park. We camped in the same spot, this is one of the most beautiul locations I have stopped at. The waterfall around the corner, the wild horses coming down to drink the water at day break all added up to making it a perfect place to stop. Unfortunately the mist and fog was so bad that we could not get to enjoy the view. Hiking up Lord Herefords Knob we couldn’t see the top from the start of the climb and the mist remained with us the whole time until we started our decent after lunch. We lost about half an hours hiking time when one of the members discovered the place was covered in wild blueberry bushes! We had such a great trip we are going back in October. Many thanks, I hope lots of others discover it and get to enjoy it too…Malcolm.

    • http://www.jonesnow.org/ Gareth

      What super feedback and thanks for stopping by Malcolm! That camp spot is indeed stunning, I’m hoping to head back at some stage with my small son and enjoy a wild camp there again. Sorry to hear about the weather but you can always rely on Wales to bring the mist and rain 😉