I did this walk six years ago on a perfect day at the end of May. It is a big walk by most criteria and certainly one of my longest. In old money it is just short of 25 miles and just under 5000ft of climbing. My mapping software gives a non-stop time of ten and a half hours, but it took me one hour longer. It is not the toughest walk by any means but in scale we are talking about Three Peaks of Yorkshire as the yardstick. (The Route Editor mapping did not work for me for this walk nor for some other parts of Wales so I have included my own version)
Given the length of the walk an early start is essential. Those who know the Gospel Pass and other roads in the vacinity, will realise that fast driving is not an option, so rather than a B&B in Hay-On-Wye, I slept in the car at the large parking area (marked on map next to the stone circle) just to the NW of Hay Bluff ( just off the northern tip of my map above). At the time there did not appear to be any objection to this and several camper vans and tents were company for the night. Do not try the walk from here as a very good car park at the top of the Gospel Pass is the ideal place to start. I was off at 7.15am and given the advantage of a 542M start I was on top of Twmpa shortly after 7.30am.
Low clouds were still burning off the highest ground and boiling over the escarpments which are such a feature of the Black Mountains.
Within five minutes there was a dramatic change: the cloud had gone and the route ahead was clear.
The walking from here to Pen Cerrig-Clach at the southern end of the ridge is pure joy - well almost as there is an exception in the shape of Waun Fach. Before that however, I chose to take in Twyn Talycefn 702 but most people will give it a miss. The Black Mountains are home to delightful ponies which add interest to the day despite my regular acquaintance with New Forest Ponies in my home county of Hampshire.
Now on to Waun Fach at 2660ft, the highest point in these hills. The name I feel, must translate from the Welsh as quagmire. Those familiar with the Cheviot or Black Hill in the Peak District will feel at home, but thankfully, the scale of the peat bog is very much limited.
My memory recalls some curious walking from this point southwards with good tracks twisting and turning particularly over Pen Trumau and Mynydd Llysiau. Next comes the fastest part of the walk over and beyond Pen Twyn Glas but Pen Allt-mawr 719 puts a stop to that with a stiff pull to its summit which is a marvelous viewpoint. The fabulous walking continues south to Pen Cerrig-clach, another wonderful viewpoint with the diminutive Sugar Loaf taking centre stage to the south east. This is also a place to stop for lunch and to review what to do next.
If I was doing the walk again I would without doubt reverse the entire route (maybe contouring around Waun Fach) and double the delight of this easy ridge walk. But there was still plenty of the day left and I was feeling good, albeit aware of the rising temperature. I committed to crossing the valley of the Grwyne Fechan, and even had the fanciful ambition to cross over into the next valley and up to Chwarel y Fan, but I was safe in the knowledge that the latter part of this excursion could be omitted and so it turned out to be.
Descending eastwards from the summit of Pen Cerrig-clach starts easily enough but quickly steepens and I can vaguely remember negotiating areas of sharp rocks. I was aiming for the paths marked on the map which would take me to the minor roads but as I lost height I could not see an exit through hedges and walls. I must have floundered around for a while and I became dispirited but eventually made it. By this time it was early afternoon and very hot. Pounding along tarmac was not what I wanted. A cyclist stopped to chat, glad for a reason to stop the pedals turning.
In time I left the road and started the slanting climb up the slopes of Pen Gwyllt Meilrch. It was still very hot and this was the biggest climb of the day but my spirits soared. The walking was good and I remember the lush green of this beautiful pastoral valley. My next ridge came soon enough and the walking was good once again, first over Pen Twyn Mawr and then Pen y Gadair Fawr. I chose to contour around the eastern slopes of Waun Fach after which I was backtracking my approach march. The sun had moved around by nearly 12 hours by this stage, giving a flatter perspective to the view over Pen Rhos Dirion - gone were the shadows from the escarpment and there was no trace of the swirling mists I saw at 7.30am.
I would gladly return to do the eastern ridge walk to Pen Cerrig-clach (leaving out the diversion to Twyn Talycefn) and coming back the same way - I would put this at an easy 8 - 9 hours. The alternative would be to continue south from Pen Cerrig-clach over Table Mountain to Crickhowell but transport would be needed at both ends.
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