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Flaming February In the Northern Black Mountains

Flaming February In the Northern Black Mountains

Postby Daveyf » Sat Mar 23, 2019 7:48 pm

Hewitts included on this walk: Chwarel y Fan, Pen y Gadair Fawr, Twmpa, Waun Fach

Date walked: 27/02/2019

Time taken: 8.44

Distance: 22.7 km

Ascent: 935m

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Finally I make my first visit to the Brecon Beacons, or more specifically the Black Mountains, still some 3 hours away from home but at 150 miles qualify as my nearest collection of Hewitt’s. After a stooopid o’clock start on a February morning I arrive at an empty Gospel Pass Car Park with beautiful blue cloudless skies in every direction. I love these crisp wintry days with a sharp frost on the ground and a strange yellowy globe trying to climb above the hills, however not much crispiness today but more a balmy ambre solaire kind of day. I was fairly confident the weather would be good, February isn’t a month you normally associate with a heatwave anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere but for the last 2-3 days temperature records had been broken even nudging 20 degrees and was set to continue for one more day.


View south from the Gospel Pass Car Park

The Gospel Pass Car Park affords lovely views itself down the valley. It’s already some 1,780 feet high so a good place to start wandering along the ridges. Twmpa is my first target of the day and seeing it to the west I find a fairly obvious path leaving the car park. It’s not a steep climb by any stretch of the imagination and no more than 30 minutes after setting off I’m standing by a small collection of stones which can only be the summit cairn looking out over hazy Hay on Wye. At 2,264 feet it’s a fine spot for a pause and contemplation of its other name, Lord Herefords Knob, whatever possessed his lordship to kindly name a mountain after his manhood? Don’t know who he was but must have had one hell of an ego!


Heading up towards Twmpa


Summit cairn on Twmpa

The route to the next port of call stretches off from Twmpa down a bowl apparently called Rhiw y Fan and then up again to Rhos Dirion, a fairly clear route can be seen ahead so no navigational difficulties at all. In the distance Pen Y Fan can be seen sticking up on the near horizon. At 2.339 feet Rhos Dirion is 75 feet higher than Twmpa but doesn’t make it as a Hewitt as it’s just a chip off its parent Waun Fach, again it’s a fairly easy stroll to a trig point marking the high point. From here the grassy path now becomes an excellent asphalt track along the northern ridge of the Black mountains.


Heading down Twmpa across Rhiw y Fan to Rhos Dirion


Trig point at Rhos Dirion


Pen y Fan in the distance

Continuing along the grey grit road the route starts to bend to the south and gently climbs, there are some fine views over the Dragon’s Back which looks a worthy walk but will have to wait until another day. Another pile of stones forming a cairn mark Pen y Manllwyn, at 2,521 feet they look reasonably comfy so it’s time to pull up a rock and tuck into a pork n pickle pie. So far I’ve been walking for 3 hours and the only faces I’ve seen so far belong to sheep and ponies and conversation has been a tad one sided. While enjoying the solitude and tucking into my pie, I can see what appears to be the entire British Army approaching, having come up via the Dragon’s Back with their houses on their back, sweating in the warmth they all down packs and also make the most of the suite of rocks scattered about me. Glad of a little chat, turns out they’re on an exercise competing in groups of a dozen or so against all their fresh faced pals trying to get to point A to point B via point X, Y and Z and presumably avoiding the shark infested custard. I can see several platoons still making their way along the Dragon’s Back bound for higher ground.


Cairn at Pen y Manllwyn

Suitably refreshed it’s time to crack on up towards Waun Fach, at 2,661 feet it’s the highest point in the Black Mountains, again the route is not steep and before too long I arrive at a path junction and a coffee table sized slab of rock, is this the summit? I check my GPS, it says I’m standing on top of it, ok so seriously underwhelming top here then. I’ve since seen other people’s pics of the summit which show a large rock sunken in a peat bog, well I certainly didn’t see anything like that around so what happened to it? Is it somewhere off the beaten path? Answers on a post card please... There’s been some extensive work done improving the path and a cracking job they’ve made of it too, so hats off to those that put in the effort, admittedly Waun Fach is hardly a stunning peak, however with a nice new path laid I thought the highest point in the Black Mountains would be a bit more deserving of a little bit more than a coffee table cairn.


Coffee table cairn at Waun Fach

Continuing south along the path Pen y Gadair Fawr lies ahead standing far prouder than the previous summit it almost appears symmetrical on the approach from Waun Fach and the summit cairn can be seen from a long way off. Surrounded by heather and bog the path meanders confidently towards the summit where another group of soldiers are taking a well-earned rest. Another opportunity for a chat, munchies and a drink before the army wander off down the hill across the heather towards their next target leaving the summit to myself. At 2,661 feet, Gadair seems a far more interesting peak than Waun Fach and has great views in all directions.


Path to the amazingly symmetrical Pen y Gadair Fawr


Cairn at Gadair looking back to less well marked Waun Fach

My planned route now takes me south east leaving the man made path behind and following a grassy trail down off the hill towards the Grwyne Fawr a stream which is fed further up by the dam at the Grwyne Fawr reservoir. A beautiful spot although in a dip between two ridges, so no extensive views its very peaceful listening to the water flowing by. Water bottles refilled I now need to try and cross the river, no obvious bridge anywhere in sight so I head down stream for a few yards where I find some stepping stones decorated with cairn towers and manage to get across without incident, may not be so easy if the river is in flood although maybe the water gets held back at the dam after heavy rainfall.


The peaceful Grwyne Fawr


Crossing the Grwyne Fawr


Cairn towers doted across the river

Across the river the path heads straight up towards a corner of woodland and keeping the woods on the right I slowly head up the hill. This is a very steep route, I have to stop several times to catch my breath and use the excuse of admiring the view opening up towards the dam as I climb higher. In times of heavy rain this route may be very slippery and it may be better to take a less steep detour south east and picking up a path that zig zags through the woodland. Before too long the summit of Chwarel y Fan appears on the ridge. This was a slog getting from the river to the top of the ridge and by far the most strenuous climb of the day rising some 800 feet in approx. ¾ of a mile. Glad of having the hard work behind me I sit on another empty summit resting my aching muscles. Once again there are some cracking views from the summit cairn which sits at 2,228 feet, ranging from the reservoir to the north to a host of ridges and peaks to the south which ignorantly I don’t know well enough to be on first name terms with, future visits I’m sure will bring familiarity and knowledge!


View north from Chwarel y Fan showing Gadair, Waun Fach and the Grwyne Fawr Reservoir


South along the ridge from Chwarel


The cairn at Chwarel with the route ahead along the ridge

After a while it’s time to leave the fourth Hewitt of the day and head north west along the ridge. It’s a 3 ½ mile march to the next rest point passing the dam down to the left and it seems to take forever to reach. Finally I arrive at the cairn marking Twyn Tal-y-cefn. Not a great deal to report from here other than a smidgen of confusion on my part, the ‘high point’ (I hesitate to use the word summit) is apparently 2,303 feet, higher than Chwarel and to me clearly part of the same ridge as Chwarel, however Twyn Tal-y-cefn is listed on a number of websites as being part of Waun Fach despite there being a valley and dam between the two, it also leads on up to Rhos Dirion so maybe it’s a sprawling limb of that ridge and that’s why Waun Fach is listed as the parent peak? Anyroadup, there’s not a soul to be seen anywhere so no one to quiz about it. Nice views back towards Twmpa and before long I’m Twmpa bound and arrive back at the Hewitt I first climbed some 8 hours ago.


Back at Twmpa looking across to Hay Bluff

Heading down back towards the car thankful of the amazing weather, if it had been May I’d have considered myself lucky, but February?? I reflect on a cracking day of beautiful cloudless skies, wonderful views across empty hills and understand completely the allure of the Black Mountains so now have to make a decision on the route to be taken tomorrow…
Munro compleatist
Posts: 26
Munros:19   Corbetts:6
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:52
Wainwrights:23   Islands:2
Joined: May 4, 2017
Location: Hampshire, miles from the nearest mountain!

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