Waun Fach and some gory history

Hewitts: Waun Fach

Date walked: 21/07/2020

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 12km

Ascent: 662m

July, July, we were allowed into Wales! :D Not too welcome in Snowdonia though...

I visited my ex-husband in Ceredigion, and then, on my way back, 'nipped' up into the Black Mountains.

[The Black Mountains, just north of the Brecon Beacons: not to be confused with Black Mountain on Offa's Dyke, nor with Mynydd Du.]

More by luck than judgement I found the Waun Fach layby carpark (saying 'Dragon's Back' rather than 'Waun Fach' on its sign) and a parking fee honesty box (plus promise of CCTV).

I dropped down to the hidden footpath, went left to walk parallel to the road, and then up a little lane on the right which took me to Castell Dinas. I headed up to the ruins with a Scotland-style right-to-roam gay abandon (hope that was ok), and startled a brown hare which bounded away and hid itself very effectively somewhere.

So by 7.55am I was up at the castle ruins, sipping coffee and nibbling a homemade blaeberry, nutty, date-y, chocolatey breakfast bar, while I took in my surrounds in the morning light.

Image005 View north from Castell Dinas by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image002 South to east Brecon Beacons via Pen Allt-Mawr by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image003 Western flank of Waun Fach by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image004 Y Grib - the Dragons Back by Emma Kendon, on Flickr [The Dragon's back - and so am I :D ]

Image007 Meadow pipit by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image001a Wild Mountain Thyme by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Dating from about 1070, this Norman castle is the highest one in England and Wales at 450m (1,476'). It was built in stone right from the off, stolen by bad King John, taken back by Prince Llywellyn ab Iorwerth who sacked it, Henry III refurbished it. Llewellyn's grandson nicked it back and in the 15th century rebellion it was finally destroyed. Mad.

Image001 Castell Dinas entrance tower wall by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Oh, lovely. Respite from lockdown. At last. Up on a hill, no one around, looking not at Worthing but at more hills, and wild thyme at my feet. Logistics meant this was to be a modest little walk, but right now, sitting on this sacked castle hill, looking at a tame dragon, it was ok (though the area is farmed to within an inch of its life, like England).

Image006 NW from Castell Dinas by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Breakfast had, up the Dragon's Back I went. It had been a roasting hot, dry week and I wondered what the trickling Rhiangoll would be like in winter. I was applying sunblock as I walked up past bilberry bushes, and all I could hear from down below was the bleating of sheep and lambs.

Image010 Trickling Rhiangoll in a dry week by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Back in April 2017, I'd taken a friend up Pen Y Fan in the rain. It felt so much longer ago than that, as I looked back at it in the distance over Mynydd Troed and the grassy ridge beneath me. Bleating had given way to the caws, flaps and jacks of crows.

Image011 Pen Y Fan from the Dragons Back by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

And then there I was, approaching the first cairn I'd seen since Drumochter in Feb. Surprised I didn't hug the thing!

Image013 Pano west from the cairn by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

There were swallows up here, and the sunlight was shimmering off the glossy crows' wings in the cleft of the hill. Then.....aaaaahhh.... the first happy squelch of Bog.

Image014 First bog since lockdown by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image015 First bog cotton by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image017 Bog cotton by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image020 Cotton grass and Pen Y Fan by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Funny what you miss. :)

In my lockdown pond-building and planting, I've explored whether I can plant acidic soil plants, including sedges like this, but there's no responsible way of doing it, so bog cotton remains an exotic treat :lol: I plucked a head, and stroked my cheek with it over and over. Right now it was carpeting the Cairngorms floor, where I'd been in the snow earlier in the year, and I think we have a patch at Ashdown Forest.

Anyway, bog-bonding done (you can do this when there's no one around :lol: ), I turned right on the ridge and the modest top of Waun Fach lay ahead. As did more coffee.

Image021 Approaching Waun Fach summit by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image022 Morning coffee at the top by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

A top in a pandemic, not a dramatic top, not a particularly challenging walk, but higher than at home and yet with appallingly little wildlife I was finding bitter-sweet. Odd sensation, one of many, and of course the overriding feeling was how lucky I was.

I did take panos from here and they're on Flickr, but the top is so flat they're a bit pointless (no pun intended) to pop in here. Though now I've said that I realise I have to give an example or two:

Image030 SW towards Merthyr Tydfil by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image029 SE pointy Sugar Loaf above Abergavenny by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

So, after second coffee and a handful of almonds, I headed down.

Image032 My way back down via Pen Trumau by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

With lockdown legs, although it was a shame not to have slotted in a real mountain adventure, the ease of descent had its attractions. There was time just to take in what was coming up. The first thing coming up was a person, keeping to the lower contour and sharing a silent greeting raise of the hand with me, just the kind of human it was a pleasure to see. He was followed by a hag. (By which I mean I then saw my first peat hag for months too.)

Image033 A person by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image035 First peathag since lockdown by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image034 Pen Y Fan vista for descent by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

There were no plover of course, no greenshank, no eagles, no froglets, no harrier, but "here, hare, here" (to steal from Withnail & I), and wheatear, buzzard, kestrel and a probably inevitable Welsh pony I believe.

Image036 Wheatear by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image037 Buzzard by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image040 Pony zoom by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

A brief study in trees...

There's currently around 1.5 million ha of conifer plantation in the UK, some with firecrests and crossbills thriving in it, or with capercaillie maybe, much with very little living there beside the cash crop. I'd like to find one with goshawk and nightjar, black grouse and hen harrier. This one, from this distance, looked probably rubbish, e.g. Corsican pine. Jury's out on whether fast-growing conifers are any kind of solution for carbon capture, meanwhile...

Image043 A study in trees by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

By now there were a few more people trickling up Rhiw Trumau, though not necessarily heading on up to Waun Fach - there was another low contour route which went round the hill and then led I know not where. But I still had big long stretches to myself with more wheatear, goldfinch, swallow, butterflies and a sweet scent of bracken.

Image048 Meadow brown by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Image053 Sickly sweet smell of bracken by Emma Kendon, on Flickr

Down at valley-level, it was a walk back through wooded sunken paths and little winding lanes until the wooden steps reappeared to take me back to the carpark, where my car now had some company.

The gory history

Castell Dinas, where my mini-journey began, passed into the de Braose dynasty in 1125 and their power grew throughout this whole area of the Welsh Marches (amongst others) as highly favoured allies of each subsequent monarch. The relationship fell apart spectacularly during the time of William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber (Bramber's near me in Sussex, where the castle is in a similar state of ruin). He was a court favourite of horrible King John and it's not really known why they fell out, but it might have been his wife Maud annoying John by making it known she believed he'd ordered the death of the young contestant to John's throne.

John took all William's castles and William fled to France where he was hanged. But Maud and their eldest son were imprisoned and left to starve to death. There's even record of Maud having eaten the flesh of her son's cheeks. (Histoire des Ducs de Normandie et des Rois d'Angleterre, pp.112-5)

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Location: was West Sussex, now Ayrshire
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