Approximate distance: 9 miles
Starting point: Lay-by on the mountain road from Llangattock Village to Blaen Onneu. SO 185169
Map required: OS Explorer OL13
Terrain: some steep sections and narrow paths close to near vertical rock faces. Some paths are excellent, others, particularly through boggy parts are very difficult to follow.
Facilities. None on the route. Crickhowell is a very nice little town just 3 miles away.
The plan was to follow Kevin Walker’s route No. 3 (The Hollow Mountain) from his “Undiscovered Wales” book. I hadn’t planned on leaving said book somewhere near Keepers Pond three days earlier. (I hope someone picked it up and gave it a new home). I only discovered the loss on the Friday and I was meeting Paul on Saturday morning so not even Amazon’s Super Soooper service would have got me the book in time because Jann the Post does not do deliveries before 8.30 am. Our starting point was near Crickhowell, so I Googled on bookshops there and found Book-ish. They didn’t have it on the shelves but said they could probably get it for me for Saturday morning. Fantastic.
When I turned up on their doorstep at 9.30 sharp the cold-ridden girl explained that Walker works in an outdoor pursuits shop up the street and she got it from him. It was a signed copy with his best wishes. Nice. I had also gone in with a copy of “Discovering Welsh Gardens” (I did all the photography for this book) in case they had not got it on their shelves. When it was published in 2009 I would not pass a bookshop without going in, book in hand, and asking if they would stock it. Usually they agreed to try it. They hadn’t got it and Cold Girl said that the owner was in later so I left the copy with her and thanked her profusely for the trouble she had taken and said that I would see the owner later.
Paul and I arrived at the designated lay-by at the same time so I had no time to study the route either in the book or on the map but the starting point was clear enough. The trouble was that 100 yards off the road a path went straight ahead (Walker’s Route) and we took one to the right heading up the side if the hill. And by the time we tried to establish where we were we were half way up the hill with a steep cliff face to our left. Paul blamed himself for our deviation but I think that I really wanted to get up on top of the hills as soon as possible. It was a cold and sunny day and when we looked at Walker’s route I thought that a good part at the beginning was going to be shaded by this escarpment (I was wrong about this) so I think I was happy to get out into the sun.
After clambering up the hillside we reached a narrow track which headed roughly east, keeping a steep drop just below us to the Usk valley. There was a great view down onto the lozenge shaped raised bog called Wern Ddu.
We passed a sheepfold which we (wrongly) thought might be shown as Eglwys Faen on the map. Paul and I speculated on why anyone might have built a church (Eglwys being Welsh for church) at this spot. They hadn’t. Eglwys Faen is part of a cave system.
At this point I discovered that I had left my GPS in the car, so I couldn’t be certain about our grid reference. We walked on past a cairn and I continued to try (but failed) to relate what we were seeing to Walker’s description.
I am reading his book as I am writing this and now realise that the route Paul and I took appears to have been roughly correct- but we were doing it clockwise, whereas he intended us to go anticlockwise. No wonder I was confused. And am slightly embarrassed by this confession.
The path took us through the bracken-covered hillside and then about half a mile or so after the cairn we saw below us what were obviously grassed over manmade workings, so we walked down the track to have a mooch around.
Walker informs us that this is called Pinnacle Bay and is part of what was the Pant-y-rhiw quarry. On a concrete constructed rectangular reservoir (I think that’s what it is, peering into the opening in the top I could see water) a whole skeleton of a sheep rested on the top, conjuring up a fantasy that this was a sacrificial lamb on this alter – like construction.
I wandered away leaving Paul to contemplate its demise when a blinding light appeared in the sky and a voice boomed out:
“Paul, my name is Monty, and I am following you”
Ok, I am making this up. If you follow Paul’s blog you’ll get what a good joke this is. A little further on we found this kiln.
Then a passage between the rocks led us to a small quarry containing this art Installation made out of rusted stock fencing.
Paul knew it was art as he had been to Portsmouth Art College college and was a contemporary of Greyson Perry, so he could recognize its qualities.
Climbing up the side of this quarry brought us to an ideal spot for a sit and an early lunch with nice flat rocks (adorned with fascinating horseshoe-shaped lichen) and views over more bumpy landscape.
We would have had even better views if we had carried on for another five minutes. Ahead, this improbable monolith emerged commanding fabulous views to the valley below (apart from the rather ugly gas pressurizing station – thanks for the clarification Kevin. I thought it was something to do with gas).
It has been called the Lonely Shepherd and Walker tells us that it was created by the quarrying process and was left to indicate the depth of stone that had been removed. And who are we to argue?
It stands right on the edge of another near-sheer rock face and we very carefully followed the track, heading south now into the moor. In fact we found ourselves on a clear but quite narrow raised grass covered path.
Walker tells us that this is the Darren Disgwyfa Tramroad, built to carry limestone from the quarries to the Ironworks at Nantyglo. At its side we found this stone, which Paul and I surmised was contemporary with the Tramroads’ use. “The Lord Knoweth them that are his”. Indeed. 2 Timothy 2:19, since you asked.
One of us probably found this comforting. I wonder how it was received by the passing quarry workers? Walker doesn’t mention it so that’s one up to Paul and I.
Sadly, this excellent path soon disappeared into a pool with a boggy and quite wide tract of marsh on either side. We had given up on Walker’s written instructions a while back but looking at his simple drawing of the route we could see that we were destined to head for a trig point on Twy Pencyrn, off to the right. So rather than tackle the bog we bravely (for brave possibly read reckless) set off across the heather covered moor with the hill straight ahead.
Not knowing just how boggy the intended route would have been it is difficult to judge whether we had made a mistake but we had certainly not taken the easy option. The ground was uneven and rutted and boggy at times and He Of The Short Legs struggled somewhat whilst my more Aragorn-like character and physique was more at home on this difficult terrain.
Having said that we were both pleased to make the summit where, according to Walker there are two burial cairns. We celebrated our 100% confidence that we knew where we were with a Mars bar and a little sit.
By popular request and thanks to @gardenhero I am including another version of this pic:
It is an extraordinary spot and feels very remote and yet still has superb views over to the far side of the Usk valley. The sun was really getting low now so we struck east on a barely perceptible track though this golden-brown tussocky moor.
Some cairns gave reassurance that we were at least going in the right direction until we saw over to the right a small lake called Pwll Gwy – rhoc.
Walker intended us to go to its east-most edge, though we found no path as such to reach it. In fact as we got close to its shore the ground became so boggy that we both went knee deep before we decided to give the lake a slightly wider berth. But my, it was beautiful to look at, the blue sky made darker still in its gently rippling surface.
Apart from its beauty and striking remoteness I don’t think either of us had a strong emotional reaction to the place. It was only now in writing this that I read that Walker says it is known as the Witch’s Pool and that it gives him the creeps. It is said to be the site of a battle in 728 between Ethelbald the Mercian and the men of Morgannweg led by Rhoderic Molwynog. Walker has spent the night camped by its shore to which I say: “how on earth did you find ground to pitch a tent”?
From here we struck north and passed a much smaller pool,
still struggling with the lack of path until with some significant relief we found ourselves once more at the clear narrow grass path hugging the escarpment edge that we had set out on at the beginning of the walk. Which was just as well as there was not much useful light left and it would have been unwise, to say the least, to be making our way off this hill in the dark. The hills nearest us were gloomy now but the warm last light cast a glow on the far hill of Pen Cerrig –calch.
As we descended the rocky path towards the road Paul thought this field of sheep were like stars in the sky. Bless.
When we got to the car my GPS was hanging from its lanyard from the driver’s door. There are some very good people in the world to one of whom I say “THANK YOU”. Paul and I said a quick goodbye as I was keen to see the bookshop owner.
“Hello, I left my book here this morning for you to have a look at”.
“Ah yes, it’s a super book. We used to have it- I’ve put it on the shelf”
“ Great, thanks. I’ve two more here. Would you like those too? I’ll sign them if you like”
What a great day.