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Climbing The Skirrid: the start of the Beacons Way

January 11, 2015 · 11 comments

A short walk over The Skirrid in Monmouthshire, with a steep ascent and descent, giving very satisfying views (on a good day) from the summit of  1,594 feet.

Date walked: 3rd December 2014

Distance: about 3 miles, quite steep in parts

Map: OS Explorer OL 13 – Brecon Beacons National Park


Derek The Weather had forecast a lovely crisp, cold day. And he was right. He’s good, that Derek, even though he seems to have dropped his greetings in Welsh. The days are short at this time of year and I had never climbed Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny, which is only about ¾ hr away from home (by car, obvs).

So off I went, confident that I knew the hill by sight and could find somewhere nearby to park up. I ended up at a little car park near the bottom of  The Skirrid (another hill near Abergavenny that I have not climbed). Don’t laugh. My misplaced sense of geography is sad, really. It gets worse. My map describes the hill as Ysgyryd Fawr. As does the National Trust sign near the little car park, so as I set off I was still ignorant that this was The Skirrid.

National Trust sign by the car park for The Skirrid (Ysgyryd), photographed by Charles Hawes

If I tried to pronounce it, “Skirrid” might have occured to me.

I followed a couple of other walkers up the hedgerow-lined track that climbs gently towards the base of the hill, enjoying the sight of red berries against the deep blue sky (but I was  not able to identify them).

Berries in a hedgerow near The Skirrid, Monmoutshire, photographed by

Any confident offers?

Then I walked back to the car where I had left my GPS on top of my car. Not for the first time. You’re getting worried about me, aren’t you?

Path approaching The Skirrid (ysgyryd Fawr) , Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

At the top of this straight section was a sturdy wooden bench by an oak and an explanatory board that kindly translated the Welsh name for me.

Bench at the base of The Skirrid ( Ysgyryd Fawr) in Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Skirrid Fawr is carved into the bench – that’s three versions of the name!

The path twisted and turned through the woods, climbing several sets of steps, before reaching a gate in a moss-covered stone wall. There was a choice here  between left and right forks. I chose the left, over a wooden broadwalk.

Path around the base of The Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr) photographed by Charles Hawes

This quite muddy route through the woods only climbed gently.

Path at the base of The Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr), photographed by Charles Hawes

Above to the right the hillside was very steep. Over to the left were views to Sugar Loaf (yes, I know now, don’t carp).

View to Sugar Loaf (Y Fal) photographed from The Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr) by Charles Hawes

The good thing about winter is that the views get better

I began to wonder if I was going to find a route to climb up to the top of the hill going this way. I passed a splendid holly in full berry. It was a tall specimen; not as tall as some in our own wood but with far more berry than we ever get.

Holly at the base of The Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr), Monmouthshire,  photographed by Charles Hawes

Ilex aquifolium: I wonder if it will be left alone by the Christmas decorators?

At a point where the obvious path began to descend I turned sharp right and headed up a far less trodden track, climbing steeply over rocky outcrops.

View north from the Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr) photographed by Charles Hawes

Wonderfully illuminated berries on a Hawthorne

There were several points where it seemed like I could just be following a sheep track. The views north were splendid.

The Skirrid walk-16

I think this might be Bryn Arw ahead – I’ll add it to my list of hills to climb

My choices led to steeper and steeper steps until I was on all fours with a steep drop below me. The sun had not reached this slope, so the ground was frozen and slippery and I was a little scared.

View north from The Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr), Monmouthshire, photographed  by Charles Hawes

There was no way that I was going to go down at this point

The only way is up at such times and in fact the summit of the hill was not far off -I was glad to see the trig point appear.

Trig Point of The Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr) , Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

At least here they tell you where you are in English with a bit of Welsh.

I reached it as a couple I had passed at the start of the walk arrived. They were unimpressed by my having come up the north face, having climbed it themselves in the past. He was carrying a big Nikon SLR (a member of the Forest of Dean camera club). So we exchanged cameras and took each others’ portraits.

Time to have a cup of coffee and to sample a couple of chocolate truffles sent to me by my friend Bob’s daughter, Rosie, who at 20 something is embarking on a second career as a foodie (sorry, Naturopathic Nutrionist) .They were great. Lovely texture, not too sweet with a subtle spiciness.

The trig point stands at the end of a ridge that makes for an easy path due south, passing through a rocky bit that apparently are the ruins of St Michaels Chapel.

View to the Trig point on the Skirrid, photographed by Charles Hawes

View to the trig point -you can see that the sun is already quite low and it was not even 3pm.

In case you are wondering and are too lazy to read the wikipedia link, the hill is made of sandstone – a soft stone which is relatively easy to carve. As several previous visitors have found.

Carved name in sandstone on the Skirrid in Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Naughty Mr Cotterell

The ridge meant that there were great views to be had both east…

View east from the Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr) photographed by Charles Hawes

More hawthorne berries

…..and West.

View west to Sugar Loaf from the Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr) photographed by Charles Hawes

It doesn’t look like wikipedia’s sugar loaf

But, not for long, as the path back then drops steeply off its southern nose and passes back into the wood.

The path up (and down) the south side of The Skirrid, Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

Lovely light, eh. Yep, that’s Sugar Loaf, again.

The path reached the gate in the wall where I had turned left earlier. Opposite, a fallen tree  that was getting slightly soft though rot brought to mind the Wishing Trees that one comes across by paths sometimes, where people drive coins into the trunk.  I thought I would start one of my own and borrowing a stone from the wall, hammered in a 10p piece.

Wish Tree in the making, on the Skirrid, Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

No, I am not going to tell you what I wished for.

As I re-traced my steps, over to the left was a party of  small children appearing to be having a picnic (and no doubt a nature lesson).

Children having a picnic in the woods at The Skirrid, Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

I wonder if they had any Big Surprises?

Then it was back to the hedged path leading to the car park…….

Path from base of the Skirrid to the car park: The Beacons way. Photographed by Charles Hawes

……where a colourful kiddie bus waited for the children to finish their lunch.

The Car park at The Skirrid, Monmouthshire, photographed by Charles Hawes

It was only when I was writing this up that I realised that the 95 mile Beacons Way actually starts (or finishes if you prefer) at this car park. I’m surpised that there was nothing to mark this. Perhaps I missed it. Have I made a start on a new project?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

David Marsden January 11, 2015 at 9:23 am

Ah. A wishing tree, eh? That explains a trunk with loads of coins bashed into it I saw on the Dales Way. Thanks for that. Your berry tree might be a guelder rose? Summit chocolate truffles is an idea I could use.


Charles January 12, 2015 at 11:13 am

Hi Dave
Yes, they are all over the place. Another back burner book project in mind. Yes, someone else suggested Viburnum opulus (we professionals should do latin names). I should have recognized it. Apparently the choccy truffle had avocado in it.


John January 11, 2015 at 11:06 am

Seems that, albeit inadvertently, you started at the beginning and we may hope for further excitement after you reach the end (or the beginning) of the Wales Coast Path. Although your chosen route to the top seems to have been a bit hairy, it looks like you were following the recommended route (see when you turned left at the gate.


Charles January 12, 2015 at 11:15 am

Beginnings, endings, it’s all very confusing. But I may well pick this one up as a parallel project to the WCP, which I do intend to finish this year. Back on Anglesey in April. Thanks for the link.


Neil January 11, 2015 at 1:57 pm

That looks like a lovely days walk. Not too far in cold weather, and some fabulous views. Have done sections of the Beacons Way. It certainly has its wonderful moments.

Intrigued to know which walks constitute blogging, and which not. I know of a number of other walks that you’ve done which you haven’t recorded for posterity. Do you have criteria, or is this spontaneous decision making?

Thoughts about a Coastline walks publication. Hows about ‘Wonders of the Wales Coastal Path’ (subtitle, ‘places to linger longer’) …. or somesuch. You have some fabulous pictures and accounts of some very interesting and/or beautiful places.


Charles January 12, 2015 at 11:21 am

Yes, good one for you lightweights!
As for the blog, well the basic requirement is to have sufficient interesting pics. Sometimes I forget. Like that walk we did near that amazing castle, the name of which escapes me. Sometimes I just don’t have the time to get a blog done. Actually I hate that title, but I suspect you might know that.But a publisher might like it……


Neil January 12, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Yeesss….. Title suggestion aimed at income, not your refined sensitivities…. And, of course, being exactly the kind of book and title to attract my attention.


Neil January 12, 2015 at 2:43 pm

All of which missed my point… Which was to suggest a book that highlights some of the more interesting, beautiful, and/or unusual places on the walk that you’ve found, rather than being another guide. You’ve come across and unearthed numerous interesting features and sometimes stories behind them. I think that does have a wider market appeal. Something that others might refer to to enhance their walks, whilst otherwise slavishly following the correct path!


Charles January 12, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Hiya. Yes, I do see that. And I could see that this would work – maybe a selection of the most stimulating of my days walks with some historic/ geographic background fleshed out a bit. You might just have come up with a commercial idea here whereas I have just been thinking non-commercially. Thanks!

Paul Steer January 11, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Sorry Charles but I’m not worrying about you – as you always get back on track eventually – and have more adventures than those of use who follow the’right’ path. A Beacons Way walk sounds good.


Charles January 12, 2015 at 11:23 am

Humph. I think I need someone other than Anne and my Mother to worry about me. Never mind. If I did the Beacons Way then I could re-publish this under the new category!.


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