Date walked: 1st December 2013
Distance: about 6 miles
The walk is within the area of The Brecon Beacons National Park.
A walk with Paul was long overdue and for this winter trek, which Paul had planned, I had the added bonus of him bringing his son, David, who I had not met before. We assembled at the car park at Craig-y-nos Country Park which is right next to the castle of the same name. I knew nothing of this place so Paul filled me in as we carried on in his car to a lay-by at the foot of Fan Gyhirych.
The castle is not a castle, of course but a Victorian house built in gothic style and was the home of the then famous but now little known (meaning I’d never heard of her) opera singer, Adelina Patti from 1878-1919. More of her anon and there is quite a lot of history on the website for the castle, which is now a hotel. My apologies for omitting to stop for a pic of the place. Here’s one I have lifted off a website – a hanging crime.
From the lay-by a stile in a fence marked a rough path that appeared to lead straight up what looked like a 45 degree slope. Which was several more degrees than I like to start a day’s walk facing. Paul led the way, who was quickly overtaken by David, as apparently as comfortable with the gradient as a young sheep.
I was puffing and panting in no time and David (Young in Limb, Fleet of Foot, Fit in appearance) disappeared from view. As we climbed so we gained a good view of the Cray reservoir. We were not on a path as such and we gained altitude by scrambling up the steep slope across the natural folds of the hillside.
David’s stamina seemed short-lived (very gratifying) and Paul and I passed him and took a breather by a conglomerate outcrop whilst David struggled up behind us.
I was beginning to flag myself and asked Paul if we were near the top. “No, there’s another steep bit” he sheepishly replied. But he was wrong (most unusual) and I made the first sighting a couple of minutes later of the rather weathered trig point that sits at the top of this 725 metre hill.
Looking south-east on this moderately windy day I reckoned that about only half of the distant wind-turbine power station’s (please don’t call them farms) pylons were turning.
From here it was pretty much downhill all the way. We took the wide track that heads south towards a wood, speculating on what it was being used for. Forestry access? Illicit off-roaders? Moorland raves?
Just past the wood a farmer had rounded up a group of sheep and cattle into what looked to me to be an old quarry. Paul thought he might be feeding them; I didn’t have a better hypothesis.
The geology changes dramatically around here from sandstone to limestone. From the map I could see a route past a Swallow Hole onto the Beacons Way and the others were game for trying this. The swallow hole was easily located and is clearly used as an access to a cave system below.
The Beacons Way is well walked, so that was easy to find, too and in a few hundreds yards we were passing a limestone boulder strewn hillside.
This area is designated as the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (the Welsh love their place names being a mouthful) Nature Reserve and beneath it is one of the largest cave systems discovered in Britain. The views across this rocky landscape were superb.
We passed another sink hole and I wanted to see if the bottom was firm. I hadn’t really thought about the plan B should it have collapsed under me.
I was delighted to find some sheep grazing amongst the rough tussocks of grass.
And with sheep there is, of course, sheep-shit, which to date I am ashamed to say,has not featured in any blog post up to now. I love the smell of sheep (just saying).
It really was shame to leave this landscape……
…..but Paul and David wanted to get to the pub and were beginning to mutter about my constant pauses for snaps (ok, I’ve made that up) and were forging ahead.
We crossed the line of a dismantled tramway and a row of cottages that Paul (Fount of All Knowledge) told me was now providing accommodation for cavers.
The terrace would almost certainly have provided accommodation for quarry workers. This fascinating area of post industrial archaeology is what remains of the village of Penwyllt.
Just past the terrace is the line of the dismantled Swansea Vale and Neath and Brecon Junction railway line and a modest station building.
Paul had told me (not without a hint of admiration I would say) that Adelina Patti had had this built for her use and would be picked up from there in her carriage to be taken down the road that she also had made to the castle. Wikipedia confirms this, adding that she had her own waiting room in the station and that in return the railway line provided her with her own carriage!
To the side of the railway line is a large limestone quarry, now disused. It required investigation so we clambered over the fence for a nosey around.
What seemed extraordinary to me was that around us were massive mounds of graded stone and there was clearly no shortage of useful rock remaining. I would usually be in the opposition camp to quarrying in important landscapes but since it was here, it seemed to me outrageously wasteful that the rock wasn’t being used.
As we got to the centre of the quarry we came across a man training up a bird of prey to do that very clever trick for our entertainment where they get the bird to fly off and then fly back for some food. The bird had definitely got the hang of the flying off bit of the trick.
I could have spent a lot longer exploring this place but we had an appointment at the pub. Leaving the Beacons Way we took another clear path down by the side of a wood, passing a grubby caver emerging from a hole in the side of the hill.
The wood opposite us was a tapestry of the muted colours of denuded trees though with one holding onto its golden leaves.
Our path turned back onto the Beacons Way and entered the tall conifer plantation that would have been part of Adelina Patti’s estate and still forms part of the Craig y nos Park.
We paused on the bridge that crosses the confluence of the Nant Tywynni with another stream that emerges nearby. A girl was playing Pooh sticks and I thought I’d take a snap, though I’m not sure that her accompanying Gran approved.
It had been an excellent walk and after we had re-united ourselves with our cars Paul and David led the way to the nearby Ancient Briton.
I could see why Paul had wanted me to see the place. It had a great atmosphere and a wide range of beers and an interesting menu. I ordered the wild bear pate. “Do you mean the wild boar pate” the landlord asked? “Well I’d rather the bear but I’ll settle for the boar” Paul laughed.
All the photographs on this and most of my other posts were taken on a Canon compact and were processed from Raw files. High resolution files and/or prints of up to A3+ size can be produced on request. Email me for costs at Charles@veddw.co.uk