Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: Monmouthshire

Incidental ambles

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

The start of a new year can be a useful time to take stock of life. January can be a month that some find too quiet but it has its uses as I am finding out for myself. A current career break means that I have added occasion to think over what I would like to do for a living. After five years of family bereavements followed by responsibilities added through inheritance, there is plenty of reason for this. What had not been obvious to me is that my last job was not a match and the experience left its mark, one that needs to be overcome.

Throughout all of this, I am not forgetting that I am an explorer at heart. There has been time to catch up on reading and I now have my fill of travel writing so I will not be lured into book purchases as easily as before. More discernment could be the way of things for me and that cannot be so bad when finances need to be kept in check during times like this hiatus from work.

Also, I have been travelling around England and Wales collecting ideas for walking trips like Roseberry Topping and Pumlumon Fawr. Surveying the countryside about the latter brought me the added benefit of a short if muddy stroll around Llangurig. Visiting nearby Rhayader is another thought and a short stay in Aberystwyth could facilitate more than initially had come to mind. Other parts of the Welsh River Wye are ripe for exploring too and the hills of the Black Mountain in the western side of the Brecon Beacons could be another tempting idea.

City visits to Edinburgh and Cardiff have come to pass. In the middle of the latter, the banks of the River Taff offered an oasis of calm with Llandaff Cathedral feeling as if it is in a country rather than where it is. Bute Park was another delight that makes me wonder why it took so long for me to make an independent visit to the place and there is Cardiff Castle if I wanted to include that as part of a return visit. There is plenty there for cyclists too and I am not surprised that bicycle hire is available.

Those city wanderings remind me that there have been times during the last few years when energy for more strenuous outings has not been as readily available. Edinburgh has featured quite a few times and there are regular haunts nearer my home in Macclesfield. Knutsford’s Tatton Park, Disley’s Lyme Park together with Macclesfield’s Tegg’s Nose Country Park and Dane’s Moss Nature Reserve all have been places where quick visits offered respite from life’s tumult when enthusiasm for longer trips was not to be found. The same could be said for more urban spots like Buxton, Chester, Sheffield and even Manchester. Anywhere where a coffee can be enjoyed away home has had its uses.

Strolls on my own doorstep like circuits taking in Prestbury all had their uses when my head needed clearing, like on Christmas Eve during my first ever Christmas spent in Macclesfield. That was a stormy affair, as much in my mind as it was out of doors. When a brighter interlude offered, it did not need much persuasion for me to head out on a longer round that linked Tegg’s Nose, the Saddle of Kerridge and the White Nancy. It became just the breather that I needed at the time.

The last few months have been as much about exorcising hurtful memories as anything else. That included the past Christmas and New Year period when it felt more normal than others. Trips to Tatton Park, Manchester and Lincoln all broke up the flow and I also got learning that camping stoves should be used out of doors too, a misadventure that I have no relish for repeating.

Getting past that was like everything else in life in recent times. 2017 became a year when I lightened some of life’s load so I need to think ahead now. Getting an enjoyable and fulfilling work life is one thing and my zest for exploring countryside continues. Overseas excursions could restart yet since I am making my way through Kev Reynolds’ Walking in the Alps at the moment and there is his The Swiss Alps, The Pyrenees and Trekking in the Alps after that. That lot should keep me going for a while yet and I am not overlook what hill country is nearer to hand either.

Solstice sauntering around Abergavenny

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

The second major hillwalking trip of 2014 returned me to Wales. This time, it was the turn of hills on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park that I had held in my sights for quite a while. Abergavenny was my base and Saturday saw me take in Ysgyryd Fawr (otherwise known as the Skirrid) while Sunday allowed a return visit to Y Fâl (or the Sugar Loaf as many know it).

2014-06-21

St. Teilo's Church, Llandeilo Bertholau, Monmouthshire, Wales

My arrival was in the middle of the day so it was just as well that this was a time of very short nights. Once I had booked into my hotel, it was time to go for my planned hike. It was to be one with a lot of road walking and the stretch taking me out of Abergavenny remains in my memory for its length as much as its steady if unrelenting height gain. Eventually, my surroundings were to grow ever more rural as I kept a look out for the junction where a lane would take me to Llantillio Pertholey. There, I stopped by its church before continuing along the lane underneath the A465.

That lane was to carry me most of the way to the southern end of Ysgyryd Fawr, save perhaps for following a public footpath to gain respite from tarmac treading. What I really wanted to reach was the National Trust car park from where a path would take to the summit and that was achieved without too much intrusion from road traffic. This also was where I found my first short stretch of the Beacons Way.

Ridge leading to Sgyryd Fawr, Llandeilo Bertholau, Monmouthshire, Wales

Now that I look at maps of the area again, it strikes me as odd how I did not pick up this trail in the middle of Abergavenny and go about following it from there. Regardless of this oversight, it was to take up onto Ysgyryd Fawr and I soon was to feel the effort of the ascent on an afternoon of growing heat. The way up through Caer Wood felt longer than it was and I soon enough was above the trees and making for the trig point on the actual top of the hill. False summits were encountered before that, not that they unduly perturbed my mental state.

Other folk were about too and there was plenty of space for all of us on this small patch of access land owned and managed by the National Trust. When I reached the trig point, I had the place to myself with the all the views of Wales and England that lay before me. It was if a lack of proximity to Abergavenny made the hill something of an oasis from humankind.

Ysgyryd Fawr as seen from near Panty Gelli, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales

Then, I reckon that I retraced my steps to rejoin the Beacons Way to drop onto a lane near Pant-y-tyle. Heading west along that lane brought me to a public footpath that crossed some fields to reach Crossways. By this point, my exposure to the heat of the day had been such I fancied easier strolling so tarmac tramping was my lot as I returned to Abergavenny for the night. All the while, the cleft for which Ysgyryd Fawr is best know lay hidden from view as if largely did while I was on top of it too. Nevertheless, that was of little concern on a blissfully fine sunny midsummer evening ambling through a little piece of Wales.

2014-06-22

After what I recall as a fitful night’s rest because of overnight heat, I rose next morning to breakfast and attended to some needs before setting off for somewhere that I had not visited for more than a decade. A warm summer’s day lay ahead of me so I was glad that my objective was near at hand. Uphill progress in the heat was to be steady with recourse to rest and rehydration stops at short intervals.

What I was revisiting was the top of Y Fâl, or Sugar Loaf as it is known in English. The previous visit was on a Sunday day trip when a lunchtime arrival did nothing to stop me reaching where I wanted to go. It appears that happened during April 2003 and preceded the entry both of this blog and digital photography into my life. It also was early in my hillwalking “career” so there may have been a little foreboding about scaling heights too.

After a spot of exploration around the centre of Abergavenny, that first walk to Y Fâl took me along a valley named on Ordnance Survey maps as The Park.The passage of time means that my memory of how I got from there to the top of Sugar Loaf is patchy but it seems that I may have struck on fairly directly for the top of Sugar Loaf rather than gaining some height before heading west to scale the rest of the ascent as could be another possibility.

It might have been that lack of hill climbing experience but the sharp pull at the end is one that has not been lost on me. Another memory that remains is that of seeing lads messing around on National Trust land with a car before turning it over. It was my horror on seeing such callous disregard for pleasant countryside that made the sight so unforgettable. That was on a broad low ridge called Deri. Quite what lead me that far east is erased by years of other cares but it must have been an on the spot decision inspired by the sunny spring evening.

Thankfully, no such environmental mindlessness was not to blight the repeat visit. The way out from Abergavenny may have been the same as before until I went for a new deviation that would involve a narrow lane that took me to the foot of Rholben. Whether there had been a shortcut taken on a public footpath is lost to me (a lot has happened in my life since then) but I clearly recall the final turn onto a track amid some trees where a phone call to Ireland was made. My now departed father possibly never realised where I was.

Y Fâl, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales

That tree cover was soon lost and scaling some steep slopes was sweaty work in the afternoon heat before the gradients relented to allow for some gentle hilltop strolling before the final approach upped the ante again. Y Fâl lay ahead all the while and steady progress got me to its summit without undue hardship. That was not how it felt the last time around and I am left wondering if it might have been previous lack of exposure to such heights that had more to do with it.

Ewe and Lamb on Y Fâl, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales

What I found on top along with panoramic views  was a cheeky ewe and her lamb. Aside perhaps from odd thoughts about sandwich theft, there was little need for concern and these are sure-footed creatures anyway. Hardly anyone else shared the views with me, which is just as well given the narrow wedge that was offering a vantage point. Still, there is enough space for more than one person at a time as I found on that previous visit.

Black Mountains from side of Y Fal, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales

For the way down, I did not retrace my steps but chose a circuitous route around the hill’s northern fringes before starting on a relatively gentle descent towards Twyn Gwyn that me by horses and cattle. My pace was relaxed so I took in both the ambience and the sights that lay about me. Again, it felt as if I had the place to myself aside from any domestic animals. Quite what allowed that to happen is anyone’s guess but the heat of the day cannot have been any encouragement for other ramblers.

Deri & Ysgyrd Fawr, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales

The way down allowed another sighting of the hill that I had walked the day before, Ysgyryd Fawr. In front, there was the low ridge of Deri down which I descended the last time. Then, it had not cast off its winter coat but it was easily all green this time around. Everywhere looks greener around midsummer in Britain or Ireland.

The Park, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales

My downhill route eventually landed me in The Park and I noticed the heat more keenly than I had while I was up higher. It was just as well that I had a clear track to follow to Port-y-parc where I met up with tarmac again. As I continued down into the centre of Abergavenny and then onto its train station, other possibilities dawned on me. Ysgyryd Fach and Blorenge both lie near Abergavenny and there also are thoughts of returning to Brecon’s nearby hills along with those of the Black Mountain. It had been a satisfying and restorative weekend so there is every reason to follow up on those ideas.

Travel arrangements:

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Abergavenny. What I cannot recall now is whether I changed trains at Stockport or elsewhere like Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury. Both remain plausible possibilities if I was to repeat the journey today.