Solstice sauntering around Abergavenny18th December 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.