Wales in a day - a trip to the Black Mountains
|At the summit of Pen Allt-mawr (719m)|
23rd August 2014 - Black Mountains circular walk from Crickhowell
"What about a day trip to the mountains somewhere - we haven't been in ages" was Donna's suggestion when trying to think of things do over the upcoming bank holiday weekend, a great idea!
For good reason, we hadn't climbed anything higher than a staircase since Donna was pregnant with Isabelle (who's now 4.5 months old) and my parents we're more than happy to entertain her for the day while we took Monty, our English Springer Spaniel, on the 2hr ish drive to Crickhowell for a 9 mile circular walk in the Black Mountains.
We picked the Black Mountains for a number of reasons; it's probably the closest area of decent hills/mountains to us, the drive just about ok for a "there and back" trip in a day and we haven't really walked much in the Black Mountains - our only decent walk there was back in April 2012 (you can read about that here).
So after packing up the car with walking gear, Monty and his "gear" and Isabelle and all of her things for the day we headed off, first to drop Izzy off at my parents and then to our starting point in Crickhowell.
There's a large pay & display car park in Crickhowell, just off the main high street next to the information centre, that charges (at time of writing) £2.50 for over 4hrs and there are also a few decent outdoor shops in the town - I only mention this as I managed to forget my walking socks so had to buy a new pair en route!
|Heading out of Crickhowell with Table Mt in the distance|
From the car park behind the information centre you follow the main road (A40) for a few hundred meters through the town before turning off onto a smaller road leading up hill through some houses and then, as Table Mountain comes into sight, you turn off onto a farm track which eventually becomes a footpath and, for me, the real start of the walk.
|Finally off the road and onto quieter paths|
|The ascent to Table Mountain - looking back across the valley|
|Table Mountain summit (@ 451m)|
|Monty, waiting for us as usual!|
To the West, across the valley, we could see ominous black clouds but thanks to a fairly decent breeze the sky's above us were fairly clear and visibility was great.
|Panorama from the summit of Pen Cerrig-calch|
There are a number of shelters dotted around on the path between the two summits and these provide a welcome break from the wind that, due to the fairly narrow plateau top, can be fairly brisk along this section.
As we headed between the two tops the rain caught up with us and, whilst only a 10 minute shower, forced us to stop to don waterproofs and as a result we opted not to stop in the shelter for lunch but to carry on to the top of Allt-mawr for a break hoping the weather would pass.
|Looking down the slopes of Pen Cerrig-calch towards Table Mountain|
|Monty relaxing in the heather|
The summit of Pen Allt-mawr itself is fairly flat topped with the summit cairn and trig point at the northern end of the small plateau top and from here the land drops off fairly sharply along a well defined ridge before being joined (from the SE) by a path that loops you back around both of the higher summits before re-joining the path we headed up on between Cerrig-calch and Table Mountain - while we didn't see too many people on our walk (another reason why, on a Bank Holiday, the Black Mountains is a great choice) all of them were opting for this route back to Crickhowell but as I'd pre-decided that we'd take a different route and we had our lunch stop picked out we, after a few pictures, turned around and headed back the way we'd come.
|Trig point at the summit of Pen Allt-mawr (719m)|
|Donna and Monty on Pen Allt-mawr|
On the subject of packing, here's a quick run through of the kit I took along for the walk - taking weather, time of year and walk length into account;
- Black Diamond 45ltr rucksack - big enough for all our kit although Donna did carry a small 20ltr Alpkit drybag/sack with some water and food for Monty
- OMM Cypher Smock - incredibly lightweight and full 3lyr Event fabric (and in bright yellow so you definitely can't be missed on the hills!)
- Paramo Feura Smock (below) - a relatively new addition but a great piece of kit for this type of walk. Totally windproof and very breathable, with a decent adjustable hood and light enough to wear under the OMM smock when the weather turned
- 2 x 1Ltr Sigg bottles and small flask for tea
- Compass and OL13 Explorer Map (weather proof version)
- Garmin GPS Map 62 - route was pre-loaded and there for backup. My Nexus 5 with ViewRanger app was used for recording of the route and Social Hiking buddy beacons
- Patagonia Nano Puff jacket in stuff sack for Donna
- Rak Latok Alpine - Donna's waterproof
- Lunch and a hip flask of Jura whiskey!
|Paramo Feura - a great, lightweight, windproof smock|
This plan worked pretty well up until the last 200m or so when we encountered dense, high, bracken that covered the lower part of the hillside all the way down onto the path - this took some time to work through and wasn't ideal although Monty had a great time "path finding" for us with me following the shacking bracken tops as he completely disappeared beneath it.
|Monty getting lost in the bracken|
|It's much steeper down there than it looks!|
The last section from the main path and back into Crickhowell was, initially, through a wooded strip that follows Cumbeth Brook and gave us time to get our breath back after fighting through the bracken. From the end of the woods and field system you drop back in to small road through the housing estate and we both remarked on how out of place we felt and how surreal it was to be in amongst houses and cars after being up on a deserted hillside only half an hour or so ago - another benefit of the Black Mountains as they are so accessible from a relatively built up area.
All in all a fantastic little walk with great views (despite the brief showers) - reminding us both why we love the hills and mountains of Great Britain and whetting our appetites even more for our 10 days on the Isle of Skye in a few weeks time.
I've added a download link to the GPX file of the walk - download here
Route map recorded on Nexus 5 with ViewRanger, via Social Hiking;