There is something special about this great area of south Wales called The Black Mountains.
Is it because they are so remote, desolate and quiet or because they dominate the border of Wales commanding fine views both ways into England in the east and Wales to the north, south and west. The area is within the eastern reaches of the great Brecon Beacons National Park and shares many similarities to the summits that make up the Brecon Beacons.
Read on to learn more about the many summits, tops, ridges and valleys that this fine area of stomping ground has to offer.
A fine panorama of The Black Mountains looking east from near the village of Talgarth
Below is a listing of all the main summits and tops within The Black Mountains
SUMMIT - TOP
trig point: OS measurement
Pen y Gadair Fawr
trig point: OS measurement
trig point: OS measurement
trig point: OS measurement
Chwarel y Fan
trig point: OS measurement
Pen Twyn Mawr
Pen Twyn Glas
Black Mountain South Top
trig point: OS measurement
Tor y Foel
Allt yr Esgair
Bryn Arw (old GR)
Some photos taken on my recent visit of various high points on the 24th March 2009
Waun Fach 811 metres
Pen y Gadair Fawr 800 metres
Rhos Dirion 713 metres
The Black Mountains In Detail:-
The Black Mountains cover a surprisingly vast area. This consists of about eighty square miles of upland penetrated by deeply cut valleys between the towns of Abergavenny and Hay on Wye just inside the Welsh border.
The western ridges from Blorenge
They consist largely of very bleak, whale-back ridges cut by deep valleys which all run from the south-east through to the north-west where they meet the great Gadair Ridge. This is crowned by the areas two highest summits known as Waun Fach at 811 metres and Pen Y Gadair Fawr at 800 metres.
Most of the other summits and tops within this great area are over 600 metres and can be combined within many different routes.
Stone age axe head found 20/01/2007
Within The Black Mountains three long valleys penetrate deep into the range. The Vale of Ewyas is the longest of them and possibly the most beautiful. It also has the famous ruins of Llanthony Priory.
All the valleys follow roughly parallel in a north-westerly direction and terminate in the shadow of a broken ridge that then winds and interconnects all the other ridges on the north-west to west end of the range.
These valleys and ridges make excellent walking grounds and there are many routes to choose from on them. Routes encompassing the whole eastern, north-western and western ridges can be done but these need plenty of forward planning and a large window of time to cover them.
Making things easier you can always choose one ridge or valley up and another ridge or valley down. The choice is yours at the end of it and no matter what route you take the scenery is always rewarding.
The Black Mountains range dominate the border of England and Wales between the towns of Hay on Wye and Abergavenny and are at the far East end of the great Brecon Beacons National Park.
The region are not to get confused with the Black Mountain which is another area and range of summits to the west of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Black Mountain Range in the western Beacons area from this link.
Hay Bluff and Black Mountain
The north ridge and a rainbow
Twmpa to Rhos Dirion
I have to say these hills are lovely as on the right days you can walk miles and not meet any other people.
This of course in bad weather can be a high risk as being spread out with the many ridges and valleys you need to study the area and your route well before setting yourself off.
The other part that makes them great is that there are so many ridges and valleys that the choice of walks and routes is to your taking.
If you run out of time then there is in most cases another ridge or valley to escape from that will get you back and make your walk that bit safer.
The views on a good day are as far North as Snowdon and way down far South West as in the North Devon Coast Line.
Other major sites are The Wrekin summitpost page via this link. The Wrekin is a predominent hill in Shropshire. Also visible are the Malvern Hills near Worcester and most of the Gloucestershire Cotswold Hills.
Believe me these are great hills for any time of the year...!
Various pictures from a long days ridge walk of mine back in January 2007
The bedrock geology of South Wales
The range is located on the far eastern edge of the South Wales Syncline, and has a bedrock geology comprising of two main rock types. The dominant rock formation is Old Red Sandstone, which was laid down under alluvial conditions during the Devonian Period (416 to 359 million years ago). This depositional regime was interrupted by periods of major uplift which created the highlands of which the Black Mountains are now the remnants of. In the early Carboniferous Period (354 to 290 million years ago), limestones were deposited on a continental shelf which deepened towards the south where there was a major sea area. During this period, earth movements caused by the approach of a continent from the south caused the swallowing of the sea which led to thick alluvial and coastal plain sediments being deposited which contain extensive developments of coal. This Carboniferous Limestone can be found extensively in South Wales where the landscape displays typical features of karstic terrain, including dolines, deep cave systems and limestone pavement. Outcrops are less widespread in the Black Mountains, but they do occur locally and support rare karstic plant life. During the Quaternary Period (1.8 million years ago to today) various ice ages caused the deepening and widening of valleys, the formation of cirque lakes, and the creation of moraines and other associated deposits. During the Late Devensian Stadial which ended around 12,000 years ago, the area was covered by a sheet of ice nearly 1,000m thick which covered even the highest summits.
The Black Mountains comprise of an extensive area of upland moorland and associated habitats which lie upon underlying rocks of Old Red Sandstone).As such they are the most south-easterly area of upland habitat in southern Britain and are subsequently of particular importance for nature conservation. As a result much of the area has been notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The moorland itself contains a mosaic of characteristic upland heath communities dominated by dwarf-shrubs, principally heather (Calluna vulgaris) and bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), but with frequent occurrence of cowberry (V. vitis-idaea) and crowberry (Empetrum nigrum). In the wetter parts of the range purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), hare’s-tail cotton-grass (Eriophorum vaginatum) and cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) are also abundant. On the lower slopes, the moorland gives way to drier unimproved acidic grassland, which in places is colonised by large areas of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum)
In a number of places, wet calcareous flushes occur along spring lines, which are populated by characteristic plants such as butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) and a number of lime-loving mosses. Like many other areas within the Brecon Beacons National Park, calcareous cliffs and rock outcrops also occur sporadically, and these again provide a suitable habitat for a number of distinctive and locally rare species such as mossy saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides) and brittle bladder-fern (Cystopteris fragilis). Of particular interest are the cliffs of Tarren yr Esgob, which support the whitebeam (Sorbus porrigentiformis) and other uncommon plants such as wood crane’s-bill (Geranium sylvaticum) and limestone fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum). In places open mixed scrub ascends to 610 metres which is about as high as it is recorded in Wales.
The animal life of the area is also of great interest, particularly its birds. Characteristic upland species such as raven (Corvus corax), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), merlin (Falco columbarius) and red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) are present near the southerly limits of their range in Britain, whilst the unimproved pastures and scattered scrub communities of the Upper Olchon Valley provide some of the best habitat for species such as redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) and grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) in this part of the country.
The many ways of getting into these hills is extensive
There are that many points you can start your walks from that i am only giving an over view from the main towns.
The rest is in your hands and for you to decide.
The two main towns to base from are as follows:-
Abergavenny can be reached by road via the M50 Motorway off the M5 Birmingham to Gloucester stretch. Then the A40 Trunk road all the way to the town.
Or the M4 Severn Bridge from Bristol then the M4 towrds Newport and the Trunk A449 up in a north direction joining the A40 Near Monmouth.
From the southern parts of Wales you can take the A465 head of valleys road from Swansea, Neath and Merthry Tydfil or the A470 to Talgarth then the A479 to Abergavenny.
A map showing the vast area covered by The Black Mountains
Abergavenny:- (Streetmap Link)
A pleasent Welsh market town with plenty of Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels and Pubs.
From here the main A465 road out to Hereford gives you access to the south and south-eastern area of the hills from the village of Llanthony.
Also from Abergavenny you can head out on the A40 towards Brecon then the A479 towards Builth Wells. This takes you around the western reaches of the area. It is this route that gives some of the easiest ways in which to access Waun Fach and Pen Y Gadair Fawr.
Hay on Wye:- (Streetmap Link)
Just in Wales this small market town famous for its second hand book shops can be accessed from Hereford via the main A438 Trunk road west.
From north, south and central Wales it can be accessed from the A438, A470 and A479 roads that all meet up near Talgarth from Brecon and Builth Wells.
There is a road out of Hay on Wye heading south known as the Gospel Pass that takes you direct to the north-eastern region near the summits of Hay Bluff and Twmpa or Lord Herefords Knob (Yes that is the summits name)
And even funny still there is a local village just below this summit in the Wye Valley called Three Cock's. Now that is something to laugh about. A true clash in place names.
Hay on Wye sits on one of the UK's greatest rivers, the River Wye. Starting high up in the Cambrian Mountains on the summit of Pumlumon Fawr near to the Welsh towns of Llangurig and Aberystwyth. This is also the same Summit that the UK's Longest River the great River Severn starts from.
The best Ordnance Survey maps that cover this area are:-
Explorer Page OL13 - Brecon Beacons National Park Eastern Area at a scale of 1:25.000
Landranger Page 161 - Abergavenny and The Black Mountains at a scale of 1:50.000
Travel Map Page 6 - Wales / Cymru & West Midlands at a scale of 1:250 000
The farmers control alot of access on the lower levels of farm land in the valleys so it is advised you stick to the bridleways and paths. When out on the summits the Brecon Beacons National Park has introduced a free to rome scheme which i think is great for all of us who enjoy the hills.
I wish everywhere would do that sort of scheme
The signs to look for are as follows:- Open Access Land Left - Non Open Access Right
Bed and Breakfasts - Hotels - Camping and Tourism:-
Bed and Breakfast towns to base yourself from are Abergavenny and Hay on Wye. Although other quaint towns such as Brecon, Monmouth and the great cathedral city of Hereford are all pretty close by and give easy access to the hills.
I have given some links for Abergavenny and Hay on Wye below but just type in the town name and details into a search such as google and go from there.
For Youth Hostels refer to link given in the Abergavenny reference for Youth Hostels in The Brecon Beacons National Park.
In the free to rome areas out on the bleak summits camping can be done anywhere but i believe there is a no camp fire scheme...? Various car parks also have signs that state whether you can or cannot stay overnight.
Some Tourist Text
The Brecon Beacons National Park contains the highest mountain peaks in South Wales and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007. The National Park stretches from Llandeilo in the west to Hay-on-Wye in the north east covering 520 square miles (1344 square kilometres) of mountains, rolling countryside, woodland, waterfalls and caves.
The East Brecon Beacons border England and stretch from Hay-on-Wye in the north to Pontypool in the south. They are dominated by the Black Mountains (Mynyddoedd Duon) which includes their very own Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pen y Fal) in the centre of this part of the National Park. Hillwalking and pony trekking are popular in the east of the Brecon Beacons. There are several places of historical interest including an impressive iron age fort at Crug Hywel, medieval castles and the oldest public house in Wales - The Skirrid Inn in Llanvihangel that dates from the Norman Conquest; it is also claimed to be haunted! There are several pretty villages such as Crickhowell with its unusual 17th century bridge spanning the River Usk and, of course, Hay-on-Wye, famous for its many second hand bookshops.
More information on the tourism is available from these links:-
The routes can be done with little difficulty in good clear weather but it is completely different if the weather is misty with low cloud or fog.
It is worth knowing some of the landmarks with certainty, owing to them being very slight difference in height of a few of the peaks. This approximation in altitude is not always apparent unless they are seen from afar and a case in point is the dominating Gadair Ridge where the difference in height between summits such as Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr is that of only 11metres.
When traversing the ridge this not very clear, save perhaps from the latter top, but is quite apparent when observed from other ridges such as the Allt Mawr Ridge over three miles away to the south. When out on these ridges these features are worthy of note, and on attaining Waun Fach its summit reveals the immensity of this range in full glory and perhaps induces the climber to make further exploration.
I do most of my long walks alone but there are many risks whatever you do up on the hills and mountains.
The main one to watch out for on these is quick changes in weather such as rain or mist and fog that can come in at any time. The day when i was last up there was great but the wind was biting cold and gave me a headache.
Good understanding of maps GPS and compass are a must for these hills because there are so many ridges to get lost on that one ridge looks like another in poor weather conditions.
You who climb and hike them enjoy them as these hills bring great pleasure to those who visit them for there first time.
For a five day weather forecast follow these links.
Just a few other hills of The Black Mountain Region and around the Abergavenny area.
The town of Abergavenny itself is surrounded by many other hills and it sits in the Usk Valley at the head of the great South Wales Head of the valleys road From Abergavenny through to Neath.
Abergavenny is shadowed by the summits of Sugar Loaf, Ysgyryd Fawr and the great Blorenge these are very shapely Hills and all of these like the Black Mountains are visible from the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire they also make a very easy and pleasent walk.