Wales Coast to Coast

Stage Sixteen: Crickhowell to Little Mountain
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Start: Crickhowell Distance: 17.7 miles (28.4 km) Climbing: 1,250 meters
Grid Ref: SO 21773 18566 Time: 7-8 hours Rating: Strenuous
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Monmouthshire
Start: Crickhowell Distance: 17.7 miles (28.4 km)
Grid Ref: SO 21773 18566 Time: 7-8 hours
Climbing: 1,250 meters Rating: Strenuous
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

Summary: Today is the last of the mountain stages as I cross the Monmouthshire south-east edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park to end at Little Mountain near Pontypool. There is 1,250 meters of climbing in total during the walk, most of it on the ascents of first Sugar Loaf and second Blorenge. Other highlights include a visit to Abergavenny, visits to sites of industrial heritage and an unexpected meeting with a Peregrine Falcon.

The Walk:

Crickhowell CastleCrickhowell Castle
Woodland near LlangennyWoodland near Llangenny

Back on my tod after three fun packed days with Strolling Steve I at least could make my own pace and take time out to look over sites of interesting as much as I wanted. Due to using taxis Steve and I had worked to the clock over the last few days. Anyway my sightseeing began at Crickhowell Castle which I took a good look around. Not that there was much to look at. It did not take long. From the castle I followed the road leading from Crickhowell to Llanbedr and cutting away from it to track past a large farm and over fields in a line due east towards Llangenny. It was a muggy morning and the roads were damp but no rain was falling and I expected better soon. A second good day in a row. I could scarcely believe it as I headed down into Llangenny. When I came to the road bridge in the village descent turned to ascent.

Llangenny BridgeLlangenny Bridge
Lodge at Pendarren HouseLodge at Pendarren House

The walk up the road was a constant unrelenting climb. In half a kilometer I climbed 75 metres to a crossroads and in the next kilometer I achieved another 100 metres of ascent by which time I had run out of road and was now walking beyond the last farm on the road and across a field to a height of just short of 300 meters elevation. On the road section I had been enclosed by a variety of high obstacles, a mix of walls, small copses and thick six foot plus hedges. Birds sang as I approached and passed them, all happy in the first signs of Spring which was arriving late in Wales this year. I knew it was coming though, after the Bluebells and green shoots evidenced during the walking over the past two days. Soon after passing the impressive lodge house to Pendarre House I came to a crossroads and fifteen minutes later I had climbed further up the road to a point where the tarmac ended.

Access path to Sugar LoafAccess path to Sugar Loaf
Drawing ever closerDrawing ever closer

I had reached an unmade path with a fence to my left and dispersed hawthorn trees to my right. The steady climb of the western slopes of the mountain which had started at the bridge in Llangenny continued to a height of 350 meters when I came to some derelict buildings. The roofs were long gone as were the tops of the walls but the bottom structure of the buildings remained. Temporary shelters for walkers on inclement and windswept days. Soon after the site of the old buildings I turned from a west to north course and as I did so the enclosed views of being at lower heights gave way to sublime panoramas. My first thoughts were to look back north and west in the direction I had come on my journey of Wales. I looked west to Craig y Cilau where I had been yesterday and to Darren Cilau where I had sat and watched young rock climbers practicing their fledgling skills. I looked to the cliffs of the mountain which I had traversed the top of from west to east before finding the safe path down. I looked further through the distant haze to the faint profile of Pen Y Fan, snow topped after the storms of two days previously which kept me from crossing the mountain. instead I had to follow a course to the north of the mountains. I mused that next time I return I must climb Pen Y Fan. Then my attention returned to the immediate task, the ascent of Sugar Loaf and as I looked at cloud clearing the peaked top of the mountain I marched onward towards it. At first I did not make any progress towards the summit at all as the path took me on a north west course leading me further away from the summit. This direction took me along for 400 metres and during the north west passage I lost 20 meters of height I had earned. But in compensation it kept me on the defined path a led me to a direct course due east which would take me directly to the top of the mountain. And on a wonderful short grassed wide path which was well maintained by the mountains resident sheep. They were doing a splendid job in maintaining the path. I walked steadily up the gentle slope of the mountain and past groups of sheep, each group parting to a distance away from the path which was sufficient for their comfort until I had walked on by. I continued to walk on, eyes focused on the summit and as I drew closer I could make out a small rock outcrop showing the attainment point. Once there I knew I would be on the summit ridge having been on the top one before, as stated in the summary to this walk, on my previous walk up the mountain. It was overcast that day and the cloud on top prevented me enjoying the views. Surely I would fare better this time.

Trig pillar on Sugar LoafTrig pillar on Sugar Loaf
The path from Sugar Loaf to AbergavennyThe path from Sugar Loaf to Abergavenny

Half an hour after turning from my parallel course to the one straight up the mountain I was on the summit ridge and within view of the trig point. A bank of cloud had appeared in the sky as I made the ridge but it was high enough to leave the summit unscathed. It just blocked out the sun which had made brief attempts to bathe the mountain during my ascent. Should I wait a while? I did not need to question myself for I met a gentleman at the trig point who had taken a walk up with his dog from near where I was to finish. We talked for 15 minutes or so, about the beauty of south Wales, about the Brecon Beacons and about my walk of Wales. He talked about how he had moved to work in the area from the Midlands some years ago and in falling in love with the place he decided to stay. It was a proper mountain top conversation, during which the bank of cloud thinned and began to part. We bid each other farewell and the gentleman left first while I took a drink. Blue sky increased and sun began to glint through as I began my descent.


As I followed a clear path on easy ground down the mountain I bounded along without a care in the world, a welcome effect the mountain imposed on me. As I continued down towards Abergavenny I looked towards the steep north facing slopes of Blorenge, the mountain due south of the town which was the next obstacle on my walking line to Cardiff. It did not phase me, I was unperturbed and really looked forward to the challenge. For now though I forgot of the climb ahead while I continued my enjoyable descent of Sugar Loaf, the exquisite mountain I was on. As I bounded on down, stopping on occasions to look back momentarily to the path I walked, I passed more sedate walkers. I was in the mood of a big kid. I even skipped for a while. On the more rapid than normal descent I looked straight on to the path ahead, to Sugar Loaf's south east finger which is Deri on the left and to Blorenge once more on the right. Then I looked straight ahead once more to be captivated by the rooftop views of Abergavenny and to the hump of Ysgyryd Fawr, more commonly known as the Skirrid directly beyond the town. These views continued to dominate my attention until I realised I was nearly down. And after one steep banked field I was down beside the road near Tyrewen.

Holloway roadHolloway road

I followed the road which was part sunken Holloway to Home Farm and then followed a path which took me past Llwyndu Court to the junction of Pentre Road, Pentre Lane and Chain Road. Next I walked into the center of Abergavenny and found the nearest cafe to settle down and enjoy some lunch. It was not quite eleven o'clock but I would not get another opportunity for a sit down and some indulgence today. It was a Caffe Nero. I collect the cards so I enjoyed a free large coffee. And a yummy piece of cake. This calorie intake was what I needed for the task ahead of me. On leaving the cafe I tracked out of Abergavenny by crossing the Usk Bridge and taking the pedestrian underpass of the A465 to reach the village of Llanfoist. The picture from the village to Blorenge was pretty. The climb coming up was not.

Wharfingers Cottage, monmouthshire Brecon CanalWharfingers Cottage, Monmouthshire Brecon Canal
Tram and Tramroad, Llanfoist WharfTram and Tramroad, Llanfoist Wharf

A five hundred meter high wall was right in front of me. In a mile of walking I had to climb it all, a one in three, 33% gradient. "One step at a time" I said to myself. Off I went, first up through the village and then into the sheath of woodland. Lush spring green woodland this time. Delightful. The trees were part of Glebe Wood and I was climbing beside a pretty stream tumbling down from Blorenge. The entertainment of pretty woodland helped with the effort. Just as I had entered the woods I had also enjoyed another delightful scene, this time when I reconnected with the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal which I had walked along yesterday from Talybont-on-Usk to Llangynidr. There was the Boathouse and the Wharfingers Cottage. A very pretty place with an excellent viewpoint back to Sugar Loaf which I had crossed earlier. Sugar Loaf was cloud free and bathed in sunshine now. From the canal I continued my steep climb through the wood. Now I was entertained by Industrial Heritage. Unbeknown to me I was now in Llanfoist Wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the early 1820s, Thomas Hill, an ironmaster from Blaenavon diverted his iron to Llanfoist via what is known as Hill's tramroad. The route opened in 1821 with rails 60cm (2ft) apart. It also served a forge at Garnddyrys, on the west side of the Blorenge. I passed examples of trams and a section of the tramway on my up the hill.

Climbing through the woodland to BlorengeClimbing through the woodland to Blorenge
Abergavenny and the SkirridAbergavenny and the Skirrid

Huffing and puffing I came out of the woodland and into the light at two thirds way up the climb and with the steepest part still to come. It looked impossible to climb the final hundred meters of ascent in a straight line and so it proved. I looked jealously at a hiker on top of the mountain and coming down the bank in my direction. He was not coming straight towards me though. He was on a zig-zag course downhill. And concurrently to when he started to descend I started to climb. On a zig-zag course up the hill. If I had gone straight up I would have needed to assume the stance of the sheep on the hill and used all fours. Feet and hands. As it was I managed in a semi upright stoop. And in quite a few stop and start stages. On one break for a catch of breath I saw the other walker disappear into the woodland. I was not yet halfway. But I did make it up in the end and when on top of the hill I was rewarded with extra special views back to Sugar Loaf, Abergavenny and the Skirrid.

Trig Pillar on BlorengeTrig Pillar on Blorenge
Quack Quack the Pergrine FalconQuack Quack the Peregrine Falcon

Soon after reaching the top and after the five minutes I stood in awe at the sight to the north I walked the few meters south to tap the trig pillar on the summit of Blorenge. I was relieved my climbing for the day was done. I sill had over six miles to walk though and aware that I had to cover it in the time it would take my wife Lil to get to our rendezvous point on Little Mountain. She was picking me up and dropping me off on the remaining stages of the walk now as we were staying in Usk with family there. For a reason I shall come to at the end of the walk in Cardiff. I tracked across Blorenge in a south-west direction towards a Wireless Transmitting Station at Cefn y Galchen. As I neared the structures a large bird flew over my head. And then it turned and did it again. I could tell it was a bird of prey and I guessed by its speed and maneuverability that it was a Peregrine Falcon. I was right. At the WT Station I met Quack Quack. I also met Roger James who runs Black Mountain Falconry Centre in Abergavenny. And I also met Peter Hughes, Chris Neesham and her glamorous daughter Annie who were enjoying the show quack Quack was giving. What a privilege it was.

Mynydd y Garn-FawrMynydd y Garn-Fawr
Trig Pillar on Mynydd Garn-wenTrig Pillar on Mynydd Garn-wen

After the entertainment provided by Quack Quack the Peregrine Falcon the final three miles of my walk was still enjoyable. The wild open country on the south-east tip of the Brecon Beacons was delightful to walk across. I could sense the end of my walk across the mountains of Wales coming as I crossed Mynydd y Garn-Fawr, Mynydd Garnclochdy and then Mynydd Garn-wen, each slightly lower than the last. The hills were tumbling away. From the trig pillar on Mynydd Garn-wen and looked across to the conurbation of Pontypool which I would walk past tomorrow. First though I had a date with Little Mountain. I arrived there before Lil who I had made contact with an hour earlier and who I guided up the road from Trevethin to meet me. I had to sit for a while by the roadside though as she was an hour late. Not her fault. There had been an accident on the A4042 from Abergavenny and she was directed by the police around the west side of Blorenge. A twenty mile detour on roads she did not even know. She did well to recover me at all.

From my evening Facebook post: "Today's walk was simply splendid; the near 20 mile course being a pleasure from start to finish. It was a walk with two distinct halves which will become clear as I write the story. I set off from Crickhowell earlier than usual on this Welsh epic. I was on my way before 8.00am. It was raining as I left Crickhowell, not heavy and not enough to dampen my spirits as I walked by road, bridleway and on paths through fields on a leisurely rolling course to Llangenny where I crossed a bridge over Grwyne Fawr. Then it was an abrupt haul up a steep hill to Pen-twyn where road ended and bridleway continued, steeply still to the grassed untended uplands of Mynydd Pen-y-fal. I was on good form though and not at all breathless as I breezed up the welcoming slopes of Sugar Loaf to the summit trig point. It is a shapely stupendous mountain which is easier to climb than imaginable. Slopes in every direction are good to walk, the grass is lush and short - it is a great mountain and I love it. At the top I spoke with a Monmouth man for a while and after our conversation I stayed up on the top for some time to take in the splendid views. Many of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains could be seen, as could Blorenge which pointed my way forward. The descent from Sugar Loaf was extremely enjoyable as I focused on Abergavenny which I bee-lined to on a south east course - straight and true on one of the short lush green paths I mentioned earlier. I entered the town by Chapel Hill and headed for the high street to enjoy a coffee and cake. I also called at a newsagents to buy a birthday card I needed to get. On speaking with the newsagent I asked the way out of the town centre streets to Blorenge. "Little Pimple you mean" and adding "that is what it means in Welsh" it didn't look like a little pimple to me as I faced a huge and steep 500 metre high bank. The climb started gently to the village of Llanfoist but from the village the climb was severe. I hauled myself through woodland to the Monmouthshire Brecon Canal I was now so familiar with, getting past the canal by going underneath it via a tunnel. After the tunnel the climb continued steep and relentless through the woodland and to open moor. I met two gentlemen on my ascent. The first was an elderly gentleman from Abergavenny but originally from Gloucester who was taking a slow walk to some Bluebell woods (they are out in the area now, late for the time of year but now gloriously showing) When I told him of my quest and my direction up Blorenge he told me my straight up steep route was on the exact line of the original cable TV line which served Abergavenny before Satellite. I noticed the cables showing above ground in spots as I climbed. Then further up I met a chap backpacking the Cambrian Way. After sharing a few stories he said he was heading for a campsite just below. "I have wild camped two nights in a row and I am now in desperate need of a bath" I knew what he meant. After bidding him goodbye and wishing him good luck I continued on my steep climb up the mountain. Huff, puff, puff, stop, breath deeply, repeat... I made the climb in good time though and did not feel any sapping of strength as I reached the false top and then no less loss of energy as I walked the short distance on the much easier climbing ground to the summit. That completes part 1 of the walk. Now for part 2. The first stage of it was on shapely mountains with banks and falls on all sides. Now I was on moor. And with it being moor I could see the little pimple as I walked away from the summit of Blorenge and looked back. If I had ascended it from the south I would hardly have noticed the effort. I was high at 559m on the summit of Blorenge and still at 508m one kilometer later at Cefn y Galchen when I stopped to talk to a group of four people who were enjoying an excellent time watching Birds of Prey do their aerobatic exercises. Alas I missed the Red Kite who was finished on manoeuvres by the time I arrived but I enjoyed meeting Quack Quack the Peregrine Falcon, the handler and a few onlookers. It was a magic moment. I bid farewell to all and continued on a lovely walk over the high moors, keeping height for the remainder of the walk. I was bouncing along with ecstatic and somewhat youthful exuberance. I think I can remember that far back! Mynydd y Garn-fawr was a joy and would have been more so in August/ September as it is a moor covered in heather. I was provided with a good and well maintained wide path through the scrub though so the progress was swift. Then I came to a completely different moor of green short grass, it being Mynydd Garnclochdy which took me to the sublime ridge of Mynydd Garn-wen which provided superb views down to the Welsh coastal towns on the Severn Estuary. And then all too soon I was on Little Mountain near Trevethin and finishing my excellent days walk. I could have carried on walking".

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