Sunday 18th October 2020
In a year that has deprived many of us from so much, I can say that I have only made the journey over to Wales for a walk just the one time. Now that Wales is in its own state of lockdown (for the third time this year), I won’t be crossing the Severn again until sometime in 2021 (fingers crossed).
I do miss the Brecon Beacons. Snowdonia. The Black Mountains and all those miles of the Wales Coast Path I’ve still yet to follow. I’d been up Sugar Loaf several times before but I thought it might be good to write about this most recent outing, as I got to share it with two friends who were new to the almost-mountain.
We left Weston quite early and arrived at the designated parking area near Porth-y-Parc (SO 288 166) with room to spare. A lady parked next to me and commented on how it’d been so busy the day before that she had to turn back.
I had actually been here once before in 2020 – on New Year’s Eve 2019, a drop a group of us to this point for a midnight summit of Sugar Loaf, along with a good number of others. We then departed in the early hours of 2020… Which perhaps still counts as being ‘this year’.
In daylight hours, one can peer down over Abergavenny, far below. We would begin our walk heading south-south-west – loosely following The Walking Englishman’s route throughout the day.
I’d decided it would be wise to turn south-west from Home Farm and the right of way down through the vineyard… Where the original route (as I walked solo a few years ago) follows the roads in a dog-leg fashion… Perhaps the author knew of the brambles and barbed wire of this section – all a bit too close for comfort.
We continued west to Tyrewen Farm. Last time I was here, the place looked slightly less… Abandoned. There were hand-painted signs warning of boar that bite. Whatever has gone on here, I always find it sad to see farm buildings and land apparently going to waste.
Another incline led us up past Twyn Bungalow; then walking west in to the wooded paths and leaving the tarmac behind for most of the rest of the day.
With a lack of waymarking, a gate that was apparently tied shut and my own hesitancy, we passed a junction that would’ve led us along a direct course to Pine Grove – a stretch along which I almost followed another group of walkers on my previous visit… A group of whom didn’t have a strong handle on their bearings! A bit like this sheep, who’d followed the rest of his flock but couldn’t then find his/her way down off the wall.
So, we took a longer route around the valley and past Pine Grove, where we briefly said hello to these horses (one was more timid than the other).
Heading in to the woods of Graig, we passed this building which I had noticed on my last walk here. At the time, I pondered whether there had once been a railway line running through here… Now, I’m thinking that the owner just likes to collect such signs.
Graig, then. It all came back to me. That strict test of endurance, climbing the zig-zagging slopes in the hope of escaping the trees. Often rocky and crumbly under foot. Look closely and you can indeed see the footpath in the photo above.
There might’ve been one or two fallen trees here on my previous visit. But these obstacles were more recent and really gave us a workout.
Eventually, we broke out on to the top with a clearing. Still a fair distance from Sugar Loaf and it was a good opportunity for lunch. It was also decision time…
Would we follow the Walking Englishman’s route all the way down to Llangenny, only to then have to regain that height before approaching Sugar Loaf?
Or, would be maintain what height we’d gained and take a more direct approach to the final ascent?
Of course, we did the sensible thing and went with option two. That climb up from Llangenny was very relentless and I felt I was doing my friends a favour.
Here’s a view of Blorenge (above). One of the other local hills (still in the Brecon Beacons National Park) that I’ve still not done. Although, I possible drove over it with one of these two friends back in 2014.
Sugar Loaf was now visible, as we passed Cwm-cegyr and sought the guidance of a bridleway. More flat-topped than the pyramid form we’d admired on the drive up the A40 earlier.
Approaching Sugar Loaf from the south-west then, we discovered this quite impressive valley. With no other walkers to be seen (except for those ‘ants’ on the summit), I’m assuming it was a much-lesser-walked route.
Immediately, I took a strong liking to it.
To the east of the valley, trees had clearly been removed at some point in the past and for whatever reason. This is not an uncommon sight in any UK National Park.
We’d lose a little bit of height before making a couple of sharp turns and heading up to the ridge of Mynydd Pen-y-Fal. I was asked whether we’d be crossing the river… Looking again at the map now, I can see that we could’ve indeed crossed over and taken a more direct walk up to the summit.
River crossing were a bit of a theme from a walk the three of us did on Exmoor early last year, when two of us ended up with water in our boots, before making it across the River Barle to the other side!
We passed a couple of former buildings – possible shepherd’s huts, once upon a time?
In not my finest hour, I somehow led us away from the clear bridleway(s) and we would end up taking a shortcut through tussocks and rough ground to reach the spine of Pen-y-Fal.
We paused several times along the way, to admire the view of the greater Black Mountains circling the valley to the north. I thought of how I’d not been there in so long now. There was a time where I would visit almost once a month to explore different hills and mountains.
Further to the west, we could even make out Pen y Fan and Corn Du – although this was noted to me before I had a chance to share.
Ysgyryd Fawr stands alone to the east. I climbed that one for the first (and only) time just over one year before this walk.
We clambered carefully, over and around rocks, on our way to the trig point. By this point, many of the masses had departed and presumably, were heading back to their cars.
But then – right on queue, as if I had orchestrated the event – a trio of biplanes came flying past!
I also remember taking a photo of three people at the trig point and at the request of the owner of the DSLR camera – they look impressive but I can’t personally imagine carrying one up a big hill.
Because, standing at 596m above sea level, that’s all that Sugar Loaf is; falling just short of the classification to meet the minimum height of a mountain. Even if I were to stand on the trig point (at 6ft1in tall) and raise my hands in the air, I believe I still doubt I would be high enough.
Before continuing away from the summit, we watched this guy make his own descent in style. I recently read about someone who got stuck doing this near Cheddar Gorge… But it’s not the first time I’ve seen someone sail away from the heights of the Brecon Beacons.
On a personal quest, I dragged my tiring friends away from a direct route to the car and around the valley in which we’d parked. I wanted to explore the Deri ridge, having seen it highlight as part of a shorter walk in Trail Magazine sometime last year.
…I think I was hoping for a lot more than it could’ve offered. I mean, this wasn’t going to be anything liked The Cat’s Back (Black Hill) and, with all we’d seen so far on this walk, I didn’t feel it counted for much. But at least I could tick it off!
We did admire the changing form of Sugar Loaf, walking clockwise around to its south side, before dropping down towards the cars.
I managed to guide us down through this gnarly, wooded hillside safely… Handrailing the boundary line, initially, before stepping over a ‘squashed’ fence to get back on to the intended path.
We were soon on our way downhill to Porth-y-Parch, back at the car park and on our way back to North Somerset. As we set off, the lady who’d parked next to me earlier arrived back at her car. I wonder what route she’d done? Had it been much different to our own?
Length of this walk = 10.25 miles
Thanks for reading.