Tuesday, October 26, 2021

bog standard

So obviously with ankle rehabilitation progressing well and new boots ready to be tested it only remained to find an opportunity to go and test ankle and boots out by going for a long walk. It's currently school half-term and Nia and I have been trying to tee up a crack at Pen y Fan, which she's very keen to do. That's pencilled in for the end of this week but I managed to wangle a free day yesterday as well so I took myself off for a walk after dropping the kids off at their grandparents' in Abergavenny. Now I've done a lot of walking in the vicinity of Abergavenny over the years: there's the Sugar Loaf, the Blorenge, the Black Mountain, Table Mountain above Crickhowell, Coity Mountain near Blaenavon and various Skirrids. So a lot of the obvious boxes have been ticked, and I fancied doing something new rather than re-doing something I'd already done.

The obvious area in the vicinity that I'd never set foot on was the big plateau to the south-west of Crickhowell, cut roughly in half by the B4560 running north-south across it, with the eastern half being Mynydd Llangatwg and the western half being Mynydd Llangynidr. So I planned a circular route, found a car park and set off. 

The first thing to say here is that this isn't a mountain walk in the classical sense: firstly because the car park is at about 440 metres and the high-altitude point of the day is at 541 metres, so there isn't a lot of ascent involved. Furthermore while the two areas either side of the road are each called "mountain" (that being what the Welsh word "mynydd" means) they are actually just one vast plateau with no obvious summits. The focal points of the day are the two trig points, the first one barely a mile and a half into the walk at 541 metres and the second at 529 metres atop a slightly more impressive pile of bits of shattered limestone about four miles to the east. The important thing to say about the first one is that this isn't even technically the summit of Mynydd Llangynidr - that is at 557 metres about a mile and a half to the west, but I couldn't see a way of including it in the walk without increasing the amount of exhausting slogging across trackless wastes to beyond the limits of even my sanity.

Getting from the first trig point to the second is the main challenge of the day - as you can probably imagine a vast flat area of mountain upland in South Wales is going to attract and retain quite a bit of water. The section from the first trig point to the road is basically OK, as is the section from the road to the intermediate high point here. Looking east from there across the slightly lower-lying area between you and the higher ground of Mynydd Llangatwg (the knobbly bit in the centre of the picture) is, I imagine, an experience not unlike gazing across the blasted trackless wastes of Mordor towards Mount Doom.

It's important to take an attitude of Zen-like calm and fatalism here: there's really no way of knowing in advance which is the best (which basically means driest) route, and so the thing to do is pick out a rough route by eye and then just go for it. In hindsight, though, it might have been better to go to the south (right in the photo above) of the two ponds rather than trying to pick a route between them. Around halfway through trying to do that I encountered a very wet section and no amount of hasty high-stepping over tussocks could prevent a certain amount of water from entering over the tops of my boots, instantly invalidating my intended testing of their waterproofing. The advantage of being in such an unfrequented spot is that you can bellow CUUUUNNNT as loud as you like and no-one will mind. 

Once you've gained the high ground of Mynydd Llangatwg, bagged its trig point and dropped off to the north to get out of the wind and eat a pork pie and a Granny Smith, you can quickly drop off the northern edge of the escarpment and down onto a path which hugs the contours along the bottom of the cliffs back towards the car park. I had expected this to be a longish and slightly tedious tail to the walk, but it's actually not quite as simple as that: the first section takes you through some interesting old limestone quarry workings and into the Craig-y-cilau nature reserve, part of the path through which follows the route of an old quarry tramway along a terrace halfway up the cliff. This is an absolute delight to walk after the tedious squelching that's gone before, and once that ends you drop down into some wooded valleys that are equally delightful, if a bit muddy and slippery in the wet. The path then leads past the raised bog at Waun Ddu - apparently very unusual and ecologically significant, though to be honest not much to look at. 

That's your lot for excitement, though, the tedious tail to the walk then materialises, just slightly later than expected, and you have to slog the last two slightly uphill miles along a road.

I can't honestly say I'd recommend this route to anyone but tedious hill-bagging completists and those of an obsessively misanthropic nature - after leaving the car park where there were a couple of guys in an army Land Rover doing mysterious army shit involving shouting into a radio a lot the next time I saw a human being was at around six miles in when I caught a glimpse of the top half of a farmer from about fifty yards away. I then passed within hello-ing distance of a young couple and an elderly lady and her dog while walking through the woods, but that was about it. I enjoyed myself, but I am aware that I find enjoyment in a whole variety of perverse activities that many would find unpalatable.

As an exercise in assessing boot comfort and ankle recovery it was pretty effective, though: marshy tussocky terrain like this is murder on the ankles even when they aren't injured. Twenty-four hours later I would describe my ankle as a bit sore, but not cripplingly so. We'll see what a shorter but steeper (and hopefully drier) walk on Friday does to it.

Route map (start at the green flag thingy in the top left corner and proceed anticlockwise) and altitude profile are below: the altitude profile illustrates how this is very much a walk of two contrasting halves. Note that the starting altitude (calculated by my phone's GPS) and, as a consequence, all the other altitudes, are about fifty metres too high.


I also took a few photos, which can be found here

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