The Black Mountain 2007
The Beacon's fourth mountain range.
The Brecon Beacons National Park is made up of four mountain ranges.
To the Northeast are the Black Mountains, separated from the other ranges by the River Usk.
Running from the centre through to the East are The Brecon Beacons - the largest by far of the four ranges.
Just West of the centre is Fforest Fawr, which contains many of the cave systems and most of the waterfalls, separated from the Brecon Beacons by the Taf Fawr.
In the West is the Black Mountain, separated from Fforest Fawr by the River Tawe.
The names of the Black Mountains and the Black Mountain may seem confusing, and to make matters a little more difficult, the Black Mountains even contain a peak called the Black Mountain.
However, we manage to cope with this naming, and it serves only to confuse outsiders.
In the original Welsh naming (a direct translation of the English versions), the names of the two ranges sound significantly different, but the Welsh names have long since fallen out of use.
To add more confusion, in the Fforest Fawr mountain range, there is a forest, called Fforest Fawr.
On top of that, the UNESCO Fforest Fawr Geopark covers more than just the Fforest Fawr mountain range, also including the Black Mountain and part of the Brecon Beacons range.
It can be difficult to work out which version is being referred to.
Despite being called collectively under a singular name, The Black Mountain is actually a range of separate mountains, characterised by a long sandstone clifftop ridge at their northern end, containing the tallest peaks.
The purpose of the first trip was to photograph the tallest of these; Fan Brycheiniog, whose name confusingly means "The Brecon Peak", despite the fact that it is over 20 km from Brecon, and not even in the main Brecon Beacons.
The Black Mountain contains fewer major caves than the more popular Brecon Beacons, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for with quality.
At its western edge is the river cave Llygad Llwchwr, whose name serves to torture even local residents.
At its eastern edge is Dan-yr-Ogof, the only showcave site in Wales, and one of the best decorated caves in the UK.
Dan-yr-Ogof's name translates to "Under the Cave", a name first given to the village under the cave,
and then transferred to the cave itself, which was the cave above the village that gave the village its name.
The cave that is under itself, apparently.
Confusing names are a fashion here.
- Map of the Brecon Beacons National Park, showing the locations of the various mountains and ranges.
- Cribarth (426 metres), on the edge of the Black Mountain, and the banks of the Tawe. Dan-yr-Ogof is in a gully just off the right of the picture, and drains a large part of the Black Mountain.
- Craig-y-nos, the Nighttime Crags, on the edge of Cribarth. The crags lend their name to the local artificial country park (who needs artificial in a place like this?), complete with poorly controlled children's horse treks down the main road - yay!
- Fan Gyhirych (725 metres), the first main peak (and second largest) in Fforest Fawr, whose ridge is home to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, the deepest cave in the UK. The name Fan Gyhirych could possibly be translated as "The Peak With A Long Ox", though that just a conincidence, as it actually means "Braided Peak".
- The steep scar of Fan Hir (761 metres), my favourite mountain within the Black Mountain, and the start of the 7 km long cliff.
- 160 metres of sandstone scarp.
- Nant y Llyn, imaginatively named "the Lake Stream", outflow from the lake at the base of the cliff.
- The beautiful panorama of Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog, the two tallest peaks in the Black Mountain.
- Fan Brycheiniog is the tallest of the peaks, at 802 metres, and has a superb secondary butress peak.
- Now upstream of the cave outflows, and most surface tributaries, the river Tawe is reduced to a small stream, draining the bog. The Tawe is not the only important river to start on this mountain; just over the ridge to the right is the source of the major river Usk.
- This area of Wales is important for another reason; it is home to the Red Kites, which were reintroduced after becoming locally endangered. These have done amazingly well, and are now a common sight in the national park, despite their failing numbers elsewhere in Europe.
- We were treated to the display of two red kites chasing off a third. They are quite easy to identify, being noticeably larger than a buzzard at nearly 2 metres wingspan, with neatly pointed wings instead of splayed feathers, and most importantly, the forked tail.
- The red grass looks beautiful, but it is actually a bog, not marked on the map. The path is fine in most places as long as you are wearing walking boots that are waterproof, but certainly not of the quality of paths in other areas.
- Occasionally, however, it gets ridiculous, crossing through this green pondweed, deeper than a pair of boots. Most walkers were avoiding these areas instead of following the paths, which does not help the landscape, instead covering it in a multitude of paths. This area is quite close to the SAS training camp at Sennybridge, and they use the national park as a training ground. Perhaps they crawl through this bog as part of their endurance and stealth training. I see some bubbles...
- Fan Brycheiniog, and 200 metres of cliff dropping into Llyn y Fan Fawr (the Big Peak-Lake).
- Llyn y Fan Fawr.
- What else would you do with a lake? Swim in it perhaps?
- This should help explain why swimming would not be a great idea. The daytime temperature at this altitude was about 4°C, ignoring wind chill. The nighttime temperature was about -2°C. The water was only a little above freezing. Well, she did ask.
- Colours of the Black Mountain, with Fan Gyhirych in the background, and the main Brecon Beacons peaks in the far distance on the left.
- Most of the Black Mountain range from the South, with Fan Brycheiniog in the centre, and Fan Gyhirych over the ridge to its right. It is quite easy to see why the name is singular, as there don't appear to be any proper peaks from this direction, just one rolling mass of land.
- Lower Nant Garw.
- Garreg Lwyd (Grey Stone, 616 metres).
- Nant Garw.
- Cefn y Cylchau (Circles Ridge, 556 metres) from Rhiw Wen (White Hill), right beside Herbert's Quarry, where various caves like Ogof Pasg-Ogof Foel Fawr feed the Llygad Llwchwr resurgence, 7 km to the West.
- Looking East along the northern edge of the mountains.
- Looking towards Foel Fraith, which is home to more caves, including Ogof Pwll Swnd. The watershed there flows only a short distance South to Ffrydiau Twrch. 5 km further on is Sinc y Giedd, where the watershed changes direction again, and flows to Dan-yr-Ogof instead, a little over 3 km to the Southeast.
- Rainbow in a rain shower.
- Pant Nantfforchog (Forked Stream Hollow).
- One of two red kites hunting near the road.
- Tair Carn Uchaf (Three Highest Cairns, 482 metres).
- Carreg Cennen Castle.
- Banc Wernwgan (White Alder Bank).
- Banc Wernwgan.
- Llygad Llwchwr. A major resurgence cave with a sumped resurgence entrance, and a dry entrance above the dry stone wall to the left. The cave is often used for novices, and is also a major divers' cave.
- Divers have to contend with the extremely powerful currents that give birth to the river Llwchwr, with very poor visibility, and large amounts of gravel wash.
- Tair Carn Isaf (460 metres).
- Mynydd Isaf streamers, at the end of the Black Mountain.
- One of many, many wild horses that call this area home.