The Black Mountains

From glorious beginnings.

The Black Mountains consist of several ribs of mountains, joined together with steep buttresses at their northern end. Between the ribs are 3 main river valleys; the Grwyne Fechan, the Grwyne Fawr, and the Honddu. All are very beautiful at their upper ends, with the Grwyne Fechan and the Honddu being particularly nice. However, both soon become farmland, and have only forestry tracks or roads, without many usefully placed footpaths. The Grwyne Fawr contains more open countryside and paths.

There are also ridge routes, but these consist mostly of boggy ground, and almost no significant changes in terrain to make them interesting. Generally, the ridge routes and valleys are best suited to cycling, and they have several excellent cycling routes through them. The Grwyne Fawr is an exception, in that it also served very well as a walking route, so that is the route we would take.

The other alternative, on the ridge beside the Honddu, is the Offa's Dyke Path, on the border between England and Wales. Offa's Dyke itself was built over 1200 years ago, and was designed to protect the Anglian kingdom of Mercia from the Welsh of Powys. Though obviously interesting, this was too far out of the way for our route.

By now, my knee had had enough. I was walking like a cripple, and it would be unlikely that I could make the rest of the trip. We got a lift down into Abergavenny to stay with family. (Note that there are plenty of places in Abergavenny to stay even if you do not have family there, and it is easy enough to walk to Llanfoist to pick up the next part of the route.)

Thankfully, we were also able to pick up some walking poles and support bandages, and I donned the official "cripple" badge. It took some practice learning how best to use poles, and it did not remove the problem completely, but by walking with them in a really strange motion, I was able to keep up a good pace, without making the problem worse. It helps to have strong arms, since the poles basically serve as crutches - thankfully, as a caver, I have such arms, and the rest of the trip was done part on leg power, and part on arm power, even racing up the mountains.