Winter walks in the Black Mountains have a special magic, especially when the weather is cold and clear, and you can see for well nigh a hundred miles across the landscape.
Today we walked across the Monnow valley towards Little Darren Farm, and then climbed up towards Black Darren (Darren means “edge” or “crag” in Welsh) onto the eastern-most side of the Hatterrall Ridge.
The climb is fairly steep, but only 250 metres in terms of height gained, and as you reach the plateau the views open out on all sides.
On the plateau we soon reached Offa’s Dyke Path, a well-defined long distance footpath which marks the border of England and Wales, and from here you can look westwards towards the higher and more distant peaks of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
We turned south along Offa’s Dyke until we met the Beacon’s Way which cuts back towards the north east, and we followed that path down into the lovely Honddu Valley. Here you will see the ancient priory of LLanthony, founded early in the twelfth century, and described at the time by the otherwise reliable chronicler, Gerald of Wales, as “fixed amongst barbarous people”.
If you have time, and the weather is settled, walk down to take a look at the ruins of this most impressive Augustinian Priory. But the days are short in November, so don’t tarry too long! In any case, our attention was caught by a flock of wood pigeon winging in panic towards the valley floor as they were ambushed by a pair of merlins from the ridge just above us. Merlins are renowned for hunting in pairs, and we saw one of the pigeons crash into the bracken, pursued by the male. Apparently, only a small proportion of merlin sorties are successful, but this was a neatly orchestrated ambush, and there was little doubt that this time the merlins got their prey.
After a break for home-made soup and bread, we walked northwards back onto the skyline, and met up again with Offa’s Dyke path. Here we came across two walkers and two mountain bikers, the only people we saw during our day’s wanderings. We continued northwards until we could see down into the Olchon valley on the English side of the path, then cut across to the west, and reached Red Darren. (We have amusing memories of this spot, because, when our children were small, they and their grandparents managed to get lost in the six feet high bracken here!)
By now the shadows were lengthening, and encouraged by our border collie Jester, who had definitely decided it was time for tea, we made quick progress down the steep slopes and into the Olchon valley. Then homewards over the top to Little Trewern, for toasted stollen and coffee and hot chocolate by the fire!
Details of the route:
If you walk from Little Trewern, this route will take 5-6 hours. If you take your car up to Little Darren Farm and park at the car park, the walk will take about 3 to 4 hours.
Walking in the Black Mountains is safe, in that you do not require technical mountaineering skills. But you must be fit, be able to read a map accurately, have good quality walking boots, and carry food and drink and plenty of warm clothing with you. Always go prepared for bad weather. In winter, if snow threatens, carry ice-axes and crampons.
If you respect the mountains, they will respect you!
We are happy to act as guides for our guests, if you would prefer to go with someone who knows these mountains well.