Brecon Beacons Walking Wednesday: The Cat’s Back

The Cat’s Back ©Kevin Walker


This week’s walk of the week recommendation is from Kevin Walker of Mountain Activities.

A stunningly scenic walk through countryside made famous by Bruce Chatwin’s book, “On the Black Hill”.  Allow about 3 hours.

DISTANCE – 8kms (5 miles)
HEIGHT GAIN – 300 metres (1000 feet).
START POINT – Parking area and picnic spot, signposted off narrow lane from Llanveynoe, near Longtown.
MAPS – OS Explorer OL13.  OS Landranger 161.

The optional extension to the summit of Hay Bluff adds a further 5kms (3 miles) but only a small amount of additional ascent – allow an extra hour.


©Kevin Walker

A reasonably straightforward yet superbly scenic walk up the surprisingly narrow ridge of Crib y Garth – known locally as the Cat’s Back – returning through a lonely valley.  The ridge is exposed, so it can be windy here, and you will need good hill clothing if the weather turns nasty.  It is advisable to wear sturdy footwear – preferably walking boots – as there are a couple of rough, rocky sections, particularly on the descent.


From the A465 Abergavenny – Hereford road, drive through Longtown to reach Llanveynoe.  Take the narrow road heading north-west into the Olchon Valley, then bear right to reach the signposted parking area, which is shown on OS maps.


©Kevin Walker

From the parking area, an obvious path heads straight up the steep slopes that mark the start of Crib y Garth!  Although this is a rude awakening, it is not as bad as it looks, and the angle soon relents.  Keep as close as possible to the centre of the narrow ridge to enjoy increasingly panoramic views, and don’t forget to stop and look back every once in a while.  The route is obvious throughout this section, climbing in rocky steps, and quite unlike anything else in the National Park.

Part way along the ridge, just when it becomes obvious that most of the climbing is over, an old quarry to the right of the path makes an excellent sheltered spot for a break.  On a clear day you can see the Malverns, and the Bristol Channel.

©Kevin Walker

Beyond the quarry, the ridge soon loses itself in the main bulk of the mountain, and the path continues across a heathery plateau to reach the trig point which marks the top of the Black Hill.  This section can be muddy after wet weather, but the worst is always easily avoidable. Continue along the path which skirts to the left of the dewponds, until you reach another path coming in from the large valley to the left.

Although this is your onward route, you can, if you like, extend the walk by following the top path for a further 2½ kms to reach Hay Bluff (marked by another trig point) – another fine viewpoint.  If you decide to do this, keep to the path along the top of the ridge, and ignore the obvious flagged path that bears off to the right.  Return to the junction by retracing your steps.

Back at the junction, follow the path into the narrow valley, soon passing the ruins of a shepherd’s shelter on the right and starting to descend more steeply.  You soon get a good view of your onward route along the left side of the valley, shortly after which the path becomes steep, rocky and awkward for a short section before easing onto the more gentle slopes beyond.

Continue along the main track, eventually walking alongside a fence with the noise of a waterfall to your right.  The track soon enters a wooded section, then ends at a metalled lane.  Turn left, and follow the quiet lane through the Olchon Valley, passing several ruins – evidence that the valley was once more heavily populated than it is today.  After about 2 kms, you reach the lane leading to the car parking area.  Turn left, and follow this uphill to reach your car.

This is one of the walks followed by Kevin on his Walking Breaks.  Check out what else he has to offer at

Kevin Walker is a highly experienced mountain addict who has been running navigation and mountain skills courses for over 30 years.  As well as training courses, private guiding and 1:1 coaching, Kevin has appeared on television and radio, and has written many books including Mountain Navigation Techniques (widely regarded as the standard work),Learn Rock Climbing in a Weekend (published worldwide), and Navigation – Finding Your Way on Mountain & Moorland, (published to critical acclaim in 2007).  His most recent book, Undiscovered Wales, was published by Frances Lincoln (publishers of the Wainwright Guides) in March 2010.  He also writes and publishes guidebooks under the banner Heritage Guides, and occasionally writes for the outdoor press.  Further details are available online at







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2 Responses to Brecon Beacons Walking Wednesday: The Cat’s Back

  1. Pingback: Top 5 Places to Take a Good Photo in Brecon Beacons | Brecon Beacons Tourism's Blog

  2. David Meacham says:

    Good walk this one but take note of the plea to wear good clothing, it’s windy up there all the time

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