Walk Wednesday: MacNamara’s Circuit

©Kevin Walker

A very Happy New Year to our followers.  We are starting 2012 with our first Walk Wednesday of the year.

A big welcome back to Kevin Walker,from Mountain Activities, who we have missed over the last two months.  Poor Kevin has been at the perils of BT who took over nine weeks to install his broadband Internet.

At least he has spent the time putting together a spectacular walking programme including special walks and events for St. George’s Day, the Olympics and what looks like some amazing night-time/ stargazing walks.  Check out his website for more information.

Here’s a fine ridge walk to ease any excesses of the past few weeks.


DISTANCE – 21kms (13 miles)
HEIGHT GAIN – 600 metres (2000 feet).

The route can be shortened to 15 kilometres with 450 metres of ascent by following the escape route from Pen Twyn Glas,

START POINT – Rough lay-by at hairpin bend.
MAPS – OS Explorer OL13, OS Landranger 161.

DESCRIPTION:  A lovely walk of contrasts, starting in the confines of an increasingly wild valley before soaring onto a superb ridge with open views in all directions, and visiting some of the Black Mountains’ summits.

PARKING:  Leave Crickhowell along Llanbedr Road, which leaves the A40 just to the west of the Shell petrol station. Follow this road and the narrowing continuation lane for some about 5kms (3 miles), ignoring all turnings, until you reach a narrow bridge and hairpin bend.  Park in the rough lay-by on the left, just after the bridge.

ROUTE:  Leave your car and walk along the lane for a further 3½kms (2 miles) bearing right at the far end to reach a “no vehicles” sign and gate (usually open).  Just beyond, to the right, are the ruins of the Hermitage, allegedly built by John Macnamara, squire of Llangoed Castle, in the early 1800’s as a love-nest for his mistresses.  The route you are to follow for the next 6½kms (4 miles) is known as Macnamara’s Road, and is purported to have been built by the squire (a member of the notorious Hellfire Club) so that he could visit his mistresses more easily from Llangoed.

©Kevin Walker

The lane soon deteriorates into a rough track.  Follow it to the left and climb out of the woodland.  Where the track swings right towards Tal-y-maes Farm alongside a plantation, continue straight on along grassy track with a field boundary to the right, and shortly descend to the river and a superb old stone bridge – Tal-y-maes Bridge.  The track continues on the other side, and works its way along the increasingly wild valley, eventually reaching an obvious saddle via a hairpin bend.  The views here are excellent.

From the saddle, follow the obvious ridge-top path in a southerly direction, soon reaching Mynydd Llysiau, it’s mediocre summit marked by a low pile of stones.  Continue along the sometimes peaty ridge path with extensive views in all directions, and keep your eyes open for old boundary stones along the way.  Although some of these have fallen over, two are still standing on a narrow rocky ridge, and are often mistaken for gravestones.  According to local legend, these stones were erected by Mrs Macnamara, who took over the running of the Llangoed Estate after her husband was killed during a race. It is said that the fatal accident occurred when his coach overturned at the hairpin just below the saddle.

Ahead and to the right looms Pen Allt-mawr.  Just after the standing boundary stones, just before Pen Twyn Glas, bear right along a good path which curves around the head of the valley to reach the final steep slope leading to Pen Allt-mawr.

If you wish you can shorted the walk at this point by descending to the left along the Tal Trwynau spur.  The path takes you through some old tilestone quarries, and becomes better defined the further you descend, eventually becoming a good track which drops steeply alongside a conifer plantation.  At the bottom of the field below, bear right onto the continuation of the track which descends between stone walls.  After a couple of hundred metres you come to a waymarked stile on the right, beyond which a faint but waymarked path heads steeply down a grassy field.  Turn left at the bottom to return to the parking area.

©Kevin Walker

Back up on the ridge, continue towards the brooding hulk of Pen Allt-Mawr and climb steeply to gain the summit.  This is not so bad if taken slowly and direct, and the views from the top amply repay the effort.  To my mind, this is the best viewpoint in the whole of the Black Mountains.

Leave the summit on the path running along the right edge of the plateau, and continue, rocky in places, to Pen Gloch y Pibwr where you turn hard left, eventually bearing left away from the edge of the plateau to climb through a low outcrop of limestone to reach the obvious rounded summit of Pen Cerrig-calch, with a trig point and huge cairn.  Continue in a southerly direction along a rocky, peaty path which skirts the right edge of the summit boulder-field, then descend more easily to a sudden sharpening of the spur after which it is a simple matter to gain the obvious flat but sloping summit of Table Mountain (Crug Hywel), the original Iron Age settlement which became Crickhowell.

©Kevin Walker

Leave Table Mountain through the old “gateway” to its east, and work your way down towards the enclosed farmland below.  At the boundary wall, turn left onto a reasonable path and follow this for some 2kms (1¼ miles) to where a waymarked path on the right (not shown on OS maps!) leads down to a lane.  A further path continues down the field and reaches the road within a few metres of your car.

You can find more detailed information about this walk and the landscape through which it travels in my book, “Undiscovered Wales”, published by Frances Lincoln.

This is another walk followed on Kevin’s popular walking breaks.  Check out what else he has to offer at www.mountainacts.co.uk

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One Response to Walk Wednesday: MacNamara’s Circuit

  1. Alan Bowring says:

    I think this is one of the finest walks that these hills can offer. I agree about the view from Pen Allt-mawr (though perhaps we should not tell too many people!) – the feeling is one of being away from and above it all when you are there, usually alone with the wind and the sky and the sweeping curves of the ridge ahead.

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