He’s back from the shadows of the Black Mountains, last seen on the hillsides doing a poor visibility course… participants thought they were seeing ghosts in the heavy fog, but it was of course the one and only Kevin Walker …
So here’s an eerie walk taking in an ancient battle site, a haunted pool, some melancholy quarries and a spooky wood. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
DISTANCE – 8kms (5 miles)
HEIGHT GAIN – 300 metres (1000 feet).
START POINT – Roadside parking by cattle grid.
GRID REFERENCE – SO/185169.
MAPS – OS Explorer OL13. OS Landranger 161.
DESCRIPTION: A stunning hill walk exploring Llangattock Mountain and the Llangattock Escarpment to the south of Crickhowell. The plateau area is very boggy and extremely confusing in misty conditions, so it is advisable to carry map and compass.
PARKING: From Crickhowell, cross the famous bridge over the Usk, and turn left then immediately right into Llangattock. Go through the village, pass a large roundabout on the left, then turn right onto the road signposted to Beaufort, almost immediately crossing the canal via a very hump-backed bridge. Continue for just over 2kms to reach a cattle grid, and park on the far side, on the rough verge to the right.
1. Walk up the rough track opposite the parking area, soon reaching a more open area. Head directly towards the cliffs above, but almost immediately bear right onto a reasonable but deteriorating path that gently climbs towards the far end of the cliffs, eventually reaching a grassy shelf – the remains of a tramroad. Carefully follow the rough, loose path that climbs around the far end of the quarried bay to reach the top of the cliff, then trend to the right up any of several indistinct paths to reach a broad terrace above a line of low outcrops.
2. Follow the obvious path that climbs gently up the left end of the slope. The view at the top is totally unexpected, and will almost certainly stop you in your tracks! The magnificent Llangattock Escarpment stretches away in front, and the strange “perched bog” of Waen Ddu appears almost at your feet, over 150 almost vertical metres below! Follow the cliff-top path until just before it starts to descend into a shallow valley, then take the right fork, away from the edge, and continue past some crater-like shakeholes, and up onto the plateau.
3. The incredible flatness of Mynydd Llangatwg soon becomes apparent, and on a clear day you will see the eerie Pwll Gwy-rhoc (the Witches’ Pool), in front and to the left. You could head straight towards it, but it is far more pleasant to continue along the faint path as it trends to the left, soon reaching a huge and impressive crater – not the result of an evil witch’s spell, but associated with the caves deep inside the mountain!
4. Now head due south for 400 metres, crossing evil, boggy terrain, to reach Pwll Gwy-rhoc. This is an eerie place – it gives me the creeps. I once camped alone by its shores and awoke in the depths of the night in a cold sweat. The malevolence was almost tangible, and nothing would have persuaded me to leave the tent, or even to have looked out of the entrance! Even on bright, sunny days it has a brooding atmosphere, and my shoulder blades always clench when I walk away. Known locally as the Witches’ Pool, the water is sometimes blood red, and is never still. Legend has it that back in the Dark Ages, a bloody battle was fought on the mountain between two of the five great tribes of Wales, and the lake is supposed to be located in the same place as the centre of the battle. According to the legend, the ground became so trampled and poisoned with blood and gore that the vegetation never recovered, and the area slowly sank into the bog and became a lake. If you stand on the shore and look at the near horizon through 360°, every high point has (or had) a burial cairn on it! The stuff of legends, perhaps, but it is now accepted in scholarly circles that a great battle really was fought here in 728AD, between Ethelbald the Mercian and the men of Morgannwg led by Rhoderic Molwynog. The Mercians were heavily defeated in what ancient manuscripts describe as a blood bath. There is seldom smoke without fire!
5. From the lake, head south-east onto the drier, higher ground of the ridge, soon getting fine views towards the south Wales valleys. Follow the ridge eastwards past the remains of several ancient burial cairns, eventually reaching the summit of the mountain at Twr Pen-cyrn, where there is a trig point and the remains of two large burial cairns, one of which is known to have contained the remains of a large, Celtic warrior. The views here are superb in every direction, and the cairns offer plenty of shelter if it is windy.
6. Leave the summit by descending through boulders to the east, then turn left on an intermittent path. Continue to trend left towards the centre of the obvious wide shallow valley, then trend right (north), and descend any of several rough paths between the remains of two large quarries. There are loose slopes and large vertical drops here, so take great care that you are on the right path! Immediately past the quarries, turn left onto a wide, grassy track (an old tramroad).
7. At the point where the grassy track curves left into a cutting, trend right onto a narrow path and descend with a wall to your right, soon reaching a wide, level track – another tramroad. Turn left, and follow the sometimes rough but mostly green and level tramroad along the base of the Llangattock Escarpment in impressive surroundings. After about 1500m, at a sweeping right-hand bend, the path brushes against a rock buttress in which are the several entrances to Eglwys Faen, a well-known local cave. There is an unexpected drop just inside the entrance in the cliff (be warned!), but the main entrance is more accessible, and lies a short distance up the zigzag path on the far side of the buttress. This entrance leads directly into the impressive main chamber, and it is here that services were once held during times of religious persecution.
8. Continue along the tramroad for a further 300m until, just where it curves around to the left, a waymarked but narrower path descends to the right. Follow this down into the valley, go left at the next fork, then enter a section of spooky, ancient woodland on a rough, bouldery path. The difficulties soon ease, and Waen Ddu, a dome-shaped perched-bog, is only a short distance further. Either cross this or avoid it to the left, climb the steep path on the far side, then turn left along the track and thus back to the start.
This is one of the walks followed on Kevin’s fabulous walking breaks, further details of which are available at www.mountainacts.co.uk. An extended version of this walk is described in his book “Undiscovered Wales”, and more information about this fascinating area can be found in the Heritage Guide to the Llangattock Escarpment, available from local gear shops and information centres.