BWLCH TO TOR Y FOEL
It’s Bwlch with magnitude.
Fresh air, lush valleys and big views – this energetic, exhilarating walk comes with lots of ups and downs, with forest, lake, canal and historic tramroad along the way.
Need to know
Length: 10½ miles (17km)
Time: Around 4½–5½ hours
Start and finish: The New Inn, Bwlch
OS map ref: SO 150220
OS map: Explorer OL13 (1:25 000 series)
Facilities: Refreshments at the New Inn and Coach and Horses, Llangynidr. X43 Brecon to Abergavenny bus stops at New Inn.
Along the way
Take the traffic-calming bollards away and you could be back in the 18th century. This exceedingly narrow and picturesque six-arched bridge spans rushing rapids – popular with canoeists – on a rocky pinch-point in the river Usk. Look out for grey herons, dippers and other watery wildlife (if your luck’s in you may even spot a kingfisher). This fine Grade I-listed structure was erected in c.1700.
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
Stop off at the Coach and Horses for refreshments and a closer look at the ‘Mon and Brec’, a much-revered local asset – and one of the National Park’s most popular attractions – running for 32 miles (51km) between Brecon and Pontymoile south of Pontypool (constructed between 1797 and 1812, it originally ran all the way to Newport). It’s a lovely, leafy and unusually level ‘contour’ canal. That means that there aren’t many locks, though you can see a few not far from the pub. Once used to carry wool, coal, limestone and other produce, it’s now the preserve of leisure craft.
Tor y Foel
You feel you’re on top of the world at this prominent 551m summit, which commands far-reaching views over at least half of the National Park, from the central Beacons in the west to the lumpy Black Mountains on the Wales/England border. Hold on to your hat – it’s windy up there.
One of a string of reservoirs spread out in a broad semi-circle beneath the central Beacons to serve South Wales’s highly populated conurbations. Talybont is possibly the most scenic. This man-made stretch of water soon became a haven for wildlife. It’s now a local nature reserve noted for its populations of pochard, tufted duck, mallard and teal.
Like the ‘Mon and Brec’, this tramroad played a big role in the area’s transport and industrial revolution. Operational between 1815 and 1865, it provided a link between the canal and Tredegar’s ironworks and the Trefil limestone quarries. It’s now a popular waymarked walking path, mountain biking and horse riding route from Talybont-on-Usk to Trefil. Look out for some of the original stone sleepers still in situ.
Way to go
From the New Inn, Bwlch, turn left into Darren Road, with All Saints Church on your right-hand side and continue down the road for just under a mile (1.5km). You’ll enjoy fine views south-eastward towards Crickhowell and Abergavenny, overshadowed respectively by flat-topped Table Mountain and the rounded Sugar Loaf. On a fine day you’ll glimpse the distant Malvern Hills.
Near the end of Darren Road cross the stile on your left with the Beacons Way logo (the Beacons Way is a linear 95-mile/152km route across the National Park). Continue down to the next stile, turning right and following the hedge at the top of the field to the next stile near a metal gate. Go over the stile then turn left and walk down the field diagonally towards a small gate in a fence. Go through the gate and continue diagonally downhill to the stile in the corner of the field near a smallholding with chickens, guinea fowl, etc. Turn right and down towards the B4560 Bwlch–Llangynidr road. Take care: this is a busy road. Turn right and head downhill towards Llangynidr Bridge over the River Usk.
Walk over the river bridge and continue up to the bridge (number 131) over the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Turn right under the bridge and walk along the towpath past canal lock number 64 to lock 65, where you cross the canal. There’s now a pleasant walk up through the wood to a stile, with the river Crawnon on your left. Beech gives way to oak before you reach a stile at the edge of the wood. You’re still following the Beacons Way at this point. Cross the field passing a telegraph pole on your right and walk to the stile, cross it and turn right, heading towards another metal gate. As you approach the gate, cross the stile on your left and continue onwards and upwards through two gates towards the farm. Take the track up to the road and cross it to a gate (you are now leaving the Beacons Way). Go through the gate and continue uphill with the hedge on your right. As you walk up you’ll have fine views of Llangorse Lake, The Allt, Mynydd Troed and the Black Mountains to your right. To the left (southwards) is Cwm Crawnon and beyond that the wild, empty moors of Mynydd Llangynidr leading to the South Wales Valleys. The route is now quite clear, passing through gates and over stiles to open countryside, continuing steeply upwards to the summit of Tor y Foel.
Follow the path from the summit in a south-westerly direction to a stone wall with a gate close to the tarmac road. Ignore the Beacons Way sign. Cross the road and follow the footpath below the stone table, down the hill diagonally and to your left. Cross over the stile into forestry and descend, crossing the forestry track, and join the Brinore Tramroad. Turn right, following the tramroad north above the Talybont reservoir for just under a mile (1.5km) until you reach a wooden gate. Go through the gate and cross over the stile immediately to your right into the field. Follow the footpath diagonally north-east across two fields passing a large oak tree on your left.
As you cross over the stile in the top corner keep the cattle grid to your left and follow the road for approximately 15 yards before turning left up a green track curving uphill and to your left. Walk a short distance until you see a gate set back. You are now on a section of the 48-mile (77km) Usk Valley Walk. Go through the gate and follow the contour of the slope to another gate. Continue through the field to another gate and follow the hedge on your left until you eventually reach a forestry road. Turn left, go down to the canal and cross the bridge. Climb over the stile on your right onto the towpath, which you follow to Llangynidr locks as far as lock number 64 opposite the Coach and Horses pub. Leave the towpath and join the road on your left walking past the Walnut Tree Stores to join the road leading down to the bridge, where you retrace your steps back to the New Inn.
An autumn view of the Brecon to Monmouth Canal at Llangynidr, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, United Kingdom