Brecon Beacons, Wales

7th - 9th September 2007

[1 - The Cycle] 


View towards Oldcastle and Pandy, after having cycled up the hill from Stanton, to reach Hatteral Ridge on Offa's Dyke .


  With leave taken for Friday, Tim Porter and I had arranged a cycle prior to the XHC hike on the Saturday. Another meeting of the breakaway Friday club, perhaps? Having brought my bicycle in to the office on the Thursday using the car rack, we headed for Abergavenny after work. The rudimentary accommodation at Smithy's Bunkhouse[Google Map Location], just north of Abergavenny itself, was located on a working hill farm, just down a narrow lane from the Old Hereford Road at The Crown, in Panygelli. We were the only two to arrive that early, though John Adams and the rest of the "early crew" would be there in the course of Friday, with the provisions. We got the keys from a Welsh gentleman, who, unsurprisingly, was a keen rugby fan. He was therefore more than willing to engage in conversation, as the Rugby World Cup had just started in France. We had the luxury, for the first night at least, of having an entire room to ourselves. We wandered up the lane for dinner and a few drinks. Friday morning we set off on our bikes, turning north into Hereford Road, until we found a dirt road that lead up the hillside, near Stanton, past a farm, picking up a track on Offa's Dyke near Hatteral Ridge, a linear earthwork, which runs along a ridge which roughly forms part of the border between England and Wales. It was a gruelling climb, long and steep, causing us to dismount a couple of times. In the 8th century Offa's Dyke formed some kind of delineation between the Anglian kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys. The Angles is a modern English word for a Germanic-speaking people who took their name from the cultural ancestral region of Angeln, a modern district located in Schleswig-Holstein. It is still generally accepted that much of the earthwork can be attributed to Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796, as a  defence against attacks or raids from Powys. Offa, a Christian King, was one of the great rulers of Anglo-Saxon times. That he was able to raise the manpower and resources to construct such an earthwork as Offa's Dyke is testament to his power.

Map illustrating the extent of Offa's Dyke.


Tim Porter checks the map en route to Hatterall Ridge on Offa's Dyke.



Hedgerows as viewed from Offa's Dyke, overlooking the Welsh valley of Vale of Ewyas.





Offa's Dyke is used by cyclist, horse riders and hikers alike.


  Tim and I were in two minds as to whether we should cycle the entire length of the ridge or turn back, as we were unsure of the time. Tim decided to push on in the direction of Hay-on-Wye. We reached a trig point and stopped for a bite to eat, some tea (I had brought a flask along) and to survey views of England, on one side, and Wales, on the other. Sections of the route were protected by large flat stones placed to form a path, which we were able to cycle over. We passed other walkers en route.

We eventually reached the end of the ridge near Hay Bluff and consulted someone as to they way down. We had to swing off onto a second path leading off the the right, effectively making the descent less precarious. Nonetheless, I came off my bike for probably the third time and gashed my shin slightly. It looked a lot worse than it was, blood streaming down my leg. We were not far from Hay-on-Wye.

We paused for a few moments when we reached the tarred road in the Brecon Beacons National Park (near Forest Road). We then headed off along the tarred road below Hay Bluff, which climbed steadily away from Hay-on-Wye. Rounding the corner over Gospel Pass, with the ridge appearing above us and to our left, we found ourselves in a beautiful, secluded valley, the Vale of Ewyas, descending at great speed, eventually reaching Capel-y-ffin, a hamlet some 14 miles from Abergavenny and 8 miles from Hay-on-Wye. It was fast, exhilarating, beautiful and "manna from heaven", after the difficult ride on the ridge.

Cycle route from Smithy's Bunkhouse, along Offa's Dyke towards Hay-on-Wye, returning via Vale of Ewyas.



Views from Offa's Dyke, overlooking Llantony in the Welsh valley of Vale of Ewyas.


View across England from Offa's Dyke, close to Hay Bluff.


View across the last section of Offa's Dyke, close to Hay Bluff.


We continued down this road, which seemed to follow a stream, Afon Honddu, which has it's origins near Capel-y-ffin[Google Map Location]. As well as its outstanding beauty, The Vale of Ewyas is known for the ruins of Llanthony Priory, and for several noteworthy churches such as Capel-y-ffin and Cwmyoy. Cwmyoy is very close to where we commenced our ascent up to Hatteral Ridge near Stanton. It is sometimes referred to as the "Llanthony Valley" as Llanthony is the village situated at the valley centre. At the head of the valley is the Gospel Pass, which is reputed to have been named after the time in the 12th century when the Third Crusade passed through the area preaching and fund raising.

We had been in the Black Mountains, Offa's Dyke running along the eastern border. The Black Mountains are the easternmost of the three groups of hills that comprise the Brecon Beacons National Park, and are frequently confused with the westernmost, which are collectively called the Black Mountain. The Black Mountains may be roughly defined as those hills north of Abergavenny, south of Hay-on-Wye, east of the A479 road and west of, or on, the English border.



View of Hay Bluff from below; View towards Hay-on-Wye on the descent from Offa's Dyke at Hay Bluff.



Views at Hay Bluff parking spot in the Brecon Beacons National Park; Stopping en route down Vale of Ewyas, adjacent to the stream known as Afon Honddu.


Tim reckoned it was the hardest cycle he had ever done, probably all of 35 miles along the ridge itself. Back at Smithy's, we met the others and after a shower, wandered up to The Crown for dinner. Whilst we were doing our cycle, the members of the Friday group who had arrived in the course of Friday, walked up Skirrid, or Ysgyryd Faw, in full view of the Bunkhouse. The path leads to the North end of the hill picking up the Beacons Way, following through cool woodland to the summit at 486m, with views to the West of Sugar Loaf and the Brecon Beacons. Anne Young and Phil Newton arrived on a motor cycle. Anne's lovely Welsh friend from her worldwide trip, Lucy Powell, a school teacher, drove up from Newport.



[2 - The Walk]

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