The Skirrid

It’s not very often that we get offered free accommodation for a night, but that’s just what Lizzie and Stephen did yesterday, as they’ve no new guests coming to The Hayshed for a few days, and they knew how much we were enjoying the barn and its surroundings. We’ve well and truly fallen for this place, not to mention the simple lifestyle – no health or career concerns, just a case of deciding what to eat, where to walk, and when to sleep.

With the day dawning bright and clear again, we decided that we had to head up Skirrid Fawr given that we’ve driven past it so many times on this and previous trips. Conveniently, this hill (known locally as ‘Y Skirrid’ or ‘The Skirrid’) has a National Trust car park just off the main road to Abergavenny. This convenience however, along with the fact that you don’t need a map to get to the top, means that it’s a mecca for tourists, so much so that the main path up – the Beacons Way, had become a mud slick.

There’s no denying that the ridge does provide fantastic views of the Black Mountains and back towards Monmouthshire, but if you want to enjoy it at its best, go up early in the morning, or at dusk, otherwise like Cat Bells in the Lake District, or the tourist path up Snowdon, you’ll never be alone, and will inevitably be asked for directions by less well equipped/experienced walkers.Take a map people!

Desperate to leave the crowded trig point behind, we followed the Beacons Way down the north eastern side of the hill, and then the fence line at the bottom back round to Caer Wood. As expected, we saw no-one else on this stretch, but still got to admire great views of Sugar Loaf and Blorenge in the distance. Neither of us are anti-social, but we do like peace and quiet when out in the wilds, and will always try to avoid the crowds. Serenity is good for the soul.

Bryn Arw

After driving through Llanvihangel Crucorney, we parked Skyra in the not unexpectedly deserted walkers car park opposite a pub called ‘The Fox Hunter’, and walked down to the by-road at Stanton Manor Farm. From here we continued up past Little Stanton Farm, followed the fence line round to the nose of Bryn Arw, and then on up to the ridge.

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Despite it being a cloudy day we had wonderful 360 degree views of Sugar Loaf, Crug Mawr, Skirrid and Hatterall Hill, so would highly recommend walking up Bryn Arw if you want such views without having to go high, or join the crowds on the adjacent hills.

From the summit we continued northwards along the ridge line, before dropping down to Coed-y-Cerrig Nature Reserve for a cuppa and snack bar out of the wind. From there we pulled back up to ‘The Pant’ – our dream home (remote and surrounded by good walking), and New Inn Farm, before following the by-road back to Pen-rhiw and the lane to shelter in the car from the by now heavy rain.

Welly wobbles

Since we’re now under strict instructions to incorporate at least one rest day into our walking trips, today we obliged. After a very satisfying fry up, and copious amounts of tea, we headed into Monmouth.

It’s a very compact and pretty market town, but still has everything you need including several supermarkets and banks. After strolling up to the Shire Hall we found a coffee shop with free wifi, and settled down to catch up with what was happening in the rest of the world.

Back to Skyra (our car) to change into our wellies for a stroll along the river Monnow, and before I’d even left the car park I’d managed to take a very impressive fall over a kerb whilst fiddling with my camera. That’ll teach me. Rich later admitted to having stifled a laugh, which was very wise as I landed hard on both of my baddy knees, and it bloody hurt! Still at least the wellies look good, with all the sparkles.

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The sparkly wellies - with my sparkly wedding dress!

The sparkly wellies – with my sparkly wedding dress!

After failing to try to find the entrance to the castle, and concluding that it probably wasn’t a wise idea to trespass on private MOD land, we headed back to the Hayshed for tea and gluten free Christmas pudding. Rest days are hard work.

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Sugar Loaf

With the day dawning lovely and sunny again, and with just the right amount of crispiness in the air, we couldn’t not walk up ‘Sugar Loaf’. This peak lies on the Eastern side of the Brecon Beacons, and on a clear day provides amazing views over the national park.

Dervla got a bit confused near Abergavenny, and tried to take us to an altogether different village, but fortunately Rich realised what she was up to just in the nick of time, and used our trusty OS map to over-ride her directions. Thanks to Dervla’s antics, I don’t think I’ll ever trust a GPS device for walking in the wilds! Give me a map and compass any day.

We parked at ‘Porth-y-parc’ – a car park with amazing views over the town, and followed the track to the junction at Twyn Gwyn, and then on up to the summit. We saw one fellow walker close to the car, otherwise had the slopes to ourselves. Despite feeling tired, and having to wade through knee deep snow on the north east side of the mountain, Rich announced that  “I’ve not had this much fun in months!” Proof indeed that getting out and about works wonders for the spirit, chemo n’all.

Note to self – don’t even think about hiring the High Beeches holiday barn. Having enjoyed perfect conditions on the hill, and successfully cleared four days worth of mud off our boots in the snow, I sent Rich on ahead a few minutes away from the car so that I could make a loo stop. I then followed in his footsteps, on a designated footpath, past High Beeches farm, only to find Rich standing by the gate waiting for me. As soon as I approached the gate, the farmer popped his head over the hedge and casually announced “I could have shot you then!”

Me: “Sorry?”

Farmer: “I could have shot you”

Me: “Ummm, why?”

Farmer: “Because he didn’t see or hear me” – pointing to Rich.

Me: “He’s deaf”

Farmer: “Oh. I’m sorry. Did you enjoy the hill?!”

Had we been anywhere else, I’d have been surprised at a stranger demonstrating such passive aggressive behaviour. In Wales sadly, not so much!

Fortunately we escaped, and no shots were fired.

The cocker spaniel with a woolly hat phobia

As we needed to stock up on food, we parked up in Monmouth’s Cattle Market car park. In times gone by the cattle market did indeed used to be held here, and on weekends it still holds a general market selling fruit and veg, odds and ends.

Monmouth residents are fortunate to have great walks on their doorstep. The small town is surrounded by open common land and footpaths. Starting at the Drybridge Nature Park, close to the famous Minnow Bridge, we headed up to Vauxhall Fields – now a large expanse of much needed new housing, up Ancrehill Lane – where Ancre Hill Vineyard can be found, across Rockfield Road, past Croft-y-Bwla, then on to the Offa’s Dyke Trail through King’s Wood where 3 cocker spaniels saw us as walking cuddles and threw themselves at us. Unfortunately one then started growling at me, as the owner ran up waving her arms shouting “Don’t worry, it’s just your hat!” It turned out that this particular spaniel had a phobia about woolly hats, and as mine is a particularly fine specimen, the dog wasn’t happy, despite the desperate urge for cuddles.

The walk through King’s Wood was especially pretty, and the path well maintained, possibly because the bridleway has been diverted and there’s now less mud underfoot. We dropped down to Whitehill and Long Hill Woods before cutting east through Lady Grove, and emerging at Wonastow where unfortunately the path became a mud sludge again, and we had to clamber over a gate that a not very accommodating landowner had padlocked shut. I do love cows, but they can’t half make a mess, especially when their owners aren’t very aesthetically minded, and hate walkers. We also started to encounter a lot of dog poo, so much so that the path stank of it. I have a real issue with lazy dog owners not cleaning up after their pets. Not the finest end to a lovely few hours of fresh air and beautiful scenery.

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Back at the car park I attempted to look less like a walker by changing into my jeans and trainers in the public loos, before braving Waitrose. Fortunately it wasn’t as posh as the one back home, and we didn’t feel so out of place. Not the cheapest place to buy food admittedly, but there’s not much choice in Monmouth, and it’s still a lot cheaper than eating out every day. Not that we’re tight. We just really enjoy cooking.

Llanvetherine

We had a bit of excitement this morning. The bottom literally fell out of Rich’s tea mug. Fortunately it was still on the counter rather than his lap. Still – neither of us have seen it happen before. Perhaps we lead a sheltered life.

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Having got over said excitement, we drove for 9 miles and parked in the large layby at Llanvetherine. We then walked up a very muddy Caggle Street – a sunken lane which lived up to its name as we ended up having to backtrack and trespass through the adjacent fields, rather than wade through knee deep mud.

Passing by Whitehouse and the Old Cyder Mill to Trump, we had wonderful views of a snow dusted Skirrid.

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At Llangattock Lingoed Rich decided that he wanted to buy this house on the spot, solely because that river bed there, is the drive. And yes he really would spend hours driving up and down it. Fortunately it’s not for sale.

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Back down to Old Court to pick up the Offa’s Dyke Trail to Little Pool Hall, from where we re-joined Caggle Street, Skyra and Dervla – the dastardly duo. Dervla has recently developed a habit of insisting that I turn right, when what she really means is that I should continue following the road round to the right, because it bends. She doesn’t seem to understand bends. Or the difference between railway lines and roads.

Llangattock-vibon-Avel

After the obligatory bacon butties, we decided to leave Skyra (our car) and Dervla (the renowned satnav) at home and explore locally on foot.

Taking advantage of the footpaths leading directly from the Hayshed, we headed through the local woods and over the fields to Llangattock-vibon-Avel and it’s very pretty church. From here we headed down to The Hendre, across the B4233 to Avenue Cottage, west until we hit the Offa’s Dyke Path, and then followed this to Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern. Don’t worry about the Welsh place names. I can’t pronounce them either, and I was born and bred in Cymru. The important thing to note is that the views towards the snow clad Black Mountains were stunning, and the walk provided enough up and down to help us start getting our hill fitness back – something which we hate losing between walking holidays, but which is unavoidable at the moment.

As expected, we didn’t see any other walkers, not even one with a dog. Admittedly this might be because the routes usually involve trudging through mud baths, but mud is good for your skin. Still we crave peace and quiet such as this, and it’s to be found in spades in Monmouthshire. I’m sure that many find our sort of holiday boring, but slow travel and in depth exploration allows us to really get beneath the surface, and we’d rather go back to a place than see only the tourist traps on a whistle stop tour. Plus you have to be surprisingly fit to enjoy hillwalking, and whilst I might not look like an athlete, my physio once described me as one. So there.