Saturday, 9 June 2012

Pandy to Llanthony

The Honddu in flood
I treated myself to a late start, as this was expected to be a shorter day. Many walkers do Pandy to Hay-on-Wye (or the reverse) in a single day, but I had elected to take two. I had planned to do some work on my blog after breakfast, but abandoned the idea when my landlady said that she had to get the room ready for the coming night’s guests.

So it was on my way shortly after 10:00. There is one level field down to the river – the Honddu, a tributary of the Monnow – but after that it’s all uphill. Fortunately most of it is fairly gentle climbing at a modest gradient, but there are a few steeper and more demanding stretches. But the views are magnificent, and a real reward for all the effort. Initially it’s views back down to the valley of the Honddu, but as one climbs the vista extends, so that by the time you reach the first real peak, with a trig point at 464m, you can see for perhaps fifty miles to the East, with the Malvern Hills and even the Cotswolds visible on a clear day like this. The views to the South and West are equally impressive, but the distance you can see is much reduced, because it’s all high ground in these directions. To the North, where you are about to go, it’s just higher ground that confronts you.

On the tops - looking North towards the Black Mountains
The vegetation is partially heather, with stunted gorse in places, and the odd patch of bracken. But the most dominant plant is what looks like bilberries, which in places seem completely to smother everything else. It’s not like any other moorland I’ve seen. The birds are everywhere – mainly skylarks and meadow pipits, but also the occasional stonechat. I’d hoped to see grouse, as there are grouse butts marked on the map, but perhaps they are no longer here. Merlins are advertised too, but I failed to see any. The corvids were mainly carrion crows, though I did hear a couple of ravens.

The trail is obvious, and obviously well used. The guidebook refers to difficulty in following it, but I could see no reason for concern. Most of it is pretty rocky, but there were also boggy patches after the recent rain, and occasional grassy stretches. There were a few other walkers in the opposite direction, including one very unhappy looking couple with huge backpacks which obviously included camping equipment. There was not so much as an acknowledgement from either of them, which is very unusual on the Path. I don’t think they were enjoying themselves – or perhaps they had just fallen out with one another, and were striding out to get off the b****y hill.

M ore evidence of the recent storms
I elected to carry on to the second path down to Llanthony, partly so that I could say I’d done the whole of the top section, partially because there was plenty of time to spare, and partly because I could then reconnoitre it for the ascent back up the following day. It was long, tricky in places, but fortunately reasonably easy to follow despite the lack of any waymarks. I was also surprised not to see any bootmarks, and from time to time thought it must just be a sheep track, but it did gradually go downwards. And eventually there was a sign and a stile.

The final bit of the descent was down a long winding track leading to Llanthony Priory. Only when I reached the bottom did I learn that it wasn’t the correct route, as there was a sign stating that it wasn’t a Right of Way. I thought there was generally reasonably free access in a National Park, but perhaps it’s still possible to have restrictions.

Llanthony Priory - open to the sky
I stopped briefly at Llanthony Priory. It’s mainly a rather striking ruined Priory, but it’s privately owned, and incorporates a pub and a hotel. They allow free access to the ruins, which are surprisingly well preserved. I suppose in remote parts of the world like this there were always fewer people, so old buildings stood a better chance of survival in earlier times when antiquities weren’t valued but simply treated as an easy source of building materials. That was the fate of large parts of Hadrian’s Wall, for example.

I arrived at the Half Moon Hotel by 3:30. Rather disappointing. An adequate room, though within minutes I had bumped my head a couple of times on the low ceiling over the desk on which I’m writing this. There are about a dozen rooms, and presumably most of them don’t have en-suite facilities, because there’s a series of shower rooms and loos opposite my door.

There’s no mobile reception here or for miles in either direction, as the National Park Authority has prohibited the erection of radio masts. So it’s a hungry payphone.

But the beer is good, and the staff are friendly. A good day’s walk.

At long last fine weather! Fairly cloudy to start, but fair weather cumulus, not rain-bearing stuff. Marginal improvement throughout the day, with fairly frequent spells of sunshine. Fairly windy, particularly on the tops. Temperature 14 to 18C. 15.5km (estimated; iPhone did not record the last bit into Llanthony), 533m ascent, 427m descent. Moderate to severe. Long climb initially, and occasionally rough going on the heights.

Map (with missing detail at the end) -

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