ON a bright sunny early May morning a group of very eager walkers joined William from Penarth and District Ramblers at the National Trust car park at the base of Ysgyryd Fawr, Anglicised as Skirrid.
Following a quick briefing about the Covid rules and the route, they set off on their socially distanced walk up a narrow lane into Caer Wood at the southern end of the hill before following a rough track leading them steeply uphill. Exiting from the dense woodland and passing a rock known as the Devil’s Table, the exposed ridgeway of Ysgyryd Fawr which is also known as the Holy Mountain or Sacred Hill led them towards its trig point.
Two small stones in the ground mark the entrance to the ancient St Michael’s Chapel, which became a secret meeting place for Roman Catholics to meet and celebrate mass following the Reformation, after which their religion was banned.
The trig point which is situated at a height of 486m formed a great spot to enjoy the surrounding views across Herefordshire, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, the lovely Usk Valley and Gloucestershire with a chance to regain their breath during a quick group picture.
A zig-zag pathway on the steep north eastern hillside led into the valley below and onward by field and quiet lane towards Pant-y-tyle Farm to pass through a pretty sunken lane full of spring blooms. Crossing a stile and making their way through fields filled with sheep and spring lambs and with a brilliant view behind them of the magnificent shattered northwest side of Ysgyryd Fawr, caused by a landslide, they approached Llanvihangel Court. This beautiful stately 15th century Tudor mansion was part of an estate during the reign of King Henry VI and was visited by King Charles I.
Uphill to reach the A465 and into the village of Llanvihangel Crucorney where a stone wall in the churchyard of St Michael’s, which is perched on the hill, provided them with seating for their morning break along with a fantastic panorama of the surrounding hills.
They continued on past the historic Skirrid Inn, allegedly the oldest public house in Wales, before a descent to Pen-y-bont in the valley below and across the Afon Honddu. A gradual climb through fields and across an unmanned railway crossing brought them to Great Llwygy Farm and through the base of the steep wooded hillside to Strawberry Wood; a Site of Special Scientific Interest cared for by Gwent Wildlife Trust.
A footbridge led them back over the crystal clear water of the River Honddu and onto a road before another gradual climb past Stanton Manor Farm with its impressive garden gate and along a path above Cwm Coed-y-cerig, with the magical sound of the cuckoo filling the air.
Then a major climb on narrow paths uphill onto Bryn Arw, which stands at a height of 383m and having reached the ridgeway, a stop for some well-earned lunch whilst gazing at Corn Du and Pen y Fan in the Central Beacons away in the far distance and the closer glorious ridges of the Black Mountains.
Following a reading from William of the very apt The Wonder Maker, a poem by WH Davies involving the cuckoo, they traversed the ridgeway before a steep descent into the lovely Cwm Brynarw with its sparkling stream, spring flowers and early butterflies.
Re-crossing the railway line and with care across the A465 to Triley-uchaf, before a journey through fields below Ysgyryd Fawr passing the old stone farmhouses of Dan-y-Skirrid, Pant-y-Skirrid and Ty’r-y-wen eventually led them back to their start point after a delightful day’s exploration of two satellite hills in the Black Mountains.
You can follow the group’s exploits before, during and after lockdown on Facebook.