Three weeks ago I travelled to South Wales to take part in the Big Black Mountains Challenge. This is an annual long-distance mountain walk organised by the Longtown Mountain Rescue Team. I had never been to South Wales before, so walking in this part of the Brecon Beacons National Park was a new experience for me.
For the walk, I met up with my friend Martin and a team of three other walkers he had organised (plus two dogs). There were three routes of differing degrees of difficulty in the event, and we did the ‘B’ route, a 29km loop starting and finishing at the village of Llanthony in the Vale of Eywas. This part of the Brecon Beacons is only just in Wales, and some of our walking route followed the Offa’s Dyke long-distance path, which in this area follows the modern-day England/Wales border.
The whole route was at unusually constant elevation of about 600-700m (the high point was the flat summit of Rhos Dirion at 713m), with very few gradients once on the main ridges – the route was pretty unusual in being like a flat elevated circuit around the ampitheatre of the Vale of Eywas and it made for an ideal fell-running route, which many of the participants in the challenge were doing. It was unlike any walk I have ever done in Scotland, and the relative easiness and length of the ridges, and the firm and dry terrain made the 29km route easier than its length might suggest.
There was a bit of an orienteering feel to the day, with the route going through six checkpoints at which a personal route card had to be stamped (this was checked at the end of the day, although this was not taken too seriously, and if you didn’t have a completed route card, all you missed out on was a certificate of completion). Navigating the route was very simple, and in many cases the checkpoints were visible on the main path from a great distance away.
The event was a lot more popular than I expected, with 839 people taking part. Our team started the walk fairly late, at 9am, so we managed to avoid the worst of the crowds. We ended up doing the walk in about 8 hours, and that was with many stops for food and rest or just looking at the scenery, so I am sure we could have done it faster, although that would not have been as enjoyable! A great day out, and the rain also stayed away, although there was cold wind throughout the whole day.