The Black Mountain is a darkly suggestive name. It hints at venemous crags and seething folds of inhospitable upland, the colour of bruises and coal. But that’s just not how it is. And such thoughts miss the true nature of this expanse entirely. The only blackness to be seen is in the earthy peat hags that sprout from the moorland’s dampest parts like crumbling toadstools. If a colour could define the Black Mountain, it would be green. Swathes of golden green grass draped over a vast open space, and furnishing a quiet, breezy wilderness. Catching its smooth angles in early or late light can be a heart-stopping experience.
There are more prosaic interests in that name, too. The 1,344 km (519sq miles) of the Brecon Beacons National Park are divided into four distinct regions. From the centre rise the tall peaks of Pen y Fan and its siblings, their tips cresting the horizon like the fins of manta rays from a calm sea. Immediately to their west are the waterfall riven gorges of Fforest Fawr, and to the east are the milder hills of the Black Mountains (plural) that dissolve into the rolling bumps of the West Country. No wonder that the sweeping, uncluttered Black Mountain range of the far west is often referred to by its Welsh name: Mynydd Du.
Extraordinary Space. Travel into the Mynydd Du on the single track road between Trecastle and Llangadog and you instantly get a unique impression of space and emptiness, quite at odds with your proximity to Swansea, Cardiff or even Brecon. Trundling past rolling plains bordered by patches of dark trees, you’ll be far from the urban world flanked by little but sun and silence.
That is, until you reach the woody hamlet of Llanddeusant. That’s because looming above Llanddeusant is a monster. In the same way that the Cumbrian villages of Dufton and Threlkeld live in the shadows of Cross Fell and Blencathra, this tiny settlement is dwarfed by the geology that soars above it. Rising to the south east, 600m higher in the sky, is the slabby beauty of Fan Brycheiniog and the Black Mountain’s principal peaks.
The specifics of that geology are easy enough to research, but suffice to say that the Carmarthen Fans (as they’re also known) owe their stunning forms to glacial carving. The great curving arms that give this massif’s north face the appearance of an arena were scooped from these sandstone lands by the power of retreating ice. What remains is a towering punchbowl of rock.
Enclosed beneath it are waters of mythical significance, bordered in three directions by Jurassic looking faces, banded and crumbling with age and glowing in the right light with a rich farrago of texture. If you were to try and pick this range’s mountain twin from anywhere across the globe, you might just land on South America’s Mount Roraima – that steep walled table seen busting clouds in so many desktop wallpapers. It’s just a little smaller.