The Black Mountain

Park up on the rough and winding lane in front of this northern face and you’re all set for a simple 2km along and 250m up past a weir and waterbeds to the shores of Llyn y Fan Fach. Do this late in the day and watch the sun sink into the horizon, the colours deepen and the relief and contours of the mountain face draw out immediately to the south. Bring a tent and the pleasure can last even longer. And you’d be wise to.

Llyn y Fan Fach

Spending the night beneath the stars here is more than just a great way to see the mountains in their finest hours, it’s a way to celebrate one of their most inspiring characteristics: this entire area became Planet Earth’s fifth International Dark Sky Reserve in 2013. And, although that designation applies to the entire National Park, this is its remotest section within it and arguably the most impressive for the undisturbed quality of its inky skies.

Turn your eyes from the stars to the blue waters of the llyn, and it’s time to get mythological. It was here, in what must rank as one of the strangest in a sea of unfailingly strange British folk tales that a young, local man fell in love with a mysterious Lady of the Lake who arose one day from its waters. Love and marriage blossomed between them, overshadowed by the condition that the husband should not strike his new wife three times, lest she return to the lake and take the cattle of her dowry with her. I’m sure you can guess how it ends. Some versions say that before she sank back beneath the surface, the mother raised the sons of the marriage to be physicians of rare and celebrated powers (so some good came of the saga).

Onwards and Upwards. It being a perfectly natural human instinct to climb upwards, let’s do that. Preferably the next morning, work your way west around and up Waun Lefrith. You’ll be heading onto the massifs back. You’ll also be joining the Beacon’s Way, albeit in the ‘wrong’ direction (this 95 mile, eight-day-walk traverses the park and enjoys its penultimate section upon these peaks). Glancing at an OS map of the hill also reveals a feast of bridleways, marking this out as a place to explore from the saddle as well as on foot. As you curve eastwards and connect with this clean and impressive ridgeline, you’ll work your way along a series of named tops and sections, including Bannau Sir Gaer/Picws Du (749m, which comprises most of the geology we’ve been admiring), Fan Foel (781m, which offers the best viewpoint of the bunch) and Fan Brycheiniog (802m, which bears the area’s highest trig point). Look back westward from the second of those three and the landscape looks like the crest of a frozen wave, paused in mid break above the waters and forests stranded beneath. It’s spectacular beneath a blanket of snow, naturally, but its spring coat lacks no glory.

From any of these tops you’ll be privy to the finest views of the Black Mountain going. You’ll see east to the River Tawe, which separates the region from Fforest Fawr, and south-west across the sprawling bulk of the range, as it melts away into a sink-hole land of slopes and encroaching waterways. You may see as far as the Cambrian Mountains to the north and the broad Bristol Channel to the south. If you were able to view the world beneath the ground, you’d marvel at strata of old red sandstone and mudstone, tougher bands of limestone and millstone grit and – directly beneath your feet – a series of Bronze Age barrows (some excavated, some not) containing the tools, possessions and remains of people buried over 4,000 years ago. Remnants of stone circles can be found beneath the sharp edge of Fan Hir to the south, and strewn upon the hillsides lie the still vivid remains of Second World War air crash sites that remain here as tributes to lives lost.

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