So it was on an unpredictable day in South Wales that I set forth with the intention of exploring one of the region’s lesser known peaks. I had driven to a bunkhouse at Wern Watkins the day before and during my approach to Abergavenny the A40 was dominated by a dramatic rise of land directly ahead. This mountain known as Blorenge was the reason why I was there and from down in the lower Usk Valley it looked a formidable challenge. Theoretically, the lonely bunkhouse seemed the best place for an attempt from the western side. However its situation halfway up the Mynydd Langatwg mountain meant a horrible drive on treacherously steep and narrow lanes that nearly involved a head-on collision with four quad bikes. From the bunkhouse I departed the ancient county of Powys and entered Monmouthshire. I passed a couple of Shetland ponies that looked cheesed off with the buffeting wind that rattled in from the north bringing with it a confused sky of cloud and occasional sun. The day’s first obstacle was the deep and narrow cleft of Clydach Gorge but my choice of route down from Pen-y-Rheol Cottage was not the easiest. The owner of the cottage led me to the far side as the official path was so overgrown I had no hope of making it through without a machete. He directed me down an adjacent field beyond his cottage and as I set off at an angle through the long grass, his telling me to beware of a wasp’s nest near the bottom did little to improve my mood.

     Gilwern Hill to the east loomed high over the gorge, yet to call it a gorge suggests some wild natural beauty and not this industrialised scar tissue of quarries and ironworks. It wasn’t great walking but to be honest, I knew I’d be winging-it on this section as I needed to get across the gorge as best I could. Eventually I crossed the A465 and looked to the scarred rock face ahead. It looked impossible to see how it could be accessed by normal walking but I soon found a steep climb to Clydach Station where a disused railway line carried a cycle track over a viaduct. A couple of locals told me to continue on the old line to a road for a longer but less demanding route up to Keeper’s Pond. From Dan y Lan Farm I followed the curve of a high and remote lane along the exposed north-western edge of Gilwern Hill. The narrow lane climbed into a bleak landscape ravaged by centuries of industrialisation. This was the domain of the Ironmasters. Despite its trashed look, the countryside wasn’t unpleasant as I walked southeast for 2 miles between the occassional property, small gulley and torn hillsides with the distinctive outline of Sugar Loaf mountain nearly 5 miles to the north. Two masts in the distance marked my next destination at the Foxhunter car park. This was fascinating countryside, not scenic but not unattractive either and very interesting to walk through. Eventually the lane reached a junction with the B4246 at the 6th mile opposite a large manmade lake. It was 45 minutes after midday.

     As I rested a short while on a granite ring it was hard to believe this tranquil spot was once an industrial hellhole, the former site of a massive ironworks factory. The pond was built in 1824 to provide water to the Garn Ddyrys Forge that once produced 300 tons of wrought iron a week. With the removal of the forge the pond was left to nature the and given the local name because of its proximity to a gamekeeper’s house, the foundations of which can be found to the southwest. It is also known by another name that appears on the map, Pen-ffordd-goch which means ‘head of the red road’ from the old red sandstone used to build the road. A few yards south of the pond, I turned left to follow a narrow road towards the two masts whilst the views opened up to the southeast. From miles away I could see the Severn Estuary twinkle a rare glow of sunlight back at me with the coast of Somerset easily recognisable on the far side. Dark cloud above brought in a few spits of rain and as I reached the masts it did rain quite heavily for a short while. On the far side of a car park I began a path that gently climbed the broad sweeping hillside beyond. After a short distance the path kinked slightly to the right of a small outcrop of exposed flat rock at the top of which could be found a worn green plaque that showed the final resting place of a sporting legend, one of this country’s greatest and most unique Olympic heroes.


    As Great Britain celebrates its most successful medal haul ever at the Rio games, it is worth reminding ourselves of the little known fact that GB is the only nation to have won gold at every single Olympics. However there have been some close scrapes, most notably during the beleaguered post war years of the early 1950’s. At Helsinki in 1952 Great Britain had not won a single gold by the final event on the final day. As the closing ceremony loomed on the 3rd August, the show jumping event was a contest between fifteen nations with three riders each going around the course twice. By the end of the first round Great Britain sat in an unconvincing sixth place with USA at the top. One of the British horses, Foxhunter, had incurred the greater number of faults (16.75) with the other two riders (Wilf White on Nizefela and Duggie Stewart on Aherlow) barely keeping Britain in the competition. Yet somehow GB hauled themselves up the table as the competition neared its climax until eventually it came down to a head to head between Great Britain and Chile. On the final jump of the day, Harry Llewellyn on Foxhunter needed to complete the course with no more than 4.00 faults. Foxhunter did better than that by completing a clear round and brought the gold home for Great Britain. It was the last competition of the whole games, talk about leaving it late! Foxhunter became a national hero and retired from an illustrious career in 1955. When he died in November 1959 his remains were laid to rest at this specifically chosen spot on Blorenge by Harry Llewellyn who was born into a local coal owner family down in Abergavenny. When he passed away on 15th November 1999 his ashes were scattered at the grave of the horse that brought him and his nation Olympic immortality and helped to ensure a national legacy that endures to this day.

     From this gentle approach, the southwestern slopes and gradual rise of Blorenge looked an agreeable challenge and nothing like the towering mass seen the day before from the north. The gravel path stretched into a wide blanket of wild grassy wastes but as it got lumpier I stumbled, fell then got back up again just like Mo Farrah in true 2016 Rio Olympics style. I had climbed a considerable height since leaving the road in the Clydach Gorge, the culmination being the 1,833 foot trig point set amongst a large assemble of open rocks – the summit of Blorenge. From this anomalous plateau the path cut through wild grasses towards the northern edge of the mountain whilst a small narrow path to the left at the 8th mile led to a stone cairn. This worthwhile detour provided the best views as to the north I looked to the prodigious lumps of Twyn-yr-allt, north of Abergavenny, Pen-y-graig and Sugar Loaf a little further into the distance. As I swept my gaze from side to side even the sun was kind to me as I looked over a wondrous landscape that plunged to the Usk Valley and ascended to the mountains and valleys that stretched far into this Welsh horizon.

     The path down from Blorenge turned sharp right on itself near a brick hut and began a slow, continual grassy drop edged by bracken to the narrow lane I’d followed earlier to the car park. I liked Blorenge, it’s an excellent walk from the Foxhunter car park over the summit to the cairn wherefrom you can enjoy some of the finest views in Wales. As I dropped off the mountain down its steep eastern flanks a new set of views opened to the east. Having lost the height, I walked a quarter mile to a plantation on the left where a bridleway took me down to a bench presented by the Townswomen’s Guild in 1990. After a late lunch, part of the local heritage trail marked as the ‘Iron Path’ dropped me to an enchanting body of water set within a deep glacial ravine. This open horseshoe shaped area is called the Punchbowl. Via Lower Pen-y-graig Farm I skirted the northern flanks of Blorenge with a massive cleft known as Cwm Craf to my left. At a junction of paths I turned in the direction of a sign pointing down to ‘Llanfoist via tunnel,’ a steep and slippery drop through woodland. This was the most direct route down to a canal that ran some considerable height above the River Usk. At an area of old buildings and replica tramway trucks full of quarried stones, an exciting approach via a tunnel directly beneath the canal was made to the left of Wharfinger’s House. Then, out of the darkness a set of steps to the left took me up to the towpath of the Monmouth & Brecon Canal at Llanfoist Wharf.

     This was once an important transhipment point for goods from Blaenavon when the Monmouthshire Canal was completed in 1812. The boathouse opposite was one of the earliest railway warehouses in the world when built in 1821. The tramways from the forges on Blorenge came via three descents, one of them the route I’d taken down from Cwm Craf. This tranquil scene was a lot different from that depicted on the nearby info board which showed the wharf around 1850. From there I was looking at 5 miles of towpath walking and as I curved and bent with the waterway, the individual bridge numbers went up sequentially. At Coed-y-person an old stone bridge took me to the southern towpath. Bridge 97a at Govilon Wharf carried the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway from 1862 as it went up the Clydach Gorge, a climb of 1,000 feet in 8 miles. I found it ironic that the railway that killed off the canal is now an abandoned ruin whilst the canal enjoys a resurgence in popularity in these days of pleasure boating. This towpath was an agreeable end to my day along a fascinating part of the World Heritage Site. Alongside roadworks at the A465 the canal passed beneath the modern bridge before making for a road crossing via bridge 103 at exactly 14 miles. On my approach to Gilwern Wharf I passed the Castle Narrow boats pickup point for holiday crafts. Beyond the remains of Llanelly Wharf limekilns I decided to leave the canal at bridge 106 a little further on from there.

     I took a footpath up to Llanelly and then from St Elli’s Church wandered up a lane to reach Pen-y-rheol Cottage once again, I had completed the circle. From there it was a matter of retracing my steps for a mile to Wern-Watkin. Half way up the hill I looked to a splendid view of the clouds as they raced over the summits of Blorenge and Gilwern Hill amid a backdrop of blue skies. The day’s full drama was beautifully laid out across the green fields of Wales. During my wander back to the bunkhouse I looked up the rocky slopes on my left to a curious pillar of rock I’d noticed earlier in the day within the remains of Disgwylfa Quarry. Known as the Lonely Shepherd, this isolated limestone pinnacle was left by quarry workers who had removed the surrounding rock. The track I walked was part of the original Llangattock Tramroad which was built to transport the stone down from the quarry. I eventually finished the walk at 18:15 and a fine walk it was. The intermittent rain was not enough to dampen my enjoyment of this fascinating day in a part of South Wales not often touted as a walking destination. However, I would advise anyone venturing this way to avoid my chosen approach to the southern slopes of Blorenge via the tedious drop and climb of Clydach Gorge. In retrospect, my plan to use the bunkhouse as a start and finishing base extended the day too much. It should be emphasised that better walks can be done from the Fisher’s Pond or Foxhunter car parks for a much more interesting circular route that follows the Iron Trail in pursuit of this area’s rich industrial heritage.


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