First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
There are parts of the Welsh Borders that are neither rugged mountains nor agricultural lowlands, but rather semi-wild uplands where sheep and cattle roam freely and a walker can step out along grassy pathways in every direction. The Begwns are a fine example, a rolling ridge of common land north-west of Hay-on-Wye that separates the Brecon Beacons from the hills of southern Radnorshire.
The National Trust owns the Begwns, and keeps the common beautifully grazed, mown and open of access. We set out west from the hill road south of Painscastle on a midday of brisk wind and hazy blue sky. A woman strode another path parallel with ours, her dark hair blowing out behind her, three dogs scampering around her heels.
Yellow tormentil flowers dotted the slopes. Bees bumbled among the dandelions in a nectarous daze. Our inland track became a pot-holed lane where foxgloves grew among the stone slabs of the walls. We passed the tumbledown farm of Bailey-bedw, the house roof in holes, an elder bush rising from the chimney pot like a puff of green smoke.
Beyond Bailey-bedw, sheep were gobbling turnips in a field beside the track. I watched a ewe make her selection, scrape it open with her incisors, then slide it with an upward jerk of the head to the back of her mouth where she crushed it between her strong yellow molars.
The track swung up and over a shoulder of hill, then bent back on itself to climb to The Roundabout. This conifer plantation perches at the brow of the Begwns inside a circular wall, commanding a really spectacular view. We gazed our full, south to the tumbled heights of the Brecon Beacons and the ship’s prow of Hay Bluff as pale as a lead cut-out in the haze, north across the Painscastle valley to where the green patchwork of pastures rose into dun brown moorland.
A grass track took us down from The Roundabout to Monks’ Pond, flat on its saddle of ground in a golden collar of flowering gorse. The margins of the water were spattered with white blooms of water crowfoot. We walked a circuit of the wind-ruffled lakelet, and headed back home over the grassy shoulders of the Begwns.
Start: Parking bay at cattle grid, Croesfeilliog near Painscastle, Powys, HR3 5JH approx. (OS ref SO 182445)
Getting there: On hill road to Hay-on-Wye, 1 and three quarter miles south-east of Painscastle. Park opposite National Trust ‘Begwns’ sign.
Walk (5½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 188):
Cross road; follow track west along lower, right-hand edge of Access Land with fence on right. In ¼ of a mile cross stony track (177444). Two green tracks diverge here; take left one to ridge (175444). Right here (west) along rutted track, soon becoming tarmac lane. In ¾ of a mile cross road (163447); in ½ a mile, pass track to ‘Top of Lane’ (156448). In 100m fork left onto grassy path, which bends left over shoulder west of The Roundabout. In 600m, at large pond on right, turn left (149443) uphill to Roundabout (155444). From gate, head along spine of Begwns, bearing right across road (161440) to Monks Pond. From north-east corner (166438), head for angle of wall; north, then east on track with fence, then wall on right. In ½ a mile join farm track at Bird’s Nest ruin (176440); ahead to road (183442); left to car.
Lunch: Picnic at The Roundabout
Accommodation: Baskerville Arms, Clyro, Hay-on-Wye HR3 5RZ (01497-820670, baskervillearms.co.uk)
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).