First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Everyone who comes to Crickhowell for the Walking Festival in March looks out for Table Mountain, the slanted, flat-topped outcrop of old red sandstone that rises some 1,200 feet above the little Welsh Border town.
Distinctive though its shape is, you scarcely notice the hill when you’re down in the streets of Crickhowell. The outer edge of the Black Mountains looms beyond, far higher and grander than modest Table Mountain. But it’s Crickhowell’s guardian hill that everyone must climb, willy-nilly, a tasty starter for the mountain delights in the distance.
Proud householders have landscaped the lower banks of the Cumbeth Brook. We climbed the northward field path beside the wooded dingle whose stream came rushing down over smooth sandstone boulders. A stumbly stretch over the streambed led up to a stone-walled sheepfold where we sat on a fallen bough to absorb the view.
From up here we looked back south over the grey huddle of Crickhowell, across the sunlit valley pastures of the River Usk to high rocky ledges and the dun-coloured moorland of Mynydd Llangatwg rolling away. To the east Table Mountain, hidden by trees until now, poked its flat head into the sky. It looked noble, a proper slab of mountain, with what appeared to be a stout white horse cropping its summit. But perspective plays funny tricks. Once we had climbed up there, the great upthrust resolved itself into a homely little wedge of rock, the grazing stallion into a fat white sheep.
Table Mountain’s Welsh title is Crug Hywel, ‘Hywel’s Fort’. Was it Hywel the Good, King of all Wales, who kept a stronghold here in the 10th century, or a more local King, Hywel ap Rhys of Morgannwg? No-one’s sure – and anyway, the double rampart, the rock-dug ditch and tumbled stone gateway that fortify the knoll were made a thousand years before either Hywel reigned here.
We walked a circuit of the Iron Age fort, spying out the land – the cone of the Sugarloaf in the east, the twin gables of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du forming the roof of the Brecon Beacons away west, and the Black Mountains rearing back and away to the north.
A memorable prospect – one to savour before dropping back down to Crickhowell and a cup of tea.
Start: Crickhowell car park, Beaufort Street, Crickhowell NP8 1AE (OS ref SO 219184)
Getting there: Bus X43, Abergavenny-Brecon
Road – Crickhowell is on A40 (Abergavenny-Brecon), 6 miles west of Abergavenny.
Walk (5 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL13): On Beaufort Street (A40), right past TIC and Bear Hotel. Just past garage, right up Llanbedr Road (218186). In 350m, left along Oakfield Drive (220188). In 350m, Oakfield Drive bears left; follow it for 150m; right up alley by No 56 (216191). Cross 2 roads; at double gate, left/right (217192, stile, ‘Beacons Way’/BW). Follow BW north up field edges with Cwm Cumbeth on left for 1¼ miles (stiles, BW) to stone walled sheepfold at top (218209). Right along wall for ¾ mile to climb to Table Mountain summit (225208). At 2nd of 2 cairns, descend through stones of fort gateway (226207); path left, then downhill for 150m; then right (clockwise) on grass path round lower slopes of mountain. Yellow arrows/YA, stiles, field path south for ¾ mile. Just before gate across path just east of The Wern farm, right through another gate (225196) to The Wern (223196); left down farm drive to road (223193). Right downhill; in 250m, right (222191) down Llanbedr Road to A40 and car park.
Conditions: Many stiles, some rubbly paths underfoot.
Lunch: The Bear, Crickhowell (01873-810408, bearhotel.co.uk)
Accommodation: Glan y Dwr, Llanbedr Rd, Crickhowell NP18 1BT (01873-812512, crickhowellbandb.co.uk) – immaculate B&B.
Info: Crickhowell Resource & Information Centre (01873-811970, visitcrickhowell.co.uk)
Crickhowell Walking Festival: 9-17 March 2019 (crickhowellfestival.com)