The Black Mountains

I love an adventure!

I’d run the Black Mountains at the end of last year, not as a race but with a group of friends who have the same love of the trails as I do. The hills have some serious elevation, throw in some technical, mixed terrain and you have the idyllic runners playground. Given the opportunity to run it again, I jumped at the chance and was joined by Neil, Adam and Jill on yet another adventure.

The Black Mountains are a group of hills spread across parts of Powys and Monmouthshire in southeast Wales and extending across the national border into Herefordshire, England. They are the easternmost of the four ranges of hills that comprise the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Going into the run, I’d had some concerns with how my Achilles would hold up but given that LiaD is now only 8 weeks away, it’s now a do-or-die attitude. I’d been stretching and foam rolling daily and had been running (relatively) pain free for a couple of weeks so went into this run feeling fairly optimistic.

We’d planned an early start and despite a malfunctioning alarm clock, arrived ready to hit the trails by 8am. With thunder & lightening due by mid afternoon, we’d opted for an early start, safe in the knowledge that we’d be off the mountains before any extreme weather set-in. The route was a 14 mile circular taking in the peaks of Pen y Gadiar Fawr, Waun Fach and Twmpa – or Lord Hereford’s Knob as it’s more commonly known.

The first mile follows the river Grwyne Fawr on a windy, muddy, technical trail before heading off towards the foot of the highest – and toughest climb of the day; Pen y Gadair Fawr. At over 800 metres (2,625ft), it’s a relentless and brutal climb covering just over a mile before reaching the cairn which indicates the summit. This is a tough climb on any given day but given the conditions underfoot were wet and slippery – and my Achilles and calf were being stretched to their limits – it was a fair old slog to the top. As with most climbs, I grit my teeth, took each step as it comes and eventually the suffering stops once you reach the summit.

regrouping at the top of Pen y Gadair – thanks to Neil for the photo
the cheesy selfie – from left to right – Jill, Neil, Adam and myself

Following a quick regroup and a chance to catch our breaths, we then followed the ridgeline towards Waun Fach – the highest point in the Black Mountains at 811 metres (2,661ft). From here, you continue to follow the ridgeline for another 6 miles until you reach Twmpa – or Lord Herefords Knob as it’s commonly known – although I’m still unclear of the origins of it’s name. This whole section is runnable with conditions underfoot ranging from hard packed tracks to muddy swamp-like trails – all good fun.

Leaving Lord Hereford’s Knob, you then descend down through the valley – an enjoyable, single file, technical trail until you reach the river crossing – a tributary off the river Nant Bwch with it’s beautiful waterfalls.

waterfalls and river crossing at the foot of the valley

Upon crossing the river, the trails become more saturated and overgrown as you make your way through the valley. As we descended off the hills, the fog disappeared and we were blessed with wonderful views – (one day I’ll do this run when the weather is clear to enjoy the 360 degree views). This was probably my most enjoyable part of the route, descending down through the valley making your way through single-file tracks in the undergrowth.

Neil v the undergrowth
working our way down the valley – thanks to Neil for the photo

The last climb of the day is at mile 12 – at approx. 220 metres (800ft) but straight up. By now, the miles, elevation and technical terrain had taken it’s toll and my Achilles/lower calf was starting to ache under the strain of the foot positioning on the climbs. Not enough to warrant stopping or calling it a day but just a gentle reminder that it weren’t firing on all cylinders. It was another slow, long grind to the top but I made it in one piece, with my Achilles and calf intact.

The remaining 2 miles were downhill through woodland and stone tracks – a welcome break from the brutal climbs and a fun way to end the run. In reflection, the Black Mountains have it all – tough ascents, fast descents, technical terrain, river crossings, mud, views (apparently) and runnable trails. What more could you want…?

Scrambling / falling down one of the steep descents – thanks to Neil for the photo

Returning to the car, Strava had recorded 13.9 miles with 2,927ft of elevation in just over 3 hours moving time.

Another awesome day on the trails with like-minded friends.

Roll on the next adventure.

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