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Walking in the Black Mountains Between Hay-On-Wye, Brecon and Abergave Nny
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The Black Mountains are the first and last mountains of Wales. From the top of the easternmost ridge, and astride the border, you can see why a line was drawn here. To the east lie the fertile undulations of the English midlands. To the west, a succession of untamed ridges stretches to the western horizon. On the northern edge is a spectacular escarpment looking out across the Wye Valley to Mid Wales. A series of tops adorn this ridge, and form the most impressive profile of the range. However these tops turn out to be just the terminal elevations of five main ridges stretching up to fifteen miles south, like fingers reaching out from knuckles. The Black Mountains are made chiefly of Old Red Sandstone. At lower levels there is an abundance of vegetation. Natural woodland includes alder, beech, hazel, oak and birch. Wild flowers grow in profusion in hedgerows that are centuries old. The slopes of the mountains are convex, rising steeply out of the valleys but gradually easing up to the long ridges covered in heather, bilberry or bracken. Therefore on most walks the steepest climbing comes first. The reward is often a long, gentle and uninterrupted ridge walk with spectacular views. However, mountain precautions should always be taken on these remote and unsheltered heights. There are a few small settlements but no real villages within the mountains. Abergavenny is the key town in the area, offering a wide range of facilities and good bus and rail connections. Other centres include Crickhowell, Hay and Talgarth. The Black Mountains abound with historical interest and mystery. Myths and legends imbue the walks with a sense of mystery from the dawn of time. The area was probably settled during the Stone Age around 2500BC. Some standing stones date from the era of the Beaker folk, who migrated to the area from Europe after about 1700BC. Iron Age forts were built from about 250BC and confirm the strategic importance of hilltops. Walks visit Dinas Castell, Crug Hywel near Crickhowell and Twyn-y-Gaer. The Normans made their mark on the region, often using more ancient fortified sites. Longtown Castle and Tretower are examples. The influence of Christianity underpins the history of these hills. St David himself established a church on the site of Llanthony Priory , while the ancient well at Patrishow recalls a Celtic saint. But perhaps the most exhilarating experience is walking the broad, open tops such as the border ridge or Mynydd Llangorse. This is unspoilt and spectacular country waiting to set you free. -- Kittiwake

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