The Blorenge

by Ann Brixey

Only the apple trees in the corner of the field were visible when I looked out of the large picture window. A thick grey veil blanketing the landscape obliterated everything that was familiar. Jake, sitting at the edge of the path surveying his domain, looked dejected. He gave a little woof, then, disappeared into the foggy abyss. On his return, his normally crisp, red bandana was limp and damp, his wiry black coat sported droplets that looked like gem stones. After giving himself a vigorous shake, he lay on the path. I wondered what he was thinking. It seemed that even the rabbits were staying in their burrows. With nothing for him to chase or bark at, he must have thought it a decidedly dreary day indeed.

“It doesn’t look like a very good day for walking,” I told Peter as we ate breakfast. “It is quite foggy.”

“We’ll go over to Chepstow to the flea market first, then we can take a run down to Newport after that,” he said.

“Maybe we should take our hiking boots; it may clear by this afternoon,” I said, hopefully.

A half an hour later, the car was loaded with everything we might need: field glasses, cameras, walking poles. Because it was cool and damp, I also put in our raincoats and heavier fleece jackets.

When we crossed the River Severn into Wales, the fog did not seem as dense as it had on the Gloucester side. The Market was less busy than usual, was it because we were there earlier than was our norm? Or was it the nasty weather keeping customers away? Whatever the reason, it was nice to be able to browse the stalls without being jostled. By the time we were ready to leave, a slight breeze had picked up, and the mist was beginning to lift. With more and more people arriving, it looked as though the vendors would have a good day after all.

“Since it doesn’t look like its going to be a really fine day, we could go to Tredegar House,” Peter suggested, knowing I loved visiting the lovely old mansion that had once been my high school.

“Good idea, after the house tour we could walk all the way around the lake, I don’t think you’ve done that, have you?” I asked.

Being a Sunday, we had chosen to take the quieter, main road through the city. It seems that we always manage to be in the right place at the wrong time, and today was one of those times. Nearing the House, the traffic had become exceptionally heavy. “Maybe a rugby or football game in Cardiff,” I said.

Signs placed along the road explained all. Classic Car Rally, Tredegar House Grounds, 1pm. Then there were the signs directing traffic. All ticket holders, stay in nearside lane. All other vehicles use outer lane. This would mean only one thing: cars would pile up at the roundabout, leaving the already bumper-to-bumper traffic at a standstill. We knew even if the House tours were not busy, we would have a hard time getting into the car park.

“Bleanavon Iron Works won’t be open today, but we could go up to The Blorenge. It seems to be clearing so it shouldn’t be too bad,” Peter suggested.

“We can cut up Forge Lane seeing that we are this close,” I said.

It would have been better turning back and taking a different route, but on this section of the road, that option was impossible. We just had to be patient, till we reached the roundabout. Once there, the road was surprisingly quiet.

Keepers Pond is a pretty spot almost at the top of the Blorenge. We discovered it earlier in the summer while on a visit to Big Pit. We had picnicked there with friends, while enjoying the spectacular views and in the company of a flock of sheep and lambs. Later we strolled along the bank, listening to the birds and watching dragonflies skimming across the water. Five or six full-grown Welsh ponies, and two foals had meandered down from the hillside to graze on the soft grasses. These wild horses roam freely throughout Wales wandering the hillsides and dales. This group did not like us getting too close and quickly moved to another area when approached.

The sky had become quite dark as we drove further up into the Valleys and I worried that rain would mean our walk today would not happen. After taking one wrong turn at Bryn Mawr, we soon were back on track heading east up into the hills. Nearing the top, when we came upon a pub we decided it was an opportune time to stop for lunch. The Foxhunter Inn was named for the famous racehorse, which was buried nearby. There, a memorial plaque marks the spot.

Although we were not yet at the highest point, out of the car, the biting wind chilled us to the bone. Inside the pub, it was warm and welcoming. Over drinks and a delicious lunch, we chatted to several hikers. They, like us, were going to brave the elements and had their routes planned. I wished I had remembered to bring the trail maps with me, and made a mental note to self: leave maps in the car. Still, today, we could make it up as we went along; public footpaths throughout the UK are generally well signposted.

Despite not being one of Wales’ tallest mountains, The Blorenge, a World Heritage site, at an elevation of 1560 feet, offers spectacular views. This, coupled with several very interesting mapped walks, makes the area a popular site for visitors of all ages. As we neared the top, I spotted several ponies on the hillside and hoped they would be moving our way.

Arriving at Keepers Pond, we found only two other cars in the parking lot. There were sheep nearby, but they ignored us as we put on our boots, and fleece jackets. We grabbed the camera, and binoculars, then made our way out of the car park. That was when we saw a man feeding French fries to one of the ewes. Perhaps it was the taste of salt and vinegar that she seemed to be enjoying.

Walking on the trail ahead of us were two young guys. The dog with them, a lovely beagle, was sniffing the ground and impatiently tugging on his leash. He was ready to start chasing real, or imaginary prey. They crossed the bridge and took the fork to the left, disappearing from view. Peter took his time taking video clips, as we ambled along. I wandered ahead, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and waited at the little bridge till he caught up with me.

The sun was beginning to push through the clouds as we crossed the bridge and took the path to the right heading into the hills. We stopped to look across the valley, where a shaft of sunlight illuminated the imposing white cliffs of an old limestone quarry. I quickly remembered that this was not just a coal producing area; limestone would have been needed at the nearby Bleanavon Iron works. The quarry, which is no longer worked, provides an ideal habitat for nesting birds. But today, the absence of birds was particularly noticeable, only a solitary kite soared overhead. It might have been a red kite, but it was too far away to identify.

Heather and ferns now cover the soil overlaying the old coal measures, but with the onset of fall, they are brown. In sheltered spots, little patches of green and lavender could still be seen. We stopped longer now, to take in the views towards the Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Usk Valley. Turning towards the west, we saw the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons with a heavy layer of cloud on their tops.

Fields of the hillside farmlands looked like a glorious patchwork, all worked in greens and browns, each patch outlined by dark green hedgerows. The quilt border was the winding grey road.

“Did you know the path we are walking on was part of the old tram track?” Peter asked. “It was built to transport limestone from the quarries to the Ironworks,” he continued.

This was interesting, and it explained why the track was wide and straight. Part of the charms of walking in Wales is the history; almost everywhere has some interesting fact to be discovered. Another is the solitude you can often experience. Today, there were no other humans for miles. Our only companions on this windy hillside were the kite, a few sheep, and the occasional rabbit.

Further along, the trail divided. Here on the open hilltop, all of the vegetation bordering the two pathways was brown and crisp. Another reminder that summer was over; soon winter would be placing her white mantle on these beautiful hillsides. The trail was not steep, more like a gentle incline, but the large stones embedded into the deep ruts, made for it very hard going. We walked for several miles, continuing around the northern tip, till the views of the Skirrid and Pandy, greeted us.

Instead of continuing the circular walk around the Blorenge, we decided to turn back. Because we had stopped so often to take video clips on the way, it had taken us almost two hours to walk just these few miles. The sun was bright, and now with the breeze at our back, it felt warm enough to take off our jackets. The return journey did not take us more than an hour.

Before going back across the little bridge, we sat for a while enjoying the sunshine and fresh, clean air. A family, obviously out for a late-afternoon stroll, was heading our way. At a shallow spot, the children had already started crossing the stream. Two older boys dashed back and forth across a narrow plank; they had no fear. A younger sibling seemed wary of crossing this way, but was urged on by his older brothers. He stepped out onto this makeshift bridge with all the verve of a tightrope walker about to perform a death-defying feat. Arms out for balance, he swayed precariously from side to side. Cautiously sliding one foot in front of the other, he inched his way across. Then, when he had almost reached the middle, his courage failed. Turning with impressive agility, he dashed back to the safety of the bank. The little girl, deciding the only way for her to get to the other side was via the bridge, stopped to shout encouragement to her small brother. When he refused to try again, one of the older boys, in a flash, re-crossed and carried this little performer safely over, piggyback style.

As we wandered to the car, the antics of some small ducks caught our attention. We stopped to watch for a while, and I became almost hypnotized from the sun’s glare on the breeze-rippled water. I felt a slight sense of disappointment that the wild ponies were not grazing nearby. Perhaps they had been here all the while that we were up in the hills.

Back at the car, the sheep, deciding, we might be generous souls, busily gathered around us looking hopeful. However, finding they were out of luck, disdainfully turned their backs on us and ambled away.

Peter set the camcorder on the dashboard to see how well we could film without me having to hold the camera. My concern was that it was pointing forward, and the only images would be of the road, not the glorious scenery we were driving through.

In the market town of Abergavenney, history repeated itself. Once again it was the right place, but undoubtedly the wrong time. With an open-air food-market happening, many people crowded the sidewalks and roads. It took some time to maneuver the car through the narrow streets avoiding parked cars and pedestrians. Soon we were on our way again, with little traffic to bother us.

Once through the charming town of Monmouth we crossed into the Wye Valley, to follow the river along the beautiful tree-lined road. We were heading towards Tintern, and the beautiful Abbey ruins there. Unfortunately, the clouds had rolled in again. A light drizzle began to fall soaking the countryside, and dripping softly from the overhanging branches.

When the Abbey ruins and heavily wooded hillside beyond came into sight, even the fine rain, covering them like a shroud could not diminish the arresting sight. Since we often visit Tintern, the Abbey, and the hillside ruins of the Church of St. Mary, we decided not to stop, but to go straight on by.

Across the Old Severn Bridge and back in England, the sun was still shining. We stopped to take pictures of the Old Bridge, but did not linger. We stood for a while on the bluff looking back to Wales. Although we were in bright sunshine now, there was a definite chill in the air. Here, was another reminder that it was after-all fall, and winter would not be far behind.

Author’s note

Several months later, while reading some information about this spot, I found this quote: regarding the viewing area of Pandy and the Skirrid. * Launch and fly east from here on an infinite glide, and you’ll not touch down again before reaching the Urals.

* Copied from Blorenge Walks.

Keepers Pond. Photo by Ann Brixey