In what is becoming a seasonal event for us, our man Lee Wilson, Oakwrights Architectural Technician, gives the third in a series of recommended walks offered up to the fine people who take the opportunity to visit us at our wonderful Try Before You Buy Show Home in Kenchester, Herefordshire.
Possibly the only good thing about the A40 is the place it leads to.... namely, the heart of Wales. To the uninitiated, Blorenge may sound like something administered to relieve the flu, but to those in the know this bulbous hill that stands sentry over Abergavenny, and gateway to the glories of the southern Beacons, gives a wonderful reward for those willing to put in the effort to scale it.
There are countless routes available for climbing Blorenge, including various car parks at different elevations on the way up the Blaenavon Road, but I decided to start my walk from the village of Govilon down in the Usk Valley. The great thing about climbing in the Beacons, and in particular a hill as acute as Blorenge, is the rapid ascent from rolling pastoral countryside to angry looking mining landscapes to finally, windswept, Wordsworthian hilltops. The temperature change from a relatively balmy autumnal morning with lovely sunshine up to crystal clear, frost-bound iciness in 3 miles necessitates a heavily laden back-pack, various layers being added to the mix the higher I go.
Leaving the village and following the small brook up a steep side valley, I find myself heading directly for the unpronounceable Pwlldu mine workings. The Usk Valley mines closed for good many years ago, but the evidence of their existence will be visible for generations to come. The black slag and tailings provide a vivid contrast to the natural greens and browns of the surrounding hills. It is worth exploring this industrial corpse if only to see the sprouting clumps of wildflowers that have begun the reclamation process in some of the more sheltered hollows. From the mine, I turn to the southeast and the full glare of the morning sun gets me donning my shades (a rare occurrence in the 2012 summer) and striking out directly for the summit of Blorenge, some mile and a half distant, but still a good 800 vertical feet above me.
Crossing the road, the trees and streams give way to hardy grasses and russet coloured ponds, including the impressive Pen-Ffordd Goch Pond. Standing on the southern shore, the water appears to disconcertingly drop into the abyss at the other end, like nature’s own infinity pool, but it’s just a trick of perspective. With the harsh northerly wind rising in velocity but dropping in wind-chill factor, the once distinctive summit track becomes very vague, inviting you to find your own route to the top. In strong sunshine, the rocky summit of Blorenge becomes like a mirage, with distances being very difficult to gauge. The radio mast at the top car-park looked miles away, only for me to reach it in less than 200 yards. It is locations like this that make you fully appreciate trees, as they give you a visual guide to distance, topography and perspective.
As you near the top, passing by the grave of champion racehorse Foxhunter, Blorenge becomes a featureless plateau, its rewards revealing themselves only at the last moments before a summit that consists of an unruly collection of rocks forming a vague natural cairn. However, the views to the north and east are magical. Due to the steepness of the northern face, the town of Abergavenny remains out of sight directly below you, giving you the chance to marvel at the Sugar Loaf on the opposite side of the Usk, looking down the river to the Skirrid in the east, and following the valley up to the high moorland around Ebbw Vale and Brynmawr to the west. This is not a pretty walk by any means (it demands a stoical, leg sapping trudge for the last 2 miles), but that is not the point of this hill.
Blorenge exists to give you a short, sharp reminder of the power and beauty of nature, and the reward that can be obtained by putting in the hard yards. Trying to eat a sandwich by quickly alternating an un-gloved hand every thirty seconds, while burying the other hand in a warm pocket is not one of my biggest loves, but it is worth it, and the views are second to none. The descent back down the valley is one of those that you can picture taking no time at all, as you can see your goal virtually the whole way. However, the sheer steepness means the knees take the full force of resisting the gravity that is pulling you down the hill, and a long soak in a hot bath with a glass of beer is the only possible remedy upon arriving home.