Below the Black Mountains escarpment

NEAREST LOCATION

Talgarth

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

8 miles (12.7kms)

ASCENT
1060ft (320m)
TIME
3hrs 30min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Medium
STARTING POINT
SO152336

About the walk

Talgarth is one of the prettiest small towns in Wales, and has been transformed by the opening of a bypass in 2007. Prior to this, traffic (including large lorries) was forced through the centre of the town, creating a horrendous bottleneck in the tight, narrow streets. A reminder of these times is a sign still attached to one of the houses in the town square: ‘CAR TRANSPORTER DRIVER / DO NOT HIT THIS HOUSE’.

The rumble of articulated lorries is now just a distant memory, and Talgarth today is a pleasant and fascinating town round which to wander. The beginning and end of the present walk take in the best bits, including the attractive parish church dedicated to one of King Brychan of Brycheiniog’s many daughters. The remainder of the walk explores the area of land rising from Talgarth towards the Black Mountains’ northern escarpment. This varied mix of woodland, common and upland pasture provides many miles of rewarding walking, as well as excellent views of the escarpment. Do not expect to encounter crowds of walkers: this quiet, peaceful area is often neglected by visitors to the national park.

Witches and waterfalls

A highlight of the first half of the walk is Pwll y Wrach, a nature reserve comprising a remnant of ancient woodland in a steep-sloped valley along the River Ennig. The damp, humid woods provide food and shelter for a wide variety of plants, fungi and animals, including a significant population of resident dormice. Otters are known to hunt in the river, which also attracts a number of different bird species. You may spot a pied flycatcher or dipper feeding on the insects that live in and around the water.

At the eastern end of the reserve, an impressive waterfall tumbles into a dark pool – the ‘witch’s pool’ from which the reserve derives its name. The pool has a wild, haunted feel and features in a number of local legends. King Brychan’s daughter St Gwendoline is reputed to have bathed in the pool (a story which makes her sound more like a Celtic goddess than an early Christian saint), and it is popularly believed that the pool was used to duck suspected witches.

Common people

The flat grassland to the east of Llanelieu is part of an enclosed common called Rhos Fawr. This was land over which local farmers had common rights, allowing them to graze livestock. In former times, many poorer people, with no land of their own, relied on common land to feed the small number of animals they kept, for example a few cows, pigs and poultry. Disputes and numbers were regulated by manorial courts to prevent overgrazing.

Walk directions

Turn left out of the car park into Talgarth. Take the next road on the right (‘Heol Las’). Turn right at a T-junction and then left down a tarmac path (‘Pwll-y-Wrach’). Follow the River Ennig to a road and turn right. Cross the river and continue ahead up Hospital Road.

Where the gradient steepens ahead, fork right into Pwll-y-wrach Nature Reserve and take the path descending right. Drop to the river and follow the waymarked path upstream to the main waterfall. Climb steps to a gate and continue ahead along the river. Rejoin the lane and turn right.

At a red telephone box, bear left over a stile. Turn left at a rough track and emerge in a field. Climb steeply, then keep ahead to pass through a succession of smaller fields. Keep ahead to a gap in a hedge, then follow the left-hand edge of fields as far as Pen y bryn farm.

Bear left at a waymark post to meet a lane. Cross to a track opposite and climb on to the common. Turn left, continuing straight ahead where the common boundary drops away. Pick up a path through gorse bushes and shortly arrive at a small wooden gate in a fence.

Go through the gate and follow the path along the edge of Wern Frank Wood. After crossing the stream in Cwm Cwnstab, take an obvious grassy path bearing left. Descend across the middle of Rhos Fawr Common, aiming for the right-hand end of a small, shallow pool. Keep ahead to an unfenced lane in the common’s northwest corner.

Turn left along the lane, passing through a gate. Follow the road round a left-hand bend on Common Bychan and then through a second gate. Take the right-hand lane at a fork and head gently downhill towards the farm buildings of Ffostyll. Bear right at a footpath sign in front of the farmhouse.

Follow a muddy track to a field and bear left along a clear grassy path. The right of way climbs through a copse, then continues along the right-hand edge of fields. Eventually, cross a stile into Park Wood (ignore an earlier stile into Bradwys Wood) and join a narrow path descending obliquely left. Cross a wide track and continue down to a stile into a field.

Keep straight down the field and along the left-hand edge of two further fields. Follow a tarmac lane down to Church Street and turn right. Past St Gwendoline’s Church, turn left on to Brook Lane and descend to a stream. Cross over and follow a tarmac path up to a road. Turn right and retrace your outward route through Talgarth.

Additional information

Roads, tracks, field paths; nature reserve trails muddy and slippery in winter (20 stiles)

Market town, river gorge, woodland, common, upland pasture

Lots of fields with sheep and occasionally cattle – keep dogs on a lead

AA Walker’s Map 17 Brecon & The Black Mountains

Large free car park on the southwestern edge of Talgarth, just off the A479

In centre of Talgarth

Paths in Pwll-y-wrach Nature Reserve can be very muddy and slippery in winter. To avoid the worst of the mud, continue up the lane (Step 2) and join an easy access trail from a car parking area on the right.

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About the area

Discover Powys

The largest unitary authority in Wales, Powys covers an area of approximately 2,000 square miles. Much of that is mountainous because it actually has the lowest population density of all the Welsh counties.

This much wild, empty space is perhaps best typified by the International Dark Sky Reserve in the Brecon Beacons National Park, one of only eleven in the world. The absence of light pollution creates an exceptional spot for star gazing. You won’t find any cities in Powys, just villages and smaller-sized towns, but that’s the way its inhabitants like it. 

Newtown, the largest settlement, is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Robert Owen, the founder of the Co-operative movement. Brecon is a market town set on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, while the pretty Victorian spa town of Llandrindod Wells boasts the National Cycle Collection. Elsewhere, Hay-on-Wye hosts a major literary festival every year.

Powys is liberally scattered with castles, burial mounds, hill forts, and other historic markers; Powis Castle, near Welshpool is probably one of the most impressive. And for walking enthusiasts, it’s not just the Brecon Beacons on offer – the Elan Valley describes itself as the ‘Welsh Lake District’.