Maps: Landranger 161 Pathfinder 1086 Start Point GR 283163
A moderately difficult walk of 13 kilometres (8 miles) through fine old oak woods with superb views of Abergavenny and surrounding countryside. In places the paths are steep and narrow and extra care is needed especially when wet underfoot. After heavy rain the latter half of this walk through St Mary's Vale can be very muddy.
Getting there from Cardiff:
by car: M4 east to Junction 26 then onto A4042 bypassing Cwmbran and Pontypool to Abergavenny. Follow the one way system through Abergavenny town (right at Electricity Showrooms, left at lights near Esso petrol station and follow the road around past War Memorial and onto the Brecon Road). Ignore first turn right, dead end. Take next right which is Chapel Road. Continue up Chapel Road, over the crossroads and up a steep lane which has a dead end sign on it. Look for yellow house with white posts (colours might have changed!!). Turn left here to pass a farm. Follow road around to the right and continue up lane, ignore right turn and continue to find parking space on left. Small car park (max 5 cars).
From the car park walk back down the road taking second turning left walking past farm to T-junction, Here turn right and walk down road for approx 40 metres, taking first turning left by green railings. With covered-in reservoir initially on right follow this semi- metalled lane as it descends to ford and then rises again to meet road, here turn left to pass in front of Sunny Vale Cottages. Stop here and turn to take in superb view of the Blorenge. Follow road for approx 60 metres bearing right (fingerpost TWYN YR ALLT). Continue ahead along lane which very shortly becomes a dirt track. Follow this track which eventually passes through a metal gate (ignore gate on right).
After passing through gate take footpath directly opposite which rises up steeply. As one climbs so the views open out to the right with Abergavenny town nestled in the valley cradled by the magnificence of Blorenge and Llangattock escarpments. Where the path meets a green clearing turn sharp left climbing up into trees. On reaching depression in ground on right, bear right with path to traverse across the front of the Deri through an ancient oak wood plantation, the path is narrow and can be slippery in places. When fence line is reached turn left and follow steepening path up hill. At next path junction take left fork rising again and bearing left to pass a series of ancient quarry workings to the right. Follow this main path, which is sunken in places, keeping to main path as it swings right to meet major cross path. Straight ahead over cross path which climbs steeply again to small disused quarry which provides shelter from the wind and an ideal coffee stop. If however the weather is good, continue on up a few more yards to reach the top of the Deri where one is rewarded by spectacular views of Sugar Loaf to the north, Skirred to the east and Blorenge to the south.
If on the way up you lose the path do not worry, the Deri has numerous paths to the top, as long as you keep climbing in a northerly direction you will eventually reach the top which is flat so it is easy to spot where you are.
After taking in the view continue in a general northerly direction on a major green path ignoring all side tracks. Where first junction is reached take right fork to pass pond, and at next junction take left fork. A mountain wall is eventually reached and this is followed keeping wall on left until path rises up and sight of the wall is lost. Ignore gate and style and keeping fence line to left (sometimes lost in hedgerow) follow main path keeping a careful watch for an obvious green path on right marked by an isolated small tree. Take this path and follow it as it climbs steadily to the top of the Sugar Loaf
If the weather is bad or if you are feeling tired instead of taking the path continue straight ahead. This path keeps to the lower flanks of the Sugar Loaf to meet major path coming down off Sugar Loaf which you will eventually join again.
If the weather is kind a lunch stop at the top of Sugar Loaf is a must. On a clear day one can see the Malvern Hills to the east, the Black Mountains to the north, the Black Mountain range to the west and Blorenge to the south. On the north side of the Sugar Loaf there are rocky outcrops which depending on the wind direction can provide shelter.
From the trig point leave Sugar Loaf in a southerly direction descending to meet wide green path (note the patterns produced by the criss cross of paths on this southern flank, they provide added beauty and interest to this area). Continue in a southerly direction over first major cross path. Looking left here you will see the start of St Mary's Vale, but for a time we must stay high to pass second major cross path to go on and meet third major cross path. Here take the path left which descends down into St Mary's Vale. This path is steep and if the ground is wet it can be very slippery. Please take your time and take great care. At the bottom of the path a stream is reached which we will follow for the rest of our walk as it meanders its way through the Vale which has a spectacular beauty of its own. If it was too cold to have lunch on top of Sugar Loaf here is a good place to stop. The steep sides of the vale provide shelter and seclusion.
Following the stream through the vale aim to keep the stream on your left, however it never becomes very wide or very deep. In fact in some places it is easier to walk on the islands which intermittently appear in the middle of the stream than to negotiate the path. The path can be narrow and muddy on times and care must be taken. The beauty of the Vale makes up ten-fold for any amount of mud one might encounter. It is full of wildlife, the vast variety of deciduous trees providing both shelter and food for all manner of birds and animals. After following the stream for 2 or 3 kilometres a flag stone bridge is reached, cross the bridge onto a metalled path which eventually passes in front of a cottage on left. Continue ahead and car park soon emerges on right and the walk is at an end.
Malcolm and Wendy Winney
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