A walk on the Black Mountain
Rocky ravines reveal all.
Let’s clear up our terminology right from the start. We’re talking here about the Black Mountain (singular) in the west of the Brecon Beacons National Park, not the borderland Black Mountains (plural). There’s a big difference, as you’ll see from this short walk that introduces you to the southern fringes of the Park where industrial suddenly meets rural.
Need to know
Length: 2½ miles (4km)
Time: Around 1½–2 hours
Start and finish: Black Mountain Centre, Brynaman
OS map ref: SN 713144
OS map: Explorer OL12 (1:25 000 series)
Facilities: Car park, refreshments in village
Along the way
This former mining town stands on the ‘great divide’ that defines the southern boundary of the National Park. The abrupt transition from industrial and populated to rural and unpopulated is it at its most pronounced here. The Black Mountain Centre is just on the border. To the north there’s an empty expanse of moor and mountain, while southwards you’ll find the tightly packed terraces of former mining communities and opencast workings. The Black Mountain Centre, housed in a former infants’ school, is a community and visitor centre with tourist information, heritage displays, gallery and restaurant.
The old quarry and gorge of the Nant Melyn
The quarry was worked in the 19th century for building stone. Brynaman owes its existence to the rocks on which it sits. The village’s rocky foundations are revealed in the gorge cut by the stream that flows down off the Black Mountain. When the pioneer travel writer George Borrow visited the area in the 1854 he knew the village as Y Gwter Fawr (‘The Big Ditch’), a name that derives from the local practice of using artificial floods to scour the soil from the underlying rocks to get at the Industrial Revolution’s raw materials of ironstone and coal. This gorge cuts down into the Coal Measures, which were mined here.
Another coal seam occurs just above the footbridge leading to the remains of a series of sheepfolds. Ironstone was found here too.
Ice Age relics (between points 3 and 4 on the route)
The forces of nature, not man, are evident here. You’ll see large sandstone boulders scattered amongst the vegetation on the hillside above Brynaman. They originated on the ridge above but were deposited here by a melting glacier at the end of the last Ice Age, perhaps 15,000 years ago.
Farewell to coal (between points 4 and 5 on the route)
At the footbridge the Nant Garw emerges from a deep valley that has cut through the ‘Farewell Rock’. Its name reveals all about the area’s industrial past. The rock, which marks the base of the South Wales Coal Measures, was named by colliers, for when they struck it they knew there was no more ‘black gold’ to be mined economically.
On the surface (between points 5 and 6 on the route)
Look directly south across the A4068 and you’ll see a large open area of hillside. This is an opencast mine where in the 18th century an abundance of ironstone and coal found on or near the surface ignited the industrialisation of Brynaman and neighbouring villages.