Search the internet for Black Mountain and you’re likely to find yourself faced with a slew of possibilities from across south Wales. Of these the Black Mountains east of the Brecon Beacons National Park are probably most widely known and which, rather confusingly, also contain a summit called Black Mountain. I’ve explored there numerous times but today our interests shall be focused further west where The Black Mountain range (as opposed to the Black Mountains and not the individual peak of the same name – keeping up?) straddles the county border between Carmarthenshire and Brecknockshire. Like most of our walks we were drawn to this area after spotting its interesting features on an OS map, principally the number of cairns around Tair Carn Isaf and Tair Carn Uchaf. Intrigued we headed up just before New Year on a typically overcast and windy day.
Parking near Brest Cwm Llywd we decided to take a circuitous route to our destination, first gaining ground rapidly along what looked to have once been an important route across the hills. Wide enough for at least a horse and cart and lined with large lumps of limestone it made for an impressive feature and delivered easy walking, that is until we struck out west at Pwll Dudrwyth. In just a few steps broad, mostly dry grass had given way to thick heather and wet peatbog, brilliant habitat in terms of species variety but considerably tougher when it came to making progress. On the plus side we spotted plenty of Red Grouse droppings which given I’ve only ever seen two individuals in the park is as good as a physical sighting, whilst overhead Ravens and Red Kites were periodically passing through. In a couple of months this area is sure to be full of singing Skylarks and Wheatear meaning we shall definitely be back.
As we headed further into uncharted territory we were keeping a close eye on the weather as inland of our position a bank of low cloud had already begun to obscure some of the higher peaks. Fortunately Tair Carn Uchaf remained clear and we were rewarded with great views of its three huge cairns. Built from grit stone rubble they date back to the Bronze Age (c. 2300 – 800 BC) with the largest measuring almost eighteen metres in diameter. Pausing before them was pretty awe inspiring given their age and I couldn’t help but wonder how the surrounding landscape must have changed through the centuries they’ve been standing watch.
Off in the distance the cairns of Tair Carn Isaf were already visible and a short while later we were stood amongst another four huge stone structures of similar age and size to those we’d just left. Here though there was also the added attraction of a trig point plus expansive views back down across Ammanford and beyond.
Our time to soak up the atmosphere was short lived as in a matter of minutes the weather front we’d been monitoring was upon us, spilling over the ridge like a waterfall in slow motion and reducing visibility considerably. With a fair distance back to the car we chose to lose height as quickly as we could, an inspired decision as not only did we manage to drop below cloud level once more but we were also treated to spectacular views of a male Hen Harrier flying through the valley. Sadly light was too poor to attempt even a record shot but watching its ghostly shape silently slipping across the winter landscape is a memory that will remain with me for a long time to come.
Fast forward a month and we were back, this time with some rare sunshine to enjoy despite freezing conditions. Underfoot the ground was frozen solid across huge swathes of hillside and with it Redwings and Fieldfares had come together to form a large roaming flock. It was a joy to hear their calls and squabbles as they sought out the best feeding opportunities, several Starlings adding another layer to the mix from time to time. It always surprises me how skittish winter thrushes seem to be and as this encounter was to be no exception all I could capture on camera were a few distant shots. At least Carreg Cennen castle provided a suitably dramatic backdrop.
Down in Pal y Cwrt, an area I’ve always wanted to explore in more depth, I got great views of a Green Woodpecker(invariably flying away of course) plus this female Bullfinch. She was busy feeding on berries and despite the rather flat lighting I’m pretty pleased with this one.
The rest of our walk took us along the ridge at Banwen Gwythwch and up past a long abandoned quarry before returning to the car. Once again a pair of Red Kites put on a great show but there was to be no repeat harrier encounter. Even so this area clearly has great promise and we’ll definitely be making several return trips throughout the coming year.