Black Mountains, Wales

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Pen Cerrig-calch and Pen Allt-mawr in the south-west of the Black Mountains range View to the west from Blaen-yr-henbant - - 293127.jpg
Pen Cerrig-calch and Pen Allt-mawr in the south-west of the Black Mountains range

The Black Mountains (Welsh : Y Mynydd Du) are a group of hills spread across parts of Powys and Monmouthshire in southeast Wales, and extending across the England–Wales border into Herefordshire. They are the easternmost of the four ranges of hills that comprise the Brecon Beacons National Park, and are frequently confused with the westernmost, which is known as the Black Mountain. The Black Mountains may be roughly defined as those hills contained within a triangle defined by the towns of Abergavenny in the southeast, Hay-on-Wye in the north and the village of Llangors in the west. Other gateway towns to the Black Mountains include Talgarth and Crickhowell. The range of hills is well known to walkers and ramblers for the ease of access and views from the many ridge trails, such as that on the Black Hill (Herefordshire) at the eastern edge of the massif.



In his description of a Blak Montayne, the antiquarian John Leland refers to a massif extending between Carmarthen and Monmouth i.e. what is now considered to be the Brecon Beacons in the wider modern sense of that term, thus including the Black Mountain far to the west and the intervening high ground. There is a suggestion too that the names Hatterrall Hill and Mynydd y Gader may also once have been used to apply to the entire range of the Black Mountains though the former later became confined to the vicinity of its eastern ridge. The latter is now recognised in Pen y Gader-fawr (Pen y Gadair Fawr) and Gader Fawr (Gadair Fawr); names applied to the hill at SO 229288. Cadair, mutated to 'gadair' and anglicised as 'gader', means 'seat' or 'chair' in Welsh. [1] [2] The Welsh name for these hills is traditionally Y Mynydd Du ('the black mountain') though in more recent times the name Y Mynyddoedd Duon ('the black mountains') has been used, being a retranslation from the English. [3]


The summit of Black Mountain crossed by the Offa's Dyke Path Black Mountain Top.jpg
The summit of Black Mountain crossed by the Offa's Dyke Path
The southern part of the Grwyne Fechan valley in the Black Mountains Grwynefechan.JPG
The southern part of the Grwyne Fechan valley in the Black Mountains
Waun Fach from Mynydd Llysiau Waunfach.JPG
Waun Fach from Mynydd Llysiau

The highest mountain in the group is Waun Fach whose heavily eroded peat summit plateau attains a height of 811 metres (2,661 ft). Its secondary summit Pen y Gadair Fawr at 800 metres (2,625 ft) has a more distinctive peak shape. On the eastern ridge, the 703 metres (2,306 ft) peak of Black Mountain stands on the Wales-England border, and is the highest point in England south of Great Whernside in Yorkshire. Other summits towards the northern end are Hay Bluff (Welsh: Penybegwn), [4] 677 metres (2,221 ft), Rhos Dirion, 713 metres (2,339 ft) and Lord Hereford's Knob or Twmpa, 690 metres (2,264 ft). Towards the south of the range are the more independent summits of Crug Mawr at 550 metres (1,804 ft), Pen Allt-mawr at 719 metres (2,359 ft) and the 701 metres (2,300 ft) peak of Pen Cerrig-calch which rises prominently above Crickhowell in the Usk Valley.

Outlying summits, all of which are classed as Marilyns, include the Sugar Loaf (Welsh: Pen-y-Fal), Mynydd Troed and Mynydd Llangorse. The lower and separate hills of Allt yr Esgair, Myarth, Bryn Arw and Ysgyryd Fawr (also known as 'The Skirrid', Skyrrid or 'Holy Mountain') are scattered along the southern fringe of the Black Mountains.

In his work People of the Black Mountains , Raymond Williams described the Black Mountains thus:

See this layered sandstone in the short mountain grass. Place your right hand on it, palm downward. See where the summer sun rises and where it stands at noon. Direct your index finger midway between them. Spread your fingers, not widely. You now hold this place in your hand.

The six rivers rise in the plateau towards your wrist. The first river, now called Mynwy, flows at the outside edge of your thumb. The second river, now called Olchon, flows between your thumb and the first finger, to join the Mynwy at the top of your thumb. The third river, now called Honddu, flows between your first and second fingers and then curves to join the Mynwy. The fourth river, now called Grwyne Fawr, flows between your second and third fingers and then curves the other way, south, to join the fifth river, now called Grwyne Fechan, that has been flowing between your third and your outside finger. The sixth river, now called Rhiangoll, flows at the edge of your outside finger.

This is the hand of the Black Mountains, the shape first learned. Your thumb is Crib y Gath. Your first finger is Curum and Hateral. Your second finger is Ffawyddog, with Tal y Cefn and Bal Mawr at its knuckles. Your third finger is Gadair Fawr. Your outside finger is Allt Mawr, from Llysiau to Cerrig Calch and its nail is Crug Hywel. On the high plateau of the back of your hand are Twyn y Llech and Twmpa, Rhos Dirion, Waun Fach and Y Das. You hold their shapes and their names.



The Black Mountains are composed almost exclusively of rocks assigned to the Old Red Sandstone and dating from the Devonian period. This thick sedimentary sequence comprises sandstones, mudstones, siltstones and numerous thin limestones. The exception is the summit area of Pen Cerrig-calch where a thin sequence of Carboniferous rocks occur, an outlier of the more extensive outcrop to the south of the Usk valley. The lower slopes of these hills are formed from the mudstone-rich St Maughans beds at the top of which lies a calcrete – a discontinuous limestone band known as the Ffynnon Limestone. Above this are the sandstone-dominated Senni Beds which form the upper reaches of much of the range. Higher again are the Brownstones which form the summit areas of the central and southern parts of the range.

The Old Red Sandstone extends back into the late Silurian period and forward into the earliest part of the Carboniferous period. The body of rock, or facies, is dominated by alluvial sediments and conglomerates at its base, and progresses to a combination of dunes, lakes and river sediments. The familiar red colour of these rocks arises from the presence of iron oxide but not all the Old Red Sandstone is red or sandstone — the sequence also includes conglomerates, mudstones, siltstones and thin limestones and colours can range from grey and green through red to purple.

Glacial legacy

View up the Vale of Ewyas Vale of Ewyas.jpg
View up the Vale of Ewyas
The large landslip at the north end of the Skirrid Ysgyryd Fawr - - 889578.jpg
The large landslip at the north end of the Skirrid

The area lay at the margins of the British ice-sheet during the ice ages; these hills were shaped by ice from a source in mid-Wales rather than generating any major glaciers of their own. Non-local rock fragments within the glacial till show that Wye valley ice penetrated the Rhiangoll valley from the north, moving over the low col at Pengenffordd. No such evidence has been found in the Vale of Ewyas though the profile of this valley strongly suggests the presence of a major glacier. The valleys of the Grwyne Fawr and Grwyne Fechan were probably ice-free during the last ice age. One result of the over-steepening of valley sides by glacial action is the suite of landslips affecting the range, notably in the Vale of Ewyas. The most impressive of all is that at Darren and Cwmyoy. Another impressive set of landslip forms can be seen at Black Darren and Red Darren ('Darren' signifies 'edge' in Welsh) on the eastern side of the Hatterrall ridge west of Longtown. Another, at the northern end of the Skirrid just to the east of Abergavenny, is perhaps most commonly seen, and the section of the mountain shows the landslip prominently when seen from the north, but is also visible from the south such is the scale of the feature.


Scattered around the range are innumerable small quarries, virtually all of which now lie abandoned, once a source of walling and roofing stone for local use. In places the thin Devonian limestones were worked to feed limekilns for the production of lime for agricultural use and in buildings. [5] Old Red Sandstone has also frequently been used in buildings in Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and the former Brecknockshire (now south Powys) of south Wales.

Activities in the Black Mountains

The area is popular for hillwalkers, mountainbikers and horseriders. The Offa's Dyke National Trail runs along the border between England and Wales, whilst both the Beacons Way and the Marches Way also pass through the Black Mountains. The Three Rivers Ride runs along the northern slopes of the massif. The range's northern escarpment offers opportunities for gliding, hang gliding and paragliding as winds are forced up and over the hills.[ citation needed ]

Local attractions

Llanthony Priory Llanthony.priory.JPG
Llanthony Priory
Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye Hay-On-Wye Booksellers - - 235428.jpg
Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye
St Mary's Chapel at Capel-y-ffin Capel y ffin - - 145182.jpg
St Mary's Chapel at Capel-y-ffin

There are several attractive villages and hamlets in this area. The Skirrid Mountain Inn also has a wider reputation, being claimed as the oldest public house in Wales and mentioned in records from AD 1100. Antiquities include Llanthony Priory in the Vale of Ewyas, ruined Craswall Priory, Tretower Castle, Tretower Court, the Iron Age hill fort of Crug Hywel, and the remains of Castell Dinas, an 11th to 13th century castle built on the site of an Iron Age hillfort between Talgarth and Crickhowell. Cwmyoy and Partrishow churches are also worth visiting.
The youth hostel at Capel-y-ffin closed in late 2007. The town of books or Hay-on-Wye lies just to the north. It was the first booktown to be established and there are more than two dozen second-hand bookshops to explore. Some specialise in specific subjects, so there is a wide choice for browsers.

Towns and villages

Settlements in and around the Black Mountains include Hay-on-Wye, Llangors, Talgarth, Crickhowell, Cwmdu, each in Powys, Abergavenny in Monmouthshire and Longtown in Herefordshire. Many act as bases for accessing the hills all year round.

Coordinates: 51°57′N3°6′W / 51.950°N 3.100°W / 51.950; -3.100

Cultural associations

The controversial artist and typeface designer Eric Gill lived at Capel-y-ffin between 1924 and 1928. The artist and poet David Jones worked in the area during the same period. The cultural and literary critic Raymond Williams was born here, and draws on the region to frame his analysis of pastoral poetics and development in The Country and the City.


Books set in or around the Black Mountains include:

Related Research Articles

Ysgyryd Fawr

Ysgyryd Fawr is an easterly outlier of the Black Mountains in Wales, and forms the easternmost part of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The mountain is often referred to locally as just The Skirrid. The smaller hill of Ysgyryd Fach or "Little Skirrid" (270m) lies about 4.5 km / 2.5 mi to the south.

Brecon Beacons National Park

The Brecon Beacons National Park is one of three national parks in Wales, and is centred on the Brecon Beacons range of hills in southern Wales. It includes the Black Mountain in the west, Fforest Fawr and the Brecon Beacons in the centre and the Black Mountains in the east.

Cambrian Mountains Series of mountain ranges in Wales

The Cambrian Mountains are a series of mountain ranges in Wales.

Waun Fach

Waun Fach is, with a summit height of 811 metres (2,661 ft), the highest mountain in the Black Mountains in south-eastern Wales. It is one of the three Marilyns over 600m that make up the range, the others being Black Mountain and Mynydd Troed. To the north Rhos Fawr and the Radnor Forest can be seen. It is the second highest mountain in Britain south of Snowdonia. It is situated at the head of the Grwyne Fechan valley, above and to the west of the Grwyne Fawr reservoir. It has an undistinguished rounded summit. The nearby tops on the ridge, Pen Trumau and Pen y Gadair Fawr, although lower, are very much more recognisable.

Sugar Loaf, Monmouthshire

Sugar Loaf, sometimes called The Sugar Loaf, is a mountain situated 2 miles (3.2 km) north-west of Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, Wales and sits within the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is the southernmost of the summit peaks of the Black Mountains, with a height of 1,955 feet (596 metres).

Crug Hywel

Crug Hywel is a flat-topped mountain at the southern edge of the Black Mountains in south-east Wales. It rises to 451 m above sea level, from the southern flank of Pen Cerrig-calch (701 m), and overlooks the town of Crickhowell, to which it gives its name. The name is from Welsh crug, a hillock, and hywel, conspicuous.

Black Mountain (range)

The Black Mountain is a mountain range in South and West Wales, straddling the county boundary between Carmarthenshire and Brecknockshire and forming the westernmost range of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Its highest point is Fan Brycheiniog at 802 metres or 2,631 ft. The Black Mountain also forms a part of the Fforest Fawr Geopark.

Pen y Gadair Fawr

Pen y Gadair Fawr is an 800 metres (2,625 ft) high subsidiary summit of Waun Fach and the second highest peak in the Black Mountains in south-eastern Wales. Marked by a medium-sized cairn, it is a much more distinguished top than its parent 1.5km to the northwest. Its 658 metres (2,159 ft) high top Pen Twyn Mawr is about 2km to the southeast.

Beacons Way

The Beacons Way is a waymarked long distance footpath in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales. It is a linear route which runs for 99 miles (159 km) east to west through the National Park, and passes many of the most important landmarks and mountain peaks in the mountain range. It also includes a few of the towns in the park as well as popular attractions such as Carreg Cennen Castle near Llandeilo at the western end of the path.

Cwmdu, Powys

Cwmdu or Llanfihangel Cwmdu is a small village and community situated in the heart of the Black Mountains in Powys, Wales. Its name is derived from the Welsh language "Cwm Du", which means 'Black Valley'. It is located on the A479 Talgarth to Tretower road. Nearby towns include Crickhowell and Abergavenny. The population of the community, Llanfihangel Cwmdu with Bwlch and Cathedine, which includes Cwmdu and nearby villages Bwlch, and Tretower. Cathedine is actually in the neigbouring community of Llangors. as of the 2011 UK Census was 1026. It is in the historic county of Brecknockshire.

Pen Cerrig-calch

Pen Cerrig-calch is a subsidiary summit of Waun Fach in the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park in southern Powys, Wales. Its summit, at a height of 701m (2,300 ft), is marked by a trig point. The peak sits high above the River Usk valley as it narrows above the small town of Crickhowell.The views from here are wide-ranging and extend as far as the Beacons themselves to the west. A ridge runs off to the northwest and the shoulder of Pen Gloch-y-pibwr then turns north to the secondary top of Pen Allt-mawr whose peak at 719m is also crowned by a trig point.

Fan Hir

Fan Hir is a peak at the eastern end of the Black Mountain in the Brecon Beacons National Park in southern Wales. It is a subsidiary summit of Fan Brycheiniog. It falls within the county of Powys and is also a part of the traditional area of Fforest Fawr. Its Welsh name means "long peak", a fitting description, particularly if seen from the east when its steep eastern face is seen to advantage. It is about 2.5 miles or 4 km long and faces east. Its summit is 2490 feet above sea level. Fan Hir is separated from its higher neighbour to the north-west, Fan Brycheiniog by a col known as Bwlch Giedd, where a path rises from Llyn y Fan Fawr via a stone staircase.

Grwyne Fawr

The Grwyne Fawr is a river in the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales. A section of it forms the administrative border between Powys and Monmouthshire and also of the historic counties of Brecon and Monmouth. The river and its major tributary the Grwyne Fechan flow into the River Usk at Glangrwyney.

Pen Allt-mawr

Pen Allt-mawr is a 719 metres (2,359 ft) high subsidiary summit of Waun Fach and the third highest peak in the Black Mountains in south-eastern Wales. A very recognisable and prominent peak of the Black Mountains, it lies near the end of the more westerly of Waun Fach's two broad southern ridges. Its top Pen Twyn Glas is to the north, while its close neighbour Pen Cerrig-calch is to the south. A prominent spur 1km to the SSW of the summit is known as Pen Gloch-y-pibwr. The stepped Bryniog ridge curves southward from this point.

Gaer (Black Mountains)

Gaer is the name of a hill in the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Monmouthshire, south Wales. It lies at the southern end of the long ridge between the valley of the Grwyne Fawr and the Vale of Ewyas one mile to the north of Bryn Arw and 3 miles northeast of Sugarloaf. Its summit at 427m above sea level sits within an Iron Age hillfort known as Twyn y Gaer.

Llanbedr, Crickhowell

Llanbedr is a small village 2 miles (3.2 km) northeast of Crickhowell in the county of Powys, Wales and the community of Vale of Grwyney. It lies above the river known as the Grwyne Fechan just above its confluence with the Grwyne Fawr in the southern reaches of the Black Mountains range. The village lies within the shadow of Table Mountain, an outlying spur of Pen Cerrig-calch on which is perched the Iron Age hill fort of Crug Hywel.

Crug Mawr

Crug Mawr is a hill in the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park in southern Powys, Wales. Its summit at a height of 550m (1,805 ft) is marked by a trig point. The peak sits high above the valleys of the Grwyne Fawr and Grwyne Fechan to the north of the more well-known Sugar Loaf. The views from here across the Black Mountains are wide-ranging and also extend eastwards across Monmouthshire. Four ridges run off to the northwest, east, southeast and southwest, the last ending in the subsidiary summit of Blaen-yr-henbant.

Black Hill (Herefordshire)

The Black Hill is a hill in the Black Mountains in Herefordshire, England at grid reference SO275348. It rises just west of the village of Craswall, near the border with Wales. The southern part of the ridge leading to the summit is a rocky knife-edge giving excellent views to either side. The northern part crosses a peat bog on gently sloping land at the edge of the east facing escarpment. The lower part is very similar to the main ridge of the Skirrid mountain near Abergavenny, owing to their similar underlying geology. The Black Hill is known locally as the 'Cat's Back,' as viewed from Herefordshire it looks like a crouching cat about to pounce.

This article describes the geology of the Brecon Beacons National Park in mid/south Wales. The area gained national park status in 1957 with the designated area of 1,344 km2 (519 sq mi) including mountain massifs to both the east and west of the Brecon Beacons proper. The geology of the national park consists of a thick succession of sedimentary rocks laid down from the late Ordovician through the Silurian and Devonian to the late Carboniferous period. The rock sequence most closely associated with the park is the Old Red Sandstone from which most of its mountains are formed. The older parts of the succession, in the northwest, were folded and faulted during the Caledonian orogeny. Further faulting and folding, particularly in the south of the park is associated with the Variscan orogeny.


  1. Morgan, R. 2005. Place-names of Gwent Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst ISBN   0-86381-956-7
  2. Toulmin Smith, Lucy (ed.), The Itinerary in Wales of John Leland in or about the years 1536–1539, Vol. 3 Containing Part 6 (The Itinerary in Wales), with a Map, London, 1906
  3. Owen, Hywel Wyn; Morgan, Richard (2007). Dictionary of the Place-names of Wales (First ed.). Llandysul, Ceredigion: Gomer Press. p. 34. ISBN   9781843239017.
  4. Welsh Academy Dictionary
  5. British Geological Survey 1:50,000 scale geological maps (England & Wales series) 214 Talgarth & 232 Abergavenny & associated memoirs