This feature is reproduced with thanks to Carmarthenshire Life Magazine
This part of the Brecon Beacons National Park is a long way from the crowds, erosion and queues found around the more 'honeypot' areas such as Pen-y-Fan, yet offers what I personally consider to be superior walking and superb views.
Such is the nature of this walk that it has to be considered wasteful, as well as navigationally more difficult (and even hazardous) to take the route in any but the finest weather with clear visibility.
The views take in most of the wildest parts of the Brecon Beacons, as well as extending north over Mid Wales and the Cambrian Mountains and south over Swansea Bay to Exmoor and the Devon coast with plenty to catch the eye, such as Carreg Cennen Castle.
The walk passes by sites of historic and prehistoric interest with industrial archaeology dominating to a degree. Much quarrying has taken place in this part of the National Park, though now the quarries are abandoned and their harsh lines are being rendered softer and more attractive as the land heals its scars. Few people can fail to appreciate the grandeur of the sheer limestone edges of the rugged north facing quarries on Foel Fawr, or fail to enjoy the now softened contours of the Clogau Bach and Clogau Mawr faces.
The quarries on Foel Fawr were worked as late as the 1930s and provided considerable employment for the local area, though working on the faces in winter must have been hard indeed as they catch the full force of the weather, including the prevailing winter storm windsfrom the north!
These quarries, with their limestone faces, are visited by the occasional climber, and, as they also boast a cave entrance, by those who do their climbing in the dark, underground! Hang gliders and parapenters sometimes take off from these slopes. School and University parties also visit the quarries on historical, archaeological, geographical and geologically themed visits, so there is, it seems, something for everyone here.
There are the remains of old lime kilns where the rock was burned to produce quicklime used for making mortar and as a fertilizer.Some of the other quarries are more like sloping sided sand pits and were used in the past for the extraction of silica sand. This was used as an industrial cleaner, being a highly abrasive form of broken down millstone grit which is, along with limestone, one of the predominant rocks in the area.
The limestone areas are noted for their pleasant turf and 'shake holes', depresssions on the surface where the limestone below has been eroded by underground streams, while the millstone grit areas are boggier, as they drain less well.
As well as the quarries and sand pits, man has left his mark in other ways. Most of the summits boast substantial cairns, some of which go back as far as the Bronze Age and which vary from rude piles of rocks, such as Carn Pen Rhiw Ddu, to superbly built edifices such as the cairn on the summit of Garreg Llwyd. These cairns are not always on the highest point, but are sited to dominate a huge area and be visible to a degree that belies their size.
The OS trig point on the summit of Garreg Liwyd is unusual in several respects. It is stone built, not the more common cast concrete, and is not at the highest point but set on the south side of the summit, which means that it has not been built on top of the ancient summit cairn, an official vandalism that all too often occurred when erecting these survey points. Lastly, it is only partially painted, mainly on the south side. Part of this walk follows a public bridleway which traces its route north from Brynamman aiming for Llangadog. Known locally as the 'Roman Road', this is an ancient trackway that greatly predates the Roman occupation, although the Romans almost certainly improved and used this route.
This track was still in regular use in the 1930s, with the inhabitants of Capel Gwynfe to the north taking it to travel to Brynamman in the south. This would have been a full day's outing, an exciting trip which could include a visit to the new and even more exciting cinema.
Now the track is only used for recreation, but is still remarkable for its ease of walking and its well engineered surface. Despite a lack of maintenance, the path is obvious, in places cutting into the side of the slope, in others being banked up to give an even width. Where the surface has been cleared of rocks, they are piled at the sides to form 'kerbs', and the track veers to avoid bogs and steep slopes as much as possible. Although a bit muddy in places where it cuts across the natural drainage streams, it is a marvel of ancient engineering and a delight to walk.
The views west from this part of the walk take in some of the wildest, most rugged and least visited parts of the Black Mountain, where again ancient cairns crown the summits. With the differing rocks underlying the soil you naturally get a variety of wild flowers and berries. If you follow this walk in bilberry season, allow plenty of extra time for picking and eating, and take a tub to carry home the fruit for pie making !
The skies are home to a variety of birds, most notably buzzards, ravens, and if you are lucky, the rare and very beautiful red kite. Semi wild ponies grace the hills and their foals look very sweet as they gambol among the watchful adults.
Enjoy this walk in fine weather (and be careful on the rocky sections) for some of the finest walking and best views in Carmarthenshire.
From the car park take the partially surfaced quarry road that climbs north east then east into Foel Fawr quarries. Follow this through the quarries past ruined buildings and old lime kilns, enjoying the views over the Clydach, Sawdde and Tywi valleys to Mid Wales on your left and the quarry faces on your right. (1) Coming to the end of the track, cross a flat 'floor' of limestone to gain the open hill. A narrow sheep track leads on, taking you to the obvious gully of a tributary of the Afon Clydach. Follow the gully, keeping to the near bank, uphill, going almost due south to the top of the gully itself and into an area of broken rock (2). From here you cross a pathless hillside heading just east of south for approximately 600 yards skirting to the left of a boggy pool, up to the impressive summit cairn (3) with great views.
From the cairn head almost due west for about half a mile. The ground soon drops away under your feet, revealing the main road below and, on your side of the road, the old sand quarry of Penrhiw Wen. Drop down directly towards the quarry, taking great care over the steep, broken and often loose rock. It would be all too easy to fall and break a leg here if you were careless, and a difficult and uncomfortable rescue would result. With care, however, you can easily pick a safe descent through the rocks and bilberiles down to the grass around the quarry, and along the quarry track to join the Brynamman to Llangadog road (4).
Cross the road onto the open land opposite. If you want to cut the walk short you can now turn right and parallel the road through old sand quarries for 3/4 of a mile back to the start point. Otherwise, turn left and continue the walk.
Having decided to continue, you start descending slightly, following sheep tracks, faint quarry tracks and the open hill for approximately 3/4 of a mile, crossing a well defined quarry track and the often dry stream bed of Nant Gaws as you go. The first half of this section takes you through old small quarries, the second half across open hillside. Stay roughly parallel to the road, without climbing over much, and approximately 50 yards away from it. You will be surprised at how little the road and traffic are noticed.
Once you have covered approximately 3/4 of a mile, you drop down onto a faint, but recognizable, slightly embanked quarry track (5) which almost delineates the change-over from limestone crags and the flatter boggier millstone grit terrain.
Turn right and follow the track, bearing left at an obvious fork and on under and through small quarries until it peters out in an almost circular, shallow quarry (6). From here head just west of north following sheep tracks over the open hill. After some 300-350 yards you should come acrosss the old 'Roman Road' which here runs diagonally left to right (7). Fairly obvious with its levelled surface and stone 'kerbs', the track lies between the quarries and some peat hags. If you get muddy feet you have probably missed it while admiring the stunning views west.
Turn right onto the track and follow it roughly north east. Soon it clips the edge of the boggy area and loses definition, then swings left, climbs out of the dip and regains its obvious kerbs and levelled surface as it crosses the flank of the hill.
The track is followed for approximately 1 1/4 miles, giving superb views until after descending wide zig zags down towards Brest Cwm Liwyd you come to an obvious fork. Turn right down to the road at a charming spot where a bridge crosses the stream (8).
Turn right and follow the road for about half a mile to where a marshy track enters the old quarries on your right at Clogau Bach. Follow this track into the quarries, initially almost parallel to the quiet road, past old quarry faces and ruined lime kilns. Once the hairpin bend of the main road comes into view, go more south east and upwards through a maze of gullies and tracks up out of the quarries and across the open hill heading for the skyline 'pimple' of Carn Pen Rhiw Ddu, which stands out quite clearly.
The closer you get to this probably Bronze Age cairn, the less you can see of it, and as you breast the last rocky rampart and stumble up to it, you realise just how small yet well sited it is.
From the cairn you can look down on the start, roughly east south east of this point. A simple stroll down the hillside, skirting the largest of the sand quarries to your left, soon has you back down to your car.