It is difficult to miss the Sugar Loaf mountain from any direction as you approach Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. It is one of the main three peaks surrounding the town, together with the Blorenge and the Skirrid.
On a gloomy day, the mountain can look foreboding. It has been claimed it was the inspiration for the volcanic Mount Doom in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is believed that the famous author spent some time in a nearby village and used much of the local area as the stimulus for Middle Earth. Whatever the truth actually is, this peak offers some fantastic opportunities for walking.
The Sugar Loaf is maintained by The National Trust. At 596 metres high, it may not be the largest mountain in the area but it can provide a challenging ascent in places. However, there is a car park further up for those who just want to reach the summit and take in the views. If you are looking for more of a strenuous hike, it is best to walk from the town of Abergavenny. The cricket ground is an ideal starting place.
There are a number of routes to follow. My most recent ascent started on the Rholben side. This is one of the steepest paths to gain height quickly. The final destination comes into view early on. For a long while, it does not seem to get any closer but then you will suddenly find yourself at the base of the mountain for the final push to the top.
From the trig point, it is possible to see for miles in all directions. On this particular day, the snow-capped mountains in the distance declared that winter still had a firm grip on the landscape, even in late March. The Brecon Beacons are visible in the distance including the peak of Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain.
There are so many well-defined paths that it is easy to choose a different descending route. During this walk, I selected the path through St. Mary’s Vale which meanders its way through ancient woodland including some of the oldest beech trees in the country. However, after any rainfall, be prepared to be covered in mud! Following weeks of heavy snow and rain, it was more like a flowing muddy rivulet than a footpath but usually, it is a pleasant forest trail scattered with tree roots, twigs and branches. It is especially spectacular in the autumn when the fallen leaves are frosty and crisp.
All routes lead to the lowland foothills where in spring, the lambs can be seen filling the fields with cotton wool cuteness.
The Sugar Loaf is an excellent mountain offering an introduction to the Black Mountains. There are plenty of walks available on the internet and in local books.
So, if you need to clear your mind and stimulate your creative or critical thinking, the Sugar Loaf provides the perfect balance of challenge and enjoyment.
This article first appeared in ‘Bwrdd’ – The Newsletter for Mensa Cymru, June 2018.