Andrew Swift goes in search of a mountain to climb and discovers one with enough craggy slopes and expansive views to dispel any gloomy throughts about the approaching winter months
The mountain in question is not particularly high, and doesn’t require serious climbing gear. High above Abergavenny, Sugar Loaf Mountain is a mere 90 minutes from Bath by car or train. There is a choice of a relatively short walk of around four miles and one more than twice that length.
THE SHORT WALK
The shorter option involves driving part way up the mountain and walking the rest of the way. Even this, though, is no gentle stroll. The final assault on the summit is a scramble up rocky crags. Robust footwear is essential, and extreme care needs to be taken, especially on the way down.
If you are up for the challenge, head for Abergavenny and drive through the town along the A40. After leaving the 30mph zone, take the first right along Pentre Road 250m further on (SO283150). Turn left after 200m, left again at a T junction and after a mile and a half park in a National Trust car park (SO 268167; NP7 7LA).
Having parked, continue walking along the lane. Just before it curves left through a gate to Llyweddrog Farm (SO266169), carry on up a grassy track beside a wall, and, as you climb, the Sugar Loaf will come into view ahead. When the wall ends, bear left along a grassy track. When this forks, fork right to carry straight on. Carry on at a crosstrack, but, when you come to another broad track crossing at an oblique angle, bear left (SO265178). The track soon divides, but take either route to climb to the rocky slopes leading to the summit. After climbing steeply, bear right along a gentler track for the final few metres, to be rewarded by incomparable views in every direction (SO272187).
From here, retrace your steps for the quickest way back, although other routes to the car park can be identified from an OS map.
THE LONGER WALK
For the longer walk, either drive to Abergavenny or take the train. One word of warning – it starts by following a well-walked path, popular with dog walkers, alongside the River Usk. However, this goes through fields where you may encounter a bull and longhorn cattle. I experienced no problems, and none seem to have been reported, but it is something to bear in mind.
If driving to Abergavenny, park in Byefield Lane Car Park (SO297141; NP7 5DL), which is free except on Tuesdays. Follow a footpath from the south-west corner of the car park across Castle Meadows and turn right alongside the river to Llanfoist Bridge. If arriving by train, turn left out of the station and right at the end of the road. After 250m, when you come to Fosterville Crescent, cross the road and go down a footpath to the left of Mill Close. Go through a kissing gate (KG) into Castle Meadows. After 50m, bear right through a gate, cross a footbridge, bear left and follow a path alongside the river to Llanfoist Bridge.
At Llanfoist Bridge (SO291139), climb steps to the road, cross over (easier if you head down to the roundabout), go down steps and through a gate to carry on alongside the river.
After crossing a stile, carry on along a narrow path and turn left over a footbridge. A little further on, cross a narrow footbridge, continue over three more stiles, and after crossing a fourth, turn right alongside the fence (SO273145).
Carry on across three more stiles and turn left along a lane. Carry on for 1200m, ignoring a turning on the right, and at the main road, cross and head up a lane with a sign forbidding vehicular access to the Sugar Loaf (SO267155).
Follow the lane as it winds steeply uphill for 900m, and when you come to a gate, go through it and head straight on between barns to go through another gate. Carry on beside a fence and through a gate into woodland. After going through another gate, the lane – now little more than a track – steepens again.
As you leave the woods, continue uphill, but, after going through a gate at Pen-y-Graig Farm (SO259168), turn right past the farmhouse and on through gateways along a metalled track.
After 800m, go through a gate past Llyweddrog Farm and turn left up a grassy track alongside a wall. As you climb, you pass the treeline and the Sugar Loaf comes into view ahead.
When the wall ends, bear left along a grassy track. When it forks, fork right to carry straight on. Carry on at a crosstrack, but, when you come to another broad track crossing at an oblique angle, bear left (SO265178). When the track divides, take either route leading to the rocky slopes below the summit. After climbing steeply, bear right along a gentler track for the final few metres to the trig point (SO272187).
Nothing prepares you for the views that break upon you in every direction, and the thought that you have climbed all the way from that distant town huddled in a cleft of the hills should be a source of some satisfaction. All that remains is to scramble down the boulder-strewn slopes at the southern end of the ridge and head back towards it, following the track winding across the moorland.
After 750m, carry straight on at a crosstrack, and shortly afterwards, when the path forks, fork right (SO277178). Soon the views disappear as you enter oak woodland on the steep slopes of St Mary’s Vale. When the track meets a lane, carry on along it, but, after 500m, when it swings left, cross a stile to the left of a gateway and head through a field (SO287159). A stile at the end leads on to a path, which after 200m drops down to a lane. Carry on along it in the same direction, ignoring turnings to right and left, and after 1000m turn left at the main road.
For refreshment of the liquid variety, the Station Hotel, a little way along on the left, is an unspoilt gem, with well-kept beer and comfortable seats (SO295145). Unfortunately, the station it served closed 60 years ago, so there is no option but to carry on along the main road and after 250m turn right by the war memorial along Frogmore Street.
For the car park, turn first right along Baker Street. For the station, carry straight on through the town for 1100m before turning left up Station Road.
Andrew Swift is the author of On Foot in Bath: Fifteen Walks Around a World Heritage City and co-author, with Kirsten Elliot, of Ghost Signs of Bath.
Short walk (from NT car park): 4 miles
Approximate time: 2.5 hours
Long walk (from Abergavenny): 10 miles
Approximate time: 5.5 hours
Essential items: Robust footwear, water, packed lunch, OS map OL13
Rail services: details of the journey from Bath to Abergavenny, involving a change at Newport, can be found at nationalrail.co.uk
Refreshments: Station Hotel, Brecon Road, Abergavenny NP7 5UH: open from 5pm on Mon and Tue, and from 2pm on other days