• Graham

It is probably true to say that Abergavenny has two hills it can consider its own. The more prominent and therefore generally better known is Sugar Loaf. As, at 1955 feet, it is almost a bona fide mountain and the paths that lead to the top are at a relatively gentle angle, it is generally fully occupied. There is no doubt that the existence of a car park at about half height enhances its popularity.

The other local resident is Ysgyrrid Fawr, lower than Sugar Loaf but demanding considerably more climbing. It too starts at a car park which, at the right time of the year, is surrounded by blackberries which we hurriedly collected in competition with a Local Authority hedge trimmer. But blackberries are merely an aperitif for the feast to come The Skirrid is one of those little big hills that once climbed is always remembered. Examples of the genre are Stac Pollaich in the North-West Highlands and Heaval on the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. In terms of height and distance they do not compare with the big beasts but have, nevertheless, a similar presence.

This presence is enhanced by the fact that over the years the Skirrid has collected a fair amount of mystical folklore. It is known locally as St Michael’s Mount and has been vested with miraculous powers of healing livestock. Although its distinctive shape was caused by a landslip, local legend has it that Noah, or rather the keel of his Ark, carved out the configuration during his nautical meanderings. When you reach the trig point, you can still see faint remains of the medieval chapel which is thought to have been a secret location for the performance of the then outlawed Roman Catholic Mass.

The route to the top works its way from the western end of the car park, first through woodland, then up the steepening hillside onto the ridge itself. Although it is possible to traverse below the ridge, it is better to attain the crest as soon as possible to take advantage of the ever-widening views which, as is often the case with little big hills, are absolutely stunning in all directions. To return you can simply retrace your steps, or to explore this hill further, drop off the steep north end and take a choice of paths back to the car park.

One of the advantages of climbing hills is that you can choose the challenge to match your abilities and over the years you begin to realise that all things are relative. Age may be taking a toll. You may no longer be able to cruise round the peaks at a brisk 5 mph, but there are dozens of less well-known smaller hills that can still give you a “big” day out and Ysgyrrid Fawr is one of them.


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