The third and most southerly section of Offa’s Dyke provides Marilyn Man with a solitary, but nevertheless significant, tick. Point 703, or to give it its more popular name, Black Mountain, stands astride the England/Wales boundary and offers the ticker a positive orgy of self-congratulation. For it is not only a Marilyn in its own right but also the County Top of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Moreover, at 2306 feet it makes the plethora of lists, ranging from Bridges to Nuttall, that list the English and Welsh hills that top 2000 feet. All of which is a good job since as a summit it would be flattering to describe it as negligible. Its exact location seems to be anyone’s guess and, on my last visit, the efforts of an optimistic cairn-builder looked as if it would blow over in the gentlest of breezes.
There are two ways to the top – the “Easy Way” and the “Easier Way”. The former requires you to tear yourself away from the delights of Hay-on-Wye and follow the Offa’s Dyke Path passing Hen-Allt Common with its population of increasingly rare meadow saffron, Cadwgan Farm and the burial place at Twyn y Beddau. Finally, Craswall Common is traversed and the Hatterrall Ridge is reached and followed to the summit. The alternative is to drive up to and over Craswall Common to a convenient parking spot in Gospel Pass and climb the remaining 600 feet to the summit of Hay Bluff and the Hatterrall Ridge. Hay Bluff has an excellent view of the surrounding countryside and as its dragon-emblazed cairn shows is firmly ensconced in Wales. It is a pity it is not a hundred feet higher as then the miserable Point 703 could be consigned to the ticker’s dustbin and the combined shires of Hereford and Worcester might have a more fitting County Top.
However, I need to emphasise that my condemnation of the particular does not extend to the Black Mountains in general. The true nature of the terrain can be found in The Long Walks, compiled by Ken Wilson and Richard Gilbert. Here Phil Cooper describes a 30-mile expedition that takes in fifteen peaks all over 2000 feet. Such a feat is possible because, as he says, “there exists a network of easy paths all over these hills and, because of the lack of re-ascent along the main ridges, a long distance can be covered easily in a long day”. Even if you feel Cooper’s route is too ambitious it is well worth looking at the map to get the lie of the land. You will soon see that by cutting a few corners you can devise a route that is tailored to your needs.
This third part of the odyssey brings us to the end of the Offa Dyke Marilyns, but that is not to say that there is nothing else to attract the walker’s attention. One such is to be found in Wilson’s and Gilbert’s companion volume Classic Walks. It stretches the twenty miles from Knighton to the point where The Dyke descends into the plain of Montgomery at the Blue Bell Inn. En route it crosses at 1418ft Llanfair Hill, the highest point on the actual earthwork itself. The written description is by Lord Hunt of Llanfair Waterdine who describes this section as “the finest stretch of the entire 168-mile length between the estuaries of Severn and Dee”. Of course all things are relative, but it is encouraging to discover that the conqueror of the highest point in the world can still enthuse over one of the lowest.