Little hills grab the best views. It was with this thought that I began my ascent of Allt yr Esgair from the car park of the local Community Hall. There are many examples of where this is undoubtedly true, Loughrigg Fell and Stac Pollaidh immediately spring to mind. And the opposite side of the coin - that big hills don’t - is often equally true. Much of the eastern and central Highlands is really a continuous plateau, only broken by fissures when the ice age decided to call it a day. Anyone who has wandered around the tops to the south-west of Dalwhinnie or even the challenging Ring of Tarf would have to admit that what is on view is all a much of a muchness.
There is however a caveat to the general principle outlined above. The definition of a little hill must include Dawson’s rule regarding relative height – a fall of at least 500 feet on all sides. This norm means that a hill no matter how lowly will stand on its own two (or 500) feet and not be a mere excrescence on some mightier slope. It also seems to me as a non-geologist that the hills I have climbed in the United Kingdom fall into two categories. They are either part of some great mass that has been eroded over time into tops that can be separately identified, or individual sproutings that have been thrust to the surface through some subterranean rumblings of the Earth’s innards. The little hills which fit the introductory claim seem to me to belong to the latter category.
In any event, Allt yr Esgair wins the coconut. Just east of the town of Brecon, it is ideally situated as a view point, splitting the Wye and Usk valleys. It is also part of the Three Rivers Ride so a clear track runs up one side of the ridge and down the other. For the less agile, that means there are no awkward stiles but, instead, well-maintained gates with easy to use catches. The lower part is mainly wooded but there are various breaks in the foliage that allow framed snapshots of what is in store. The general effect being somewhat similar to the Victorian ‘tourist stations’ where the participant stood with his or her back to the panorama then viewed the chosen scene through the confines of a mirror. Once through the final gate, the trees fall away and the vista begins to open out. Finally, having climbed the final hummock (an Iron Age fort), you can come to a halt and take stock. In front of you are the Black Mountains, bracketed by Waun Fach to the north and the distinctive Sugar Loaf to the south. Turn around and at your back is the impressive sweep of the Brecon Beacons. As a bonus, you now have a buzzard’s eye view of the twin valleys of Wye and Usk, the former wending its way to Hay and the latter to Abergavenny.
On the summit there is not the usual viewfinder but, placed in a gap in a wall, a pictorial representation of the view north over Langorse Lake. Once all this and perhaps some suitable refreshment has been taken in, the ideal would be to continue along the ridge to the A40. But this would leave you a long way from home. Two cars would help, but perhaps the best plan is to walk along the ridge for as long as you think fit, then turn and enjoy not only the viewfrom the opposite direction, but also the prospect of hospitality at the conveniently placed Old Ford Inn.