Level Best: Walks Without Hills

By Miriam Griffiths

Do you love being out on foot in the Brecon Beacons National Park but don’t “do” hills?  Looking for a walk on the flat but not on the road?  Is it possible to walk in the Park and enjoy a variety of scenery and views without negotiating hills, if that is your inclination?

Here are a few ideas for level or gently undulating walks within the National Park, involving the minimum of tarmac and chosen to offer a variety of landscapes. (These walks are not suggested as disabled or easy access routes; the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has a booklet on ‘Places to Visit with Easier Access’, which is available from its Information Centres).

Detailed route descriptions are not given here.  Some of the walks are at low altitudes and these may not need map-reading skills apart, perhaps, from the ability to find a grid reference in order to locate the start or a key point on the route. Others are level walks across more exposed, remote or high areas that are subject to hill weather conditions: they’ll need suitable clothing, an awareness of changeable weather according to season and, in one or two cases, basic map reading skills.  Some of the walks may involve quite rough or uneven ground in places, or stretches of boggy terrain. Unless otherwise indicated, it’s possible to park a car, responsibly, at the start points of these walks, although mention of car parking possibilities does not indicate that these are all proven secure, safe spots to leave your car.

Waterside Level Walks – canals, rivers and lakes

Flat areas alongside water are among the obvious places to look for level walks, even if it’s just a short stroll by the river Tawe at Craig y Nos country park or a wander along the Usk river at Brecon.

1. Llangynidr

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal offers stretches of pleasant towpath walking.  A short walk westwards along the canal tow path from Llangynidr takes you past the old canal houses to the three locks where there are picnic tables. A longer walk, all flat with delightful scenery, takes you on to the tunnel, a round trip of about 9 km.  You can also combine short stretches of the Usk River bank near Llangynidr or at Abergavenny with sections of the canal towpath, to make a circular walk.

2. Llanfoist

A more or less level walk on a good surface goes from Llanfoist to Govilon by a circular route by canal and old railway line. To start this 3.7 km walk, park at the car park at the commencement of the ‘Govilon Line’ just east of Llanfoist, GR SO 286133. Walk along the refurbished railway line as far as Govilon Wharf GR SO 273138 which you reach soon after crossing the bridge over the Beaufort road. Leave the Govilon Line at this point and double back fifty yards or so to the Beaufort road, cross the bridge over the canal and take the canal path eastwards as far as Llanfoist Wharf. Here a flight of steps leads down to a track, then turn left and follow the track which turns into a lane leading back to the Llanfoist car park.

3. Llanfrynach

A pretty, linear, short riverside walk is along the Nant Menasgin river at Llanfrynach.  Park near Llanfrynach church, walk up the minor road past Tyfry farm at GR SO 072258 and take the public footpath on the left.  Follow the river (and an old mill leat) through pretty woodland for a mile or so, until the path turns right, away from the river. Here a short stretch up a sloping bank will take you to two large, open fields around Tynllwyn  Farm  GR SO 062243, with great views of the eastern Beacons.  Further up the Menasgin valley is a lovely walk through forest and then National Trust land along one side of Cwm Oergwm.  But there is no parking at the start point (GR SO 063240) which is a road-climb from Llanfrynach – so you would need to arrange a lift. The full circuit of Cwm Oergwm involves climbs and descents, but you can get well up into the Cwm before faced with these.

4. Llangorse Lake

Lakes and reservoirs are well-known landscape features and are easily found on maps. To walk around the western and southern shores of Llangorse Lake, park near Llangorse village at GR SO 130273 and take the public footpath westwards from the carpark and then south through water-meadows (which can be very wet after rain), skirting the lake’s west shore. Continue round the south shore past a nature reserve and bird-hide, to Llangasty church.

5. Usk Reservoir

A good place to park for a walk around the Usk Reservoir, in the west of the Park, is at the dam north west of Trecastle (GR SN 833286). Cross the dam, turn left and walk anti-clockwise round the reservoir (full circuit 9 kms). Some of the paths are straightforward, but there are some very boggy stretches round the rim of this reservoir, and a map may well will be needed to help find all the right turnings and to negotiate the full circuit.

6. Grwyne Fawr Reservoir

If a short, not too steep climb is within your scope, the Grwyne Fawr Reservoir in the heart of the Black Mountains offers pleasant walking. Park at the Blaen-y-cwm forestry car park at the head of the Grwyne Fawr valley GR SO252285. The walk to the reservoir dam and back is just over 6 kms. Leave the car park by its northern exit (pedestrians only) and after a short stretch of tarmac, take the track that rises on the left. After an initial steepish rise the track levels out and leads you to the top of the reservoir dam which you can cross. The route back is to retrace your steps which will reward you with a view that will compensate for treading over the same ground. If the weather is fine you might be tempted, having reached the dam, to walk on to the northern end of the reservoir or even make it as far as the escarpment. This does involve a bit of a climb, but not a steep one, and you will be rewarded at the escarpment with splendid views of the Wye Valley and the Radnorshire Hills and beyond. From the car park to the escarpment and back it is 14kms.

Level walks with Grand views

For walks with big views, you usually need to get up to higher ground or onto open areas. The flat area around the National Park Visitor Centre at Libanus is well-known for its views of the Beacons.

1. The Gaer and Revenge Stone

Ridge walks are always special: a southerly section of the Ffwyddog Ridge, which stands between the Honddu and Grwyne Fawr valleys in the Black Mountains, offers some excellent views.  From Llanfihangel Crucorney drive through Stanton village; at the Queens Head Inn turn left uphill and park at Grid Ref SO 299222: there’s space for a car to park responsibly a few yards before the gated ridge track begins just below the Gaer ancient fort. Follow this broad track northwards as far as the ‘Revenge Stone’ (after which the way climbs to Garn Wen and Bal Bach); the return walk from the Gaer to the Revenge Stone is about 6 kms.

2. Trecastle

Further west, a glorious short walk with dramatic views starts north west of Trecastle, Grid Ref SN 845300, where there is space for a couple of cars without obstructing the gateway. Walk from here (the end of the Roman Road) to the two Roman camps and back, passing a stone circle on the way. This is an exposed area – take a map and don’t take risks with bad weather; the return trip is about 6 kms.

3. The Far West

In the far west of the Park is a little-known circular 5 km route with views of the Towy valley and Cerreg Cennen Castle for which a map is also advised.  Park at the Bwlch Gors, GR SN 694228, and walk along the track through forest and meadow. Below the ridge go west to the cross roads at the top of the hill named Cennen Towers. Return along a little used road via Dafadfa-Isaf Farm and then a farm track past Blaen Llynnant Farm.

4. Find the Chartists’ Cave!

This walk offers an opportunity to practice map and compass skills.  Drive up the B4560 Beaufort Road from Llangynidr. Parking at one of the lay-bys when you reach the high ground is possible, though not necessarily advised by all who know the area well; but if you park a little lower down at the safer parking area at the top of the hairpin bends at GR SO 157171 some climbing on foot is involved to reach the level moorland area higher up. There are good views from the paths which converge on the Trig Point which is at GR SO 147159.  If you want to seek out the Chartists’ cave, locate the cave on your map (it’s about 4 kms west of the road) and use map and compass to find it.