‘Running in the Hills Weekend’ – Skirrid Fawr Saturday

Friendly Ponies

Or How to Run a Campsite, How to Lose a Mountain and How to See Ghosts…

We wake to a lovely sunny day and the sound of male chatter. Bill, the warden stands, arms folded gossiping to all and sundry while his wife Julie works around him. “It’s ok”, he tells me, “I got her cleaning stuff out for her…”.

We head out on what should have been the easiest of easy miles to the Skirrid. We see the mountain loom up on the left and then disappear as we end up on the notorious A40 heading to Hereford. “How can you lose a mountain?”, I ask as we search desperately for a roundabout. Finally after much swearing and threatening of death to all gadgets we arrive at the foot of the Skirrid or Ysgyryd Fawr. Also known as the Holy Mountain or the Sacred Hill Ysgyryd describes the hill’s shape and means something that has shivered or been shattered. Legend has it that part of the mountain broke off at the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion.

This is the last outcrop of the Black Mountains. We walk through Caer Wood and pick up the Beacons Way to the summit where we come on the remains of St Michael’s Church which dates back to medieval times. The Roman Catholic church was used during the 17th century as a secret location for mass during the period of persecution. The 360 degree views from the top are amazing and we stand just watching the clouds slip softly across the vast bowl of the sky.

We scramble down the steep slope at the St Michael’s Church end and walk around the base on a narrow track that winds through vast swathes of bluebells. The first clumps of wild garlic are flowering among fronds of fresh, young green ferns and moss clothes the trees and rocks. Out across the valley we can see the distinctive shape of Pen y Fal. Millie trots along oblivious to the beauty around her but immersed in the joy of sticks, muddy streams and digging out roots until with a most unexpected bark she stops stock still and peers into the trees. “Maybe it’s a snake”, says Darrell. “Run and get her”, he adds and if he doesn’t actually back off I certainly see no forward motion on his part. I gird my loins and come face to face with – stones. After some careful exploration we find the outlines of buildings buried in the deep green undergrowth. “Perhaps it was ghosts she saw”, says Darrell as he clambers over the remains of mossy walls and wanders through empty doorways. As there is no sign it was a church we wonder if once a house or a farm stood here, hard up against the side of the mountain.

We sit out a sudden rainstorm eating chocolate and listening to David Gray and then when the skies clear we take a walk alongside the river that runs behind the campsite. We cross a sheep bridge and come back through a field of excessively friendly ponies and gangs of playful lambs.

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