With a gig in Bristol on 1 June and another in Hay starting on 3 June, I had a day spare, and decided to spend it walking from Abergavenny-on-Usk to Hay-on-Wye along the ridge that separates England from Wales.
The contrast is very striking. On the English side (to the right), small fields bounded by hedges, rich in hawthorn blossom at this time of year; on the Welsh side (to the left), the looming bulk of the Black Mountains. (The pictures don’t do it justice: it was sunny but extremely hazy and everything except the foreground was greyed out.) From here, the story that the British retreated from the invading Anglo-Saxons into their mountain fastness seems quite credible.
(In fact there is evidence, from Gildas and others, that a post-Roman British civilisation continued in the west of England for some time after the Anglo-Saxon advent, perhaps defended by the real King Arthur. Certainly Gildas, who sounds very much like a fiery Old Testament prophet, belabours the British kings of his day for their wickedness, which is being punished by God by the advances of the enemy.)
I have walked this path a couple of times before. Once, with my daughter, it was sunny but there were scattered showers on the English side, and we were treated to the sight of rainbows below us.
There is quite a hike out of Abergavenny before the ridge is reached, along small roads where the hedges are filled with bluebells, buttercups, red and white campion, eyebright, forget-me-not, bugle, wild strawberry, foxgloves, and many more wildflowers.
A steep climb brings you to the top of the ridge, which gently rises from 531m at Hatterrall Hill to 702m just before Hay Bluff. The Offa’s Dyke Path national trail runs along the top, forming the border between Wales and England. On the ridge, the vegetation is blueberries (not ripe yet, alas) and heather, with some cotton grass around the boggy pools. It is grazed by sheep and horses.
The hardest part of the day is the descent into Hay at about 75m. It is hard on tired muscles, and cruelly deceptive: you think you have reached the bottom but find there is quite a bit more.