WORK UP AN APPETITE OR WORK OFF THE EXCESSES… YOUR CHOICE!
The Bear is such a great place – superbly situated to allow you to work up an appetite for a Christmas meal or (if after the event) to work off the excesses! My favourite way of doing this is by walking… and one of my favourite routes is to climb to the top of Table Mountain. Starting straight from the Bear, the walk is straightforward and relatively easy, with lots of interest and stunning views. It’s about 7kms (4 miles) with 350m (1150feet) of ascent – tough enough to make you think, but not so tough as to make you wish you’d stayed in the bar!
Overlooking Crickhowell to the north, and set in a commanding position, Table Mountain was once an important hill fort, and its Welsh name – Crug Hywel – has become anglicised to Crickhowell. Crug Hywel means Hywel’s Fort, and according to local tradition, the Hywel in question was Hywel Dda, also known as Hywel the Good – one of the most important people of early Welsh history. The grandson of Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great), Hywel Dda was born towards the end of the ninth century, and by about 942AD he had claimed the title “King of all Wales”. He is also credited with creating Wales’ first formal legal system, a unifying force in an often troubled land, and one that remained intact until the Act of Union with England in 1536. However, although this is an imposing hillfort and is obviously an important site that may well have been used by Hywel Dda, the fortress itself predates him by over a thousand years, and its origins are lost in the mists of time. Additionally, and despite what many of the locals might tell you, it is now generally accepted in scholarly circles that the Hywel referred to is not Hywel Dda after all, but Hywel ap Rhys of Morgannwg, who lived around the same time (c 830 – 886AD).
To follow the route, walk out of the Bear and turn right along the main road, carefully negotiating the very narrow section of pavement. Walk past the Shell Petrol Station and cross Llanbedr Road, then continue along the main road for about 300m to reach the primary school, at the far end of which you turn right up a footpath leading to the small parking area outside the school. Walk past the school, and where the street swings right, continue straight ahead along a narrow alley between houses, then do the same at the next street, soon emerging by a large gate. Gain the rough track on the far side of this, then climb over a stile at the top of the bank ahead (to the left of the gate) to reach a muddy area where there are often donkeys. Continue straight ahead following a faint path up the left side of the fields, eventually merging with a slightly more substantial track coming in from the right.
Continue now along the right side of a delightful wooded valley – the Cwmbeth Dingle –eventually emerging from the woodland without too many difficulties at a gate leading to a pleasant meadow.
Cross the stream (not usually a problem), and follow the faint path along its left bank. At the far end of the meadow, the stream runs between stone walls and the path goes up the stream – literally! This only lasts for a short section (you can negotiate it without wet feet in all but the most inclement of weather), and the path soon bears left away from the stream and continues between walls to an obvious sheepfold. Leave the sheepfold via the opening on the right (upslope), and follow the wall and obvious path up to the right onto a terrace where there are the scant remains of some old rifle-range butts. From here, a good path leads onwards, keeping fairly close to an ancient stone wall to the right, soon reaching the top of the ridge ahead where it is a simple matter to gain the sloping, flat summit of Table Mountain with its ancient fortifications. The views from here are superb in virtually every direction, and it is worth walking right around the top of the “walls”.
Exploration over, it is best to leave via the old “gateway” through the ditch and rampart system on the eastern side of the mountain, and then descend via any of several routes to reach a good path leading down to the right. This path works its way around the southern slopes of the mountain, eventually reaching a gate and stile giving access to an often damp track through the woods. Climb this stile and walk down track beyond, soon reaching a stile on the left leading to a faint path that descends the left side of the field beyond. At the bottom, cross another stile and descend the left side of the next field, then cross yet another stile and follow the left side of the final field to reach a stile leading to a sunken track between hedges. Follow this track to its end, go through the gate on the right, and continue straight head and into the farmyard. Turn left and walk down the farm road to reach a lane, where you should turn right.
Carefully follow the lane (it is surprisingly busy and there is no pavement!), bear left at the Y junction, then continue past houses to a T junction, where you turn right. Go straight on at the mini-roundabout, and enter Standard Street, the name of which commemorates the fact that in 1485, Sir Richard Evans mustered 3,000 local men here under his standard before marching in support of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Local tradition has it that the men drank to their success at the nearby Bear Hotel before setting out. After your journey you may well like to honour this tradition! So continue to the end of the road, turn right, pass the excellent Crickhowell Adventure shop, and enter the Bear Hotel.
Kevin Walker is a “Friend of The Bear” a local and a local mountain guide. You can find more great walks on his website http://www.mountain-activities.com/