St Mary's Vale at the foot of the Sugar Loaf

A shaft of light falls through autumn trees near the Sugar Loaf, Monmouthshire

Tucked beneath the distinctive summit of the Sugar Loaf Mountain lies a world at utter contrast to the peak’s rugged wilderness. St Mary’s Vale is nestled between the rounded ridges of the Llanwenarth and Rholben hills, where miles of wonderful oak and beech trees cling to the valley sides and the Nant (stream) Iago begins its journey.

Seeing the woods for the trees

These wonderful woodlands provide a canopy from the rest of the world. In spring the vivid green of so many trees forms nature’s own majestic cathedral, with the sunlight streaming through creating dappled shade and bouncing off the water of the Iago as it makes its way down into the town of Abergavenny.
 
Dead leaves form a natural carpet, and in autumn the rich greens slowly turn into burnished reds, oranges and yellows.
 
Large areas of these woodlands are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Special Areas of Conservation and the vale holds a large population of the rare red wood ant.
 

How to get there

From the A40 turn into Chapel Road (turn left from the west, and right from the east). The road bears round to the right and turns into a country lane that becomes tree canopied and is fairly steep. When the trees end, take the first left between a house and a farm and continue. Just before the road splits at a small junction there is a small car park surrounded by conifers on the left.
 
To head straight into the heart of St Mary’s Vale, take the path on the left. The path on the right will take you up the east side of the valley, out onto the top of the Rholben.