Sugar Loaf from Abergavenny
From the historic town of Abergavenny this challenging walk meanders through ancient parkland heather clad moorland and wooded valleys. On a fine day the pinnacle of the walk is the summit of the iconic Sugar Loaf mountain, taking in wonderful views of the surrounding countryside, stretching across to the Severn Estuary and the Brecon Beacons.
Fairfield car park, grid reference SO299305
From the A40, arrive at Fairfield car park situated next to Bailey Park in Abergavenny town centre. Turn right out of the car park along Park Avenue and take the first left to join Park Crescent. At the T-junction turn right onto Old Hereford Road, then take the first left onto Avenue Road. Continue along Avenue Road to a pedestrian path at Chapel Lane and it joins onto Pentre Road. Turn right onto Pentre Road and follow the lane directly uphill until you pass a cottage on your left with a large oak tree on your right, with the track leading to Porth-y-Parc farm to your left. This section approximately takes 45 minutes.
Follow the track to the left which takes you past Porth-y-Parc farm, beyond which you follow a narrow hedge lined footpath leading to Parc Lodge - note the National Trust Omega Sign. Parc Lodge is tenanted and is now farmed as an upland sheep and beef farm, but its origins are connected to the medieval priory in Abergavenny. As you walk this side of the farm you can still see the remnants of the medieval parkland landscape with its scatter of old trees and large open fields. The track gradually climbs along the edge of the park and passes through several gates. Please close these gates behind you.
Registered as Abergavenny Priory Deer Park, the park belonged to the Benedictine priory of Abergavenny of which only the church, now St Mary’s, on Monk Street in Abergavenny town centre survives – the adjoining Tithe Barn is also worth a visit. The priory was founded soon after the Norman Conquest by Hamelin de Balun as a daughter house to the Abbey of St Vincent at Le Mans in France.
You will reach a fork in the path underneath a group of oak trees. Take the left-hand path up the field towards a livestock corral. Enter the corral and go over the uphill stile on the left into the next open field. From here, take the left where the path forks once more, continuing out of the trees and across the field. Please note cattle graze in this field.
Still climbing and crossing the large open field you will reach the stile onto Sugar Loaf common. At this point you cross the boundary between the old Deer Park and on to the Sugar Loaf Common. It is not exactly known when the Deer Park was formed but certainly in the period 11-1300 AD. The boundary banks of the old Deer Park are clearly defined either side of the stile and gate. Originally a wooden palisade fence was constructed on top of the bank to keep the Deer from wondering. The fence was known as the park pale and hence the phrase “Beyond the Pale”.
History of the Deer Park and Common
The Deer Park and the Common have their roots in Norman medieval culture and politics – the Deer Park used for rearing meat for the Monks of Priory, the common land of the Sugar Loaf would have been what was once described as the manorial wasteland where the local farmers had access to graze stock (pigs, geese, cows, sheep), collect firewood, cut bracken and other rights. These rights continue today and were only framed in modern law during the Commons Registration Act of 1965. Local farmers still have rights to graze and collect bracken etc. The rights for people to walk and exercise have been a more recent addition.
Once on the common follow the path ahead. Turn right onto the path that you will see winds its way up to the summit of Sugar Loaf. Look behind you for views of Abergavenny and the Usk Valley. Continue up the final steep and occasionally rocky, ascent to the summit of the Sugar Loaf.
From the Sugar Loaf summit you'll be able to look down across the mountain and during summer and early autumn you can see a large expanse of purple heather. Circular patches and rough strips are regularly cut to break up the even-aged heather, slow wildfires and create a wider range of habitats for wildlife.
Once you reach the summit, head for the trig point and take in the fantastic views all around you. On a clear day you can see the Brecon Beacons, the Severn Estuary and beyond into South West England. You'll also be able to take in the surrounding Black Mountains, such as Skirrid Fawr and Hatterall Hill. After enjoying a well-deserved break, start to descend the summit along the path you followed. Where the path forks, now take the right-hand path and head towards the wildlife rich woodlands of St Mary’s Vale. This name is also linked to the medieval influences in Abergavenny. The valley is also known as Deri Fach – Deri routed to Derw which is Welsh for Oak.
When you cross the stream at the bottom of the valley, turn left and cross the stream again opposite two oak trees, heading along the path into the vale with the stream on your righthand side. You have reached the top of St Mary's Vale. Follow this path through the woodland. The oak woodland here is one of three areas of wood on the Sugar Loaf and Parc Lodge farm which are designated as the Sugar Loaf Woodlands Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Ancient trees and charcoal making
Smaller trees can be between 80 and 100 years old but you'll also see wonderful large, older trees scattered throughout the woodland. If you have time to explore this area you will see a mixture of Hawthorn, Beech, and Oak. Some of the Hawthorn are veteran trees and will be several hundred years old – which is old for a hawthorn. You may also find large oak trees (300-400 years old) within the woodland which were open grown. Over the last 500 years the woodland was managed for coppice for charcoal, and for pit props for the coal and iron ore mines of South Wales. If you look carefully you can find old charcoal burning platforms as you walk down through the vale, small levelled areas on the sloping ground where the charcoal mounds were built and fired.
Halfway through this section of the trail in St Mary’s Vale, you will come across a fork in the path in an open area. Take the right-hand path and carry along the path down into the woods again. The beech trees have established in the woodland over the last 150-200 years from the plantation at the bottom of St Mary’s Vale. Beech are naturalised in other parts of South Wales and may be the tree of the future on the Sugar Loaf as climate changes. With the climate becoming warmer and drier, this will be less favourable conditions for Oak.
After approximately 15 minutes you will reach the gate at the edge of St Mary’s Vale. Take a right and head down the track towards the road. Continue along the road until you reach Home Farm and you will see a stile ahead of you where the road bends sharply to the left. Cross the stile, following the path through two fields. Where the path rejoins the road at the bottom of the hill, retrace your way back through the lanes and streets to the start point at Fairfield car park.
Fairfield car park, grid reference SO299305
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