Rolling gently upwards onto the bulk of the Black Mountains, the Cat’s Back offers lush wide views over the English border.
Truly I cannot believe I’ve never done this walk before. The Easter weekend saw us travel back to Wales from North Yorkshire and we were treated to a very sunny weekend. Long walks have become the norm for myself and Tom since we got Flo last September – she has endless energy so a good weekend run is essential – so of course we were going to head out.
This weekend the walk of choice was the Cat’s Back, a ridgeline on the Offa’s Dyke walk, which climbs gently up to the back of Hay Bluff.
Starting from the familiar car park below Hay Bluff we started the hefty climb onto the wedge that is Hay Bluff. This climb is a little bit of a leg burner – you’re heading straight up for the first ten minutes before the path swings around to the right for a more gentle ascent. The good news is that this is the worst of the climbing. Once you’re up you’re pretty much up. The flat path spreads out before you to the trig point, sporting the red Welsh dragon.
If Hay Bluff is your destination then you could kick back and relax, looking out over never ending views of mid-Wales. Hay-on-Wye sits nestled away far down in the valley below and the hills of Painscastle roll out behind it into the distance. Cast your gaze to the left and on a clear day you’ll see Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du creating a dramatic kink in the horizon.
Following the path onwards we reached a marker for the Offa’s Dyke path. Here you can go three ways. Turn immediately to your left and follow the flagstones back down the mountain to where you started from or go straight ahead, up and over the rise. For this walk however, we were heading straight between the two to a less obvious path that cuts around the side of the hill ahead of you.
At a small cairn, we cut to the right, following a small path down into the valley. The path soon turned from soft grassy track to more rocky terrain, dropping quickly away. As the terrain levelled out we followed tracks with hillsides draped on either side all the way to a small mountain road.
Turning left along this road, we walked for another mile or so before following a sign for a picnic area. It’s here that you must brace yourself for another climb – although not as stretching as the initial haul up Hay Bluff.
Reaching the car park and picnic area, we passed quickly through to the start of the Cat’s Back – the part of the walk we’d been looking forward to the most. The sun had brought people out in crowds and the ridge was pretty busy – a fact that shocked the rest of my family as apparently you would normally only ever see a handful of people on the entire walk.
The thing about the Black Mountains is that the climbing is always steep to start with but it’s over pretty quickly and then the amble along the tops is delightfully pleasant. I’ll let the photos below do the talking…
Once you reach the end of the ridge, you end up just following the path with the drop to your right and you’ll soon spot the small cairn you turned at earlier in the walk. Once you come to that same standing stone marking the Offa’s Dyke route, you follow the arrow and the flagstones on the path down the hill. At this point you’re more than welcome to head back the way you came up but for me personally, my knees like a less-creaky and toe-stubbing descent.
This is definitely a walk that I’ll be doing again as it’s a really nice leg stretch for both the dog as well as Tom and I. It’s a 10 mile loop (roughly, according to Strava…) and it took us just over 4 hours, including a couple of stops.
Please note that my directions are vague and if you do this walk you must have planned your route properly before you go and use a map.
Walking with doggos!
As with the Brecon Beacons it’s a very exposed landscape and the dogs had a hard time in the heat. While we are still in April, there was water around but it’s definitely worth bringing plenty of water if you’re undertaking this walk with your four-legged friends!