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The Skirrid mountain

The Skirrid mountain may sound like something out of the Famous Five and indeed it does have an air of mystery about it. There was once an Iron age fort on the top and later a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St. Michael, and faint remains of both can be seen to this day. There are even stories of angels and demons about it, and it is also called the 'Holy Mountain'.

More correctly, it is called Ysgyryd Fawr, Skirrid Fawr or the Big Skirrid, as it has a smaller sister (the Little Skirrid, or Ysgyryd Fach) just to the south, though when you say just 'The Skirrid' everyone (except for the pendantic) will know where you mean. In Welsh, Ysgyryd means 'divided hill'. 'Ysgariad' means 'divorce' as well as 'division' ('ysgar' means 'to split'). Alternatively, from the same root, 'ysgryd' means 'a pile of shards'.

The mountain is 1595 feet (486m) above sea level in Ordnance Survey location SO330182. It is at the southern edge of the Black Mountains, which lie in the East of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The nearest town is Abergavenny.

The Skirrid looks different from every angle, which has intrigued artists and photographers as well as geologists and the walkers for many years. This is partly due to it being a long ridge and partly because there are two separated 'lumps' that separated from the mountain top during the Ice Age. One of the stories about the northern 'tump' is that the devil tried to seduce St Michael into evil ways, but when the saint refused, Satan stamped on the mountain, causing the lump of rock to slip down from the top.

There is a relatively easy walk up and along the mountain from the car park on the B4521 (SO 330165), just up the road from Wern Ddu golf course. The first part of the walk is quite steep and can take anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes depending on your fitness, but once you have reached the top of the ridge, the going is very easy. If you are planning on walking up from here on a fine day (or even a relatively dull one), do arrive early as the car park is quite small and quickly fills up. And no wonder, as the panoramic views from the top are quite astonishing, with vistas right down to the Bristol Channel as well as towards Monmouth and up into the Black Mountains.

There is also a walk all the way around the mountain, but you still have to climb up to this and the pathway can be quite wet and muddy at times. Still, it makes a lovely stroll even if you miss most of the views to be gained from the top. A third route is to walk up to the top and then fork down to the right just before the summit and then walk around the north side of the mountain back down to the car park.

On the opposite side of the mountain lies Llanvihangel Crucorney, where you will find the Skirrid Mountain Inn, the oldest pub in Wales which is reputedly haunted by the spirits of those hung from the stair joist in the days when it also housed a courtroom (you can still see the rope marks on the joist). A good day's walk is over to the inn for lunch and then back again in the afternoon.

The car park is also the start of the Beacons Way, a walk that will take you 95 miles (152km) across the Brecon Beacons National Park. The first day takes you ten miles from the Skirrid to the wonderful Llanthony Priory, in the Llanthony Valley. Eight days later, you will arrive exhausted but elated in Bethlehem, near Llandeilo.

The Skirrid has also found fame in the award-winning Skirrid Hill book of poems by Owen Sheers, which is widely used in schools across the country.

Every year, the Three Peaks challenge is a foot race up and down the three main peaks around Abergavenny (60m), which are the Skirrid (486m), the Sugar Loaf (596m) and the Blorenge (561m), all of which have some very steep parts as well as gentler slopes. It is clearly not for the faint of heart.