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Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Snowy Cat's Back

It's probably been two years or more since I last hiked Black Hill in Herefordshire. Now there seem to be several different high spots in the area all known as Black Hill, all even more confusingly located within The Black Mountains, which are of course found at the opposite end of the Brecon Beacons National Park from the entirely unrelated Black Mountain. For the avoidance of doubt, the hill I climbed today with Laura was the one more commonly known as The Cat's Back.

Snowy tracks

We made slow progress initially, slip-sliding up the steep prow of the hill through a mixture of fresh-fallen snow and mud that was both the colour and consistency of diarrhoea. Thankfully we'd both had our breakfasts before this thought occurred. The climb took us past a small group of hardy-looking hill ponies, seemingly not bothered by the near-freezing temperatures and as we rose higher we gained the ridge proper.

There had clearly been a few people up before us this morning, and with pretty clear skies above it was easy to see why. The view from atop the ridge takes in the deep and remote Olchon valley to the west, while looking to the south and east a broad panorama stretches across Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and into Gloucestershire.

A mosaic of green fields, shaded subtly differently from one another, contrasted sharply with the brilliant white of the snow on the ridge. It seemed a world away although we had only walked a short distance.

A knee-deep frozen bog

A strong and chilly westerly breeze gained in strength as we continued along the ridge and with the path straying close to the easternmost edge of the ridge, we decided to move towards the centre. We found a frozen bog that in spring would have been close to impassable. With a crisp coating of snow on the surface though, we were able to make good progress, even though it came to knee deep on a few occasions!

After skirting around a few frozen ponds we caught sight of the trig point marking the top of the hill and made straight for it. The wind had gently sculpted the snow into some beautiful formations in a couple of places, so I took a couple of snaps of one of my favourite: a rippled effect that reminded me of an oyster shell.

And then back down

We didn't have a great deal of time on our hands, so rather than heading around to the next ridge we were content to return by the same route. It seemed that we timed our walk about right, as we had the hill to ourselves all the way to the top, but then passed 4 or 5 groups during the descent as the afternoon sun began to melt the thinnest patches of snow.

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