This week, we turn to Fred Hando’s ‘Rambles in Gwent’ where he climbs Twmbarlwn or ‘Twyn Barllwm’ as he writes, using the Welsh spelling.

HOW many Newport boys of twelve years or less have climbed Twyn Barllwm?

Such an ascent bestowed merit in the old days, but I believe that the 1,374 feet climb is not essential now to the member-ship of any gang.

Part of the fascination of the mountain is the big Tump, surrounded by the elliptical trench of a prehistoric camp 200 yards long and 80 yards wide. The climb to the trench is easy, but the final scramble “up the Tump” tests the wind of most adults.

Take your one-inch map of South Monmouthshire and prick pins into the centres of the Gaer, Twyn Barllwm and Lodge Camp encampments.

The Gaer and Lodge Camps stand three miles apart, and each of them is five miles from Twyn Barllwm. Our forefathers laid down tracks from camp to camp which are still in use to-day.

The Western Valley bus will drop you at the Cefn “Forge,” whence a short walk will lead you over the canal bridge into open meadows. Twyn Barllwm lies ahead, but look backwards; the field track which you are treading - an immemorial right of way - certainly directs from the Gaer to the Tump.

When you have to leave the fields in order to cross a road, diverge slightly to the left, and with a little trouble you will find a vestige of the ancient track itself—a stone-lined hollow-way. Get back then on to the right of way, and sense the nobility and grandeur of Twyn Barllwm as you approach him.

If it is a still evening in summer or autumn you may see the slopes change from green to blue, and, with after-glow of gold above, take that magical trans-formation into royal purple. If you have time, turn aside for Nightingale Hollow—Pant-yr-Eos.

Later, at your destination, you will see the great pool nestled into its hollow, but few people take the prospect of Twyn Barllwm from Pant-yr-Eos, that prospect which seems to intensify and emphasise the rhythm of those mighty mountain shoulders. And so to the top!

The second route is of equal interest. Climbing from Caerleon, the track cuts through Lodge Camp and continues past Park Farm through the fields as a green road twenty-two feet wide leading straight through the Llantarnam Abbey grounds. Our course, however, is to the left when we reach the road, and soon we cross the main Pontypool road at Croes-y-Mwyalch (“The Cross-roads of the Blackbirds”).

Now we are in Henllys Vale, where the spirit of WH Davies broods among the brooklands. We pass the fifteenth-century homestead of Pentrebach (“the little village”) and climb the steep ascent to Castell-y-Bwch (Buck’s Castle), where we take rest and refreshment.

Then comes the drop into the warm valley, the crossing of Nant-y-Pandy, and the good climb to the summit.

Those were two routes used in ancient times to reach the Tump. Pontypool boys love the ridgeway walk, through Cwmynyscoy and Cwm Lickey, sons of Cwmcarn sing the praises of the heavenly climb along the banks of the Nant Carn; but if you live in Abercarn you will know that all other approaches to Twyn Barllwm are mean and monotonous when compared with their Gwyddon Valley, where in springtime you may see acres and acres of larches bursting into that indescribable fresh green no other tree can show.

Let us rest now on the summit and contemplate. Buried underneath us is a mighty British chieftain; so we were taught; so we believe. The modern student laughs at our gullibility and teaches his children that the Normans built the great mound in order to give them control over the Western Valley!

Sons and daughters of Gwent, can you imagine our ancestors at Risca being cowed by a battalion of cloud-cuckoos a mile away? And such a mile!

Normans forsooth! Look at the view. You gaze to the south over Uskmouth, the Severn and Somerset. Return, and pick out the sapphire jewel which is Pant-yr-Eos. Can you make out the Holms and the Monkstone, and Penarth Head?

See how many of the heights of Glamorgan and Gwent, swimming in a golden sea of light, are known to you. Rest your eyes now among the silver mists of the Carn Valley. Then explore the great hills of Brecknockshire and Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, to come to rest again on our own Wentwood and the Vale of Usk. And can you arrange for your shadow to fall on Christchurch tower?

When you have taken your fill of views, slip down the Tump and walk along the green ridgeway northwards.

Soon you will see below to the east a rectangular reservoir. Turn left and descend past a farmhouse towards the Carn Valley, and soon you will reach a wild boggy hollow formed by a landslip.

In winter this becomes a mere, known as the Pool of Avarice.

An old legend tells of a great house which stood on this spot. The mistress was basting a fowl with bacon. Outside the air was heavy and thunderous.

Suddenly there was a knock on the big door, and a gentle, tired voice - the voice of a poor cousin - implored: “Spare us food, please spare us food. We starve.”

The door was banged contemptuously, and the hungry woman retreated. But she looked back later and saw the hill lift, sway left and right, and crash. The house and all its occupants were swallowed in the maw of the landslide.

Even now, so the older shepherds aver, when you stand on the bank of the pool you may hear the groans of the lost souls below, doomed by their avarice.

This legend is told also of a mountain pool in the Black Forest of Bavaria, Folklore experts advise me that the Welsh, in their migration west across Europe, may have brought this story with them and fitted it into our own scenery. But I prefer to believe in the local origin of the story.

The Twyn Barllwm “organ” has always eluded me. During dry summers fortunate people on the Tump have heard the rolling harmony of a church organ. It may be that the wind passing over the mouths of the dried water-runnels produces musical notes.

Finally, seek the peace of Llanderfel. The foundations of the ancient church may still be traced, recalling many similar sites in the Black Mountains.

Next week we return to Fred Hando’s ‘Rambles in Gwent’ with a visit to Llanfihangel-Tor-y-Mynydd.