I’ve recently returned from a fabulous week in Wales, mixing work and play with performances at the Presteigne Festival and a few days in the mountains around Snowdonia. Running the horseshoe from Llanberis via Moel Eilio, Snowdon, and Tryfan was amazing (if a little crowded in places), however perhaps the highlight of my trip was a fairly short and extremely rewarding hack up Black Mixen in the Radnor Forest area of mid Wales. At 650m it’s lower than many summits in this wonderful country, but the 4.5km from my starting point in the peaceful village of New Radnor to the top encompassed everything I love about fell running, wrapped up in a tough but manageable blanket of lactic acid and burning lungs.
From the village centre, take the minor road heading northwest, which starts to climb almost immediately. Follow this for just over a kilometre, right to the end, and keep to the left (following the bridleway sign) when it splits. You’ll pass through a gate – a welcome respite after the steep initial climb – and continue on the obvious grassy track that skirts the edge of the woods. You can’t fail to miss the path in the summer as a large area of bracken prohibits any exploration down into the valley on your left, but as it is home to a private weapons testing facility I’m sure it’s best not to stray too far. I saw no evidence of any on my run, but I’m told there are very clear red flags encircling the danger area when live firing is in progress, just like any other MoD range.
Around the top of the woods, and in the shadow of the large knoll Whimble (599m), the gradient eases and a kilometre or so of downhill helps get the heart rate back under control. It’s not marked on the map, but there is a stile and a well-trodden path up to the summit of Whimble from this point.
At the head of the valley the bridleway turns sharply to the right and shortly after there is a gate. Pass through this and make a beeline for the top of the hill, turning left when you get to the track – it’s a very steep climb but it saves a switchback. At this point I’d like to offer a Top Tip, based on my (painful) experience: DON’T BOTHER TAKING THE DIRECT PATH TO THE MAST. It looks like it’s clear and quicker than staying on the vehicle track, but it’s not and you’ll be fighting your way through all manner of potholes and spiky bushes. A path to the trig point presents itself round the corner near Little Creigiau and it’s a much more pleasant experience.
After catching my breath at the top, I retraced my steps along the vehicle track to the head of the valley and then picked up the bridleway heading southeast – first up a gentle incline then down a flowing grass track towards the farm buildings. It’s only a short diversion from here to climb Whimble if you fancy it, and I’d certainly recommend you do as the views from the top are far finer than those from the trig at Black Mixen.
The return to New Radnor is made by following the not-immediately-obvious footpath down the hill to Jack’s Green Farm, then the bridleway round the side of Knowle Hill.
I can’t begin to tell you what a pleasure this run was. There are surely few things so liberating as being alone in the hills, with the wind in your hair and freedom to roam. I’m certain there are dozens of routes as satisfying as this in Shropshire and Powys, and I wish I had time to explore them all! If you know of any – anywhere in the country! – please do comment below or get in touch on my contact page.