Clytha – It was the middle of March and snow flurries persisted as we drove east, the hills to the north of the M4 soon had a dusting of white. We started at the National Trust car park at Clytha Park. Clytha is an18thC landscaped estate consisting of the park, house and castle near Abergavenny.
It was bitterly cold in a brisk easterly wind. Taking the footpath to the river Usk we walked south along the river, which was high and flowing very fast. Immediately we spotted mistletoe high up in the tops of many trees, outlined against the winter sky. South of Clytha castle we turned west taking footpaths across farmland and began our main ascent of the day.
Clytha Castle folly is a castellated and romantic Gothic retreat overlooking the Usk valley. William Jones, of Clytha Park, moved back to Wales in 1787 from London with the intention of creating his own personal memorial to his recently deceased wife, Elizabeth (last surviving child of Sir William Morgan of Tredegar house). The folly was designed by John Davenport. A tablet set into the wall bears the inscription ‘it was undertaken with the purpose of relieving a mind afflicted by the loss of a most excellent wife’. The impressive gateway was designed by John Nash. The castle was connected to the Park by a carriage drive that crossed the Clytha Gorge via a suspension bridge. For a time it was used by a gamekeeper. Empty since 1948, the Landmark Trust rescued it in the 1970s; it stands on the slopes of Clytha hill, at the edge of a grove of chestnut trees.
Turning north towards Twyn farm and then Whitehouse farm where we joined a road which would take us across the A40 via a bridge. The ground was very wet and heavy clods of earth decorated our boots, something we would enjoy many times on this walk. Even the lanes were flooded in places but keeping to the centre of the road we navigated them without anyone getting wet feet. We spotted a huge flock of seagulls on the edge of a pond which had formed in one field.
Soon the Skirrid, then Sugarloaf and finally the Blorenge came into view, all of them covered in snow and glowing against the dark sky. These hills were to form a backdrop to much of our walk, glowing whenever the sun touched them.
We walked through Clytha village, spring flowers and even a cherry tree bloomed lifting our spirits. It has a Roman Catholic village school, Ysgol Clytha, built in1858 and now a private house. Behind the school we were surprised to see a Roman Catholic cemetery which is still in use. The church, St Bridget’s, is at the other end of the village. Clytha village was home to the Monmouthshire polo club, the first polo club in Wales, founded 1872.
At a T junction we crossed the road to head northeast, glancing to the right we could see an impressive gateway to Llanarth Court. Hats were drawn down to eyebrow level and hoods raised as the icy wind came straight at us. Now it was lunchtime so we hunkered down behind a hedge for shelter and a short rest.
A farm had long-horned cattle, a bull and cows in the muddy farm yard looked bedraggled. Continuing we turned right at a road, walking along it for a short way and then heading across country towards Llansantffraed Court hotel, a splendid house with a fountain and picnic table in the grounds. From here a tunnel took us under the dual carriageway and back to the banks of the river Usk. Walking south we caught a glimpse of Clytha castle on the wooded hill and were soon back at the car park.
We had spotted lots of spring flowers in different locations – the last of the snowdrops, primroses, daffodils and the first swathes of anemones.
Despite the bleak and bitterly cold day it had been a lovely walk and we agreed that we felt thoroughly refreshed, if a little tired at the end. It was 8 miles with 650ft climb.
We stopped at the Secret Garden centre, Pontypool on the way home. The greenhouses were a riot of colour, as they were full to overflowing with primulas brought inside to protect them from the weather. Chickens wander freely and they were hiding under the shelving, crowing loudly as we passed. Tea and the warmth of the café were very welcome.