There are hills that, though humble in height, captivate the imagination. Places that somehow draw you back time and again to their season-changing wilderness, their lonely trails, their idiosyncratic landscapes.
Sugar Loaf (Sir Gaerfyrddin), a mere moor or two away from the endearingly odd town of Llanwrtyd Wells (of bog-snorkelling world championship and numerous other mad festivals fame), is one such place. The hill – if a hill it can be called – is just 330 metres high, and yet it rears up prominent and distinct above the valley. The A4830 unspools like a ribbon below – as romantic an A-road as you are likely to find anywhere in the country.
This is a quiet, isolated corner of Wales, where Carmarthenshire nudges its way into Powys and muscles its way north into the empty heights of the Cambrian Mountains. Other walkers are few and far between. Red kites wheel above. The surrounding landscape knits together spruce forest and a seemingly endless, enticing tapestry of bracken- and heather-cloaked moorland, which becomes an assault course of bog after rain. None of it is particularly high, but at times it can feel sheer and rugged, invigoratingly wild and peaceful – and all the more so after a dusting of fresh snow, when the tracks of foxes, hares and birds are likely to be the only ones you will see.
Sugar Loaf is a mile south of what is said to be Wales’ quietest, least-alighted-at railway station (also called Sugar Loaf, although the station is over the border in Powys) and, should you linger for long enough, you might spot a single-carriage train chugging along the Heart of Wales line – like a remnant of another era.
What to do
Climb the ridge first, naturally. It’s a short and easy climb to the summit of Sugar Loaf, doable even for families, and at the top you are rewarded with the most tremendous views of this sparsely habited, thrillingly remote swathe of Mid Wales. The top – a thin ridge defying the gradients of the surrounding valley with an abrupt and unexpected upthrust of turf reminiscent of a hill fort – leaves you feeling as if you have briefly been graced with the perspective of a bird out over this rugged upland. Dark spruce forest falls like a theatre curtain in the background and tweed-coloured moors roll above into the distance – enticing you to go further. And you probably should. A short, hourish walk takes you on a peaceful circular walk through the forest (take the wide track bearing uphill and almost due south into the forest, see the map at the bottom). Beyond this, you’ll need a copy of OS map Llanwrtyd Wells & Llyn Brianne 187, 1:25 000. You can plan some memorable off-the-beaten-track day hikes in the area – including one of our very favourites, coming soon! – but be sure to bring your own picnic. Although the way the roads run scarcely makes you think about it, it’s even possible to do a day hike through to Llyn Brianne from here. But although Sugar Loaf is a brilliant walking base, first and foremost it is a place to pause on a long trundle through back-of-beyond Wales, stretch the legs and appreciate the elements.
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Sugar Loaf, it’s 9 miles northeast and then northwest to one of our top regional beauty spots, the gentle wilderness along Abergwesyn Common
At a glance
How to get there: Straddling the border to Powys and Carmarthenshire, Sugar Loaf is right on the A483 that twists through the moors from Llandovery to Llanwrtyd Wells.
Parking: There is free parking at the base of Sugar Loaf and spaces are nearly always available.
Refreshments: There are none so be sure to bring your own. Or factor in a four-mile drive to Llanwrtyd Wells, where you’ll find a cafe and a couple of pubs.
Best time to visit: While spring to autumn bring more reliable weather generally speaking (although in fickle Wales you can really never tell), winter has its own charm, especially when there is snow on the ground. If any falls anywhere in Mid Wales, it’s usually on Sugar Loaf, being an exposed spot that catches the chilliest of the elements. The moors are best avoided after very heavy rain as they turn into one enormous bog.