The River Usk flows through some of South Wales’ most spellbinding landscapes. Emerald-green ridges sweep up to dramatic, tabled summits. Crumbling castles and ancient fortresses bear testament to centuries of conflict. Bygone tram roads and picturesque canals hint at a proud, industrial past.
Exploring these enchanting landscapes is a stupendous long-distance hiking route: the Usk Valley Walk. Starting from the historic grandeur of Caerleon, the Walk shadows the course of the river upstream for 48 miles (77 km). You hike riverside paths, hillside trails, canal towpaths and old trade routes, discovering Roman ruins, characterful villages, medieval castles, bustling market towns, industrial remnants and astonishing views. The Walk ventures through the valley, finding a path between the great uplands of the Black Mountains and the Central Beacons, and finishes at the vibrant town of Brecon.
Highlights along the Walk include: Caerleon, home to the ancient Roman fortress of Isca Augusta; Usk, a charming town with a secretive castle; Abergavenny, a thriving market town and ‘gateway to Wales’; Llangattock, a fine village nestled between the Black Mountains and the gritstone plateau of Mynydd Llangatwg; Talybont Reservoir, the largest reservoir in the Brecon Beacons and a popular beauty spot; and Brecon, a lively town full of cafes, restaurants, pubs and independent boutiques.
The Walk provides fascinating insights into the region’s industrial heritage; the iron and coal industries have helped to shape the landscape and spawned many of the trails and paths on which you explore. As you enjoy the long sections along the now serene Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, you can imagine a time when heavily laden carts would have been hauled over the hills from quarries and mines to the canal’s marinas. From there, the produce would have been loaded onto barges and shipped down to Newport and off to sea.
There are also splendid castle ruins and sites dating back to Roman and Neolithic times. But there’s more to the Walk than history. Wildlife is abundant along the river — which is a designated Special Area of Conservation for otters — while the canal is also a haven for a great number of species. Add in the backdrop of the uniquely beautiful Brecon Beacons and you’ve got yourself a hike amidst unique natural splendour.
In this Collection, I have split the Walk into five stages of between 9 and 17 miles (14 and 27 km), all of which end in towns or villages with accommodation and food options. At the end of the second stage, Abergavenny is a detour from the main trail, though for purists I have included suggestions for accommodation that does not require such a deviation. This, coupled with a much smaller deviation to Talybont and quick visits to a couple of worthwhile highlights, brings the total distance of this Collection to 60 miles (97 km).
It is traditional to start in Caerleon and head north west to Brecon, though there’s nothing stopping you from doing the route in reverse. You hike on easy-to-follow trails throughout and only have moderate amounts of elevation gain to contend with, making it a route for all levels of experience. Civilisation is always close-at-hand; the route is never too far from the next café or pub.
Of course, sturdy walking boots are a prerequisite, as are waterproofs regardless of the season. The warmer months bring the route to life, with colour in the woodlands and more barges chugging up and down the canal. Just don’t forget your sun cream. In winter, the uplands are particularly dramatic, especially when covered in snow. If you plan to complete the Walk at this time of year, make sure your planned food stops and lodgings are going to be open.
The best way to access Caerleon at the start of the Walk is by taking a train to Newport and either walking a few miles or hopping on the bus. For motorists, Caerleon is just off the M4. The end point of Brecon does not have a train station, the nearest being in Abergavenny. However, it is well connected by bus, with links to Hereford, Cardiff, Abergavenny and Swansea, among others. For motorists, it’s just off the A40 and A470.
The first stage is full of historical interest and beautiful scenery. It begins in Caerleon among the vestiges of Isca Augusta, the Roman legionary fortress that occupied the town around …
This is a very rural ramble, following the river’s lazy meanders on a tranquil trek through green Monmouthshire countryside. There are a couple of interesting and contrasting bridges — as …
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This is a pleasantly flat stage that follows the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, taking in superb views of Sugar Loaf and the Black Mountains on its way to Llangattock. What …
The penultimate stage is a beautiful one, as you follow the valley towards the emerald sweep of the Central Beacons, passing through the village of Llangynidr, skirting the flanks of …
The final stage first ascends on to the flanks of Bryn, a muscular protrusion on the north eastern end of the Central Beacons massif. It then descends back to the …