Archive for January 2013
Due to unforeseen circumstances with my client I’m currently without a contract and am a man at leisure and luckily it’s coincided with some real winter weather. So, rather than focus my efforts on finding another job and providing for my needy family I’ve instead decided to take in some walks in the snow. Seems only fair.
Last week before the “big” snows I took myself off to the Berwyns for the day having been meaning to pay them a visit for a couple of years. In hindsight it probably wasn’t all that clever an idea. I’d been up most of the night with what I hope isn’t, but fear is, a recurrence of kidney stones (very painful) so driving 2 hours on no sleep and dosed with painkillers was perhaps a little foolish. Still it was a cracking day not to be wasted.
4 miles, 2,100 feet of ascent
It was a long cross-country drive to my planned start point with a route planned from the east near the stunning waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr. The road up the valley was like a roller coaster and covered in compacted snow making for an interesting drive. As I barreled down the final hill to the car park I wondered if I’d be able to make it back up the hill again, a concern heightened by the fact I could barely turn the car round in the ice rink masquerading as a car park. Still, too late to worry about it now. The waterfall itself is mighty impressive even in the low flow with its water supply higher up largely frozen.
I believe it’s the highest in Wales and will deserve another visit when I have more time to do it justice. I set off around 11 after a brief look at the falls. My route was to take in Moel Sych and Cadair Berwyn and complete a circuit of Llyn Lluncaws. The snow covering in the valley was pretty thin but as soon as Igained a bit of height it deepened markedly.
Ascending Trum Felen
The summits were covered in clouds but the views to the east and over the nearby Hirnants were awesome. The bright sunshine gave me a chance to try out my new shades (a pair of Julbo Explorers and mighty fine they were). I was lucky to be following a fresh set of footsteps to make the deep snow a little easier and I could see my saviour in the distance.
Looking East from Trum Felen
Alas, as I progressed upwards onto Trum Felen the cloud came in all became white. Luckily for me, and VERY unluckily for my distant trail-maker, he found a couple of very nasty looking bogs that saved me from falling into their traps. I traversed past them with a rather nifty move along the fence and continued up. The snow got deeper and deeper and some of the drifts were thigh deep making for laborious progress. Unsurprisingly I reeled in the distant one who’d stopped for a breather. His name was Dave and a thoroughly nice chap he was too. We shared our surprise at the depth of snow, the lack of sun and the uselessness of crampons in such conditions (he’d had the good sense to bring a pair for full winter conditions, I hadn’t). I said I’d press on to the top and try to return the favour by breaking trail.
Ascending the deep deep snow of Moel Sych
The snow from there became unfeasibly deep, waist deep in places, some of the deepest snow I’ve walked in for perhaps 15-20 years. Dave soon caught me up as by now I was really feeling the combined effects of the tough conditions and a lack of sleep. We both managed to make it to Moel Sych and reached the cairn without using the stile over the fence what with it being buried under 2-3 feet of snow. I’d planned to walk around the head of the cwm to Cadair Berwyn but the cloud and my state of exhaustion meant I really couldn’t be bothered. Dave pressed on so I wished him well for a good day and sort plunged and rolled down the slopes towards Llyn Lluncaws. Just above the Lake I needed a rest and stopped for a brew and lunch.
Time to try out another new piece of gear, a Rab Infinity Down Vest that was mightily warm. Same can’t be said of my feet which were soaking wet and cold on a account of the quite stupid oversight of not bringing gaiters. I had snow trapped inside my trousers halfway up my leg but at least I had my thermals on – well I would have if I’d had the foresight to wear them.
I was feeling a little out of sorts as I headed down but then right on cue the clouds parted, the sky turned a deep blue and the Berwyns were revealed in dramatic snowy splendour.
The edge looked magnificent coated in ice and snow and backed by azure canvas. I thought of my friend from earlier, pleased that his effort to get to the top had been rewarded with a clear view. The walk from the Lake down the Nant y Llyn valley was an absolute pleasure in the warm sunshine and lifted my sagging spirits infinitely.
Nant y Llyn
The spring in my step was back. By way of celebration I tried out my third piece of new gear, my Kahtoola Microspikes. The long easy path was mostly snow so they weren’t really needed but what I can say is that they are really easy to put on (much easier than crampons) but they ball-up even worse than crampons do so it was an interesting experience. They needed a more realistic test on ice which they got a couple of days later.
Nant y Llyn
Nant y Llyn
It was still pretty early and I was tempted to stay out in the clear air. However I was still a little washed out and a bit paranoid about the drive home so I just plodded down this glorious valley in the sunshine.
Nant y Llyn
As I turned and looked back to the high tops I noticed that they were covered in cloud again so the weather window on the summit had been a brief one. I was back at the car for around 2:30. A short day and not what I’d planned but a good one nonetheless. Better than being at work at least. The drive home was uneventful apart from a 20 minute stop for cramp causing several passers-by in the village to show concern for my welfare as my legs buckled into unfamiliar shapes.
After all the fun and games of Christmas and New Year the last few days of the holiday are always a bit flat. The guests have gone home (thanks GM for coming to see us) and its time to take the decorations down. What we all need to raise the smile count is a jolly excursion. But where to in the dark depths of January? Why the beach of course! Madness I hear you all cry but not a bit of it. Read on.
Our nearest patch of sand is on the South Wales coast around Porthcawl. Just up the road is the splendid little beach of Rest Bay. Being on the estuary the water is, well a little, murky but when you have a family the beach is the beach. It’s a nice spot with lots to keep the kids interested with water to dam and razor sharp rocks to come a cropper on.
Despite it being January it was not in the least bit cold and I’m sure I’ve had colder days on the beach in the summer. The kids were well chuffed with this surprise day out on the beach and had a cracking time digging in the sand, making treasure trails and watching the waves crash onto the beach.
At this point I should sheepishly admit the real reason we were here. I had an urge to take the kayak out for a surf and having checked the forecast it looked like conditions would be good. So in reality it was more a case of me saying “I’m off to the beach for some surfing, do you want to come?” than anything else. The waves were indeed excellent and apart from nearly riding my first wave straight onto the aforementioned razor-sharp rocks I had a rather excellent afternoon and caught some superb waves
Still everyone was happy and during the afternoon the sun even came out. We got some lovely photos of the kids at play and I got some nice video footage of me catching the waves. I have to say it was rather surreal floating in the calm water beyond the waves in the low sunlight in January. The water was cold when I got a dunking but otherwise I was actually quite warm.
After we’d all had enough (it was pretty much dark by the then) we sat on the wall in the car park with a cuppa watching the sun go down. It really was rather pleasant and surprising to sit outside at this time of year and not be cold. Remarkable (as David Coleman might have said).
A couple of videos, one of the kids antic and one of mine, hope you like ’em
The final part of the Black Mountains New Year trilogy with me D and GM. Another promising day’s forecast meant that New Year’s Day was a mountain walking day. Another session of poring over the map led us to Capel y Ffin for walk taking in Lord Hereford’s Knob, an honourable 3rd place in the list of comedy mountain names.
7 Miles, 1,420 feet of ascent
It was clearly much colder than the past couple of days as we booted up and headed off.
Vale of Ewyas
Across to Waun Fach
Its a steep start to the walk heading over the fields, past Pen y Maes farm and along the path/stream to the bottom of the steep eminence of Darren Lwyd.
Stream/Path above Pen y Maes
G on Darren Lwyd
The bright patches of blue to the east were being replaced by dark brooding clouds to the west. Evidence of rain in the air was provided with a rainbow as we crested the ridge.
GM and D on Darren Lwyd
It’s a long plod up to LHK but you can massively improve the aspect by ignoring the main path and heading to the right to pick up the path along the cliffs. It gives some great views down the length of the Vale of Ewyas and up towards the Gospel Pass and Hay Bluff.
Vale of Ewyas
The main path is pleasant enough but can be a bit of a drag and the edge route is much more satisfying.
GM on Darren Lwyd looking to the Gospel Pass and Hay Bluff
D was behind for most of the way to the summit clearly suffering from 3 days walking and a late night to watch the New Years Eve fireworks on TV. Easy to forget he’s only 13 and still finding his feet as it were.
D struggling along Darren Lwyd
Sunlight shafts across the Black Mountains
It was blowing a gale on LHK. GM was planning to send the customary “I’m sitting on Lord Hereford’s Knob” text to his mates but it was just too cold so we headed down.
Father & Son on Lord Herefords Knob
Our original plan was to continue around the northern edge to pick up the long path along to Chwarel y Fan before heading back to the car. The dark clouds and D’s reduced enthusiasm pointed us towards a descent down into the Nant valley. This it turned out was an inspired choice. I’ve often wanted to explore but all too often have kept to the summits. We had a brief lunch tucked into the soggy heather and tussocks before exploring our way down.
Lunch in the Nant Valley
The valley is a steep sided with numerous side branches and waterfalls to sustain the interest. The path stays well above the stream but me and GM descended to it’s depths for a closer look. It would be a fine sporting route just to stick to the stream-side in drier conditions. There are even a few secretive small spots to throw a tent up although like all such places in the Black Mountains the sheep have also discovered them with obvious results.
Looking South along the Nant Valley
Looking north along the Nant Valley
The valley opens out lower down to reveal several cracking summer picnic spots by small waterfalls although they are pretty damp at the moment.
Waterfall in the Nant Valley
D makes his weary way down
Someone had even gone to the trouble of building a towering thin cairn right in the middle of the stream that seems to survive the floodwaters that must have roared down the valley in the past few weeks.
Rather than walk all the way down the road we took the side path that traverses the western slopes of Darren Lwyd to Pen y Maes farm, another fine choice and a great finish to the walk.
Traversing across the lower slopes of Darren Lwyd
Not out as long as we thought but still a fine day with a great mix of mountain and stream scenery to keep us entertained. GM headed home the next day. I offered D the chance for another walk – he declined 🙂
Our New Year weather luck seemed to be holding and we had a reasonable forecast for the 30th so we planned another day out with me, GM and D while TBF and L stayed at home. We pored over the maps of the local hills and GM picked out Mynydd Llangorse and Mynydd Troed as being off the beaten track and therefore worth a visit. We picked a route to combine both with a round of Cwm Sorgwm. The plan was set, the sandwiches made (more turkey) and we were off.
The effects of the wet weather were immediately apparent. The stile from the road onto the fields was a running stream that gave an interesting little start to the day.
“Now I like paths, but I also like streams. But which one is best? There’s only one way to find out…”
Mynydd Llangorse lower slopes
We were heading up to the path that skirts the eastern slopes of Mynydd Llangorse to pick up the south ridge. It started promisingly as it weaved amongst the bracken and then promptly vanished. It was an easy decision from there, a mile or so of traversing through deep bracken and brambles or straight up to the top? Straight up it was, D was completely thrown by the steepness and the battle through the undergrowth.
Welcome to the jungle
A breather and a drink
I just told him this was all part of the mountain experience. It was only a few hundred feet in reality and soon over.
A face that says “are you sure that’s it!”
Once up on the plateau-like summit area of Pen Tir we picked up a succession of sheep tracks that led past a couple of nice tarns onto one of the more substantial paths that criss-cross the fairly vast upland mountain.
Mynydd Troed from Pen Tir
Tarn on Pen Tir
I walked up the northern part of the mountain several years ago but don’t have fond memory of it. I think I picked a poor route down through deep heather and I was carrying L on my back. Today the broad green paths made for great walking in the strong winds. We stopped for a snack by a natural spring and took a drink from the fresh clear waters which excited D immensely.
The top can be one of several spots depending on your inclination and we pressed on for a sheltered spot for lunch. We found a perfect one at the top of the north ridge and took a long look at our second target for the day, Mynydd Troed. From our lunch spot the north ridge (named on the map as Cockit Hill) down to the col was excellent, relatively narrow and airy.
Cockit Hill and Mynydd Troed
Mynydd Llangorse and Cockit Hill
Mynydd Llangorse and Cockit Hill
The climb to the top of Mynydd Troed was exceptionally steep and D was feeling the pace a little as GM left us behind. The wind was ferocious as we arrived on the top for an interesting father and son moment. Mynydd Troed was my very first mountain back in 1977 when I was a mere 10 years old and this was my first time back. 35 years on it was nice for D to be able to share this little private reverie of mine.
Father and Son on Mynydd Troed
Not the kind of weather to be hanging around so we pressed on down the summit ridge, a really pleasant high level stroll and completely deserted. The skies were darkening, no doubt the poor weather forecast for New Years Eve on it’s way.
D and GM on Mynydd Troed
GM descends Mynydd Troed
We found a succession of thin paths down through the bracken on the south slopes to reach the access path. D was relieved as he had no wish to descend a similar slope to the one we’d climbed in the morning – to be honest neither was I! A simple stroll back down the lane and main road completed a fine day. Like a few routes I’ve discovered it doesn’t seem to appear in any guidebooks but other than a little road walking (and some bracken bashing) it’s an excellent route
At the end of the day
A trip back to where it all began for me. Back in 1977, it was a truly atrocious day from what I recall, heavy rain and no views. The summit moments were enlivened by my teachers assertion that it was a volcano and the slight depression in which sits the summit cairn was it’s crater – needless to say we all believed him. Teachers eh! We spent the rest of the day in a tent in Talgarth, soaked through. I absolutely loved it. Funny to think that mountain climbing would be at the core of my life since then and that 35 years on I’d be standing on the same summit reliving the memory with my son. I hope he keeps his enthusiasm and that perhaps he too will return to the summit here with his own kids and pass the story on.
My mate Geordie Munro came down for a visit over New Year and we had grand plans for some walks that the weather appeared determined to spoil. We were planning to meet for a walk in the Shropshire Hills near Church Stretton on his way down from Derbyshire but an initially promising forecast turned dispiritingly dismal so we abandoned that plan in the hope the weather might improve by the time he arrived at our place. Luckily it did (well it stopped raining anyway) so me, GM and D dashed out for a short walk in the Black Mountains. Keen to show him somewhere new I plumped for one of my favourites, Hatterall Hill, the southern end of the eastern-most of the Black Mountains ridges that runs from Hay Bluff in the north. The ridge splits into two arms making for a rather splendid and in my experience very quiet circuit.
6.1 Miles, 1,340 feet of ascent
My last visit in late spring a couple of years back couldn’t have been more different. Warm sunshine then was replaced now with a chill strong wind and dark scudding clouds. The first major obstacle on the walk was the world’s greasiest stile that the worlds clumsiest man promptly fell off leaving him with a fine yellowish-purple bruise that is only just fading 2 weeks on. As we wandered towards the river it became abundantly clear just how wet everything was after the recent biblical rains.
Sliding across the fields
Every square inch of every field was completely sodden and muddy, even the green and grassy bits had a thin film of water running. Within a few strides my trousers were splattered up to the knees in mud, a recurrent theme throughout the next few days. The river here is normally a pleasant babbling brook but today was a raging torrent of noisy brown water. Quite easy to see how careless behaviour results in fatalities, you could easily paddle across this in summer but a casual foot out of place today and you’d be swept away with little chance of surviving.
The rest of walk turned into a rather nice, brooding but fast paced march. I quickly realised that setting off at 2pm for a 6 mile walk in December was slightly ambitious so we had to push on to make sure we didn’t end up walking in the dark. Not sure D was expecting this when we set off but I rationalised with him that it was “all part of the mountain experience”. GM was suitably impressed by Cwmyoy’s wonky church (I must take a look inside one of these days) and the fact that, for unknown reasons, the signposts were in kilometres rather than miles.
“Bloody European Union”
By the time we’d reached the top of the steep climb the light was already fading creating some nice light and dark effects but increasing my concern about where exactly we’d be when it got dark.
Ysgyryd Fawr from Hatterrall Hill
Sugar Loaf from Hatterrall Hill
We reached the summit of Hatterrall Hill where Offa’s Dyke joins and pressed on down the stream/path.
Me and D on Hatterrall Hill
D on Offa’s Dyke
On to the farm with the poetic barn (see previous post on this walk) and started heading down the other side of the horseshoe where the last of the light left us and I officially declared it “dark”. The last half a mile down an astonishingly muddy track to the lane was interesting and kind of fun. By the light of my head torch I saw D giving me a look that said “you never told me this was likely to happen”. All part of the experience was all I could offer him but he seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. We traversed the fields, river and slippery stile back to the car without incident pausing to snap some “hikers by head-torch” shots and were back at the car by 5:15.
“Hey, it’s dark!”
Rabbits in the (head-torch) lights
Sometimes you just have to go for it, it would have been easy to stay in on such a damp day when the time is pressing but it’s always a positive to extract some pleasure from what could have been a dead day.
A few photos and musical compilation from a little walk with my parents before Xmas.
We’d invited them down for a quiet couple of days prior to the Xmas madness and despite some pretty awful weather we got a slight window on the Sunday and headed out for some fresh air. After some flood related detours we finally made it to Kington
3 generations of the Jones Family
Hergest Ridge near Kington is perfect for a stroll with the old folks. You can drive high up and the walk is grassy and easy angled but with a nice feeling of climbing to the top of something with pretty good views.
The weather was much better than the previous few days onslaught of rain although it was pretty windy. We caught sight of the floods in the Wye Valley and passed the usual milestones of the Monkey Puzzle Trees, the Whetstone and the small tarn on the summit.
Monkey Puzzle Trees on the summit
The Summit Tarn
I’ve walked up here many times so you can look at of my alternative posts, here and here.
Suitably refreshed and re-invigorated we headed home for a hearty meal and lay the groundwork for the Xmas festivities.
Some walks have a special place in your heart, like a fondly loved tune or a favourite meal. This walk is one of mine for reasons I can’t truly explain. It’s not especially dramatic, doesn’t possess any features of great interest, in fact I would imagine the “big peak” baggers would call it dull. Perhaps it’s the peace and solitude, possibly the open expansive views, or just simply it’s such a quiet and little known or walked area. Whatever the reason it’s a great easy stroll that fits in with the laid back atmosphere we always seem to conjure and cultivate on our Xmas weekends.
Greenleycleugh Crags from Ninebanks
After our cracking day out to Hadrians Wall and an evening of curry, quizzes and stories it was time for a more leisurely day. Best way to begin such a day is with a humungous fried breakfast served with toast and several pots of tea. None of us are especially great cooks (well Mark is actually but let’s not build his part up) but boy do we know how to fry sausages and bacon and boil unfeasibly large amounts of beans in a pan. Refreshed and stomachs full to bursting we needed exercise so we “popped out for a stroll”.
We headed on the same route as we did last year (minus the clear, cold, snowy conditions) but when I plotted the route it came out at 7.5 miles which surprised me as it always feels less than half that.
D is now the proper mountain man so declined the offer of a kiddy stroll in favour of joining that seasoned group of mountaineers that is me, Mark, Geordie Munro and Uncle Fester – building parts up again there. We strode, well ambled, along the quiet and muddy banks of the Mohope Burn below the hostel where we met up with the advance summit party who’d got up at the crack of dawn to bag what turned out to be spot heights on the moor.
Intrepid mountain men
This prompting a new tedious train of thought about possible guidebooks and tick lists. EWO then took a sideways step away from convincing us that weather is sunny and cloudless when it clearly isn’t, to trying to convince us that the moors were not boggy when they clearly were. We decided it was time to move on and headed on up towards the moors. Not without losing one of our party though. You’re probably thinking it was the younger member of the party, worn down by the relentless pace of the experienced members. Wrong, it was Uncle Fester who bailed out – he can’t walk for two consecutive days the poor old lamb. Despite this set-back we recovered our composure and carried on.
GM and ED above West Allendale
There was a biting cold wind blowing so we took a stop in the forest of the Corryhill Plantation. It was dark and gloomy but again for reasons I can’t put my finger on it was a wonderful 30 minutes. We sat, brewed tea , ate cold apple crumble and custard from a sandwich box, and relived, at D’s request, some of our favourite days in the mountains from years gone by. Mark has detailed this in his blog post of the same day as well as a rather dated and embarrassing photo from the 80’s. If I ever get the time I’d love to scan in some of those old photos and tell a few more of those tales from years gone by, they were good times.
ED and GM discuss the old days
We continued up onto the Dryburn Moor and on to Greenleycleugh Crags. As expected it was boggy unlike the assertions of EWO!
Small in stature and little more than a line of loose boulders it’s an esoteric spot which I’ve grown to love. The view spreads from the western Lake District to Cross Fell and over to the North Sea. Doesn’t really qualify as a “hill” but it would definitely make it into my book of “small hills with disproportionately fine views”. It’s up there now with Carn Fadryn, Foeldrygarn and Arnside Knott in my affections. It’s lonely, unspoilt and evokes feelings of a bygone age. Despite the road only a few hundred metres away it feels like a step back in time to a simpler age. It’s a beguiling place and one I urge you to seek out when you are up this way
ED on Greenleycleugh Crags
Tarns on Greenleycleugh Crags
Due to the late start the light was fading so after a brief pause we headed down through the open moor and upland fields down to West Allendale.
West Allendale and Mohope Moor
We caught sight of a couple of deer in the woods as we descended the ever steepening slopes to the river including a rather precarious and dated gate.
Back in the valley we crossed fields of mud and passed through the sleepy farms at Broadlee and Hesleywell back to the hostel. It was pretty much dark when we got back but we all added this walk and this day to our list of the best ever. It says much for it’s quality that it shares a place with some well known and distinctive routes from my past. My first ascent of Ben Nevis in winter, Piz Palu in the Bernina Alps, Chrome Hill in the White Peak, Sgor Gaoith on skis to name a few. It deserves it’s place.
Having visited this area for the past 3 years and this walk in particular the last 2, perhaps its familiarity that gives this walk it’s special place. They say familiarity breeds contempt. I disagree, and this weekend epitomises that sentiment. To me familiarity is bred from memories and my memories are my story of who I am and the person I’ve become. My passion for the outdoor life is very much at the core of my personality so my memories of my walks both favourite and less well cherished are an integral part of that. As I have changed so has my appreciation of the mountains. In my callow youth I became the peak bagger, seeking out the highest summits, the well known mountains, the longest routes, compiling and checking off lists, reluctant to repeat a mountain (“nah, went up that one last year”). Nowadays I look for unusual places, hills I’ve never heard of or visited, intriguing routes, quiet places. When I’ve found them I like to revisit them and enjoy them time over adding to that list favourites and special places. Familiarity breeds close acquaintance and an understanding of charms and subtleties. You come to feel at home on a walk
Moon over Mohope Moor
This passion for the outdoor life began while I was at University through it’s Hiking club. I forged some great friendships from those beginnings with people who shared that passion. These friends that were with me right at the start are still my best friends today. They have shared in many of my formative experiences in the hills and been part of most of the those favourite days. They are part of that familiarity that marks out who I am. We’ve all grown up (a bit!) through various careers and now into building our own families but the outdoors is still that constant binding thread. These weekends are a fundamental part of my life and I can’t imagine it any other way. When we get together that familiarity breeds a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere of friendship that I’d struggle to define. The old favourite stories from 30+ years that we re-tell time and again (and often joke about) remind me of good times, no, great times that we’ve had and like the favourite walks are part of who I am, my story, that I now tell through the blog. It will be sad day if we stop telling them or sharing the memories. I can’t imagine not spending the last weekend before Xmas in a Youth Hostel, the first weekend in the school summer holidays in North Wales or any other of the regular get-togethers. Familiarity breeds lifelong friendships.
Next year it’s off to somewhere new. Goodbye Ninebanks (for now) and thanks for all the fish 🙂