Archive for March 2014

Somewhere New? The Begwyns   4 comments

More rain over New Year but another day of morning rain followed by a promising afternoon. I needed another quick jaunt close by. I recalled mention by James over at Backpackingbongos that The Begwyns were rather fine although I had no idea where they were. A quick look at the map revealed they were close by (just north of Hay on Wye), low in height and high in car parking – perfect!

I parked at the eastern end and planned an easy out and back to the high point. By the time I set off the morning deluge had been replaced with glorious clear sky and stunning low angled winter sunshine. The way it lights up the bracken and grass is mesmerising, more than making up for the lack of flowering colour at this time of year

The Begwyns, black mountains

The views north to the mysterious Gladestry and Llanbedr and Glascwm hills and south to the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons were stupendous

The Begwyns, llanbedr hill, glascwm hill, gladestry hill

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The ground underfoot was completely sodden but I fair glided across the grass. There is something just smugly satisfying about a dramatic change in weather and the good fortune to be able to take advantage of it.

The Begwyns, llanbedr hill, glascwm hill, gladestry hill

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

There are numerous small humps and bumps and I wandered with no particular direction taking in whatever I felt like, figuring I could vary the route on the way back by taking in some slightly different humps and bumps. The close cropped grass is excellent for such a stroll and the whole area would make a wonderful warm place for a laze on the grass (in fact we did just that last weekend up here – post to follow – well, whenever!)

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The Begwyns, black mountains

The crowning point of the Begwyns is a patch of pine trees completely surrounded by a stone wall. Called The Roundabout it’s not clear what it’s for or why it’s there. There was a information board but no mention of it. If anyone out there knows it’s history I’d appreciate some insight

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The Begwyns, black mountains

I wandered about snapping photos but the clouds were rolling in again and light was fading. I pushed on back to the car taking in the fantastic light and some lovely reflections of the ponds to the south.

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The Begwyns, Mynydd Troed

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The Begwyns, black mountains

It was pretty much dark as I reached the car.

The Begwyns, The Roundabout

The continuing theme of short afternoons over New Year continued and I was quite enjoying it. Nice to have a long lazy lie in and still get out for a walk – sometimes I wonder if I’m cut out for the big mountain days 🙂

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North Ridge Agility Pro Trousers Review   Leave a comment

Those nice people at GO Outdoors sent me through a pair of North Ridge Agility Pro Trousers to review so here’s my thoughts.

A fairly standard pair of soft-shell walking trousers and first impressions were good. Manufacturing quality was excellent. Well shaped with a lighter material around the knee for easier stretching.  The waistband is also comfortable with a softer more cushioned feel and a sturdy belt and fixing. I’ve noticed with a few trousers that I’ve bought that the belt is thin and can cut into you. It’s also almost completely enclosed that holds the trousers up well although this also has some disadvantages which I’ll come to later.

There are two side pockets but these are unzipped. I was about to say that this could be a disadvantage in wet weather but seeing as I rarely do the zips up on my other trousers and never get water in that way I doubt it’s a real issue. There is a zipped back pocket but personal preference is for one on the side – I often use that to hold my compact camera or phone if it’s not raining. I rarely use rear pockets as – ahem – there isn’t much in them when my ample behind is also in that space. 🙂

The leg has a zipped section at the foot to fit over gaiters or larger boots. All the zips have a good solid, well made feel. I have a real dislike for trousers that sag, leaving that cold gap between shirt and waist so I like trousers either with braces or some loops to attach them to. These trousers (and most makes to be fair) don’t have these but you can usually fit them around the belt. Except here as the aforementioned enclosed belt precludes that

In terms of comfort well these are a big win. I have to say they are the most comfortable walking trousers I’ve ever worn with a soft feel. Some other non-lined trousers can be a bit harsh, almost abrasive but these are like a second skin.

Now onto the most important outdoor criteria, wind resistance, durability and waterproofing. I always try to be fair with my reviews setting my comments in the context of the manufacturers claims and the price point. RRP for these is about £70 but they are much cheaper in most instances. That places them firmly in the mid-range end. However in use when compared to the description the performance does not quite live up to expectations. They are described as wind and water “resistant” so what was the problem

I gave these a thorough work-out on a very windy and wet 1 hour walk on the coast of mid-Wales. The wind seemed to go straight through them and worse they were in no way water resistant. The water pretty much came straight through with no evidence of any beading of water at all. I’ve since washed them in waterproofing solution that has improved this a little. After an hour they were completely sodden with water running down my legs and into my socks which were also sodden. Whilst for less than £50 you can’t expect great things, the fact that they failed so badly even to keep a minimum amount of water out was very disappointing. End result is I’m reluctant to wear them when there is a threat of heavy rain. I did try them out in less heavy rain but they still gave me no water protection at all. Their light weight also means I’d wear a thermal layer beneath them in cold winter conditions although again to be fair they don’t claim to be 4 season.

In terms of durability I’ve worn them maybe a dozen times and they still look like new so good marks there. However due to their lightweight construction I am a little sceptical about the terms “active technical use” and “rigours of scrambling” but to be fair in terms of durability they haven’t let me down yet.

Pros

Comfort, Well Made, Light Weight

Cons

Poor water resistance, poor wind proofing, no braces or attaching loops

In summary if they could just improve the water resistance (or play down the claims a little) these would be an excellent 3 season soft-shell trouser and I plan on using them alot more over the coming months (the fact that this has been the wettest winter on record has meant I haven’t used them as much as  I’d like). Considering the price I would have been giving these a 5 star rating had they been at least moderately rain resistant. However in light of that one aspect I’d have to drop this down to only 3 stars.

Thanks to GO Outdoors for giving me a pair to try out. I didn’t include any photos as there are some on the website and to be honest most walking trousers especially blacks ones aren’t exactly Hollywood. You can check them out for yourself on the Go Outdoors page and their full range of walking trousers are in the web links below:

http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/north-ridge-agility-pro-pant-p206624

http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/mens/clothing/legwear/walking-trousers

Posted March 23, 2014 by surfnslide in Gear, Reviews

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Wet and Windy on Black Hill   10 comments

And rain it did. We had a day of solid rain and after another morning of it I was going stir crazy. 1pm it stopped and I reckoned I had enough time for a very quick blast into the Black Mountains. The nearest spot is Black Hill at the end of the Cats Back ridge so the plan formed itself as I only had a couple of hours daylight. I’ve done this walk and it’s derivatives many times before in many seasons so you can read about previous visits in May 2011, January 2012, July 2012, May 2013

This time I decided to walk up the road to the path at the head of the Olchon Valley and return along the ridge in the hope that the clearing weather would be at it’s best just as it was getting dark. It was dark stormy and very windy when I set off.

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Now for reasons that escape me I had decided that trail shoes would be ideal for these conditions. Within 5 minutes I had reached a flood that filled the road completely. Being something of an agile sort I fashioned a technical route around by hanging onto a fence above the water. Being something of a clumsy sort I promptly fell off into the water. No need to worry about how waterproof my trail shoes were as the water was shin deep.

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

I squelched on safe in the knowledge that I had the answer to a question I’d posed myself as to what trail shoes are like in winter when your feet are wet. Answer = wet (and cold).

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

There were a few hardy souls out but in essence I had the mountains to myself. The streams were roaring to compete with the howling wind.

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

The photos show I hope the flavour of the afternoon, essentially very dark with the threat of storms in all directions

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Still, after a couple of days indoors I enjoyed the bracing air and the sense of challenge from walking in wild conditions with light fading. I was back at the car before dark, glad to get my soaking trail shoes off and head home for the warm comforts and couch potato fulfilling activities that I’m best known for

High on a Hilltop near Abergavenny – Blorenge   6 comments

The problem with being several months behind with your blog posts is that you forget stuff. I claimed in my previous post that the it was the only totally dry day over the Xmas holiday. Well it wasn’t. They day after now I’ve checked my photos was also rather nice, albeit a little cold As we had TJF with us a walk starting high without much climbing was needed. Blorenge fits that bill as you can park at 500m pretty much on the summit. Me and TJS walked up here a couple of years ago so I wanted to introduce the other family members to its charms. Poor TJS was feeling under the weather with a cold and only came out ‘cos he thought I’d make him! I’m not that much of an ogre – am I?

Blorenge, Brecon Beacons

The whole area is marked with the remains of industry long gone. The old pit town of Blaenanvon is a mile away and the hills are criss-crossed with disused tramways. It was one of those we followed today We parked up at Pen-Ffordd Goch Pond which looked stunning under a clear sky.

Pen-Ffordd-Goch Pond, Sugar Loaf

Pen-Ffordd-Goch Pond

It was perishingly cold though with a harsh frost just thawing. Rather than take the main path we skirted along the east edge. Not a great idea as it was astonishingly wet. We managed to get back onto the tramway without too much wet foot idiocy and carried on.

Blorenge, Pen-Ffordd-Goch

The tramway is a fine stroll, perfectly level with wide views across the Usk valley to the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains, Sugar Loaf in particular catching the eye as it always does.

Blorenge, Sugar Loaf

Blorenge

Blorenge

Sugar Loaf

As the tramway fades out the grassy edge becomes precipitous and the view over the town of Abergavenny towards Ysgyryd Fawr is especially fine. I have a love for views over towns for some reason. Being able to pick out the lattice-work of streets and the signs of the real lived-in world seem to contrast with the wild beauty of the mountains – in my head at least.

Blorenge

ysgyryd fawr, abergavenny

As always we had a lunch stop planned but there was a biting cold wind and it turned into a pretty grim lunch. TBF had several fleeces, two down duvets and a cagoule on and I was chilled to the bone. TJS was feeling very sorry for himself. I should really invest in a family sized bothy bag for such occasions.

Blorenge, Sugar Loaf, black mountains

Blorenge

Surprisingly TJF really seemed to be enjoying the walk, probably as there is less than 100 foot of ascent on the entire route

blorenge, abergavenny, ysgyryd fawr

Blorenge, Sugar Loaf, black mountains

blorenge, abergavenny, ysgyryd fawr

As we turned to head back over the main summit the weather started to turn with dark brooding clouds threatening the rain that was to continue for most of the rest of the winter. It gave some atmospheric shots before we dropped back down to the lake and car. I’ve never seen TJS look so relived to get into the car. 🙂

Blorenge

Blorenge

And then the rains came…….

The Dry Day of the Holidays   6 comments

The Xmas and New Year holiday had one overriding theme – RAIN – loads of it. This was I think the only day while I was off work when it didn’t rain at some point. Me and TJS made the most of it with a walk in the SW corner of the Black Mountains. By way of contrast me and TBF did pretty much the same walk in late September a couple of years ago in a mini-heatwave withe temperatures in the high 20’s. Route map and descriptions are in that post for the factual amongst you.

This time we had to amend the walk as the small parking space was full so some road walking was needed. We headed up direct onto Table Mountain past a couple of rather nice holiday cottages where much Xmas celebration had been going on judging the piles of bottles by the cars waiting to be taken out. The sky was a deep blue and the autumnal views (we haven’t really had a winter this year) were sublime

Sugar Loaf

Table Mountain

Crug Mawr

Sugar Loaf

Up on Table Mountain there were groups of people watching the beagles following a trail on the hills

Sugar Loaf, Table Mountain

Pen Cerrig Calch, Sugar Loaf

The summit of Pen Cerrig Calch there were flecks of snow to remind us that despite the warm start it was winter

Pen Cerrig Calch

The walking up here is easy and we covered good ground looking for a spot out of the wind for lunch. We managed to find a ledge near the top of Pen Allt Mawr tucked into the heather

Pen Allt Mawr

We had an excellent view over Mynydd Llangorse and Mynydd Troed that we climbed last New Year

Mynydd Llangorse, Mynydd Troed

IMG_1577

The Sugar Loaf with its prominent summit held my gaze and my lens all day especially as it caught the late afternoon sun

Sugar Loaf

Waun Fach

Sugar Loaf

It wasn’t a day for stopping. Daylight is in short supply in December and this walk pushes ten miles. We managed to get back down to the road before it got dark. The long tramp back down the road to the car was pleasant in the encroaching darkness as we chatted over a fine expedition. Total darkness had enveloped us as we reached the car. An excellent and dry day, a rarity in the months that followed

Pen Cerrig Calch

Childhood revisited on Kinver Edges   6 comments

When I was a kid back in the Black Country, visits to Kinver Edge was a regular trip especially on warm summer evenings. We took a stroll around a familiar route through the Heathland. It was always sunny and warm (or perhaps more to the point my parents never really went outdoors in the rain) and often we would picnic on the grass. Each walk finished off with a drink and crisps/chocolate in the local pub, The Olde White Hart. I remember it well as the Beer Garden had small model windmills and houses and running water. In those days kids never, and I mean never, went into pubs. We were often left outside to play while the adults had a beer. There was always an “outdoor” a sort of serving hatch where you could buy pop and crisps and such like so we fended for ourselves. They were happy carefree times 🙂

I go back for a stroll whenever I visit my parents in Kidderminster and I no doubt always tell the kids the same stories I’ve just told you, losing myself in the reverie of formative years. I always enjoyed a walk and perhaps that gave me the interest in the outdoors and walking that I have today (the rest of my family are somewhat sedentary in nature!).

We took a wander between the showers over Xmas so a few photos of bare winter trees and storm clouds to give you a sense of what I used to enjoy.

Kinver Edges

We were going to take a look at the famous rock houses carved out of the sandstone but they were closed for the season. When I was a kid they were derelict but you could at least wander in and out of the caves at will (they are owned and maintained by the NT these days).

Kinver Edges, Rock Houses

Kinver Edges, Rock Houses

Kinver Edges

Kinver Edges

Much of the area was covered in pine plantations in my youth but it’s now been removed and the natural heathland is rapidly re-asserting itself. I’m pleased to see that natural look but part of me misses the pine trees. My memories are full of the walk through the trees and past a roofed clearing that we used to play in. Even though its better to see the area as it should be, the fact that the trees are gone somehow betrays the memories like it’s just not the same any more. Strange to feel oddly nostalgic about a few lost conifers. Must be my age

Kinver Edges

Kinver Edges

Kinver Edges

Kinver Edges

I must bring the kids back in summer on a hot summers evening to picnic and play football and cricket on the grass like I used to. Then dump them in a beer garden so I can have a couple – times change

Kinver Edges

Kinver Edges

Hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane 🙂

Posted March 10, 2014 by surfnslide in Family Trips, Walking

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