Archive for March 2015
A couple of weekends back we had a glimpse of spring before the winter storms returned. The area between the main Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountain, Fforest Fawr is not somewhere I’ve really explored so it was time to put that right
Grey and gloomy as we set off from home the skies cleared as we headed west and were under sunny blue skies as we parked up. We squeezed onto the verge next to the monolithic stone of Maen Lia. I assume its a glacial erratic. There was an information board but I couldn’t be bothered to climb over the stile to take a look. Stiles cause me more grief than rocky mountains these days.
Grass is the name of the game in this part of the National Park. Big, broad rolling grassy hills with an occasional rocky cwm to divert the eye.
This little tour also had a nice high start at over 400m ideal for a lazy-ish day. To try and make some kind of circuit we found a route in a book that promised a fine traverse under the northern escarpment of Fan Nedd out to Fan Gyhirych and then back over Fan Nedd.
This was a sound recommendation and after a bit of grass bashing we picked up the path that follows the wall and contours perfectly from one side of the mountain to the other
The view back down the valley of the Afon Senni was especially fine
Over some squelchy bog and up to the northern escarpment at Bwlch y Duwynt. Panoramic views to the north and a particularly fine view of the shapely summit of Fan Gyhirych (some very tricky summit names in these parts). “Never ask for directions in Wales, Baldrick. You’ll be washing spit out of your hair for a fortnight”
There is a wide and gravelly landrover track that heads up toward the summit. I figured there would be a thin path that traces much nearer to edge and I was right. It was a fabulous walk, highlighted with a couple of lingering snow patches for added interest.
We spiralled around the broad and boogy summit to appreciate the full vista of views out towards the Black Mountain. With its very distinctive shape, easily identifiable and its lonely expansive views it immediately dropped into my favourite summits list.
We retraced our steps along the edge back down to the bog and this time hit the summit of Fan Nedd.
By now the sun was warm and we were out of the wind on the summit. We had a vague plan to descend the south ridge and return to the car via Fan Llia on the other side of the road. The soft grass and warm sunshine seemed a much better idea. Boots were removed and a long lazy lunch stop seemed in order. No sense wasting good mountain summit lazing time.
The arrival of another group signalled our time to leave them to enjoy the summit for themselves. We wandered down to the cairn at the far end of the ridge and then in a rather enjoyably lazy and aimless sort of way, headed back to the car via a succession of sheep tracks and menacing tussock fields.
The car was hot and needed a blast of aircon before we could sit inside. Spring really was here. False dawn as always. Storms last night blew down more of my garden fence, tore a few more soffitt boards off and seriously damaged one of our upstairs windows. 2014 was the years of the floods, 2015 is the year of the gales
And with that I have an announcement. After nearly 2 years of blog slavery I’m finally up to date!! I have no more write ups to do (this walk was only 2 weekends ago). I never thought I’d ever do it but I have. Feels weird. Luckily I’m off to Scotland tomorrow for some winter backpacking in Lochaber followed hopefully by a weekend in Snowdonia. I’ll soon be several posts behind again. Perhaps I should stop going out, life would be so much easier.
A fine group of hills these and very quiet with only a handful of people seen all day. We waved at the masses on Pen y Fan but they didn’t wave back 🙂
A few photos from a recent trip to the coast.
We stayed down at Pitton Cross, a very pleasant and very friendly site handily placed for the natural attractions at the far western end of the Gower. A short drive from Rhossili Beach but more importantly a most excellent walk over the fields to the coast.
And what a coast. We discovered the stunning beauty of this stretch of the Gower a couple of years back on a warm May afternoon. Rhossili and Worms Head get all the headlines but tucked away round the corner is Mewslade Bay. A sweep of golden sand backed by towering Limestone cliffs sculpted and weathered into natural castles and towers.
The walk down to the beach is along a dry limestone valley reminiscent of Yorkshire it opens out onto some truly spectacular cliffs.
Alas today the tide was full in so there was no beach to walk on so we stuck to the narrow paths along the cliffs, that delivered us to precipitous edges and narrow aretes over the sea.
It was a cold, grey and blustery day but we were enjoying being out and about again after the winter walking together as a family, which we don’t seem to do as much any more.
I noted to TBF that the day when our kids go their separate ways and abandon us to our dotage are getting closer. We spent a good deal of time together as the kids were growing up but it’s starting to dawn on me that there are more of those days behind us than ahead. Even when we are together we are growing apart as they forge their way ahead in life. When they are at home we rarely see them, both tucked away in their bedrooms, one playing Minecraft and the other Skyping her friends. It’s inevitable I guess but it’s still sad nonetheless. Even though this was a pretty grey weekend I was really enjoying just being together as a family. Being cooped up in camper forced a little bit of family time on them and they seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.
Well enough melancholy. The other main reason for the weekend was to play with our new toy, the OPUS camper.
We are still finding our feet with pitching it and as a fairly new modern design (they are only a couple of years in business) there are a few teething troubles such that at the moment it’s not quite as swift to pitch as we’d like. Practice makes perfect. What is certain is that once up, hooked up and the heater on, it’s spacious, comfortable and cosy. It’s also a major boost for me in that all the camping stuff is in the trailer and I don’t have to spend hours before a trip getting everything ready and cramming it into the boot of the car. After last years southern hemisphere adventures we are staying UK-based this year and have lots of camper trips planned
After lunch we took a stroll on Rhossili Beach, it was grey and bleak and cold but I loved it.
Just as before it was good to be out.
The many shipwrecks that litter the beach were particularly atmospheric in the gloom.
On even the greyest dreariest afternoons there is pleasure to be had
We also paid a visit to Llangennith on the Sunday where me and TBF braved the cold sea and towering waves to body board and surf the kayak. It was tremendous fun – no, really, it was! Despite the fact it was the sunniest part of the weekend I took no photos – takes effort and mental energy to get into the sea in March – not much left for anything else.
A short weekend but a good one and successfully proving that with the camper a quick weekend away is more than feasible. More of the same please
Another weekend day off and another very plain an ordinary forecast that delivered much, much more.
“Mainly cloudy with occasional sunshine” said the forecast, so I lay in and got up late for a short stroll with TJS. It was 11 by the time we were walking having chosen a brief stroll along Chwarel y Fan above Capel y Ffin and the Vale of Ewyas. When we arrived the day was completely cloudless with a very keen breeze. With such good conditions we decided to lengthen the walk and include the valley of the Nant Bwch – it’s very fine as you’ll see.
A path that climbs the first few hundred feet of Darren Lwyd and then traverses under its south west flanks delivers you to the road head and into the valley. It’s a steep sided, waterfall filled, hidden treasure. On this late winter day, the browns and ochres were superb, highlighted by the blue sky.
Its another of those parts of the Black Mountains I’ve not been too much. Despite living in the area for a dozen years now this is only the second time I’ve walked here (the previous time, a dark and gloomy January day). I think more visits for walking and chilling, picnicing by the river are in order
Rather than head all the way to the northern edges we cut off off-piste up the shallow valley of the Nant Uchaf. I figured we might get some shelter from the wind for lunch, and it was so.
It was a rather boggy and somewhat tedious trudge up onto the main ridge from there but fun in its own way. Good for soul and for TJS a confirmation that there isn’t always a path where you want to go – and nor should there be of course
When we hit the ridge we hit the wind. Normally on a windy day you get gusts of wind with calmer spells. This was just a constant wall of wind at a strong and steady pace . It really was quite amazing. Not quite strong enough to blow you over but strong enough to make you lean most of the time to avoid that eventuality
You can see that from some of the photos
It was still such a fine day that we decided, after reaching the summit of Chwarel y Fan, that we’d push on down the ridge rather than return right to the car. The views were sensational and the skies still abundantly clear and blue
Days like this really are too good to miss.It really is a most excellent ridge and like almost all of the Black Mountains pretty much deserted. It feels narrow and it is in a way as the crest sits a few feet above the sprawling moors
What I should have done is check the time before I made the call to extend the walk. It’s a very long way back to Capel y Ffin from the end of the ridge at Bal Mawr and we were supposed to be home for an appointment with a shepherd’s pie and a chance to see TBF acting her little socks off in a bit of am-dram. It was nearly 4pm at end of the ridge and we were clearly going to be late.
We hadn’t really stopped for a couple of hours due to the wind so we were footsore. It would have been perfect spot for a rest and watch the magnificent trooping of the colours on the mountains but we had push on at a pretty brisk rate to ensure we were home on time or at least close enough not to incur the wrath of the funsters, the senior one in particular
In truth we weren’t able to enjoy the gently descending and traversing path that returns to the village as much as we’d like. I’d forgotten just how far it is and it always seems further with tired legs and feet and the pressure of a ticking clock. Still the final views as the light faded were some reward for our pain and stress.
It was a long and tiring walk though, undertaken at a very brisk and relentless pace, good for TJS mountain skills, bad for my knees
All ended happily ever after. We weren’t too late, the funsters didn’t get stroppy, the shepherd’s pie was excellent as was TBF’s performance in Gaslight
The final part of our Southern Highlands Odyssey/Opus/Trilogy
The previous days downpour continued well into the night. On the valley floor where once were fields, there were now lakes. Not a promising sign. The previous night’s discussions had centered on trip back down memory lane to all the pubs we used to frequent in the last century. Slightly worrying that we are a) that old and b) have been to enough pubs to generate hours of tedious chat. We did however also manage to cover the topic of the next days forecast from MWIS. Now MWIS are prone to sprinkling a dusting of gloom over every forecast, especially the wind. Anyone who reads the forecast regularly has the word “buffeting” imprinted in their psyche. This time the focus was on the phrase “periods of appalling to near-zero visibility”. Not a phrase you really want to hear when planning a day out in the Scottish Highlands.
The morning didn’t bode well. Dark and stormy skies with bursts of torrential rain punctuated breakfast and an excessive period of faffing about. There was some promise between the hate, prompting the usual comments of “its blueing up” from me and EWO to much derision
The plan was for a shortish day on a mountain near the road home. Ben Ledi fitted the bill. As if to put us off we drove through a horrific downpour on the drive over and after a brief respite we were hit with another burst of heavy rain while we suited and booted. When I poked my head out of the car where I’d been sensibly hiding, everyone had buggered off and started the walk. Damn, I was going to have to go walking in the rain
The weather turned a little nicer on the steep path through the trees. It was almost spring-like at times.
Black clouds all around betrayed the optimism and it was only a matter of time. A few early starters passed on the way down. “It’s mental up there!”. Terrific. It started to rain and then snow, huge flakes of wet snow.
Just before the path reaches the ridge we stopped for a bite. Eating lunch in “mental” conditions didn’t seem to be too good an idea. It was a pretty damp and grim pre-lunch, morale was low, We were near the ridge so pressed on into the gloom.
And then our luck changed. As we crested the ridge we hit the full force of the wind but the skies cleared sufficiently for some views of the Southern Highlands and the Trossachs. It was all rather fine and spirits were lifted immensely.
There were still storm clouds all around but the shafts of sunlight were a bonus we hadn’t expected. The wind was wild and snow and spindrift filled the air but I love the challenge of a proper wild winter down in the mountains. Ben Ledi is just a stroll really but load it with snow and blast it with a gale of wind and you have a proper challenge.
As we climbed the ridge we were blasted and pummelled by showers of snow but never in the cloud. It’s actually a fine ridge as well and I for one was loving it. An amazing transformation from the gloom of the soggy, snowy lunch stop.
As we crested the summit all our investments came in and the skies cleared to reveal panoramic views of storm clad mountains with wisps of blue sky all around. We all spent several minutes just aghast that during a spell of truly nasty weather we had arrived on the summit during the best, albeit short spell of weather of the day. We were truly blessed.
As Old Father Sheffield arrived on the summit me and ED grinned at each other and began playing air guitar with our ice axes. Why, you may ask. We were both reminded of a day back in the late 80’s in the Fannichs on a day not unlike this one. Both me and ED were loving the wild conditions but OFS hated it and was one well pi55ed off mountain man when he joined us on the summit. Seeing me and ED grinning wildly and playing air guitar with ice axes did nothing to improve his mood, that climbing hills in blizzards and hail-storms was not fun. He took one look, issued forth a stream of verbal insults and foul-mouthed abuse in our direction. This made us laugh even more (more Schadenfreude), so after another volley he promptly left in huff and went back to the car. Its his way. Today he merely shook his head in disbelief that two middle-aged family men should still find such things funny. He really doesn’t understand why we never grow up and probably never will. It’s a source of constant bemusement to him and ever-increasing satisfaction for us. I don’t ever want to grow up and be serious, sad day when I do
Back to the day in hand. The views were awesome, especially the curving corniced ridge that led north. Many photos were taken and we all shared the pleasure of this moment of good fortune.
It couldn’t last though. Everything started to darken and we all agreed it was time to get hell out of there before things went “mental” again. A brisk wander along the fabulous ridge before a descent down to the marvellously named Stank Glen in a ferocious and icy wind – “mental” indeed. We were even treated to a “period of appalling to near-zero visibility” in a snow-storm. I looked up after a few seconds fiddling with my gaiters and everyone had disappeared into the mist, even though they were only a few yards ahead. The descent back to the cars was uneventful, save for some very deep, wet and tiresome snow – I doubt we’d have made the ridge if we’d come up that way – and a soggy brew on a puddled boulder.
Despite the weather being largely awful another great weekend. We laughed and chatted with old friends, we skiied downhill, we skiied the mountains and we got great views from a summit. Some warm winter sunshine would have been good this wasn’t a bad substitute. 3 days in Scotland and 3 days walking is a pretty good result
More snow and more skiing. Well more rain and more skiing to be honest. Courtesy to GM for a good number of the photos, a deserving chance to see me in action again for a change, again I’m the short-ar5e in the green jacket
A grey and dreary day with the promise of deterioration does not make for an enthusiastic breakfast. Still, snow down to relatively low levels is a rarity in Scotland in these globally warmed times so best make the most of things. A bit of ski touring was called for and a combination of a new Munro for Mad Malcs and some route planning by JB picked out Meall Ghaordaidh. The fact that it’s also a new Munro for me of course had no bearing on my decision
Downside is the start in Glen Lochay is low and Meall Ghaordaidh is a pretty big bugger. The snow wasn’t down as far as the road so some spirited walking in the damp drizzle was called for to get to the snow. Problem with ski touring in Scotland is you often have to walk up hill to get to the snow. This has two main disadvantages. Firstly you have to wear ski touring boots, a combination of downhill boots and plastic mountaineering boots, which despite the marketing blurb are deeply uncomfortable to walk in. Secondly as is obvious from the photos and any degree of thought, skis are cumbersome and heavy, making for a heavy pack when combined with winter gear.
Not a an ideal start, heavy pack, sore feet, and drizzle. But here’s the thing. In the right conditions ski touring is a very fine way to gain a summit, especially when the snow is deep, heavy and soggy on a day like this
We stopped to slap on skis after 45 mins slogging up from Drumcroisk but from there progress is so much easier and swifter.
Skis take the uncertainty out of the terrain and you can set into a smooth climbing rhythm. Those heavy skis and uncomfortable boots are suddenly a bonus. It’s still bloody hard work, don’t get me wrong but you get a much better return for your efforts. I’m pretty sure in heavy wet snow there is no way we’d have got to the top. In fact we were up and down in around 5 hours.
There is a certain pleasure even on a miserable day like this in the steady progression skis give you. On foot this would have been a real grind, a grim relentless rigour of exhaustion and wet feet. My recollection of the climb was of hard work laced with good humour and enjoyment.
We had a swift lunch under a boulder, surmising quite correctly that the summit would be unpleasant. A chance to capture the grim cheerfulness and take some very suspicious selfies.
We pressed on to the summit, into the cloud and the weather turned truly nasty. It was amazingly swift how the wet and slushy snow turned to rock hard ice on the summit ridge (a warning for all as to just how swiftly conditions can change)
The summit was blasted by icy winds and spindrift, barely time to pat the cairn, recognise the tick before changing to downhill mode.
And here’s the other very obvious good reason for ski touring. Coming back down is swift and FUN! The icy summit slopes in a white-out proved interesting as did trying to ski in the snow equivalent of porridge.
Laughs and thrills were had by all as we picked a route through the snowfields, arriving at the bottom of the snowline precisely where we’d started. No better way to descend a big Scottish mountain than on skis
By now the snow of high up had turned to rain and as we de-skiied it rained with a real vengeance. I haven’t been that wet returning from a day in the mountains in some years. Actually I tell a lie, I was this wet after last years walk up Ben Venue but you get my drift.
I was soaked, my feet hurt and my shoulders ached. Was it a good day, you bet your ass it was! And Munro 215 to boot. Wins all round especially as we passed the parked cars of the other party still out on the mountains in what was now pretty much torrential rain. Schadenfreude is a wonderful thing 🙂
Late February/Early March brings with it our now traditional get together of a group of friends from the past 30 years. Before we all gather on the Friday night, me and a select group always head up a day early to make a day of things and providing there is some snow this normally involves a day’s skiing at Glencoe Ski “resort”
The past few years haven’t been terribly successful. We’ve had not enough snow, too much snow, white-out conditions and broken lifts. This year however, all the lifts were running, the snow was good (you could actually ski all the way back to the car park, rare at Glencoe) and the weather whilst not exactly glorious was not too bad.
Any day skiing in Scotland when you’re not in a white-out is considered a good day!
We even had some fleeting glimpses of sunshine, although there were some pretty nasty squalls of snow to make us feel more at home
So a few photos and video of a fun day out.
I’ve managed, through the marvels of SD card readers and cloud storage been able to grab a few photos from GM from this day and others in the weekend so you get the unusual privilege of seeing me in the shots. I’m the short one in the green jacket if you’re interested 🙂
Back to our fine hosts at Suie Lodge (via a cheeky beer at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel) to meet the gang. The weekend was off to a grand start
It caught me off guard did this day. Forecast was for sunshine and showers but I hadn’t checked the temperatures. As we drove out towards the Black Mountains all was white on the tops. I thought we’d seen the end of the snow but no – there was more.
This is another of my favourite routes, one I’ve done many times before, the most recent here. However TJS has never done this route and he was up for it. For a cold wintery day it’s ideal, high enough to get up into the snow, short enough that it’s not too far if you get a soaking.
Which is exactly what happened to my DSLR camera when it fell out of the boot of the car into a puddle when I opened it. Luckily it was in it’s case so it’s just fine although the case still has the mud marks
Narrow-ish ridges are a rarity in South Wales. Y Grib is one to be treasured. We were soon on it’s crest and heading up into the snow. It was a bitingly cold day but with that clarity of air that comes with a showery winter day.
Everything looked white up high. There was only a couple of inches of snow but it covered everything.
The cloud came down and swamped us while we were on the summit but no matter. The edges are much better viewpoints in the Black Mountains than the summits.
It was too cold linger so we rushed on heading down and looking for somewhere for lunch. We found one at the col before Mynydd Llysiau although it was a little bleak and draughty especially for TJS as I’d forgotten his hot chocolate. He took it well, probably better than I would have done had the roles been reversed
By the time we set off my fingers were numb, took me a good half hour to get the feeling back. Sometimes my quest for a brew on a winters walk should really be curtailed
The weather was really indecisive, flirting between blue skies and deep black clouds and heavy snow showers.
The walk finishes with a climb up Castell Dinas – a brutually steep one at that but a very fine viewpoint to finish off a day in the Black and White Mountains
A very fine walk this one, good to see it under some snow this time