Archive for July 2015
Well here’s a first, writing up a blog post the same day I did the walk. Never see the like of these days again once my summer hols kick in next week.
Another supermarket breakfast and another day in the hills to follow. This one a very similar trip to one we did with GM a couple of winters back. This time a more detailed exploration of Mynydd Llangorse and its far western ridge.
We parked up in Cwmdu and headed across the fields taking in the sights, sounds, smells, scratches and stings of the bracken
Small in height but large in area, Mynydd Llangorse is a wild upland heathland. Off the beaten track we had the whole mountain to ourselves save a few ponies and couple of cyclists
It’s a place to clock up long walks and we ticked off the miles as we strode on to its broad summit. The views across Llangorse Lake to the Beacons were very fine indeed.
After a brief rest on Cockit Hill we were off up Mynydd Troed, slightly higher but packing a mighty wallop of a steep slope to the top. The Bracken that clothes the lower slopes in these parts gives everything a stunning verdant hue. Much more pleasing on the eye from a distance than when you are bashing through it at close quarters
We headed off down the fine summit ridge before a session of the aforementioned bracken bashing on the lower slopes mixed in with a healthy smattering of nettles and head high thistles. Why I insist on wearing shorts round these parts in summer I’ll never know
We concluding the day with a long plod down the knee-jarringly hard minor lane that skirts the eastern slopes of Mynydd Llangorse but the sun was warm and the views stunning
An uneventful day of easy walking on two of the quietest mountains in this wonderful range I call home
Me and TJS had the day to ourselves. Being a lazy sort I couldn’t be bothered to make us breakfast so I treated us to the best of the Waitrose cafe in Abergavenny. I need to big up Waitrose here for introducing me to worlds best toast – sourdough bread – awesome.
Always on the look out for a new route we took a Brecon Beacons walk from Llanfrynach in the NE to bag one of a couple of ridges we’d yet to set foot on. Llanfrynach is a pretty place with the largest graveyard in the area and the only community run public toilets in Wales!
We were heading across to Cribyn and the Nant Sere valley to start with, more on that later
The first section takes you through woods by the side of the Nant Menasgin and its lovely, a mix of woodland, stream and grassy flower filled meadows. Interestingly they have diverted a tiny section of stream that runs parallel to the main stream before disappearing under a large farmhouse. The map shows a water feature behind the house so no idea whether it’s a private diversion or a water supply for the village. Interesting village is Llanfrynach
The route took us through grassy fields and quiet lanes before a somewhat tedious green lane, overgrown and oppressive with bracken, brambles and nettles delivered us to the lower slopes of Cribyn. Most people then head up the ridge as I’ve done many times but today I had a different agenda. After my swim the previous weekend I’ve become taken with the idea of wild swims on walks. As such I’ve the UK version of the well-known Wild Swimming series of books. Great read and some great new places to explore and get wet. Today I was off to explore the Nant Sere
Right on cue as we reached the water, the sun went in and the wind blew cold. Not to be deterred I went for a short and sharp swim in the pool below. Cold and refreshing but at least the water was clear rather than brown.
Further up the waterfalls and swimming pools were even better, none especially large or deep but enough for nice dip on a warm day. Well worth coming back for a picnic some time if summer ever arrives
TJS wasn’t keen on all this wild stream bashing without a path even though I was in my element. Reluctantly we bashed up a few hundred feet of steep grass back to the path.
As we climbed I noticed some pony trekkers enjoying the surroundings. It too me back to a gloriously sunny day back in the 70’s (yes I’m that old) when we took a trip from school to go Pony Trekking in the Brecons and I’m pretty sure we went up this valley. I still remember it now as a great day out. Strange to think that over 30 years on these hills would become my local stomping ground
The weather had really taken a turn though. The summits vanished into the clouds and drizzle filled the air. The NE ridge of Cribyn is brutally steep so we decided we’d give it a miss this time.
We took the faint path that contours under Cribyn and then climbed up to Fan y Big. We’d planned on taking the fine path that skirts the edges that overlook Cwm Oergwm but the weather was cold windy and damp so just headed off down the NE ridge of Fan y Big as the weather was looking most unpromising. Right on cue as we descended the weather stuck two fingers up at us and the sun came out again, bloody typical.
Still, I’ve never descended this ridge before and it was fine and peaceful walk, delivering us back to our route in across fields and down by the river back to the village. Just as well we cut it short, it was already a long enough day at 11 miles for an old bloke with dodgy knees!
TJS and TBF were away in London at Minecraft convention – sad – and TJF was at a cheerleading event so I had a few hours to myself for a solo walk. Always on the look out for somewhere new or a different angle on previous walk I headed to Craig y Cilau to take in the edges and then explore the moorland behind it.
I parked up at the eastern end and wandered through the old workings and spoil heaps now grassed over to form a mini-mountain range of their own and a really fascinating area to stroll through.
After a cloudy and stormy morning it had cleared into a gloriously sunny afternoon and the views across to the Black Mountains were superb.
The level mine track under the quarried and natural limestone edges is a pure pleasure and it’s another of those stunning areas that’s off the beaten track, little known and mostly deserted. I’ve visited here a couple of times but always in winter when the edges are in shadow. Last time was in December last year when we took in the top of the edges which were in sun. Today the sun was high enough to reach over the edges and bathe the path in sunshine.
Rather than drop down on the path to reach the far end I carried on along the mine track to take a look at Agen Allwedd, one of the longest/deepest caves in Britain. Disappointing as it turned out. The entrance is tiny and locked to protect the delicate life and cave features within. There was a faint track leading on so I followed it hoping it would traverse all the way to the far end. I was encouraged by the sight of someone coming the other way so it must lead somewhere.
It was a cracking path, quite distinct and a little precarious above the scree and steep slopes with sensational views. Then it entered some slightly denser woods and promptly vanished. I pushed on hoping it was a minor blip. It wasn’t. There followed half an hour of scrambling through nettles, brambles, boulders, and under/around/over countless fallen trees. I expected to come across Bear Grylls, machete in hand, feasting on a dead and rotting squirrel at any moment. I was relieved, hot, stung, scratched and grumpy by the time I finally emerged.
As I headed up onto the moors the world changed and could not have been different. Dense, sweaty, claustrophobic woods were replaced with expansive grassy moorland pocked with sink-holes.
My target was the lake of Pwll Gwy Rhoc but between me and it was a huge area of waving and perfectly flat grass, likely to be hiding squelchiness just below its verdant looking surface. In fact the going was relatively easy with just a few watery sections to cross before reaching the lake. I dread to think what it must be like in winter after a wet spell.
I’d targeted the lake for a particular reason. Although it’s a lovely spot in its own right I’d seen a blog write up over on Underground and Overground Adventures about a wild swim here in winter and fancied a bit of a refreshing dip on a hot day. Most of the shore is surrounded by bog but on the eastern side I found an easy spot to get in.
The water is extremely dark giving an initial impression that the water is deep. Once in however, the reason for the darkness becomes clear. The lake is just a peaty hollow with shallow water about 6-8 feet deep. The bottom is just oozing mud and the water the colour of strong tea! Still the water was clear and clean and just cold enough to be refreshing. I swam for about 5 minutes and it was great. I doubt many people ever see this lake so having my own private swimming pool was rather nice.
I celebrated with a brew before heading back across the moors to the edges. The short hike across enlivened by another watery dip, this time up to my knees in green stuff when I got too casual with my progress across the moors.
The views across from the edges were just as fine as I made my way back down.
I’d only been out 3 hours but it’s amazing what you can pack in to a short trip if you try hard enough and mix up good decisions with bad ones!
The annual summer backpacking trip for me, TBF and TJS is now a firm fixture in the calendar. We’ve done a couple of trips to the Moelwyns and one to fight with the tussocks in the Elan Valley. I had grand plans this year for a high level tour of the Carneddau but a poor weather forecast for Saturday night put pay to that idea. As Friday evening and Saturday sounded ok it seemed prudent to make good use of that rather than spend hours driving. To that end and with TJF safely in the care of my Mum and Dad we were to be found packing up just before 8pm on the lonely mountain road to the east of the Black Mountain. Our plan was to camp up at Llyn y Fan Fawr a short walk from the car and then take things from there
There were dark stormy clouds scudding across the summits fringed and illuminated by low shafts of sunlight, as we hurried up the boggy slopes to the tarn.
It’s a stunning lake nestled beneath the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog.
There are plenty of reasonable pitches around the lake but I had my on a particular spot. In an idle few minutes before we left home, I’d done a You Tube search for wild camping spots in the Black Mountain and found a rather charming video of a young family camping on a small elevated grassy terrace just above the lakes NW corner. It was a perfect spot, flat and dry with a stunning view across the Lake. We had time to pitch up and take in the scene with a cuppa before turning in.
Next morning was pretty much unchanged weather-wise, dark clouds with occasional shafts of blue sky and sunshine. I tried to pretend that it was summer and that it was warm enough to breakfast outside the tent. I was alone. I took the sociable and sensible decision to fry up indoors and admire the view from the tent window.
The only downside of the lake is that it lacks a reliable source of running water. Time to try out a new investment, my Sawyer Mini-Works Water Filter. What an outstanding piece of kit. A filter about the size of a box of smarties and a small water pouch. Fill the pouch with water, screw in the filter, squeeze and you have clean clear water. It weighs next to nothing and the screw top fits most plastic drinks bottles and it also has a straw for sucking water out of manky pools. To be honest I had no issue with drinking the water straight from the lake – it’s large, deep and clear but no sense in having toys and not playing with them. I’ve seen several glowing reviews including a couple of wins in a “gear of the year” type of thing when up against more glamorous and expensive bits of kit. Its well deserved at only £20. It lives in my rucksack now so I can always get a drink as long as there is standing water somewhere which in the UK is not hard. Apart from the fact it takes a while to filter water for 3 people I can’t fault it. Well worth a purchase and carrying one around in the mountains if you’re out of water or have worries about your water source
Back to the main order of the day. TBF was keen to stay and certainly it was a fine spot. However both TJS and me wanted a proper backpack so we packed up and pressed on. With a forecast of improving weather later in the day we took the path that skirts under the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog, Fan Foel and Bannau Sir Gaer around to Lyn y Fan Fach.
It’s one of my favourite walks, easy-going grassy paths with expansive views to the east and north, looming grassy crags above and glimpses of these two jewelled tarns at either end. Blue sky became more prevalent and despite having a mammoth breakfast TJS insisted we needed a lunch stop at the lake despite having not climbed anything and only been walking for a little over an hour.
Still plentiful stops on a walk is a good thing and despite the occasional spots of rain the weather seemed set fair. The short steep climb up to the edges seemed a breeze as both me and TJS savoured the light packs – light when compared to the outsize packs we hauled into Lochaber over Easter anyway
The walk along the edges and back to the summit of Bannau Sir Gaer is a delight, Lyn y Fan Fach glistening below. It was windy – as it seems to have been all year – but the sun was warm but the effort to reach the summit seemed minimal.
From there we decided that rather than take in the rest of the edges we’d head south to find a spot to camp. Relaxation in fine surroundings is as important as clocking up miles and summits after all. When I explored this area a couple of years back with TJS we’d passed through the limestone area around Pwll y Cig. Not only did it look fascinating there also seemed to be littered with great wild camping spots albeit with limited water as the stream disappears into the limestone holes beneath. We carved a route across Carnau Gwys and down to the Afon Gledd.
I’d also thought that we might pitch up by the river before it vanished. This seemed unlikely as most of the ground by the water had been claimed by tussocks. Then as if by magic we came to one spot with level lush grass and wild flowers and we’d found our home.
Wraps and tea energised us for making the place home, this time with cold running water.
To work up an appetite for tea we took a stroll downstream to explore Pwll y Cig and the surrounding hills. Right on cue the water slowly runs to a trickle and then disappears into a chaos of stones. The valley beyond twists and turns through a shallow limestone gorge, a perfect dry valley. The grassy patches between the bends are all perfect for wild camping except for the fact that there is just a river of stones instead of a river of water. It’s really quite surreal.
I’d say that water was flowing through here relatively recently (in geological terms anyway). As you reach the end you realise the valley is blind with nowhere for the water to have gone. Except underground that is. You can clearly see the hole where the water would have gone. You tend to forget until you walk these hills that there is a very significant swathe of limestone upland in South Wales, home to very significant cave systems.
We then walked through a land pocked with sink holes on the climb towards Disgwylfa. It looks like the whole area is about to collapse and reveal some huge hidden cavern just below the surface. Luckily not today and we arrived at the summit without further incident.
The views from the top were magnificent revealing an expanse of wild, untamed land that must see few footprints. It’s superb and well worth a wander if you like your walks quiet with a sense of space rather than epic grandeur.
Back to the tent for a lazy meal and the general pottering about that I love about a camping spot in the mountains. There is a peace and simplicity to this kind of life that’s hard to beat although secretly, a cold bottle of Becks would make it perfect. We stayed up late to watch the last of the evening light conscious that there was bad weather on the way.
Overnight it arrived, heavy rain and strong winds that battered the tent so we enjoyed a snug and cosy lie in (except for the inevitable comfort breaks in the rain that come with middle age for me and TBF).
We stayed in as long as we could but eventually we had to pack up as we had a couple of hours to walk out and to be honest I was a bit worried about finding the col seeing as we were already in the cloud. As I started throwing stuff out the tent door the rain stopped and within 30 minutes the cloud had lifted and patches of blue were appearing. Perfect timing.
The clearer skies and scudding clouds were a real surprise and after an hour of walking there was abundant sunshine
Rather than just walk out over the col I convinced the other two that a bit of off piste to pick up the far end of the Fan Hir edge would make a much more satisfying finish to the day. TBF is not a big fan of off piste with a pack. Being somewhat vertically challenged she often loses her balance so prefers paths to tusssocks (don’t we all).
Still the long edge is a superb and easy stroll and it did indeed make for a fitting finale to the weekend.
It was especially pleasing to finish with views down over our first night’s stay to Llyn y Fan Fawr, now firmly established as my favourite lake in the UK. Under a clear blue sky it has a magic and perfection that’s beyond enchanting.
I’ve had so many good times in its company and it bade us farewell as we lunched above its shores before heading back to the car. 15 miles of proper backpacking under our hip-belts
A fine weekend in a range of mountains that rewards the dedicated walker and backpacker with majestic edges and austere charm.
In a bout of foolishness I decided to take the family cycling. Anybody who knows me is aware that I’m not terribly fond of cycling. For a start I don’t much like bikes, they are the work of satan if you ask me, always in constant need of attention and an array of squeaks and squeels no matter how much you try to stop them. I have my kids for that, I don’t need it from mechanical contraptions. I’m not really built for cycling either being short of leg and wide of girth. Despite all this cycling is at least something that I thought we could all take some pleasure from seeing as TJF hates walking.
Somewhere without any big hills seemed in order and as it was windy some trees would be nice. Forest of Dean fits that particular bill with its family cycleway using some of the old coal mining rail routes.
In fact it was rather nice. The sun came out the cycling was easy and we found a nice open sunny glade for a picnic.
All was going well until on the only major downhill section TJS got rather over-excited, went too fast and fell off. He seemed fine until I pointed out a large hole in his trousers only partly covering a nasty graze on his rump. The sight of blood turned him a fetching greyish-white colour and his cycling was over. He walked back while I went and fetched the car.
Put a bit of damper on the day but it was different and enjoyable in its way but I still prefer my feet to wheels unless those wheels come in groups of four with a enclosed body and roof, aircon and a a stereo 🙂