Archive for April 2017

Brecons Gap Route   8 comments

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Since I decided to give cycling another go I’ve had my eye on what looked like a rather fine round called the Brecons Gap Route. So named as it traverses the gap between Fan y Big and Cribyn in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. It’s a good deal tougher in the mountain section than anything I’ve attempted before but the weather was stunning so I figured I could at least give it a go. I set off from Talybont-on-Usk on a gloriously warm sunny day and headed off on the Taff Trail

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The first section was very rough and bouncy. The Taff trail follows the line of an old railway along the valley – at least that’s what I thought. Turns out the first couple of km follow an old bridleway and it was rough going but not too steep and I coped fine

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As it climbed the views began to open out across the Talybont reservoir

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I wandered onto the dam to take a couple of shots. Stunning I thought

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From there its a very long climb up to the pass above the reservoir. Never steep and by now on the old railway line the going was much smoother. They are clearing away the old plantation so the views were superb. Gave me an excuse to stop many times and admire.

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I passed a few people walking but no-one else on a bike. The Beacons Way follows this stretch and it reminds me why I don’t like following pre-ordained long distance routes. There is a superb high level route that would avoid this long endless trudge on foot, a few hundred foot up above on open ground. In fact the Beacons Way actually descends from where that path starts to pick up the Taff Trail and then climbs back up again to meet it a few km later. Why the route chooses to ignore an obvious high level path in favour of a forest trail is beyond me. This trail is ideal for cycling but not for walking. Each to their own I suppose but the D of E groups I saw seemed not to be enjoying the trudge even on this glorious day

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Seeing as this is the age of the selfie, here’s a very rare picture of yours truly enjoying another photo-rest excuse to stop

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From the high point of the road there is a speedy short descent before the trail curves around towards the main part of the Beacons. From here things get a little tougher

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The trail becomes extremely stony and rutted and while not steep was pretty hard work. I’m pleased to say that other than one short section that drops steeply in and out of a stream, I made it all the way to the “gap” (seen in the centre of the photo below) without needing to push or more importantly, falling off

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I have to admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d done 15km and close to 500m of ascent and survived to tell the tale. More than that I really enjoyed it – never thought I’d hear myself say that about mountain biking

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I celebrated with a very lengthy stop to have lunch and a brew, chatting to other cyclists as they passed through (this a popular and well-known mountain bike route)

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The descent from the gap gave me my only problem. The first 500m or so is steep and very rough, more like scree than a path. After a couple of nervous attempts I decided discretion was best and pushed for a few minutes. This section really needs a full on, front and rear suspension bike (mine is just a hard-tail). I managed to negotiate my way down carefully. It was wild and bouncy and my bike was making all kinds of rattling noises but again I was very pleased to make it all the way to the road-head without falling off, albeit very much slower than the madcap people taking the descent at full throttle. It must be a hell of an adrenaline rush but if you came off you’d do yourself a really nasty one

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Once on the road its a very fast and steep descent all the way to valley bottom along peaceful wild-flower be-decked country lanes. A real blast. My route back to the car was along the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal. It was superb (and flat!) and gave an excellent last hours wind-down in more peaceful surroundings after the drama of the gap

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The canal has a small aqueduct over the river Usk

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This little bridge just after was picture perfect and I stopped for breather. Nice spot for a picnic I thought. More to follow in a later post

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From there it was an easy cruise along the tow-path. Wild flowers were abundant and the route busy with other cyclists and families enjoying a perfect spring day

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I think TBF would enjoy this part of the ride although definitely not the mountain section! I must fashion a route along the canal and back along the lanes of this quiet corner of the national park

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35km ride in total and a real classic – me, enjoying mountain biking, who’d have thought 🙂

A Proper Walk in the Berwyns   10 comments

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The Berwyns have been a bit hit and miss for me. I walked them on a really gloomy day back in the 80’s by a wholly unsatisfactory route. We planned and then abandoned an outing a few years ago on the basis of a forecast of ceaseless rain that proved true. And shortly after I had another enjoyable yet somewhat unsuccessful and poorly judged outing you can read about here. This time a few weeks back everything seemed set fair with a decent forecast and after a Little Chef breakfast with Uncle Fester in Oswestry we headed for the hills.

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One of the nice things about approaching the Berwyns from their most dramatic side, the east, is you get to start the walk at the marvellous waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr

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Being a place of abundant rainfall the UK has many decent waterfalls. If there is a better one than Pistyll Rhaeadr I’d very much like to see it

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After taking our fill of its delights it was time for some harder work. The views back along the Rhaeadr vally were superb

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As were the views across to the lonely and tough Hirnants

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There was a deeply soggy section between Trum Felen and Moel Sych but soon were on the first of the major Berwyn summits

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The forecast was for an ever improving day and we were treated to some glorious views across to the main Snowdonia mountains and back towards Shropshire, Cheshire and as far as the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons in South Wales

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Llyn Luncaws also held the gaze (and as it turns out holds a lot of boggy ground!)

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The highest and most dramatic point on the escarpment doesn’t seem to have its own name, a distinction that the slightly lower trig point on Cadair Berwyn owns

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The walk along the edge from here is excellent with the weather and views improving with every step

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The eastern views are quite unusual, merging high moorland with pastoral fields

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We left UF to wnader back to the high point on his own while we and TJS headed out to bag the last major high point of Cadair Bronwen

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In time honoured fashion we claimed that the views were substantially better from here (seeing as UF hadn’t bothered to climb it). We had thought about trying a circular route but its hard to craft one in the Berwyns without some re-ascent and path finding across farmland. On a day as good as this its no chore to retrace steps and enjoy the ridge all over again

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After a lengthy stop on the high point for lunch we headed down. The direct descent towards Llyn Luncaws is very steep but we’d spotted a traversing path that looked, and in fact was, very interesting

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Once down at the lake we realised its one of those lakes where the surrounding area is merely an extension of the lake with vegetation in it. Its incredibly boggy and hard going until you pick up the splendid path that traverses down the Nant y Llyn valley.

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We followed the path all the way to the road a km past the car as it was such pleasant walking, delivering one final view of Pistyll Rhaeadr

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The Berwyns finally conquered end to end in good weather and good company. A grand day out

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Cycling with the Hardman   20 comments

When I told people about this they were concerned for my welfare. Going cycling with the Hardman is like saying I’m off for a short stroll with John Muir. The Hardman is very serious about his cycling and despite his older years is seriously fit. He’s thin and wiry and in short everything I’m not. This is man who cycled from the coast to the highest road on Tenerife, a relentless unbroken climb of 2400m, in less than 3 hours. I’d agreed to go cycling in the Peak District with him. I sent him several “go easy on me” and “I’m really quite unfit” e-mails in the hope that I might stand a slim chance of returning directly home afterwards rather than via an oxygen tent in a lonely casualty department.

In the event he was a very considerate cycling partner, reducing his speed down to “middle aged mortal” level and allowing me and TBF to survive the experience intact 🙂

In truth the route was an easy one. North along the Tissington Trail, south on the High Peak Trail and back along the roads to the start. After an excellent breakfast at a garden centre (I had to wait for it to open, how sad is that at my age) we parked up the stunning village of Tissington ready for the off.

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It was a cracker of a day. A clear blue sky is the perfect day for a visit to the White Peak. The green fields and the white stone walls seems to radiate light and warmth

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The Tissington Trail is a wonderful vantage point (or stretch to be precise) to view it from on a bike as its elevated. More importantly the ascent is barely noticeable, in effect a flat ride. Perfect for us less fit types

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We made easy and swift progress to Parsley Hay where the views were superb and we celebrated with a cuppa. The White Peak was my local hiking/stomping ground around 15 years ago when I lived near Derby and I used to love it. The mix of open grassy fields and deep limestone dales and gorges was always one of my favourite landscapes and its a real shame I don’t get back there often enough

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Such was the quality of the day we headed up to the far end of the trail to see what it was like

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This section was especially fine and the easy cycling in such wonderful surroundings was a joy. There is plan in motion to link the ends of the Tissington, Monsal and High Peak cycle ways. When complete it will be a quite superb 2 day circuit through some of the finest scenery in the UK

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We headed south and back along the High Peak Trail. Another stop for a snack and a cuppa was in order but this section was exposed to the cold wind. We eventually found a really well sheltered spot just after this man-made causeway, itself really rather impressive

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We left the trail at Brassington and had a rather excellent sweeping fast descent down the road. The price to pay was a short steep hill preceded by a ford (which the Hardman disappointingly refused to cycle through). Me and TBF were well chuffed to make it to the top without needing to push although a couple of stops to admire the scenery were required

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The Hardman, being a more serious cycling type has a disturbing tendency to dress like a MAMIL!

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A final lazy roll back down to Tissington finished a memorable ride of 30 miles. I may at some point start to enjoy cycling (don’t tell anyone)

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Best way to finish off a great day and a superb weekend? A family meal at Wagamamas when we got home. Sorted!

Madcap Backpack in the Black Mountains   8 comments

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I’ve been making promises to myself to get out and do more back packing and wild camping. I read lots of blogs and trip reports about cracking trips, mostly short to take advantage of quality weekend time but I never seem to get around to it. That’s all going to change. Armed with a new tent and after a rushed packing/eating session we’d eaten tea and were out walking in the Black Mountains by 6pm

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It was great to be out after work. Less than two hours after shutting the lid on my work laptop at home I was on my way up the Cats Back ridge

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As we raced up the sun went down

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The light was spectacular and of course at this time on a Friday we had this most wonderful ridge to ourselves

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We hurried on past the trig pillar on Black Hill towards our intended overnight stop

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I’d had my eye on a spot a mile so beyond for several years. A small sheltered area of grass just off the path. Its always been dry but after the recent snowfall and heavy rain it was very soggy. We managed to get the tent up and settled inside just as it got dark.

Also had a new tent to play with. Since the demise of my Quasar I don’t have a two-person tent (other than my Lightwave which is really for 3 people and is pretty heavy). Bring on the Nigor Parula 2. I’m pretty impressed as it’s amazingly light for a two-person tent (around 1.8kg) and fits my needs for two porches and an ability to sit up in comfort. I’m still getting used to its pitching subtleties (especially the porches to stop them sagging) but so far so good. It did pass my first major test in that the very light and thin groundsheet was pitched on some seriously wet ground without any water ingress. I should however point out that seriously impressive tents are seriously expensive!

Not the driest or flattest pitch but we slept well through a cold night.

We woke the next morning to a frosty and damp tent and glorious sunshine

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I left TJS to snooze while I wandered about to soak up the scene. I can almost see our village from the top but it felt a world away up here.

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I smiled as abundantly as the sun shone, and settled down for a hearty and not very healthy breakfast of bacon butties and jaffa cakes. TJS joined me eventually and we savoured the morning and a long leisurely feast

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Packed and ready for the off we considered our route. It was only a one night outing as I’d planned some cycling in the Peak District the following day. Originally we were just going out to Hay Bluff before returning to the car via a round of the Olchon Valley. As the weather was so grand we decided to extend the walk by taking in Lord Herefords Knob and heading back to the car via Capel y FFin

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The high level path along to Hay Bluff was superb

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The views from the summit over the Wye Valley to the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain even better

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We both seemed untroubled by the heavier packs than we’d use for a day walk and made swift and easy progress to the summit of LHK.

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The views were still superb but there was a very keen and very cold wind so we didn’t linger. Rather than walk along the Darren Lwyd ridge, right into the wind we opted for the Nant Bwch valley for some shelter

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Its a lovely valley with a series of small waterfalls and grassy patches for a lunch stop. Make a decent camp as well although its only a few minutes from the end of the road

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The Vale of Ewyas is one of the finest valleys in the UK in my opinion. A walk along it or above it as always a pleasure especially on a warm sunny day. Spring really did feel in the air down here

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The downside of the walk extension was having to climb up, over and down one of the Black Mountains main ridges. Sheltered from the wind it was a steep and sweaty climb. I was beginning to think I should have brought shorts

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That changed swiftly as we reached the ridge. We were exposed to the wind and thoughts of shorts turned to thoughts of hats and gloves. It was bitterly cold and we had to move quickly to descend the other side to try and reach shelter from the next ridge

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Ample compensation was provided in the views across the pastoral Herefordshire countryside and the ridge we’d walked the night before

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One last steep descent and one last final climb back up to the car completed a very fine short overnight adventure.

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TJS hasn’t been out much recently and he really seemed to enjoy the trip and the long walk in the sunshine. He’s badly out of shape though and was stiff for the next day or so and struggling to keep up with the old man on the ascents. He does take over on the downhill bits but I have my bad knees excuse for that

First part of adventurous weekend for me. More two-wheeled outdoor action planned for the Sunday

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