Archive for the ‘Black Mountain’ Category

Wild Camping in the White Hills of the Black Mountains   10 comments

It hasn’t been much of summer so far has it? Seemingly endless days of rain and sunshine a distant memory. Fleeting appearances between showers. Time to call on the isolated good memories from weeks gone by, this one from the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May. Another weekend that started of grey and wet but a promise of clearing skies on the Sunday prompted us to head our for a quick overnight wild camp. Parking up at the Dan yr Ogof show caves we headed into the limestone hills to the south of the main Black Mountain range.

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It was still raining when we left home but once we set out on foot the skies had cleared to a breezy and sunny late afternoon. Its a quiet part of south Wales at the best of times but this late in the day we had path to ourselves.

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It’s a fine green path across the white stone slopes, easy going is always a bonus when carrying an overnight pack.

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Fine, expansive views across this wild and austere corner of the mountains.

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TBF striding out and enjoying the scenery if not the heavy pack.

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There a numerous sink holes in the area and several are filled with water. One gave us a somewhat harrowing experience of rescue. I paused to wait for TBF to catch up and noticed a sheep near one of these pools. Something about it looked forlorn so I went to have a look and found that it was stuck in the pool, unable to get out. The banks were boggy and the poor thing was shivering and completely out of energy. Between us, me and TBF managed to drag it out of the pool until it sat on the banks. There was little more we could do but leave it alone and hope that it had sufficient reserves of core body heat and energy to recover and survive. Sheep are pretty hardy so we hoped that it would survive. I hope that we at least gave it a fighting chance as it would surely have died in the pool had we not seen it.

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We were headed back to a spot wed camped in a few years back. The Afon Gledd flows into a limestone valley and then disappears. Our spot was just upstream in a fine grassy shelf by the stream.

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We set about making camp in a spell of rather glorious blue sky and sunshine.

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Tea was drunk and evening meal cooked and consumed. No finer way to spend an evening back in the real world – TV and Netflix would be nice though! 🙂

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We had some wonderful late evening sunset views after a short walk to a nearby outcrop to help with digesting the meal.

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It was pretty chilly but we managed to sit outside until darkness crept in before retiring for the night.

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Showers were more frequent in the morning so it was breakfast cooked inside.

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As the morning developed so did the sunshine as we packed up for a walk back to the car via the maze of small limestone outcrops that litter the area to the south.

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There are no paths marked and I had thought it might be hard going. In fact there were numerous sheep tracks and flat rock outcrops and apart from one short stretch of tussocks the going was easy.

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In fact the walking was superb, the bright grey rock contrasting with the green grass and the moody clouds and blue sky.

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It would make fine wild camping country if there was some running water. There are a few small tarns but you’d likely need to filter the water carefully as there are no outflows.

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Our target was the unusual hill of Cribarth. Unusual in that its been very heavily quarried, carving some weird outcrops and shapes.

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It was really cold and chilly up here and the only time since we packed up that it rained, albeit just for a few minutes.

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We dropped down to the fields and found a sheltered spot for a picnic lunch and a brew.

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The sun came out to glorious effect while we sat and created some stunning views to the Forest Fawr range and along the Tawe valley.

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A short walk back down to the river and back to the car to complete a superb little outing in this remarkable and unusual corner of the Brecon Beacons.

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Night Out in the Black Mountains   16 comments

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I’ve been trying to get out more to wild camp this year and TJS was keen for a last trip before heading off to university. Forecast wasn’t too bad so we gave it a go on a Friday after work.

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It was past 7 when we set off from the car, windy and cold. We had less than an hour of light left. We returned to the same point by Llyn y Fan Fawr where we camped earlier in the summer. The wind made it difficult to put both tents up at the same time so it took a while to get set up. Pitch dark by the time we’d done so a lazy evening drinking tea and chatting.

Next morning was much better. Brighter with wisps of blue sky

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Breakfast in the tent (too windy and cold for an al fresco affair)

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Its a cracking spot though

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TBF readies herself for a day in the mountains

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We left the tents pitched and went for the classic circuit of the Black Mountain range. Same circuit as in the summer but in reverse. I figured as the wind was so strong we’d want it behind us on the higher section

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A view down over Llyn y Fan Fawr

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TJS on the high level traverse under the cliffs

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The old water leat that supplies Llyn y Fan Fach

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One of my favourite south Wales views over Llyn y Fan Fach and Bannau Sir Gaer

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As we walked along the edge we were engulfed in a heavy shower of rain. Luckily it didn’t last long and we had some nice wispy cloud effects

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View from the highest point over Llyn Fan Fawr. Our campsite is in the top left hand corner of the lake

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A view down the prominent gully that splits the crags above the lake

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Time for lunch at the tent. We had to hide behind the tent for shelter such was the force of the wind

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Forecast for the afternoon and next day was very poor so time to get the hell out of there. We packed up and headed down

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The views across to Fforest Fawr were excellent

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Fan Gyhirych looking dark and moody

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There was a lot more water flowing than earlier in the summer

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The sunshine on the small waterfalls was very fetching but the water looked cold. Those hot summer days of wild swimming seem a long time ago

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Chances to sneak away for a wild camp will be limited as winter closes in although it is my intention to get out and do some winter summit overnights if we get some cold frosty weather.

Having been reading and enjoying Ken Browns new music inspired blog I thought I might add some tunes to my post to broaden the scope a little. I used to create a music tracked slideshow but I’ve lost interest in that of late so I’ll just add a tune that I like to each post. I just happened to be listening to this while I finished this post and as its a sublime and chilled track, one of my favourites I’ve discovered in the past 12 months I thought I’d share it. I like the lyric “Didn’t I take you to, higher places you can’t reach without me”

Bank Holiday Backpack in the Black Mountain   25 comments

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My good friend the Hard Man and his two kids came to pay us a visit over the recent BH weekend. They were spending the week in South Wales doing touristy stuff and seeing relatives and took a chance to come see us and try to convince me to go walking in the rain. The Hard Man seems to have taken over the mantle of blind weather optimism from my friend EWO and always sees good weather prospects in the worst of forecasts. On this occasion we were faced with a forecast of heavy thundery showers, not exactly ideal weather to be sitting in a small tent. He even tried to convince that the tent poles would act as some sort of Faraday Cage if we got struck. Deluded!

Anyway as the weekend progressed the forecast improved and seemed to indicate we might get a dry evening on the Sunday and a dry albeit cloudy Monday. Against my better judgement we decided go for it. Packing up on Sunday morning it seemed like a very bad idea. We had the lot. Torrential rain, thunder, lightning, hail. We set off in an almighty downpour that had us dodging several pretty serious floods. Most of us looked out of the window with severe trepidation. The Hard Man simply looked happy that he’d at least got us in the car. We shopped like aristocrats in Waitrose and it had stopped raining by the time we were done. Shortly afterwards the sun came out. It didn’t rain again for the rest of the weekend.

Before the backpacking festivities we took a short stroll to Henrhyd Falls. I’ve never been to these (this corner of South Wales has loads of waterfalls) and very fine they were too.

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Like all the very best waterfalls you can walk behind them

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It’s a popular spot and there were plenty of people about so we didn’t linger

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There were mountains to be climbed and wild campsites to be occupied

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Our route was a local classic. A camp by the wonderful Llyn y Fan Fawr and a walk along the edges the next day. The summits looked dark and gloomy as we set off (after a monumental faff by the family Hard Man).

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It’s a relatively easy walk up to the tarn now I’ve finally discovered a way through the boggiest bits

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As we climbed up the clouds parted and there was sunshine aplenty. It’s a really fine spot for a night in the hills

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After a little deliberation we found a great spot by a small beach on the Lake. We set up camp and basked in sunshine. The pointing is showing TJS that the sun was shining as he’d mocked us when we left about how wet we were going to get. I even managed a very quick and very cold swim to wash away the grime of the walk in

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The Hard Man returns from a water gathering exercise

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The wind had dropped and the water was stunningly calm and mirror-like

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The downside of warm weather, no wind and clouds is obvious. Midges! That’s the reason TBF has her hood up by way of protection. They were not even close to the scale and numbers of a Scottish midge attack but there was enough to be irritating while trying to cook

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As evening drew in and the temperature dropped they went back to their evil lair for the night and we enjoyed a pleasant late evening stroll to collect some fresh running water to save having to filter the lake water

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The moon was dazzlingly bright. Not a bad picture with a handheld zoom

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The next morning we were shrouded in cloud when we woke. It was a still a nice peaceful spot so I still got up and cooked my breakfast early and alone before the midges came out. As everyone else stirred and came to life the cloud began to break and we saw the first tentative rays of sunshine (and the first of the midges)

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It soon turned into a quite amazing morning with expansive and clear blue skies interspersed with mist. Stunning. Way better than anything forecast had us believing.

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Nice that the Hard Man purchased a tent that blends so well into the landscape you can barely see it!

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We set off for a walk and the views were amazing. It’s rare to walk in the UK without so much as a breath of wind and see such a mirror like calm on a lake surface

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It was quite mesmerizing. Our pitch is at the far end of the lake towards the right

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As we crested the top there was a welcome puff of breeze – it was exceptionally hot for May. The fickleness of British weather never fails to amaze me. We camped by the lake a few years back in July and it was too cold to eat outside the tent!

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Whilst we weren’t above the cloud there was a bank of it seemingly all around that gave a similar vibe

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The highest point of the Black Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog

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It’s a classic walk and the first time for the Hard Man for many a year (he spent a good part of his youth in these parts)

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Heading off for Bannau Sir Gaer

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We hoped to have a first lunch somewhere on the summit but as always seems to be the case it was overrun with flies despite the wind which seemed to be blowing them in. The walk along the edges, normally so wonderful was an unpleasant affair as we picked flies from every facial orifice. We did manage to find a windy spot to keep them at bay for a while until it dropped, the midges came out in force and we ran for cover

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The walk back to the tents along the base of the cliffs is one of my favourites and in baking sunshine it was a joy

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We returned to base camp for more food and to think about packing up. It had been a hot walk and all that I’d been thinking about was a swim.

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It was fabulous if very cold but so refreshing after a hot and sweaty hike. Yours truly enjoying the cold clear water

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TBF joined in as well

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As we packed up the clouds started to bubble and we heard a few rumbles of thunder. Time to get the hell out of there

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As we followed the stream back to the car we turned and saw that the clouds had completely enveloped the summits again and all looked very threatening. It appeared we caught the weather window perfectly. The sun shines on the righteous and all that

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Luckily the mindless and delusional optimism of the Hard Man had worked wonders and we had a cracking little trip out. Another weekend out planned in a couple of weeks time so more of the same will be in order

A Review of 2017   18 comments

I’ve read quite a few blog post in the past few days reviewing other peoples 2017 exploits. I enjoyed them so much I thought I’d do the same. Good excuse to look back through my photos and remember what we got up to. At my age I need help remembering stuff!.

Acutely conscious of the modern trend for these awful “round robin” letters you get at Xmas (we get one of these smugograms every year) I tried to select photos that bring back a particular memory for me so its more a personal, family introspection on outdoorsy stuff, than a blow by blow account of the year. As its based on my photo collection if I didn’t photograph it, it ain’t here!

January

We started the year off in Tenerife and New Years Day was spent on this rather splendid beach (the earlier part of the day was in the mountains but I cocked up the photos from that part of the day!)

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Returning to the British winter, a walk along the Cats Back in the Black Mountains with TBF, memorable for a cloud inversion after a very wet morning. A reminder that despite our travels we are lucky to have some stunning scenery on our doorstep

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A solo day out in the Brecon Beacons, the first snowy walk near to home and pretty much the only one with significant snow during the early part of the year (made up for it at the end)

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A glorious day out in the Black Mountains with TJS and a cooked breakfast on a cold Table Mountain. I like this photo though as it has Mynydd Troed in centre shot, my very first mountain climbed when I was about 10

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And my usual skiing trip (only a weekend this year) to finish off the month. Snow was a bit rubbish but we had a laugh nonetheless

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February

Another solo day on Fan Fawr in the Brecon Beacons. I remember this day for a very mild Friday afternoon (16C) and snow in the mountains 18 hours later

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A short walk with TBF on Hatterall Hill

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March

The first weekend of the month is always spent in Scotland with friends of long standing. A new location at Bridge of Orchy and a two out of three days were magnificent winter days. The walk along this ridge high above Rannoch Moor on the first day was superb

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Me and TJS also managed a cheeky backpack into the Black Mountains. Straight from work on the Friday for a one nighter in my new tent. Need to do more of these this year

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2017 is the year I rediscovered cycling – mainly to help my knee and also to be less of a lazy layabout during the week. The Hardman – a VERY keen and VERY fit cyclist caught wind and insisted we meet up in the Peak for a trip along a couple of the old railway trails. A cracking sunny day and I survived cycling with the Hardman!

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And we finally managed a meet up in the Berwyns with Uncle Fester after a few aborted attempts

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April

More cycling and solo trip through the Brecon Beacons on the “Gap” route. Cycling to over 600m was a first for me and I started to feel that I almost, might, actually enjoy cycling.

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Easter and a major backpacking trip with TJS to the Cairngorms. The weather was wild and windy but we had a couple of superb wild camps and TJS bagged his first Scottish 4000 footer

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I even coaxed TJF out for a bike ride along the Brecon and Usk canal

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May Day weekend was mostly in April. Mixed weather but we had a fine gaggle of friends on a hike around Greendale, taking in Buckbarrow and Seatallan

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May

No finer way to celebrate a birthday than a lunchtime hike. This one was on one of my local hills, Bryn Arw with TBF

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Followed by a weekend away in Cornwall. It almost felt tropical on the white sands just north of Padstow on one of our walks

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Whitsun weekend was spent with our good friends in Silverdale. The Sunday was a real winner with a long but easy stroll and a fantastic pub lunch. Weather was mixed the rest of the time but great company, many laughs and a chance to relax

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June

A different walk from the usual mountains. One of the small hills that overlook Gloucester and across to the Cotswolds. Not something I’d do every day but a nice change

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One of the highlights of the year was the long-planned backpacking trip with the kids into the Howgills. Despite poor weather we gave it a go and it was a huge success. The kids really enjoyed the adventure and I’m hoping they have caught the wild camping bug

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July

After the backpack trip I was out of action for a few weeks recuperating and resting after a minor knee op. Didn’t affect my water based fun though, a nice albeit far too long trip down the river Wye

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By the end of July I was back in the hills again (the knee op has been a great success I’m pleased to say). A fine evening stroll with TBF and TJS on Ysgyryd Fawr (we even took a cheeky cold beer to drink on the top)

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Another “local walk for local people” – this time Garway Hill where we reached the top, saw this nasty storm approaching and raced it back to the car. We won.

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Late July brings the annual camping trip to Towyn Farm on the Llyn Peninsula. We packed in lots of walks and beach fun in a very mixed few days of weather. My abiding memory though was this game of Kubb which was huge fun with both adults and kids alike taking it far too seriously and larking about in equal measure. A happy afternoon

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August

The big family trip of the year, a rail trip around some of Europe’s finest cities. An real change from our usual outdoor camping trips and it was real success. We all took took to the city life rather well you might say. One of my best ever holidays. A few photos that made me smile

One of the many fountains in Paris (we called this one the fountain of throttled fish)

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A monster thunderstorm in Turin

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My favourite seafront walk in Venice

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The Colloseum in Rome – of course

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Schloss Belvedere in Vienna (courtesy of an unplanned extra couple of hours from a very late train)

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The thermal baths in Budapest – “like taking a bath in a wedding cake”

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A stroll along the Spree river in Berlin on a sunny Sunday afternoon

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And the railway bridge over the Rhine in Cologne

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September

Back to earth with a bump. A few days after the heat and sun of Europe we were walking in the Black Mountains in driving rain and cold winds!

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But there was still enough warm weather left for a round of the hills near the Talybont Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons

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October

A walk with friends in the Roaches on the dreariest day of the year (when everywhere else was sunny – I’m not bitter)

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More evidence of my new found cycling passion (probably too strong a word). A ride around the tracks of the New Forest while TJS took a look around Southampton University

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And why settle for one trip to see major cities when you can do it twice. As a special treat for TJS 18th Birthday we spent a week in Barcelona. Probably my favourite city but despite all its famous sights, this little known hill and its view overlooking the city was my favourite spot

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November

After sunshine comes the reality of winter. A couple of cold but beautiful days. One in the Black Mountains on the Sugar Loaf and Crug Mawr

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And one of my favourite walks in the Black Mountain

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A delayed birthday treat weekend for TBF saw us in Padstow for a couple of nice meals and walks along the Cornish coast and Dartmoor

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December

And last into the proper depths of winter. The first snows saw me and TJS head into the highest peaks of the Black Mountains

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The day after saw the biggest dump of snow I’ve seen in my own backyard for many a year. Walks around my village in deep snow under crisp blue skies were wonderful

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The start of the Xmas holidays is marked with an annual get together of my University friends and their families. Always great fun but this year we could climb the hills in snow (rather than wet rain) and play at snowballs

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Finally coming full circle with a return to the Canary Islands to spend Xmas in Lanzarote and Xmas Day sunning ourselves on the beach

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Well I enjoyed looking through my photos, choosing a few and reliving a great year. Hope you enjoyed it too. All the best for 2018 🙂

My classic local walk   12 comments

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I have a handful of walks that I would say are classics of South Wales and this is one of them. The Black Mountain has all the grandeur of the Beacons yet sees almost none of its busy summits. On this day we saw probably no more than 10 people for the whole walk on a wild, windy and spectacular day. I’m claiming this walk as my own as I’ve never seen this walk in a guide-book or anyone even mention the path under the edges. I found it, therefore its my walk! 🙂

I devised this walk by accident (albeit in the other direction) not long after I moved down here. I was on a supposedly short walk to one of the lakes looking for a wild camp and I just carried on across the tops, discovering the paths below the cliffs on my way back

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As with the previous walk it was a laze in bed late start and as before a gloomy start developed into a cracker of day.

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I think my iPhone camera had moved itself into some kind of vivid mode for these first couple of shots as we headed up to Llyn y Fan Fawr

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As we climbed the dark clouds started to dissipate and the views to the east opened out to the sky

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The clouds were still shrouding the summits but I was confident it would clear. Thinking it might take an hour or so I decided to follow the lower route under the edges first to give it some time. Not a day for dallying. It was bitterly cold and there had been some light snow cover the past couple of days

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It’s a beautiful lake and one of my favourites

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There were dark clouds and storms all around but we seemed to miss them all

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The walk under the cliffs is always a delight but on a winter’s day under brooding clouds its pretty dark for decent photos

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We found a sheltered spot behind a wall by Llyn y Fan Fach for some lunch before pushing on.

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It’s quite a long walk for a short winter day with a late start but the going is so easy and the views so superb that you cover the ground swiftly

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Once up on the edges the wind was ferocious but the sky and the air stunningly clear. Pin sharp clarity

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I was in my element, an even better day than the last outing. Much colder and windier but that’s no bad thing

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The sun was perfect for catching the edges

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Looking east

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And West

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The sun was already low and we still had a way to go but at least the wind was behind us, another good reason to walk this way around

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On top of Bannau sir Gaer we decided not to risk coming down the last boggy slopes to the car in the dark and cut the corner off direct to Fan Brycheiniog. It misses a couple of airy summits but saves a couple of miles

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Time to head down and another of those afternoons where its hard to drag yourself away. The views were immense and once you drop down you know that’s the end of the sunshine for the day

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We lingered as long as we dared and could stand the cold before leaving this lonely wonderland behind

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The skies then took over as the centre of attention.

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Pale blues and sheets and streaks of pink as the sun receded and night drew in

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After the last outing and its dark end this one was perfectly planned and we finished in the last of the afternoon light

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Black Mountain

8 miles and 2,400 feet of ascent and pure wind-blown, sun-soaked joy

Black Mountain Revisited   12 comments

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August Bank Holiday and sunshine forecast, who’d have thought! Me and TJS took off for the hills and my classic Black Mountain circuit. I’ve posted this walk many times so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking

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Rather than waste time at home we had breakfast a short walk from the car. Bacon sandwiches in the open air is taste much better than in the kitchen

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The larger of the two jewelled lakes of this walk, Llyn y Fan Fawr

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The high point at Bannau Sir Gaer

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And the second lake of Llyn y Fan Fach

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We stopped for a second lunch by the tarn. Despite this being a sunny Bank Holiday these hills are always relatively quiet. Dread to think how many people would have been on Pen y Fan

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I liked the clouds in this photo

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A decent welcome back to the UK

Sunshine after the rain (and before plenty more)   4 comments

As I was saying in my last post, the weather since November has been universally appalling. Well apart from one weekend anyway. At some indeterminate point in those dark days the weather chilled, deposited a little snow on to the mountains and the sky cleared just long enough to enjoy it.

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I did this walk with TJS earlier in the year and, keen to introduce TBF to the charms of Fforest Fawr we headed there again.

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The route is described in detail in the other post so I’ll let the photos do the talking – mostly.

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The mountains were shrouded in cloud for the first couple of hours and we wandered about in the gloom on Fan Gyhirych with some tantalising glimpses of the Black Mountain

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As we descended the blue skies and sunshine the the forecast promised arrived and we were treated to some superb views. This was more than ample compensation for the incredibly soggy nature underfoot, 2-3 weeks of ceaseless rain, wet, thawing snow and summer boots (yes, I know, poor decision) makes for very wet feet.

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Lunch in a slightly less boggy spot was followed by a climb to top of Fan Nedd where a spell of heavy rain that the forecast hadn’t promised hastened our descent and cut short the day

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Short and sweet but a splendid day nonetheless. The appalling weather that followed made me rather glad I’d made the effort. In this most awful of winters, any day not characterised by ceaseless rain is a good one

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