Archive for the ‘Walking’ Category

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 3   10 comments

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The weather forecast had been changing by the hour through the previous evening but it all seemed to point towards a less wet day, possibly with some sun, maybe some rain, likely cloudy. Not too bad for Scotland. We all decided on a group walk and after much debate and a fight to death with Beinn Challuim, Beinn DubhChraig won. It ticked all the boxes, easy walk, not too far, easy navigation, plentiful parking at Dalrigh. It wasn’t  a bad morning in truth and we set off in high spirits

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The walk up through the forest was grand, another of those old natural pine forests that used to cloak Scotland, now sadly overtaken by regimented conifer plantations

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The party divided as we trudged a particularly boggy trod through the trees, I struck out solo and decided to cross the river to the path. This gave me an opportunity to test how slippery the rocks were and clean my boots and gaiters!

I did at least arrive clear of the forest a good 20 minutes before the rest of the gang who stayed in the boggy forest. From there the day became a bit of trudge. The cloud came down, the snow underfoot was wet and heavy and then some fresh stuff fell from the sky. The promise of a brighter afternoon seemed a long way off. We stopped for a snack and there was an image of the sun.

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I’ve been through this cruel deception in Scotland before. The sun appears as a ghostly image, then promptly buggers off to be replaced by rain. As we approached the ridge it did look genuinely blue directly above us and hope was rekindled. EWO loves his phrase “blueing up” and this time, perhaps…….

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As the rest arrived we started to see wisps of distant mountains and proper watery sunshine. It was magical.

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The photos don’t really do it justice but the mix of deep blue sky directly overhead and thin sunshine on the fresh snow was wonderful. As impressive as the clear blue skies of two days back, possibly more so. We climbed Beinn Dubhchraig  several years ago on a previous trip and had exactly the same experience. A dreary, damp climb in the cloud and a sudden and dramatic weather clearance. My luckiest mountain?

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The big problem with walking in a big group in poor conditions is it tends to lead to errors. Most people set off 180 degrees in the wrong direction, essentially back down the ridge we’d just come up. We’d strayed too far west while nattering leading to this major piece of navigational incompetence.  I called them back when I saw the summit looming above us through the mist in the opposite direction!

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From the summit the views were changing by the second, crystal clear one moment, back into cloud the next. It was cold and windy so we looked for spot for a leisurely lunch

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I enjoy these big group gatherings, this one all the better for the ever improving weather. The good humour and frivolity was enlivened by TBF letting her sandwich box slide off down the hill. Being the kind soul I am, I tried to knock it further down the slope by throwing snowballs at it. OFS stepped in to retrieve it giving me an additional and much larger target that I promptly hit square on the head. Result!

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The walk down the NE ridge was just superb. The skies were clearing further, revealing superb views across the Southern Highlands and Loch Lomond

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There were a couple of steep sections that would have been interesting in icy conditions but easy to plunge down in very deep snow

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There was one spot on the end of one of the small buttresses that was bathed in sunlight with majestic views all around. We took it all in and snapped many photos

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Ben More and Sob Binnein looked especially wintry

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This is Old Grandfather Sheffield. He had a “Cardiac Event” (to give it it’s modern re-branding) a few years ago which gave him a stark lifestyle reality check. All good now but there was a while when he thought climbing summits might be beyond him. He joins us every year and whilst he’s not quite as fast as he once was he’s pretty much back to his best and really seems to relish these weekends almost more than the rest of us.

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The light just got better and better as we came down. Even though the snow was horrid and wet and the ground boggy it didn’t matter. Why should it with views like these

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Rather than return the same way and cut the corner off through the boggy forest, we took the much longer forestry track. Having already done two longish days my knees weren’t happy to bash down a hard track. I was just starting to think that the shortcut would have been better when I (on my own as everyone else had left me behind) emerged from the forest to this view of Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar

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It was superb and as the shortcut comes out much lower I’d have missed the scene and the light as I’d been down much earlier. From there, the walk down the through the natural forest was breathtaking

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At every bend there was a better view than the last

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Beinn Challuim stood proud catching the last of the sunlight and framed often by the Scots Pines

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It was after six when we reached the car with everyone waiting for me and TBF. An absolutely cracking finish and well worth the lost sleep from arriving back home at 2am

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So our winter gathering over for another year. A new home found and another couple of superb days to live long in the memory all the better shared with loyal friends of long standing.

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 2   11 comments

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Normal service resumed. The promised bad weather had arrived and was happily splashing everything with a soaking rain when we roused ourselves for breakfast. Plenty of time for a leisurely feast and long discussions about how best to use a wet and grey day in the middle of nowhere that is the Southern Highlands. The forecast had been evolving and it seemed to promise a ramp-down in the rain in the afternoon. In fact by the time we had re-assembled in the car park to continue the discussion in a colder and less hospitable environment the rain had pretty much stopped. While others went to bag munros and dreary corbetts, a select band chose an altogether more unprepossessing route

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A horseshoe around the hills behind the hotel, taking in Ben Inverveigh and Meall Tairbh. We hoped their modest height would keep us out of the cloud and although that didn’t quite work out, it was in the end a pretty enjoyable day – of sorts – and challenging in its own way

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The lower slopes, so often a real grind in these parts was overcome by the West Highland Way and a decent path that took us most of the way to the top. The views weren’t all that bad and we took comfort from the fact it was nowhere near as bad as the forecast from the previous day

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We reached the snowline and wandered across the wide ridge taking in small outcrops and cairns as we went. When the mist came down we amused ourselves with baiting each other with the political and social issues of the day.

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After a brief rest below the first summit we pressed on over a col that on the 1:50k map had no contours over a quite wide area – never a good sign in Scotland. In fact it was drier than expected (for that read, extremely boggy rather than a lake disguised as dry land) and interesting in its own way.

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I found a small and very soggy, wet stream to enliven the climb to the second summit and celebrated its ascent with a fruit pie from Tebay services in the snow (they are well worth a stop on the M6 to stock up for a weekend I can tell you).

The summit of Meall Tairbh was bagged in a white out followed by a long plod down a very boggy ridge and back to Inveroran on the shores of Loch Tulla. I have great memories of this spot. You can park up and pitch on the grass where the road crosses the Allt Tolaghan and we did so many times for winter mountain bagging, retreating to the pub a short walk away to eat and drink. They were happy days. Who am I kidding they were cold days and I much prefer a warm B&B to a cold tent and frozen milk on cornflakes for breakfast. I was kidding they were memorable and fun weekends with a huge number of stories from the archive

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It was a day that vindicated making the effort. Little in the way of views but good company and a fine walking challenge. I would have drawn you a map to show how far we went but Bing seem to have removed that functionality. Looks like I’ll have to pay for some maps. The cheek of it!

 

Tales from the Wacky Winter Part 1   12 comments

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Winter in the mountains this year has been wildy unpredictable. I’ve been skiing at over 2000m in the Alps over rocks and bare patches of grass while my mate UF has just been suffering from no skiing due to too much snow just a month later. Ahead of our annual trip top the Southern Highlands the conditions changed from full winter, to no snow, back to loads of snow, followed by another thaw, all in a period of less than two weeks. I had no idea whether to pack skis, crampons, axes or shorts for this years trip!

Our home for the past few years has been the Suie Lodge Hotel. Sadly the wonderful owners who looked after us so well have sold up and the place was in transition to new owners so we needed a new home. This year we gave the Bridge of Orchy Hotel a go, more upmarket and pricey but after some negotiation by your truly we got a decent rate. It has a location to die for and the place is rather nice. The bar was out of action for a refurbishment but the rooms were great and the staff superb. Food was also top drawer so the place comes highly recommended

The weather forecast looked promising but drawing back the curtains on the Friday revealed a stunner. Cloudless blue sky and wisps of mist over the summits and valleys. One of the huge benefits of the hotel is the possibility of munros from the door so we chose a route over Beinn an Dothaidh and Beinn Achaladair leaving a car at the far end so we could make a circuit

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It was a magnificent day, far better than the forecast had led us to believe.

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As we ascended Coire an Dothaidh the views just got better and better

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We hit the snowline at 700m and it the transformation was dramatic. From odd patches to complete deep cover in a mater of minutes. It was primarily deep unconsolidated snow on very wet ground so no need for metalwork and it was hard going. Luckily we had fit people in the party happy to break trail for me! 🙂

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At the col we were in a winter wonderland. There was much exchange of smug grins and talk of people still at work

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We pressed on towards the first summit of Beinn an Dothaidh. The snow was in places surprisingly extensive and deep considering there had been a major thaw less than a week ago

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This range is one of the best in Scotland on a clear day. They stand proud above the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor giving a reals sense of air and space with a huge spread of mountains to the south and west

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This is the next mountain on the route, Beinn Achaladair

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We hit the edge somewhere between the the three tops and took a wander back to one of the lower tops on a whim, seeing as it was such a nice day.

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It was an inspired idea. Not only were the views majestic but there was a perfect lunch spot tucked under the rocks, out of the wind and with the best of the views

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Ben Cruachan looked particularly superb

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Nothing better than a blue sky day, winter conditions and a chance to savour it with good friends of long standing

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Onwards across the edge to the very shapely north top before plunging down to the col for another climb

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The ridge to Beinn Achaladair is a long one, although not steep but you barely notice such things on a perfect day

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Lochaber and its vast collection of summits was laid out in front of us

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Even Ben Nevis was clear of cloud

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As the day progressed it became a view of two halves. Supremely clear to the north and west but with cloud building from the south. The advance of bad weather that was forecast for the rest of the weekend. The cloud created some mesmeric lighting effects that my camera didn’t do justice to

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The walk along the last part of of the summit ridge was a delight

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It was one of those days that you just don’t want to end. Tired legs and fading light dictated otherwise

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The party divided. Some chose the easy and longer option of a return to the col. The rest of us plunged down a quite outrageously steep grassy slope on a more direct route to the car.

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The setting sun provided a fitting finale to a memorable day.

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I thought we’d used up all our Scottish good weather luck last year but it was still holding

Deep and Crisp and Uneven   15 comments

A reference to my surprise on seeing a clear blue sky day with a helping of patchy snow after waking up at 6am the previous day to go to work and finding a temperature of 12C and a day filled with mild patchy rain.

Solo again while the family did other stuff and a revisit to a surprisingly quiet corner of the Brecon Beacons. Surprising as it overlooks the busy A470 and the parking chaos of the summit of the road at the Storey Arms. On a good day there must be 200 plus cars parked up there ready for the pilgrimage to the summit of Pen y Fan. I parked up for my walk a couple of miles down the road with one other car. Local knowledge is a handy thing

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Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and Fan Fawr was my route. It was a wonderful crisp clear morning, icy puddles and frosty mud was underfoot. The path that traverses across the bottom of the corrie was delightful

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The bare trees shorn of their leaves always attract my eye and lens

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The views down the valley to Brecon and the Black Mountains was magnificent

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The path emerges suddenly onto the shoulder below Fan Frynych. Expansive views open out over the mid-Wales countryside

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Up on to the grassy moorland and the first few patches of snow underfoot

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The sky was dramatically blue and clear and the light through the trees was still catching my attention

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Up on the summit it was just magnificent. Such an exceptional clarity in the air contrasting with the pristine and untouched white snow

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Traversing over the summit of Fan Frynych was majestic. You just eat up the miles on a day like this

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Sticking close to the edge of the dark vegetated cliffs gives extensive panoramas

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But then you have to cross the vast expanse of open moorland to reach Fan Fawr. Its wet here. Very wet. Especially after a couple of days of heavy rain. There was lots of icy coverings but not enough to walk over without plopping in from time to time

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I consoled myself with the wonderful peace, quiet and isolation of this patch of wild land so close to a major road. I had it completely to myself

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I climbed to the summit without pause hoping for a sunny spot out of the wind. The views were still grand but the wind was keen. I was hungry and so headed down towards the main road madness

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I spotted a sunny patch that looked like it might be sheltered. It was perfect. Calm and sunny enough to deliver some warmth for a well earned lunch break and hot cuppa

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You can get a sense of just how many cars there are down by road in the photo below. As I’d I only seen a few people on Fan Fawr I assume all the occupants were on Pen y Fan. I had reminder of what kind of people frequent “the highest mountain in South Wales” on a sunny day. As I crossed the road there was a large group of brash noisy and spectacularly under-equipped people heading off to climb Pen y Fan (jeans, trainers and the like) – it was already after 2pm and its at least a 3 hour round trip to the top. One particularly irritating individual – lets call him Dick – seemed to love the sound of his own voice and humour and repeated the same line – loudly – over and over again to emphasis how side splittingly funny it was (something about how unforgiving the mountain was). I could still hear him from several hundred yards away. His companions all seemed deeply unenthusiastic about being “dragged out” but they started up the hill anyway. A complete contrast to the few pleasant and chatty people I’d met on the “other side” who were all entranced by a such a stunning morning. I think this little rant makes me a mountain snob but I don’t care

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I headed down the Taff trail to head back to car. Once Dick, and his friends were out of earshot all was peaceful again. Its a rather nice walk with good views down the valley and across to the crags where I’d been in the morning. A nice change of scene from wild moors and mountains to something more pastoral

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The little sting in the tail, a very steep few hundred feet back up to the road, made me work for my supper

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A short day – I was done by 3pm – but it was more than enough to enjoy a spectacular morning and some wild untamed land no more than 20 minutes walk from the road

A Breakfast Walk   12 comments

On a cold clear winters day the best time to be out is early morning. Having convinced TJS into an early start we settled on a route around Cwn Banw in the Black Mountains, one of my favorites. We were walking at just after 8am and it was a glorious albeit chilly morning at -5C

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The silhouettes of the trees are always something that fascinates me and this morning at the early hour was a great time to capture them

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The low morning sun also lights up the bracken and heather to very dramatic effect. It seems to glow with a warm deep brown contrasting to the frosty cold air

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The plan was to breakfast on Table Mountain (this allows the early start and is also a rather fine thing to do). Even though the air was cold even in winter the sun has a little warmth. What we hadn’t banked on was the surprisingly strong wind that turned the chilly air into an a more arctic feel

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Luckily Table Mountain has a terrace below its sloping flat top and we found a great spot in the sun but sheltered by the wind and overlooking the Usk Valley and the Brecon Beacons

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Is there a finer way to spend a winters morning than a freshly cooked bacon sandwich and cup of tea overlooking the mountains under a deep blue sky? Answers on a postcard please

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The pimple of the Sugar Loaf prominent in these parts as always

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We ambled back over the grassland of Table Mountain and then onwards towards the higher summits

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It really was most extraordinarily cold in the very strong wind. I would love one of those portable Kestrel weather stations but I estimated that with an air temperature a few degrees below freezing and the strong wind, the windchill must have been around -15C. We certainly didn’t stop!

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We summited Pen Cerrig Calch from where the views were equally magnificent

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Our goal of Pen Allt Mawr visible in the distance

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A long and bracing walk along the edges above Cwm Banw brought us to the summit where we found a little shelter to admire the views once more

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The views over Mynydd Troed and Mynydd Llangorse were especially fine from here

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A pretty decent sunburst shot with some vapor trails to add interest

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From here its always tempting to make a long round and include the main summits of the Black Mountains themselves. My knees aren’t really up for that at the moment and forecast was for increasing cloud through the day. No sense spoiling a great day so we plodded down the very fine and very frozen ridge of Tal Trwynau, pausing at the end for a final stop and snack in the sunshine

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These two photos show what its like to go hiking with a 21st Century teenager. Head always looking down at their phone, lest they miss a vital social media message.

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Over the fields and back to the car to finish a superb day out

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A Cold Day in Hell   10 comments

Well not exactly but I liked the title for the post. The rest of the family were otherwise engaged or just too lazy to make the effort so I went out alone to find some snow to walk on. The Brecon Beacons were calling and a ridge and approach I’d never done before. I set off from Llanfrynach (twice, having left my walking poles propped against a wall in the village) and headed up towards Gist Wen.

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The day started brightly but heaver showers rolled in as I climbed. Once clear of the trees I reached the first few patches of snow and the wind picked up

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There was a mix of stormy views and brighter skies but far too cold and windy to stop.

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By the time I reached the edge the snow was deep and crisp and even. Although there was a brutally cold wind I love walking in wild conditions so I was a happy chap

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There were a few fleeting views to keep my very brisk pace going. A proper wild wintry day to contrast the warm sunshine of our Xmas walks

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I stopped just below the summit of Fan y Big for a snack but it was way too cold to brew up. It was also a longer walk than I thought and time was pressing. I had to make a swift exit if I wasn’t to finish in the dark

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Whilst the day had been mostly cloudy, I struck lucky as that day drew to a close. The skies cleared enough to create some wonderful light effects and skies

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The illuminated clouds over the Black Mountains were especially fetching

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After dropping off the end of the Cefn Cyff ridge, I followed the paths across the fields and along the valley of  Nant Menasgin. Its a lovely quiet stretch along the river and meadows and back into Llanfrynach. I was weary and fulfilled as I reached the car in the fading light

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Short walk along the Cats Back   12 comments

Back to a gloomy January day in the UK. Our first weekend home after the holidays really made us feel at home. Grey skies and seemingly endless drizzle. Well not totally endless as it did stop for a couple of hours allowing a quick dart up the Cats Back ridge in the Black Mountains with TBF

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The weather changed pretty quickly from gloomy to a rather impressive interlude of watery sunshine and above the cloud effects

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Any walk of this local ridge is a fine one, being one of the very few narrow (ish) ridges in south Wales. We were lucky to catch such an atmospheric interlude

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As we reached the summit of Black Hill the lower cloud was starting to dissipate and the blue skies were being replaced by gloom again. We had thought of extending the walk but it looked rain was heading back so we did as well

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It may have been a short walk but it was a nice one all the same to liven up a typical January weekend

Posted January 25, 2017 by surfnslide in Black Mountains, Wales, Walking

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