Archive for the ‘brecon beacons’ Tag

(Very) Early Morning on Bryn Arw   15 comments

All the talk over the weekend of my previous two walks had been about the good weather and the crowds out in the mountains across the UK. This included scenes of madness at places like Pen y Pass and the Storey Arms as sunshine and panic over the impending COVID-19 crisis really started to hit home.

It was becoming clear that any trips to the mountains would have to be carefully planned and discrete to avoid adding to the crowds and the potential spread of this unknown foe. I hatched a plan that I would get my walking fix by only heading out either very late in the day or early in the morning. I figured if I got up the same time I head to work in the office (around 6am) I could fit in a walk and be back home at my desk before 9am, avoiding any people as far as possible.

The Monday after our two previous walks I put this to the test with one of my favourite short walks, Bryn Arw.

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Even in the peak of the day and on many visits I’m still yet to meet anyone on this diminutive hill and its fine little ridge.

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At 6:45am when I set off that was more than true. Despite feeling somewhat bleary eyed it was grand to be out at first light and the chill air and sharp frost soon had my eyes open!

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The usual range of views was there but its rare for me to see them in this light. I’m not much of a morning person. Sunrise behind Ysgyryd Fawr.

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The fabulous grassy path along the ridge. It’s one of my all time favourite stretches in South Wales. Mainly as I always have it to myself. Its one of those places I’m surprised isn’t better known as an easy couple of hours walk.

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Across frosty fields to the Sugar Loaf.

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The Social Distancing measures yet to reach these ladies…

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A really enjoyable outing and one I was looking forward to repeating in the coming weeks while working at home.

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I was back at my desk before 9am, bright-eyed and ready for the day.

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What that day brought was increasing talk of Lockdown, a phrase none of us had ever used before but is now in the global psyche. By lunchtime it was clear that staying at home would be the instruction for all of us.

My thoughts turned from outdoor activities to my son, TJS. He was still in his student house in Lancaster, on his own and was planning on coming home by train later in the week. I was really worried about his train travel or whether the lockdown would stop him travelling at all. I just wanted him home, safe with us. By lunchtime I’d convinced him that he needed to come home now and that I’d collect him. I left at lunchtime and had him back home in time for a late tea. By the time we got home the new Lockdown was in force.

He’s become used to the lively atmosphere of a University city and finds our peaceful home in rural Herefordshire a little dull. However in the current circumstances, even though he is obviously missing his friends, I think he’s relieved to living somewhere that’s much safer than a city with more opportunities for outside exercise (and a regular supply of beer from the old man!)

For the foreseeable, hill walking was off the agenda and our local fields are not very good for walking. An alternative means of exercise would be needed.

Another Quick Dash to the Hills   15 comments

Another day, another poor forecast but another window in the weather. In fact quite a decent window as it happened. I could have gone out for a much longer walk if I’d realised, but no matter I was pleased just to see some glimpses of sunshine albeit backed by a ferocious wind.

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Another high start needed to keep the walk manageable and unmuddied so Blorenge it was, parking at just short of 500m.

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Moody clouds and lake reflections set things off to a good start and a popular walk was very quiet after the very poor weather of late.

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Views over to the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons showed quite a bright day, very much better than anything the forecast had promised.

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The fine views over the Forest and Dean and Abergavenny.

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The summit walk was very soggy indeed but I enjoyed being out in the wild weather so it was no real hardship on such a brief outing.

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The trig pillar has been given a lick of red paint for some reason. Makes it a more photogenic foreground I think.

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It was just such a relief to get out. I was going stir crazy at home!

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A Completist’s Walk of Sorts   10 comments

After my last post about hill lists time for a report based on its inspiration. I was missing just one Nuttall from South Wales so time to bag it. The Forecast wasn’t much better than the dreadful day above Cwmbran the day before but I woke to blue skies so I headed out.

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Parking up in Llangynidr things were much better than yesterday. Abundant blue skies and even a hint of snow high up. Normally a positive but not when you weren’t expecting it and had trail shoes on! The views through the village and out in the fields were gorgeous if a little chilly in a cold wind.

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My planned route was a long circuit around the Dyffryn Crawnon Valley to pick up my missing Nuttall of Cefn Yr Ystrad, a high point in the middle of nowhere just south of the Beacons.

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The walk up through the fields to the access land was rather pleasant and less muddy than I’d thought.

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Looking back towards the Black Mountains.

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It was a long steady climb through the bracken until I reached the grassier slopes of the limestone plateau. It was great walking here on cropped grassy paths and a fine spot for a wild camp.

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As I reached the quarry road a snow shower hit me, quite a nasty one. Not sure on the official duration of a “shower” but this one lasted about two hours!

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I enjoy walking through quarry landscapes. The have lots of false edges, ridges and deep holes with lakes. This one came out of nowhere as I thought I was heading into the hills behind I crested a slope to find it. Took quite a walk to get around it.

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Distant blue skies while it continued snowing on me.

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The benefit of OS Maps on my phone came to the fore when looking for the summit in the mist and snow. Its a fairly vague expanse of small knolls and bumps and pretty sure I’d never have found it without the software such is the confusing terrain created by the quarries. Not the most inspiring summit but it was nice to climb it in winter conditions.

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Continuing my route took quite a walk to get safely around the quarries. As I dropped around the back to the path it stopped snowing and the sun came out.

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Nothing better than walking in a snowy landscape in the sunshine although it was bitterly cold.

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Heading back down the other side of the valley, the Talybont reservoir came into view. I needed to stop for a late lunch but it windy and pretty wet everywhere. Lunch stops were not forthcoming.

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Still, the views were magnificent.

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Eventually I found a dryish and sheltered spot for a sit down although it was raining. Just as I thought better of it, it stopped and the sun came out again.

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The views were sensational. Gorgeous browns of the bracken and the white caps on the Brecon Beacons.

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I’d planned on finishing off the route with the hill of Tor y Foel but it was getting late and I was pretty knackered (drawing in the route I discovered it was 16 miles!)

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I headed off down the Beacons Way back to Llangynidr.

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Some nice sunny views along the valley but the path was a sloppy mess. As soon as I hit the road I decided I’d had enough mud for one day and followed the road back to village and the car.

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After the previous day’s soaking this was a superb day. A new hill, some exploration of wild and weird terrain and a real feeling of winter.

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Enjoy It While You Can   6 comments

Another late afternoon dash after a job interview and a very nice lunch with a good mate from my previous role. As ever with a late start, a high summit with a high starting point was needed and the Sugar Loaf always fits that bill very nicely.

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I followed my classic route around to the ridge of Mynydd Pen y Fal.

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Late afternoon sun working its light magic on the Bracken.

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There were banks of clouds building, a sign that the good weather of the past few days was coming to an end. Rain and winds were set to return.

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It was a brisk walk as I could see the sun sinking towards the clouds and horizon and wanted to be on top for sunset.

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The clouds created some wonderful light effects as I reached the summit. As it was a weekday afternoon I only saw a handful of people on what is normally a very busy mountain.

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The summit rocks provided their usual excellent foreground for great photos.

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As does the Trig Pillar, catching the pink late afternoon sunlight.

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The gathering clouds out to the west began to look more and more ominous. I was glad I’d made the effort to catch one more sunny walk before it came crashing/washing down.

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The walk down gave some nice sunset images as the sun passed through and peeped out of the cloud bank.

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And a final shot of a surreal looking colour to the bracken as I reached the car.

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Back to normal from there with the rest of the week a long sequence of grey days and heavy rain. I enjoyed the sunshine while I could.

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Winter At Last!   9 comments

Finally, clear blue skies, sunshine and frost! Well back in late January anyway.

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A chance to head to the mountains for a proper day of winter walking in the Brecon Beacons. I thought I’d set off early enough for a spot in the car park in the Neuadd Valley but apparently not. I had to park on the lower car park and rather than walk along the road I followed what I hoped was a nice forest track through the woods. The views were great but the track was, like every track and path this winter, a slick mess of mud, bog and water. Again I was glad of waterproof socks – they really have been essential this winter.

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Back on the steep climb to the edge of Graig Fan Ddu, water was replaced by ice and the rocky steps were a little slippery but fast progress was made despite avoiding a guy who thought it would be a good idea to cycle down an icy, rocky staircase with lots of people on it.

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The views opened out and all was glorious. With the steep section done its a wonderful high level stroll on the edges towards the high summits.

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I love the section where it “narrows” (these things are relative in South Wales) on the ridge of Craig Gwaun Taf.

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Approaching Corn Du and Pen y Fan the crowds from the Storey Arms started to mass. Something you have to get used to up here on a sunny day.

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There was a light dusting of snow on Corn Du lending the mountains more of a wintery feel and setting off the views to even better effect.

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Looking back the way I’d come.

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On Pen y Fan I began to realise why the car park was full. There was yet another challenge walk of some kind in progress. I have to say I really don’t get the recent obsession with these things. To me, the mountains are there to be savoured and enjoyed, an escape from the pressures of life and work.

It seems that these walks simply replace one kind of stress with another. Looking at all these people climbing to the summit, almost every one looked unhappy and simply trudging on, not stopping on the summit to enjoy the panorama on a wonderful day. You hear increasing stories of problems both on the walk and around the start/end points. People not understanding the rigours and discipline required to undertake these walks and how to thrive and survive. And they fill up my car park spot! 🙂

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I also noted the route they were taking wasn’t going over Cribyn. Another failing of such walks is they often miss the best bits. Cribyn is one of the highlights of the Brecon Beacons and a far better summit than Pen y Fan. Its just not the highest point you see. Their loss and my gain as there was only a handful of people on the summit which I chose for a long stop and a brew.

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It was such a fine day that it was an easy decision to climb Fan y Big as well. Another high quality summit that sees a a fraction of the people that Pen y Fan does.

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The wander along its southern ridge in winter is a delight as the low angle picks out the features and small patches of water.

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The classic view along the northern escarpment of the Beacons.

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The continuation of that escarpment is one of the best sections but I was running short on time so I cut the corner off back towards the edge of Craig y Fan Ddu.

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Its a soggy section but there is small rocky outcrop in the middle with super views to the South. Time for another sit down and take in the late afternoon ambience.

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Edges with deep valleys beneath is the order of the day in the Beacons and swapping north for south gives another perspective. This edge and valley of Caerfanell is one of my favourites as well.

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This section of path perched above a steep drop is sensational and on this late evening a simple joy.

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Its a steep drop down to the road and I thought I’d save myself a bit of that by cutting the corner off across to the road.

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Its a horrid, lumpy and soggy path so I have no idea why I did it again. It was worse than before, even wetter and with the sun so low that my head was staring straight into it while my feet were in dark shadow. I lurched and cursed my way back to the road. Thank goodness it saved me 3-4 minutes of walking!

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A magnificent day and so good to finally see and feel something of a winter vibe.

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Brecon Beacons Farewell   6 comments

The last weekend at home before TJS went back to University and chance for a last walk together for a while. He’d been keen to try the Snowdon Horseshoe but when I told him the time we’d have to get up, his keen-ness diminished. Given the choice he opted for a Brecon Beacons classic.

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The route up from the car park above the Talybont Reservoir, along the edges above the Caerfanell valley, round to Fan y Big and Cribyn and back down the Roman Road.

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A route we’ve done many times and the long walk perched along the edges above deep valleys is perfect for a blustery late summer day

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We got caught up amongst a large group other walkers who set off while we were halfway through their party who then proceeded to walk along without stepping aside and letting us past. Is it just me that thinks that’s a breach of hiker etiquette.

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Still, can’t let it spoil a great day.

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Turning westwards the views change to vistas across most of mid-Wales as far as Pumlumon and Cadair Idris.

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And of course the summit of South Wales, Pen y Fan.

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We stopped for lunch in sheltered spot on the slopes of Fan y Big before the steep climb and perfect edge along to the summit of Cribyn, one of the Beacons finest peaks.

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Returning to the col, its the long walk along the old road past the Neuadd Reservoirs although the larger one has been dry for many years now, such that it’s pretty much back to how it must have looked before its creation.

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As we passed the lower lake, the path was closed and lots of building and engineering work in evidence. Perhaps there is something wrong with the dams and they are repairing them. Remains to be seen whether that’s true and whether it’s better to see the valley in its natural state or with the dams and reservoirs restored. Having spent many of younger years exploring the Elan valley, I have a fondness for these dams and the landscape they create. There is something elegant about these Victorian constructions.

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Back along the Taff trail and along the road to finish the day. Next weekend the prodigal son returned to University and his own life as we faced the dwindling summer and a long winter that seems exceptionally long after two back to back weekends of dreary grey skies and rain.

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Wild Camping in the White Hills of the Black Mountains   15 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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Evening Walk – Bryn Arw   16 comments

I was hoping to get out and do more after-work walks this year. A promising start back in early May but since then the weather has been pretty poor and the few days when there has been sunshine hasn’t fallen right.

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Still this one was a good one and my default walk of a circuit of the small and perfectly formed Bryn Arw.

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Its close to my journey home, easy to park and normally deserted, especially late on a weekday evening.

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A beautiful clear and warm evening, superb views over Ysgyryd Fawr and the surrounding pastoral landscape.

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And across to the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.

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A stop on the top for a cuppa and snack is an essential part of the experience.

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Timing things perfectly for that clarity of light you get as the sun sinks lower.

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I love this view on a day like this, beguiling contrast of colour.

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And a field of bluebells to wish me on my way back to the car and home, the trials of a day at the office banished to the back of my mind.

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Llangors Circuit   16 comments

Always on the look out for a new route in my local hills, the TGO magazine obliged with a circuit of Mynydd Llangorse and Allt yr Esgair around Llangors Lake. I’ve done both hills many times but never as combined circuit. In fact I’ve never been to Llangors Lake itself a very popular spot for fishing, boating and walking.

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From the Lake its a walk along a quiet local lane to reach the pass between Mynydd Llangorse and Mynydd Troed.

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As you climb the views begin open out over the lake (largest in South Wales) towards the Brecon Beacons.

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Mynydd Troed dominates the view in the other direction.

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The climb to the vast summit of Mynydd Llangorse is via the steep ridge of Cockit Hill.

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Beautiful contrast between the green fields and the bracken and heather slopes on Mynydd Troed.

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You can see here the effects of the fire that burnt across the slopes of Mynydd Troed last year. It looks like the damage was severe and may take a few years to recover fully.

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The bucolic Cwm Sorgwm with the Black Mountains behind.

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It was pleasantly warm on the summit so we stopped on the grassy path for lunch. We had these lovely wild ponies and their foals for company.

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After dropping down ready for our second peak of the day we noticed that despite the warm weather there were still storms about. This quite nasty looking one passed us by – in fact they all did and we never needed to suit up for rain.

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It’s a very long and steady climb to the summit of Ally yr Esgair but as a narrow – relatively – ridge the views around are excellent. Looking back to Mynydd Llangorse and Mynydd Troed.

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Over to the Brecon Beacons.

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And Llangors Lake

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By the time we reached the shores of the lake the sun was out in abundance and it was a glorious afternoon.

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You can’t walk next to the shore of the lake as it’s marshy but the green pastures gave a superb finish to our days walk with some wonderful late afternoon sunshine.

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Looking back to Allt yr Esgair.

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Mynydd Troed.

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Brecon Beacons.

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The views across the lake from the boating piers were equally fine and finished off a really fine walk, a respectable 11 miles.

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“They’re Friends from Work”   12 comments

The fact that I like to hike in the hills seems a source of constant humour for my work colleagues with me the butt of the jokes. I was surprised to find that secretly some of them actually hankered for a hike in the hills so I said I’d lead them out on one my favourite south Wales hikes in the Brecon Beacons.

A little gang of four assembled at the cafe in Talybont on Usk for a fry up before heading for the mountains. (The title of the blog is in reference to one of my favourite lines from the Marvel movies – very topical at this time)

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A round of the Neuadd Reservoirs taking in the highest summits of the Beacons range. We were all rather caught out by just how cold it was.

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Here is the first of our little band posing for a photo. She decided to tone down the colours for this hike!

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Its a short and very steep climb up on to the edges that had is puffing hard. Luckily the sweat was soon removed by the ferocious and icy wind that was blasting at us across the valley.

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The photos don’t really do justice to just how cold and windy it was, enough to blow one our team clean off her feet a few times.

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Whilst the sun disappeared for the rest of the day, the cloud base was high and it stayed dry, which is a much as you can ask for on day planned a long way in advance.

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I had inform my new comrades that a key objective of any hike is make regular and lengthy stops to brew up and eat lots of food. They seemed quite keen on the idea despite the chilly wind, especially when I produced home-made cake that TBF had lovingly prepared.

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We reached the top of Pen y Fan – together with a few dozen other people and posed for a team photo for me on south Wales highest peak.

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Despite blisters and foot problems (this is quite a tough walk by south Wales standards) they agreed to continue the summit bagging and we took in Cribyn as well.

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And another couple of happy looking group shots.

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Including one with yours truly in it, demonstrating an odd pose and leg angle that says very clearly why I try and avoid being photographed in the first place.

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After another brew and scoff stop I convinced them that we could bag one more summit. The fact that my work colleagues share a distinctly smutty sense of humour and that the summit was called Fan y Big had nothing to do with it.

One last summit photo on the rock outcrop on the summit. They look happy that I’ve dragged them out on a bitterly cold day to wander about in the hills when they could have been home watching TV and doing domestic chores.

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And then it was time to head down across grassy slopes and bog and return to the real world.

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I normally walk either on my own or with the family down here so walks can be a little repetitive. I really enjoyed this day immensely for a variety of reasons. It was great to share my passion for both hiking (or should I say mountaineering) and for the Brecon Beacons with new companions. It was equally good to see them really enjoying the day as much as I was (well they said they did anyway) and I have to admit I enjoyed showing off a bit. They have all been out in the mountains before but never as regular thing and seemed to relish the challenge and chance to enjoy the outdoors. This is what keeps me sane through the drudgery of modern life and I really hope they went home with the same feeling of spirits lifted. We certainly laughed a lot on this hike as we always do at work. We are close knit bunch and my working life would likely be intolerable if they weren’t around to make me smile and keep me grounded.

I really hope we can do this more often and hopefully persuade some of my other work friends to join us. Who can’t love a hike!

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