Archive for the ‘cats back’ Tag

Breakfast in the Black Mountains   14 comments

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A short post from a week or so back onto one of my nearest and dearest strolls in my local Black Mountains

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It was warm and humid and I figured another early start and breakfast on the hill might beat the heat of the day

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Wrong! Even at 9am it was sweltering hot on the steep climb up onto the ridge

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It’s a fine ridge however and worth the sweaty effort

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I walked briskly along the ridge hoping for a breath of wind to keep cool and have breakfast alone (without the company of insects)

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I passed the summit pillar in totally calm conditions but when I reached the grassy spot where I’d camped with TJS last year the was a gentle breeze and I set up my kitchen

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Bacon and Egg butty on the mountain

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I took in the circuit around the Olchon Valley but declined the out and back to Hay Bluff this time. Wild ponies kept me company from time to time

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A steep descent into the valley, brought a lighter tone to the gloomy skies

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And the short steep climb back to the car

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8 mile round trip and back in time for a short rest before joining the Funsters at Bredwardine for a cooling dip in the Wye

Cats Back

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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 🙂

Madcap Backpack in the Black Mountains   8 comments

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

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

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As we raced up the sun went down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The high level path along to Hay Bluff was superb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with , ,

Afternoon Stroll   4 comments

Back to mid-April and an opportunity for a short walk with TBF along The Cats Back

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Another chance to play with the Panorama function on the camera. Still rather difficult to get right but its coming along

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There was some bright sunshine but also dark stormy clouds

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We got caught by one rather nasty hail storm as it bounced its way on us and through, but it stayed dry after that

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The return along the Olchon Valley is a fine one. Alas the local hill plague that are trail bikes have found it. The path was one long line of rutted wheel tracks where once there was a grassy path. Every step I took just mad me angrier and sadder. These monstrosities are slowly destroying most of the paths in the Black Mountains. The damage in some places is heartbreaking and likely irrepairable. Its rare to walk in these fine austere hills without hearing their annoying waspish buzz and smell of petrol at some point. Something should be done about this but I can’t see what

Makes me very depressed now as I think about that walk down the path

Wet and Windy on Black Hill   10 comments

And rain it did. We had a day of solid rain and after another morning of it I was going stir crazy. 1pm it stopped and I reckoned I had enough time for a very quick blast into the Black Mountains. The nearest spot is Black Hill at the end of the Cats Back ridge so the plan formed itself as I only had a couple of hours daylight. I’ve done this walk and it’s derivatives many times before in many seasons so you can read about previous visits in May 2011, January 2012, July 2012, May 2013

This time I decided to walk up the road to the path at the head of the Olchon Valley and return along the ridge in the hope that the clearing weather would be at it’s best just as it was getting dark. It was dark stormy and very windy when I set off.

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Now for reasons that escape me I had decided that trail shoes would be ideal for these conditions. Within 5 minutes I had reached a flood that filled the road completely. Being something of an agile sort I fashioned a technical route around by hanging onto a fence above the water. Being something of a clumsy sort I promptly fell off into the water. No need to worry about how waterproof my trail shoes were as the water was shin deep.

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I squelched on safe in the knowledge that I had the answer to a question I’d posed myself as to what trail shoes are like in winter when your feet are wet. Answer = wet (and cold).

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There were a few hardy souls out but in essence I had the mountains to myself. The streams were roaring to compete with the howling wind.

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The photos show I hope the flavour of the afternoon, essentially very dark with the threat of storms in all directions

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Olchon Valley, Black Hill, Cats Back

Still, after a couple of days indoors I enjoyed the bracing air and the sense of challenge from walking in wild conditions with light fading. I was back at the car before dark, glad to get my soaking trail shoes off and head home for the warm comforts and couch potato fulfilling activities that I’m best known for

At Home with our friends from the North   8 comments

After our nice weekend down in the Gower we had friends coming to stay. My mate Mark of Beating the Bounds fame (of sorts) was bringing his family down for another visit to my adopted Herefordshire home. They paid us a visit last year and despite the worst of the weather that a British summer can throw at you, we had a great time. They were so impressed they bought the T-shirt and decided to do it all over again.

The signs were not promising. After heavy rain forced us to abandon our Gower trip half a day early, it carried on raining through the night and the rest of the next day. It was still raining when they arrived to much rolling of eyes. Surely it couldn’t be that bad again. The next day was a carbon copy of the previous year, dull, cold, dreary and wet. Corners of mouths were very much down. We got lucky however and the rain stopped just long enough for a short drive and walk up on Garway Hill.

Garway Hill

Garway Hill

The views from up here on a clear day are expansive but despite the sun and some blue sky putting in appearance it was clearly just a small window in the wet. The dark clouds completely surrounded us and closed in. We timed it nicely though, reaching the car just as the rain started up again. At least we’d got out and had a stroll and some air. Tomorrow would be better surely

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Summiting Garway Hill

It wasn’t. It was still dull and cloudy with frequent showers. TJS had been telling us that the weather was due to improve but he has a habit of using the BBC Weather website for his forecasts. Anyone who has ever been led down that particular garden path knows just how unreliable it is. Still we thought we had to get out and I handed out the options to the kids and they unsurprisingly chose the castle one. White Castle to be precise, quite close to home and somewhere I haven’t been for a few years. When we got there the weather looked brighter than it had done for a few days. Our luck had finally turned, we wouldn’t see rain again for the rest of the week

White Castle

White Castle

White Castle as you can see isn’t white at all but a rather fetching dark brown (or grey if you listen to TJS). In terms of the classic castle features of stairways and passages it’s a bit lacking and quite small. However it is very picturesque, tucked away in the quiet hills and off the beaten track, and it has a proper moat, something any self respecting castle should have. Even in holiday week we were pretty much the only visitors

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White Castle

It doesn’t take all that long to wander around the inner and outer courtyard and climb it’s only tower where there is a splendid view across to the nearby Black Mountains and Forest of Dean

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Ysygyrd Fawr from White Castle

The kids were having fun though and there was bags of space to run around in and play medieval games of death

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White Castle

It’s a very tranquil place which more than makes up for it’s lack of spiral staircases (something else all castles should have if you ask me)

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White Castle moat

The view across the moat is particularly evocative

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White Castle

After an hour of wandering and play it was time for lunch. I have to say that castle courtyards make very fine places for a picnic. The sun came out from time to time and we all spent a happy hour playing games and eating, or in my TBF’s case lying down on the picnic rug

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TJS and The Dangerous Brothers

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TJS & A

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ED/TBF & DB Jr

Our castle fix fully satisfied we needed another place to fill the gap before tea. We headed for Rowlestone Court, home to a rather fine ice cream making facility and an adventure playground in the woods. After gorging ourselves on large cones we headed off to play. The rain of the previous days had turned the place into a mud-path (the farmer kindly scraped the slurry from the path for us where it crossed the farm track). Just the sort of place for sandals or so ED thought 🙂

The zip wire provided fun for all ages. Me and ED are far above such tomfoolery and kept a respectful distance.

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DB Sr zipping it

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TJS zips along

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TBF having fun!

A pile of tyres full of muddy water provided a degree of fun out of proportion with its appeal. Together with the zip wire, a couple of climbing walls and some monkey bars we passed a happy couple of hours before it was time squelch back to the car.

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Tyre’d out 🙂

TJS promise of good weather was finally delivered. The next day dawned warm and sunny and I declared it officially “play in the garden” day. Out came the paddling pool and the waterslide and the kids were as happy as pigs in mud. Which was just as well as all that water on top of a soggy lawn turned my garden into something approximating a pig pen. Still the kids and TBF’s seemed happy and content so I put the second part of my plan into action. ED needed, I felt, to see the local hills so off we sneaked for a swift stroll. I decided that the classic round of the Olchon Valley, returning via the Cats Back ridge would give him the flavour of the Black Mountains with the added advantage that its only 30 minutes from my front door. I’ve walked this route many times so just head to my categories section and you’ll find 3 or 4 posts, winter and summer that follow this route

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ED, Olchon Valley

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Olchon valley & the Cats Back Ridge

We followed the usual route down to the river and then steadily upwards through the sparse woods and bracken onto the edge. It really was quite hot, which came as a surprise to both of us. Rather than cut up to Offa’s Dyke and along the centre of the ridge we followed a succession of sheep tracks that kept close to the edge. I’ve never walked this part before so I rather enjoyed the change of scene. We put the world to rights, moaned about each of our work issues and generally talked about nothing in particular, the perfect way to spend a day in fact.

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Head of the Olchon valley

At the head of the valley (having followed a group of sheep along the track for a couple of miles) we stopped for a flask of soup and a cuppa. We lazed on the grass and soaked up the sun, a pleasant change from the rain we’d soaked up the year before. We both love our kids to bits but sometimes it is nice to just enjoy a walk at your own pace without the constant nagging from one or other of them 🙂

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Head of the Olchon Valley

Time was pressing and we’d promised everyone a BBQ. We decided against an out and back to Hay Bluff and settled for the glorious and easy stroll that is the Cats Back. I never fail to tire of this ridge. Black Mountains to the west and the carpet of green and fertile countryside that is Herefordshire to the east. I hope ED was impressed, nothing better than showing off your own favourites to an appreciative audience

Olchon valley, Cats Back Ridge

ED on the Cats Back Ridge

Olchon valley, Cats Back Ridge

Cats Back Ridge

Over all too soon and back to the madness of the family. We had a fine BBQ in the warm sunshine in the garden. A pretty good day if you ask me.

Onto the next day and sun was still shining so I plumped for a day out in the Elan Valley. Me and TJS had walked down the Rhiwnant Valley back in the winter and had decided it would be a fine place for a sunny stroll, picnic and a swim in the pool at the far end. Unfortunately whilst it was sunny it, the temperature had been removed for the day and it was more like March. Not a day for swimming. Undeterred, we walked up the valley for lunch.

Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley

Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley

We sat by the river, huddled in various nooks and crannies trying to stay out of the chill wind. Not exactly lazing on the grass sunning ourselves like I’d imagined the previous day but there you go. After lunch we decided to walk to the end of the valley by one of the old mining tracks

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Climbing the Miners path

It was a really fine route with expansive views across the Rhiwnant Valley and to the wild and empty moorland above

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High above the Rhiwnant Valley

The path had it’s interesting sections. In several spots it clung to the cliffs and was exposed enough to need a little care. In others, bog and tussocks cascaded down the hill like a waterfall making for some “challenging” walking (or wet feet to put it another way)

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Bog Waterfall

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Line up

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Rhiwnant Valley

The path ends abruptly where it meets a narrow stream that tumbles down to the Rhiwnant in a series of dramatic gorges and waterfalls. Just my kind of playground, I need to come back in warmer weather and do some serious gorge scrambling here

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Waterfalls at the head of the valley

The water empties into a stunning pool at the bottom, deep and clear and perfect for a wild swim if it hadn’t been so cold! Still it was warm enough to sit for a snack and brew and to allow the kids off the leash.

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Swimming hole

The junior Dangerous Brother seemed intent of trying to fall into each and every wet spot but to my amazement he never did. All the kids seemed to find the place interesting

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DB Jr at play

Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley

Happy Families

It’s become one of my favourite spots in the UK. Don’t tell anyone about it!

Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley

Picnic in the sun

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Upper Valley

Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley

Perfect Spot

It was time to head home, back through the mine workings where the kids all found some wonderful minerals and crystals

Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley, Elan Valley

DB Jr and the Rhiwnant Valley

Time for our friends to head home but ED had an idea to pay a visit to Stokesey Castle on the way. It’s less than an hour from home but I’ve never been. It was still warm and sunny so we took little persuading to make another day of things

Stokesey Castle

Stokesey Castle

It’s a splendid little spot, more a fortified manor house than castle. English Heritage do a great a line in audio commentaries at their properties and this was no exception. They can be a little cheesy but it really brings the place to life

Stokesey Castle

Inner courtyard

In most castles you have to try and use your own imagination to visualise them as proper lived-in dwellings. In a well preserved place like Stokesey it’s so much easier and we spent a happy hour wandering into all it’s rooms and sharing in the passion for the various owners who have cared for and restored it over the years. It even has a tower and some steep stairs from the top of which are fine views across the Shropshire countryside

Stokesey Castle

View north from the keep

Stokesey Castle

Gatehouse from the keep

Stokesey Castle

Ready for lunch

The story of the how the castle came to prominence and then fell into decline and dis-repair is a fascinating one. Luckily the right people came into ownership at just the right time to restore to what we see today. How many other similar places have not been so lucky have fallen into dereliction or worse, simply crumbled to dust. Sobering thought that so much history is likely to have been lost forever

Stokesey Castle

The Keep

Stokesey Castle

Courtyard

Still we enjoyed the castle and returned to the grassy lawns outside for lunch

Stokesey Castle

Picnic time

We concluded the day with a gentle stroll around the dry moat, providing an opportunity to view the castle from another angle. In DB Jr’s case to view it from a patch of nettles

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Main Hall from the dry moat

Stokesey Castle

The moat walk

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TJS and ED on the final leg

An ice cream in the garden finished of the day perfectly but it was with a sad and heavy heart that we waved our guests goodbye. It’s great having them all down to stay, the kids get on really well and creates a lovely relaxed atmosphere that made the house feel rather empty when we got home. We’d had a really great week and the weather had been really good to us. There was so much more I wanted to show them but there will be other times I hope. To our friends from the North, thanks for being such great guests and we hope you enjoyed the stay. Reciprocation next year I hope 🙂

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