These days I find the idea of a ‘traditional’ New Years Eve night out a bit of an ordeal, especially if spent amongst the sights, smells and violence of Nottingham City Centre. So why not take advantage of some time off work, gather up some good friends and retire to a remote farmhouse deep in the woods of the Black Mountains?
We had been keeping an eye on the weather for a few days leading up to New Years Eve, as a large amount of snow had fallen over Wales. We decided to brave it and the journey was snow free until in the distance we could see the distinctive profile of the Sugar Loaf coated in snow and looking all pointy and mountain like. In fact the roads were snow free even into the Grwyne Fawr valley until we got to the forestry gate leading up to the farmhouse, where there was suddenly a few inches of the stuff. The Bongo got almost to the top of the track before ice and gravity got the better of it and we found ourselves stuck. Corrina was put to work with a spade in hand whilst I photographed her hard work. After a while we realised we were going nowhere so started unpacking for the 15 min walk along the bridleway to the farmhouse.
It was at this point that Rob, Na and two year old Danny appeared, slowly plodding up the track weighed under a ton of gear. Their car could not make it off the public road. Having a two year old in tow meant that their car was still piled high with kit so I was persuaded to reverse the Bongo the three quarters of a mile back down to the road (not easy in snow and ice) to load up. This time a bit more speed up the track gave me enough momentum to reach the top before becoming stuck again. Something that I would try not to think about for a couple of days!
Our accommodation for the next few days was like stepping into a time warp, no road access, electricity or mod cons. Just bags of atmosphere, gas lights and a huge roaring fire. For us it was bliss!
At about 9pm we noticed that a huge moon had risen over the snowy landscape casting an amazing combination of light and shadow. A good hour or so was spent trying to capture the scene on camera, not easy but here are a couple of my efforts.
Somehow we managed to miss the magic moment and at 12.40am we realised that another year had dawned, so outside for fun with sparklers.
Happy New Year!
10 Miles with 630 metres ascent
For a map of this route click here.
For the first day of the year I really wanted to ascend one of the finest Black Mountain summits, Pen Y Gadair Fawr, a pretty quick and easy stomp from where we were (well it is without snow on the ground). I failed miserably in persuading anyone else to go with me, so at a rather late 11.00am I set off up the path. The narrow path through the trees was even narrower than usual as the sheer weight of the snow on the trees meant that the branches were touching the ground. The combination of snow, trees and the bluest of skies was magical.
The 500 metre contour brought me to a forestry track which can be followed north for a few miles, contouring high on the hillside. Up here anything not covered in snow was decorated in thick clear ice, such as this tree which looked like it was made of crystal.
It was slow progress as I plodded on through deep powdery snow, my footprints disappearing behind me.
As I got higher the snow got deeper with drifts making progress more difficult and slower. However the views got better, especially to the south with the valley leading the eye to the Skirrid in the distance.
I lost track of time and as I reached the end of the track I suddenly realised that it was nearly 3.00pm, how could it have taken 4 hours to walk only 4 miles? It dawned on me that I would be doing fair bit of walking in the dark!
Leaving the comfort of the track I found myself in an arctic wilderness, everything covered in a rhime of ice. Grassy fronds sticking out of the snow tinkled like wind chimes in the freezing cold wind. An icy fence led the way towards Pen Y Gadair Fawr.
I was now finding myself taking a couple of easy steps on solid ice followed by sinking into hidden dips up to my waist. It was hard going until the final steep slopes up to the summit where the security of an ice axe would have given a bit of comfort on the compacted snow. From the frozen summit cairn the temperature was minus 3 c and I had a panorama of snow and ice as far as the eye could see.
Time was moving fast and the sun beginning to set so I reluctantly headed south again, until the light caught my eye.
The sun then started its fiery descent and I fired off scores of photographs, the next three are a bit indulgent but I have not seen a sunset like it for years.
I finally put my camera away and continued my struggle thought the snow, becoming increasingly tired and frustrated by my slow progress. The icy crust was beginning to bruise my shins and when I disappeared up to my waist I struggled to get out again, crawling on my knees. Darkness was approaching fast so I decided to abandon the tops and headed back down to the track and the security of my footprints. It was much easier going and I could follow the trail I had previously broken through the snow. At about 5.00pm I was treated to a red moon rising above the hills.
I began to worry that my friends were expecting me back before dark and that the text message I sent earlier warning I would be late was useless, with there being no reception back at the farmhouse. Therefore when I staggered in rather tired at 7.00pm a worried looking Na told me that Rob and Corrina had set off ten minutes previously to go and raise the alarm. I legged it shouting out to them, thankfully catching them up before they reached the road. An embarrassing false alarm was diverted at the last minute. It had taken me 8 hours to walk what is usually an easy 10 miles, I will definitely factor in the difficulty of snow on my next walk! My apologies for making everyone worry.
I had planned to stay the Saturday night there on my own to do some more walking whilst everyone else went home. However my aching body and the fact that the Bongo needed digging out again meant that I reluctantly returned home early on the Saturday. A good choice as by the time we had cleaned up, done several trips to load up the van and dug it out most of the day had gone.
A great couple of days in good company in a special location.