With the Colorado Trail now less than three months away I thought that I should start some training. The idea was for a 51 mile linear walk south to north across the Yorkshire Dales over the May Bank Holiday. Predictably my annual spring cold arrived just in time to scupper the whole thing, along with a rubbish weather forecast for the Dales.
Although I was not well enough to drag my carcass for miles across the moors with a heavy rucksack I was not too ill to have a leisurely explore in the camper van. With it being a spring Bank Holiday I switched on my misanthropic people avoidance radar and set the van on a course for the Elenydd.
Obviously the readers of this blog are hill connoisseurs and know exactly where the Elenydd is located. It’s a huge upland area of Wales that stretches roughly from Pumlumon in the north to Mynydd Epynt in the south. It includes gems such as the Elan valley, a brilliant place to explore. However for this visit I decided to head for the area surrounding Llyn Brianne, north of the town of Llandovery. The Bank Holiday people avoidance plan worked, on the hills over the weekend I passed a total of two couples, both within a minute of leaving the road. The moors themselves were totally deserted, just sheep and very optimistic skylarks. A few phone pictures and words:
The problem with getting to Wales from the East Midlands is that Birmingham and the West Midlands are in the way. Words such as M6 and M42 fill me with fear and horror. Somehow I avoided the awkward bit and found myself passing Titterstone Clee Hill. Considering that there is a car park near the summit I felt it would be rude not to pay it a visit. I sat in the comfort of the van for a while watching a hail storm slowly progress across the Shropshire Hills. It was a few minutes of violence when it finally hit.
It’s less than half an hour round trip to the summit itself. There you can have huge views with very little effort. This is made even better when viewed under blue skies whilst a northerly wind leaves pin sharp visibility.
The view to the east is obscured by a large mast and a selection of giant golf balls, part of a radar station. Add to that extensive quarry workings and it is not the most beautiful of hills. The views are stunning though.
The Sugar Loaf Halt on the Heart of Wales line is apparently the least used railway station in the UK, with an average of five passengers a month. I was going to use its car park but it turned out that it does not have one. Instead I parked at the start of a forestry track nearby to ascend the 511 metre Garn Wen. Located at the edge of the Elenydd and overlooking the Mynydd Epynt the views encompass rugged moors, forestry, green valleys and pastures. Reuben did his best above to blend into the scenery. Spot the dog?
One thing that really struck me about this part of Wales is the lack of windfarms. There was not a single one to be seen in any direction, and the views were massive. Dominant on the horizon to the south was the Brecon Beacons National Park. I could clearly see the Black Mountains, the Pen Y Fan hills and the Black Mountain. Their shapes are unmistakable and the rolling foothills led to the sheer sense of scale.
The road around the Llyn Brianne gives a rollercoaster of a drive. High above the reservoir it is single track all the way with many steep sections and hairpin bends. I found a cracking spot to park up for the night, traffic being non-existent after about 6pm. I was joined for a few hours by a couple of local lads in their camper before they eventually headed home. The following morning the birds were up early and singing their hearts out, it felt like spring had sprung, although temperatures were still close to freezing.
I have a feeling that Gopa Uchaf and Garn Gron are not high on many people’s tick lists. They are located on the western edge of the Elenydd, not far from the village of Tregaron. They both give the feeling of standing on the shore of a vast moorland sea, the gentle slopes rising and falling like waves. The moors give the impression of easy walking but they are far from that. If the tussocks don’t twist an ankle, they will wear down your resolve.
Orange bailing twine reminds me of my childhood in Suffolk where I often found myself lifting bails of straw onto a wobbly wheelbarrow. We always had to earn our pocket-money as kids. Here it was used to tie a slowly rotting gate to a moss and lichen encrusted post. I’m not quite ready to use it as a belt just yet.
The joy of a campervan is stopping anywhere that takes your fancy and being able to enjoy the hills with some degree of comfort. The road between Tregaron and Abergwesyn is also single track and there are plenty of arrows on the OS map to indicate the steepness. The Devil’s Staircase is impressive with its 1 in 4 gradient and several hairpins. I found a high commanding eyrie for the night and spent the evening with the tailgate open, enjoying the expansive views in the sun. I felt less smug the following morning when the cloud was covering the hills, drizzle being blown on the cold wind.
The highest point of the Mynydd Epynt is probably the quickest hill bag in the whole of Wales, mostly due to the fact that it is a couple of hundred metres from the road. What makes it tricky though is that it is on an active MOD firing range. After a bit of online research I discovered that there was no firing over the weekend. I made a quick dash for it.
The Radnor hills made a good stopover on the way back to Nottingham. To the north of the village of New Radnor they rise to over two thousand feet. However the most shapely of these is the lower Whimble, which apparently used to have access issues. The van was parked for the night in a high forestry car park and Reuben and I had a bimble up Whimble. The wind was blowing and the cloud was covering the higher tops but the view was still spectacular. The path to the top is surprisingly steep.
The car park was a peaceful place to spend the night, with the exception of the usual late evening and early morning dog walkers.
Mid Wales is a superb place to visit when the more popular hills are going to be busy. Yes there are no rocky ridges and spectacular peaks, however there is a great feeling of wildness and getting away from it all. Even the quiet roads are a pleasure to drive, perfect to explore in a camper van.