Archive for March 9th, 2011

March 9, 2011

Hyddgen – desecrating the sacred?

by backpackingbongos

Leaving the lovely hippy town of Machynelleth on foot you cross low rolling hills before being confronted by a wonderful natural spectacle.  The cliffs of Creigiau Bwlch Hyddgen sweep down to a great scoop out of the hillside, a waterfall cascading from its head.  Unfortunately the hand of man has already ruined this landscape with a broad swathe of regimented conifers.  However continue south for a couple of miles and the landscape become wilder, a scene to lift the spirits and calm the soul.  Just below the northern slopes of Plynlimon / Pumlumon Fawr the Hyddgen meets the Hengwm.  This is one of the wildest and loneliest corners of Wales.  A land of mountain rivers tumbling down craggy slopes, roadless and barely touched by the hand of man.  A bridleway runs the length of the Hengwm valley but it barely exists on the ground.  Wildness of this quality is hard to come by outside of the Scottish highlands.  This special quality can only be hinted at by this map and some old digital photographs I have taken.

I was therefore dismayed to read that this area may very well be the site of 64 wind turbines up to 146 metres high.  I have lifted the following directly from the Cambrian Mountains society website.

Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) is proposing to build a wind power station of 64 turbines up to 481ft high – much larger than any yet built in the UK – on the foothills of Pumlumon overlooking the Nant y Moch reservoir. The turbine tower sections, blades and generators would be imported via Swansea and brought in ‘abnormal load’ convoys via Cardigan and Penparcau using a new entrance at the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre.

The huge site, in both Ceredigion and Powys, extends to 9 x 5 miles, straddling the Scenic Route from Ponterwyd to Tal y Bont and overlooking Hyddgen, the site of Owain Glyndŵr’s famous victory over English soldiers and Flemish mercenaries in 1401. The area is in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains, once nominated as a National Park, and is rated as ‘Outstanding’ in the Countryside Council for Wales’ LANDMAP system. The beauty of the hills, lakes and forests in this area steeped in Welsh history is undisputed. Despite its inclusion by the Assembly Government as within a ‘Strategic Search Area’ (SSA) for windfarms, there cannot be a site that deserves more protection and a proposal that requires more opposition.

I find this news incomprehensible.  The recent go ahead for the wind farm at Drumglass in the Monadhliath made me angry, however for this my feelings go much deeper.  It is a feeling that is hard to articulate in words but is definitely a feeling of loss and sadness, a knot in my stomach making me feel sick.

I first came this way over a decade ago on a long backpack between the North coast of Snowdonia and the Gower.  It was early April and Rae and I pitched our very cheap tents next to Llynn Llygad Rheiddol.  During the evening we watched a solid wall of white progress towards us along the Hyddgen, finally engulfing us in a blizzard.  Having cheap ridge tents without porches meant we could not cook that night and we lay awake pushing the snow of fly sheets.  Morning brought an alpine scene of deep snow and blue skies.  We crossed Pumlumon and the busy A44 and climbed towards the bothy at Cefn Croes.  Sadly Cefn Croes has now fell to the turbine god, white whirring beasts stealing the views, monstrous tracks scarring the hillsides.  I backpacked there a couple of years ago walking to the bothy under the cover of darkness.  I can remember standing outside with a mug of coffee in my hand, no moon or stars, the dark absolute.  There was a strange whirring noise close by, whoosh whoosh whoosh.  Morning light against a backdrop of cloud and rain revealed the giant whirring blades.  Is this what lays in store for what I consider the best wild land south of the border?  A short video I shot of a rather bleak industrial scene.

Last weekend Jim Perrin led a protest of more than 250 people to the proposed site, I wish that I had know about it as I would have gone.  There is an article in Grough here and an article from the Guardian here.

Soon will it only be our crowded National Parks that are left free from development on an industrial scale?

March 9, 2011

A misty day around Bellever Tor

by backpackingbongos

The plan to head back into the heart of the Dartmoor wilderness over Cut Hill to Fur Tor was wildly optimistic.  I awoke and opened the curtains to find that the back of the garden had disappeared into the mist.  There was a sense of permanence about it, no breeze to shift it, just the constant drip of moisture off the trees.  It was tempting to stay in the cottage, light a fire and read a book but there was a nagging sense that the day would be wasted that way.  The ‘Walkies’ word got Reuben all excited so we got suited and booted and headed out of the door.

9.6 miles with 470 metres ascent

For a city dweller there is something special about walking out of a cottage door and already being in the middle of great countryside.  Unfortunately that morning the countryside was hiding somewhere in the murk, but the feeling was the same.  Out of the front porch, through a gate and we were walking down an ancient sunken track, its high banks covered by a luxuriant carpet of moss.  The trees above catching the mist causing that drip drip drip sound.

A concessionary path leads on down to the river, a bit of a mistake taking it as I was soon up to my ankles in a gloopy muddy mess.  There was the odd bit of boardwalk but not where it was really needed.  However it soon led to the huge clapper bridge, a real Dartmoor gem.  I would imagine that this would be a bit of a tourist draw with ample spots to picnic next to the river.  Today was all quiet in the misty gloom.

A footpath runs parallel to the road on the way to Bellever, a dull tramp with no visibility.  The odd car passed by on the road, the noise strangely muted.  From Bellever I had read in a guidebook that it is a pleasant stroll along the river towards Dartmeet.  Indeed it was pleasant for a few hundred metres, the grassy banks showing plenty of evidence of camping, with the remains of charred fire pits.  It then got deeply unpleasant as underfoot turned into a large expanse of undrained bog.  Gorse bushes then joined in to make sure I was soon lost in my own personal hell.  Frequently blocking the way I would have to duck or push my way through them, those spines often reaching out to draw blood.  There was a brief respite amongst a beautiful grassy glade, perfect to hide away a small tent for a night.

For what felt like an age it was battle of the gorse bushes, my low unlined fell shoes full of muddy bog until finally being spat out opposite Laughter Hole house and the stepping-stones across the river.  I think that perhaps the vegetation may have changed since my guidebook had been researched!

I could not face further spiky jungle walking so took the easy option of a bridleway to the farm at Babeny before dropping down to a wonderfully mossy clapper bridge across an unnamed stream.  The sort of place that fairy tales are written about.

On a dull misty day it is good to escape into dank mossy places and the bridleway down to the next set of stepping-stones did not disappoint.

The muck was washed out of my shoes and Rueben who initially was very unsure was coaxed one by one across the slippery rocks.

The river was left behind on the climb up to Brimpits farm and the mist actually lifted giving a view across the valley to Yar Tor, tiny ant like figures standing on its summit.  It was whilst trying to stop Reuben rolling in fox shit that my day went downhill.  I noticed that one of my Pacerpoles had fallen out of my side pocket, an instant sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach.  At £90 for a set it was not something that I could afford to lose.  I retraced my steps back to the stepping-stones and there was no sign of it.  I then realised that it probably got snagged crawling beneath those damn gorse bushes.  I could not face the gorse laden bog of doom again today so continued on my way, promising myself that I would return later in the week.  Surely no one would be foolish enough to walk that way in the meantime?

Trudging the sloppy slopes of Laughter Tor I decided to see what Reubens recall would be like off lead.  Unclipping him he looked like all his birthdays had come at once as he bounded up and down like a loon.  He returned on command which made me feel dead chuffed until a few minutes later he went deaf and disappeared over the horizon!  With him back safely on his lead I saw a most peculiar sight.  A couple passed in wellies with the man carrying a large kayak paddle.  What they were up to is anyones guess!

The moor got bleaker and right on que the mist rolled in once more, just as I was trying to establish my precise location.  Luckily this magnificent standing stone soon came into view and was marked on the map.

Laughter tor was a unintresting place in the mist and I took a compass bearing in the direction of Bellever Tor.  We were soon caught once again in a nightmare world of gorse, this time knee-high and pretty much impenetrable.  The extensive use of bad language being the only thing that got us through!

I would imagine that Bellever Tor is a grand viewpoint on most other days.  It is a short scramble to the trig point, something that Reuben managed with more grace than me.  However his reaction to the blasts of wind were not quite as positive.  He was very eager to get back down again!

We set off north to find the stone row and Kistvaen (the best way to describe is a stone box) however I was not paying full attention to the map and we walked past it in the mist.  By now I could not be bothered to walk back up the hill!

We were soon back at the old sunken track leading invitingly up to the cottage.