Whilst I was sorting out my gear in the empty car park in Abergwesyn the weather was changing fast. The day of blue skies and warm sunshine quickly replaced by grey cloud and a cold wind. I originally had the idea of visiting the nearby MBA bothy at Moel Prysgau to check out the recent renovations. However it is a fairly lengthy walk in from the road with several river crossings. Outdoor lassitude was setting in and I decided instead to visit a lovely little bothy which would involve almost no physical effort at all.
The road from Abergwesyn to Tregaron has always held a fascination for me when looking at my ordnance survey maps. A narrow yellow line squiggles for miles across an empty landscape, hair pin bends marked with little arrows that indicate steepness. When a section of road is named the ‘Devil’s staircase’ it is probably worthy of further exploration.
Climbing into the Irfon valley is like entering a hidden secret world after the pastoral landscape around Abergwesyn. It is a sublime spot and the narrow single track road that runs through its length is a joy to drive. A place to return to for a spot of ‘Bongo wild camping’ I think.
The Devil’s staircase was as steep as the map suggests and I made the mistake of giving way to a car coming downhill on a particularly vertical section. The combination of gravity exerting its force and the inappropriate use of the clutch led to a nasty wheel spin as I continued uphill. I would highly recommend avoiding this road when there is even a hint of winter conditions.
Twenty miles of delightfully twisty single track lanes brought me within striking distance of the bothy. I have to admit that my heart then sank. It was a Sunday evening, close to getting dark on a remote moorland road in Mid-Wales and two vehicles were parked in ‘my spot’. I have to admit that I selfishly cursed them as I really fancied spending the night in the bothy alone! I Parked nearby and thought about what to do next as two cars could mean a busy bothy. In the end I decided to leave Reuben in the car and have a brisk walk down to the bothy on a scouting mission, at most it is only 15 minutes walk from the car.
Half way down the hill I was greeted by a trio of English Setters and their owners making their way up to their parked cars. They confirmed that the place was empty so I walked back up to the road with them. When I returned to the car Reuben was looking forlorn and abandoned.
With a rucksack full of bothy luxuries and five kilos of coal in one hand and five kilos of wood in the other I tottered off back down the boggy track. The familiar outline of the cosy little building soon came into view, nestled into its little fold in the grassy hills, the mist descending to cover the tops. It had been a few years since I last visited and upon entry I was pleased to see that the place was still tidy and well cared for. The fireplace was stacked with cut logs and kindling, something I always try to reciprocate when leaving a bothy for the next person. Exploring outside I noticed that the wood shed was piled with logs provided by a local sawmill and that the proper loo was still present and in working order!
A perfect bothy evening passed eating copious amounts of food and reading post apocalyptic fiction in front of a roaring fire. In fact it got so hot that I stripped down to my baselayer, a feeling that my trousers may suddenly combust in the heat.
I have to admit to the fact I can sometimes be a bit of a bothy coward and am easily spooked when I am on my own in a remote and creaky building on the moors. On my first ever visit to this bothy I found the hairs suddenly stand up on the back of my neck whilst cooking dinner and I fled soon after dark to pitch my tent outside. Not really rational behaviour for an adult! I have since returned and spent a night here with friends and even tolerated another group with a man who insisted whipping out his harmonica out at every opportunity. I was determined not to flee to the car this time. I am pleased to report that nothing went bump in the night. However Reuben was not very happy about being downstairs and refused to settle until we bedded down for the night upstairs.
It was great laying in my sleeping bag listening to the wind blowing across the roof, the sound of soft rain on the window and Reuben contentedly snoring next to me.
Looking out of the window first thing in the morning I was greeted by swirling mists, the surrounding hills submerged in the murk. However my spirits were high as it was Monday morning and I was not getting up for work. Although I did not manage to transfer my enthusiasm to Reuben who was decidedly on the sulky side.
I resisted relighting the fire and set about making breakfast and then tidying up, wrapped in my down jacket to ward off the damp chill. I had not managed to get through all the fuel I had carried in so some nice dried logs, kindling and firelighters were left for the next person.
I probably should mention that the bothy is a five-star establishment. It is kitted out with gas lighting, although the mantles are long gone, unable to withstand the clumsy attempts at lighting by previous visitors. A gas-powered oven, a boiler for hot water and a gas heater complete the home comforts. However I am suspicious of such contraptions and left them well alone!
A couple of hours of slow faffing and it was time to set off into the mist. Reubens sulk soon disappeared once outside and we set off back up the track towards the car.
I find the nearby collection of lakes particularly attractive, especially on a sunny summer’s day with the moorland birds singing overhead. However they were bleak with low cloud just skimming over the rocky knolls that separate them.
I decided against a walk around them and instead headed back to the car waiting for me on the isolated mountain road, the Mid-Wales moors rolling off to the far horizon.