Posts tagged ‘Pen Y Gadair Fawr’

January 6, 2010

A very snowy New Year in the Black Mountains

by backpackingbongos

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.

January 3, 2010

Snowy Black Mountain Panoramas

by backpackingbongos

Happy New Year everyone!

We got back yesterday evening after spending the New Year in the Black Mountains.  A great time was had by all and the scenery was stunning under a huge dumping of snow.  I found out that the Bongo does not like steep snowy tracks and a fair bit of time was spent with shovel in hand!  A trip report in the next few days but in the meantime here are some ‘Panorama’ shots created by stitching several photos together.

Our remote home in the forest for a couple of nights, no road or electricity.  Bliss.

The next couple of photos were taken on the track just below the Crug Mawr, Pen Y Gadair Fawr ridge.

A 360 degree panorama shot taken from the summit of Pen Y Gadair Fawr.

The next couple of photos were taken just below the summit of Pen Y Gadair Fawr, with the sun beginning to set I had a long way still to go!

September 4, 2009

Bank holiday in the Black Mountains

by backpackingbongos

Last weekend I had the privilege of staying in a friends isolated Welsh longhouse / bothy situated deep in a forest in the Black Mountains.  No road access, no electricity or mod cons, just loads of space and tranquility to share with friends.

We left Nottingham on the Friday evening at about 7.00pm hoping that the early Bank holiday traffic would have died down a bit.  Generally it was pretty good except for a section of the M5 where we had a brief moment when we thought we could be there all night.  We were soon driving down the deserted lanes of the Black mountains into the dead end valley of Grwyne Fawr.  Rich and Trish were already there with their son and were waiting in their car at the locked forestry gate when we arrived at about 10.30pm.  A surfaced forestry track soon gives way to a bumpy bridleway that twists and turns through woodland before arriving at the bothy, pitch black and shuttered.  Arrival in the dark is a bit spooky but once the shutters were off and the gas lights and kettle were on it started to feel like home.  Time quickly passed and it was soon time for bed.

I was the last one out of bed the following morning but the first one out of the bothy as I was itching to stretch my legs on the Black Mountains.  Corrina decided to wait in for Rob and Naomi to arrive, whilst Rich and Trish were occupied with keeping three year old Tobias occupied without toys or TV!

Pen Y Gadair Fawr – 13.4 miles with 1000 metres ascent

I was soon toiling up a steep path through dark and gloomy conifers, trying to get my lungs and legs used to a bit of exercise.  A short bit of pain soon gave me the gain of reaching the col just north of Crug Mawr.  The heather up here was in full bloom and I could see my route ahead in the Grwyne Fechan valley.  Unfortunately all my hard work climbing was to be dented by a large descent down from 524m to 214m.  However this was easy on the legs as well as the eyes and I enjoyed the rapid descent through scenic Nant y Fin on a narrow grassy path.


I never really look forward to a walk along a tarmaced road but the lane through the valley was deserted of traffic.  The road turns to a track and then a grassy bridleway before descending down to Tal-y-maes bridge.  The brown hills ahead contrasting with the green grass and trees of the valley bottom.


The well graded grassy bridleway ascends out of the valley floor and heads for the col between Mynydd LLysiau and Pen Trumau.  Progress was swift and I was surprised not to have passed any other walkers out so far that day.  However looking to the skyline I could see groups of walkers up on the ridges.  Having a slightly misanthropic attitude when walking I decided that I would continue to seek out solitude and not mingle with the crowds.


Instead of climbing to the col I left the bridleway just before it dog legs south and continued up the valley on a narrow path.  The path crossed the stream near the head of the valley then promptly disappeared.  I had intended climbing Waun Fach but can remember the black slimy peat from a previous visit and to be honest I could really not be arsed wading across it.  Following a feint sheep trod I climbed to around 650m and then contoured around the hillside to the head of Nant y Gadair.  A great choice as there were no people and big views down into the valley.


The summit cairn of Pen y Gadair Fawr was soon at my feet for the umpteenth time and I took in the very familiar view.  The aim was now to keep to the ridge leading south before dropping down into the valley.  I have to admit that I cocked up a bit after getting chatting to another couple of walkers and forgot to check the map.  I had not noticed that I had descended too far so had a decision to make.  Either climb back up and start again or follow a high level forestry track that contours around the hillside.  I went for the forestry track option!  There were a fair few miles yet to go but they flew by as I pounded the level track.  The views to my left and ahead were extensive, although plantations dominated the landscape.


Rob and Naomi had arrived at the bothy with their young son by the time I got back.  Naomi especially was rather taken by the building and its surroundings and there was much discussion along the lines of “If I lived here………..”.  The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent in good company chatting around the fire and eating large amounts of curry.  We would occasionally go outside to stand in the darkness and lap up the silence which at times was absolute.  There was no wind or noise from roads or aircraft, standing in silence you could hear your own heartbeat.  This would be shattered every now and then by the bleating of a sheep which would echo through the forest.  There was also no sign of any light pollution and it was a shame that the sky had clouded over hiding the stairs.  The world could have ended and we would have been none the wiser.



Once again I was the last one out of bed the following morning and a couple of hours were spent being a bit lazy and filling up on more food.



Gaer hill fort – 7.3 miles with 470 metres ascent

Rob and I timed our days walking to coincide with Rich and Trish leaving as we could follow them down the track and unlock the forestry gate for them.  The track down from the bothy passes through a tunnel of deciduous trees indicating that the track was here long before the forestry commission planted their lines of regimented conifers.


At the road we let Rich and Trish out and headed towards the cottage of Cadwgan where we picked up a footpath that slowly rose out of the valley onto the long spur that runs between Gaer and Bal-Mawr.  The bracken had really taken hold here and it was often up to our chests on this little used path.


This mile of ridge that leads to and includes Gaer is one of my favourite spots in the Black mountains.  Although not of great height the views are pretty extensive on both sides and in parts is lined by some fine old tress.  It is a good spot to look out over at the landslip just above the village of Cwmyoy.


The small summit of Gaer is all too quickly reached and I think that this is probably one of the finest view points in the black Mountains.  Looking north you see the ridge stretching out in front of you, although the higher ground today was hidden in cloud.  On either side of it you can look up the Vale of Ewyas and the Grwyne Fawr valley.  To the south there is a wedge of low moorland called Bryn Arw with the Sugarloaf and the skirrid on either side.  One day I would like to come and bivvy up here.



The original plan had been to continue on and climb Bryn Awr but neither of us really could be bothered and the weather was not looking promising with low cloud sitting at around the 400 metre mark.  We took a fine wooded track down to the tabernacle church passing an untranslated Welsh sign.  I assume that it was inviting us to close the gate!


Passing through Partrishow a bridleway took us back to our home for the night in the woods.


When we arrived back Naomi and Corrina were in the forest dragging out wood to dry in the barn.  We joined them for a while before getting wet footwear off and getting the kettle on.  Giant logs were then sawed up (mostly by Naomi who displayed large amounts of stamina and persistence) and a good fire was lit.

A great sociable weekend was had by all, far away from the maddening crowds that often persist on an August bank holiday.