Posts tagged ‘Wales’

October 15, 2010

A Elenydd backpack from Rhandirmwyn

by backpackingbongos

It looked like we were going to be weather blessed, the forecast the night before showing temperatures reaching up to 21 C with clear sunny skies.  Not bad for the second weekend in October!

Friday morning we set off for an area which when mentioned makes my heart skip a little bit, that area is called the Elenydd, the green desert of Wales.  The Elenydd covers a vast area, to the north is Pumlumon, whilst to the south is the town of Llandovery.  A huge sprawling mass of upland hills, not the most spectacular you can find in Wales but most definitely the loneliest.  One of those rare places where you can walk all day with the only company being the numerous red kites soaring in the sky above.  Being a misanthropic sort of backpacker this area is right up my street.  This also is not an area for the novice as many of the upland paths exist only in the minds of the map maker and there is rarely anyone around to seek advice.  Plus some of those boggy tussocks can swallow a person whole before spitting them out in a soggy mess!

Day 1 – 4.1 miles with 430 metres ascent

A later start than originally planned and some crappy traffic trying to get around Birmingham on the M42 meant that it was pretty much 3.00pm by the time the Bongo was parked up in Rhandirmwyn.  We left it snuggled up to the bus shelter, shouldered our packs and drooled outside the tea room with plans being made for our return on Sunday.  I paid particular attention to the part of the menu that mentioned ‘chips’.  With lunch already in our bellies courtesy of M&S on the motorway down we set off to find the first footpath that would lead us up into the hills.  Mixed messages were immediately given out with a footpath sign pointing through a gate with a ‘beware of the dog sign’ stuck to it.  The next fence was amply signed by yellow arrow things and we began to think that maybe things are changing in Wales and all paths would be easy to follow.  No such luck as we were then confronted by a solid wall of conifers with a neglected stile being the only evidence that a path once existed.  There was then a very sweaty half hour as we followed a non existent path through deep, steep conifers using a rotting fence as a handrail.  We were eventually spat out into a clearing where bracken had taken over what may once upon a time been a track.  Deeper and higher into the forest we went, slow going and a test of micro navigation until the open ridge line was reached and the navigator (me) sighed with relief.

At this point I feel that I should point out that the cheerful weatherman the night before had been spinning another tale of pure fiction.  The wind was getting up enough courage to call itself a gale and heavy mist and haze covered all views.  All in all under the conditions a rather uninspiring spot.  Inspiration was further relegated as a long trudge followed along a forestry track, enlivened only by myself trying to walk with pacerpoles for the first time.  Not an easy thing to get right for the first few minutes (or hour!).

A trig point was reached at the edge of the forest meaning it was time to off-road and see if we could locate the bridleway which is confidently marked by green dashes on the map.  Don’t look for it as it is not there and be carefull and suspicious of areas on these moors that give way from tussocks to reeds at the heads of valleys.  Realisation that you are in the middle of a bog always comes too late and you just have to put up with muddy water filling your boots.  Extricated to firmer ground we headed for the spot I had identified for a high wild camp, which indeed was flat, sheltered and gave the promise of good views if the mist cleared a bit.  Unfortunately it was a thistle fest, tall, small and those ones that hug the ground.  Not a place to pitch a tent.  We found a flat bit of ground higher up, exposed to the full force of the wind.  Not an ideal spot but darkness was not far away.  It took two people to wrestle one man tents into tent like forms as they tried to launch themselves into the air.

No photos today as to put it simply, the weather was crap.

Day 2 – 11.2 miles with 790 metres ascent

It was a windy night, full of those unpredictable gusts followed by silence before another onslaught crashed into the tent.  You could hear the wind roaring across the moors and you could never be certain whether they would be heading for you.  Dawn brought a heavy persistent mizzle and lower clouds, just skimming the tops of the tents.  With the wind and damp air it took us a while to stir from the comfort of sleeping bags and tents.  Once again it was a two man wrestling match to get each tent back into its bag, any careless mistake and it would become a very expensive kite.  Packed up it was back down to where I originally planned to camp.  Here we left the non existent bridleway and contoured through pastures to come out at a minor road which we followed towards the dam at Llyn Brianne.  The view down to the River Towey was pretty impressive even through the murk.

The public loo’s at the car park are just about hanging on, although in a bit of a state.  The people who use the gents seemingly preoccupied with putting body parts into mouths according to the extensive graffiti.  Signs surrounding the reservoir were also preoccupied, this time with stopping people enjoying themselves on the water in canoes.  CCTV cameras pointing in all directions, it all felt a bit odd and bleak so we crossed the dam which was impressive by its size.

Civilisation was soon left far behind as we followed the reservoir track before a pleasant descent into a valley un-named on the map.  Reaching Troed-rhiw-ruddwen we had to make a decision, follow the planned route up the spectacular Doethie or shorten the day by heading towards the Pysgotwr.  After a very late start we were pretty behind where I had planned us to be by now, so we decided to have a more leisurely day and go for a short cut.

I knew that I was entering an area where the farmer has a reputation for being pretty aggressive towards Hikers, but I was not sure exactly where about we could be made to feel unwelcome.  I have read stories of people being attacked trying to use rights of way, with even the farmers children being set on the unsuspecting public.  I will try to dig it out but I am sure that Jim Perrin has written an article on his experience at the hand of the landowner in this area.

It was therefore with a degree of trepidation that we followed a track that is not a right of way towards the bridge over the river Doethie (the bridleway fords from the other side and the river is pretty substantial).  The scenery began to get ever more spectacular, which was hard to capture in the poor light.

Safely across the bridge and back onto the right of way I started to fret about approaching the buildings at Troed-rhiw-cymmer, which I am sure I had read about hostility.  We managed to bypass on a track round the back and started ascending steeply with splendid views north right up the wild Doethie valley.

The track soon levels out and crossed rugged moorland, full of bogs and deep tussocks, the bridleway being non existent on the ground we stuck to the hard surface.  A standing stone was the only thing to break up the endless flow of wind blown grass.

Descending towards Bryn-ambor we saw a magnificent sight.  Five horses were running up the track a mile or so away, speedily getting closer towards us.  Right at the last minute they exited the track, a foal excitedly leading the way across the moors.  It was pretty much at that moment that shafts of sunlight broke through the gloom, lighting up the autumnal valley of Afon Pysgotwr Fawr.

Approaching the road head we saw what from a distance looked like two elderly women in headscarves, next to a quad bike that soon sped off.  As we approached it became apparent that it was two young teenagers attired in a strange combination of urban hoodie and welly boots.  They were waiting for us and greeted us with a barrage of questions, “where have you been?”, “Where are you going?”.  That sort of thing.  They then went into detail that their dad owned all of this land which appeared to stretch for miles in either direction.  It was an odd sort of encounter, they were not particularly intimidating but I started to feel that it could go either way.  It became apparent that these were those kids I had read about, whose dad had used in the past to scare off unwanted hikers.  If you visit this area make sure that you stick to rights of way or access land and be prepared to be challenged.  We remained polite and made our excuses, crossing the bridge towards Bryn-glas and off their land.

Bryn-glas was tricky as the path went between the farm buildings where we spotted two large sleeping dogs.  Keen to avoid surprising them and the risk of being bitten, we did a bit of climbing over barbed wire fences and fell in a bog in a bid to reach the security of the track on the other side of the farm.  It worked and we were soon descending into another much wilder valley, Afon Pysgotwr Fach, which I have named valley of the tussocks.  These were man eating beasts, almost impossible to walk through without lurching, tripping and falling.  The stream through the valley would be easy to cross if you could find solid ground on either side!

The difficult ground soon gave way to easier grass as we headed for the summit of Carn Nant-yr-ast and its trig point.

After more rough tussocky ground we soon made it to the deserted farm of Blaen-Cothie where after a bit of hunting we found a great flat bit of ground with short cropped grass.  Even the wind which had been howling all day dropped enough to give us a peaceful night.

Day 3 – 11.7 miles with 570 metres ascent

Sunday was meant to be bright and sunny but once again we woke to dull overcast skies, at least packing this time was not an ordeal in tempestuous winds.

The ruins of Blaen-Cothie was a bit of a haunting sight on this bleak October morning, it really is located in the middle of nowhere.  The only concession to modernity being the encroaching plantation and a large corrugated barn across the river.  It must have been a hard life here.

Miles of easy track and a minor lane brought us to the peaceful little hamlet of Cwrt-y-cadno where an old drovers road leads you through high pastures onto the extensive moorland plateau of the Mynydd Mallaen.  For some reason I have always fancied a walk up here, in the end it was nice but not really that exciting!  A boggy track and some off road tussock bashing soon brought us to the huge cairn and summit trig point.  The sky by now was very blue but the haze still hung over the distant hills, taking away any extensive views.  Our eyes were drawn to the badlands to the north and farmers lying in wait for unsuspecting hikers!

It was a pleasant romp across the moors back to Rhandirmwyn and the trusty Bongo.  Once again the vastness of the open grassland being broken up by a solitary standing stone, the only landmark for miles.  As the afternoon progressed it got hotter and hotter until when we hit the valley bottom it felt like mid summer once again.

Possibly the last time we feel the heat of the sun on our faces whilst backpacking for several months now?

September 8, 2010

A fond farewell in the Black Mountains

by backpackingbongos

For the past three years I have had the pleasure and privilege of using a beautiful and remote old farmhouse in the Black Mountains.  A rare place of solitude, isolation and retreat in a hectic world.  I arrived there for probably the last time last weekend for a final farewell as it has been sold by the current owners.  Driving from Nottingham the modern world slowly drifts away as you drive the final seven miles of narrow twisting lanes into a dead end valley surrounded by mountains and forest.  The keys to a locked barrier soon see you climbing up a muddy forestry track to a signpost pointing along a bridleway.  A decision has to be made here, park up and carry the tons of gear accumulated in the van or risk the steep, bumpy bridleway though a tunnel of deciduous trees.  Laziness always wins in the end and you duck as the branches of the trees scrape the roof of the van and the wheels slide over wet rock.  Suddenly sky dominates once again as a clearing is entered and the final rocky steps of the track brings you safely into the walled enclosure of a special place.

A journey I have made many times but this time was a little more special.  Just before reaching the farmhouse a flash of white caught my eye, behind the barn I spotted two fell ponies watching me nervously whilst grazing on the lush green grass.  Pure wild magic.

I had a day to myself before a couple of friends from Nottingham joined me for the weekend.  Many of the footpaths in the vicinity of the Farmhouse had felt the tread of my boots over the past three years, so I braved the track once more and headed for Cwmyoy.  Its crooked old church that twists like a corkscrew has a splendid backdrop of Hatterrall hill with its massive landslip, which reminded me of Alport Castles in the Peak District.  I will let some photos tell the story of the day:

A sunken path through a canopy of gnarled twisted old trees.

Looking up the lush green Vale of Ewyas from the top of the landslip.

Returning along the Offa’s Dyke path and the final trig point before descending.  The ridge gives a clear boundary between the mountains of Wales and the rolling hills of England.

The ridge snakes down terminating in a hill fort.

The scenery turned pastoral as I crossed the fields heading for the small wooded nature reserve above Strawberry cottage.

Back at the farmhouse I embraced the solitude whilst I had the place to myself, a comfy chair being dragged out into the garden.  A sweat was later worked up as I attempted to cut wood with a bow saw to light a fire for when it got dark and the night would push me inside.  A distant motor signaled the arrival of Steve and Tash who also embraced the magic of the surroundings and our accommodation for the weekend.  A convivial evening and night was spent burning wood, drinking beer and putting the world to right.  My pile of musty mattresses were pure luxury as I sank into them for the best nights sleep I have had for weeks.

The following morning was leisurely, spent just being in the forest and in and out of the ancient building full of character.  Exploring with my camera I started to notice things that had previously passed me by.

Ferns growing out of almost every single wall like mini hanging baskets.

An old drain pipe that nature is slowly turning the same colour as the surrounding stone.

The rusty old loo!

The dreamy porch inviting you into the house.

The old garden wall that is being reclaimed by nature.

A retreat deep in the woods hidden in a fold on the mountainside.

The afternoon was spent walking up the local mountain behind the farmhouse, the 800 metre peak Pen y Gadair Fawr.  Unfortunately the approach is less than attractive being along a rather dull forestry track.  However this means that the miles are quickly eaten up and open countryside is soon reached, just before the final moorland rise to its summit cairn.  Unfortunately the surrounding countryside was eaten up by pretty murky conditions and the views were less than extensive.  The surrounding hills simply being grey outlines on the horizon.  The returning ridge line however is a joy to walk, high above two valleys and free from the conifer plantations.  The weather conditions meant that it was not really worth getting the camera out, except for the two below.  These will simply be labelled, “Ex punks turn last of the summer wine”.

Achy legs were amply rewarded on return to our accommodation later than afternoon, the two fell ponies had taken up residence in the garden.  Tiny nervous things they were too, although one did square up to an interested looking Jack Russell.  Does anyone know the origins of the Black Mountain Fell ponies?

Another wildlife spectacle revealed itself later that evening when Steve excitedly called us outside.  There was a steady stream of bad flying between the barns, darting through gaps with surprising speed and agility.  Movement on the rafters of the porch above our heads caught our eye.  Our torch beam picked out two bats hanging upside down just a couple of feet above us.  A wonderful sight although they quickly moved on to join the others feeding between the barns.

The excesses of the night before and tired bodies from the walk meant that we were all dozing in from of the fire not that long after it got dark.  Nights are atmospheric there with the combination of a huge open fire and gas lights.  Outside there is no noise apart from the owls and a distinct lack of light pollution.  The stars really get to shine!

The good old Met Office once again showed us how inaccurate their forecasts are.  We were promised sunshine, we got heavy rain and low cloud the following morning.  Our walk before leaving for home was high on atmosphere but low on views!

Farewell my forest and mountain retreat…………………

February 6, 2010

Beaten by the Berwyns – Godor & Moel yr Ewig

by backpackingbongos

The moral of this story is going to run along the lines of, “Don’t park your campervan at the furthest end of a hilly campsite if there is a risk of snow”.  It got a bit messy trying to get home.

Anyway after my equine visit the previous night I had one of those sleeps which only seem possible when out and about in good old fashioned fresh air.  Maybe it was the luxury of Fat Airic or was it two nice big pillows or even those two cosy sleeping bags?  Comfy and toasty is the way to go in midwinter.

I awoke to leaden skies and the odd flake of snow and spent a good while faffing about drinking coffee and getting ready.  All of a sudden the world outside became monochrome as a mini blizzard swept down off of the mountains, big fat snow flakes covering everything.  Within an hour there was a good dumping of fresh white stuff and I was ready to explore.

8.8 miles with 640 metres of ascent

The blanket of snow seemed to have silenced the world and there was not a breath of wind as I headed down the valley.  The snow had a perfect squeak to it and was not deep enough to slow progress.

As I walked through the farm-yard of Tan-y-graig I turned around to keep a careful eye on the barking dogs and stepped on a section of snow covered clear ice.  I was on my back in a split second, the wind knocked out of me.  It’s amazing how quickly you can fall over.  A bridleway leads north from the lane and climbs steadily towards the abandoned farm of Gwern-feilod.  The world again quickly vanished as a wall of white washed over me, the snow coming down thick and fast.  The farmhouse was a sad shell so shelter was sought in the pine forest above for an early lunch and to make a decision what to do next.  Visibility would be down to nothing up in the snow filled clouds.  However luck was on my side as just soon after coffee and food were finished the clouds parted and the sun made an appearance.

I slowly made my way up towards the summit of Godor, threading my way between gates as I was outside of the access area.  At one point I could simply walk over a fence as a huge drift had covered it.

The clearing air gave great views to the lower hills and the Midland plains to the east.

As the unmarked summit of Godor was reached the wind was blowing ,with the ground being a moving mass of spindrift.  Broken clouds were racing past giving the impression of being on a much higher hill.

Ahead of me now the clouds were beginning to build and cover the large empty uplands, miles of snow covered grassy tussocks.  What would have been a friendly landscape yesterday in the sunshine and crystal clear air began to take on a more threatening air.

As I passed Godors north west top the snow started again and visibility did not extend further than a hundred metres.  My field of view was mostly of the inside of my hood and of the ground as wind blasted icy crystals stung my eyes.  Luckily I had a wire fence to follow and for some reason there was a corridor of old rock hard snow following it.  What would normally be slimy peaty dips along the fence were filled in by old snow and often just the top of the fence posts would be sticking out.  I was soon on the 695m summit of Moel yr Ewig where I decided against continuing up to the summit of Cadair Berwyn.  I descended and soon Llyn Lluncaws came into view.

Deep snow covered heather made the short walk to the lake difficult with ankle twisting holes being well hidden, it was more of a lurch than a walk!  The lake itself was mostly frozen and the outflow stream quickly disappeared under a huge snow bridge.

I located another line of rock hard old snow and followed it downstream to where I could pick up a track.  As the snow cleared views came back and in front of me were the impressive cliffs of Craig y Mwn.

As I got closer to the valley bottom I stood and watched figures descending from the top of the waterfall.  It looked to be slow and difficult going over the snow covered icy track I had walked up yesterday.  The clearing air and setting sun gave a great pinkish glow to the cold frozen valley.

I got back to the snow bound Bongo and started to worry about how I was going to get it out the next morning.  I paced the route out to the worryingly snowy road a couple of times trying to find the best line.  Nothing much that I could do about it tonight!

I had another relaxed evening inside the van enjoying the peace and quiet of my location.  Just after dark the owner of the campsite came knocking to see if I was ok and to share some of his flapjacks he had baked that day.  I wish that I had got the recipe as they were amazing.  I raised my concerns about getting out, but he reassured me he would tow me out by mini tractor if I got stuck.

I slept for 13 hours that night, waking to find that the route I had marked to get the van out covered by fresh snow.  All packed up and I did manage to get the van further than I thought before gravity and an icy patch brought me to a halt.  There then followed a good hour involving a mini tractor, a rope and a Bongo.  The tractor struggled at one point which worried me.  But after a bit of distance arm waving between tractor and Bongo I was soon driving down a very narrow lane on virgin snow, never done that before and it was great.

The strange thing is that once out of the valley 3 miles away at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant there was hardly any snow.  It had not been forecast anyway…………………

February 2, 2010

Pistyll Rhaeadr and Post Gwyn

by backpackingbongos

It was one of those weekends when I just could not make up my mind what to do, but I just had to get outside.  I fancied Wales but did not want too far to drive, but then to backpack or have the winter luxury of the Bongo?  I settled on the Berwyns as a destination as they are the first big hills when you enter Wales from the east, I still had a few of their heathery summits yet to climb.  A quick search of Google and I found the Pistyll Rhaeadr campsite which promised a wild and peaceful place to stay.

It was late morning by the time I arrived at the campsite and the woman who checked me in at the café thought that I was slightly mad camping in this weather.  She guaranteed that I would have the place to myself!  I parked up the van in a splendid spot with a view down the valley and with Craig y Mwn towering above.  The day was slowly ebbing away so I had to head into the hills sharpish………………..

6.3 miles with 590 metres ascent

It is a short walk from the cafe to the towering Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall which is a dizzying 240 feet high.  It would be a splendid sight after a few days of heavy rain or during a really cold spell.

A path leads through beech trees above the public loo’s and on to open hillside.  The crags of Cerrig Poethion still had large cornices and the track upto Llyn Lluncaws looked tempting, I would be descending that way the next afternoon.

I passed a couple of guys lugging a camera and tripod who warned of the icy path ahead, one showing his ripped trousers gained from a fall.  Indeed higher up the path was a sheet of clear ice and it took a while to gingerly pick my way across it.  A simple descent through pine woods lead to the unfenced top of the falls.  All the rocks in the vicinity were covered in a thin dusting of snow over ice, I kept well away from the edge!  Further upstream there is a succession of pools and small cascades which would make great spots to while away sunny summer afternoons.  Not today though.

The river now turns into the Afon Disgynfa and heads into the heart of the Berwyns.  An easy mile or so leads to a large sheepfold which provided me with an opportunity to have a sit down and take in the views in the remarkably clear air.

Further upstream and a hop over the river leads to a sketchy path heading uphill which soon gets lost in the heather.  Now if you don’t know the Berwyns they are all about heather.  In some parts it comes up to the waist and can result in much bad language and makes you want to sit down and sulk.  Luckily here it is the usual knee deep stuff that tries to remove your gaiters and untie your shoelaces.  Thankfully there were still large patches of deep rock hard snow which made progress easy, although every now and then it would try to eat a leg.  The view towards Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych was rather nice though, although it looked like my nice new crampons would not be needed the next day.

A blast of freezing cold air greeted me at the large summit cairn and one of the most extensive views I have seen for some time, the air was amazingly clear.  The northern horizon was dominated by the Snowdonia peaks glistening white against the winter sky.  Snowdon could be clearly seen but it was the Carneddau that stole the show and looked like having the most snow, a perfect unbroken blanket of white.

To the south and east low hills gradually merged with the plains of the Midlands, the green fields contrasting with the white hills.

My original plan had been to visit the hill fort of Craig Rhiwarth and the 608 metre top Glan-hafon to the east but time was beginning to run out.  Instead I walked around the small forestry plantation and to a small rise with views up the length of Nant y Llyn.

An easy descent leads to a track that contours above the broken cliffs of Craig y Mwn where there was a long line of icicles on a large peat hag.

It was evident that at this time of year this side of the valley receives little or no sun and peering over the cliffs half of the Rhaeadr valley was still frozen under a dusting of snow.  Unfortunately my campsite for the night was on the frozen side!

I got back to the van with half hour of daylight and plans to put up the Tentipi in which I would build a small fire.  I started off measuring out the pegging points and then realised that I could not be bothered erecting it.  The ground was frozen solid and I had forgotten to bring a chair to keep myself off the snowy ground.  I cheated and bundled into the van and put on my Blackcat heater instead!

Later I popped my head out and noticed a clear sky full of stars and the brightness of a moon just beginning to rise over the hill top.  A frozen half hour was spent trying to photograph the scene but the wind kept rocking my camera which was set on a 15 second shutter speed, everything coming out blurred.  This is the only one that came out ok.

Back in the van and just about to fall asleep I heard my washing up bucket rolling around, surely it was not that windy?  I opened the door to be greeted by a friendly face that popped its head into the van!

I had only been in Wales for less than 12 hours and I was already feeling very very relaxed!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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