This week (in September) we were fortunate to have flexible working hours, so we could make the most of a good weather forecast, and head to the hills. Our intention was to climb Waun Fach, the highest peak in the Black Mountains at 811 m / 2661 ft, which also makes it the second highest mountain in southern Britain, south of Snowdonia. (The highest being Pen y Fan). This was also the first outing of our new Deuter rucksacks!!!
After leaving the pub car park in Pengenffordd (there is an 'honesty box' provided by pub - donations to charity) we made the quickly steep ascent to Castell Dinas, the ruins of an old Norman castle, then descended to a col with a small stream at the foot of Y Grib - known by some as the 'Dragon's Back'. When you see it, it is immediately apparent why the ridge bears this name.
Glorious sunshine and short dry grass made the climb of the spine very enjoyable. As we made our way up each incline and plateau, the view grew ever more panoramic. By the time we reached a tall conical cairn, we could see the Camarthan Fans, the peaks of Fforest Fawr and summits and ridges of the Central Beacons.
As we continued our way to the summit, we a paused to enjoy the antics of some Welsh hill ponies, who also seemed to be making the most of the summer sunshine. When we reached the cairn at Pen y Manllwyn, we had a great view of Hay Bluff and Twmpa (Lord Hereford's Knob) and also the Malvern Hills in the distance. It was so clear that we could also see Brown Clee and the Wrekin in Shropshire.
As we had been warned, the summit view itself is slightly disappointing. However, there was much evidence of land conservation work taking place - presumably to stop peat erosion. At the sad remains of a trig point we made the decision to deviate from the recommended route and head along the well-maintained path to the summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr. The extra mile was definitely worth the effort. Great views of the Sugar Loaf, Skirrid, the Blorenge and Abergavenny.
We made the return journey to Waun Fach, as the sinking sun created dramatic shadows on the eastern faces of the mountains. The descent was well-marked with awesome views of Crug Mawr, Pen Allt-mawr and Pen Cerrig-calch to the south.
On reaching the final cairn at Y Trumau, the sun sank behind Mynydd Troed and cast the valley in shadow. We followed the route back to the car park, knowing that we would return to climb some of the peaks we had view but not yet walked.
Working on the weekend was definitely a small price to pay for such a beautiful day!
Learned and Affirmed
An unplanned walk but the opportunity presented itself, so we quickly gathered our gear and headed for Torpantau forestry car park. Our mission was to 'bag' a Marilyn - Waun Rydd (769 m / 2,523 ft).
We walked the same route which we had taken when visiting Fan y Big. Although it was intermittently raining, the immediate climb up Craig y Fan Ddu and subsequent ridge walk seemed easier going. This was not the recommended starting point in our guidebook, which, we felt, would be pleasant on a warm dry day. However, with an afternoon of heavy rain showers forecast, we were slightly concerned that the final ascent at the end of the Blaen y Glyn valley would be a slippery, boggy and thankless struggle.
We were glad that we repeated the previous route along the Craig Fan Las ridge. This time the Blaen Caerfanell waterfall was in full flood, something that we had not seen during our summer walk when it was a mere trickle. We paid a quick visit to the cairn at the summit of Bwlch y Ddwyallt (754 m / 2474 ft - a Nuttall) and continued round the head of the Blaen y Glyn valley, trying not to be blown over by incredibly strong gusts of wind. Pen y Fan and Corn Du were in cloud but Cribyn occasionally peeked out to see what we were up to.
The summit cairn of Waun Rydd is small and not visible from the well-maintained path which runs through the peat haggs. The path, however, does not lead to the summit, so we left it and headed across the boggy grass to the highest point. We eventually met a small track and spied the small cairn. At this point, the wind speed increased considerably. Despite the low cloud, we could see familiar landmarks in the Usk Valley - Llangorse Lake, Tor y Foel and also the tall cairn at the farther end of this long flat summit.
We decided that we didn't have time to visit Allt Lwyd, but would descend via Allt Forgan. After a false start (thinking the well-maintained path was the one we needed), we found a muddy track, which took us to a war memorial for the crew of a Wellington bomber, which had crashed on the mountain during a training mission. There were two surprises. Firstly, we had not expected the wreckage to still be in situ and secondly, we were not expecting both memorial and wreckage to be decorated with poppy wreaths and other remembrance items. It was quite moving to discover that, in spite of the remoteness and inaccessibility of the memorial, they are not forgotten. A poignant and timely reminder of the sacrifices our ancestors made in the name of freedom.
Uh-oh...a fork in the path...and neither seemed to match the description in our guidebook. We made a best guess but the path soon became more of a stony sheep-track. With low cloud, rain and an hour's light remaining, we opted to return along the clear ridge path to the car park. There was no disappointment or regret. We knew this was the right decision. So...heads down, tramp, splash, slip, slide and squelch... we arrived back at the car park at sunset. After removing our weather gear, we sat in the car and finally ate lunch, which we had neglected due to the elements and lack of cover. Better late than never!
Learned and Affirmed
On Friday, our good friends David and Barbara invited us to climb Beinn Ime with them before we headed back to Wales. This would be our fourth Munro and is the highest of the so-called 'Arrochar Alps' (1,011 m / 3,317 ft). However, the weather forecast for Saturday was gloomy – low cloud and mist. Should we or shouldn’t we? We decided to go ahead. Due to unforeseen circumstances, our start was delayed but we still had just enough time to climb it.
Within about 200 m of the parking area, we had to cross a small but fast-flowing stream, swollen by recent rain. The rocks were too slippery to use as reliable stepping stones and, despite assistance, Lynne ended up ankle deep in water. Luckily, gaiters and Gore-tex kept her feet and socks dry.
There was no clear path up the route we were taking. The coarse, thick grass and spongy moss made it heavy going and the ascent was slower than we had hoped for. The summit of Beinn Ime and its neighbouring Arrochar Alps were hidden in cloud but after an hour’s plodding, we could see the bhealach which we needed to reach. The summit still invisible!
As we reached an area of large boulder deposits, David delivered the bad news. He had calculated that at our current pace, while we could reach the summit in daylight, the last part of the return descent would be in darkness…and only he had a head torch. Respecting his wisdom and experience, we agreed to walk to the bhealach and then return.
The view from the bhealach was spectacular. We were looking straight down the valley of Glen Kinglas, with an occasional glimpse of Loch Fyne at its far end. The light was already so poor that the cars on the A83 were all using headlights, even though it was another 2 hours until sunset.
After a bite to eat, we headed back down to the stream. This time, we just waded through it, safe in the knowledge that dry socks and shoes awaited us in the car, only five minutes away.
Although we didn't make the summit, there was lots of learning from the journey.
Learned and Affirmed
A year ago, during a visit to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge, Andrew became fascinated by a distant hill,topped by a small copse of trees, which caused it to resemble a Mohawk hairstyle. We discovered that it was called May Hill.
A week later, as we drove north to Scotland, we spotted it again from the M50, just outside Ross-on-Wye. Subsequently, we have seen it from the Malvern Hills (which border Herefordshire and Worcestershire), the Lickey Hills of the Midlands, and also from different peaks in the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons.
So, when we decided to meet our good friend Tim, at a place roughly equidistant from our homes, it seemed Fate had decreed that now was the time to uncover May Hill’s mysteries!
The Hill, with the exception of the copse, is owned by the National Trust. We met Tim…eventually…at a parking area/layby, where a wild mare and her young foal were eating their lunch, completely unperturbed by the arrival and departure of the occasional vehicle. A short walk from the car park brought us to some more horse families grazing on this protected common land.
The distinctinve copse of pine trees was planted to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and additional trees planted for the current queen’s Silver Jubilee. The summit itself (296 m / 971 ft) is marked by a trig point and within the trees are two commemorative plaques. The Corsican and Scots’ Pine are planted in a square and a bench is placed on the outer edge of each side, so that you can enjoy the views with a degree of comfort. The panoramas are impressive.
To the south, the River Severn, meanders towards the Bristol Channel, overlooked by the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean.
To the west we could clearly see the Welsh mountains of Sugar Loaf, Ysgyryd Fawr (Skirrid), Blorenge, Waun Fach and Hay Bluff.
To the north the Malvern Hills and also the hills of Shropshire were visible.
The eastern view is now partially obscured by the mature forestry. However, at various points, you can see the Cotswolds.
We continued our stroll (along a route downloaded from the National Trust site) and were delighted to encounter the plantation of beautiful redwood trees, amongst the fruiting beech and rowans. To Lynne’s delight we met another friendly pony ambling along the forestry track, just before returning to the parking area. To our delight (Tim and Andrew), Lynne didn't try to bring it to the Penny Farthing Inn!
Learned and Affirmed
Leaving home later than we had planned, we were very lucky to find a parking place opposite the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre. It’s great that so many people are being active but accommodating so many cars is becoming a real issue on the weekends.
While the path to Pen y Fan looked like the route to a religious shrine, crammed with hundreds of pilgrims; the route to Fan Fawr was, well…empty…except for the two of us. Phew!
As we dropped down from the A470 to the ‘Taff Trail’ path, we followed the Taf Fawr to the point where it enters the Beacons Reservoir. You have to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid the numerous boggy patches through which the path runs. However, once we reached the far end of the reservoir (via moorland and forest tracks) we were glad to begin our ascent of Fan Fawr’s long, curving eastern ridge - Cefn Yr Henriw.
As we neared the summit, we spied the trig point off to the west. We decided to visit it although it wasn’t on our walk route. We were glad that we made the detour. Just as we got there, the sun emerged from the overcast sky and we had a great view of previously visited western peaks – Fan Nedd, Fan Gyhirych, Fan Frynych, Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog.
We then made our way to the ‘true summit’ (734 m/2048 ft), marked by a small cairn. Whilst we had a quick snack, we watched the continuous line of ‘pilgrims’ making their way up the Pen y Fan path, and a couple of paragliders frightening sheep on the other side of the valley.
As we made our post-lunch descent, we met another walker with her two dogs, one of whom took a great interest in Lynne! Like us, she was avoiding the crowds. We exchanged a few pleasantries and congratulations (she had just graduated!), then made our way back to the busy car park.
Learned and Affirmed
Just a couple of hours to spend this weekend...so, somewhere local...cue the sound of Andrew rustling a map...
Llantrisant is only 9 miles away. We have driven past it, through it and to it many times. However, neither of us had ever visited the strange tower-like structure on the highest point above the town.
Within a 100 m of the free car park, we crossed beyond the cattle grid and were greeted by a variety of free-roaming bovines, claiming their rightful place on the common land. As we walked along the common road, we saw the derelict Cwm Coke Works - a relic of the heavy industry that once dominated the area. There is a strange beauty about the tall brick chimneys and other angular structures. In contrast, the Royal Mint seems modern with sleek lines and low-lying buildings.
Leaving the road, we followed a series of small roads, tracks and paths to the summit of our peak - Y Graig. As we ascended we saw the Ely Valley below occupied by Talbot Green and its shopping complex, Llantrisant golf course, and residential developments of different ages.
We quickly reached the summit tower known locally as 'Billy Wynt'. It is a folly built on the base of a former windmill (the Welsh for wind being 'gwynt'). Sadly this small cylinder is filled with litter. We walked up the few stone steps and sat on the rim. The view at only 174 m is still impressive. We saw Cardiff Bay with the Millennium Centre shining in the sunlight. We could see many familiar sights but with time pressing us, we took a few photographs, we walked back through the town and promised to return to explore its history a little more....especially that of the physician William Price, who was responsible for the acceptance of cremation as a death rite, amongst other achievements. We strolled past his statue in the Bull Ring and returned to the car park.
Learned and Affirmed
Our original intention was to 'bag' two Munros - Cruach Ardrain, Beinn Tuilaichean - and a Munro Top - Stob Garbh - with our good friend Maria acting as guide and mentor. Weather forecast was light cloud cover with sunny intervals - yeah, right!
We had a nice sunny start from the convenient Forestry Commission car park situated just off the main road. We crunched our way along the vehicle access roads past monster-machines and an occasional forestry worker.
After a short boggy trek along tree-break paths (forest 'rides'), we exited the plantation over a high stile and emerged onto the ‘bare’ mountainside. We headed up the ridge to the Grey Height (686 m) and took in some beautiful views to the north. However, an ominous bank of cloud created a ceiling above the vista. To the south, our destination was shrouded in a smoky, white mist.
We continued our ascent to our next stop, Meall Dhamh (814 m), passing some precariously balanced ‘erratics’ (boulders deposited by glaciers). Despite the body heat generated by our efforts, there was a noticeable temperature drop as we moved closer to the mist ceiling.
With no invitation, the mist descended. However, we pressed on for a while along the well-trodden path before feeling the need to add an extra layer in order to ward off the chill. Waterproofs were required for our final ascent to the summit, as the wind-driven mist was now depositing a significant layer of moisture upon us.
We passed the ‘false summit’ cairns and, with a degree of satisfaction, reached the cairn on the ‘true’ summit (1046m). Not only were our clothes and hair dampened by the mist but also, slightly, our sense of achievement. There was no view whatsoever. Visibility was 25 - 50m maximum. We were here…but where?!?
A quick lunch and time to move on…but which way? It was decided that, all things considered, Beinn Tulaichean would have to wait for another day. We would take the most direct route to Stob Garbh (the Munro Top). Our first challenge was to negotiate the ‘intimidating’ descent of the north-east face of Cruach Ardrain. In some blogs, the path has been described as a ‘goat track’ and a ‘hard scramble’… in good weather! Nevertheless, after some initial slow (but sure) progress - including some ‘crab’ impressions from Lynne - we reached the bealach between Cruach Ardrain and Stob Garbh.
We knew where we were. We checked the map and also checked Maria’s GPS locator. The problem we were now faced with was the lack of an obvious path and no visible landmarks except the occasional, amorphous, looming shadow in the mist. Thanks to Maria’s navigating skills - using a combination of altitude readings on her watch, GPS data and her trusty Silva compass - we climbed to a point where a path finally presented itself. We won't mention Lynne's imaginary path! Oops! Too late!
The short trek to Stob Garbh was eerie. It was like moving through a science fiction landscape, as weird shapes emerged from the swirling mists and suddenly disappeared. The summit (959 m) was graced with dark pools and a pavement of metamorphic rocks. A quick photo opportunity at the summit cairn and it was time to head off the mountain.
It was a fairly uneventful trek back along the ridge (apart from two sheep which, bizarrely, looked three times bigger through the mist). The path led through occasional boggy patches and rocky rises. Visibility was still limited, until we began our descent of Stob Coire Buidhe (857 m) and passed below the cloud roof. The finish line was not quite in sight but was definitely nearer.
We climbed over the deer fence on the edge of the forestry land, using a partially constructed (?) stile and prepared for the final descent to another forestry track. There was no obvious path and, in spite of checking and re-checking, we could not find the stream that our guidebook suggested we follow as the easiest route. The gradient was steep. The grass was thick and long. The spongy moss hid slippery rocks and deep holes. This was hard going on knees and ankles joints, thighs and back muscles. We reached the edge of the forestry but this was dense and impenetrable. Eventually a stream became apparent and we followed it down to the track with much trepidation..
Thigh muscles quivering, we plodded (yes, plodded) back to the car along the muddy track, which had been churned by the tyres of huge vehicles, until we heard the welcome crunch of compacted gravel. An unforgettable nine and a half hours! For us, an unparalleled achievement.
Learned and Affirmed:
Our initial intention was to complete an 8 mile circuit, with Fan y Big as the only summit involved. However, the sight of Cribyn, Pen y fan and Corn Du was just too much to resist. Looking at the map, we calculated it would probably add another 5 or 6 miles to our original plan, but if we left out Cribyn, it would seem more sensible!
Fan y Big, according to wikipedia, "is a subsidiary summit of Waun Rydd in the Brecon Beacons National Park, in southern Powys, Wales. It is 719 m (2,359 ft) high and is often hiked as part of the Horseshoe Walk, a traverse of the four main peaks in the Brecon Beacons."
Free parking at the Blaen y Glyn Forestry Car Park - always a welcome start. In the eventual 13 mile circuit, there were only two really strenuous sections. The first was at the beginning. After ascending a well made path along side some beautiful waterfalls, you encounter a long steep gradient to the top of Craig y Fan Ddu. Despite the fact it was a very overcast morning, it was a lot more humid than we had anticipated, so halfway up this climb we had to remove layers and take on water to avoid overheating.
Once we had reached the top, we continued on the long ridge walk around the head of three glacial valleys - Cwm Caerfanell, Cwm Cwareli and Cwm Oergwm. The impressive vistas changing every few hundred metres. It is worth remembering to look back every now and again so that you don't miss the spectacular views of where you have been! The scattered peat haggs creating a landscape from a science fiction movie.
While Fan y Big itself is a gentle incline, it affords an impressive aligned view of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du. There is a small overhanging outcrop of sandstone (allegedly called 'The Diving Board') where, if you have a head for heights, there is a fantastic photo-opportunity.
After a quick lunch, we descended Fan y Big and skirted around Cribyn - which, in hindsight, was a wise decision. We made the now familiar ascent of Pen y Fan and Corn Du, then began our trek along the western ridges of the Taf Fechan valley. Different sections of the ridge have different names - Craig Gwaun Taf, Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog and Graig Fan Ddu. In places, there are sheer drops near the edge of the path. However, if you are anxious about heights, there is lots of grass/heather alongside the well-worn path.
We paid a quick visit (due to swarms of flying ants) to the trig point on Twyn Mwyalchod before a tricky descent - the second strenuous section mentioned earlier. A steep, deep cut track with lots of loose stones and slippery surfaces, which, from a distance, looks like a red, bloody scar. Lots of care needed. This is when walking-poles are probably advantageous but as we don't yet possess them, we took our time and selected our route with care.
We finally reached the Neuadd Reservoir without injury and after a few photos of the abandoned buildings, we walked bag to the car along two miles of forestry road. We would have enjoyed the sudden appearance of the sun except for the now ubiquitous swarms of flying ants and crane flies. We would have taken some more photos of the waterfalls but at this point we had had our fill of insects and did not want to brave the clouds of midges that we could see around the waters edge...maybe we will return in the snow!
Learned and Affirmed:
Slowly, but surely, we are bagging local Marilyns but not quite as many as the man who climbed all 1,556 of them. Well...not yet!
Today, we were joined by our good friend, Tim. An experienced walker and great company! Fan Gyhirych and Fan Nedd are situated in the Brecon Beacons and seemingly far less popular with walkers and tourists when compared to Pen y fan and Corn Du. However, there were definitely more inquisitive cows around and some bravery on Lynne's part was required to walk past by them...twice.
Predicting that the overnight rain had increased the boggy conditions hinted at in our guide book, waterproof boots and gaiters seemed like a wise choice. Following the recommended route had several moments confusion whilst attempting to find landmarks that had disappeared or degenerated since publication. e.g. a wire fence now reduced to rotting posts, barely visible above the vegetation. It added to the fun.
We crossed the northern face of Fan Nedd with beautiful views of the Senni valley below us. However, glancing at the view while you are walking risks an ankle injury! The path is very stony/rocky and needs full attention. Ankles intact, we reached the col joining our two peaks to be greeted by forceful winds and light drizzle. Hoods up and heads bowed we pressed on and began our ascent of Fan Gyhirych's curved northern ridge. Due to the ferocity of the wind, we opted for the constructed path rather than the route along the cliff edge. On reaching the trig point, we had some great views of the Black Mountain escarpment and Llyn Y Fan Fawr in the west, with Pen y Fan and its neighbours in the east.
On finding some shelter, we ate a quick lunch as the sun struggled to make an appearance. Refuelled, we retraced our steps back to the col (and the cows) and ascended the well-worn path up Fan Nedd. We reached the cairn and, once again, it was increasingly challenging to remain upright as the wind seemed to blast us from several directions. After a brief photo-opportunity at the trig point we spent a few minutes behind a thoughtfully constructed dry-stone wind-break before descending the eastern (wind-sheltered!) face back to the car.
Learned and Affirmed:
We are Lynne and Andrew from Single Steps Learning. Our love of learning and exploring has inspired us to take up 'hill-walking'. We hope to progress from novice to expert! This is our journey.