Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Moments of madness

Mike and I had been toying with an idea of having a wander to tick of three tops that where on his little list. (northernpies.blogspot.co.uk) A few ideas where shuffled back and forward via the web mail thingy. Finally I decided to have a little mosey, just to sort of check things out and get a feel of what was involved! On the map the route looked just about doable, however, I had a few concerns. The map indicated that the route would be a switchback affair, crossing the grain of the country. In other words, a lot of up and down.
The train connections were good and on the Thursday afternoon around three I arrived at Knighton. The idea was to follow the Offa's Dyke path for a couple of days, camping en route, simple!! It was hot and sticky when I arrived. Not having a guide book I had to keep a close eye on the map just to get out of town. The route went up, steeply, in the heat it was hard. Probably I have become acclimatized to more wet and  cold conditions? Mind, I always suffer in hot weather. Finally the steepness eased off to a more manageable level. Skirting the golf course and then onward through rolling fields. A group of teenage lads where heading down. All of them looking dour and fed up. Only one acknowledged my "Hi, nice day" and that was more of a tribal grunt. It was pleasant walking, always upward but with fine panoramic views. A short section of road walking and back on to paths and tracks. My intention was to head for Furrow Hill. It offered high ground for a discreet wild camp and shortened tomorrows route by a sizeable degree.. Alarm bells where ringing in my head though. One thing that struck me was how dry everything was. Pools and springs where dried up or else just muddy affairs. After having been on the go for some three hours plus it was time to stop. The first priority was water. Finally I resorted to taking water from the troughs used for the sheep. At least it looked clean and fresh. Boiled, it would do fine.

Furrow Hill wild camp.
Friday was going to be a long day, that was obvious by just studying the map. Needing to be away early, I was up, fed and watered, washed and packing up by just after seven. As I was taking the tent down the putter of a small tractor was drawing ever closer. A farmer was bringing cattle up the nearby track on to the rough pasture. Mentally I braced myself for a ticking off but the guy just glanced in my direction and drove off. It was obvious I was moving on. By around seven thirty I was on the move. A fine dry morning with a bit of chill to it and overcast.
A steady descent down toward Dolley Green. A meander through pleasant meadows and then it was uphill once more. Short and fairly steep. Good walking brought me around to Lower Harpton. A surreptitious use of a farmhose pipe to top up on water. Risky maybe, I had no idea where the water came from? Once again the way ahead was up. A stop for a snack and drink and then a slow steady plod. Some folk going up hills can put their heads down and just keep going. Some though need to stop for a moment or two, catch there breath and then continue. Yes, I am one of the latter, annoying?

Heading up the side of Horrock Hill.
To be honest, it was lovely walking, views spread out way below and away to the far distance. The day had warmed up and there long sunny spells Just as one thinks they have reached the top of the hill the path veers left and heads up once more. The rewards are more panoramic views and excellent walking. Once again there is a descent and here I made a mistake. The Dyke sign points directly toward the Bower. Hot and possibly a tad dehydrated, (that is my excuse anyway!) I came down close to the Bower, in hindsight I should have been further over. Dithering and being on the edge of my map I ended up taking a circuitous route round to Kington. This added a good couple of miles to my route. Nipping in to a shop in the town I bought a couple of bottles of soft drink. Sunk one immediately, dehydrated?  Following a regular pattern now, it was steeply uphill once again.There was a frisson of anticipation here though. This time I was heading for the Hergest Ridge. This was one Mike and I had discussed and I was keen to see it. It is not often one can walk a high ridge complete with an abandoned race course and a stand of monkey puzzle trees!

By now it was late afternoon and I had to find somewhere to camp. Once again water was the issue here. Time was wasted trying to source a few springs marked on the map. They where dry. What to do? There was little option of pushing on. There where no camp sites down in the valleys and the next place worth considering would involve many miles of walking. In the end I had but one option and that was the dew pond used by the sheep and ponies that roamed free. The water looked fairly clear at least, no algae. Using my cup I very carefully skimmed the surface layers of water, taking great care not to stir up the sediment that lay on the bottom.It took time but I finally had my water bag full. Brought to a roiling boil it would suffice. Camp was set up close to the trig point. Lovely firm ground with soft grass, a lovely pitch. Camping close to free roaming ponies made me a little wary and I pitched the tent close to a clump of gorse bushes.
As it was a few ambled across, checked me over and wandered off, no problem! Having to get out of the tent during the night, a large, pale yellow, three quarter moon hung low in the sky. Heavy dew soaked the grass, cold on bare feet. A soft snicker close by, a group of ponies lying down, resting. Softly I apologize for disturbing them. Shivering, I was glad to get back in to the sleeping bag.
Saturday morning was dull and gray, much cooler too. With a wet, dew soaked tent I dawdled over breakfast to allow the tent to dry a little. A fundamental error I later regretted. Packing up and getting underway, I descended down to the village of Gladestry.Here I would be leaving the Offa's Dyke path and navigating another route. Carefully checking the map, there where no indications, no footpath or bridleway signs, nothing; I followed deep, narrow sunken lanes, reminiscent of the old Cornish lanes. Always leading upwards. At one point I had to squeeze in to a gateway to allow a tractor to pass. They led me up to Wain Wen. Something of a dither here, I wanted a bridleway that led above the farm.. There where two tracks, one each side of the farm. No indication of which was which. Finally I opted for the left hand one. Higher up I was able to align the map with features on the ground and verify where I was. A drink,a few jelly babies and I pressed on upward. There was the distant blast of guns but I paid it no heed. My concern was navigation. There where many tracks on this high moorland, some unmarked. More shotgun blasts, closer too, nothing clicked in my mind. Finally I made the trig point of Llanfihangel Hill.  A lovely spot just to sit down and have a wee break. Settling down with my back against the concrete pillar, legs outstretched,comfy, I had worked hard to get there.. Suddenly there was the blast of  a shotgun. Close, very close indeed, I swear I heard the whistle of shotgun pellets as they fanned out. That was disconcerting, it certainly got my attention! It registered in my mind then that there was obviously groups of folk out shooting in differing areas of the moor. Oddly I has seen no indication of anyone around, no vehicles, nothing. Mind, I had seen grouse butts marked on the map. Why had no one seen me and warned me off ? A tad shaken I headed off rather quickly. Muttering under my breath about irresponsible, moronic shooters.There was a mental image in my mind of some landed gentry in his stately pile sipping his gin and tonic, chatting to an associate. "Poor shooting today, only ten brace of grouse and a p(h)easant!"  Indicating me hanging on his trophy wall!!!?
A long descent down toward Pant Glas. A hippy-ish sort of shack. Rather ramshackle but obviously inhabited, small wind turbines whirring away and a satellite dish. Met a few folk out for walk and heading up the hill. They where rather concerned when I warned them there was shooting on the tops. Having three dogs with them, they opted for another route. From there it was pleasant walking on bridleways. Rolling countryside, on past Molecatchers wood and around the flanks of Castle hill. Descending down past the buildings at Redding, I ran in to a slight problem. There was a crossroads here of bridleways. The one I wanted ran straight on and then curved right, aiming across the opposite hillside. There was one problem, for the first few hundred yards the way ahead was blocked by triffid like stinging nettles. Massive brutes, standing over six foot tall. No way was I going to even attempt getting through there. Swinging right I followed a short track through the wood. The wheel marks of a quad bike descended down the steep hillside. They where heading for a track that ran up toward Stockenny farm. Plunging down I joined the track  and headed over toward the farm. Trespassing? Possibly but I was prepared to argue my case. Time was getting on and I had a ways to go. Scuttling rapidly through the farm backyard, I joined the lane that would lead me down to New Radnor. Again, a steep descent. There is a pattern here, it is not that the surrounding hills are significantly high, although the valleys appear deep when viewed up high. It is the initial ascent and descent in and out of the valleys. they are always steep and then as the hill opens out the gradient eases. A knee jarring descent down a tiny lane. A caravan site by the main road with a tea shop. Here I broke a cardinal rule, 'Thou shall not pass by an open tea shoppie'! Hoping there was a village shop and with time against me, I pressed on. The village shop is now a private house. In an unusual move for me, I nipped in to the village pub. A couple of glasses of orange juice and a sandwich later and I was heading uphill once more. It was now around four o clock.  My first aim was for a pool marked on the map by Jack's Green farm. It never materialised. Uphill and more up hill. Not steep, a steady plod. My original stopping point was penciled in for somewhere around the Whinyard Rocks. High enough to be out of the way, out of sight out of mind. Once more the area was devoid of water. This now was becoming a problem. Initially I started heading over toward Stanlo Pool. The track I was on seemed to drag on and on. It seemed a lot further than that marked on the map. Uneasy, I headed up the hill on another track leading upwards. Checking later I could see that I had come over Bache Hill and just missed the trig point. The need for water was now becoming a serious issue. Dropping down to the valley below, the only water found was a stagnant pool, green and slimy, nasty! By now I was just below Black Mixen and headed up in that direction. A few short sharp showers rattled through, just enough to warrant waterproofs.There was a plan in mind. From the trig point I headed over toward Shepherd's Well. There was stream marked on the map. On the way across I kept looking at a strange apparition. It looked like a caravan, most odd? The stream at Shepherd's Well was dry. This was not good. It really was a caravan and a four four parked on the forestry track. What immediately caught my eye though was the large water container hooked up to the caravan.With no hesitation, I headed straight for the caravan. A dog barked inside, the door opened and a  lady looked out and asked if I was alright? Quickly I explained I needed water. There was no hesitation, the woman and her husband whisked me in to the caravan, sat me down with a mug of tea and a sausage roll. They seemed unfazed by this wild eyed, disheveled wild looking woman appearing  out of the goodness knows where. It turned out they where marshals for a rally being held on the forestry tracks. The kindness of strangers, most humbling and I was very grateful.With water containers filled I headed off along one of the forestry tracks. All I needed now was a place to camp. Checking the map, I turned up a smaller track. Tall trees lined the track, their canopy shutting out the light. All appeared gloomy, almost spooky and I was glad to get out of the forest, find a place to camp and get the tent up. A hot drink and I was soon snuggled up in the sleeping bag. There was no appetite for supper, I was tired and shaking like a leaf in an autumn gale. Parkinson's always affects me that way when I am tired.
Sunday, a rest day really. A few showers in the early hours and when I looked out, the area was shrouded in  low cloud. All was a uniform grayness. With no need to hurry I lazed  and dozed for a while. When I finally made a move the weather was clearing with a hint of sunshine.

 Great Rhos trig point.
It was an easy stroll around to Great Rhos trig point and then a gentle amble down the hill. Coming down the ridge I could see far, far down below in the narrow steep sided valley the glisten of water. My plan was to camp somewhere close to the bridleway. A wander over to Carrog Dingle, dry.Went higher to a ford marked on the map, nothing. Finally there was only one more option. A stream was marked in a narrow cleft  of the hill. Knowing there was water way down on the valley bottom, I stowed the rucksack out of sight and headed down. A scramble down the narrow defile, loose shale and rocks making it a little more difficult. Eventually I reached the stream, cool, crystal clear water. A hard, sweaty scramble back up. That was hard        but I had fresh water, luxury. Camped in a nice little spot, most comfy. What did surprise me though was the lack of people. My concern had been that I  was camped close to a well used bridleway. All I saw where two guys who  wandered over to say hello.

Monday, showers of rain passing through and low dark clouds scudding across the hills. No great rush though. It was an easy stroll down to Dolau and the station. A strip bath and a clean change of clothes and a leisurely packing up and I was on my way. Heading over toward Cefn-y-grug  I noticed a quad bike busy rounding up a herd of suckler cows. A second quad was racing around higher up the field rounding up stragglers. The farmers wife drove over to warn me  the cows would be heading down the track I was on and could be frisky. Standing to one side, I watched as the woman led the cows through the gate in to the lane. Some of the beasts where not having it though and made a break for freedom. They turned and raced towards me. In the best possible manner I jumped up and down, yelled at them, waved my trekking pole at them and ran around. The farmer raced across on his quad and helped turn them, gave me a thumbs up and raced off back up the hill. Heading down the hill  a couple of cows decided to make another break for it. Giving them a gentle poke with the handle of my pole, they saw the error of their ways and joined the rest of the herd. The farmer came down to drive them on, giving me a big grin and a 'thank you' Best bit of fun I have had in a while!!  
A gentle potter over to the station, a very clean, neat and tidy station. Pretty with big pots of flowers in bloom and a little waiting room. It has been a hard few days but this is really fine walking country. Rounded, whale-backed hills  and great scenery.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Pieman and wild 'wimmen' on Plynlimon

Well, in fact it was myself and Mike, (northernpies.blogspot.co.uk). Plynlimon is a  Welsh variant of Pumlumon. The last time Mike and I had visited we had walked in from Machynlleth. Bad weather had frustrated our plans. Thinking things over I realised that previously, a few years back, I had come in from the other direction. A reconnaissance trip by myself formed a plan of action. Mike was enthusiastic, dates and times where agreed upon. Once more we arranged to meet on the train as we came through Birmingham. Mike had left route planning to me. A challenge indeed to be leading the 'Pieman'! A successful link up on the Monday and no delays with the trains saw us arriving in Aberystwyth late afternoon and catching the bus onward to Nant Yr Arian.
A couple hours of walking, involving rough tracks and a slightly awkward stream crossing and we set up camp for the night. Camp spots in this region are some what limited. Much of the ground is wet and boggy. Mike, enhanced by a top just behind us, nipped up to add to his little list! As for me, I was reserving energy for what was to come on Tuesday.
Tuesday morning was damp with low cloud on the tops. We started out in waterproofs and they remained on all day. Our way on led us around by Aber Peithnant. Some tracking across a hillside with knee high bog grass and on to a forestry track. That was only a short interlude. In all fairness I had warned Mike that the next bit was not easy walking. However, I think even the indomitable Mike was a tad taken aback as I led him up through bog and dank, wet forestry. Certainly we both breathed a sigh of relief once we came out of the forestry. By now it was steadily raining, visibility was poor and it it was windy. We stopped for a break. Knowing the steady haul ahead of us, I for one needed to boost the energy levels. There is a track that leads uphill beside the forestry, stopping just short of the main ridge. Mike had his eye on a top just off our main route. While he headed off to do that one I stayed with the rucksacks and had another quick handful of nibbles and a deep drink.Once Mike had returned we continued onward and upward. In all fairness, the Pen-y-Drawsallt ridge is not a difficult proposition. Broad and not that steep, it weaves and undulates around rocky outcrops. Even so, the sight of the Plynlimon cairn looming out of the murk was a welcome sight. The broad grin on Mike's face made it all worth while. The rain had eased somewhat but it remained wet and grey. Using the fences that cover much of the top we hand railed around by Pen CerrigTewion. From there it was a long descent down toward  Craig y Fedw. Picking our way down Pantau r Brwyn was steep going. Knees hurting in protest, rough ground covered in deep vegetation made it hard to pick our way down. There was a big sigh of relief when we finally reached the Hengwym valley.

 There are two ruined farmsteads in this part of the valley. Neuadd Fach and Hengwm Annedd. One of the two was abandoned in the nineteen thirties. They where part of the outlying farms that once farmed in the area. There was a village nearby, Nant-y- Moch. The reservoir that drowned the village in the early nineteen sixties, bears the same name. Now the valley is a wet and boggy landscape. However, at one time there where fields and the area was thickly covered in birch trees. We found a lovely little camping spot and it was with a sigh of relief when tents where up and a brew on. For me at least, it had been a fairly hard day. Mike is made of sterner stuff, at times he appears indomitable!

Wednesday was penciled in for an easier day? The temperature had dropped overnight making for quite a chilly night. Our goal for the day was Carn Hyddgen. Making our way down the valley to the footbridge was a bit of a nightmare. The ground was total bog and made for hard going. Initially the climb up from the bridge was steep going and I was struggling a wee bit. With encouragement from Mike I finally made it. The weather cleared up as we made it up to the two cairns. It was lovely to just to sit and drink in the view.
 It was leisurely drop back down through boggy hillsides to the path that runs up through the Hyddgen valley.  There was no messing around this time; it was case of trouser legs rolled up and a paddle across the river. With boots already saturated it made little difference on wearing them to ford the river. Safer too, the rocks where very slippery.
An early return to camp and and an afternoon just pottering.

Thursday was going to be a longer day. Rain during the night had cleared away by early morning. A luxury indeed to be starting off in dry weather. Once more it was a ford across the river. Both of us had waterlogged boots, however, I had waterproof booties to slip on and keep my feet dry, or least just a tad damp. Mike, as a founder of the barefoot boot, bog trotting association, elected to travel through the boggy terrain we where following sans boots. He sounded so happy as his feet squished through mud and bog. He hummed with delight as he found a luxuriant patch of sphagnum moss.  It would be fun to see anyone's reaction as they followed our tracks along the path!
Amazingly the day remained dry and warm enough to walk to walk in a tee shirt. Some steady walking brought us to Bugellyn. Now a ruin but once again once quite a quite large farmhouse. A long steady plod up to Waun To. Mike had his eye on a nearby top and I was content to just sit and relax for a short while and listen to the skylarks. Not feeling good and knowing we still had a a good couple of hours walking in front of us I took some medicine and topped up on my fluids.

Steady walking over undulating tracks took us over to Hafodwnog. Along the way tired bodies had to hauled over padlocked gates. Rain was heading in as we climbed our last hill. Our camp for the night was on high ground above Hafodwnog. Quite deliberate a choice with good views over the valleys way below. Being tired I pitched the tent facing incoming rain but was too far gone to bother. Rain continued on and off through the night. Early morning saw everything shrouded in thick cloud. By the time we had packed up and got underway, the weather had cleared, giving splendid views. Our day was a short one, we where heading for the heady delights of  Machynlleth. A long drop down to Cwmyrhaiadr and then a leisurely stroll down the lane before heading uphill once more and then turning off to drop once again, following the track over to Glanmerin. It was then on to Llyn Glanmerin across the |Glyndwr way and then a steady drop to skirt the golf course and in to town. We reached town early afternoon and by late afternoon we where enjoying the luxury of hot showers and clean clothes. Sheer bliss. Saturday was the day for heading back. Overall I would say it was a successful trip.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

questions and answers

This blog is not directly about hill walking; however, circumstances will most certainly affect it. In some respects that is already happening. Last year I noticed I had a tremor which gradually increased. There where other medical problems too. At first my GP dismissed it as nothing serious. Finally though, as things worsened and alarm bells began to ring, I was seen by a specialist and also was subject to a battery of differing test; some most unpleasant.  The diagnosis was Parkinsons. Other medical problems are now strongly suspected to be related to this problem. It does affect my hill going capabilities; as was evident in my last trip. A long chat with my GP has given me cause for concern. An increase in a variety of medical problems. Muscle stiffness and mobility problems and so forth. Also, I am now informed I may well have to be re housed, possibly within the next year due to this. In August I have to see another specialist  and also a surgeon in regard to related problems. As yet I am not hanging up my boots. In some respects I am not sure that I can just walk away from something that has given me many years of pleasure? It is a question of adapting to what I can and cannot do. There are practical things that can be done. For example pack weight is now more important than ever. Currently my summer pack list comes in at around ten kilo, including four or five days food. Next winter is when things will get interesting! It is a case of wait and see and adapt to the changing circumstances. In the mean I am off to Wales next week. There is unfinished business there! Snorkels and flippers have been suggested!