Sunday 20 April 2008

Hard miles

Monday 14th April. Camped OS Explorer map 214 Gr901730.
Well things did not get off to a good start for the week. Came up on the train to Aberystwyth this morning. having a two hour wait before catching a bus onward. Went in to a cafe for fish and chips. Somewhat bland and indifferent, not inspiring. Watched groups of youngsters wandering through town carrying broom handles, odd!. Caught the bus I wanted. Why can some bus drivers be so grumpy? Was heading up to Llangurig and asked the driver to let me know when we got there. he just pointed to an old lady, "She gets off there" Very abrupt. My very light trekking poles are too long to carry on the rucksack when travelling; thus it meant carrying them separately. The inevitable happened. they got left on the bus. It is rare for me to lose kit so I am vexed and am now minus my poles. The first point I had marked for a wild camp was only fifteen minutes down the road. It was a fine evening and so pushed on down the valley. Came around by Dernol, across to Pen-Yr-Ochr and then up the hill and over to where I am now camped. Am up higher than I intended and the temperature is dropping rapidly. it is late though. Some two and a half hours walking.
Tuesday 15th April. Camped OS Explorer map 200 GR 890620.
It was clear last night with a brilliant moon. by early morning the temperature had dropped rapidly. Getting up was a chilly affair. It was bitterly cold and the tent was frozen solid. Ditto the water bag, had to thump it to break up the ice. Was glad to get moving. headed down to the road by the Afon Elan. Large puddles with a covering of ice, tadpoles swimming around quite happily. Swung around to pick up the bridleway that come up by Carn Ricet. Followed around by Waun Bryn-Hir. Red kites putting on wonderful aerial ballet. Some nasty hail and sleet showers made things even more chilly. Dropped down by Esgair Gwar-y-ty. Joined the track that runs down the side of Claerwen Reservoir. A long plod. came down the valley to where I am now camped. A blustery wind had me seeking a camp spot a bit lower down. There is a foot bridge very close by and a road across the river. However, my body is saying 'enough' and this is a snug spot tucked in behind a large rocky outcrop.

Wednesday 16th April camped Gr OS explorer map 187 822498.
Today has been hard and at times difficult. A frost again last night. Woke though to a heavy mist blanketing the valley. Everything a tad grey and dank. Made my way around by Rhiwnant farm. Leg muscles protesting on the first uphill section as I made my way up towards Bwlch y Ddau Faen. got to where the path split, I wanted the left hand path. A good track ran off right. Checked map, looked about and found a path that had definitely been used frequently and headed off. Somehow though I had a niggling feeling all was not well. Stopped, checked map and nothing really corresponded to what I should have been seeing. Got out the compass. Confirmation, I was bearing off south whereas I wanted to be heading southwest. Sat down for a quick nibble and a spot of checking. This confirmed I was off course. To get back on track I dropped down and up around the side of Esgair Fraith. So far so good. Came down by Pen Cae, now heading on a track that would lead me back to where I wanted to be. Horror, the track went up through forestry and it had been clear felled. The track was obliterated. Massed of lopped branches formed an impregnable barrier. Now I was annoyed. It meant a detour of several miles on forestry roads to come back to the point I wanted to be. That was hard, hard going. A very steep uphill bit that seemed to go on for ever and then a plod around to pick up the bridleway I wanted, once more, forestry struck, the actual bridleway I wanted had been swallowed up by logging operations.. There was a reward though. Came down to the car park and mountain bike area by Nant yr Hwch. There a small information centre and tea room there. What is more, it was open. Fantasmagorical, a cup of tea is never to be missed in such circumstances. The chappie was apologetic, he only had cakes and the such. Well, I had a slice of carrot cake, finished off his fruit cake, stuffed a couple of scones in the rucksack with a bit of flapjack and polished off a large pot of tea. It was welcome and much needed. It was a road plod from there down to Llwynderw. On the map the path is marked as a bridleway. Ok, the first bit was not too bad, however, as I climbed higher towards the saddle it all became a boggy morass. It was obvious that at one time there had indeed been a well defined track but now it was just horrible going. Dropped down towards Lyn Brianne reservoir. Stopped just short of the road. literally stepping off the path on to a nice flat bit of ground. Some hard going today.

Thursday 17th April. Camped OS explorer map 187. gr 811328.
Well, I knew when I was studying the map last night that today was going to be a tough one and so it proved. Was packed up and away early this morning. The final bit of path leading down to the road had been washed away which led to an interesting little scramble on a tiny ledge of loose shale. Followed the road around to Bwlch-y-ffin. A few flurries of snow on the way. The intention was to pick up the track that would lead up and over the hill and allow me to drop down towards Cynnant. Unfortunately there was a plethora of tracks, one newly cut and several leading off in all directions and obviously used by farm vehicles. After some thrashing around by some recently felled timber and more bits of track it was obvious that unless I struck off off across country relying on the compass it was going to be no go. rather than mess about I decided on the longer route and headed straight down the road the road towards Rhandirmwyn. long, tiresome miles. Serendipity though, just outside the village another tea shop an open too. To be honest I was hesitant. It looked a wee bit like one of those twee olde worlde tea shoppies and I felt and looked scruffy with travel worn gear and muddy boots. However, the lady was most kind. "Was I hungry?" She asked, suggesting I may like her local ham and eggs. What an offer to make, how could I refuse! First I was brought a huge pot of tea and then the food. Wow, the ham was humungous, it literally covered a full sized dinner plate and was over a quarter of an inch thick; on top lay two large fried eggs. With this came two very fresh rolls and a pot of butter. This repast opened an eye with a 'I dare you' look. Rising to the challenge I polished off the lot and downed four cups of tea. All for just six pounds. it was the only welcoming thing in the whole area though. Trying to pick up footpaths and even bridleways. Gates with chains and padlocks. Keep out and private signs abounded. Came around by the village sewage works, across a field and up a track to where I am certain I was deliberately misled by a woman with a very plummy accent. She was insist ant the track I was aiming for was private property and pointed me off in another direction. yes, I should have stayed my ground, however, I did not have the time to argue. As I knew it would, the track she put me on ended in a field. Rather than back track I carried on, across a double barb wire fence to Crincae and up on to the road. Around and on to another bridleway. met a couple of farmers, what a change in character. "Yes dear, this is the track you are wanting then. Sorry it is so muddy, we haff been running up and down it with the tractors." Followed it around to Penddrainllwyn. From there followed the lane down to the main road by Cynghordy. A quicky shuffle down the main A483 and another footpath up through the woods by the Allt y Cefn and then up to Cefn farm. Down the lane to Tan y Pal. Another footpath around to Little Hall. There should have been another footpath from there leading up to the lane that runs up to Blaen Tir. As often happens, what is on the map and what is actually on the ground do not correspond. Once the farm track ran out just struck up across a field and through the woods to the lane. At least from Blaen Tir there was a rough track around to Glandwr. From there it was a wearisome, footsore plod uphill and around to Cefnpwllhen farm. On the map there was a tiny track marked running down from the farm towards the A40. Saw the farmer and asked permission as it was not marked as a public right of way. he was most complimentary that I had bothered to ask his permission. Came down by Pentebrach, straight across the main road and back up the other side to pick up the bridleway that runs from Troed y Rhiw. By now it was getting late and I was weary. It had been obvious that finding somewhere to camp was not going to be easy. By close study of the map I did have a plan though. Just before Dagfa farm there was a track running in to some deciduous woodland. it was a little worrying though that as I came up the bridleway to see farm buildings. however, these where just that, the actual farmhouse was further up the track. The track that runs in to this wood had been little used and I am tucked in out of sight. Water had been a bit of a problem. Needs must though and I snuck in to the farm yard. Today has been long, as I knew it would be, I had set myself a hard goal in attempting to cover this distance. it is satisfying though to have actually done it.

Friday 18th April. Pontardawe.
Today was the final push. My aim was to be close in to Pontardawe where I would be staying with folks. It was arranged that I would get as close in as possible and then ring up at around 1800hrs to give my whereabouts. It was going to be tricky and would mean another long day. The quickest and slightly easier route meant several miles of travelling through the lanes. Thus it was a foot pounding walk around by
Myddfai, the Cross Inn, (closed unfortunately) Llanddeusant. Those where relentless miles. The lanes wind through rolling countryside and switchback up and down with steep drops and equally steep climbs. It was a pleasure to get out on to the open moorland. Picking up one of the Brecon Ways, there is more than one. With good ground to be walking on I came past the disused quarries. Once more A navigational error found me on the path that leads over towards the Dan yr Ogof area. it was not what I wanted.. A quick check of map and compass, and few mutterings under my breath. 'Make a decision, any decision'. Came across country to pick up the river. Could not find the path that crosses the ridge that runs beside it. In a
moment of utter madness I decided to head off down the gorge. It was something I had looked at before but had never done. Well, it was interesting. People had been that way before but I bet not many. It involved some minor scrambling, boulder hopping, detours over steep bits of hillside. Negotiating over rock falls, ducking under massive over hanging boulders, inching across one or two greasy ledges. Through in the odd bit of bog to add to the mix. A fitting end to a weeks walking. Picked up a path further down. this led to the ruins of Dorwen farm. Once I came down by Pen Y Wern I was on an easier path and able to pick up the pace. My aim was to come out on the A4068 by Mount Pleasant. Did this by the allotted time of 180hrs.. Kept moving down the valley and was picked up just five miles short of Pontardawe.
The whole aim of this walk was to see how my fitness was. With the TGOC coming up I wanted to test things out a bit. it has been a long while since I have done anything this serous. Mileage wise it works out very roughly at some one hundred and twenty three miles. On average, 7 miles, 25, 28, 33, 30. My navigation needs brushing up a a little maybe. Weather wise it has not been bad, cold winds, frost, sleet, hail and a wee bit of snow. Maybe that does not sound so good but in between there has been sun and good visibilty. that and some good wild camps. As the song says, "It's been some hard travelling." But fun.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Welsh ambulation

Thursday 3rd April. Camped Map OL213 GR 732831.
Travelled up this morning on the train. This area had attracted my attention when perusing the map on my previous trip around Cadair Idris. A closer study of the adjoining map and my interest was aroused. Especially when I noticed the tiny line running up to Devils Bridge. A quick check and yes, there was a narrow gauge train. A plus point was that it was feasible by catching the early train from London. Doing it this way avoided some 11 miles of rural countryside. Thus did the tourist bit and had a ride on the steam train. Third class if you please. Actually saw red kites on the way and the run up was in glorious sunshine. A cuppa and sandwich at the wee cafe and then set off by about three thirty. One slight disadvantageous was that I had to descend down in to the steep sided valley and ascend the other side. came down on the path below Rhiwfron halt in to the afon Rheidol and then back up the track by the Alt-y-Grigfan. The forestry in the valley is all mixed woodland. However it is like a massive graveyard. All the undergrowth is bursting forth with new life and energy. The trees though show absolutely no sign of life. They stand gaunt and stark; skelital in appearance, totally lifeless, dead. Maybe this is the legacy of the mining industry wich once thrived in the region. Some of those mines where lead mines and the spoil tips from them stand barren, scars on the landscape. Came around by Pen-Rhiw-Gam and then by a very indistinct footpath over to Lyn-Yr Oeifu. On the ground a couple of marker indicating a right of way pointed totally in the wrong direction. Sticking to what I was reading on the map I ignored them. Up and around by Pant-y-Ffynnon and around the back of the wind farm and across to Llynwernog Pont. Once again, no real path, just had to pay attention to the map. Another quick map check and a hasty half mile dash down the main road to the forestry information centre at Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian. Time was getting on and it looked probable that I would still have to cover a further few miles before finding a wild camp spot. Forestry is not my forte and here especially, with such a plethora of cycle tracks, it meant very close map reading, checking and double checking.Came up by Pen Darren, (eek, a Welsh Darren!) and then across to where I am now camped. A longish push of some four and a half hours. It was expected though. Doing it this way has meant I am now clear of enclosed farmland and am in open country. No real roads now for the next few days, just a few single track ones. it has been a glorious day, warm and dry with sunshine. However, as night draws in the temperature in the temperature is dropping fast.
Friday 4th April. camped map OL123. GR 734881.
Early last night it was crystal clear with brilliant starlight. By the early hours of this morning thick cloud had rolled in. It was dense when I had breakfast, fog obliterated everything. The world appeared to be swathed in cotton wool, grey and cloying. I packed up in a damp mizzle. Not really rain, nor yet really drizzle, just a saturating dampness. it had been my plan to head down to the road, take a left turn and then a first right up past a small holding. That was fine, beyond the buildings though, despite a couple of styles, there was no sign of anything on the ground. Rather than mess around with map and compass, I backtracked to the road and swung around to Llyn Baenmelindwy. These roads are tiny affairs, one tractor and two sheep would constitute a rush hour. Continued up to Llyn Syfydrin. Almost walked in to a flock of geese. Pandemonium, dark shapes looming out of the mirk, geese taking of in all directions with a great clamour, honking and hissing. Gave me quite a start, especially as I was nearly run down by a low flying goose. That would have been an interesting story, 'walker felled by goose'? Walked on by Bwlchystyllen. A sad ruin now, but obviously at one time a working farm. Not a place I would have chosen, situated in a shallow hollow and overlooking bog and barren ground. It felt a rather cheerless place. As I made my way across by Rhyd-y-Gaib the mist momentarily parted giving tantalising glimpses of wonderful scenery and closed again. Have stopped by the old quarries. it has been a short day of walking, but that was intended. there is no rush. The fog is currently swirling and eddying around the tent in thick heavy tendrils. The forecast though is for the temperature to drop as the wind swings around to due north.
Saturday 5th April. camped Map OL 23. GR 755948.
A leisurely day. A few icy showers early this morning. As forecast the wind had swung due north. Hung around until the showers had drifted by and then dropped down to the road that goes around by the Nant-y-Moch reservoir and headed up through the forestry. Much of the forest had been cleared, leaving open vistas and more pleasant for walking.. Worked my way around by a disused mine. A gate with a 'private keep out' sign I ignored. It is marked as a bridleway. In all probability it is to stop folk driving through. My aim was head over to Llyn Conach and then turn off. At one point the old track I was following plunged in to an area of dense forest. Total Stygian gloom, serried ranks of close packed trees blotting out the daylight. The track ended abruptly, obliterated by recent harvesting. made it out on to a track ok. A bit of confusion, where there should have been two tracks there was only one. No real problem. Did a dog leg instead and walked around to New Pool, past the 'Anglers Retreat' and over to Llyn-Penrhaedr and on to Pistyll-y-Llyn. Wow, an impressive cleft that drops sheer away to the valley below. A wonderful and impressive waterfall too. The path contoured around and down the steep hillside by -Nant-y-Gog. Am camped close by. Once more an early stop but why rush? The weather has been good all day, despite a few showers of sleet.. Cold though, enough for hat and gloves. heading out tomorrow to Machynlleth.
Sunday 6th April. Machynlleth.
Snow during the night, by this morning the tent was quite heavy with it. The temperature had dropped by the early hours. This meant ice on the tent as well as snow. Oh my, poking my nose out of the sleeping bag it was chilly. There is that initial reluctance to leave the warm cocoon of the sleeping bag and get dressed. It was bright with sunshine as I packed up. Walked on down to Cwmyrhaiadr. there was path opposite where I came out in the lane. it was going to be a short day thus I took the longer way up to Bwlch y Groese. From there a pleasant walk along the Glnydwrs way. One or two snow showers but nothing to worry about. Followed the way right around to drop down by Cae Gybi cottages. Spent over an hour walking around Machynlleth looking for b&b. Nothing, made enquiries but nobody had any suggestions. The two places I found where both closed, despite one having a vacancies sign out. Maybe I could have bi vied or walked out of town and camped somewhere. However, I wanted a shower and clean clothes. Finally booked in to the only hotel that actually took guests. Three others where apologetic but had nothing to offer. This is really costing me more than I can afford. Strange sitting in a hotel room eating a dried, prepare in the bag meal. The cost of a meal was scary. A good few days out. Had a stomach problem though, food was going through me rapidly. Fortunately there where some imoden pills in the first aid kit and I finally resorted to one of those. Took my lighter, three season sleeping bag. was warm enough, just. Put my jacket over the bag for a bit of extra warmth. The area around here is excellent walking country, ditto for mountain biking. Miles and miles of wide open country and a profusion of tracks. Maybe we could do a bloggers meet sometime?