There was a reasonable weather prospect last weekend, so I arranged to meet DC in the Brecon Beacons National Park for some mountain walking. I travelled there and back by bus making good use of my bus pass. All the buses were on time and the connections all took place as per the plan. Top marks for the bus operating companies involved.
I left home on Friday morning and caught three buses to just outside Abergavenny, a four hour trip. My plan was to walk over Sugar Loaf to Llanbedr, a small village about 2 miles north of Crickhowell, where I would rendezvous that evening with DC, who had to work Friday. Sugar Loaf is not particularly high (596m) but it has a prominent conical, mountain shape, is very distinctive and is visible from quite far away eg. the M4. I had never climbed it before and often thought I would like to, so this was a good opportunity.
My research showed there was a bus stop at the Lamb and Flag just outside Abergavenny and from there a road walk would take me to the Rholben bridleway. In view of the fact that Sugar Loaf is such a prominent landmark in the area, the surprising thing was, when I got off the bus and for the first 30 to 40 minutes of the walk, I could not see it. Then suddenly, after quite a climb, it starts to loom over the horizon. (I have my doubts that things can “start to loom”. They either do “loom” or they don’t. But never mind!) Here it is starting to loom…
The pictures do not really do justice to any of the views we had this weekend, partly due to the misty and sometimes very overcast weather conditions and partly because cameras struggle to capture the immensity and grandeur of the scenes.
The paths on Sugar Loaf are all very obvious probably from frequent use, although that day it was quiet. There were odd patches of snow and ice near the top and it was cold. There was virtually no wind during the climb up, but the top was extremely windy. So it was almost all the way down the other side.
The route to from the top of Sugar Loaf to Llanbedr required rather more map navigation than the journey up, but was fairly straightforward and at a leisurely pace the whole trip took about 4 hours. The views from the top were great and the view of the horseshoe walk we were to do the next day, as I approached Llanbedr, was dramatic, .
That evening we had a major panic when we called in at the only pub in the village around 7.30 to find it empty. After we had ordered some beer the landlord declared “There were no bookings. My wife has gone out. There is no food this evening”!! After some pitiful pleading on our part he agreed to see what he could do and eventually we had steak and kidney pie with chips and peas. I think we were charged a premium rate for this meal but we really did not care that much and the local beer was good. Our B&B was excellent Red Hart Cottage, highly recommended.
Next morning was cloudy and cold again, probably sub zero. My plan (DC chose Sunday’s plan) was to complete the Llanbedr Horseshoe taking in Waun Fach but we were running out of time and energy when we reached the valley end so we took the bridleway back to Llanbedr instead. We were walking from about 8.30 until 5pm, with stops for photos and refreshments. I think we covered in excess of 20km.
We started on the horseshoe by walking up past Perth y Pia bunkhouse. I had stayed there probably 15 plus years ago so I had to take a picture.
Much to our surprise and delight by the time we reached the top of Pen Carrig-calch (701m) the sun was breaking through and, soon after, it was out all the time. The high point of our walk was Pen Allt-mawr (719m) and the views were absolutely spectacular despite some haze. This is one of the best photos. It is also of interest because the sheep on the far hillside have formed themselves into a circle!
Clearer, I think, on this picture
Back in Llanbedr, we made sure we could get a meal by calling in the pub and booking a table. In this case “booking” was a strange concept because we were the only people eating and when we left the pub, around 9.30 there was only one other guest. When I called in to book the table, I had asked what was on the menu. I was told that there was not a menu but was given a list of 4 different meals, which did not include spaghetti bolognase. When we arrived for our meal the landlady showed us to our table and said she had prepared some garlic bread for us to go with our spaghetti bolognase. She was clearly cut up when we explained that we did not know it was available but anyway we did not want it. As though to demonstrate how wrong we were, there was now a printed menu for us and the mythic spaghetti was on it. She pointed this out fairly vigorously, case proven. Eventually, the “misunderstanding” all died down and we had liver and onions.
Next day, Sunday we left our B&B and drove park near the Neuadd Reservoir to do a walk known as the Neuadd Horseshoe. The car park was quite busy and an abiding impression of the day was how many people there were around in pretty awful conditions. We walked across the reservoir retaining wall then climbed the steep hill to the ridge. It was very cold, the ground was frozen hard and the path up was criss-crossed by a frozen water-fall. At the top we were in the cloud and there was a very strong wind. Conditions remained like this until we descended from Pen y Fan. It was perishing cold and had the climb up not been so steep and icy we might well have turned round and gone back. I was wearing woollen gloves and was quite concerned about the possibility of frost bite on my fingers. We were slowly growing ice crystals which were very apparent on people we passed and on the grass and stones, especially at the top of Pen y Fan where the grass stems were coated with ice. (When we eventually stopped I discovered that the strong wind had caused frost to build up inside my rucksack as the wind blew through opening bits.) Notwithstanding the cold and lack of visibility, there were large groups of walkers, families and people walking their dogs at the summit. We stopped to have some lunch in the col between Pen y Fan and Cribyn where the wind was less strong and for a short while the cloud level increased and we had a view up the mountain we had just descended.
The next part of the horseshoe would have taken us up Cribyn but it was cloud covered so we decided to take the Beacons Way path back to the car. On the way under Cribyn about 50 runners passed by and started running up Fan y Big, they must have been crazy!
After getting back to the car DC dropped me off on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, on his way home. I walked into Brecon, bought something for my self catering dinner, then walked to Brecon Youth Hostel, about 3 miles outside Brecon. Next day I walked back to Brecon and caught my buses home. A very memorable weekend.