Apologies in advance for the lack of photos.. indeed the photo of the post walk drink is the only one there is. Why will shortly become clear!
Cut to the evening of Saturday 8 November on a walking club meet…
‘I think the forecast for tomorrow is quite good. Isn’t it?’
That was the somewhat hopeful comment as a succession of extremely soggy walkers returned to the Clyngwyn Bunkhouse in the even less pronounceable village of Ystradfellte, after a day of weather that could best be described as ‘challenging’. Indeed, the weather forecast had been so appalling that one person from our group had already cancelled a couple of days beforehand and another had (accidentally?) missed their train. The latter could indeed possibly be taken as divine intervention to save said walker from the prospect of getting half drowned in one of the most scenic parts of South Wales… to say that there was a lot of water about was an understatement, as fords were appearing in places which they weren’t supposed to exist in and everywhere was pretty much awash.
Inevitably there is a transport debacle of some sort to contend with – and later on a technological debacle to contend with as well. Normally, when I make a mad dash somewhere on a Friday night, I do the sensible thing of parking up at Stanmore tube station to enable me to get straight on the M1 after work. However, for a trip West to the Brecon Beacons this would be of zero use! I just couldn’t face getting up at even sillier o’clock to drive the car round to (say) Heathrow airport; had my diary been different I could simply have worked at my firm’s office near there but I had to be in the City to present a training course so this was not an option. 😦 Instead I parked the car near my office in the City, with the intention of getting away at around 4. Rather surprisingly I succeeded in this.. only to get a wonderful reminder of why I don’t often drive in Central London. Gridlock from my office to well past the M25 combined with road works at Reading meant that it took me over 3 hours 😯 to get about 25 miles. The heavens then opened for much of the drive west, and the drive over the mountain roads to Ystradfellte was interesting to say the least, my Mini just about coping but I was to say the least rather frazzled when I finally got to the bunkhouse the club were using at about 10.30pm. Needless to say the wine got opened and was more than a bit necessary to warm me up and calm me down!
Nonetheless the mood in the bunkhouse on the Friday night was relatively upbeat and plans were laid over a couple of bottles of the red stuff. Some of our group had sensibly planned a walk over some of the lower hills in the area.. the rest of us were intending to go up the main Beacons ridge, and in particular my target for the weekend was Pen y Fan. The prospect of a BOGOF tick, being a Hewitt and a Trail 100 as well as the highest hill in the UK south of Snowdonia, was appealing…… though the forecast of winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour rather less so. The slight hope in the Met Office forecast was that it was supposed to brighten up around lunchtime. Well, it’s the Met Office, so it has to be right, doesn’t it? Hmmm!
Saturday morning saw us headed to the car park just south of the Storey Arms – probably not the best way up the hill, but any sort of walk involving a narrow ridge was ruled out by the weather and this was the only approach that seemed sensible. The winds were obviously already strong even at the car and clag was sitting at about 500m. Nonetheless we geared up, gritted our teeth and got ready for the off. It’s always a bit odd walking without my husband, so a small stuffed toy minion (from the film Despicable Me) was popped into the rucksack (this is an in joke as one of the minions in the film has his name). The fact that my husband was sensibly at home in the warm didn’t go unnoticed – having had a last minute drop-out from the weekend I’d asked him if he wanted to come, his response being ‘Nope – I’ve seen the weather forecast’. I couldn’t help thinking as I looked up into the mist that he probably had the right idea.
Nonetheless, we set out at about 9.15 with most of the group disappearing into the distance, or at least into the clag, at an early stage while a couple of us took a more leisurely pace. For at least some of the ascent we were sheltered from the wind, although the rain was quite penetrating… just how penetrating I wasn’t to realise till later. The path is brilliant, although Pen y Fan is one of those hills where any navigational problem is due to too many paths rather than not enough … It was simply a case of plod on up into the mist, hoping that the forecast of it clearing up would actually be right. Fat chance! 😦
On hitting the ridge at Bwlch Duwynt.. Blam! The wind was certainly out in force 😯 . We staggered the final metres to the summit, struggling to stay upright and not get blown off course, and getting sandblasted in the face by sleet (who needs dermabrasion?! 😯 ). I have to say that this was the worst weather I have ever tried to walk in, and if we hadn’t been so close – about 50m from the top – the sensible thing would have been to have bailed. As it was, it was just about possible to make forward progress, and we staggered to the cairn, marking the 886m summit. We tried to get a couple of quick snaps, I made the decision to leave the minion in the bag as I did not want him blowing over the edge. 😦 A rugby club then appeared at the top, also struggling against the wind, and clearly doing some sort of fundraiser. I took a photo for them, their banner then took off in the rough direction of Brecon and the man who ran after it was probably fortunate not to do the same. Oh dear! 😯
There was now the question of what to do next.. although I’d felt slow and unfit on the way up we had reached the top in just over an hour, at only 10.30 it seemed a shame to go back already and end up sitting around the bunkhouse or in the pub (which was in any event not really within walking distance of the bunkhouse). We continued along the ridge in the direction of Cribyn for a while but conditions were really unpleasant, with the wind still strong and the rain persistent. In the end some continued on but it had got to the stage firstly of not being much fun anymore and secondly of being potentially dangerous if it got much worse so some of us decided to turn back. Exactly how unpleasant it was I only fully realised later when I worked out my iPhone was waterlogged and basically dead… and not just my iPhone but also my work phone, which I often take up the hill as backup because I sometimes get reception on it when I can’t on my normal phone. A high price to pay for what would have been a very unflattering summit selfie! A dry bag for my (replacement) phone is definitely next on the gear shopping list..
We were down off the hill at midday, and given it was still early, a couple of us headed off towards the Neuadd Reservoir on the other side of the range for a lower level pootle about, the most notable thing about which was meeting two young, and very well spoken, blokes (no map of course) who asked how to get back to the Storey Arms… without going back over the mountains. Oh dear! I explained that doing exactly that was the quickest option, which didn’t go down very well, and they wandered off towards the nearest village in the hope of being able to call a taxi. The heavens then opened again! On getting back to the car I realised – finally – that both my phones were dead as the proverbial doornail and had to find a pub with a phone to call my husband, whose considered response was ‘Well done. Though I think you’re bonkers.’ At that point, given I was soaking wet and well and truly down in terms of technology, it was rather hard to disagree. Of course, when the weather is wild there is one obvious option for what to do… find a distillery! The Penderyn distillery was a few miles from our accommodation and was duly visited and a bottle purchased, much of which got sacrificed to the greater good of warming everyone up after their soggy exertions. The minion, of course, was happily settled down with a glass of Malbec, and was probably the driest and warmest of all of us having been deep in my rucksack under an extra fleece the whole time! 😆 Thankfully I had been sensible enough to leave my iPad in the bunkhouse so at least the post walk drink could be recorded for posterity. 😆
The following day actually dawned rather nice and having sorted out the bunkhouse we all set off for a low level walk around some waterfalls. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the waterfalls were spectacular after all the heavy rain. Unfortunately the paths, which consisted of (a) slippy mud, (b) slippy limestone, (c) slippy fallen leaves and (d) slippy water were treacherous underfoot and progress was slow. Unfortunately, at around 12.30 the heavens opened and the decision was taken to cut the walk short and head back for our warm, dry cars – and back to London to try and dry out!