The Kids Are Alright….
The sun had risen bright and bold again, so that despite the hard going yesterday and not creeping into my sleeping bag until midnight, daylight flooded the tent and I woke at ten past seven. It wasn’t merely the sunshine that had brought me from sleep. There was the loud chatter of youthful and hormonally see-sawing voices outside and my thoughts went immediately to my iPhone, sitting charged and in full view in the laundry room. I was drowsy and comfortable, so resisted the urge to throw some clothes on to check that it was still there and wasn’t already being sold, cut-price, to a fellow camper. I wrestled internally until eight o’clock and then admitted to myself that I didn’t trust the whole unruly bunch of them and got up. I knew, though, that I was being silly and judgemental and felt a little ashamed of myself as I entered the laundry room to pick my phone up. This was when I discovered that the chuffing thing was gone. I froze and was collecting my thoughts, planning how to approach those thieving toe-rags, when the wife and co-owner of the camp-site walked in carrying my phone and charging leads. I had mixed feelings of relief and guilt; humbled that I had immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. I thanked the lady, but had no intention of telling her how unjustly suspicious of those youths I had been. She twitched her head towards the vigorous chatter coming from outside. “I had to take your stuff in – those little bastards will steal anything.”
I was going to shave first, but the toilets and sinks area was crammed with shouting, laughing young lads applying hair wax by the handful or towel-flicking each other’s bottoms. Instead, I retired to the shower block and enjoyed the experience of getting clean for the first time in two days. By the time I was finished the sinks were free and I had just smothered my face with foam, when my neighbour from the tent next door arrived. Whilst we did our respective ablutions, we chatted. He is a big fan of walking and asked me where I was going. It was quite pleasing that he loved my idea of postcode walks; thought it was brilliant, in fact. Mind you, he hadn’t ever tried relying on permissive footpaths to get him across a country. His wife was six months pregnant and it had curtailed their walking this year, which was why they were driving around to camp and explore. He told me that he was embarrassed to admit this to me given what I was doing, but I said not to be daft. At least they were still getting out and about, in spite of his wife’s advanced condition. After we’d emerged into what was turning into a belter of a day, the parents-to-be wished me all the best and took off in the car to explore. I packed away my tent and gear and then applied sun cream, just as my stomach woke up and demanded filling. There was a shop on site and I enjoyed chocolate, flapjacks and a can of orange Tango as I sat at a table next to where I had camped. Time was getting on and I really needed to be striding out, but I was content to just sit awhile and soak up the warmth of the morning. It was whilst doing this that the site owner appeared and came over to chat. He was a big, bald bloke who was originally from Stoke and spent a lot of his time in Corfu with his phone-rescuing wife. He was particularly taken with the theory that Corfu has an invisible line, similar to a connecting Corfu with a large number of important sites dedicated to St Michael and Apollo. I don’t know, but it was an interesting chat and took me up to the time of my departure at ten fifty. I said cheerio to Mr. Stoke-Bloke and wandered out of the camp site and back onto the lane that would take me to Cwmdu.
A farewell to The Black Mountains….
Cwmdu is a small village whose name means 'Black Valley', which was being made nonsense on a day swiftly growing hot and blazing with sunshine. The village attracts many tourists every year; mainly silly sods like myself off on one hike or another (the Beacons Way being the main one). In 2012, Cwmdu was selected as the site for something called an AstroCamp, the first of which took place one weekend in September of that year. This saw a large gathering of astronomers at the camp-site and also The Farmer’s Arms Pub and was televised by the BBC programme the following October. One thing’s for sure, the bar of The Farmer’s Arms could seldom have played host to such cosmic, far-reaching conversation. I began my walk, but then remembered that I needed a packed lunch for the day and had earlier asked where the café was. I walked down a street in Cwmdu and eyed the shop I was to enter. It seemed to have rather a lot of shelves within its narrow confines and I was still wearing my large backpack, which I didn’t want to have to remove and then put back on again. I had thoughts of turning round in the shop and sweeping a whole ledge of cakes and pies to the floor, but went ahead and managed to employ a series of awkward manoeuvres that procured me lunch and kept all confectionery in place.
I crossed the just outside of Cwmdu and then set off across a field until I encountered another lane. This swept me along a valley, with Clarach Brook as my temporary companion. The valley had a slight but insistent incline for its whole length and I was soon sweating freely in the heat of the day. After about fifteen minutes, I passed a very handsome stone property with a shrub of some kind climbing its front and sending out a spray of pendulous, purple flowers. I walked alongside a small brook, chortling away amongst a bed of Bluebells. It was a good day to be walking, but as I drew near to the end of the valley the incline steepened and such dreamy sentiments were strangled. Out of breath,
First sight of Llangors Lake
I walked on up the sharp incline of Mynydd Llangorse, which meant that I still had to stop every hundred metres or so to rest. My legs were weary, my back was aching with the weight of the rucksack and I was breathless but, finally, I topped out at 1,347 feet (411 metres). Looking about me, I suddenly realised that I had completed a significant phase. Mynydd Llangorse is a hill on the western edge of the Black Mountains. Ahead of me, the land began to fall away and level out a little. My iPhone began to erupt with little communicative noises, as the first strong signal for two days kicked in. It was a lovely walk across this last hill. I made my way over open grassland, with a fenced-off area of wild scrub to my left and the impressive ramparts of the still some way ahead. That was another range for another day and I seemed to remember that I was to only clip these giants later on in the journey. A broad and pitted track began to lead me downwards and a couple of fields, yellow and obvious with rape seed, stood out amongst a mantle of green pasture and mature hedgerows. As I progressed, a large and inert body of water came sliding into view from behind the slope of the hill. I stopped and took my first look at or Llyn Syfaddan, to give its due Welsh name. Llyn Syfaddan is the largest natural lake in South Wales and is famous for its coarse fishing, particularly for Pike. The skull of a Pike of unknown weight, though approximated at 35–40+ lb, was found on the shores of the lake in 2004. Llyn Syfaddan is a eutrophic glacial lake with a five miles circumference (also being one mile long) and was formed by debris deposited by melting glaciers, trapping water on a plateau over time. In 1925, archaeologists discovered a virtually complete dugout boat buried there. Radiocarbon dating indicated that it originated from the 9th century. In May 2011 hundreds of Water Voles were released near the lake in an ongoing programme to try to restore their numbers, particularly following the ravages of that resourceful invader the American Mink.
“You do not speak Welsh….”
My continuing descent was a winding affair, interrupted by my arrival at a residence called Penyrheol and its occupants, an old man and a brown Labrador who were outside, appreciating the day. Both proved to be very friendly and I stopped to chat with them as they stood, looking out over the lake.
“Nice view you’ve got from your window,” I said.
The man nodded and smiled and began to tell me some of the above facts about Llyn Syfadden, also adding that it was a headwater for the River Wye; a feature that runs through the part of Herefordshire where I live and indeed, flows not far from my cottage. He further told me that it is the second largest natural lake, after Lake Bala in North Wales. For some reason, he then asked me if I was a Welsh speaker and when I said I was not, he smiled again.
“Nad ydych yn siarad Cymraeg.”
I shook my head, “What’s that mean?”
“You do not speak Welsh,” he replied, smiling wider.
He asked about my walk and we both gazed west as we contemplated the sweep of miles ahead, whilst I scratched the head and neck of his good-natured dog. Once we’d said our farewells, I made my way past his property and down a steep, boggy track punctuated with a scatter of rocks. I was brought to a lane and set off until I came to a T-junction, where I turned right and strode on. It was now that I began to flex my back and shoulders uncomfortably. I had begun to notice the increasing ache and strain from my rucksack and no matter how often I hitched it up or stopped to tighten straps, the pain increased and was becoming a distraction from my hiking. I decided, on my fourth day of the walk, that I needed to lighten the load. I made my way by a small community called Treberfydd and came upon a building, set at the axis of the lane I was currently walking along and a track I needed to turn left on. It was a community hall of some kind and had kindly provided a wooden table and benches on a level piece of lawn raised high above the lane. As it was one o’clock, I decided that it was time for lunch. It was a huge relief to take off my pack and I considered the weight problem as I sat at the bench. What could I eject? The obvious answer was the several bags of leaden dried fruit and nuts I was carting about, which had been compressed into amorphous bricks along the way, like some kind of nutritious Semtex. I reckoned I could manage with just one fair-sized bag. I also collected a few depleted batteries,
The River Usk
Task done, I sat at the bench and unwrapped my lunch. I also released sweat-sodden feet from the confines of my boots and set my socks out to dry in the fierce heat of the day. I had the most wonderful view of Llyn Syfaddan from where I was sat and I had also been given the liberty of messaging friends, courtesy of a revived signal. I wasted no time in sending off photos of what I was currently looking at, as I ate. The blue sky, flotillas of white clouds, the green of Welsh countryside, the docile lake and the recently-walked Black Mountains; I had a ringside view and I wanted people to share it with me. I even stood on the table to get a better elevation over a hedge for pictures and then I sat and ate, before putting on baked-dry socks and getting the rucksack on board again. It felt lighter and I was confident that I could go on with less discomfort, particularly after I had posted used maps back home. I was due to walk off the left-hand edge of my first map later that day. One thing I had noticed during the morning was that each time I took a swig from my water camel, I became slightly nauseous and my stomach felt tender for a while. It happened again as I drank whilst moving up the grass bank to higher ground. The water from the camp-site in Cwmdu didn’t entirely agree with me.
Death by A40…?
Despite leaving the mountains behind, it was another steep climb onto a track which was to become a firm ally of mine. The Three Rivers Ride is an equestrian national bridle route network, developed by The British Horse Society and it runs from Tidbatch in Worcestershire, through Herefordshire, into Wales near Pennant, then through the Black Mountains to the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre. Unlike permissive footpaths, the Three Rivers took me onward in a no-nonsense fashion, was always well- defined (if a little churned up) and never led me to unassailable obstacles. It took me quickly to the village of Pennorth via a hedged-track full of Bluebells and Daisies, where I abandoned it and turned south to tramp over a few fields. I was able to join a stony path that led me down towards another community by the name of Scethrog. Before I got there, though, I was met by another man and his dog. This guy was younger (perhaps early thirties) and he had either just got out, or was about to get in, a Land Rover. He seemed to be waiting for me to draw near and on impulse I asked him where the nearest pub was. He told me, but warned that I would have to walk along the A40 for a while to get there. He then asked what my lot was about, so I told him. Here was another person who thought that postcode walks were a neat idea (I may have to copyright it). Turns out, this guy was English and an ex-soldier. He was very friendly and told me had only been in the area for the past seven weeks. He had a Welsh wife and had moved here to start a business in repairs and fitting AGA cookers and the like. We chatted for a good while and he then offered me a lift to the pub, which I declined as I thought I detected a mischievous and searching look in his eyes. Would I stay true to my walk, or take an easy option? I didn’t want to look like a bit of a quitter in front of a former forces man, so he shook my hand and wished me good luck.
I continued and was soon amongst and beyond the sprawl of Scethrog, as it tumbled and careered down a sharp hill. The settlement was like a Lego village that had been built on a flight of stairs. The canted road hustled me downwards and spat me out onto the A40 with a last brusque shove. As was always the way when forced to march along an A-road, I cringed and walked with hunched shoulders, as if expecting a heavy and terminal blow at any second. This was because I was expecting a heavy and terminal blow at any second. I did this for a good twenty minutes whilst deadly things on wheels whistled by, making my way to a sanctuary called The Old Ford Inn. I got there at twenty-five past three,
Cormorant on the Usk
If the walk along this river was scenic, it wasn’t always an easy-going jaunt. The bank rose and fell over more stones and my feet were getting tired and sore again. I was soon taken along to join, for the briefest of metres, the In this, I was aided by a rotund bloke in his garden, who had seen me hesitate amongst the confusion of a track, a row of cottages, a stone wall and a lane and stuck his upper body over a garden gate to point the way. I gave him a thumbs-up and soon strolled past an aqueduct in my search for a lock bridge over the canal. This turned out to be a thorn in my side for a short but sweary period. I could see the bridge right in front of me and knew from my map that I had to get onto it from where I was, by going through a small copse of trees. True, the copse was on a very steep bank but, really, it shouldn’t have caused me the hassle it did. Nevertheless, I discovered as I forged forwards that the trees started to grow in thicker clumps and banks of brambles sprang up to bar the way. This forced me to climb higher to try and outflank them. Within a couple of minutes, I had been side-swiped effortlessly onto a path that bordered an open playing field, with the A40 zipping traffic along at high velocity behind it. I was now above the bridge and further away from it. Crossly, I thrashed my way back down through the wood and plunged into a nest of thickets, battering my way through thorns and grasping branches and worrying that I was going to stumble and be pitched head-first into the canal, given the precipitous nature of the slope I was on. With relief, I tumbled out onto a road, panting wildly as I emerged in front of startled family members passing by in their car. I followed them over the bridge, digging twigs from the back of my shirt collar and discovering from my map that I had re-joined the Three Rivers Ride trail which, at this point at least, had also become something called the (Welsh: Taith Taf. It’s a popular walking and cycle path that runs for 55 miles (89 km) between Cardiff Bay and Brecon in Wales).
Bronwyn makes a call….
I was on the B4558 which I trooped along for a while, feeling tired and realising that I was running low on water. I then got onto a lane and bent left around the edge of a lake called the Ty Mawr Pool. I suddenly came across wide gardens and a very smart white house, with the grey slate roof typical of the country, two porch areas and what looked like two wings to the property. The lawns were manicured, there was a gravelled drive and low walls and the whole vision was very inviting, particularly when I saw a sign advertising the property as The Lodge bed and breakfast. Right away, I decided that my walking was done for the day and I was going to try and get a room here. I saw a couple sitting at a table in the garden, underneath a framework of wood that looked like it could be covered with an awning, if desired. The gardens were so open that the couple noted my approach straight away and the lady was getting ready to greet me with a smile. I wasted no time as I reached them and asked if they had a room for the night. To my disappointment, they did not. This must have showed on my face for the lady invited me to sit at their table, because she was going to make a phone call to another B&B she knew of in the area. They asked me if I’d like a drink and I took this as an opportunity to request a fill-up for my water camel. She was happy to do this, once I’d shown her how to open the top. While she was indoors, her husband introduced himself as Steve and we chatted about my walk and their life here in the gorgeousness of rural Brecon. After a while, Steve’s wife returned with my water and told me with another attractive smile that I had a room for the night. It was at a place called Ty Newydd and was right on the Mon and Brec canal (as it is known locally – I suppose the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal is a bit of a mouthful, even for the Welsh whose language, let’s face it, contain words that run like streams of data). I was delighted and thanked the lady, who introduced herself as Bronwyn and proved to be every bit as warm and sociable as Steve. I had assumed that Bronwyn was Welsh, given the name, but this didn’t fit in with what I was hearing. Her accent was not of these shores and Bronwyn confirmed that she was originally from the Republic of Zimbabwe. I felt so comfortable with this lovely couple that I was in no hurry to dash off and we sat and talked for a while longer before I stood up, thanked them and hoisted my rucksack in place once more. They had given me directions to Ty Newydd and I knew that I would soon be walking through the village of Llanfrynach. They had also told me that the only pub in the place was currently shut for refurbishment, so I would be looking elsewhere for a meal that evening. I took my leave of Steve and Bronwyn and got back onto the B-road. Now that Llanfrynach had nothing to offer me in terms of social refreshment, I powered through it and turned left on one of the streets to leave the village behind and get back onto the B4558 at a T-junction. Turning right, I paced forward and approached the canal. I took a path to the left and passed three or four boats moored at the side of the canal. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was ten-past five, as I strode up to the main building of and knocked on the door.
I blame The Reverend….
A young woman answered and we confirmed that I was the chap that Bronwyn had phoned her about. I was invited into the house and given the usual orientation tour by this lady, who introduced herself as Rachel. I asked about the building and Rachel told me that it was a renovated 17th Century Welsh farmhouse, before leading me upstairs and showing me my room. She left me to settle in and gather up a bundle of laundry, which she said she would wash for me (guest houses that offer this service always get massive Brownie points from me, so thank you Rachel!) as soon as I’d taken it down to her. The cost for the night and tomorrow’s breakfast was £55 – not the cheapest of places, but given the spectacular surroundings I could see from one glance out of my bedroom window and also the high standard of my room, the kitchen and the lounge area downstairs, I was well happy. There was no extra charge for washing my unwholesome clothes, either. I was able to relax and for a while, leant on the deep shelf at my window and gazed out at the canal boats in the marina and the low hills in the distance. It suddenly occurred to me that I had walked in a big, anti-clockwise loop to come to rest here. Less than half a mile from me as I looked over the canal and beyond the River Usk, was the pub that had been shut when I had sought refuge from the A40, The Old Ford Inn. Turning my back on the view, I put my camera and camcorder batteries on charge (giving my camcorder one last chance to sort itself out) before I flopped down on the bed with a groan that suggested I wouldn’t be moving again for a while. In actual fact, I watched an episode of a Masterchef series that I was to get unusually immersed into whilst on my walk. I quickly began to root for one of the contestants, a lady called Ping with Malaysian heritage. It was strange to me, that a contestant on Masterchef should have a name that sounded like the conclusion of a microwave meal. However, she was a likeable sort and created meals that had me dribbling on my duvet and reminded me that I had yet to eat. As soon as the programme had finished, I took a hot bath that had me cooing to myself with delight. Rachel and her husband (a low-profile man called Sid, who I was to meet only once later that evening) had thoughtfully left brochures, including one of local eating establishments. The best bet seemed to be to head to the little village of Pencelli, which was about a fifteen minute walk away.
It was still light when I set out, dressed glamorously in tracksuit bottoms and a shirt – the best I could do with the weight of my backpack always the priority. I topped this voguish look off by continuing to wear my dirty walking boots, the only footwear I had brought on the trip. I smelt nice, though. I had the rare delight of seeing a male Bullfinch flit along the hedge in front of me as I journeyed down the old faithful B4558 and into Pencelli.
Twilight on the marina
“Oops – I’ve come through the wrong door,” I informed him, rather unnecessarily.
He nodded cautiously, but I was already scarpering as I threw an apology over my shoulder. My only excuse for the incident is that a few ales had muddled my senses a little. That said, I was a complete arse. Once in my own room and with a flush of embarrassment still leaving me apple-cheeked, I tried to settle down in bed and watch TV. It didn’t take long for me to admit how futile an exercise this was, as my eyelids instantly began to slip shut of their own accord. I clicked the telly off and shuffled down deeper into the quilt, enjoying my first proper bed since I’d left home. I was asleep within minutes.
For a full profile of the route (PDF format) click here
See Route on ......