Bring Me Congee

My pimped congee with salted pork topped with preserved vegetables and chilli oil

Congee, or ‘粥’, conjures up memories of… being sick as a child. Fevers, colds, stomach bugs, and everything in between. For me, it is food that I still turn to when I’m sick, run down, or just need a hug in a bowl. A basic-bitch congee is made from rice and water which is easy for your body to digest, especially if you’re unwell. A bit like tea and toast, but way better.

It’s also super cheap to make – as a poorish undergrad student (I really had no excuse, I had a part-time job) I once reported to my mum that I’d made some congee because I was a bit skint. She asked me what I’d eaten with it (gods forbid I ate it plain) to which I responded ‘a pork chop’ – sliced and cooked in with the congee. Obviously not *that* poor that I couldn’t afford to buy myself some meat. LOL.

粥 is a staple in many Hong Kong markets, often eaten for breakfast with salted pork and century egg (my personal favourite) with a side of delicious 油炸鬼 (fried dough sticks – literally translated to ‘fried oil ghosts’) or fried egg noodles. I love a bowl of congee whenever I go back to Hong Kong – even in the 30+ degree heat. The ingredients and flavours are so simple which is probably what makes it so comforting.

It was a bit odd when I came to write down the ‘recipe’ as it occurred to me I’d never weighed or measured any of the ingredients – like boiling rice, it’s all about eyeballing. However, I measured my ‘eyeballed’ amounts and it went something like this:

1/2 cup rice (I use Thai Fragrant rice because I’m a snob)
5 cups of water or stock
Pork (1 chop/steak’s worth!) – optional, depending on how skint you’re feeling…

Makes 2 portions. Cooking time: around 20 minutes.


  1. Wash your rice and soak overnight – you can skip this part, especially if you’re impulse cooking, but I find that this makes the consistency smoother when it comes to cooking the rice.

Soaked grains of rice


2. Drain the water and put your soaked/unsoaked rice in a saucepan. Add 5 cups of water and bring it to the boil. MAKE SURE THE LID IS RESTED ON THE SIDE OF THE PAN OR IT WILL BOIL OVER. Once it comes up to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes (again with the lid rested on the side of the pan to prevent boiling over). You can use stock if you’re feeling fancy but I’m not a huge fan of drinking synthetic stock. Stir occasionally.


Rice simmering away gently.


3. Slice your pork thinly (you can use pretty much any cut – my favourite is shoulder) and add to the congee – cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can also salt your pork the night before by sprinkling about a tablespoon of salt onto the chop and rinse off before using. This helps create a lovely stock while it cooks.


I actually only used half of this as I had a really thick steaks


4. Your congee should end up looking a bit like the picture below. If it’s too thick for your liking, add some more water but make sure you bring it back up to the boil once more before serving to ensure it’s piping hot throughout. Add salt to taste.



5. ‘Garnish’ and eat! I added some preserved vegetables and chilli oil to mine, with a dash of soy sauce.



You can also top it with fried mince pork and cabbage (flavoured with ginger and sesame oil).


Storage: you can keep congee overnight in the fridge – just make sure that it’s properly cooled before you pop it in. To re-heat, pop it in a saucepan with some additional water (it will thicken up overnight) and bring it to a boil slowly. Or, and don’t tell my mum I do this, you can microwave it – make sure that it is piping hot before eating.

There are so many variations of what you can cook in or serve with the congee – a delight when you are not sick! Pork or chicken is always a winner as they help create the stock while cooking. I always add soy sauce, and sometimes I plop in some preserved bean curd for some savoury umaaminess. For vegetarians or vegans the addition of some preserved veg or spicy preserved hot turnips, and a side of stir fried green leafy veg is very appetising and nourishing.

Ok, now off you go and make yourself some congee. It’s not just for sick people!

Happy cooking!


We need to talk about that vegan artichoke and spinach dip.



Vegan Feast


Spinach and artichoke dip – it’s the American dream. I have to admit that I’ve never experienced the full-dairy experience and that this vegan version is the closest I have got so far. I’ve seen it in so many forms – often in the middle of the day on the Food Network. Apparently it’s a thing when the Superbowl is on?

I made up this recipe based on non-vegan versions I’d seen and since I had a vegan friend coming over, I thought I’d give it a go. What could go wrong? It has artichokes AND spinach in it! It was really easy to assemble – can be served with pita, tortilla chips or just bread! Make a meal of it if you like!

Recipe-ish (I eyeball a lot of these things – it’s more about ratios than exact measurements):

1 tub vegan cream cheese (I used a garlic and herb version)
1 small onion (about 2/3 of a cup)
2 garlic cloves (more if you like garlic)
2/3 – 1 cup cooked spinach (all the water is squeezed out then roughly chopped)
1/2 – 3/4 cup artichokes (drained and chopped up into scoopable pieces)
1 cup vegan cheddar-style cheese (grated)
Dash of soya cream
Salt and pepper to taste (paprika too if you fancy!)

  1. Dice onions finely and mince your garlic – pan-fry both in some oil until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, spinach, artichokes and half of the cheddar-style cheese.
  4. Add the fried onion and enough soya cream to loosen the mixture – it needs to be scoopable so make sure that it’s not too runny or thick. Stir and season to taste.
  5. Pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the remaining cheddar-style cheese and bake! I’d leave it in the oven for at least 25-30 minutes for the ‘cheese’ to melt. Serve – but make sure that you share it with others.

My vegan friend, who took home the leftovers, reported that it is excellent warmed up and spread on toast the day after 😉 If you want to try the full-on dairy version, just replace all the non-dairy products! Oh, and if you’re a carnivore – add bacon.

Happy eating!


Vegan Food Made Easy

FYI – I haven’t turned vegan. But I admit to being a bit ve-curious, whether vegetarian or full-on vegan. Let me just quickly remind you that the humble chip is in fact vegan (assuming you’ve not ordered them at the Black Country Living Museum). It’s quite hard to go out these days without noticing the growing number of vegetarian or vegan options on the menu. I mean, there are even restaurants and cafes dedicated to plant-based eating! And about time. I love meats but recently I have made a conscious decision to eat less of it for issues of wellness. But I do still love a steak.

I love meals that are ‘accidentally’ vegan. I compare it to the feeling of going to the checkout only to find that your item has been unexpectedly reduced in price for no reason. I mean, you’re going to buy it anyway so it is an added bonus that it’s even cheaper. With accidentally-vegan fare, it’s like you’re contributing to sustainability, without even trying very hard.

I have been doing some recip-experimenting (some on a vegan friend) and have found the following things invaluable for ‘ve-mergencies’:

  • Puff pastry (Lidl’s is vegan)
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Spices (I have a jar of pre-mixed spices as per the Souk Spice Root Vegetables recipe in Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Sirocco’ – literally delicious on everything)
  • Pulses (usually chickpeas or beans)
  • Those vegan shroomdogs from Sainsbo’s that I have become a bit addicted to

Pastry can be used in many, many ways whether you’re vegan or not. My favourite is to make a pie or a tart – depending on how much time I’ve got. Tart’s are well easy – shove a load of things you like on the top and pop it in the oven (don’t forget to create a barrier by scoring lightly with a knife to create the border – nobody wants SPILLAGE FFS). I particularly love the combo of artichoke, onions, mushrooms and Gary (or vegan cheese). I had a vegan artichoke pizza in a lovely restaurant called Billy and Lucy in Melbourne last year and was baffled by it’s simplicity and nommyness. Artichoke, onions and vegan cheese. In the words of Guy Fieri ‘that’s all she wrote’, and when I came home and started topping everything with artichoke, onions and Gary immediately.

Artichoke and Mushroom Tart

Vegan Artichoke and Mushroom Tart

Tinned tomatoes are a staple in my larder because they are so versatile; soups, curries, sauces etc. you name it, in they go! They’re particularly great for stews and one pot meals. Combine with the holy trinity that is celery, carrot and onion (the only time I will eat celery knowingly) and you have a brilliant base to which you can add spices and pulses for something warm and filling. FYI, this is vegan – unless you fancy adding some meats and cooking it low and slow. See? Easies.

Vegan Feast

Lower right – vegan chorizo and lentil hot pot

Spices are a godsend – again, for any food, not just vegan or vegetarian food. They perk up a bland dish and turns it into something completely different. I always have a jar of pre-mixed ‘souk spices’ (thank you Sabrina Ghayour). The original recipe is as follows:

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tsp garlic granules

I usually quadruple the recipe, pop it in a jar and it’s there ready when I need it. Great for any roast vegetable combinations (and also meats). I’d recommend adding some fresh mushed garlic too for added yums.

Cavolo Nero and Souk-Spiced Butternut Squash

Cavolo Nero and Souk-Spiced Butternut Squash

This is a bit of an introduction to how I’ve adapted the ways that I like to cook (as a carnivore) to suit my new-found part-time veggie/accidental vegan ways. I have a few  other ideas up my sleeves (I NEED TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE VEGAN SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE DIP) and will tell you all about them v. soon!

Happy eating.


Around the world in 80 (x 4) days

It’s been 343 days since my last post, and it’s been 343 days for a reason. This time last year I was living a mini-dream in Sweden – a holiday I decided to indulge in because, quite frankly, I was having the worst time in actual real life (professionally). It happens to us all, and it’s not the first time it had happened to me. So when I returned, I decided change needed to happen. I concentrated my energies into making that change happen and in January this year, I got myself a fably new job. The added bonus of this job? I got to travel the world.

I’ve been in this new job exactly 9 months and 9 days now and it’s taken me this long to jot down and acknowledge my many wanders. I’ve been to so many places, met so many brilliant people, (ate lots of delicious things) I had no idea what to do with all the information. So I’m going to try and break it down a little here, as a sneak preview of what’s to come on Connie Talks.

Back in April I spent a month in Australia (yes, for work), a country that had been on my hitlist since FOREVER but timings and finances never seemed to pan out. Flashback to my conversation with my new manager in January:

Manager: ‘Connie, how do you feel about staying in Australia for a month? We know it’s a big ask.’

Me: [externally] ‘Oh, I’m not sure, can I think about it? Can I take my cat?’

I’m not going to lie. I was bloody delighted. 2 weeks in Brisbane and 2 weeks in Melbourne was the perfect combination. I was a stone’s throw from the Great Barrier Reef (although I didn’t quite make it that far – turns out ‘a stone’s throw’ actually means ‘the distance between France and China’ in Oz) in one direction, and literally on the Great Ocean Road in the other. My work and travel itinerary became very full very quickly. The highlights included koalas (which turned out to be my other spirit animal – my first being pandas), kangaroos and nature in general. All of a sudden my geography GCSE became real. Oh, and I think I need to talk about the coffee. It is officially okay to ask for a latte out there without being spat on. But I would highly recommend getting a hot flat white – just to be on the safe side. And take a reusable cup.


Fraser Island

On my way back from Australia, I decided to pop in to see the fam (uncles, aunties, cousins, fake uncles and aunties too) in Hong Kong. Although I’ve been many, many times, this time was slightly different as I’d not been since my granddad’s funeral in 2013. My intention was to have a proper tourist holiday, sans my immediate family. Anyone who has traveled back to their Motherland with immediate family understands that the trip is never a holiday but an itinerary of obligations and family dinners. As much as I love family dinners, I wanted to see HK at my own leisure. Lamma Island was a surprise delight, even in the gazillion degree heat. I even lugged back a jar of some delicious chilli oil that I ate there – probably the most random souvenir from any of my trips.


Lamma Island. Can’t believe it only costed us a few quid to get there and back.

In the height of summer, I thought it’d be a good idea to go to Italy – again, in the gazillion degree heat (I am yet to pack away my summer wardrobe). The Holy Motherland of All Things Pasta and Art. As an art historian, I am so ashamed to say that I HAD NEVER BEEN TO ITALY before. Now I’ve been, I feel much less like an impostor. I spent a glorious week in Bologna with day trips to Parma, Modena and Florence immersing myself in traditional Italian food, culture and obvs, art history. I left the UK not knowing a word of Italian (apparently pasta shapes don’t count) and returned still not knowing a word of Italian (but have expanded pasta vocabulary significantly). I came back with cravings for lasagna which I attempted to make – the Italian way. Recipe to follow…


That time I couldn’t decide which pasta to have so I had all three.

I’m sat at my laptop now, still in a state of culture shock, having just returned from Shanghai less than 2 days ago. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with China having had a bad experience there with the fam a few years back. However, I can honestly say Shanghai has changed my perspective; the city is international, accessible (but don’t try and pay with a credit card) and has a lot of good eats. I miss the smell of food everywhere, the Bund and the bustle, but definitely not the pollution.


Yang’s Fried Dumplings – with a side of curry noodles which I really didn’t need but was greedy so ordered anyway.

So the next few posts will be me trying to process my thoughts on these wonderful places that I’ve visited and probably all the delicious things that I ate too. Next week I travel to Chile for the first time and no doubt will return an empanada addict. Wish me luck!





Sweden: Blogpost 1 of 1,000 – #connietravels

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since I returned from beautiful (but rainy) Sweden. This post (and the ones that will follow) has been a long time coming but coming to write it hasn’t been particularly easy. Not because I didn’t have the time of my life, but because remembering it all has been a) difficult (we did A LOT) and b) reminded me that I’m not there right now. The latter breaks my heart a little bit – a feeling that I’m sure any Wanderluster knows well.

As the title of this blogpost may suggest, the next 1,000 blogposts will be about Sweden. I might even re-name my blog. ‘Connie went to Sweden that one time and won’t shut up about it’. I’m not sure if it’s because I did a lot whilst I was there, or because of all the drama in the lead up to, and during the holiday; but I have a lot to say about the place. This post will ‘set the scene’ of the first evening and the rest will be about specific places I went. I think. Do let me know when it becomes boring. Actually, I don’t care. So let’s start with everyone’s favourite: the drama. I’ve written it as a list of thanks for you:

  1. Thanks Monarch airlines for going bust 4 days before our flight.
  2. Thanks train cancellations.
  3. Thanks Swiss International Airlines for losing my luggage for 24 hours.
  4. Thanks Stockholm Central Station for your mediocre signage which meant that me and friend couldn’t find each other.
  5. Thanks Google Maps for misdirecting us to the wrong apartment.
  6. Thanks (genuinely) to our Airbnb host for coming to meet us at the station… but we were already stood outside the wrong apartment.
  7. Thanks AirFrance for going on strike so that my friend had to rearrange her flights AGAIN.

There. That wasn’t too bad. That was a bit like therapy. I find that ‘thanking’ all those involved acknowledges that we survived the experience, but equally, it gives a passive-aggressive nod to the stress they put us through. However, we did see a niche in the market and have considered setting ourselves up as Holiday Disaster Consultants.

My journey (up to the point where they lost my luggage and didn’t even apologise) was delightful. The highlight was being in charge of the emergency exit en route to to Switzerland; I have never felt such authority. It was like fulfilling my dream of becoming cabin crew for an hour and a bit. Not sure how much use I was as I spent most of that time asleep but hey ho. Food-wise, I was given nommy snacks on both flights including a yummy kish. All good plane snacks are worthy of a mention. I also made a plane friend who sat next to me on both flights – a young chap who worked as a holiday rep who was flying all the way to Stockholm to meet a lovely lady he’d met that summer. I hope they end up spending the rest of their lives together, but not in Stockholm because it’s far too expensive and I can’t even imagine what house prices would be like.

Our apartment (when we finally found it) was located in a lovely residential suburb of the city, just a few stops on the metro from Central station. We were surrounded by other apartments and lots of autumnal, leafy avenues. The downside was that there weren’t really many places to eat nearby, so dinner was often on the ‘mainland’ or on one of the surrounding islands. Having said that, we were around a 5-10 minute walk away from a supermarket which was very handy, considering my circumstances.


View from our kitchen

Having found out that I only had the contents of my hand luggage with me for at least 24 hours (our Airbnb host gave me a right scare story about how he waited 6 weeks for his to turn up), we made an immediate trip to the local supermarket. Oh my days, it was so beautiful. I bloody love a supermarket abroad – so many things to look at and touch. Supermarkets are like museums of anthropology; they tell you so much about the culture in which people live; what they eat, what they wear, how they cook, how much they earn. Dreading that I was going to have to wear the same set of clothes again the following day, I was the most relieved when I found A SALE RAIL. BOOM: Jumper dress for £8. I also bought a pack of pants and spare tights. Oh, and a questionable t-shirt to wear as PJs. We also treated ourselves to D’aim ice creams.


My new PJs

After buying too much and for the fear of bankrupting ourselves earlier than anticipated, we decided to go and hunt for dinner. Not literally obvs, we’re not barbarians. Now, apparently, according to the Millennial’s Bible Buzzfeed, the Swedes love a burger. So a burger we did have. We stumbled upon Lily’s Burger which is pretty much burger heaven. Don’t let the retro American Diner decor fool you: they mean business. I opted for ‘The Bad’, because: Sriracha mayonnaise. The best surprise were the cheeseburger spring rolls – patty meat and american cheese wrapped in filo and fried. I am taking this back to The House of Wan. The burgers were most excellent; perfectly pink with the perfect balance of accompaniments. Nobody likes a burger that is 50% salad. We shared those fries by the way. And no, we did not finish it all.


So, to sum up our first evening, I’ve put together a series of observations:

#1: Bottles of ketchup are huge in Sweden


#2: Hipster beers are prevalent


#3: ‘infart’ is a word (meaning ‘entrance’) – sounds like an oxymoron in English.


#4: This was how I found the cheese the next morning. I was on holiday with a monster.


Coming up next: Our first proper day in STHLM.

A Requiem for Going Out Out


‘Going out out’ is a phrase that sends shivers down the spines of most people in their mid-thirties, yet this weekend I tried to prove myself wrong in the name of reliving my youth. A couple of weekends ago, I had attempted to go out out. By that, I mean that I wore a pair of heels and some red lipstick, to go out. However, that night we ended up out-outish, in a pub that blared out cheese music whilst my friend and I planned that fated walk in Wales (see previous post – WARNING: SCENES OF MILD PERIL). Coincidentally, that same evening, another friend invited me to go proper out out. I foolishly said yes because I was determined to prove that I, in my mid-thirties, could still have a bloody good time out out.

Fast-forward to last night (Saturday). Now, let me put my weekend into a bit of context here; Friday evening (after a full day at work) I hosted a fondue night which ended up with me mopping the floor at midnight because there was an explosion of cheese and flour, and Saturday morning/afternoon was spent fake-god parenting at a naming ceremony. I had had a fairly full-on 18 hours. However, I soldiered on regardless prepping for my night out out with a classic disco nap. It was not a glorious disco nap, not like the ones I used to have during a matinee movie on the telly. I pseudo snoozed whilst Sir Pepperoni the cat kneaded me to death.

When it came to getting ready, several things came into my head (anyone who has read my Twitter feed may be familiar with some of these thoughts):

  1. Getting ready to music on the radio was rather disappointing, no classic getting-ready choons (this included 80s & 90s stations). I settled on Smooth FM which, in hindsight, was a bit too low-tempo for getting ready but at least I knew the songs they were playing.
  2. Upon packing my tiny clutch bag, it felt like my personal possessions had gotten too big and wouldn’t fit/my inhaler took up all the space. I settled on shoving overflow items into my jacket pocket.
  3. Tights. I spend 99% of the year in opaque black tights (footless ones in the summer). Expecting to go for a boogie, I tested their danceability by jumping up and down; I was not going to have Nora Batty knees tonight, no siree.
  4. Footwear. I put on my lovely tasseled wedges. Then remembered sticky, beer/vodka/Redbull-soaked dance floors. I replaced these with a pair of black flats. However, I secretly worried that the black flats would get ruined; I no longer have a disposable shoe wardrobe.
  5. I had to make a mental note to myself to not eat too much at dinner, because boogies.
  6. I have a LOT of red lipsticks. Maybe I should wear them more?
  7. Out out clothing: I was sure that my dress looked a bit like a black bin liner made from crepe paper but one of the joys of being in my mid-thirties is that I no longer give a shit.

Upon arrival at the restaurant I was actually a bit excited. I wanted to tell the restaurant that I was OUT OUT. Catch up with BFF was lovely; she was all glammed up with a face made up by the gods at Givenchy and heels to die for. I resented my choice of black flats. All was well until we ordered some water for the table. The waiter came along in a rush with a stupidly shaped jug (FYI curved jugs are a stupid idea), he placed it on the table but didn’t place it properly and before I knew it, a tsunami of cold tap water gushed towards me. I got soaked good and proper. As did my phone and the rest of my textile-based possessions. I believe my precise words during this incident were: ‘FUCK MY LIFE’. Looking on the up side, my crepe paper dress was super thin and was semi-dryable underneath the hand dryers in the toilet. My jacket and scarf couldn’t be saved though and they remained damp for the rest of the evening. By the time I got back to the table, my pasta was cold (it was also overcooked) and my gin cocktail had gone flat. I won’t be going back there any time soon.

Anyway, moving onwards. We did a mini-bar crawl stopping off at hotspots like Turtle Bay (HAPPY HOUR AT 10PM!), where we made friends with two girls we shared a table with. Over cocktails that tasted like UmBongo, we bonded over Bongo’s Bingo (to be honest the girls were off their faces and I’m still none the wiser as to how it differs from normal bingo, other than it’s aimed at hipsters), bananas (mainly dislike of bananas) and not understanding how people were ordering food at 10pm which is way past anybody’s dinner time. We swiftly moved on to the Victoria and got trapped on a very small make-shift dance floor. It was also dark. Very dark. Like, they couldn’t afford to replace the lightbulbs kinda dark. Not great when you’re still sober (another observation: definitely takes longer to get merry on drinks in your mid-thirties). We managed to squeeze our way out for proper boogs (that’s short for ‘boogies’ guys) at the legendary Island Bar. It took a while for us to recognise any song on the playlist (thank you RiRi, we will ensure to werk werk werk werk werk). As the music got louder and we lost the ability to hear each other, we headed towards another tiny dance floor to get into the swing of being out out. I’m not going to lie though, we were very distracted by the projection screen that was showing Baywatch, reminiscing over CJ Parker/Pamela Lee, Jaaaaaaaason Simmons and Yasmin Bleeth going to sea in a full face of make up. Also the episode ‘Der Cowboy’, probs because it was a German dubbed episode. Having watched a few episodes/danced to a few choons we’d never heard of in our lives, we decided to call it a night at 12.30am. But the drama wasn’t over. SOMEONE HAD STOLEN MY BFF’S DENIM JACKET (of 12 years). *sighs*. Several search and rescue attempts later, the denim jacket remained unfound. Since when did going out out become such a perilous experience? 30 minutes after leaving, I was at home in front of the telly watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit with a cup of tea.

Let’s be clear here, I am not opposed to a cheeky night out out. I am not a destroyer of spontaneous fun with friends over a few boogs and bevvies. However, occasionally the pressure to have a good time when you’re out out (especially when you only do it twice a year) becomes a bit overbearing and I sometimes get a bit of social anxiety because of it: ‘WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A GOOD TIME?’ ‘WHAT IF MY FEET START TO BLEED BECAUSE I’VE BOOGIED TOO HARD?’ ‘WHAT IF I GET A MIGRAINE FROM HAVING TOO MUCH FUN?’ ‘HAVE I PUT ENOUGH HAIRSPRAY IN MY HAIR?’ are just a few thoughts that go through my head. Having said that, in my opinion letting your hair down is absolutely necessary and I see it as an important form of self care. I quite like the idea of a cheeky night out out every now and then but I think that as you get older, you realise that there are other more conducive things you could be doing with your time and money. Especially when you have to work real hard to earn that money and time off only comes once every five days. Fun comes in other forms; a happy hour drink with friends after work, crochet, dinner parties etc. For the foreseeable future I think I will channel my energies into standard, plebeian ‘out’ which, in my humble opinion, is far more rewarding than a night out out which, more often than not, ends with painful feet and a sore head. Here’s to going just out *clinks*.

The Walk That Nearly Broke Me.


Pen y Fan in the distance (left) and Y Gyrn to the right

Wales. It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it? Miles and miles of beautiful rolling hills punctuated with epic summits, cwms (is that the correct plural for ‘cwm’?) and long sloping ridges; dotted between are a few jewel-like lakes that look like small puddles in a giant’s playground. This weekend was supposed to be about relaxing, a chance to catch up with a BFF, to blow out some of those cobwebs, yadayadayada. I was not expecting an 8-hour hike fuelled by periodic waves of mild peril. Now, I’m just going to say that I am not a novice at this mountain walking malarkey, despite what my £25, 9 year old walking shoes say (SHOES, NOT EVEN BOOTS). I’ve done the 3 peaks (in those exact shoes) and I’m proud that I didn’t cry climbing any of them. However, this weekend nearly broke me.

With it being a weekend away, said BFF and I thought we might as well make a day of walking. An 11-miler didn’t sound too bad as we’d both just completed the Midnight Walk – a 10-mile walk around Bristol, in the middle of the night (yes, it did occur to us that we could have done that walk on any other day, at any other time). We read the information on the Brecon Beacons website carefully and made a sound and educated judgement to attempt ‘The Big One’ which was an 11-mile walk covering 4 peaks including Corn Du (like Fondue but not) and Pen y Fan.

On the day, I arrived late, which didn’t start the day off well. Plus it had started to spit rain, and we couldn’t find a parking spot, so we should have just gone home. BUT WE DIDN’T. Because we were foolish WE WERE BETTER THAN THAT. Anyway, after a spot of kish (my new way of spelling ‘quiche’ because apparently, some people do spell it ‘kish’) for luncheon, we headed off on our trek. Off up a really steep slope we go, we should have known it was going to go wrong, the directions said ‘Ignore the stone path and take the less obvious track off to the left…‘ ‘IGNORE‘?! OKAY THEN. (SPOILER ALERT: We did not get lost at any point on this journey). After a bit of panting (far too much panting) we got to the top and shortly after, we were met with sights like this:


I *think* the lake/cwm to the right is Llyn Cwm Llwch 

We also walked past Tommy Jones’s Obelisk. Poor little 5-year old Tommy got lost when visiting his grandparents. The obelisk marks the spot where they found him, having died from exhaustion, after a 29-day search. Kudos to him though, he got pretty far up.


Tommy Jones’s Obelisk


The next few hours and peaks brought us to magnificent views like these:




We climbed up and down 3 peaks and made sure we stopped every now and then to admire the view. Despite the rain earlier that afternoon, it stayed dry for the duration of our walk. The breeze and occasional gust of wind meant that the temperature stayed ambient. We even stopped to have a chat to some sheep. We eventually reached the Neuadd Reservoir (the upper part of which has been drained). These were the last pictures I took before I lost the will to live.



By the time we reached the lake, it was around 6pm. We stood by the lake and laughed at the idea of the peak on the other side. It looked horrendous, the worst of all the ones we’d climbed. Having passed the lake, reality dawned on us and we still had one more peak to climb. THAT peak we stood there laughing at. Craps. Like, major craps. We had to get up to the Graig Fan Ddu ridge which was apparently only a 200m climb. 200m MY ASS. It was the steepest of all the peaks so far, and remember, we had already been walking for over 5 hours. We had to climb the m***er***ker AND walk along the whole length of the ridge before our descent on the other side. My legs were already sore, I needed a wee real bad, and I most certainly did not want to spend any more time climbing mountains.

My memory of the next 3ish hours are pretty hazey. We bumped into some mountain runners, asking them what was directly over the other side of Graig Fan Ddu; a really steep descent apparently. So we dragged our sorry asses up towards Graig Fan Ddu and resorted to walking along the whole length of the ridge. I got to the point where I could barely lift my feet onto the stone steps. This has never happened before, my body has never given up on me like this. Not even at the top of Ben Nevis during a blizzard with my inappropriate footwear; MY LEGS WILL GET THROUGH THIS. Just about.

After what felt like a million hours later, we reached the top of the ridge but we still couldn’t see the path down to the carpark. Alarm bells were ringing in my head as at this point it was definitely gone 7-7.30pm and it was going to get dark soon. Although I had my headtorch and torch with me, the last thing I wanted to do was descend the unknown terrain via torch light. So we walked fast. Like, walking-to-work fast. Almost being-followed-in-the-dark fast. I was spurred on by my anger at… the Brecon Beacons website. There is no way this walk was 4-6 hours! We’re a) not stupid and b) not slow SO WHY ARE WE STILL ON THIS MOUNTAIN AFTER NEARLY 7 HOURS?! You can see where my anger was going. On a lighter note, we did bump into a couple and their chocolate labrador (they were camping on this ridge – mentalists). They offered some words of comfort and I got to burn off some of my anger by jumping around with the lab. ‘Aim for the pile of rocks over there’ the girl said, ‘the path down is just there’. THANK F*CK.

We power-walked to the pile of stones, although at this point I was sure my BFF was starting to see stone-pile mirages. Alas, at 8pm, the pile of stones was within reach. We didn’t even pay homage to the pile of stones, we had no time. It was getting dark and I still really needed a wee. We almost ran down the descent (my knees will never forgive me for it) and finally, we saw our cars in the car park. HALLELUJAH. 8.45pm we got back to our cars. Cars that we left around 8 hours before.

We arrived at our rather random b&b around 9.30pm. They’d stopped serving food. Great. We’d not eaten since around 12.30 that afternoon (bar a couple of Lindt chocolate balls and a banana). We were advised to go to the Chinese down the road. I wanted to ask the woman whether she had noticed my ethnicity, but by this point I was too tired and hungry to argue. After a quick text to my parents to tell them I was about to experience my first Chinese takeaway NOT FROM MY FAMILY, we rolled down the hill to get our tasty treats (my parents were not very impressed, no one can feed their daughter as well as they can #fattyfattyboomboom). Fried rice and curry sauce in a mediocre hotel room had never tasted so good. The local offie also did good:


The next morning, we woke up early (and in pain) to get on a steam train! The best £14 I’ve ever spent. A little journey from Pant to Torpantau with a stop at Pontiscill, it was utterly delightful! The little choo choo cheered us right up! And it was nice to rest our legs too.





The weekend was… an experience. Somehow my BFF and I are still talking, although I am certainly not walking. It was the first time I noticed my physical strength detoriorate during a walk which is probably a symptom of too much rest over the past few months. Although the walk was definitely a challenge, this time more physically than mentally, it was actually really rewarding to see the amazing views from the top. What has this weekend taught me? That I really should go out and see our country more often as there is so much on my doorstep that I’ve never seen. However, I think I might stick to flatter terrain in the near future…