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…