Of course we arrived at the station with more than 10 minutes to spare and stood about on the platform like a couple of bananas. Farewells made I got onto the train and realised I had left my magazine at home in the rush so I entertained myself looking at the countryside, which is not easy when you have seen the same journey so many times.
I have mentioned this before but it is a bug bear of mine so please forgive me for giving it another airing. We arrived in Birmingham 8 minutes after the train heading West had departed so we were doomed to be incarcerated in New Street station. This is a grim place for those of you who do not know it. The rules on ticketing and the introduction of ticket operated barriers and the attitude of the staff mean that you cannot leave the station. My ticket was for Abergavenny so I could NOT leave the station without paying a full fare from Melton where I got on. So poor Midge could not get out for fresh air or for a pee. Grow up network rail, or whoever is responsible, and stop treating your passengers like criminals that have to be held in confinement until their journey is over! What on earth will it cost you to let someone out of the station for a few minutes? Sorry, gripe over.
We boarded our train which was heading to Cardiff; I was to change again at Newport. I sat opposite a very pleasant blind girl who was an artist working in ceramics and textiles and was about to go to university to study the same. I was very impressed with her attitude and the subject she was to study considering the difficulties she had to overcome to get there. Boy could she talk! She had got on the train in Derby and had no one to talk to and having no one to talk to all the way to Cardiff was not her idea of fun so she was keen to keep the conversation going. She was about to be assessed for a guide-dog so had plenty of questions for me about keeping a dog; she had never had one before. She made a fuss of Midge and loved his long silky fur.
Later on in the journey a Polish couple with their daughter, who was about 4, got on. The little girl kept staring at Midge and of course Midge was staring at her willing her to come over to fuss him by wiggling his ears, wagging his tail and giving her his best smile. Eventually she could resist no longer and gave him a stroke. Midge went moon-eyed and fell in love, as he always does with little girls. For the rest of the journey she kept peeking out from behind or over the seat and giggling and rushing to fuss Midge again and again.
I said my goodbyes to my travelling companion and Midge and I got off at Newport. There on the platform was a train to my destination but my ticket was not valid until the next train so I had to watch this one depart half empty without me. Instead I got on another half empty train 30 minutes later for fear that the entire rail system would have collapsed had I boarded the earlier train.
Abergavenny to Llanthony
We arrived in Abergavenny about 12.15 and I set about trying to find my way out of the place to the start of the Brecon Beacons Way which commences at the mountain Ysgyryd Fawr or the Holy Mountain. A helpful postie saw me looking at my map and asked me where I was looking for and directed me to the best way to get to Ysgyryd Fawr (also know as Skirrid), well the way he would take if he was going to go there. This proved to be along a pretty busy B road for the first mile or so until I was able to get onto some quieter footpaths. For some reason I rushed along the road out of town and noticed the insoles were very uncomfortable and the rucksack, full of my food, Midge’s food and camping gear felt very heavy and I started to doubt my ability to do this trip in the time I had given myself.
There is no real indication of the start of the route, no information board, no indication at all that you are to start a long distance footpath with the exception of a small Brecon Beacons Way marker.
I struggled up Skirrid, sweating and moaning about the weight of the sack and the state of my feet. On the way down I could see where I had to go. I already knew the path up Hatterell hill well having already been there on Offa’s Dyke so I wondered if I should make a detour on another route. I gamefully passed the lovely looking Skirrid Inn, there were people sitting in front of it having beer and it was all too tempting to join them. I would same my thirst until my destination of the Half Moon at Llanthony.
Midge was very hot and there had been nowhere for him to get a drink or swim so I picked him up and dropped him over a barbed-wire topped fence to swim in the River Honddu which he appreciated. Getting him back over the fence reminded me of the earlier experience with the back pain as I tried to hoist him back over the fence avoiding the barbed wire. The route now had a steep pull uphill and my feet felt really uncomfortable. I decided I needed an extra pair of insoles in them and got out the lightweight trainers made by the same company as the boots – Inov8. I put the insoles in on top of the existing ones and it felt more secure. However, the two were different widths so I had a ridge running along the outside of my feet but for the moment they felt better.
At the point where the BBW and Offa’s Dyke joined I decided to head off to the west up a different valley and a cwm to the top. I thought there were little point in going exactly the same way again. On the top of the hill there is little choice but to follow the excellent ridge and then descend into Llanthony passing the lovely remains of the Priory. On the descent my feet were hurting again, the edge of the smaller insole was digging in and making my right foot in particular very sore. I was getting fed up. Would I be able to complete this route?
I cheered up once I had a pint of beer in hand (Malteaser) and sat outside relaxing. We were to stay in the pub tonight and I was glad of this. The campsite was rather full and, as it turned out, rather full of midges. We were given the same room as we occupied two years ago when we did the Offa’s Dyke. I had a shower and a few cups of tea and we went for another walk – in my trainers this time, my feet were still rather sore although there were no signs of blisters.
I started the evening with a pint of cider which was superb. George the landlord was having a night off and his bar man was in charge. He cranked up the CD player and put on a Rod Stewart compilation album. Listening to the Faces years of “Stay with me”, “Hot legs” then moving on to “Maggie May” with the décor of the place to add to the ambiance I felt as though I was that 16 year old underage drinker once again. Rod moved into the ‘80s and like the quality of the songs from this period the CD player struggled and RRRR –O-O-O-O- DDDDDD D DD, despite well aimed blows on the machine from the barman, had to retire. He was replaced by the strains of Status Quo as a classic rock album took over, Nazareth (Bad bad boy)Thin Lizzy (boys are back in town) followed, even Deep Purple (Highway star – one I had forgotten about) made an appearance to compound the memories of my youth. However, like Rod the quality of the music suffered as we went through Rainbow (Since you’ve been gone) and we hit Foreigner (cold as ice – dreadful record) and into 80s AOR. Unfortunately this time the CD player played on.
After an excellent and huge bar meal and a few pints of hand-pulled cider Midge and I went for yet another walk – the 80s music was partly to blame. I took Midge into a field by the Priory ruins, there being no sheep there I put him through his sheepdog paces directing him away, left, right, in, lie down, come in, come in slow, all by whistle commands. We gathered a small crowd of onlookers and one girls asked if she could blow the whistle. I let her have a go and she was thrilled to be able to make Midge run, change direction and lie down. Other people wanted to meet Midge so I called him in to meet his new fan club.
The Priory has a hotel in the grounds and it proudly advertised the Monk’s bar, a welcoming place with real ale it said. I thought we should give it a go. NO DOGS, not in the bar, grounds, paths or anywhere near the place. We thought “Stuff em” and went back to the Halfmoon for a final pint of the infamous Son of a Bitch bitter. Read my Offa’s Dyke report for further details of this dynamite brew.
We had a great night’s sleep and George provided a truly huge breakfast that was a real challenge to even the heartiest appetites. I put in only the thicker insoles and experimented with lacing my boots differently and, although my feet were a little sore, they felt good enough to get started.
Llanthony to Llangynidr
The views as we climbed the hill to the west of Llanthony were superb, in fact it was this valley which sold me on the idea of doing this walk. I wanted to come here again and I had never really appreciated just how lovely this part of the country is and I had never been to the Brecon Beacons before.
We set off at nearly 9am the rucksack was still feeling pretty heavy, I never actually weighed it but I think I was carrying in excess of 15kg. On reaching the crest and the wonderful ridge the views over to the Beacons, Sugar loaf and back to Skirrid are sensational. The strange thing about this route is that as soon as you have reached Llanthony you head back in the direction you came. The route then takes you on a roller coaster up and down steep valleys through farm land with a lot of stiles in the direction of Crickhowell. By the end of the day Midge was getting pretty fed up with stiles. Although he has no difficulty with getting over them, if you can imagine yourself doing a serious, near Olympic, high jump about 50 or more times in a day you would see his point.
There is a lovely church on the route at Patrishow, we nearly missed it as the route signs are bit vague at this point. We back-tracked slightly to look at the church and arrived just as the doors were opening for the Sunday service. Folks were arriving and despite its remote location there were more people than attend I see going into our village church that I happen to live next to.
We returned to the lane behind the church and immediately met two guys who were looking a little lost. I chatted with them and asked them where they were going “Oh we are looking for some kids” they replied. I asked them where they were and could I help but they seemed evasive and kept looking at their map. They followed me when I looked for my next path and I noticed that there was a discrepancy between the map and the paths on the ground over Crug Mawr, the two blokes seemed happy to follow me. They were much younger than me but despite not having more than a light sack each compared to my great heavy one they were very slow. I was soon way ahead of them. On the descent from Crug Mawr I met a group of ubiquitous DOE-ers. I realised that the two guys who were so slow and having trouble reading the map were their assessors and I stoped to speak to them. A brief conversation and description of the guys confirmed my suspicions. Having them as assessors would not fill me with confidence.
After the ups and downs we made a final steep push up the slopes of table mountain above Crickhowell. The route actually descends into Crickhowell but there is little point in doing this as a short cut means you don’t lose all the lovely height you have just gained. There is a really pleasant contour path around Cwm Mawr which the guide book describes as a forgotten valley. That may well have been when the author was there but today there were more DOE-ers and the PA system from a gymkhana and polo match (As I later learned was the cause of the noise) and local bikers on the two A roads which run along the Usk valley made it feel anything but lost. Only one more ascent of any description was required until we made our way into Bwlch and on to Llangynidr via the canal. Midge immediately threw himself into the canal to cool off. By 3.30pm I was buying a pint in the Coach and Horses and took it into the garden to enjoy; a good, long day easily achieved.
We were to stay here tonight and the landlady Tracy made much of us, calling us both Lovey, Lovely, Darling. Our room was excellent, far too good for a hiking tramp and his dog. After a shower – with very poor water pressure, the only black mark against this otherwise excellent place, we went for a nice long walk along the canal. I am a bit of a canal buff and used to take an interest in the industrial history of canals but I won’t bore you with that here. The pub had a garden over the road and I made many a trip for my beer and to order food. Each time I left Midge at our table and of course he did not move a muscle when I went and was the epitome of perfect behaviour. There were other people with dogs who admired this. As the evening wore on Midge became a little bored and as the garden had fewer people in it I eased his boredom as I directed him sheepdog style around the empty tables calling to him to weave between them and under them on command. Those without dogs were impressed by him those with them were more so. “How on earth do you get a dog to do that?” was one question. As we left for our final walk I heard one owner say to their hapless canine “See that dog? That is how you should behave.”
Llangynidr to Craig-y-nos
I made sure I had a good breakfast this morning as today would be a really big day. If I could crack this the rest would be easy. My plan was to get as many miles between here and Craig –Y-Nos so I would have an easy couple of days to finish. This would take me over all the highest of the Brecon Beacons. To get to Craig-Y-Nos would be nearly 30 miles and with a full rucksack now supplemented with 2 litres of water I was fully loaded. We set off at 8.45. The morning was sticky and moist and the haul up the first hill was sweaty. The path was wet and muddy and the flies were soon out to bother us. Nearing the top we came to a farm. A herd of cattle were jammed in a sunken track, cows, calves and a very large bull right up against the gate we needed to go through. I took Midge up the ridge of the track and slightly up hill but the cows saw him and became agitated. The last thing I wanted was to be in a crush of 50 beef cattle and bull. I approached the gate from uphill; the bull was pressed against it. I put Midge on the lead and approached the herd. The cows became more agitated and restless. I reached the bull and reached out to him. He too was being bothered by the flies so I scratched his head. The cows looked outraged and started to fidget and mill around. Midge was anxious but the bull just wanted a good scratch. I opened the gate and put Midge through. The bull took no notice of him – the scratch was all he needed. I was just through the gate and considering taking a photo of the bull when the farmer arrived – I mistook her for a him at first and I felt self-conscious about taking a photo of her bull – another stupid tourist so I left my camera in the bag.
The track met a road which led to another and at that point I got my first view of the Beacons proper and what a great sight. After the uphill sweaty climb the ridge we were now on was great, we even had a breeze! We romped along the road to where it became a track once more and descended into the forest to pick up the Taff trail. This proved to be difficult for me. The incline is very gradually uphill despite the fact that it looks flat and as a consequence it felt like hard work on a hard surface.
We soon came to the end of the Taff Trail and the real business of the day started – a traverse of the highest of the Beacons. At 10.30 we started the climb up Craig-y-fan Ddu and met the first other walkers of the day and the crowds who were to be with us until Storey Arms. The going was very hot and tough.
I don’t know where the idea got into my mind but I have a habit of suddenly setting goals and I realised that I could get to the top of Pen –Y – Fan by 12 and this became a fixation to the point that I HAD to do it. I upped my pace. On reaching the bwlch between Fan y Big and Crybyn I realised to go over the latter would mean I would not reach my goal. I reasoned it was not on the route so I missed it out, I could do it another day. I was behind my time and tried to run on the rough path and took a tumble on the rough rocks . I felt I was losing my goal – I have no idea what drives me to do this but I was fixed on 12 o’clock. I had promised myself the second stop of the day for water at the bwlch but did not do so in case I missed the time. As I flogged up Pen y Fan I realised I would not make it and, disappointed, I reached the platform at the top of the ridge at 12.03, after taking a photo of where we had come from we reached the summit at 12.05. I took Midge’s picture and he immediately took notice of the wooden memorial crosses on the summit, they are all sticks to him. I told him “NO” but I am sure the guys commemorated would have had a laugh if they thought their cross would have been enjoyed by a collie but Midge left them alone.
We ran over Corn Ddu and followed the “motorway” to Storey Arms with and against the crowds. In 30 minutes of being on the top we were relaxing at the river at the bottom where I threw a stick Midge had found in a deep plunge pool to cool him off. After a rest and a long drink we carried on after filling our water bottles in the toilets there.
From Storey Arms we crossed the road and I bought a bottle of drink at the burger van. The route from here is a long gradual rise north to make another about turn to the summit of Fan Llia. The way towards Fan Llia has no real path and I imagined this would be difficult in poor visibility or when it was boggy or both. The ascent seemed to take forever, it is one of those summits which for ever seems to be on the horizon but eventually we made it and I was surprised to see pools with cotton grass and wild flowers on the summit above the Iron age cairn. We ran fast down from here taking a short cut to a sheep fold by the road to miss out the double back on the map. In doing so I ran too hard with the heavy sack and paid the price – blisters under the big toes.
My plan had been to stop somewhere between here and Craig-y-Nos, it was only 3pm, but I now had sore feet. We followed a track to a river past an impressive standing stone, which then led to a moor where I had planned to camp. It proved to be a desolate place, bog, no fresh water and nothing to camp on but tussock grass; I would carry on to Craig-y nos. When one gets tired one feels that progress is slow even when you are going at the same speed. This was that sort of occasion. The crossing of this moor seemed to go on for ever . Midge amused himself by arriving from this barren place with a very neatly folded, perfectly clean and ironed piece of white cotton like a Buddhist prayer shawl. I have no idea where this came from but he was very proud of it and carried is for a mile or so and asked me to throw it for him. We arrived at the quarries above Craig Y Nos and took a short cut (I have no idea why the route does not take this way) and saw the Gwyne Arms. This had recently been closed but then taken over again and a sign had the magic phrase Open all Day. At 5.30 I tied Midge up and went in for a well-deserved pint of Green Goblin Cider.
Lazily I ate there rather than cook for myself, I would just have to carry all that food further. I fed Midge too and after a few more pints I wobbled to the campsite for a shower and to rehydrate with tea and water. We slept very well after a really satisfying day but the forecast for the next one was more than a bit different.
Craig Y Nos to SN706193
Midge was getting bored with all this concentrated navigation and wanted to play. when he is in this mood he keeps running around me, then along side me, plaguing the life out of me to do his sheepdog tricks or throw him a stick or toy. He reminds me of Michael Palin in Life of Brian - Alms for and ex leper scene. If you don't remember it refresh your memory
I reached the A road about 20 metres from where I wanted to be and crossed it and compassed my way on the next section finding the track down to the minor road where I thought I might camp for the night.