Midge and I have moved our blogging from our usual website. We will eventually migrate more of our stories over here - We hope you will enjoy it.
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Paul and Midge

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Brecon Beacons Way

As trips go this had an inauspicious start. I was coolly getting ready when The Missus shouted “What are you DOING? We are going to be late and don’t blame me if you miss your train.” I rushed down stairs assuring her we had loads of time but she was in a flap so I picked up my heavy rucksack and threw it on my back, and a pain in my low back told me  that was not a smart move. I raced to the garage to get my boots – no insoles!!! I had washed them and they were not to be seen anywhere. I grabbed another pair, these would have to do. I forced my boots onto my feet – they did not feel comfortable. I grabbed Midge and bundled him into the car and off we went.

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.

An uninspiring start to the Brecon Beacons Way

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.

View to Hatterall Hill

View back toYsgyryd Fawr

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 d├ęcor 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.

Dad we are going back the way we came!

Cairn on Carn Wen

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.

Patrishow Church

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.

Trig point on Crug Mawr

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.

Enjoying a beer at the Coach and Horses

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.

Start of the Day - with a stick!

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.

First view of the Beacons proper

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.

Craig Y fan ddu - now the hard work starts

And now it is over - looking back from Pen y fan

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.

Pen Y Fan summit

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.

Looking back from Craig Y Fro

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.

Pretty featureless terrain en route to Fan Llia

Standing stone

Final hard slog to Craig Y Nos

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.

Well deserved drink and meal at Gwyne Arms

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

Despite the distance of the previous day I woke felling very good, mainly because of the achievement of the previous day. A forecast sent to me by The Missus told of poor conditions. I woke up to dry weather and looked out to see a change was soon on the way. By the time I had fed Midge and had a cup of tea spots of rain were falling so I gave up on breakfast  in favour of packing up while my tent was dry. A couple of hands full of trail mix was breakfast. We set off at 8.30 and it was raining well by then. We followed the path north under the ridge of Fan Hir and the rain increased in intensity. By the time we reached the climb up to Bwlch Gledd the rain continued and the cloud came down and visibility was less than 70 metres. This was no problem as the path was reasonable and it was a clear ridge to follow but there were to be no views today so no point in photographs.

Looking back to Bannau Sir Gaer - it is there - honest!

I missed out on seeing the mythical lake of Pen Y Fan Fawr because of the mist. At Bannau Sir Gaer there was no point in following the route to Llandeusant and I took a bearing from her straight across to below Carreg Yr Ogof. This was totally blind. As I descended into boggy ground I had to find a way around. I ended up in the quarried landscape below Carreg Ogof although with the loss of height the visibility improved slightly but in truth I could not be sure where I was but I took a bearing towards the two cairns on Caregg Yr Ogof,  Cairn Pica. As soon as I had the mist thickened further.  I headed off into the mist and the visibility reduced to below 50m. By either fluke or skill – I would prefer the latter but have to admit the first, I hit the two Cairns bang on. I figured it would be easy to find the trig point from here and adjusted my bearings. The rain was so intense now I could not see through my glasses as I went head first into the wind. After some time I realised I had missed the trig point. In these conditions I could have walked 20 meters from a double decker bus and missed it. I compensated by moving west. The ground falls away quickly and the route keeps to the edge of the plateau making route finding easy. I reset my compass once I reached the edge and this followed south. On reaching a low point I double checked – there should be a pool 100 metres west – there it was. I was right on line and returned to the point I had just left and made away over Foel Fraith with no idea of where the summit was.

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.

Looking back to Craig Yr Ogof - somewhere behind Midge

I had been inspired by my navigational success and set up a cracking pace. I arrived at my proposed campsite at 2pm, too early to stop. I phone my final destination the Red Lion in Llangadog, I could easily make it there today and finish the job. “I am sorry we are full tonight” was the reply. No matter a night on the hill would be OK. I thought it too early to finish so continued to look for a place to camp. The route leaves the minor road over the rough moor and after a mile or so I decided this was a no go, mud, no clean water and rough tussock grass, eventually I would end up in farm land with no prospect of camping so I back tracked to the old quarries I had seen. I was about to put the tent up when a down pour ensued; I waited in waterproofs until it finished.
A perfect campsite

With good views

The place I chose was perfect. It was in a depression concealed from the road on a flat surface with great views to Carreg Cennan and across the valley. Water was from a stream about 400m away. After the storm I pitched the tent in the dry. There was to be no more rain tonight so I dried everything off including Midge who I gave a good brushing to get the peat and detritus out of his fur.

Midge was being  a sneak, he adopts a crouching posture which shows he is up to something. HE had been sniffing the air with interest and while I was putting up the tent he disappeared only to reappear with a neat stick to play with. I wondered where he had got this from. After we had played with this and he had destroyed it he sneaked off again and returned with another. Once this had been destroyed off he went again so I followed him. Some distance away was a pile of sticks next to the remains of a bonfire and the cases of some fireworks – obviously someone had been celebrating in the past. Midge had sniffed these out and found his own store of play things. By the end of the evening he had made 7 or 8 trips to this pile to chose a different stick once the previous one had been destroyed or be tired of it and fancied a different one.
We even had evening sun after a day of rain

The evening brightened up and we sat around playing with Midges sticks, reading (me) and I had brought along a nice malt whisky for this type of occasion so after dinner I sat sipping whisky eating pistachio nuts and enjoying the intermittent sun. We went to bed about 9.30, the rain started just after midnight and kept on and off through the night.
SN706193 to Llangadog.
It was still raining when I woke up around 6 am but by 7 it had stopped so I let Midge out and prepared his breakfast. I looked out of the tent – blue sky. I stuck my head out and looked to the south East – black rain clouds coming fast! I got up and made a cup of tea and saw bands of rain sweeping along the valley, it would not be long until they were upon us so I forwent breakfast for a handful or two of trail mix and packed up just in time as the rain started to fall. We left our campsite about 7.45 and picked up the track across the boggy ground heading for Carreg Cennan.

Carreg Cennan

It is a feature of the BBW that there are hardly any signs on the mountains – in fact almost none. As soon as we neared Carreg Cennan there was sign over-kill with 4 signs in each direction and sign posts every couple of hundred metres.
We reached the Castle just after 9. A sign said it was £4.50 to get in!! I was tempted to jump over the unattended gate and wander round just because of the charge. I decided it probably was not worth the effort and carried on. On crossing through the farm yard at the entrance to the Castle we were set upon by a lovely friendly little Bulldog girl. When you look like a bulldog it is hard to make yourself look alluring but she tried her best. She was young and as sprightly as a bulldog gets. She bounced around Midge like an animated overstuffed, footstool barely articulating in the middle as she tried her best to wiggle her best wiggle in front of him. Midge was not in the least interested despite her lovely nature. Midge have you not seen the film “Shallow Hal”? Look beyond the surface appearance.

Looking down on Garn Goch

We carried on the road and took a bridle path which would eventually lead to Garn Goch hillfort. This was pretty impressive in its size – if you are in to hill forts, which I am. En route there was a totally pointless detour in a forest to the bottom of a hill on a track which then returned back up the hill through head high bracken resulting in me getting soaked through – I had taken off my jacket as it had stopped raining finally.
We crossed through the hill fort and took the road eventually cutting down a path at the side of a chapel to be unceremoniously dumped onto a lane in Bethlehem- end of journey. Once again there was no sign to commemorate the BBW. I took Midge’s picture to show we had reached the end and continued to Llangadog it was 11am.
Oh Little Town etc etc.... End of journey

At the village of Felindre just across the river from Langadog I stopped and let Midge play in the river, he was filthy so I could not take him into the pub we were to stay in tonight in this state. I anticipated that the pub was a bit smart so I ran him around and around this common grassland to dry him off. I dillied and dallied about so we would not be hanging on the door at opening time and arrived at 12.05pm at the Red Lion, a very good choice as it turned out with good food and beer.
The rest of the day was spent refuelling, resting and taking occasional walks with Midge between the showers. An excellent way to end a trip.