Sugar Loaf and Skirrid

September 25, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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These are two of the most accessible hills in the Black Mountains but they provide wonSkirrid Hill from Sugar Loafderful views. Skirrid, Ysgyryd Fawr or Holy Mountain as it also known, has for hundreds of years inspired a host of intriguing myths and tales.

I was with G, and we began with Sugar Loaf, walking up from a car park on the Abergavenny side. The paths are wide and easily followed (though we still managed to wade through bracken after missing the track while talking). The hill’s isolation provides excellent views, particularly over to Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr.

Sugar Loaf from SkirridThe weather was fine but cloudy and there was a chill in the wind on the summit of Sugar Loaf, but by the time we got to Skirrid (after a relaxing pint at The Bear in Crickhowell), the sun had broken through. Skirrid is a shorter and steeper climb but the views are as good if not better than from Sugar Loaf. As we climbed along the distinctive cloven ridge to the summit, the Black Mountains provided a wonderful backdrop beyond the summit. From the summit itself, we looked back as far as the Severn to the south east as well as over Sugar Loaf to the Brecon Beacons. A few stones are all that remain of the old chapel at the summit, but they add to the sense of this being a rather special hill.

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Fan Brycheiniog and Bannau Sir Gaer

September 16, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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Black Mountain is the confusing name given to the area enclosing the impressive range of hills that lie at the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The high points of Fan Brycheiniog and Bannau Sir Gaer are as impressive as any part of the Brecon Beacons.

Brecon Beacons from Fan BrycheiniogI started from the car park opposite the Tafarn-y-Garreg pub (which seems to be closed at the moment). The walk starts with a strenuous but gradual climb up grassy slopes and the escarpment edge to Fan Hir. The summit is unmarked but the views across the Brecon Beacons are impressive, with the grey forms of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du in the distance. The path then follows the escarpment edge and the climb to Fan Brycheiniog. The summit of Fan Brycheiniog, the highest point in the walk, is marked by a trig point and a sturdy stone shelter. It is then worth following the path around the ridge to the lesser peak of Fan-Foel for more fine views back along the escarpment and out to mid-Wales. The impressive ridge of Bannau Sir Gaer also becomes clear now, with Llyn y Fan Fach lying below. It is a stiff climb up to the highest point – Picws Du – the ridge then follows around to Waun Lefrith. Llyn y Fan Fach is associated with a legend of the Lady of the Lake, which then links to tales Bannau Sir Gaerin the Mabinogion.

Though this is the remotest part of the park, there were more walkers on the peaks than I usually see, but even these few faded away once I’d moved on from Bannau Sir Gaer and for the rest of the walk I was totally alone.

I went on, following the Nuttall route, to Garreg Las. Crossing the moorland I disturbed a snipe that took off out of the grass with a cry of annoyance more than alarm. Garreg Las, with its two huge cairns,  is a rocky outpost that marks the change into a limestone landscape of rocky outcrops, shake holes and swallow holes (and the caves of Dan-yr-Ogof). This is a long loop back – the walk is around 14 miles in total – but gives a fine end to the walk, particularly on a fine September day with the sun finally beating through the clouds.

Cadair Idris

September 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Posted in Walking | 2 Comments
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Cadair Idris was a fitting walk for my 60th Welsh summit. I took the Minffordd track via Cwm Cau and Craig Cwm Amarch up to Penygadair, the highest point in the Cadair Idris range. I then looped back via Mynydd Moel, with short spurs off to inclCraig Cwm Amarch and Lyn Cauude Cyfrwy and Gau Graig. It was an incredible September day, with mostly clear skies and strong sunshine, so as well a clear site to down to Barmouth on the coast and across Pumlumon, you could see out across the mid-Wales hills and up to the Lleyn Peninsular, the Rhinogs and Arans and in the distance the far peaks of Snowdonia, while Ireland was a faint outline on the horizon.

As the route is so well known, I was going to use this as an opportunity to reflect a bit more on the experience of hill-walking and the beauty of mountains. But the day provided its own focal point for thinking. As I came down the path from Craig Cwm Amarch across the ridge that steeples down to Llyn Cau – a still, tropical blue mirror below – I came across a group of people on the path. At first I thought they  had just stopped for a break but then I realised that a man was lying down and being cared for. My first thought, or hope, was that it was just a fall, a bruised knee or strained muscle, but someone was already trying to resuscitate him and people were obviously distressed. Fortunately the two walkers behind me were doctors and they took over the attempt at resuscitation but it already looked unlikely as there was no pulse and he had been down for 10 minutes or so. Someone had already reached the mountain rescue service and a helicopter was on its way. There was nothing I could see to do and so I and some others moved on, reassuring each other that that was the best thing.

At the top of the bwlch before splitting off to Cyfrwy from the main route up to Penygadair, I took a break. Watching back to the ridge I could see the group around the fallen man, anxiously waiting for the helicopter. Then I heard the slow thumping deep sound of blades and a helicopter appeared from the east but passed straight overhead towards the sea, then behind me I heard a much louder noise and a bright yellow RAF helicopter rose up from behind the ridge. It headed over the valley towards the accident but then circled without landing. In fact it had dropped the necessary equipment but, as another walker told me, the man was already dead and they were only retrieving the body.

There was a sense of sadness but also a sense of nothing being left undone. He hadn’t died from lack of medical attention, nor from a mistake. He had gone quickly on the hills on a beautiful day. It was tempting to think that this was not a bad way to go. Not a consolation anyone would have offered his wife then but one that his family will have drawn on in the days to come. And all the rest of us could do was carry on walking.Cyfryw and Barmouth from Penygadair

I trekked on to Cyfrwy with its clear views of the cliffs running down the north face of Cadair. Then onto the summit of Penygadair, where two groups of teenagers were joking, testing themselves, flirting. That felt appropriate too. And then they moved off and for a while I had the summit to myself, to sit and just look at the immense stretch of hills on all sides.

Then it was on to Mynydd Moel. This is a easy walk over from Penygadair and the good views continue from the edge of the ridge. As I left the summit I heard the beat of a raven’s wings behind me,  but this was not the usual solitary pair but six birds that gathered for a few minutes over the summit. I watched them wheel over the summit in a silent ballet, punctuated only by the occasional craw and soft beating of wings. After a minute or two they split into two groups, two flying westward and the rest going south with a final croaking cry.Craig Cwm Amarch from Penygadair

From there it was a short bog trot out and back to the outlying peak of Gau Graig. Then back down over heather and a steep track to rejoin the Minffordd path. The sun was just dipping behind the rocks of the ridge as I descended at the end of a beautiful day and thought provoking day.

Richard Long – Heaven and Earth

September 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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All walks leave traces on the ground, and in history, but most of the time those traces evaporate instantly from the landscape and from our memories, a means to arrive somewhere else. Even the deliberate, significant journeys we make rarely stay in our minds as walks themselves. It is the achievement that is remembered, not the real, physical presence of ourselves and our bodies in the landscape. Tales of hardship, photographs of special sights, or diaries and logs of the experience remain as ghost stories, tales of a presence we were for a while but are no longer.

Richard Long’s work, his exhibition at Tate Britain finished today, is an attempt to grasp, to praise, or simply to consider the moment of walking, the presence in the landscape of the man or woman that is also the moment of their presence on the planet. So he marks out the physicality of the walk – the routes taken, the things seen, the places he stayed – and raises them in our consciousness as real connections with the world, with ourselves now and in the past.

There is also a profound respect for the different levels of connection. Central to his work is the raw presence of the walker on the earth, the routes we take, the tracks we make. This presence is elaborated, for example, by the stone sculptures he makes – human art forged from 400 million year old rocks set in the ageless landscape of Snowdonia, the Canadian prairies or the Andes. Maps are also important. These abstractions not only make the expeditions possible but also encapsulate that experience in a richness and beauty that any artist must appreciate. So when he draws a black line across an ordnance survey map of Dartmoor, we see the beauty of the map maker, the joy and pain of the walk, the active creation of the artist and beyond that the reality of the hills and moors of the land itself.

Korzybski’s profound point that the map is not the territory was picked up by Gregory Bateson to becomes a central concept in disenchanting the relationship between human communication and understanding – in the form of art, science, religion, individual consciousness or social constructions – and the world as is, the thing in itself that we can only know through the mediation of our senses and those modalities of human communication. Richard Long re-enchants that linkage as an artist should. The short word descriptions of some of his walks or the things he saw or thought about, both encapsulate the experience and highlight the inadequacy of the representations. In accepting that it would be impossible to capture every aspect of an 8 day hike across the Cairngorms or a 10 mile walk across Dartmoor, he captures an essence that we miss in our walk logs or infinite digital photographs.

Pen Y Gadair Fawr and Pen Twyn Mawr

August 27, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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This was unfinished business. Both peaks are probably best walked as part of the long Nuttall walk taking in the seven summits starting with Pen Carreg-calch and passing round to Waun Fach and then on to Pen Y Gadair Fawr and Pen Twyn Mawr. I walked  the other side of the valley in the winter, but I didn’t have time to do the whole loop, so instead I started from the Grwyne Fawr valley. The biggest benefit of this approach was to give Izzy, our spaniel, a good work out by taking a winding path up through the forest. This was a good way up (as long as you don’t mind getting a bit lost in woodland). It’s then a simple climb up to the summit of Pen Y Gadair Fawr. This is a better peak than the higher – and very boggy – Waun Fach. There are excellent views across the whole of the Black Mountains, even on a cloudy day like this. The wind was bitter for August though, so we moved quickly on to Pen Twyn Mawr skirting the forest at first then across a clear track to the summit. From cairn marking the summit, there are good views down to Sugar Loaf and Skyrrid. I’d hoped to return by going down through the forest but couldn’t see any clear entry point so we back-tracked on a slightly lower path to the forest below Pen Y Gadair Fawr. Just before we entered the forest, a fox ran out of cover about 30 metres ahead, it ran across the path with a rangy gait and then disappeared into the high moorland grass. After that we passed through the edge of the forest emerging on the path that runs steeply down by the forest edge and then follows the river to valley bottom and a short walk back to the car.

Nantlle Ridge

August 22, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Posted in Walking | 2 Comments
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This was a superb 9 mile linear walk from Rhyd-Ddu to Nebo across the seven summits of the Nantlle Ridge, including Wales’ newest mountain. The weather was perfect, one of the best days I’ve had in Snowdonia, with the summit of Snowdon itself visible for most of the day.

The walk begins with a stiff climb up from Rhyd-Ddu to the summit of Y Garn. There are fine views towards Moel Hebog to the south east. The summit itself gives great views of Snowdon towering above Rhyd-Ddu. To the south the ridge of Myndd Drws-y-coed  and the bulk of Trum y Ddysgl, the next two peaks, look daunting. The summit of Myndd Drws-y-coed is reached by a scramble that is made more challenging by the dramatic exposure on the right hand side, but once a sensible route is found towards the middle and left of the ridge it’s an enjoyable climb. From here you follow the ridge to Trum y Ddysgl, though we took the slightly lower route by mistake and then walked back to the summit. From here the ridge continues to Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd, with its stone monument to Queen Victoria.

From here the ridge become a steep ascent to Bwlch Dros-bern, with what looks like a rather formidable approach to Craig Cwm Silyn, the tallest of the summits on the ridge. Once you get to the beginning of the climb the path round the right hand side become clear and while stony and steep at times offers no real difficulty.

Cloud had started to gather on the top of Snowdon, a familiar picture, but was still above the other peaks. As we followed the stone wall to the top of Garnedd-goch, the skies continued to darken but it was still a fine day. From the top we could see down to Nebo, but we had one more peak still to do. Mynydd Graig Goch was only recently recognised as mountain, after a new survey put its height at just over 2000 feet. The rocky summit was an atmospheric point to end the ridge part of the walk, with the clouds starting to drop over the top of Craig Cwm Silyn. On the descent to the lake below, Cors y Llyn, the clouds were coming over Mynydd Graig Goch, but our luck held out and we made it back to the car tired but dry. We’d been out 9 hours and an excellent dinner at the pub in Rhyd-Ddu seemed well earned.

Aran Fawddwy

July 31, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Walking | 1 Comment
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This was a 12 mile walk following the  Nuttall route over the Aran Fawddwy ridge via Pen Yr Allt Uchaf and Drysgol and returning down Cwm Cywarch. The weather would have been good for March – cloudy at first followed by a cold wind and then driving rain – but was pretty poor for July.

It started with a steady climb up the side of Hengwm valley on a clear path, but then I split off for a direct climb up to top of Pen Yr Allt Uchaf. The climb is hard work and with hindsight I’d recommend following the main path up and tracking back to the indistinct summit. After Pen Yr Allt Uchaf it’s a fairly straightforward walk across to Drysgol and Aran Fawddwy itself, though I managed to wander of track slightly and had to do some bracken bashing and heather hopping as a consequence. I (deliberately) detoured off to include the less than remarkable summit of Gwaun Lydan, which provides good views particularly of Aran Fawddwy itself. Drysgol provide another fine perspective and has a poignant memorial to a member of a RAF  mountain rescue team killed by lightening while on duty in the area. From then on it’s a good steady walk up to the spectacular Aran Fawddwy and then along the ridge to Aran Benllyn (via the intermediate Erw Y Ddafod-Ddu.) On a fine day the views must be wonderful but even with clouds and mist (and eventually strong rain) it was still impressive: looking south to Pumlumon, west to Cadair Idris, across the Arans and north to Bala. There is also the precipitous view down to Creiglyn Dyfi, the lake beneath the east face of the Aran Fawddwy ridge.

After Aran Benllyn, I wound back behind the ridge to the head of Cwm Cywarch, with detours for Gwaun y Llwyni and Waun Camddwr. Some of this is very boggy and there are boards across the worst bit – but these can be very slippy in the rain  (I slipped off one into the mud while not paying enough attention as I ate the last of my lunch). The rain was coming in very heavy squally now and I was glad to make the path that runs beside the waterfalls down Cwm Cywarch. A good section of the walk on even a foul day but it would be lovely on a fine day with more time.

I didn’t see a single person during the whole seven and half hours I was out   – except for one guy booting up as I left the car park. The weather may have been less than perfect but this was still a Friday in late July. Hopefully these wonderful hills will always be something of a secret.

Pumlumon peaks

July 25, 2009 at 11:15 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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A clear day but with the promise of later rain. Walking with an old mate, Graham, we climbed up from the Nant-y-Moch reservoir to Y Garn, the first summit. It’s a straightforward climb but there are a couple of fences to be negotiated. The views from the top were perfect stretching from the Irish Sea to the borders and up to Cadair Idris and southern Snowdonia.

From Y Garn it’s a straightforward walk across the ridge to the highest of the five peaks, Pumlonon Fawr. Visibility was still excellent and the views even better. I did a quick – if breathless – out and back tramp to Pumlonon Fach, which has good views over the reservoir, and then it was on to Pen Pumlumon Llygad-bychan and Pen Pumlumon Arwystli. The sky was no becoming overcast with spots of rain but nothing too bad as we extend the walk to the source of the Severn. A wooden pillar marks the actual spot, otherwise a nondescript point amidst the damp peat. Hard to believe that this trickle becomes the Severn but also strangely reassuring.

We then headed down to the Arfon Hengwm, with the weather and the ground getting steadily worse. This is the type of walking that really tests your stamina, will power and sense of humour (as well as your wet weather gear). We followed a rough path above the river – wading through boggy, waste-high grass. I managed to keep my feet dry until a slip allowed the water to go over my boots. From then on it was a case of head down and splodge on until the path got better and the end was in sight. Fortunately the rain stopped for the last section across stony track and road and gave us a chance to dry out a bit before reaching the car.  It was  an impressive 12 mile hike that had had a bit of everything. Afterwards we enjoyed a well-earned beer while watching a perfect mid-Wales sunset.

An early evening stroll up Black Mixen and Great Rhos

July 24, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Posted in Walking | 1 Comment
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A fine summer evening walk on the Radnor Forest peaks with Graham S. Found the right path up to Black Mixen this time to avoid heather hopping (stay to the left when reach the open ground and go up by the fence on the well defined track). Similarly on way to Great Rhos you can trust the path that runs out of the woods as it eventually winds round to the trig point. But still haven’t found best route off Great Rhos, need to go further west to find track that we did eventually join beneath the hill. Otherwise best to stay on the valley side for better views. In all about three and half hours for the walk and time to make it to the Harp for a quick pint before dinner.

Gorllwyn and Drygarn Fawr

June 30, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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Many warnings come with this walk, about the dangers of getting lost in a featureless expanse if the weather turns and about the boggy ground, which can be either knee or waist deep depending who you listen to! But the ascent was done in decent weather, from Gorllwyn I had clear views of the cairns on Drygarn Fawr. I then managed, with a bit of luck, to avoid the worst of the bog approaching Drygarn Fawr.

On the passage between the peaks there were numerous larks in the air, fervently singing in what seemed like a formal competition. There was also a group of golden plovers that kept well away and sent out a high pitched warning as my path approached them.

While having lunch by the second of the incredible cairns on Drygarn Fawr, the weather started to change and ominous thunder claps came from the north. I wasn’t too bothered about getting wet on the way back, but more worrying was the idea of being exposed to lightening on a moor where I was notably the highest object. In the end the storm circled the valley as I descended via Pant Glas and the rain held off. The way down is a tricky route at times, dipping between either side of the stream and often plunging through wet grass and bracken, but by the end the sun had come out and final miles were enhanced by the company of red kites and a circling heron.

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