|Conquering the Brecon Beacons
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
Spurred on by our success atop Kinder Scout, we drove to Wales last Friday evening to spend the weekend climbing in the Brecon Beacons. We stayed in a hostel in the lovely village of Pant-y-Girdl, I mean, Welsh Bicknor, which featured an owner with a deadpan manner, views over the River Wye and a beautiful disused chapel.
Matt & Rob at the base of Cribyn
Welsh Bicknor Chapel
We took a quick stroll down by the river as the sun was setting to see the roe deer and the daffodils. We also spied the prime spot for our evening's entertainment, The Courtfield Arms. Happily for us, it turned out to be steak night, so we prepared for the next day's conquest in the time-honoured tradition of filling our bellies with red meat and ale.
The Courtfield Arms
Rob & I, the two early birds, managed to rouse everyone by dint of getting up to shower at a quarter to seven. We were on the road to the Neuadd Reservoir at the base of Pen-y-Fan by nine. As we began the long, sloping ascent up the Roman road, we encountered a group of mad people in Land Rovers practising their off-roading skills on a very steep gorge.
Mad people in Land Rovers
We also encountered frog spawn absolutely everywhere. It wasn't just in the puddles at the sides of the trail or the roads. It was in the centre of the asphalt. It was in the grass. You couldn't get away from the stuff. The orgy must have been spectacular, but it was a little creepy to walk along feeling like you were being watched by a lot of tapioca eyeballs.
The route we were following told us to skirt the base of the neighbouring peak Cribyn before ascending Pen-Y-Fan. We decided a better plan would be to go over the top of Cribyn because it would be quicker and afford better views. Kim, who had earlier professed herself to be a lazy walker compared to the rest of her family, began an unstoppable charge up the slope. I am now afraid to meet the rest of her family.
Matt & Rob at the base of Cribyn
Kim leads the way
We opted to eat our sandwiches on the "leeward" side of Cribyn before tackling Pen-Y-Fan. (Note: In Wales, there is no such thing as a leeward side of anywhere. The wind is all-pervasive.)
Matt arms himself for conquest
Once again, Kim lead the scramble up the steep slippery path. With her skillful pacing, we made it to the top almost without stopping.
Summit of Pen-Y-Fan
It seemed foolish not to climb neighbouring Corn Du after having thoroughly trounced the planned route.
Matt & Kim leave their mark on the cairn
A break in the clouds and drizzle that had obscured our view from Pen-Y-Fan allowed us to spend more time appreciating the one from Corn Du.
O NOES ROB IS FALLING
O NOES MATT IS TOO
The descent involved a very long walk down a ridge above the reservoir. Rob decided to alleviate the journey by jumping in every boggy puddle we passed, because he is actually still five.
Oh look, he's stuck. None of us saw that coming, oh no.
The Neuadd Reservoir from the ridge
Since we couldn't actually locate the correct path down the ridge, we eventually chose a spot where more sensible walkers, with poles and Ordnance Survey maps in plastic envelopes and specialized rucksacks, seemed to be coming up. This involved a good deal of sliding, swearing and me falling on my ass - fortunately, after I'd decided that it would be easier if I put my camera away first.
After a brief drive into Ross-on-Wye, where we decided we'd start the next day's journey, we headed to a different pub for our evening meal. We perused the games - incomplete decks of cards and sets of dominoes - and eventually hit on Jenga. We played it in the correct manner for two rounds and then it...well. It evolved into something that attracted the attention of the entire pub.
Our food arrived before it could get any more out of hand, which was probably fortunate since I suspect the rest of the patrons were beginning to fear being hit by the shrapnel. Our moonlit stumble back to the hostel was followed very quickly by deep and untroubled sleep.
We began the next day in a slight panic due to the shift to daylight savings time, about which we'd all forgotten until we realized we had twenty minutes left to get our breakfast. The cook plied us with as much as we could stuff into ourselves, which was quite a lot after the previous day's exertions. We realized with horror that we'd forgotten to order packed lunches the previous evening. That is, until the cook told us she was going to have to throw away all the remaining bacon and sausages when were done eating. We persuaded her to make sandwiches out of them instead. She was only too pleased and rewarded us with extra fruit and biscuits.
We carted our bulging rucksacks back to the picturesque village of Ross-on-Wye to start our canoeing journey.
The River Wye from the Royal Hotel in Ross-on-Wye
Ross-on-Wye from the riverside
Rowing isn't an activity that lends itself to carting around a dSLR that doesn't have a waterproof housing, so you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that the four hour, 13-mile journey to Symonds Yat was delightfully sunny and peaceful, broken only by occasional sounds of bickering coming from the two boats whenever one person believed the others weren't pulling their weight. We finished by pulling into Ye Olde Ferrie Inn at Symonds Yat West - yes, there is a Symonds Yat East and no, I don't know what a Yat is - for a pint before phoning the man who'd rented the canoes to us to pick us up and drive us back to Ross-on-Wye.
The River Wye from Ye Olde Ferrie Inn
Despite the protestations of my aching shoulders and thighs, the most challenging part of the weekend was staying awake to keep the bloke company on the drive back to Cambridge. We stumbled in to the clamouring of affectionate cats, who tried to convince us they hadn't eaten for two days despite the evidence of still-occupied bowls refilled by an accommodating friend, and indulged in long hot baths.