The campsite at Cwmdu wasn’t exactly a mozzie-free zone but compared with the horrors of Dan yr Ogof it was absolutely blissful. Once again, we rolled up well after nine but on this occasion, after we’d put our tent up, we were able to settle at a conveniently placed picnic table to enjoy our evening meal of crusty rolls, crisps and brie. Okay, the Jungle Formula I’d bought in Brecon and applied rather liberally might have helped a little but I still maintain there were far fewer of the little blighters around.
Things are very different here in the civilised southern pastures of the Brecon Beacons – there was even free entertainment on our campsite, just like Butlins. We’d pitched close to a large family group with extremely lively (and very wide awake) kids. The rapidly descending darkness putting an end to their various ball games, the children turned their attention to a campfire sing-song. It quickly transpired that their repertoire was limited to a few lines of just the one school hymn. Fearing these few bars would be repeated ad infinitum all night, we were pleasantly surprised when one of the adults interrupted with another tune. Which is how we came to be dozing contentedly to the melodious tones of the popular camp-fire song, Kumbaya.
After a fitful night’s sleep (mainly due to freezing cold feet) I was wide awake before six. Thankfully all was peaceful over at Camp Von Trapp… in fact, we seemed to be the only ones who were up and about anywhere on the campsite which meant I had the shower block all to myself (hurrah!).
After packing everything up as quietly as possible, we left the campsite and headed back to the A479 where we were delighted to spot the tea rooms were open (we hadn’t allowed ourselves to hope, this being a Sunday in Wales). The Mynydd Ddu [sic] tea rooms are popular with bikers and even at this early hour there was already a group of them sitting outside enjoying a cooked breakfast.
After a nice strong pot of tea and an enormous slice of carrot cake (we shared it), we felt uplifted and ready to face another day.
John Sansom certainly wasn’t a man who liked straight lines. The late creator of the Beacons Way managed to make places that look relatively close on an OS map end up being a hard day’s hiking apart… Cwmdu and Llanthony for instance.
When I later complained about this tendency, Harri reminded me that the late writer’s intention was to showcase the Brecon Beacons in its entirety rather than to devise the speediest route from A to B. So that was me told!
Today’s route was one we’d previously walked but in the opposite direction. Gazing at the natural beauty all around me on this balmy Sunday morning, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm and I must have bored Harri rigid as I went on and on about how spectacular the scenery was (though I do wonder if he’s actually listening half the time!).
Gosh it was hot. Somewhere far below and several miles south, my older daughters (both runners) were taking part in the second Caerphilly 10k road race. If it was airless up here in the mountains, it was going to be unbearable running down there on Caerphilly’s wide tarmac roads. Still, I was a little sad to be missing this great (and superbly well-organised) event and hope to be lining up again in 2015.
At 1480 feet, the Welsh mountain is positively diminutive compared to its towering Cape Town namesake (which soars 3,338 feet above sea level and measures roughly two miles across) but its distinctive shape makes it instantly recognisable for miles around.
On the top, we watched as Wales’s bravest sheep edged closer and closer to a couple sitting on the far end of the summit… for a moment we thought we were about to witness a scene from the New Zealand film Black Sheep – a zombie spoof in which a genetic engineering experiment has turned the sheep into blood-thirsty killers. Any moment now the unsuspecting couple would plunge to their deaths, pushed over the edge by a killer sheep!! No… wait… it was coming towards us… we’d better get going… and quick!
We gradually descended to the Grwyne Fechan, where Harri couldn’t resist the urge to take a dip fully-clothed (despite the intense heat I showed remarkable self-control and watched from the riverbank).
The climb up Crub Mawr was hard going but the views from the top made the effort worthwhile. By now it was well past lunchtime, so we settled down near the trig point and had something to eat.
After lunch, we dropped down into Partrishow where we popped into the church. Last time we were here we’d just bought a new SLR camera and it was repeatedly jamming after five or six shots. Unfortunately, by the time we’d reached Partrishow, it had once again given up the ghost and so I’d been unable to photograph the church, inside or out. This time I was determined to get some shots.
St Ishow Church at Partrishow is best-known for its exquisite Rood Screen, carved out of Irish Oak, but it was the medieval ochre wall painting of the figure of doom which really caught my attention. The figure holds an hour glass in one hand and a sickle (a short type of scythe) and there is a spade hanging from his arm. I always find these depictions of death taking the human skeletal form fascinating… and a little bit scary.
While I was inside the church taking photographs, Harri was sitting outside in the sunshine. By the time I emerged, he’d struck up conversation with two Dutch hikers who’d travelled to the UK overnight and were now walking the Beacons Way to Hay-on-Wye.
Like us, the two men were heading for Llanthony Priory where they planned to camp before joining the well-trodden Offa’s Dyke Path in the morning. Like us, they’d also underestimated the amount of water they’d need on this sweltering afternoon and were running low.
What with the heat, lack of liquid refreshment (just the occasional sip) and steep terrain, the late afternoon and early evening walking was pretty tough.
The Beacons Way takes a tortuous (some might say cruel) route down to Llanthony Priory, climbing steadily when any right-minded person would already be halfway down the valley. I kept asking why were still heading uphill when our destination ‘was down there’ but Harri, always a stickler for walking every inch that goes into the digital pages of our books, insisted we stick to the waymarked route,
After two tough days walking in hot conditions, we were determined not to camp again tonight but as always finding accommodation in such a remote location wasn’t easy. Fortunately, after being told ‘no room at the inn’ at both the Half Moon Hotel and Llanthony Priory Hotel, our saviour came in the form of the lovely Sue at the oddly-named Llanthony Treats (is it just me or does it sound more like dog food than an accommodation provider?).
I’d never stayed in a bunkhouse before so had absolutely no idea what to expect. I’m pleased to report that it was wonderful – basic (there’s no bedding so you have to have a sleeping bag with you) but very cheap (£12 per person per night including cereal and full English breakfast) and with lots of tea bags and a hot, private shower. Exactly what every hiker needs after a long, hard, hot day.
The Dutch guys took one of the adjacent rooms and we arranged to meet up with them in the bar after they’d eaten at the Priory Hotel (as per usual we were dining on bread and cheese).
We had an enjoyable and fascinating evening with our new friends (we learned one was called Coon) discussing everything from footwear to British television, European destinations to linguistic skills. We laughed a lot and proved that often experience binds people far more than nationality. It’s quite humbling when you consider they spent the whole night talking to us in English and didn’t bat an eyelid about our lack of Dutch.
We walked back to the bunkhouse under a perfectly clear, starry sky around midnight, exhausted but very happy.
‘Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales’ by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store and other online bookstores priced at £2.99.
Day Walks in the Brecon Beacons by Harri Roberts is published by Vertebrate.