Dave and Rufus’ lads week day 4 – Just one more cairn

Following our training plan, today was down as a long walk. I had been thinking about where to go to give us distance and climb and I had decided on Craig y Fan Ddu. It’s a challenging initial climb with a range of options once we get to the top. An early start was in order and Rufus is very good at making sure I’m awake early. He’s learnt now that nothing happens before 6am but he still insists on checking to make sure I’m okay throughout the night. He appears at the side of the bed and if I’m awake, I give him a little tickle under the chin. That’s enough, and he trots back to his bed.

We set off early enough but as I was driving, I realised that it would take us nearly 90 minutes to get tot the start of the walk and it was too good a morning to miss out on time on the mountains. It was going to be a hot day and I wanted the main climb to be over before the temperature rose. So I changed out destination and explained to Rufus (he has a say, after all. I took his tail wag to be a sign of agreement). We made for the Llia valley instead, saving 45 minutes of travel time.

We set off from the car park at 8.13 exactly, according to the route mapper I use. The sky was blue and the sun was strong but there was a nice breeze keeping the temperature under control. Almost immediately, we encountered a stile, which Rufus took in his stride. Then we threaded our way up the side of Fan Llia, dodging sheep and lambs. To his credit, Rufus showed no inclination to chase them and was happy to lead me along the path. There are many pathways up the side of the mountain, some made by walkers but most made by sheep. And streams trickle down to the Afon Llia, making for some hard going. The fine weather had dried the worst of the marsh out, though.

In just over 40 minutes, we reached the cairn that marks the summit of Fan Llia. The views all around were gorgeous. I’ve mentioned in this blog before that Rufus and I have walked all of the mountains we can see from Fan Llia. I get a great sense of how the Brecon Beacons (from the Black Mountain in the west to the Black Mountains in the east) are laid out.

Just one more cairn, I said to Rufus. He was out of earshot, investigating a particularly pungent scent and I took his lack of answer to mean ‘ok’. So we continued north, curving slightly to the east as we followed the high ground. The sheep were fewer here but still Rufus ignored them in favour of a few small pools of water, in which he took great delight in cooling his paws off.

We reached a small pile of stones (naturally occurring so not strictly a cairn, but allow me this) and we stopped for a breather and to allow Rufus to cool down in the breeze, as the sun was beginning to heat things up. We sat for 20 minutes drinking in the view across the valley to Fan Nedd and Fan Gihyrich, watching the airliners heading off to America and Canada and listening to a cuckoo calling from the woods more than a mile distant.

Then it was time to find the next cairn. This one was on a new bit of the mountain for Rufus, although I had walked this way many years ago while preparing for my first Everest base camp trek. Our route took us across Cefn Perfedd and down into a valley that was criss-crossed by deep cut sheep paths which channelled us along. But on the other side as we climbed, the next cairn (a proper one this time) was visible on the horizon. We watched two soldiers with their bright orange hi-vis panels on their back packs as they crested the ridge and took a moment’s break at the cairn. Two more walkers left was we were approaching.

We stopped at this cairn for lunch. I had a Cornish pasty (Rufus had some, of course) and Rufus had a selection of snacks and chews, all good for him (no junk food for him on our walks). I always carry plenty of water for both of us and I use it as extra weight for training and we both had a good long drink here. It was getting warmer now and I had been watching Rufus to make sure he was okay as he can feel the heat, being a big black furry hound. But he seemed okay and when I suggested carrying on to the next cairn, Rufus was off before I could fasten all backpack straps.

This last section took us to a cairn set at the edge of Craig y Fro, overlooking an old quarry and the A470 just north of the Storey Arms. By now the cool morning was turning into a hot afternoon and here there was little breeze to cool us off. So after a couple of photos of the cairn, we turned to start the homeward trek. Above us, a Red Kite circled lazily in a corkscrew, taking it away from us.

We took the walk back more easily. We were both feeling the distance and there was no hurry to get home. So we took our time, stopping where we felt like it. We took a longer rest at the spot where we could look over Fan Nedd and once again the sounds of birds and rather hoarse sheep were all that we could here. The walk along the top of Fan Llia seemed never ending, with each little rise hinting at the summit cairn, but always disappointing until finally it was there, signifying the final drop down tot he car park. Sheep parted before us as we made our way through them and down to the stile, which Rufus cleared in two bounds. Then we were back in the car park.

The car park is next to the River Llia and what better way to cool off hot paws than by a paddle and swim in the waters? We spent another half hour splashing and swimming. Well, Rufus did and when he saw I wasn’t getting wet, he made sure he splashed me and shook himself dry on me.

Our route.

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Fan Llia

The weather forecast was good so after doing some chores (chores = things I have to do but don’t want to do. Don’t worry, I won’t blog about shopping and washing and ironing), I went to pick up Rufus and we set off for the Llia valley and Fan Llia.

There was a cold wind blowing as we set off from the car. We started off by walking along part of the Beacons Way. The long distance Beacons Way stretches from Llanfihangel in the east to Carreg Cennen castle and Bethlehem in the west. Over the years, we’ve walked chunks of the route but never the whole route in one go. One day, perhaps. (Rufus is lying at my feet as I type and he has just sighed as if he knew what I was typing).

The going was quite wet underfoot. We waded through reeds and across mud and bog until firmer ground appeared as we started up the slope. I tried to thread my way through little groups of sheep but Rufus didn’t really seem to be interested. We carried on slogging uphill against the wind, which was getting strong and colder. A shower passed quickly by and before long we had gained the ridge and the slope lessened.

A few minutes later, we got to the cairn that marks to top of Fan Llia. It’s a proper top so there was a great 360 degree view around, and the rain clouds had melted away. In the distance to the east were the peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan, both covered in a thin coating of snow. To the west was Fann Nedd and Fan Gyhyrich, both looking tempting in the sun.

(Rufus is staying with me tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow. He is in front of the fire now and has started to snore rather loudly).

We carried on north along the ridge towards Fan Dringarth. We were following the valley of the Afon Llia off to the left, west. My plan was to get to the summit of Fan Dringarth and then drop down into the valley, to make our way back along the river itself. Rufus loves the river and I wanted to see if I could find some of the remains of iron age settlements and earthworks that line the valley. I also wanted to walk along the route of the Roman road Sarn Helen.

We dropped down the slope towards Maen Llia, a large standing stone that points the way down the valley. We reached Sarn Helen after a few minutes. This was also a toll road that was finally replaced by the tarmac road most visitors to the valley use today. No direct sign of the Roman road remains; but further down the valley another standing stone – Maen Madoc – bears a Roman inscription. This stone stands on the eastern side of the line of Sarn Helen.

We strolled back along the river Llia. Rufus spent most of the time in the water chasing the stones I threw for him. It was lovely in the sun and we stopped several times just to enjoy the day. I did n’t see any of the earthworks I was hoping to glimpse but I spotted the sites of several buildings, now only flattened platforms above the flood level of the river.

Then we were back at the car and ready to head home for food. As I drove north, dark clouds were building ahead of us and it wasn’t long before heavy rain started to fall. We’d missed it by about 5 minutes. We walked, ran, swam and paddled 5.5 miles today, and climbed just under 900 feet.

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