Looking Forward.

Thank you for putting up with my retrospective over the last couple of weeks or so. It’s time to move on. So while my mind gently returns from the African Plains and dreams of climbing Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro again, the rest of me has been getting on with life, and my local hills.

Last week we took a longer than planned stroll around the hills north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. It’s an open area of low, rolling hills that surrounds the reservoir on three sides. To the east is Brynllefrith plantation, and you have travelled there with us before. To the north is Mynydd y Gwair and the wind turbines recently installed there (you’ve been there with us too).

It was the western hills that we hadn’t visited before, and after walking along the edge of the plantation, we ducked under a fence, crossed a little stream feeding the reservoir and squelched our way up along a muddy quad bike track until we were on the western side looking down on the forest. With the weather threatening to get wet very quickly, we headed back to the car and managed to reach it’s shelter as the rain came in.

Today was an opportunity to seek the snow once again. The weather forecast was favourable and we set off for The Black Mountain north of Brynamman. As soon as we got onto the mountain road, it was clear it had been snowing here recently. The dark road surface turned white in minutes as we climbed higher. It’s a twisting road and although the drop isn’t far or steep, leaving the road would guaranteed being stuck. So I took it easy on the slush and ice and only briefly thought how much more appropriate the Freelander would have been here.

That said, we had no trouble reaching the car park near the Foel Fawr quarry. I did have a slight problem getting out of the car, as the string wind tried to shut the door on me. But I managed to extract myself and Rufus and while he went to check on the snow, I kitted up for the bitter cold. Since he had his haircut, I’ve been careful to keep an eye on Rufus to check he doesn’t get too cold. Today was no exception.

We set off up the white hillside. There were no clues as to where the path was but I’ve been up here a few times so it didn’t worry me too much. The snow had a frozen crust and at first it made the going much easier. But as we climbed, the snow got deeper and the crust gave way with a disconcerting suddeness so that my boots sank up to the laces. For the most part, Rufus managed to walk across the top of the snow without sinking, but every now and then he’d drop a couple of inches as the crust gave way.

I noticed that although I was wading through the snow, my boots weren’t wet and the snow wasn’t sticking to Rufus’ fur. It was frozen and later I found I couldn’t make proper snowballs either. Rufus seemed to be having fun, charging off in all directions but I found the going hard. I had loaded my back pack up with some extra weight for the exercise, and I was beginning to feel it’s effect.

We climbed slowly over rough, rocky ground made more treacherous as the gaps between the rocks were hidden by snow. But we made it and eventually we dealt with the steepest bit and the slope rapidly slackened until we were walking on the rocky, barren top leading to the summit cairns and trig point of Garreg Lwyd. Being flat, it was also windswept but unusually, it was also clear and sunny. Most times I’ve been here, there has been a thick mist and I can’t remember the last time I saw the cairns from further than a few metres away.

Walking to the cairns felt like walking in the barren north. Snow had built up in the lee of the rocks and boulders, and had drifted into little gullies. Being a limestone environment, there were many sink holes and dips and while some were visible, others I only discovered when my feet sank into them. Rufus seemed to have a sense of where they were and I should have followed him to avoid them.

At the cairns, we stopped for a few minutes for a snack and a brief respite from the cutting wind. I love being on the top of hills and mountains and today was almost perfect, with blue sky, sun and plenty of snow and ice. The only negative was the wind. I noticed that when we stopped, Rufus back leg was shivering a bit. It happens sometimes when he stands awkwardly and also when he’s excited. But I decided not to take any chances and so we set off back towards the car.

Now we were walking into the wind and it made the going quite a bit harder. Rufus spent sometime walking behind me, sheltered from the worst of the gale. We stopped at a small cairn for a selfie before heading down over more broken rock until we left the worst of the wind behind. Then we slackened the pace and enjoyed the last few hundred metres through the remains of the limestone quarry.

The shelter of the car was most welcome and Rufus settled in the back as I got the heater going and we slipped and slid our way back down the mountain road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More hills

As I type, Rufus is lying besides me, snoring quietly. We’re both tired after a stroll on Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith in the mist. The fire is on and there is rubbish on the TV. Perfect.

Rufus stayed over last night but we both stayed up late so I wasn’t woken until 6.30. The garden checked, we both went back to bed and it wasn’t until around 7.30 that we both surfaced again. We took our time – the traffic at this time in the morning meant that it was pointless leaving early and so we set off around 9.15.

By 10.15, we were at Gareg Lwyd, setting off from the car park to climb the first hill. It’s part of a quarry complex and limestone was cut from the hills all around here. There are plenty of man made dips, cliff faces and a lot of quarry spoil to be wary of, and the going is quite tough as there is a lot of scree where the limestone has been broken by the action freezing and thawing. Finding a path to the top that avoids the rough ground is always a challenge.

As usual with this hill, mist was lying on the top, making the featureless plateau hard to navigate. I always get disorientated on this hill and today was no exception. But I had come prepared – a map, compass, GPS unit and the mobile phone tracking app. I used the GPS unit as it displays an OS map and was quickly back on track for the two large cairns that mark the true summit.

And there they were, faintly appearing in the mist. Rufus beat me to them and waited patiently as I picked my way through the stones. After a small snack for him, we set off over the hill and down to the shallow valley between Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith. The mist lifted only slightly as we got the to lowest part of the valley and thickened again as we climbed back up the other side. A chill wind picked up, too, but thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as yesterday.

The top of Foel Fraith was also shrouded in thick mist. It’s a strange feeling to be out in this kind of weather without any visual references. It’s a little scary, challenging and exciting all at the same time. Of course, I was secure with the GPS, but I’ve been on these hills before and found myself veering way off course, despite electronic aids. Sure enough, on the way back and even though I was checking the route, I noticed I’d missed one of the turns of the path.

Turning back on track, I soon began to hear the sound of traffic on the road by the car park. Moments later, we descended beneath the mist and before us were the quarry workings and beyond that the flatter farmland of Llangadog, with sunshine picking out the fields.

Back home, we settled on the sofa and the snoring started.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Twin Peaks

Rain is no excuse for postponing training walks. Nor is it an excuse for not patrolling the garden at 5am. The rain was steady and the birds singing despite it this morning and even the sun was sheltering from the rain first thing. But I went back to bed for two hours and by the time we were ready to leave… it was still raining. A drizzle that threatened to stay all day.

We set off for Fan Llia in the drizzle, passing through patches of dry weather and even a hint of blue sky through the grey cloud. But by the time we were driving along the narrow lane that led to the forestry car park, the drizzle had turned to proper rain. But it was okay because Rufus likes the water and I was cocooned in waterproof clothing. So off we went.

The first part of the walk, up to the stile, is a gravel path and easy enough to negotiate. The stile itself is a nasty one for dogs as the top crossbar is a double strip of wood with a gap big enough to trap a paw between them. I was very careful with Rufus but he was fine getting over it. Then comes the marsh. We start off at the foot of Fan Llia and all the water running off the hill gathers here. There are several footpaths, all equally muddy and soft. But once beyond that, the going gets quite good with a choice of routes angling up the hill.

Today I had to weave between paths to avoid little groups of sheep, who all seemed intent on walking towards us in order to get away. Rufus was on the lead (he doesn’t chase sheep unless they run – it’s an instinct for him) and it took a little forward planning to get through. But soon we were past the sheep layer and we had the hill to ourselves. About this time, the drizzle finally stopped and very quickly the wind dried us both off, giving Rufus a lovely set of curls.

We climbed up onto the ridge of the hill and plodded steadily on for the cairn of stones that marks the summit. We reached it in about 45 minutes and stopped to get some shelter from the wind and to have a drink and snack break.

Then it was time to move on and we continued on our way along the line of the Llia valley northwards. By now, patches of blue sky were beginning to appear through the cloud cover, which still obscured the mountains a round us: We seemed to be in a little island of sun. We walked on towards Fan Dringarth, which we passed without really knowing we’d got there. The only feature of this secondary summit was a disused quarry, overgrown with grass and sheep. All around were familiar hill tops; Pen y Fan and Corn Du, Fan Fawr, Fan Nedd, Fan Gyhirich and, in the distance, Fan Brecheiniog and Moel Feity – our theatre last week.

We walked on along the ridge, enjoying the warmth now the sun was finally out. In the end, our progress was brought to a halt by a stone wall and fence, and beyond a steep drop the the valley below. After a brief stop, we set off back along the ridge again, heading towards low cloud and rain crossing our path. I guessed we’d get damp by the cairn; it was only a few minutes after we got there that a short but sharp shower blew in.

We survived, and the wind soon dried us off so that when we got to the car, we were both comfortable and ready for more. So we spent half an hour in the river, me throwing stones and Rufus catching them.

Back home, we both needed a shower and as I type, we both smell fresh and slightly damp.

This is our route – 11km, 368m climb, 3 hours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.