Looking back

Four little words – ‘this time last year’. I make no apologies. This time last year I was on the way to completing a big challenge and I think I earned the right to use those words.

This time last year I was climbing up to Shira Plateau on the Western slopes of Kilimanjaro. It was the first full day of the trek and a hot and tough one as we climbed through the rain and cloud forest out on to the heathland the forms the crater of Shira. We ended up at 3500m and while the day was hot, the night was cold.

Today Rufus and I did not set out to recreate the event. Instead, we took advantage of the beautiful weather on the Brecon Beacons to get onto the hills again. Our goal – Fan Brecheiniog. It has featured on this blog many times and I hope it will many more times. I drove this way yesterday but the road was clearer today. There were several moments when i though the car might slide off the road on a thin coating of frost and ice, but a bit of care and forward thinking meant I was able to get to the start point for the long walk to Llyn y Fan Fawr. We set off from the car in brilliant sunshine and snow. The wind was cold but before long my hat and gloves came off as the temperature rose. Rufus bounded through the snow, stopping to greet a fellow canine walker as we made our way along the river. By the time we got to the first steep part of the day, the snow was several inches thick.

Rufus followed the tracks of previous passers by, as it was easier than battling through snow which, in places, was up to his belly. I followed Rufus; he has a good nose for the best path and I’ve learnt to trust his judgement. This time last year I was probably as fit as I have every been. Today was very different. I felt every square of chocolate eaten over Christmas, every mince pie and every roast potato. My backpack was lighter than the 8kg one I took with me on the trek but I felt it’s influence as I stopped several times ‘to take photographs’.

Then, after several false summits, there was the lake. And above it, Fan Brecheiniog shone in the morning sun. We stopped for a few minutes for me to get my breath back. Normally I would throw stones into the water for Rufus, but it was too cold for that today and instead I threw snowballs for him to chase. After yesterday’s fun, he’d learnt not to expect too much and it was enough for him to race to the snowball and break it apart with his nose.

Then we made our way over to the start of the short but knee-achingly steep climb to the bwlch. One of the great things about very cold weather is that all the marsh and bog freezes over. But for some reason I managed to step on the only bit of unfrozen bog in the whole place, and it was deep. I felt myself falling forward before I knew what was going on and I managed to stop myself from going flat on my face. But my left leg disappeared into the water and mud up to the knee.

Undaunted, I headed up the steep path. I thought I heard Rufus snigger, but he was so far ahead it may just have been the wind. It was hard going, even taking into account my lack of fitness. The snow was thick and slippery where it had been trodden down and then frozen overnight. At one point, I was conscious that the view ahead looked a bit like photos in a magazine accompanying an article on how to perform an ice axe arrest! After several ‘photo stops’, I made it to the little valley between Fan Hir and Fan Brecheiniog. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go on and I was looking at Rufus to see if he was coping. Apart from a few tiny snowballs on his feet, which I cleared quickly, he was fine. He was watching me to see if we were going on and every now and then he’d race a few steps up the hill as if to encourage me.

I set off again, adopting a slow plod as my tactic for making the ascent. The snow was deeper again and in places it was like walking up a sand dune – my feet would slip back as I pushed forward. The usual path on to Fan Brecheinog was completely covered in snow; I’ve never see than before. One set of foot prints led off tot he south and up in a curving climb and I decided to follow them as walking on the compacted snow would be easier. Rufus was now reduced to a plod as well as he battled through the snow but he kept going every time I took a breather. But eventually I decided that I was struggling to go further and it would be silly to exhaust myself and risk slipping on the way down. I called Rufus, who was a few paces in front of me.

I swear a big grin appeared on his face. Before I’d finished saying the phrase ‘lets go back to the car’ he had raced past me and was standing on the bwlch again, about 20m away. I love watching him run in the snow. He bounds like a big cat and the snow flies everywhere from his back paws. He usually races down from here and meets me at the lake. I was a little worried that he might slip on the snow going down, but I needn’t have been concerned. He is sure footed. We passed several walkers descending gingerly but I was using my walking pole now and I found it much easier than I had feared. One of the walkers had just put on a set of mini crampons but I knew from experience these wouldn’t work well in the deep snow. Sure enough, both Rufus and I sailed past him.

At the lake, I threw more snowballs for Rufus and we posed for a couple of buddy selfies. Then we set off back down the slope and the car. I don’t like the last mile or so; it tends to be boring. But snow changes everything and I was able to get some nice photos of the Brecon Beacons stretching off to the East. By now the snow was melting from the lower part of the hill. I had to avoid a few boggy patches I’d walked over with ease on the way up. The last bit of this walk is a short, steep climb of no more than 10 metres, and I found this really tiring. Slumping down into the car, I decided I needed to work at getting fit again.

As I drove off, around 12.50, I remembered that this time last year, I’d made it to Shira campsite, at 3500m after climbing 719m and I felt good. Today I’d climbed around 400m and felt shattered. More work required!

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 9: Frustration on the mountain

The plan for today was to climb up onto Fan Hir and walk along the ridge above the Cerrig Duon valley. As I’ve mentioned before, I love ridge walks as they give you a sense of space and freedom. Both Rufus and I were rested after Tuesday’s trek, so we were ready to go. The weather forecast said rain coming in around midday but we had a few hours before we were due to get wet.

We parked up and set off, walking under the trees along the river. I keep expecting to see kingfishers along this stretch of the Tawe, but I guess the combination of me and Rufus put paid tot hat. Instead, we threaded our way between two fields full of sheep, with drystone walls either side, and up onto the hillside. The first part of this route is very steep. The height gain is fast but over relatively quickly and that’s why I like this. You climb about 300m in around 30 minutes and then the slope slackens and the rest of the walk can be enjoyed at leisure. I used this route a lot during my training for the trek and much prefer this route to Fan Brechieniog.

We trudged up, taking a lot more than 30 minutes to get the ascent out of the way. All around, the hilltops normally visible each had caps of low cloud on them. Suddenly, we popped over the last steep bit and ahead lay the path up on to Fan Hir. But Fan Hir was under more low cloud and as we walked further, so I felt the first faint sensations of drizzle on my face. Over to the west, the clouds were coming in quite quickly. We marched on but it was clear that we were going to get wet very soon. So reluctantly, I decided to turn around. It was frustrating as we’d done the hard bit and I was looking forward to the reward.

As I gave Rufus some water and a snack, I heard a faint rumbling, not of thunder thank goodness, but a number of wild horses galloping along the track. As I watched, two started fighting while the others looked on as if fascinated. Sheep also looked up to watch the spectacle. We set off back down the track, negotiating the steep slope which was now becoming slippery with the rain. Under the tress we had some shelter, and I let Rufus have a paddle while I took some photos. We were watched by a sheep dog in the field next tot eh river. We’ve come across him before and he is very friendly. As Rufus and the sheepdog exchanged sniffs, I checked to see if the farmer was watching and then gave our new fried one of Rufus’ snacks. The sheepdog took it away, placed it on the ground and then started to roll around next to it.

Back home, Rufus had a quick shower to remove the smell of a dead sheep he’d found, and then dried himself off on my lap. Having completed the hard part of the walk, we were both tired and we both dozed on the sofa.

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Hat Trick

My third day on the mountains and Rufus’ second. It was important for me psychologically to get this one done as it would give me confidence in my knee and it would be a test of my trek preparation so far.

Yesterday, I managed to squirt a blob of shower gel into my right eye. I struggled to see for most of the afternoon and evening. An early night beckoned and was welcomed by both Rufus and I. Nevertheless (or perhaps because of the early night), Rufus was awake early for his first visit to the garden. I tried delaying the inevitable, by a single whimper from him told me it was serious and we went out. We then enjoyed another half hour lie-in before finally getting up at 7am.

At 8.45, we were in the car park of the Tafarn y Garreg, setting off for the steep climb up to the start of Fan Hir. We passed a small sheepdog in the field who was happy to see us and he and Rufus exchanged sniffs before we carried on. The climb here is steep; we climb around 220m in a little over 1km. But then the slope eases and the walking becomes more pleasant. Add to that the steep drop to the east and it’s a very pleasant and picturesque route. It’s the first time Rufus has done this with me and he took the slope with ease, showing my slow and plodding progress up yet again. He even had to stop and wait for me several times, which he made sure I was aware of.

There was mist all around us but we were walking in the clear, with blue sky above and a gentle breeze blowing. As we made our way along the ridge, the sun came out and when I turned around to face it, I could see a long line of thick mist cutting across the route we’d just followed. It looked gorgeous and I took lots of photos. Moments like this are one of the reasons I go hill walking. We kept going along the ridge. It’s an odd route in that even after passing the summit – barely discernible along the ridge – it seems as if you are continuing to climb. Ahead always looks higher.

We turned around just before the drop to Bwlch y Giedd. Last week we walked this route from the other side. I can see that before the trek I’m going to have to do the full circle. But for now, Fan Hir was enough.

We turned around to go back and were confronted by a beautiful sight. The combination of low winter sun, mist and the golden heather and grass made the ridge a pleasure to walk through. We took our time going back but inevitably it was quicker going down hill. The rocks and mud of the steepest part of the hill were slippery underfoot. I had to put Rufus on the lead to start with as there were sheep around, but as usual he wasn’t interested. I took him off again after we’d passed below the main sheep  level and instead I relied on him listening to me if there was a stray ovine about. He did, of course, and it was much easier for me to negotiate the slope without him pulling me faster.

A river runs alongside the path at the bottom of the hill and Rufus took the opportunity to cool his paws off as I threw some stones in for him. We were both tired, though, so we didn’t linger.

I’m pleased with my three hill days – I’ve done a total of  23km and just under 1300m of ascent.

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Fan Brecheiniog, Fan Hir and Moel Feity

It was cold last night and so in the early hours I found myself sharing the bed with a larger-than-normal Cocker Spaniel. As a result, I was allowed a lie in until 6.30 before the call of the wild garden became too much for him and we had to go on patrol. Borders cleared, breakfast was served and then we set off for the mountains.

I was keen to push a little today and at the same time conscious that Rufus is not the young hound he once was. So I decided on the now familiar route up and down Moel Feity, on to Llyn y Fan Fawr and then up on the Fan Brecheiniog, with the option that if we were both feeling okay, we’d head back to Bwlch Giedd and then along Fan Hir for a while. This would add the all important time and extra ascent but we could turn back at any time should the need arise.

It was another golden morning but a cold wind from the East chilled the air and meant the gloves went on early. We skirted the horses once again and then struck off almost directly up the side of Moel Feity. By the time we’d reached the top, the sun had warmed us up and the breeze had disappeared. We climbed a little further than last time and when we started to drop into the valley between Feity and Brecheiniog, it was steeper than usual. Rufus determined the path as we descended and we wandered about at the whim of scents and aromas like a summer butterfly.

We found ourselves to the north of our normal path but all of this was good for the training and I heard no complaints from Rufus. We climbed over rough ground full of little ankle-turning ruts and pits and it was hard going as we climbed steadily towards the lake. In just under 70 minutes, we reached the lake shore and took our first break. In the distance through the still air I could hear two walkers chatting as they made their way up the path to the Bwlch as we would be shortly. Rufus’ barks as I threw stones for him to dredge and catch echoed around the lake.

We followed the lake shore south until we reached the path up the side of Fan Brecheiniog. It’s a short climb but steep and hard going. National Trust volunteers have constructed steps out of large stones and these do a lot to manage erosion but they can become slippery when they are wet or, like last week, frosty. They force walkers to take larger steps than perhaps they otherwise would too. You climb from the lake at 608m to the Bwlch around 100m higher in a little over 400m of walking. It looks hard and it is, but it’s over quickly. But then there’s another 80m climb ahead. Once that’s over, it’s a lovely airy walk along the edge of the mountain. It’s the 36th time I’ve climbed this mountain and I still love it as if it was the first time.

After we’d walked to the north end of the ridge we turned around and walked half way along the southern bit, Fan Hir. It has an even steeper drop to the moorland below and you get a fantastic feeling of being up in the clouds. Except today there were no clouds.

We made our way down to the lake where stones were thrown in the now traditional ‘throw stones for me or I’ll bark like the Hound of the Baskerville’ session. The walk back down to the car from the lake is rough and this bit of this route I don’t look forward to. It’s wet, riddled with pools and marsh, and crossed by numerous little streams and rivulets which just hinder progress.

Back at the car I was disappointed to find that we had only added an extra 12 minutes to last week’s four hours, despite adding just over 2km to the distance and 100m to the ascent. When I checked on the app that records my routes, it turns out that my average pace was considerably faster. I’ve always had problems pacing.

The sofa and the fire were most welcome when we got home.

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4½ hours

Having taken it easy all week, it was time to get back out on to the hills. Housemaid’s Knee or no, I have to get back on track with the training as the weeks are counting down fast. It’s around 8 weeks to the start of my attempt to climb Kilimanjaro. Check out my just giving page and add a little to the total for Cancer Research.

Yesterday, Rufus and I went for a stroll down by the river. I wanted to give my knee a try out before tackling a long distance hike, so we headed off to the river and Moel Feity – a small hill just to the north of it. We’ve done Moel Feity before, as apart of the Three Summits walk we did a while back. This time, it was my goal and we took out time getting there.  I haven’t seen Rufus for a while and he was obviously happy to be out and about. He kept stopping to wait for me on the track as we walked along. At the top of the hill, we had a play fight and a snack. And then another play fight.

We headed down the slope and as soon as Rufus spotted the river, he was off. Every now and then I saw a little black dot bounding through the tufts of grass or sheep bolting in either direction. But Rufus was intent only on getting to the water and sheep were not on his radar. By the time I joined him,  he was ankle deep in the stream, waiting patiently for me to start throwing stones in. The next 30 minutes or so was taken up with slowly making our way along the river, dredging or catching stones. Then, reluctantly, we had to turn away from the river to head back to the car.

Today, Rufus didn’t join me as the longer distances put a lot of strain on his paws. He tends to go at 110% all the time and is not the best at pacing, a bit like me!

At this stage I’m meant to be doing between 5 and 6 hours of walking, with plenty of ascent and descent and all the gear. As you may gather from the title, I didn’t quite get there.  But it wasn’t from lack of trying. One of my problems in the past has been going off too fast (typical bloke) so part of the training has been trying to get into the habit of maintaining a realistic pace that lets me walk without having to take too many breaks. So I got the pace right today, but the route was just too short. It was the same route as two weeks ago as I wanted to make sure my knee was okay and I knew I could turn back at any time.  But I had the option of an extra stretch at the end which I thought might do the trick.  It wasn’t enough, and the path dropped steeply after that which would have put too much strain on the knee.

I started out in the dry but by the time I’d climbed to the ridge, I could see the rain clouds coming in from the west. I watched one dark one closing, the rain visible beneath it, and all I could do was wait for the inevitable soaking. Which was cold and wet and uncomfortable. But it was over quickly and I carried on under blue sky and drying hot sun. It rained several more times during the outward part of the hike but the sun quickly dried me off again. Sitting on the edge of the hill at Fan Foel, I watched a heavy storm make it’s way towards Sennybridge to the north. I tucked in to my corned beef pasty in the sunshine.

I could see more clouds forming in the west and they looked as if they were heading for me so I turned around and headed back along the ridge. Sure enough, I’d just dropped down in the cwm between Fan Brechioniog and Fan Hir, the heavy rain started. I was a little concerned that it might be a thunder storm as the cloud was dark and the rain drops large. Then I started to get pelted with hail stones. They stung my face and hands and I turned my back to them. I waited for a few minutes for the storm to pass and was rewarded by seeing the line of hail sweep over me, I watched the storm cross the valley and over the next hill. I was drenched, but the sun and wind dried me off as I started on the final part of the walk.

The down hill part was the bit the doctor said had caused my knee problems, so I’d brought along a walking pole and I was relying on it to take a lot of the impact on the joints. Sure enough, although I was slower going down, the burning sensation from the last time I descended here did flare up and I got to the bottom feeling pretty good. Then it was an easy walk alongside the river and back to the car.

Now all I have to do is figure out a longer route.

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Back on track 2: Return of the sun

My training calls for back to back hikes. This weekend, it called for two four hour strolls. It called very loudly at 6am. But not loudly enough. After my first decent night’s sleep for ages, thanks to a lovely cool breeze coming through the windows, I was reluctant to get up. So in my head when I did surface at around 6.30am, I was late.

As I left the house, the weather was looking similar to yesterday and I guessed that I’d be walking under a sheet of grey cloud. Part of the reason for walking this weekend was to experience the heat and get used to keeping hydrated. Although hot conditions aren’t my favourite, I was looking forward to some strolling in the sunshine. I was heading for Fan Brecheiniog, an old favourite. But before I got to the turn off to the lane that leads to the start of the walk, I decided to try an new route. I parked opposite the Tafarn y Garreg and took the signposted footpath from there. It would mean a southerly climb up Fan Hir and then a nice brisk walk across the ridge to the short but steep slog to Fan Brecheiniog itself.

Immediately, I realised this was a lovely little route, following the banks of the River Tawe for several hundred yards before cutting through farmland and up onto the first part of the climb. The river was shaded by trees and the sun was shining and it would make an ideal picnic spot at some point. I’m fairly certain Rufus would approve of it’s paw cooling potential, too. (Once again, it was too hot for Rufus to make the long distance).

Climbing up the southern end of Fan Hir, the sun was shining brightly but a breeze kept the temperature from being too much. But it was steep and I could feel myself warming up. This was what I was (perversely) hoping for as I could check that my idea of hydration would work. Using the bladder and hose system is great because you don’t have to stop to drink. The theory goes that you are more likely to drink more often in that case. But it’s harder to judge how much you’ve had to drink, and how much is left in the bladder.

I reached the top of the steep part of the climb. Although I was still ascending, the slope was gentler and I sped up a little. I was consciously trying to keep a slow pace to get used to the one I’d be using on the trek. It’s still the part of hiking I find most difficult.

Before long, I’d reached the crest of the ridge and I turned north to continue along Fan Hir. The views all around were fantastic. To the south was Craig Y Nos and Waun Fignen Felin. The latter was once the site of a large lake and much evidence that prehistoric hunter-gatherers stayed in the area has been found in the form of weapons and bones of their prey. Nearby is a stone row, the Saeth Maen, which may have been a marker for travellers in the area. It’s also the site of more modern remains; several military aircraft have crashed there or thereabouts.

To the east, the dramatic near vertical face of Fan Hir dropped to the Cerrig Duon valley and the course of the Tawe. To the west, the rest of the Brecon Beacons natioanl park stretched as far as the eye can see. It’s a beautiful part of the country.

I was concentrating on the view to the north. This was the path I was taking. Underfoot lots of broken stones made the going a little harder than usual. Ahead, the seemingly endless series of little summits were crested, only to find another one ahead. But before long, I could see Fan Brechieniog in the distance. The sun was getting hot now and I was glad I’d plastered on the sun cream. I’m using a small tube of factor 50 at the moment. I didn’t notice when I bought it, but it’s for kids. So it smells of banana. Every now and again, I’d get a whiff of banana in the wind as I moved along.

The short climb to Fan Brecheiniog was tough but over quickly. Then I walked along my favourite mountain to the very northern end, where I sat and stared out at the gorgeous countryside, while eating a Snickers.

Then it was time to turn around and head back. The view south, which dominated now, was of a more industrialised landscape. There were at least three sets of wind farms in view. I could see the building where I work. The sea was crammed in between the horizon and the sky and the lush green of farmland contrasted with the grey and brown of the upland moors and rocky tops. I was walking into the wind and sun now. My hat kept the sun at bay but the wind flapped the brim and one part kept folding down over my left eye. It was annoying and ruined my depth perception, but it didn’t cause any problems.

The drop back down to the river was steeper than I remembered and I found it hard going on the knees. The path was dry and dusty which made it slippery, too. I sought grass and natural steps in the rocks to try and stop myself falling, and I managed to stay upright the whole time. As I descended, the wind died down and it became very hot in the sun. At the river, the shade was welcome and I stopped several times just to enjoy the view. I spotted a movement in the water and saw a duck trying to paddle along. The water level was low so it couldn’t float and was content with waddling between pools and spots of deeper water.

Back at the car, it was boiling and I was glad to get the back pack off and to gulp down more water.

My second hike of the weekend was just over 7.5 miles and it took 4 hours. I climbed around 700m in that time.

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Three summits

It was Saturday and the sky was clear. Rufus even made me go outside with him to show me how clear the stars were. It was his way of saying ‘I think we have to take advantage of this fine morning to stroll amongst the fresh air and open skies and talk of greater things, like treats and stone throwing’. I had to agree with him – the weather forecast was almost perfect and I didn’t know when we’d get another opportunity. So after breakfast, we set off for Fan Brecheiniog.

There was a band of golden sunlight on the ridge of Fan Hir as we drove parallel with it towards the parking area. I’d decided to stop further along the road so that we’d be higher up the side of Moel Feity when we started. It would mean a new route and we could conserve altitude by following the contours around. The plan was to get to Llyn y Fan Fawr, then up to the bwlch and on to Fan Hir for a lovely ridge walk facing the sun. If we had enough energy (ok, if I had enough energy – no question of the other half of the duo being able to manage it) then we’d head up to Fan Brecheiniog and bag a second summit.

It was cold, and the grass was crunchy under foot as we set off towards the mountains. The higher start meant we could look down on the Cerrig Duon valley and see the River Tawe as a silver strip in the sunlight. The path was drier, too, although we had to cross a number of streams as they tumbled down, trying to catch up with the Tawe. Some had cut deep beds in the soft ground and we undulated along for a while until we reached a major tributary of the Tawe. Then it was a steady uphill trudge through rapidly thawing marsh and mud. But fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and we made good time to the lake.

The water was right up to the shore and there was no chance of finding stones to throw for Rufus. The few I spotted were firmly frozen into the ground and even kicking them didn’t dislodge them. But Rufus was content with a drink, some snacks and a circumnavigation of the little promontory while I took photos. He can be considerate at times.

We made our way up the steep path on the side of the mountain. It was slippery with clear, glass-like ice. Snow on the shaded sides of the mountain had melted and run onto the stones, freezing again over night. I had to be careful where I stepped. Rufus made light work of it.

On the bwlch (a bwlch is a dip between two summits), the wind was cold and there was plenty of snow around. But the sun was warm and we turned left to climb the short distance up to Fan Hir and the ridge. Ice covered the path so we both walked on the grass, where frozen snow made for better grip. After a few minutes, we were on the flat ridge and the views were spectacular. The air was clear this morning and I could see all the way from Gareg Lwyd in the west to the Black Mountains in the east. Corn Du and Pen y Fan stood out as white coated peaks in the middle distance but as last week, they were topped with their own little clouds. It was comical, as there was no cloud anywhere else. It also reminded me of the first time I went up there and Pen y Fan was so well hidden in it’s own cloud that I didn’t realise it wasn’t there and assumed Corn Du was Pen y Fan! (You had to be there to realise how easy it was to make that mistake). Fan Hir’s peak is hard to spot. For some reason, when you’re on it, everything seems higher around you. It’s a trick of the landscape. Summit 1.

It was a beautiful walk and it was a shame when we reached the end of the ridge, where it begins to drop down to Tafarn y Garreg, and had to turn back. But both of us were fleeing good, so I decided we’d go on to Fan Brecheiniog next. As we neared the bwlch again, it was clear how steep the path up was. It’s the one bit of this walk I don’t look forward to, which is irrational as it’s about 5 minutes of the whole experience. But today, I know it would be bad because of the ice. Sure enough, the stones were covered in thick layers. But there were just edges and points of stone to give some grip. Coming down would be fun, but that was for later.

On the Fan Brecheiniog ridge, the ice was almost constant along the path by the edge, so I walked further in from the drop. I kept an eye on Rufus, who kept an eye on the edge, but he was emboldened by four paw drive and made a better job of it than me. At the cairn, the views north were fantastic and we stopped for a breather and just enjoyed the view. Rufus, I think, enjoyed the multitude of smells carried on the wind; this is a popular stopping point for walkers and inevitably, they eat here too! Summit 2.

We headed back, once again facing the sun, and it’s warmth was welcome. The stones down were treacherous but neither of us slipped this time, although Rufus raced over one flat stone covered in ice and his paws went in four directions. Typical for him, he recovered on the run and it barely stopped him. I would have gone bottom over breast.

At the lake, I found some small stones to throw and Rufus jumped to catch them. Tradition satisfied, we started off down the hill tot he car. But we were both still feeling energetic, so we detoured up the side of Moel Feity beyond the path we used earlier and climbed up the hill to the top. It’s not a steep hill, but there was no obvious path and we were walking over clumps of grass which made the going a little harder. There is the site of a WW2 aircraft crash on the top of Moel Feity but every time I’ve tried to find it in the past, I’ve failed. In the past, the weather has been foul when I’ve been on here, but today was [perfect, so I went in search of the little bits of wreckage still there.

Shortly after we reached the top (marked by a tiny cairn – summit 3) I spotted a white stone on the horizon. Sure enough, there was a small cairn there too and some remembrance poppies and a wreath. The wreath had been blown of the cairn and was only held in place because it had frozen to the ground. So I carefully placed it back on the cairn and secured it with two large stones.

On 24 August 1944, a US Navy Liberator (actually, a PB4Y version of the Liberator, 38753) crashed here while on a training exercise. The crew, Byrnes, Hobson, Manelski, Holt, Shipe and Keister all died in the crash. They so nearly cleared the top of the mountain. I spent a few minutes taking in the atmosphere and thinking about the crew. Fan Brecheiniog rose, snow covered, in the distance to the west. Rufus was great (as he always is when we visit crash sites) and kept away. Then we turned to head back to the car. But only a hundred yards or so further down the hill I spotted more red and on closer inspection I found a second cairn with, along side it, a small collection of wreckage. Again it was covered in remembrance poppies but the cairn had collapsed and the small bits of wreckage had been blown about. I spent some time collecting them back up and making the pile a little more secure. Then I built up the stone cairn so it stood above the grass. Finally, I rescued the little label with the crew details from a small ice covered pool and placed it on the wreckage pile. It was a small gesture but the best I could offer.

Then it was off down the hill and back to the car. We crossed bog and marsh, now fully thawed and waiting for us. Again there was no path and we made our way over grassy tufts, streams and a lot of loose limestone rocks. I had to be careful not to turn an ankle on them. At the car, it was warm and we were tired and we were glad of the opportunity to sit (or in Rufus’ case, lie) down.

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Back on Top

I’m on holiday. Not your run of the mill Bank holiday plus one day stuff. This is real holiday material. Two whole weeks (yes, two). This means several things:

  1. The weather will get worse and we will have the worst May 8th to May 18th on record, followed by the warmest, sunniest June known to man.
  2. I have no excuses not to do the jobs around the house and in the garden that need doing but can be effectively put off by chanting ‘I’m tired from work’ or ‘I need daylight to do that’.

So, in order to deal with 1 and put off 2, I spent the day on the hills (to take advantages of the sunny and warm morning). Rufus and I set off from the car at about 10.30, heading first to the River Tawe (more like a stream with dreams  at this point, so close to its source) and we followed it up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. As mentioned in several other posts, this is out favourite body of water and Rufus knows when we’re getting close. He disappears at that point, and several minutes later I arrive to find him ankle deep in the cooling water waiting for me to throw him a stone. Ahh, if only it was just the one!

No difference today. He was grateful for the chance to cool off as the sun was warmer than I expected. There was enough of a breeze to keep my temperature down to a comfortable level, but Rufus does twice the distance I do with his running around and coming back to check on me/see if I’ll give him a treat (I like to think the former but the truth is probably the latter). So he needs more cooling down.

After a snack break, we trudged up the slope on the side of Fan Brecheiniog, scattering sheep before us as we went. Rufus was great and didn’t chase them Probably because he was wisely saving his energy for the rest of the hike. As we climbed, the breeze died away and for a few minutes it was a lovely summer’s day. The views east to Fan Gyhyrich, Fan Nedd, Corn Du and Pen y Fan were splendid, with the peaks all in sunshine. We’ve done all of those several times and one of the things I like about Fan Brecheiniog is that once at the top, I can look east and west to see mountains and hills I’ve walked. It gives a sense of scale and place that can’t be experienced from looking at a map.

On top of the mountain, the wind picked up and despite the sun I had to put my gloves on as my fingers were getting very cold. We walked along the ridge line, fabulous views either side, until we got to the cairn at the pointy bit of Fan Brecheiniog. We took another water and snack break and Rufus and I indulged in some play fighting. I couldn’t believe that after the climb, he was still able to race off and then charge at me at full pelt, jinking at the last minute and turning to ‘attack’. I love watching him play like this as it’s obvious he’s really enjoying himself. Of course, so am I!

We went on a bit further as I wanted to take some photos of the Neolithic cairn on the top of Fan Foel. If your read my Nant Tarw blog (and if you didn’t, leave your apology and excuse in the comments box below) you’ll know that this is part of a complex set of monuments that make up a ritual landscape. But this cairn, at over 2,500 feet, is by far the most magnificent. It overlooks the whole valley and from here you could spot every other monument when they were complete. It must have been a fantastic experience to see this valley. Whoever was buried in this cairn must have had status.

We headed south from the cairn and instead of going back down to the lake (despite all the protests Rufus could muster) we went on to Fan Hir. A short detour but I was enjoying being on the mountain so much I wanted to make the most of the weather. I sat on a rock and drank in the views of hills and woods and ridges and streams while Rufus had a good look around.

Finally, we went back down to the lake. Rufus was there before me as usual and I spent ages throwing stones for him. Today, he wanted to catch them so he was leaping up out of the water, soaking me every time he kicked his front paws out to gain height. Suddenly it was time to go back tot he car. Darker clouds were coming in from the south west. Last time we were here, we got drenched, so I decided to to make for the car. By the time we climbed in, we were both tired but happy. It’s good to be back on top again. I’ve missed it.

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