Just a little bit further

Yesterday was the last decent day, weather-wise, that would fit in with my training plan. I intend to wind down in the last week, concentrating on gym/cardio/aerobic exercise in a controlled environment to minimise the risk of injury. So Rufus and I headed out to Fan Llia. I had an idea that we’d walk Fan Llia and Fan Dringarth and then drop down to the east side of the Ystradefllte reservoir to make our way back to the car.

At the stile, Rufus struggled a little to get over so I gave him a helping hand. I may have helped a little too much, or he may have slipped but the next thing I knew, he was going head over heels to land in the mud on the other side. I jumped over but by the time I’d got to him, he was up, shaking himself down and wagging his tail. I kept an eye on him but there were no limps or winces, and we climbed steadily through mist and wind to the cairn on Fan Llia. There was a little drizzle but also a little sunshine as the clouds blew rapidly across the mountain. By the time we’d reached Fan Dringarth, the cloud was lifting again and there were large patches of blue sky.

Much to Rufus’ surprise (as he knows our normal route north well) I turned west to head down to the Nant y Gasseg and Nant y Gwair streams which join to form the Afon  Dringarth which feeds the reservoir. He was confused for a moment, and then he spotted the river, and there was no stopping him. I had to watch where I was stepping because of half buried rocks but every time I looked up, there was a small black shape bounding towards the water. By the time I reached the river, Rufus was wading and waiting for me. I threw stones stones and a stick for him to chase and he was a happy dog.

This little valley, Cwm Dringarth, has signs of habitation going back hundreds of years if not further. I saw the remains of sheep folds and other rough drystone structures. There were obvious and not so obvious flattened platforms that once formed the base of dwellings for those farming in the valley. It must have been a bleak and hard life in the valley, although it;s likely that the climate was a little better and, of course, the reservoir wasn’t there and so access would have been much easier.

The going along the side of the valley was tough for me as I had to avoid the river itself and negotiate many little streams that had cut deep into the hillside. I seemed to be climbing up and down all the time, while Rufus used the riverbank and riverbed to make smooth progress. Walking on a slope was hard too; my feet were always at an angle and my left leg was slightly lower than my right. Between us, we managed to make our way along the valley, through mud and bog, until we reached the reservoir.

It was fenced off, which was very disappointing for Rufus who looked longingly at the water through the railings. But eventually, he realised a dip was not to be and carried on, only occasionally glancing across to see if there was a convenient gap in the fence. Streams coming down from the hills were in full spate after the rain and they had cut deep channels in the soft earth. Each had places where sheep had created crossings, but slipping and sliding down and back up again was hard going.

Eventually, we reached the dam at the head of the valley, and this was where in the past I’d crossed over to start the long climb back up to the cairn on Fan Llia. This time, the plan was to head on south, climbing more gradually as we went. By now, the blue skies we’d had for a while were beginning to cloud over again and with the prospect of more storms in the afternoon, we were at the right part of the route; nearly at the car.

False summits can be demoralising if you aren’t expecting them. I had an idea that the summit of the ridge ahead wasn’t the final one and I was right, so it wasn’t too disappointing. But as we got to it, the rain started. Light at first, it became heavier as we reached the real summit and started the last stretch down to the car park. Here the going was treacherous, with saturated ground beneath my feet running with water. I know from experience that this is slippery so I was very careful as I made my way down. Looking up, I saw Rufus disappearing into the reeds in the distance. I wasn’t worried but I wondered if he’s get lost and I’d have to call him to the stile. I decided to cross the fence early, at a point where some inconsiderate farmer has chained a gate shut. As I stepped onto the wooden platform leading to the gate, my feet went from under me on the slimy wood. I fell sideways to my left and managed to tear a fingernail off, bend another one back as I landed on my left hand. I lay on the wood and in slow motion, Rufus’ lead (an extending one, with a big plastic reel) flew around and hit my forehead. I may have sworn.

Giving up on the gate, I made my way down to the stile, where Rufus met me and proceeded to show me how crossing a stile should be done. Back home, we were both tired and when I checked the route, I found we’d walked 10km and climbed 400m, which was more than I had estimated. It was a good final workout for me, and judging by the near constant tail wagging during the walk, an enjoyable day for Rufus.

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Four Tops

It was odd not being woken up by Rufus this morning but I still managed to surface around 6am for breakfast and I was leaving the house just after 7 for the Llia valley. Today was the first of the longer walks I have to do as part of my Kilimanjaro preparation and it would be a bit too demanding for Rufus, who manages to cover about 50% more distance than me when we’re out. I know he would complete the walk, but he ‘d be too tired at the end and the strain on his joints wouldn’t be good for him. The last time I did this route was the day before I realised I had to cancel the last trek, so it was quite important for me to get this one under my belt.

The route was to climb up out of the Forestry Commission car park onto the ridge of Fan Llia, follow it around to Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and then on to Fan Fawr before dropping down to the Ystradfellte reservoir and the final trudge back to the top of Fan Llia. I estimated to would take about 6 hours and would be a good test of fitness with plenty of ascending and descending and lots of rough ground to strengthen the ankle muscles.

The weather forecast was grim – high winds in Wales and rain coming in around 11am. I’d be half way around by then and the walk had no easy escape routes should the weather get too bad. And I’d left my waterproof trousers at my friend’s house – thus guaranteeing the heaviest rain of all.

I drove through the first of the rain showers and on the the car park. As I got ready to start, I could see that all the tops of the hills were covered in mist and it was still quite dark. There was a light rain in the air. My main concern was the mist as two large sections of the walk would be across featureless moorland.

The first part of the walk was a straight slog up the side of Fan Llia. It usually takes around 45 minutes to climb the 260m and get to the cairn and today was no exception. In the mist, I took a slightly new route but I’m familiar enough with the area to know where I am and the cairn appeared in the mist as expected. I continued along the ridge in the mist for the next 30 minutes, following a rough path. Although the visibility was poor, I knew that the route was flat, so any unexpected descent would mean I was veering off track. On Fan Dringarth, the clouds started to lift as the wind picked up to a constant blast. For minutes at a time, my route became visible for perhaps a mile ahead, only to disappear again as the cloud came back down.

At the end of the ridge, I stopped for a moment to get my bearings and check the map. I was on target and actually moving quicker than I had planned. I turned eastwards and dropped down onto the first of the moorland sections. Mist came and went and I kept checking on my GPS to make sure I didn’t head off in the wrong direction. By the time I had climbed up onto Craig Cerrig Gleisiad the cloud had lifted completely and I could see my lunch break stop – Fan Fawr – over the the right. A line of cloud covered its summit, but I would be stopping in the shelter of some rocks lower down on the slope.

Walking across the moor between me and Fan Fawr, the wind was blowing into my face and buffeting me. It made progress harder and rather than being a relatively restful 45 minute stroll, I found myself leaning into the wind and using my walking pole to stop me being pushed off track. My back pack acted like a small sail, too, which didn’t help. When I got to the shelter of the rocks, I was glad of the break from the wind. As I sat and ate my corned beef pasty, I could feel the skin on my face tingling.

Over to the east was Corn Du and Pen y Fan, and for some reason their summits were clear of cloud. I was conscious of the incoming rain and so I set off again for Fan Fawr as soon as I’d finished eating. Now I was walking directly into the wind. My eyes began to water and I put my head down and pushed on. Although the slope wasn’t great here, pushing against the wind made the going hard. I passed a tumbled down stone shelter. It had interior walls and I guessed it was more than just a sheep pen; rather a temporary dwelling for a shepherd.

After 10 minutes I came across the path leading up to the top of Fan Fawr. By now the cloud had lifted completely and as I turned on to it  I spotted blue sky above me. It was great to see and lifted my spirits. Which is exactly what I needed, as the path up to Fan Fawr was muddy, slippery, steep and seemingly endless.

But it wasn’t endless, and I knew I’d reached the top when the wind took on a new ferocity and pushed me onto the flat summit. By now, the cloud had lifted completely and rather than the rain I was expecting, the sun was shining, and the sky was clear. I could see down to the Storey Arms and the start of the route up to Corn Du I had walked last week, across to the Beacons reservoir and back along the way I had walked. It was a completely different day in terms of the weather. I took a few minutes to enjoy the views before turning into the wind once again. I was most definitely on the last leg of the journey now. I was facing back towards the car park with only the Ystradfellte reservoir and Fan Llia in my way.

The short walk  across the top of Fan Fawr took longer because once again I was battling the wind. But as I began to drop down to the reservoir it started to die down and after another 15 minutes I was walking along a gentle slope in calm conditions. Eventually, the slope steepened and for the last 10 minutes I was leaning heavily on the walking pole to help with the descent. I dropped 360m to the reservoir; ahead was a steep climb back up to Fan Llia.

I bent my head down and set a slow and steady pace up the steep side of the hill. 30 minutes and 235m later, I was at the cairn again. By now, the wind was as strong as it had ever been, and the clouds carrying the rain – mercifully late – were bearing down on me. I turned south and made my was as quickly as the muddy conditions would allow back down to the car.

I just managed to avoid the rain, which started as I was driving away from the car park. I was tired and aching, but feeling good. All the gym work I had done had paid off and I had a renewed sense that I was on track with my training.

This is the route I took. 

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Weather the whether

Snuffle, snuffle, low grunt. Bark.

Time to get up, then, and after a brief garden run and breakfast, off we went to the hills. Fan Llia this time, for a slightly longer walk in the clouds. Sure enough, as we left the car park, the grey mist was descending to hide the tops of the hills and after the recent deluge, the ground was like a sponge underfoot. Within five minutes, my boots were soaked through despite their proofing, and a few minutes after that, my feet were soaking.

This route has a particularly awkward stile right at the start and I always try and get to it before Rufus to give him a helping hand over it. I was over first and Rufus took a run but slipped on the wet wood. In slow motion, he slipped backwards but landed on his feet and with little encouragement from me, he had another go. This time I caught him as he got to the top of the stile and I managed to bring him over.

From then on, it was relatively easy going. We splashed and slipped along the vague path and soon found ourselves in the clouds. The rock cairn loomed and Rufus, as usual, beat me to it. After a few minutes rest and some snacks, we carried on along the ridge. The wind was gusting strongly and before long, the rain started. Fortunately, it was being blown from my back and so the backpack took the brunt. Every so often, the clouds would lift and we’d catch a glimpse of some landmark in the distance. The Ystradfellte reservoir popped into view and then disappeared again, the road along the Llia valley flashed through the mist.

Soon we were making good progress with the wind at our backs. In the distance, we spotted a pair of walkers coming towards us. They were jogging and clearly part of some race. Not long afterwards, we spotted several more pairs, most of whom were consulting maps and heading across our path. None seemed dressed for the weather.

We walked the length of the ridge, over Fan Dringarth and on to Cefn Perfedd. I wanted to do 10km and three hours so once we’d reached the empty sheep pens, it was time to turn around.

But now we were walking into the wind and the going was tougher. Rufus is quite aerodynamic and with his ears blowing back in the wind, he was fine. I felt every gust and, shortly after, every drop of rain that was blown in my face. The slog back to the cairn on Fan Llia was long and hard and there were no great vistas to make the experience worthwhile, I was reduced to convincing myself I’d benefit from this on the trek.  We passed more runners, all heading down towards the road and eventually the cairn came inot view. ASfter a brief stop, we set off for the car.

Heading down the side of Fan Llia, I found out how slippery the water had made things. It was running down over the grass in sheets, which made it almost like walking on ice. I was reduced to walking in the bed of a small stream, where the stones gave me some purchase. Nevertheless, I slipped and slid down to the marshy ground and the stile. Rufus, with four paw drive, had no such troubles. He cleared the stile in two bounds and waited while I struggled across.

We walked into the car park, where an errant sheep jumped out in front of Rufus. It actually brushed past him and while he went to chase it (instinct takes over whenever anything runs away from Rufus – me, the cats he shares the house with) One call from me stopped him in his tracks. I was so pleased with him as he doesn’t really have any control over that instinct. As a reward (and in addition to the treats he got) we went down to the river where Rufus washed his paws in the fast flowing water. I was cautious as the river was in full spate so I didn’t throw stones for him to chase but no sooner had I turned my back to take a photo than Rufus had managed to get himself on to a little island in the middle of the river. Marvelling at his swimming skills, I was disappointed to watch as he skirted the deep, fast flowing parts and found a shallow bit to tip toe across to get back to the bank!

Back at home, there was much snoring and sofa surfing.

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Back on track

It’s less than 10 weeks to go until I leave for Tanzania and the trek to Kilimanjaro. I’m behind on my training schedule thanks to a couple of injuries. So this weekend I have to make an effort and pick up where I left off.

It’s too hot for Rufus to do any long walks at the moment; he insists on wearing his fur coat everywhere, and he tends not to take things easy. So today when I set out, I was on my own. It was odd not to have him in the car and I found myself looking around to see if he was okay only to see an empty back seat.

I parked at the Blaen Llia car park and set off up the path to Fan Llia. The sun was shining over the tops of the trees as I crossed the river on the wooden bridge. Someone had fixed two bunches of flowers to the side, presumably to remember a loved one who was no longer with them. It’s a lovely place and ideal for such a memory. Across the stile, there were sheep everywhere and they scattered as I walked through them.

As I started climbing the hill, the sun disappeared behind a cloud. Ahead, I could see mist crossing the Llia valley around where the standing stone is sited. I deliberately took my time and tried to keep my pace slow. A breeze blew but it was warm and the walking conditions were just comfortable. I reached the top of the hill after about 45 minutes and was slightly alarmed to see dark rain clouds ahead. I’m always wary of thunder storms when on the hills. Having been caught in one on Ilkley Moor several years ago and only just getting back tot he car before the lightning started, I’m on the look out for them. There had been a warning of isolated storms possible; these were dark enough that they might cause me problems. My plan was to turn left and descend to the valley if I saw or heard anything.

The breeze picked up on the ridge and the air was humid, but the clouds moved away to the west and I carried on heading north. I was fully expecting rain though, as the cloud cover was complete. I looked over to Fan Nedd and saw that it was in bright sunshine. So I decided to drop down into the valley and climb it.

I crossed over Sarn Helen but my route today lay in a different direction. I was crossing open moorland and it was hard going. There was no path but more than that, there were a lot of birds rising as I walked along. I had to be careful not to step on some well concealed nest. So I made my way slowly until I came across the modern road.

After a brief rest, I set off on the path to Fan Nedd. Disappointingly, the sun was still hiding behind the clouds. It’s funny how I missed Rufus on this part of the route. We’ve done this hill so often that I associate various landmarks with him. The stile is one he clears with no trouble, but he always waits for a treat afterwards. There’s a rock about half way up the hill and when I reach it, Rufus is posing like a great explorer, looking over the valley below, while waiting for me to catch up. When we near the top, he disappears over the lip of the hill and a few seconds later, his head appears as he checks to see if I’m coming.

The sun started to appear between clouds and when it did, is was instantly warm. But between those moments, the atmosphere remained humid and heavy. It wasn’t pleasant walking. Dropping down off the Fan Nedd ridge, I was heading towards another pathless section. This one has large tufts of grass and hidden dips and hole that are just waiting to catch an ankle. Given my recent luck with injuries, I was most careful where I stepped.

Just before I reached the road again, the ground flattened out. There were a lot of sheep there and as I arrived, they ran in all directions. Across the road, hundreds more lay basking in the sun that had reappeared once again. As soon as they saw me climb over the stile, they gave a chorus of bleats and stampeded away down to the river.

I did just over 7 miles in four hours today, climbing more than 500m in the process. It felt good to be back on track.


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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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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.

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Llia, there and everywhere

4.30am garden patrol. Rufus did the checking. All clear, weather good.

I climbed back into the luke warm bed and had a think about where to go this morning. When I woke again to the damp nose of a cocker spaniel eager to get going, I’d had one of those strange, quickie dreams – this one was about climbing Kilimanjaro. While a last minute flight for both of us to Tanzania was out of the question, it put me in the mood for a hill.

Fan Llia is a long ridge rising from the Llia valley running roughly north to south. On the opposite side of the valley is Fan Nedd and Fan Gyhirich. Nestled at the northern end of the valley, near the summit of the road, is Maen Llia, an ancient standing stone that seems to mark the route ahead, as it is aligned with it’s longest edge pointing down the valley. The climb from the car park is relentless but not steep. Unfortunately, the going at the bottom of the hill is very damp, with lots of little trickles of streams flowing down and creating small but awkward ditched to cross. Once you get above a certain level, the ground is much firmer underfoot and so I always try and climb quickly at the start, which makes the route a little tougher than it needs to be.

Rufus and I left the car park at about 8.45am. Two young people (I think one might have been male but it was hard to tell with the hair cut) were in a parked car at the far end. They were trying to look as if nothing was happening, which made it seem as if I’d disturbed them. We left quickly. We didn’t want to spoil their fun. Whatever they were up to it only lasted another 10 minutes, as I heard the signature roar of the boy (or girl) racer tearing off up the road.

We got above the marsh quite quickly and then it was a reasonably rapid march to the ridge and on to the stone cairn. The clouds were beginning to clear as we reached the first stop. In the distances, remnants of mist were trapped in the dips of the surrounding valleys. The cairn isn’t at the highest point of Fan Llia so we set of uphill once more, passing the summit a few minutes later. All around me were my favourite mountains. To my left, Fan Nedd, Fan Gyhirich and beyond them, Fan Brecheiniog and Fan Foel. To my right was Fan Fawr and poking out from its shoulder, Corn Du and Pen y Fan. The sun came out and blue sky dominated the heavens. Even the chill wind stopped.

We walked on for another mile or so, passing ponies and horses grazing on the mountainside. I hadn’t decided where to go from here so we stopped again and had a think. I’ve  wanted to go around to Fan Fawr from here but this would double the distance and time, so we deicided instead to head down to Sarn Helen, the old Roman road through the valley. The drop down was tough underfoot – there were lots more of the little streams and the lower we got, the deeper their ditches became. Finally we dropped on to the road, which was rough and rutted by the streams. But it was easier going than the hillside. It undulated and twisted as it climbed up to enter the valley again, and at points I could see some kind of man made intervention to try and smooth out the surface. I doubt is dated back to Roam times, but this road served as the only route through the valley for many centuries after the Romans left and it was more likely to date back only a few hundred years.

Just before the old road met the new road (which follows the line of the old road for most of the valley), we left and kept to the bank of the River Llia so that we would be in the right place to cross the stile and get back tot he car park. But that was several miles and many stones would have to be thrown into the river before we got back.

Rufus ranged far and wide as we went back, but always popped his head up to make sure I was okay every now and then. He scrambled up and over the stile and then we were back in the car park. But it was far too early to head home, so I dumped the back pack in the boot, grabbed a tripod and we went off to follow the river south for a while. I got some nice infrared shots of the river and Rufus chased sticks I’d thrown for him.

Back home, my coffee went down well and as I’m typing this, there is the just a hint of snoring coming from the sofa on which is a tired dog.

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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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