Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Boggy days and Bothy nights

Having dropped coal at four of our five proposed overnight stops three of us met up at Glangwy campsite where the hard working owner Sue was dealing with early lambs but nevertheless found time to welcome us. The van provided a place to dine well and discuss the week ahead and early the following morning we were away after a rogue shower heading across to the first of many planned minor tops : Cerrig Gwaun y Llan. Leaving phone and wallet behind as neither would be of much use I followed the others along a stock fence that had dry marram grass neatly woven in to its strands by the strong winds of the past few months.
Good navigational skills from Chris put us on the various summits including Pen Lan fawr and Esgair y Llwyn as we tracked SE towards the Elan Valley bothy, lingering above the Cwmystwyth road to enjoy the sunshine before dropping down to the old slate mine that was probably the source of that building's original roofing material.
The reborn bothy provided a welcome end to an excellent first day and we set to to light the stove and cook evening meals - a pack of brazil nuts left by a previous occupant were largely devoured by yours truly and punishment came in the form of alarming stomach cramps for most of the night.
Thursday dawned dry and bright and the stove was coaxed in to life - the bothy would benefit in due course from a sub division as the large open space was difficult to heat and would be chilly in mid winter but for now the team of volunteers will be soldiering on with the repointing of all internal walls with the next push possibly scheduled for the Easter weekend - watch www.mountainbothies.org.uk for details or contact me directly for an update.
The contouring path round to the Craig Goch  dam soon had us warmed up and as we tracked across to the Claerwen dam picking up another summit  (Craig Dyfnant) en route we spotted a small newly roofed building in the distance that might merit further investigation. A fast descent on our backsides brought us to the waterside track and me to the realisation that I had mislaid my Thermarest way back up the hill - given the strong winds it was unlikely to be retrievable so we trundled on following a fast flowing stream up the Afon Arban with many a boggy section. The final mile or two across to the forest edge at Carreg Wen Fawr proved hard work as the bridle path marked on the map is non existent and the tussocky bogs were harder still thanks to our full packs - a persistent hailstorm added to the endeavours and we were pleased to reach the firebreak which marked the final section of our 19km route. I was reminded of the last time I followed that route in the 1980's on mountain bikes when a friend and I were forced to ditch the bikes as they were slowing our progress, leaving us to return for them the following day. Indeed we arrived at MP bothy after dark which made finding the coal I had hidden rather tricky as the trees assumed very different identities in the glow of a head torch. However the elusive bag was finally unearthed and we enjoyed a very cosy night as a covering of snow fell. I used spare clothing to replace the lost mat and was surprisingly comfortable and enjoyed another of the Aimless Idiot's Moroccan couscous concoctions.


Friday morning started with a session up the Towy track towards Strata Florida that involved a couple of river crossings before we cut through the forest to higher ground and a surprisingly snowy vista. In the distance lay a tin shearing shed and after crossing a large bog and spotting half a dozen geese we entered its airy interior for a sheltered lunch. The sun emerged during the afternoon as we headed north to Dibyn Du and the others picked up a phone signal to check in with family - I had been reporting in by the Spot device anyway - before we dropped towards the distant Teifi pools. Whilst following a sheep trod I stepped on an unassuming patch of ground and was instantly up to my waist in a small but very deep bog - fortunately due to the earlier snowy conditions I was in overtrousers so remained dry and was able to extricate myself immediately after which the ground reformed to await the next victim. Llyn Egnant looked sublime as we reached the road head and Chris recounted his fly fishing exploits of a previous visit.

The warm sun as we approached the bothy brought out the best in this wonderful area and showed the well maintained building in a truly warm glow. Our coal, food and gas stash was recovered and I was delighted to find an army style camp bed available that would provide me with some comfort. The old range was lit and cooking began using the Belling gas stove kindly supplied by the Elan Valley Estate. Another evening of joking and laughter was interrupted by the arrival of a couple from Aberystwyth Uni. - I think the lass was perhaps somewhat new to the scene sporting as she did a pink duvet, pillows, hot water bottle and slippers.
They retired to the rather chilly spare room despite our friendly overtures and by 10pm we too were up to the other wood panelled sleeping accommodation where my camp bed proved disappointingly unsatisfactory as it creaked noisily every time I moved and being off the floor provided no insulation giving me my coldest night of the trip.
The weather continued to hold as we walked north again passing Llyn Fyddon Fawr that would merit a return in summer with a tent  and reached our most memorable top (Domen Milwym) that provided a sunny and lofty spot for lunch. Surprisingly given the boggy nature of much of this part of mid Wales finding a good source of water for a brew proved tricky but eventually billy's were boiling as we surveyed a panoramic vista covering we estimated some 500 square miles and looking back across much of the terrain we had covered over the last few days.

A gradual descent in to Cwmystwyth led to a meeting with a rather lively horse and its rider whom we met twice more as we climbed out towards the Hafren forest stopping for lunch by a stream after a steep climb out of the village. A couple of hours through the woods, partly on a local long distance footpath brought us to our overnight accommodation where fellow MBA members and volunteers had been hard at work on the annual maintenance of NS bothy. A new latrine pit had been dug and the Ty Bach installed which was duly christened - aligned in accordance with the skills of the engineers of Pisa it provided a useful amenity and added to the sophistication of one of the more quaint of the Welsh bothies. That evening saw useful and productive discussions regarding the condition of our existing bothies and commitment to the new project in Snowdonia - the Speaker ruled with fairness and diplomacy over the unruly front benchers and as ever we are very much indebted to the efforts of our very own Mr T the Welsh Area Organiser. A welcome appearance was made by the MBA Chair who had travelled down from Scotland but quite a few made an early start on the Sunday morning as a motor rally was closing the access tracks from 08.30.
Thus we left a depleted but committed workforce to carry on painting and fettling -  Mike decided to opt out of this last stage as his knee was playing up so Chris and I headed north towards the distant wind turbines of Cefn Croes. Up at the head of the valley we took shelter at the foot of a turbine and cooked up lunch whilst a variety of classic rally cars roared past - their presence and the first real rain of the trip persuaded us to leave Banc Dolwen for another day and we were soon pulling another bag of black gold from its hiding place adjacent to NR bothy. The bothy snug soon warmed up and we were joined later by Mike who had retrieved his car from Glangwy for a final evening of mirth and merriment giving us a chance to dry out our waterproofs, review the undoubted success of the last few days and sleep soundly on our last night out in the sticks.
The final morning saw an easy stroll down to Glangwy and we went our separate ways after one of the most enjoyable trips I have undertaken recently - much of this was due to the great companionship of my two co conspirators but also the quality and availability of the bothies, unexpectedly good weather and the superb mid Wales scenery - the entire walk remained within the borders of OS Sheet 147.
Since then I have returned to Coventry with plenty on my 'to do' list - the dishwasher has been repaired, the van's rear brakes fully overhauled and progress made on a number of fronts regarding the family.
A diesel leak on the old girl requires specialist attention but assuming that this repair is completed on time I will be heading down to West Wales this weekend after a brief foray to Shropshire although at this stage it looks as if my planned journey north of the border will be curtailed if not cancelled. However everything is rather fluid at the moment so watch THIS SPACE for my whereabouts and CLICK HERE for the photographic account of last week's exploits.

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