Friday, 10 April 2015

Out and About before Oz

Over the 4 weeks since my last post I have been fortunate enough to enjoy largely good weather visiting some very special favourite places in Wales, catching up with good friends and planning further adventures for this year and beyond.

A couple of days on Offa's Dyke with Sarah and Liz saw early spring sunshine, empty paths and stunning views across the rolling border countryside before I walked and cycled in similar conditions in the Brecon Beacons.

I joined Jason and Hazel from Biped Cycles in Brecon (www.bipedcycles.co.uk) to check out a potential new route for the 2015 Brecon Beast Mountain bike event scheduled for the 13th of September - www.breconbeast.co.uk for full details. As this year's event is likely to include sections on land not normally open to the public it should be a true classic and will be deservedly popular so enter soon. We enjoyed good conditions and the tracks followed should add to the rigours of this remarkable but rewarding event. Any offers of assistance on the day for marshalling will be gratefully received - call Jason on Brecon 622296 for details as early as possible.

A superb walk along the Llangattock escarpment then dropped via a pub to the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal where I reflected on my early days post MI that first included gentle walks along its peaceful path over 3 years ago.


The Black Mountains north of Crickhowell provided the setting for a long day over 'Table Top' mountain and along the ridge before returning via the Hermitage. A helicopter was delivering jumbo bags of stone for path renovation over on Waun Fach and worked non stop in the distance gradually extending the line of what looked like headless snowmen.

My third day in the area involved walking over the Central Beacons to check the state of a track that will also form part of the Brecon Beast - it was in far better shape than the permitted path down the Upper Swansea Valley that follows the old Swansea to Brecon railway as a while back a large section of an embankment was washed away during heavy rain leaving the route considerably narrowed and a stretch of fence hanging in mid air.



Whilst in Brecon a group of us attended the Banff Adventure Film Festival where a range of titles entertained us culminating in the remarkable antics of Danny Macaskill on the Cuillin Ridge - very impressive and well worth a search on www.dannymacaskill.co.uk

After a night at the well kept Irfon River Caravan and Camping Park Sarah and I enjoyed walking the only section of the Epynt Way (www.epyntway.org) that I had failed to ride last summer, making good use of two cars to link the interpretative centre with the superb viewpoint above Garth via a meandering path that follows the SENTA perimeter.

The Hereford Caving Club meal was a sociable and jolly occasion and included an interesting pair of films covering vast cave systems in China and a more modest endeavour in the shape of a long running dig in cramped conditions in the limestone of South Wales.

After catching up with family in Bishop's Castle I headed to Sheffield for an early celebration of Penny's birthday and after our traditional curry we enjoyed a good walk in the southern area of the Peak District. Kelham Island in Sheffield was a fascinating museum telling of the city's industrial heritage and charting the rise and decline of its traditional heavy industry alongside more specialist skills - many of the latter seeing a revival in recent years although the city still has acres of derelict brown field sites that cry out for sympathetic redevelopment as an alternative to new build on the more rural perimeters.

With Easter approaching I again returned to Wales for some energetic badminton, a good walk on empty tops and alongside the Wye before the troops assembled in Lower Chapel for some serious mountain biking. Fortified by Jan's excellent cooking five of us headed via Abergwesyn and the Devil's Staircase to the Towy Valley for a long but rewarding day in the Cambrian Mountains.
We took the top track to arrive at Moel Prysgau bothy more or less dry shod but this proved to be a shortlived bonus as the next couple of hours up to Strata Florida entailed numerous river crossings and many long deep puddles in the mountain track which climbed steadily as we headed west.
A friendly bunch of off roaders gave way as we toiled under a strong sun before heading full tilt down to the Abbey where the small visitor centre offered welcome tea and biscuits. From Pontryhdfendigaid (that upset the spell checker) we joined the old railway line across Cors Caron bog and down to Tregaron - this being the location for last year's memorable horse rescue and this year being the location for a pleasant lunch in the sun.
Lungs almost burst as tired legs tackled the long climb out of Tregaron on the mountain road to Beulah but with such good weather we were inspired to turn north in to the forestry to return to Moel Prysgau bothy and then head back to the vehicles via the wet lower route that again entailed four river crossings and numerous pools - yours truly achieved two spectacular fails whilst in deep water so ended up drenched much to the amusement of a tired but happy bunch of determined riders  - big thanks to Dale, Luke, Bill and Pete for such an excellent day.
Back at base Briony and Tracy had encased a salmon in choux pastry over mushrooms and rice which rounded off a superb ride far from the Easter crowds which had by all accounts descended on the main Beacons Tops.
Sunday saw Luke off on his road bike whilst the rest of us parked in Abergwesyn to walk out to the spectacular cairns of Drygarn on a cloudless day. Feminine wile persuaded a local farmer to drop the drivers back to the cars which avoided a section of road - much appreciated after a good day on again largely deserted tops.
The final energetic blast centred once more on the Cambrian Mountains with three of us starting out from Soar Y Mynydd Chapel at the northern end of the Llyn Brianne. After a steep walk up an unrideable section we set off on the old RUPP which soon became divided by a deep erosion trench that in places was a couple of yards deep but rarely more than a foot wide. Thus our descent required care and concentration but we all safely reached the gate that led south following the remarkable Doethie Valley - mostly rideable, always stunning and that afternoon bathed in sunshine. We enjoyed the variety of track and terrain, lunched briefly at the ruined farmhouse and endured a steep climb over to the forest track that heads round the west side of the water from the dam passing a property once considered as a bothy project in the mid 1980's but now enjoying a new lease of life as a holiday home. The views across the reservoir were sublime and we returned to the remote and enchanting chapel after the third superb day in succession.



That evening I met up with Chris from badminton and his cousin who organises motorcycle adventure tours in Peru and within the hour we had both agreed to join one of David's tours - five weeks in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia starting in late October. As neither of us ride we will be travelling in the support vehicle and no doubt be heavily involved in the logistics and socialising - for me it will be a useful taster of a continent I have long wished to explore extensively. Whilst this means I am unlikely to return to the Langdales this year for the traditional early winter fortnight it will be a wonderful opportunity to make contacts and fits in neatly with commitments to farm sit in September and have a rare Christmas at home with family.

So what's next??

Well after a bit of quiet time involving riding the Gorllech trail in Brechfa earlier this week, walking in to Lluest Cwm Bach bothy and cycling in to Nant Rhys bothy (both of which were in excellent order) I have today been packing for the next adventure - 9 weeks in Australia beginning with a flight to Melbourne next Thursday.
It will be a challenging trip with limited opportunities to update the blog or communicate in any way but you should be able to follow our progress here and can catch up with photos here.

An approximate indication of our route is outlined below thanks to digitally advanced GPS mapping software - essential when out in the field.