Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Emerging From Winter

An unusually long gap between posts largely reflects some major changes in my lifestyle - whilst still predominantly occupying the trusty old van that is now approaching 320,000 miles and still provides cosy and reassuringly comfortable accommodation I have also been spending time in northern England and exploring new areas, revisting old favourites and still taking adavntage of the stunning variety of scenery across mid Wales.

A challenging pair of muddy rides in a rain soaked Wiltshire tested our skills and endurance but it was, as ever, good to explore new routes and catch up with friends although our departure from near Brecon was almost thwarted by a heavy fall of snow that transformed the farm yard and buildings.
Dyrham Park near Bristol is undergoing major refurbishment work but its extensive parklands still provided a good walk and extensive views across Bristol.

Back up north I joined the Halcyon Walking Club on a route around Castleton that included Mam Tor and reminded me of many happy times caving in the area thirty years ago.

As part of celebrating Mandy's father's 80th birthday we visited the National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham where over 800 models spanning the development of the motorbike were presented in perfect condition. It was very moving to see Graham transported back to his youth when these very machines had been a source of pleasure and adventure.

Returning south we walked the impressive Pontsycyllte viaduct near Llangollen before calling in on Mum who is still safely and cosily ensconced in her new home although a nasty fall in the village rather shook her confidence and sensibly a stick is now the order of the day when out and about.

We were heading for the comfortable accommodation provided at Nannerth near Rhayader in their Granary which made the base for a good wintry walk over to Lluest Cwm Bach bothy whose door as ever was proving troublesome. Otherwise all was well and after a sheltered lunch headed south to the dam wall to pick up the track east over the tops. The weather turned quickly giving us a demanding walk in snow across to the mountain road from where a more sheltered bridle path took us back to the cottage.

The following day we cycled round the Claerwen reservoir with the intention of reaching Claerdhu bothy but my chain snapped a couple of times which delayed us a little allowing us only enough time to glimpse the remote buildings from the track. However it was a stunning ride as was our final one on the last day which saw us complete the Elan Valley circuit giving a good view across to LCB and the awesome sight of all the dams overtopping following the heavy winter rains. That evening we sat outside under a starry sky in the newly installed hot tub - a truly memorable experience.

Late February saw me visiting most of the central Wales bothies to check their condition prior to the bi annual Area Meeting that I would be unable to attend. Most had withstood the winter well but again a small minority of mindless users had left rubbish, damaged fixtures and caused issues that could lead to the loss of these very special places. However the publicity surrounding the MBA's 50th anniversary last year has led to a surge in membership so with luck the influx of more responsible and respectful visitors will ensure that the less desirable elements will be deterred.

A Canadian visitor to our bothy in the Black Mountains was very appreciative - I met her on a real cracker of a day when I was giving my newly acquired carbon fibre mountain bike its first real test - a long high loop over Waun Fach and down the superb track to the Hermitage. It took the steep rocky descents in its stride and the 10kg weight made for a fast and responsive ride in superb conditions. Up above the ridge a pair of gliders soared in the sunshine whilst at ground level a substantial path is being built to counteract the erosive power of many pairs of feet on the soft peat.

The bike was a replacement for my 4 year old KTM that has seen a lot of use in largely demanding conditions and needs a few new bits and bobs - these will be fitted in due course as it is the bike I plan to use for our attempt on the Hadrian's Wall cycleway starting in west Cumbria and finishing on Tyneside. A return on the C2C is a possibility with the event taking place in late June.
Three of us walked in to Moel Prysgau to remove some rubbish and were able to pinch a lift across the swollen river in a Land Rover whose occupants seemed to have little idea of where they were or where they were going - indeed with no accompanying vehicle their solo descent of a substantial washout seemed foolhardy at best.
A trip south of Brecon gave me a chance to catch up with friends near  my old haunts - Ian's woodland camping is a continuing success and Paula has now seen the back of her horse box dweller.
Later that week I joined Mike at Nant Rhys to repair some snow damaged guttering, paint the interior walls and investigate the source of a water leak - this turned out to be a cracked upper window sill so can be easily rectified with lead flashing at a later date. A quick trip to LCB with Martin and his son saw the recalcitrant door eased once more and the stove doors reinstalled with their new glass before I took off for sunny Sheffield once more and walked with Penny. 

My 56th birthday in early March revolved around the Brecon Beacons with a combination of good walks and rides in the company of good friends.

On our journey south we visited dramatic Raglan Castle before enjoying the BANFF film festival in Brecon where one of the more original films followed a lad parcouring on the Isle of Man.
We enjoyed a quiet field with excellent shower facilities behind the Ancient Briton pub in the Upper Swansea Valley which also provided an exceptional meal in the great company of Tony and Sylvia.
Friday saw a 40 mile round trip down to the Mumbles and back on Sustrans routes - our reward being a good Italian at Verdis and views across the Bristol Channel to Somerset. Up at Jans we embarked on a snow bound walk above Llangorse over Mynydd Troed before that evening she produced an excellent meal, entertaining birthday card and sumptuous cake - thank you VERY much Jan as always.
Sunday saw a group of us on a wintry ride round the tracks and trails of Crychan forest before we headed south once more to the Ancient Briton from where we explored the waterfall country of the southern Beacons around Ystradfellte and took in the tour of the Welsh Whisky distillery at Penderyn which provided a fascinating insight in to the production of this elusive spirit.

Back up north once more we drove over to just south of Buxton to enjoy the cycling on old railways that cris cross the White Peak. From Sparklow the High Peak Trail took us right down in to Cromford after which lanes took us round Carsington Water to pick up the Tissington trail north of Ashbourne and return after over 40 miles of delightful riding - 11 labrador pups in a sunny garden were perhaps a notable highlight.
Next day we took a friend and her dogs on a good walk with her sophisticated off road chair coping admirably with the rough path as we climbed above the woods where her son and friends have created a network of challenging downhill trails.
In Sheffield we attended another adventure film festival - this time it included a film made to publicise locally built AirDrop bikes in which Mandy's lad and his mates played starring roles.
Sunday saw a group of us walking above the Snake Pass on Kinder Scout in beautiful weather - the rocky outcrops provided good shelter for lunch with outstanding views.

Nipping across to York I collected Mum who had been visisting her sister and then called in at Keighley on the way back to vist another of her friends - heavy traffic on the M62 meant a slow return but at least the late night drive back through mid Wales proved the worth of the new headlamp loom upgrade I had fitted to the van during a recent service.

Over the last week or so back in the Brecon Beacons I have clocked up a couple of hundred miles on the bike - a loop above Talybont and back over the Gap Road under clear blue skies was followed by a thrash along the Sarn Helen and a cold return past the Storey Arms before attending a talk on the vernacular buildings of Powys at Brecon theatre. A walk on Saturday was aimed at breaking in a new pair of boots before next month's trip to Scotland and three of us repeated the Gap Road ride on Sunday encountering above Pontsticill an illegally off roading Land Rover well and truly impaled on a large ash tree. On the Sunday night we were kept very much entertained by Mark Beaumont whose talk about his endurance cycling around the world included some remarkable statistics - 500 miles in 37 hours.......??
An easier day on Monday took me on old Roman tracks above Myddfai and the Usk reservoir but yesterday saw a much longer undertaking, the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal providing an 83 mile round trip to Newport which left me ready for bed at 8pm last night.

So Easter sees me in Yorkshire again, then a quick return south for a follow up to a recent blood test - a cholesterol level of 4.3 is encouraging so I should be raring to go for an April to be spent largely in Scotland that might include a trip to Mull for a bothy work party.

Later in the year I am looking after the farm near Brecon and in mid June assisting with and presenting at the HUBB 2016 event near Clyro - this should be a really good event for all those interested in travelling around the world, more details in my next post or just go to Google.

Photos from the last 10 weeks sit here.

Locations here.


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