Because I’m still struggling with broadband and/or computer issues that hindering the frequency of which I am able to upload blog posts, I’ve decided to produce a ‘weekend review’ of the early May Bank Holiday break that is now (sadly) behind us.
I’ve had a great weekend and have clocked in more than thirty miles in less than three days!
The Black Mountains
I’m really beginning to love this part of Wales. Much less likely to attract the crowds heading to the central Brecon Beacons. Yet inherently close to the border with England – a small portion even resides within Herefordshire.
This long walk was an opportunity for me to reach summits I had only previously see as names written on the map and also, to have yet another crack at Offa’s Dyke and Hay Bluff.
From the Blaen-Y-Cwm car park within Mynydd Du Forest, I climbed up to cross the cairn-laded ridge of Chwarel Y Fan, to descend in to the Vale of Ewyas for the very first time.
It was here that I would briefly discover Capel-Y-Ffin, while encountering a pair of foreign travellers looking for guidance on how to reach “The” Black Mountain… Within the Black Mountains range.
Following this was an unforgivably steep climb up to join the Offa’s Dyke long-distance path.
Honestly, I stopped maybe half-a-dozen times on the way up. I felt almost sick on several occasions and I reckon the entire climb took the best part of a whole hour.
Sticking to the ridge-path in a north-westward direction, I must’ve passed close to fifty people! I’d never seen it so busy up here.
Then, as I reached the trig point at Hay Bluff, not only had the crowds dispersed but the views surrounding me were panoramic. At the fourth attempt in seventeen-months, I reached the summit of Hay Bluff without cloud, rain, 40mph or knee-deep snow!
I then crossed the Gospel Pass to climb Lord Hereford’s Knob [or shall we stick to Twmpa?] for the first time. From there, I would continue on to my second trig pillar at Rhos Dirion – the highest point of my seventeen-mile long circuit.
Back on Exmoor
I’d not been walking on Exmoor since August 2016, would you believe! I often think of it as being ‘too far away’ and yet, it’s drive-time from my home is comparable to that of the Black Mountains, the Brecon Beacons, Malvern Hills and even Dartmoor.
I am concerned by the fuel consumption (and cost) of two long drives in one weekend but, I certainly do no regret it.
It started with the capture of the trig point on Shilstone Hill; a few hundred metres of where I’d parked my car; almost abandoned beside the B3223 road.
Walking east, I was destined for Doone Country; practising my navigation and contour-recognition skills along the way. After an hour of walking the moorland, I welcomed this opportunity to descend in to a combe.
At the bottom, I met Badgworthy Water. A truly beautiful area. Popular with walkers of all abilities and worthy of a few minutes’ rest.
One of the other reasons I’d been avoiding Exmoor also goes hand-in-hand with an excuse for dodging Dartmoor: I don’t particularly enjoy the views of endless moorland walking.
There were only two stretches of this walk that I found difficult, in this respect and they both occurred within my westward return journey. First, it was the never-ending trek along Lanacombe, where even the bridleway had decided it couldn’t face the prospect and left me treading through lumps of thick, dry grass.
This was followed, across the B-road, with an impromptu lunch stop where many tiny flying insects had invited themselves to join my picnic (more of my ‘guests’, further down).
From Pinkery Pond (which looked far more attractive here, than beneath the drizzle of my only previous visit), I could attempt to rejoin the route of the annual Exmoor Perambulation, which is due to take place again next month. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to make it but I’ve always wanted have a second opportunity.
This route’s early stages are laden with ankle-deep bog, soon to be followed by steep sided valleys which have to be negotiated (ie. sharply down and then straight back up). I was walking ‘off piste’ by this point, as the route doesn’t follow a public right of way. But, in Open Access Land, I was pleased to find the route remains permissible.
Exmoor, to me, is like a scaled-down version of Dartmoor… Which I’ve still yet to visit or explore. Except, every now and then, you encounter a road. Much like on the Quantock Hills to the east.
This past winter has been so long and gloomy, I’d forgotten about the pointless flying insects that like to feast on our flesh. In and around the area of Exe Head, where I stopped for a late lunch, I could see clouds of them, level with my own head.
It was almost as if they were preparing to fashion a ghostly human-form – just like the machine’s “face” at the end of the third Matrix film…
There was an opportunity for me to bag a second trig point of the day at Chains Barrow… Beyond the gate above, midges were all over the pool you can just see. But, even before that, the action of opening the gate was a challenge, as the “mud” beneath the water’s surface was up to my ankles before I’d walked too far. Then, there was the smell…
I’ll have to save that trig for another day and maybe pack a paramotor.
With temperatures above and around 20°C all weekend, it was essential for me to carry a good quantity of liquid. On Saturday, I had around 1.5lt of water plus a 0.5lt flash of tea… This was barely enough and so, I upped the game to 2.0lt of water on Sunday, plus a 700ml bottle of water and a second spare bottle to remain in the car.
So many times, I passed natural water sources on each of these walks. Close to each spring, stream or fall, I could feel the coolness that no hydration bladder, bottle or flask could ever retain.
Therefore, I’ve made a decision to invest in a water bottle with a filter. This would allow me to drink fresh, cold water from such sources. I may even be able to carry less liquid on a hike (depending on where I go) and shave a few kilograms from my shoulders.
Although some may argue with this, I’m not confident in drinking any water that hasn’t sprung from a tap. When you water running down a mountain and springing forth from a pipe, it’s hardly the most appetising of sights, is it?
On Saturday, I met a Welshman from Pembrokeshire who talked about his own wild camping. This is something I’ve never actually done but would like to try, if only for one night. It’s another reason to buy that water bottle as well.
I imagine most people would look for an accessible source of water, along with decent ground on which to pitch a tent or tarp. Well, close to the dam that divides Grwyne Fawr Reservoir, I saw the potential for both! Only, this patch of land is probably too exposed and open to the passing public.
Wild camping is only really allowed on parts of Dartmoor and areas of Scotland. Legally, we have no right to camp anywhere else, unless it’s a designated camp site or, we have the landowner’s permission. ‘Stealth’ is a word commonly found on YouTube!
Another idyllic spot may lie beside Farley Water on Exmoor, which sits in the valley beside Pig Hill and not at all far from where I parked on Monday. There are decent patches of flat grass beside the water and I can’t imagine it attracting as many visitors as over in Badgworthy.
A pretty marvellous weekend, if I do say so and I just about managed to evade the dreaded sunburn. I’ll have full blog posts on this walks and many others in good time.