My head was definitely a little fuzzy when I stirred on Saturday. It had been twenty to one in the morning when we had finally got back to the tents, and with a couple too many beers, the writing was on the wall (or it was for me, anyway!).
I had come all the way to the beautiful Brecon Beacons, in South Wales, and I just couldn’t shift myself.
Shaun had left about seven; off on a mountain marathon training run of twenty or so miles. Richard, Sarah, Jon and Jo had met up at eight at the cafe in Talybont, and set off up Pen y Fan around nine. Me; I procrastinated in my bag until then, made my apologies for not coming, by text, and then got up for a leisurely walk to the cafe for breakfast.
This was typical of my attitude this summer. With autumn just around the next corner, I can say that it has definitely been “aestas horriblis” this year. My head has been constantly full of work stuff, and, despite this being the first week where I felt the tide had turned, it was still going to take a while to switch off.
Beans on toast and a coffee later, I made my move for some semblance of exercise. With the day looking to be a gorgeous one, I picked up the Taff Trail, out the back of the Star Inn, and set off at a respectable pace.
A straightforward route, this section of the Taff follows the southern shore of the Talybont Reservoir, gradually rising up from the valley floor. It’s a wide thoroughfare, through forestry, and popular for mountain bikers. Occasionally, you are afforded a view down into the valley, a couple of hundred metres below, and across to the hills that hide the “Fan’s” that people flock to. Despite it’s popularity with bikers, I only saw half a dozen, at most, and I had the trail to myself.
I reached the car park nestled below the steep staircase to Craig y Fan Ddu in a couple of hours. I had a choice of routes; High, Low, or Middle; High would make a long day of it, climbing up to follow the edge of the plateau across to Carn Pica, before descending back to the reservoir. Low would be an unadventurous trudge along the road back, whilst middle would mean exploring the forestry tracks along the southern base of Gwalciau’r Cwm and Allt Lwyd to the east. I chose the latter.
Once again, I was alone. I’ll admit, it wasn’t a route of stunning vistas, but on a sunny day, it was shady and sheltered from, what I was later to be told was, a stiff breeze on the tops.
I motored on, happy with my pace and progress; my late night hadn’t affected me as much as I had feared.
I finally stopped for lunch when I had descended to the reservoir wall, about two-thirty. I half expected to get a view of the others gingerly picking their way down from Carn Pica, along Twyn Du. It turned out, they were a lot further back, and wouldn’t reach there for another hour or so.
Across the reservoir, I turned left, back onto the Taff Trail, to retrace my steps back to the village. I inadvertently took the wrong track almost immediately. After a couple of hundred metres, my path was blocked by a gate with no right of way. Rather than turn back, I saw a faint break in the foliage, to my right, that suggested others had made the same mistake and taken this off road route up to the trail proper.
Very soon, the terrain steepened and became progressively muddier. I was eventually into a slippery scramble, kicking in steps to ascend a tricky section, and nervously testing tree roots for hand holds; how I could have done with an ice axe, right now! My first route was too precarious. I had visions of one slip and never being found in the undergrowth; even my SPOT GPS Messenger would have been little use as it had no clear view of the sky. I picked my way down a couple of metres, and tried another option, hugging a large tree as I shuffled around it. It wasn’t elegant or pretty, but it was effective!
When I finally saw a signpost through the bushes, a metre above me, I was relieved, but the level ground at head height, before me, was carpeted in nettles. There was no other alternative, the only way I was descending would be on my arse, so I had to accept the risk of stings and hoist myself up into them. I was lucky, only taking a few hits to my legs, before stumbling out onto the track.
The last couple of kilometres were busy, with a constant procession of mountain bikers peddling furiously up the rocky path; I’ll never understand the mentality of this masochistic activity. I can see the appeal in the downhill rush, but there would have to be a cable car option to the top before I would consider it!
I was back at the campsite around four-thirty. 15 miles in 5 hours, I had maintained a pace of nearly 3 miles an hour, even with the breaks included, so for a steady plodder like me that was pretty good going!