After the usual chaos of squeezing people and possessions into cars, we headed off into the night. The amplitude of the topography increased, and its wavelength decreased, on each of the five motorways we took to the Brecon Beacons. BBC Cymru provided background babble, with no discernible theme other than having a chorus of welsh children singing whenever you least expected it, such as in the middle of what you thought was the news.
The convenience of a bunkhouse near a major road, the evocatively named head-of-the-valleys road, was countered by driving through an unpromising industrial estate. A small turn, over an old railway, and the road was a muddy lane – much more like a hillwalker’s normal roosting habitat. Our car took a scenic diversion to a farm, where we were barked at by a collie and beat a hasty retreat. Tyle Morgug, our destination, was hidden up an obstacle course of gates and speed bumps but was a welcome sight having already been warmed up and dealarmed by those who hadn’t joined in the massive stationary queue on the m5. The hut consisted of a cosy cottage, converted into a bunkhouse by bolting a tardis on the back, which provided plenty of space for everyone.
Saturday dawned reluctantly. Wales had laid on a carnival of cloud: sheets of stratocumuluses, cirques of cirrus, mountains of mist, houses of haze (?), acres of altocumulus. None of which could be seen due to the fortress of fog. After quite some planning, everyone concluded that the Brecon Beacons has only really got one ridgeline, and that every route went along it.
Those who went further down the planning-route and less down the mindless-determination-to-walk-up-the-biggest-thing-around-route realised that there wasn’t going to be any view and we were all going to get wet anyway, so they just walked out from the bunkhouse and stood under a waterfall.
The Brecon Beacons are made from Devonian-aged Old Red Sandstone, which showed ripples of some long lost tropical sea or river or something. A series of cwms was cut from this rock by glaciers to make a sharp north-facing escarpment. Unfortunately, my group were spared from a lecture on glacial geomorphology by the fog. This also hid the spectacular view over the middle bit of Wales which doesn’t really have any purpose but looks quite nice from a distance.
The wind was on the chilly side but not icy, just cold enough to switch off one’s fingers for a bit. It was fast though, providing an endless stream of fog to look at. The occasional sheep would briefly loom into view, the fog obscuring all scale, so that the sheep might be mistaken for something interesting. But we didn’t see anything interesting all day - the wildlife-list is as follows: 1) Raven (Corvus corax), 2) Sheep (Foglumpus aries).
We did see some humans trying to rescue a springer spaniel from halfway down a cliff, but we couldn’t actually see the dog because of fog. Oh, and we met a cow by the car at the end. And one of the other groups. Alfonso summed up how any sane person would feel about the walk: “I enjoyed the last 20 minutes”. Most, I think, however, enjoyed all of it. The evening was spent studying the gospels of Chris Townsend, planner extraordinaire; playing Rummikub; holding onto the hot stove handle; cooking some foglumpus intestines to celebrate a Scottish poet (one even more famous than Chris Townsend); drinking whiskey to celebrate Chris Townsend; and, for those of a more serious persuasion, going to A&E. Some of us (3) even thought about planning a walk for the next day, others (19) thought about going to a pub, a distillery and a dismantled railway. The first two for the sake of enjoyment, the latter because it guaranteed no hills.
Sunday dawned worse than Saturday – the waterfalls appeared to have escaped from their raviney confines, and overnight had bred vigorously, multiplying everywhere. Strangely the downpour didn’t encourage people to join the one hillwalk. With the bunkhouse tidy, we went off into the fogbyss. I assume the pub walkers survived, but have no idea, so I’ll talk about the deeply exciting county top of Carmarthenshire instead.
Located on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons, just north of the black mountain which isn’t part of the black mountains, Fan Foel (802m) is the highest point of a county which combines the pointlessness of mid-Wales with the inaccessibility of Pembrokeshire to such a remarkable extent that no-one has ever heard of it. Its highest point isn’t even a peak – it’s the shoulder of another hill.
Our walk started straight into the wind. At some points it stopped raining, at others it stopped drizzling but never both at once. After 2-3 km of bog-trotting on reasonably solid bog, we took a surprisingly well-made path up to a hill which is called Carmarthen Fan on the road atlas but had an even longer welsh name on the OS map. The top was foggy. We descended to the north, from foggy Breconshire into merely misty Carmarthenshire. After clinging to the summit, we continued north. Featureless fog-bog lead to a rather idyllic welsh farm, where we had tea and lunch. Blue sky appeared – most likely a mirage brought on by the sheer volume of water in the sky. A few miles of foresty tarmac, on which we saw one car and then we were at that car, which was where we had left it.
We three had a spacious drive back, reaching Cambridge after about 4 hours. We dumped club kit in the store-garage and went home to dry off.