Our walking calendars finally aligned, allowing us to meet up for a weekend of walking, camping and catching up. After an incredible exchange of emails and GPX files, Matt (@hillplodder) and I had decided on Wales, specifically the area around New Radnor which offered a huge haul of trig points and summits for a paltry 17 miles and 4000 feet of ascent – a pretty good return in my books. Because of Matt’s work commitments we could only start on the Saturday morning, and due to the distance from both our homes it was a late start by both our standards.
So it was that I sat beside the impressive Cornewall Lewis Memorial tower, watching Matt pull up a little further along the road. With minimal faff we were off, along the road a short distance and then onto a quiet lane that led to the hills.
The weather was supposed to be dry, windless and mostly warm, without the powerful sun of the last few days, which was a blessing. As such I’d decided to go with a water resistant soft shell rather than my Paramo jacket and immediately began to worry if this was the right decision when it began to rain as we reached The Smatcher, the first hill of the day, a mere 30 minutes from the car. Here we found a trig point, beside a beautiful Sycamore tree and with a fine view of the surrounding hills.
The shower was short lived and that was the last rain we saw, it was also pretty much the last water we saw too, even though the early part of the walk was quite agricultural. We followed invisible footpaths through long grass and along a network of confusing farm tracks, looking for stiles that often weren’t there and soon reached what I considered to be the gateway to open country, the other side of the A44 at Pont y Nantau. We climbed up through the forest and found a pleasant spot, with only a few black flies, to spread Matt’s ground sheet and have lunch.
Revitalised and feeling the pull of the path we heaved ourselves up Nyth-grug, possibly my favourite hill name in a long time, to the trig point on the summit. The sheep were thick on the hills here and all the fences were covered in wool, from where they scratch themselves. Many were already naked, having been recently sheared, but some still held on to their tattered winter coats. The views from the top were expansive and we could see our path ahead laid out clearly. We cut down the hillside, across patches of neatly cropped grass and thin heather, heading for the scar we could see on the other side of the valley. I was already looking for somewhere to top up my water, but the streams we had expected to cross here, were all dry and a donut shaped reservoir didn’t look very appealing.
My outdated 1:25k scale OS map didn’t have the obviously recent extension to the Warren Plantation on it, so we ended up following a narrow sheep trod up the side of the forest, rather than the probably shady path we could have used through the trees. We appreciated the views though, which showed us broad open moorland ahead, climbing steadily towards Great Rhos, the highpoint of the day. The only people we saw for the whole weekend, appeared below us on a track, riding a string of ponies, out for a trek.
I loved Great Rhos, it was my favourite of all the hills we did this weekend. It’s accessed by a thin path, on springy, dry peat, through low heather and grass, with cotton grass waving gently in the cooling breeze on the summit. The top is wide and open, with huge views all round and has a fine trig point on it. We sat, our back to opposite faces of the pillar, on the plinth that supports it and took a rest. We shared Matt’s Jelly Babies and soaked up the thin sun.
All too soon we were off again, across another stretch of heather, to meet a desolation of trees. On Matt’s previous visit he had walked along a shady path, beneath a canopy of leaves – now we walked beside stumps and the felled remains of thousands of pine trees. We speculated on why loggers leave sporadic, lone, often branchless and apparently dead trunks standing amid the surrounding devastation. Were they markers for future plantings perhaps? Or some sort of bizarre in-joke? The views at least were unimpeded now and we got a good view of Black Mixen, with its huge transmitter mast.
Coming out of the other side of the felled forest we could look down on our next target, a mostly still intact blanket of trees on the summit of Fron-wen with forestry tracks snaking around and across it. We used these tracks to find the summit, which was right on the track itself and didn’t require any sort of off-piste exploration or heather bashing. We used the same track to drop down, through the forest to our proposed camp site for the night.
Matt had used the green field beside Rhiw Pool last time and it look idyllic in the afternoon sunlight. We circumnavigated the small pond and found a good spot, overlooking the water, with our backs to a row of trees. Tea was brewed with some of the last of Matt’s good water, tents went up and I went off to look for a spring I could see on the map. I was getting pretty desperate for water now, I didn’t have enough for the evening, never mind for tomorrow too. The search was in vain – if there was a spring, I couldn’t hear it, or see it and it was at the bottom of a deep ravine, filled with brambles, nettles and bracken. If I’d seen or heard it I would probably have had a go, but I wasn’t going to get myself cut to ribbons for nothing.
I returned to camp to see a slightly smug Hillplodder, who to be fair to him, didn’t say “I told you so”, but he certainly looked like he was thinking it. We both looked at the pool and resigned ourselves to less than sparkling water! The water in the pool, which has neither inlet nor outlet, was rank, it was also home to millions of tiny creatures and many much bigger ones. I filtered about three litres into my dirty platy and it still looked like it needed a sieve, but I trust my filter and after reassurances from Matt that it would be fine, we returned to camp to make tea.
I’m still standing and I wasn’t sick, so the filter must have worked fine, the meal I rehydrated with the water also tasted great – a LYO Pork meal from Basecamp foods washed down with one of the bottles of beer Matt had thrust into my pack back at the car. I was glad I’d carried it though – it was the perfect accompaniment to the meal and the perfect chaser for the cocktails and whisky that was to follow.
I was a little disappointed that the tiny ice packs and the thermal sleeve I’d used on my bottle of pre-mixed Vodka & Coke hadn’t kept it as cold as I’d have liked, but once Matt sliced his lemon and we chinked our Barbie cups together we soon polished it all off. The sun set behind us and the alcohol in my system suggested that a visit to the nearby TUMP summit was a good idea, despite there being at least three barbed wire fences between us and it. I led the way and scaled the first of these easily enough but at a rather high-pitched squeal I looked back to find Matt impaled on the top row of barbs and before helping him escape I managed to get a quick photo of his predicament. That sight sobered me a little and the thought of five more scrambles over crotch-threatening obstacles effectively put the TUMP out of reach. I’d have done it for a Dewey!
We had spent about 10 hours chatting non-stop at this point and were still catching up over Matt’s whisky when the midges started to fly and once they became too much to bare we decided to turn in. It was a warm night and I slept reasonably well, even with my air mattress and its four hour puncture, which means I have to re-inflate it at least once in the night.
The prospect of long drives home and the promise of chicken dinners for both us if we got home early enough, meant we had a relatively early start, up around 6am and walking for 7:40. We skirted the edge of the forest, before huffing and puffing our way up the steep track, amidst clouds of biting black flies back to the top of The Riggles. Ahead we could see Black Mixen – in fact you can see the transmitter mast on the hill from pretty much everywhere on this walk – we had considered camping here, but it’s a bit industrial what with the mast and the supporting buildings and I’m glad we didn’t. The half dozen white vans and cars and similar number of tents also suggested it could have been a bit crowded and noisy. The occupants of the aforementioned were pulling down their own transmitter masts and packing them away – some sort of amateur radio group we guessed.
We bagged the trig point and the summit and headed off through the cotton grass on a thin track heading for our next summit. I had no idea what was coming! I can safely say, without any prevarication that Great Creigau is the worst summit I have ever bagged. We reached an iron gate, locked of course, scrambled over it and into hell. It’s only about 200 yards or so from the gate to the summit of the hill and there’s very little height gain, but the terrain is dreadful. It’s full of deep ruts, hidden by knee high heather and that awful tussocky grass that doesn’t allow you to balance properly. There are deep holes, filled with crocodiles… well, okay that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the impression and what’s more – it’s only a bloody xN – a deleted Nuttall for fecks sake! I was surprised at Matt for making a repeat visit – he’d done this before and here he was, following me across this bloody hill. I waited for him at the point the GPS identified as the summit and then headed back. I was a bit quicker, I think it’s the long legs and the determination not to spend any more time than I needed to on this bloody hill. I got back to the fence and encouraged Matt with Jelly Babies – the power of which must not be underestimated!
After Hell Hill we descended through fields filled with sheep, their shit and shed wool and began the long steady ascent of Bache Hill – the final hill of the day as it turned out and another little cracker. I would rather walk 10 miles up this sort of gradient than revisit that 400 yards of torture on Great Creigau (Matt figured Creigau was Welsh for ‘steaming pile of faeces’ as that was one of the only reasons why it would have the word Great in front of it).
Another 4 point penalty for Matt as he refused the fence at the foot of the final climb to the summit of Bache Hill – he went looking for a stile while I literally stepped over the only fences we found that weekend that wasn’t topped with barbed wire! I cut through the heather up to the huge mound that supports the summit’s trig point and enjoyed the breeze and the views and waited for Matt. The view included the rather dispiriting sight of Whimble and its steep slope, leading from the path we were going to use. It was supposed to be an out and back to the summit and I pretty much decided at that point that I wasn’t going to bother. Matt had bagged it already, so there would be no pressure from him and I was thinking of my chicken dinner and my legs!
There’s a lot of sheep in Wales and if they could find a market for sheep shit they’d probably qualify for a seat on the G8 – we descended through fields thick with the little woolly feckers and richly fertilised with their by-products. We used first a farm track and then forest paths, dense with summer vegetation to descend through the plantation beneath Whimble and we were soon back in the village. We missed the heat of the day and I sucked my Platypus dry as I approached the car – perfect timing or what!
We said our farewells and began our long journeys home – one much longer than the other – I got home, took the family to the local carvery, had a nap and updated twitter with our exploits while Matt was still struggling along the motorway, fighting tiredness and traffic.
You can see Matt’s version of events here: Hillplodder.com