24th August 2007 – Pandy to Hay-on-Wye – 18 miles
I’d asked for breakfast at 08:00, the earliest they could offer but I had to go and find the chef at 08:15 when he had still not turned out – he was asleep in bed. The full English/Welsh was excellent though, but I’d rather have had the extra 1/2 hour walking. The chef gave me a bespoke packed lunch – there are no shops or any other habitations between Pandy and Hay-on-Wye – included in which was a bottle of water he’d had in the freezer overnight. This would have mostly melted by lunch time, providing a nice cold drink on what would prove to be one of my hottest days walking in the UK.
With an eye on the weather and the lack of facilities, I loaded my Platypus with a full 3 litres, when lunch was added my pack now weighed well over 11Kg.
I’m sure I would have enjoyed today, even with the heat, if I wasn’t so tired and drained from the last two days. 19.5 miles on day one with 3200 feet of ascent and 20.5 miles on day two with 2500 feet of climb had pretty much worn me down. I had certainly not trained anything like hard enough for this trip and combined with the hot weather and the heavier than usual pack, I was really suffering.
Today was scheduled to be 16.5 miles, but my tracklog says it was actually closer to 18 miles, with about 2500 feet of climb. Although the majority of the ascent is completed within the first 4 miles, the path continues to climb gradually for another 8 miles. Unlike the previous two days there is no hope of any respite from the sun, in fact no shade whatsoever after the second mile.
I got great views of Ysgyryd Fawr (The Skirrid), a very pointy hill on the outskirts of Pandy, as I climbed out of the village on lanes and fields towards Hatterrall Hill. Even at 09:00 it was warm and muggy and I rolled my trouser legs up to my knees in a vain attempt to reduce the sweating down below. I was thankful for my decision to pack my sun hat and this provided the only shade of the day – and probably allowed me to complete today’s walk.
Once the short section of lanes and fields is negotiated, the path follows open heaths and moorlands along the edge of the Brecon Beacons before dropping off a high bluff, down onto low open pasture land and into Hay-on-Wye.
I reached the first of four trig points after an hour and I could see the path curling away in front of me for many miles, little white dots of sheep against the purple heather and green bracken. After a short while I passed Llanthony Priory, way below in the Vale of Ewyas and ten minutes later, the second trig point of the day.
The path is still waymarked, even on a ridge where it would be hard to go amiss in the worst weather imaginable. These waymarks are impressive tombstone-like blocks, engraved with the national trail acorn and pointing to destinations that lie off the track to east and west. There are also several cairns along the way to assist in navigation.
I tried to limit myself to only occasional sips of water, but the heat was becoming oppressive and I found myself again becoming obsessed with the amount of water I had left. I stopped once or twice just to check the level in my Platypus – I resolved not to use it again – its more bloody trouble than its worth!
I passed a small herd of hill ponies, with young foals, cropping the grass on either side of the main track. They paid me scant attention, unlike the local flies. Once a fly has buzzed close enough and homed in on me, it would circle my head and face incessantly for several minutes before losing interest and buzzing off. One particular fly stayed with me for 45 minutes, driving me to despair. I must have looked a proper sight, waving my hands around and dancing about trying to shake it off. Eventually I gave up and sat down on the exposed concrete plinth of trig point number three. It was still a bit too early for lunch, but there was no guarantee of another seat until Hay Bluff. Once I stopped and sat down, the fly buzzed off to bother a sheep and lamb lying near the trig point.
The frozen bottle of water was still mostly ice, but it had at least served to keep my lunch cool. I ate part of the ham baguette, feeding the remains to the ewe and her lamb and probably thereby storing up trouble for the next set of walkers to come this way. I opened the bottle of water, to drink what had melted and as I twisted the top off, the contents exploded all over me. The damn fool chef had frozen a bottle of sparkling water (another one with a “still” label on it). I enjoyed my cold shower though and after a few minutes, I pressed on.
I declined the opportunity to make a 3.5 mile detour to the trig point on Black Hill, in favour of arriving an hour earlier in the pub! On the approach to Hay Bluff I met my first walker of the day, coming along the path towards me. We exchanged brief greetings, but I was unable to agree with him when he offered that is was a great day. I had unfortunately paid the price for rolling my trousers up. I could feel the backs of my arms and legs, exposed to the sun all day long, beginning to burn. I rolled the trousers back down, but the damage was already done. The only way to protect my arms would have been to put my fleece on, which would have been madness in heat like this, so I just suffered.
The trig point at Hay Bluff is called Pen-y-Beacon and it sits on a fine raised platform of stone. As I approached it a lady arrived and jumped up onto the platform and just stood there. I waited patiently, with my camera out, trying to get a photo of the trig, but she just stood there looking at me. In the end I lost my temper and asked her to move so I could get a shot of the pillar.
Normally I would have lingered at Hay Bluff, it’s a fabulous place with views for miles and miles. A couple were sitting by the path at the top of the bluff and they invited me to sit a while, “you look like you deserve it” she said. I explained that if I sat down, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get up again. I’ve never felt so utterly drained. I ached all over, my arms and legs were burning, I had a banging head-ache, probably as much from dehydration as anything else, my feet were sore and I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to make it to Hay-on-Wye, never mind Prestatyn.
I took the more gradual of the paths down the face of Hay Bluff, passing dozens of day trippers coming up the other way. The car park far below was absolutely packed with dozens of cars and…. wonder of wonders…. an ice-cream van!! Para-gliders were flying off the north western most tip of the bluff and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Except me.
For me, the inconceivable had become more than conceivable – I wanted to quit. I’d had enough. I was still 5 miles from Hay-on-Wye and I was utterly shattered. By the time I got to the car park at the foot of the bluff my legs were like jelly from the effort of descent. I couldn’t even face an ice-cream. I walked along the road for a short while and found a rock to collapse on. I was fairly sure I couldn’t do another day. By the time I reached Hay I would have done 58 miles and about 8500 feet of ascent in three of the hottest days I’ve ever walked in.
I rang Christine, I apologised and begged her come and collect me. She was very good about it and said she would leave straight after work and pick me up as soon as she could.
The next five miles into Hay remain a bit of a haze, lots more lanes and fields, lots more stiles and finally the second-hand book capital of England. I rang the B&B and cancelled. I gave some excuse about injury and received undeserved sympathy from the landlady. I found a public toilet and locked myself in a cubicle. I changed from my sweaty walking clothes into my evening clothes, washing as best as possible with the little water that remained in my Platypus. I then found a nice cool pub and ordered a coke with plenty of ice.
I had two or three hours to kill before Chris arrived, so I browsed some of the book stalls and had another couple of drinks. I had pie and chips from a chippy and ate them sitting on the tables outside. This was how Chris found me when she drove into town. So ended my Offa’s Dyke walk, defeated by many factors, but mainly by myself.