Anthony Pease suddenly finds himself with two free days ahead of him (bliss), so he makes a spontaneous decision to pack up and head out for a wild weekend in the heart of the Brecon Beacons
I walk through the door to be greeted with those words that are like honey being dripped from a spoon. “I am away next weekend with the girls, will you be okay?”
“Oh,” I replied. “I will cope, I am sure I can think of something to do.”
Before the conversation continued I had already texted my friend Dave to see if he fancied a couple of nights wild camping.
I have wanted to walk the Beacons Way for a while now, unfortunately like many of us the day-to-day commitments of work and family make it hard to justify taking a few days off to become a wandering nomad through the Welsh countryside. It then dawned on me, why don’t I walk it in stages? Luckily for me I live on the edge of the park so it isn’t that much of an issue to gain access to any part of the route.
It is easy to come up with excuses as to why we can’t commit to our ambitions or tick-off those all-important bucket-lists, passing blame to our hectic lifestyles or family commitments. Yet one or two nights away can be achievable by most, surely? This brings us on to the new craze of ‘micro adventures’ of which there are many great ambassadors – all filling pages in blogs and columns in magazines, telling us how easy it is, and that you could have an adventure at the bottom of your garden or local woodland.
With all this hype floating around it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of an outdoor adventure, sleeping under the stars and walking miles of remote hillside and valley floors with only your thoughts and the views to occupy your time away. In the days leading up to this micro, I slowly start spreading my kit all over the dining room table and admiring what I have collected over the years. I tried hard to single out only the items I would need for this two-day hike. I have been playing in the great outdoors for many years and have amassed a fair amount of equipment and toys that in theory should aid my experience. That being said, you don’t need expensive gadgets and equipment to ensure you enjoy a night or two out in the wild. Of course you must pack sensibly and for the conditions you will encounter but don’t rush out to buy anything until you know it’s something you may use again.
The Friday evening soon arrived and it just so happened that my wife was driving through Brecon for her weekend away. After forcing our bulging rucksacks into the car we were gratefully dropped off on the side of the A470 below Craig Cerrig Gleisiad in eagerness to start our journey home. From here it was about 50 kilometres of mainly off-road hiking back to where we live – so the plan was to walk around 10 kilometres on the Friday, 20/30 kilometres on Saturday and the remainder on Sunday. This didn’t go to plan though… that’s the best thing about these small adventures though, plans are there to be broken, targets can be moved, as long as you are outdoors and having a great time it just doesn’t matter
We hiked about seven kilometres after leaving the car to the most amazing viewpoint which looked back over the lofty summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du and down the valley towards the bustling town of Brecon. It was too good a view to appreciate – yes, we could have pushed on for another hour and put another few kilometres in the bag but sometimes it’s about the location and what you will see when you wake up that’s important. The only downside of this spot was a lack of drinking water, but after we set camp I managed to find a spring on the hilltop. Unfortunately the runoff was a little dirty, but in preparation for this we had between us purification tablets and a water filter. Hot chocolate and morning coffees were back on the menu.
In the morning we packed down, ate, rehydrated and as always, thoroughly checked that we hadn’t left behind any traces of our camp. The plan was to follow the Beacons Way, as this ultimately would take us to the Carmarthen Fans, our planned camp for the second night. Some of the route was over sparse hilltop and moorland which was blanketed in low cloud for the best part of the morning, this reduced our vision to only a few metres. I had already uploaded the route onto my phone via the Viewranger app and of course we had trusty maps and a compass with us. So when the visibility dropped we were more than prepared and were able to stick to the planned route. It is always important to have maps/ compass and either a GPS or phone-based navigation app for these moments. As without them navigation would be almost impossible and to be honest potentially dangerous.
Local knowledge also played into our hands and I had already earmarked a pub near the Dan yr Ogof show caves for a civilised lunch and maybe a beer or two. I know we are talking wild adventures here but it’s always worth checking along your proposed route for any shops, pubs and public facilities, as you never know what you may have forgotten or may need. In this case we didn’t rely on this stop but it sure was welcome! From there we headed back onto the Beacons Way and onto Llyn y Fan Fawr which became our camp for the second night. A friend that had been following our progress via Twitter decided to meet us that night at the lake which turned out to be rather handy as this meant we now didn’t need to walk the last section home on the road.
That night was perfect, the skies were crystal clear and the light pollution as you can imagine in this part of the world is incredibly low. The sun set, stars sparkled, the Milky Way appeared over head and then around midnight the moon rose to light up the landscape with an eerie but beautiful light. With well over 35 kilometres in our legs and carrying heavy rucksacks all day this was to be a great night’s sleep under the stars. With a coffee in my hand I watched the sunrise over the surrounding landscape and with the other two fast asleep I really did have this view and moment all to myself.
Eventually we repeated the pack down of our camp and headed back to the car which cut out the last few kilometres of road from our route.
What an adventure and what an experience, and all of this was no more than a 20-mile drive from home. In the end we had most of Sunday to ourselves so still with an empty house at home I headed out mountain biking just to cap off what had been an amazing weekend.
Words and pictures by Anthony Pease