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We cross Crickhowell Bridge and are soon on a level path across pasture but this abruptly turns very steeply uphill under trees and over loose rocks. It is quite a pull till we arrive in the open. in what seems a little grassy maze. Charl disappears down one of the paths and returns saying, “There’s a bench through there.” It seems such an odd place to hide a bench that I don’t believe him till I actually see it. Must be time for a tea break then.
We continue upwards though not quite so steeply and on a grassy path so this is much easier although we are now in full sun.
Soon after we start, I feel a sting on my wrist. I look down and the culprit is still there - a very large horsefly. I knock him off and the little devil has actually drawn blood. I wipe the blood with the finger of my other hand, turn it over to look at it and there he is again ……….. sucking on my other wrist!
There is a glorious view from the top as we walk along a ledge through what is now a nature reserve along an old tramway route. This used to be the LLangattock quarries
We keep an eye out for the path down and it is just as well we do as it could be easily missed. It is a great path, rocky and winding and arrives at an area of springs and swamps. In this dry year it doesn’t pose too much of a problem but I imagine in a wet spell it could be a nightmare.
We reach the road and it is a bit of a plod to the junction at the top where we have to cross the moor. We decide to have lunch on the common beside the road in a shady, grassy knoll. My bites are now really itching, not only at the wrist but up to my elbows. I can’t believe they are causing me so much grief when all that can be seen are two pin pricks.
We need to bring all our (meaning Charlie's) navigation skills into operation to cross the moor. The weather begins to deteriorate. It is quite windy and overcast. This seems to happen on cue when crossing an open moor. We have to make for the trig point so take a compass bearing and head off. It begins to rain in large, summer drops. The sky becomes black and then we hear the inevitable thunder. I see the lightening. I feel quite exposed but decide not to think about the odds on lightening strikes.
We see a blip on the horizon. Is that the trig-point? Yes, it is. Good navigation, once again, Charl. The wind gets under Charlie's poncho and with the triumphant grin on his face, he looks just like Mr Happy when I take a photograph.
So far so good. From here, we have to find the chartist cave. I try to imagine a cave on a flattish moor and, whilst thinking about this, I nearly walk past it! It is indeed quite a substantial cave. Charl disappears inside. He has a penchant for caves that I don’t really share. He persuades me to go in. The back of the cave is covered in little ferns. Well, it’s out of the wind for a smoke break, anyway.
From here we find the the tramway down. It gets steeper and steeper. The weather gets worse and worse until the rain is coming down in bucket loads. There are trees on either side. We duck under, hoping the worst will soon be over. It eases off a little and we get going again. It is extremely slippery underfoot and the rain water gushes over and down the rocks. I am amazed when three four by fours come down the tramway!
Nearing the bottom the sun puts in an appearance again and we arrive at the road. We are surprised to find a campsite at the bottom. We were going to continue to Talybont but the prospect of drying out now and getting some warm food inside us is too much of a temptation. We stop here.
We knock on the farm door but there is no answer apart from three sheep dogs that snap at Charl’s heels, so we put up the tent. From the arrangement of logs on the camping field, it looks as if there has been a bit of a ging gang gooley going on.
I put on plenty of bite cream before settling down to sleep and I notice tiny blisters forming around the bites. My arms are itching so much they keep me awake for a great deal of the night.
The road is flat at first and then starts to undulate. A pick-up truck comes along. We step aside and wave as he passes. He pulls up and asks if there is anywhere to camp around here as he would like to take his boys camping at the weekend. I direct him to the campsite we have just left. I say it is very basic, just a field in fact and he says that is just what he is looking for. He asks where we are going and I reply that we are going to Crickhowell as we have a bit of an emergency and hold up my arms. He says he is just going to pick up some portaloos and he will pick us up on the way back ……. and sure enough, this is what he does. Well, how fortunate. Coincidentally, he was picking up the portaloos at the site we just left. Strange though, we didn't see any. They must have been hired for the "scout" group. I get into the truck beside the driver and Charl gets on the back, with rucksacks, portaloos and all. He is balanced very precariously and has the added problem of preventing the sacks from falling off. We have to take the mountain road as the main road to Crickhowell is closed for some reason. We go up and over, round many tight bends and as we swerve round each one, the driver checks that he still has his passenger on the back. He talks about his family and he knows the name of every hill and mountain in the area. It seems that having to make a pick up here has brought back old memories and he wants to introduce his boys to the hills. What a luxury it is to sit and travel. Ten days back-packing and a car is suddenly transformed into new technology.He drops us off directly opposite the pharmacy in Crickhowell.
I go in and show the pharmacist my arms. He asks me various questions. When I tell him I only got bit yesterday and this happened overnight, he raises his eyebrows and says "hmmm...". He prescribes anti-histamine tablets and tells me to see a doctor if the swelling doesn’t subside in twenty four hours.
Well, while we're here, I might as well pop into the bakers! I buy some custard tarts and walk down to the campsite past the pretty row of houses that I meant to take a photograph of the last time we were here. It is hot. I can’t be bothered to get the camera out and can only think of the throbbing of my arms. I have to go back for shopping later. anyway. I’ll take one then.
Charl puts the tent up on his own. My arms are hot, achy, itchy and numb. We have tea and custard tarts and I take an anti-histamine tablet. I do the washing, with some difficulty, and get Charl to wring it for me. I go back for the shopping and realise on the way that I have forgotten the camera again. This is surreal. How many times have I passed these houses now. I’m beginning to think that if I don’t take a photograph of them soon, I will never leave Crickhowell!
on the bus
We wake early and plan the day. We need to recharge the phone, find out times of buses back to Talybont to resume the walk and we also need to know what time we have to get off the site.
My arms are not so itchy this morning and the swelling has gone down a little. I go over to reception. The woman there is very helpful. She says there is no hurry to leave the site and she will recharge the phone battery for us. She is going out but will leave it on charge and should be back around 2pm. There is no direct bus route to Talybont but we can get a bus along the A40 and walk from there.
We walk back into town to the information centre to find out the times of buses and where to catch them etc. The man in the information centre is also very helpful and we chat for quite a while. He makes a note of the bus times for us and the bus stop is directly outside the centre. As we are walking up the road the man runs after us with a Brecon Bus time table which he says may come in useful another time.
I have remembered the camera!
It is still very hot. I buy a melon for my lunch and also can’t resist some cakes from the bakery - again!. Charl decides on a pasty. We also buy a good meal for tonight. We are travelling in style on the bus so needn’t worry about the weight. We take the opportunity of a cup of coffee in the bakers. I’m having withdrawal symptoms and who knows where the next one is coming from.
We go back to camp. I finally take the photographs and feel very relieved as it is beginning to feel a little like “groundhog day”.
We sit in the shade and have lunch. The melon is great, just what I need in this weather. We strike camp and sit on the verge to wait for reception to open. I while away the time with a crossword and the woman arrives at 2.30pm. We were just starting to panic a little as we have to catch the bus at 2.49pm.The woman refuses to take any money for recharging the phone battery and wishes us well, telling me to keep an eye out for those flies.
We walk up to the village for the last time. I hope!
We catch the bus and ask the driver to drop us off at a point nearest to Talybont village. This he does. As we get off the bus, we notice a wall where we sit to have a smoke. We suddenly hear a voice shouting, “Excuse me!, excuse me!” We look round and see a young girl running along the road waving my sun hat in the air. The bus has stopped about 100 yards up the road. I run to meet her, retrieve my hat and thank her profusely. She says, “I can’t stop, I better get back on the bus”, turns and runs off.
We walk about a mile to the camp site by the Talybont Reservoir. It is a forestry commission site and although it is listed as a basic site it has loos and hot water. We put up the tent but it is too hot to get inside even though it is early evening. I cook chilli and while we are eating a ranger comes for the camping fee. We chat for a while and I tell him about my horse fly bites. He says a similar thing happened to him. He left it a long while before going to the doctors who gave him a lecture saying that horse fly bites can be very dangerous. If left the infection can spread your lungs. Blimey!
We hop in the tent as it starts to get dark. There are only two other tents on the field and I vaguely hear the occupants returning from the pub. They must have had a good time!
We awake to find we are surrounded by squadies! They must have been very quiet when making camp. They are getting ready to go and are leaving in groups. We have an extra cup of tea in the sun before we leave and then plod up the road to pick up the path to Twyn Du.
We soon see the sign post. The sign posts in Wales always make me smile. They mostly say, “to the mountain” or “to the hill” which I think seems to show a certain amount of affection for the local hill or mountain as if it belongs to the valley below.
It is already hot and my pack feels very heavy as we start the steady plod over grass and through bracken to Twyn Du. A squadie passes us at a fair lick and disappears into the distance. He has to keep stopping for a breather and as we continue at a steady rate he doesn’t pull away from us too quickly. It is nice to know that this heat is taking it’s toll on even the fittest of people and it is not just us oldies that are feeling it. It is hard work. I make excuses all the way up. It’s the heat, I haven’t packed my sack evenly etc. More squadies pass us one by one. They all look anxious and hot and bothered. I think it must be some sort of time trial.
The skies cloud over which makes it easier going but it is still very humid. We look back the way we have come and the reservoir already seems a long way off.
Once on the ridge there is a bit of a breeze which makes it more comfortable. From Bwlch y Dddwyallt we can see Craig y Fan Du, Fan Big, Cribin and, in the distance, the summit of Pen y Fan all ahead of us.
It is very exhilarating walking with fine views and huge drops.
We have our lunch and then continue to the Gap Road a path that runs between Fan Big and Cribbin. The National Trust are repairing the path here and a helicopter is shuttling rocks to two workman whilst another workman stands guard to direct walkers. We watch the helicopter going back and forth whilst descending to the Gap Road.
We see more wild ponies, one with a foal which cannot be more than a few days old.
We skirt Cribin and there is the final haul to Pen y Fan above us. It looks a bit daunting but once on the ascent it is not as arduous as it looks. There is a bit of a false summit and then the last pull brings us to the top
We sit on the summit and admire the views. We have no water left so make do with a cigarette. A cup of tea would be more welcome. Suddenly we are joined by a Cocker Spaniel who appears on the summit, it seems, out of nowhere. Then another and finally by their master with two hiking poles. He is red in the face and puffing. It must be hard work up the other side. He produces a dog bowl from his daysack and fills it with water. Our tongues are hanging out. He calls one of the dogs, “Do you want a drink, Charlie”. This is rubbing salt into the wound as Charl almost replies, “Yes please!”
We strike up a conversation with the man who turns out to be a local and he tells us of a good spot to wild camp quite close to the Storey Arms. Nothing like a bit of local knowledge.
It is a long descent, some of it being a little awkward where the path has been recently made up with a lot of loose stones. We stop half way down and watch a sheep round up. There are several buggies, a jeep and a man on a horse all collecting sheep from the surrounding hills and shepherding them in lines before gathering them together.
We reach the spot recommended by the man on the summit and it is indeed ideal. It is sheltered with two waterfalls, a pool and some flat grassy ground. It’s a pity I don’t carry swimwear as I would have been tempted go for a swim. It is a little too near the path, for my liking, to risk skinny dipping. I’m still deliberating as to whether to risk it or not when the flies descend and tip the balance.