I may have been prematurely pessimistic when writing last night that our chances of venturing out between now and New Year were slim. Another evening of torrential rain would have had that effect on anyone I’m sure. However, while we on the coastal margins of South Wales continued to dissolve events at higher altitudes were looking far more interesting with heavy snow forecast and the A470 already impassable by the time we turned in for the night. Fast forward to this morning and by some miracle we awoke to sun, yes actual sun, and that left us really with only one option. After a quick phone call to finally pay off my last instalment of student loan (a hopeless dream I’m sure for those under the new tuition fee regime) we were off, but not as you might expect to Pen y Fan.
Instead our destination was the less trodden slopes of Graig Cerrig-Gleisiad national nature reserve, the opposite side of the valley to Pen y Fan but a world away in terms of experience. There’s plenty of parking for a start, minimal other humans with which to annoy myself and views which are easily as good as those from it’s more illustrious neighbour. Admittedly we would get to miss out on the annual winter tradition of spotting the most ridiculously dressed walker of the day (crop top and what I can only presume were fashionably short trousers on a day with wind-chill in double negative digits is still my favourite) but when you’re greeted by a tree lined avenue such as this that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
It was surprisingly warm as we climbed up to more open terrain with the sun continuing to shine and the hills before us offering protection from gale force winds blowing in from the north. With those still to look forward to we set off at a good pace, losing the path almost immediately but deciding that finding our own route was much more exciting in any case. This approach did inevitably lead to a couple of knee high drops into deep snowdrifts but by far the most challenging aspect, even once we’d regained the path, were the muddy conditions lurking beneath. I lost count of the number of times I’d step into snow only to sink right through, hit the sopping ground beneath and either pull off an elegant slide the likes of which even Torvill and Dean would be proud or, horror of horrors, end up putting hand to ground. Oh the shame. I did at least fare better than Emma who somehow ended up on her front sprawled out at full length on more than one occasion! This kind of challenge is exactly why we head to the hills in these conditions of course, plus the views weren’t half bad either.
As we started to approach the summit of Fan Frynych a bank of thick, low cloud rolled in which coupled with the strong winds to which we were now exposed lent the mountain a whole new character. Gone was the playful nature of earlier to be replaced with a keen attention to detail, precise route finding and even a glance at the map once or twice. It’s easy to underestimate the Brecon Beacons but as I’ve experienced all too often the weather up here can change in an instant and it pays to be well prepared. We of course were which meant that locating the trig point was a cinch even in the midst of an almost total white-out.
The mountain forecast promised blizzards developing throughout the afternoon and as much as I’d have enjoyed battling the elements the thought of dicing with other road users through Storey Arms and beyond filled me with much less joy. Therefore the decision was taken to cut back down through the heart of the reserve instead of continuing on, a good move in the end as we reached the car just as the first flurries of snow began to fall along with the temperature. Before that though the landscape had once again been awe inspiring, a timely reminder that I need to get out into these hills more frequently during 2018.
And that I think is where we shall leave things for today. It was good to get the blood pumping again after a fortnight spent pottering around the house and more importantly means I can now eat a whole load more Christmas cake. Another bonus to this hillwalking lark.