Last weekend Heley and I did our final practise trip in preparation of our 380-mile walk. We walked the best part of 50 miles across and two and a half miles up during three and a half days.
It was forecast to rain for four days. The forecast was wrong. Instead we had beautiful weather to complete a route that can only be described as insane. It took Heley until the fourth day to realise how crazy the route was. If we do decide to do another practise trip, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be allowed to choose the route.
Day 1: Thursday
The first day saw us rolling up in Llangynog a little after 10 am, having been to the supermarket for provisions. Setting off at 10.30 was hardly an ideal start to the trip; getting there a few hours earlier would have made the day a lot easier, but setting off at all was at least a start.
For the remainder of the morning we walked from Llangynog to Llanrhaeadr Waterfall. Heley managed to twist her ankle along the way. The start we were making to Day 1 was becoming increasingly less ideal. The waterfall was beautiful, the sun was shining, the lady serving the tea was polite and the tea itself was wonderful. My first cup of tea of the trip was closely followed by my second. Little did I realise how long I was going to have to wait until my next cuppa.
“The summit is the highest bump on the most westerly of Cadair Berwyn’s long south ridges. This ridge has a peat bog covering, with the heather being very deep. No well trodden paths have developed here and the summit is seldom visited.”
We can confirm that it is seldom visited; we can also confirm that the heather is very deep, and the peat bog is very boggy. We spent a long time walking along this particular ridge. Heley’s ankle was not happy about this; neither was my left knee.
Eventually we met the main road, where we could see some crazy mountain bikers dropping down the hill that we were climbing next. Over and down into the next valley, we dropped past Pennant Melangell and up into the hills again for our first night’s sleep under a tarp.
Day 2: Friday
The second day saw us walking alongside lakes, rivers and onwards to another waterfall.
We made a couple of slight navigation errors. One saw us walking a mile further east than we should have and the other led to us having to walk through a large stream leading into Lake Vyrnwy.
Fighting our way through steep slopes covered in sharp plants that seem to sting or bite and following that with stepping from stone to stone through a stream under the cover of trees made us feel like we were in a jungle. It was a very small, tame jungle that happened to be located in North Wales, but a jungle nonetheless.
Over the dam and into Llanwddyn we got drink fizzy drinks and I had a bacon sandwich. Heley had a mint feast. Fizzy drinks, bacon and ice cream – it was the start of a very pleasant afternoon.
We walked along the lake and through some fields up to Rhiwargor Waterfall. The sun was shining, we’d arrived at an intended location, and we weren’t feeling as injured as the previous day. It was feeling a little more like the trip was supposed to, and a little less like I had drawn a crazy squiggle on a map linking as many hills, rivers and valleys together as possible.
Then the midges made an appearance. Brilliant training for any battles with the great Scottish Midge, unfortunately our current preparations were not adequate. Clouds of midges surrounded us, to the extent that we were walking around eating in the hope they wouldn’t keep up with us. To be fair, I’d score it as even. For every bite out of me that they took I have probably either killed or consumed one that had stupidly landed in my smash or my tea.
The midges made for an unpleasant start to the evening, but at least we had our new tent to play with and escape to.
Day 3: Saturday
We’d done the bulk of the planned distance in the first two days, tomorrow would be an easy day, but this one was always planned to be short but hard. Heley started off miserable having not slept well, and then slowly got worse. The midges in the morning hadn’t helped, nor had the fact my route started with a steep ascent. Then a descent, then another ascent. This was followed by a loop around a river to a spot where we could recognise as being about half an hour walk from where we started. Then we got to walk through more bog and heather. Neither of us was very happy at this point. On the bright side, there were some absolutely stunning views up there.
It was all over by mid-afternoon, and we finally reached our camping spot for the night. We stopped and brewed a couple of cups of tea, we chatted, Heley lit a fire using the magnesium fire starter, we pitched the tarp all in time to watch it start to rain a little. The most stunning rainbow I’ve ever seen made an appearance, along with a second rainbow, which seemed to only be there to indicate how awesome the first was.
Day 4: Sunday
We woke up early, cleared up camp and set off in the cold. We had a short walk into Llangynog, where we were meeting a friend of mine before heading on yet another walk up a hill. He had said to knock as early as we wanted, he obviously didn’t mean half past nine on a Sunday morning.
The extent of my insanity became clear to Heley after we met Karl. Karl took us on a pleasant walk along a footpath and up a hill. It was a sharp contrast to the hard, winding walks that we were now used to. It was the most enjoyable walk of the weekend, mostly along bits of footpath, our rucksacks felt light, there was no heather to do battle with, no bogs, no doubling back, and other than a few ferns, and the ascent was plain sailing.
The craziness that had been our route through some of the hills and valleys of North Wales was pretty much over, and we got to enjoy the walk. I’d put us through a few very tough days, so it was a welcome reminder of how pleasurable walking through the hills on a sunny day really can be.
We had a few photos taken of us near the top, and wandered past a few caves and back down into Llangynog.
The idea of ‘train hard and the real thing comes easy’ has its pitfalls; for example, being demoralised, tired, and injured. On the bright side, we’ve come through everything really well. We encountered more than enough problems, from tough terrain and troublesome plants to issues with insects and injuries.
I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of the trip, but that was never the plan. We needed to make sure that we took advantage of this trip to fully prepare for our walk around Scotland, and I think we managed to do that. We coped with everything my route threw at us, and kept on going.
Next stop… Scotland.