An Almost Perfect Mountain Day

Perfect mountain days are rare in this country. In fact, my definition for a perfect mountain day is somewhere along the lines of “at least it didn’t rain” and “I had a little bit of a view at some point”. To be honest, it’s not always bad and I had a lot of great days out every year. But rarely looks the forecast perfectly perfect.

A forecast like Sunday. Promising bright sunshine all day and almost no wind. And it didn’t change to Monday or something. So Sunday was looking like one of those super rare absolute perfect days on all levels and we’d be free to enjoy it.

Left as early as 7:15 am to drive the 90mins to Capel y Ffin near Llanthony near Abergavenny in the Eastern part of the Brecon Beacons which is also commonly referred to as Black Mountains. The sun was slowly getting up from it’s nighttime slumber, sluggish but steadily heaving its bulk above the horizon like a sleepy giant. Light pink skies announced a fantastic morning and if it hadn’t been -2 degrees outside you could’ve almost thought a warm summer day was ahead.

The tops of the surrounding hills were glowing in a warm orange as we plunged into the valley, turning off the A road onto a wet and in places icy single track road. Ralley Katja turned into granny Katja, going no more than maybe 20mph, manoeuvring the car cautiously and smoothly around the corners, up and down the undulating road.

A sigh of relief escaped my throat as I finally parked the car on the grass verge in Capel y Ffin. It was a little bit of a faff putting boots on whilst still sitting in the warm car and layering up, but it was totally worth it. We realised that as soon as we stepped out into the crisp cold winter air at 8:45am.

Our 10 mile loop started with a short walk on slightly icy tarmac before we turned off to the left to make our ascent up to Tarren yr Esgob, one of the three ridges that can be accessed from here. We took our time the up the gentle slope at first not wanting to get all too sweaty, but still needed to lose a layer just before the path zigzagged up the steepest bit before the gradient eased once more.

Heading up
Morning glow.

With the sun in our eyes we reached the very broad ridge enjoying brilliant views into the next valley, down to Mynydd Du Forrest, the Grwyne Fawr reservoir and the ridge of Waun Fach and Pen y Gadair Fawr behind it. There was a little bit of an icy snow dusting, most puddles were frozen and so was all the bog. The two days before had been around or just below 0 degrees so I had absolutely counted on all the bog and mud being frozen and it had worked out beautifully.

Grwyne Fawr reservoir
Chwarel y Fan ahead

Every step we took resulted in delightful crunch instead of a not so delightful squelch as we made our way South and East at first to take the 1km detour to bag Chwarel y Fan, one of the Welsh 2000s. There was basically no wind, which is very unusual especially up on a ridge. Together with the warming rays of the sun it made for a brilliant break at the top of Chwarel y Fan brewing a cuppa and munching some snacks whilst enjoying lovely views all around all the way to the Bristol channel even.

Summit of Chwarel y Fan

A couple of people passed by all very happy on such a fine day. One guy stopped and couldn’t wait to tell us about his aim to climb “all the mountains of England and Wales this year”. I think he actually meant the Hewitts and he had made some impressive progress so far. We listened to this super enthusiastic chap for a bit and found his past and future adventures quite inspiring, before we had to make a move as we were getting a bit cold now just standing around.

The path ahead couldn’t be more clear so we walked and walked just enjoying being outside. Despite temperatures of maybe 1 deg it was only a baselayer covering our upper bodies. Walking, the absence of wind and the rays of the sun offered enough warmth.

Quick break at Twyn Talycefn a minor top along the ridge, then all the way to the cliff edge at the Northern end of the Black Mountains and Rhos Dirion, Welsh 2000 number 2 for today.

12:30. Lunch time with hot soup and a chicken sandwich, whilst looking North into Wales over green fields and low hills. Bliss. Mighty Pen y Fan was sitting peacefully in the distance to the West and we thought we even saw as far as Fan Brycheiniog, the most Westerly part of the Brecon Beacons. To the East Twmpa’s (Lord Hereford’s Knob) grassy rounded top hid Hay Bluff behind it at the other side of Gospel path. We could pretty much see almost all of the whole Northern ridges and tops of the Beacons from the far West to the far East. Wow!

There was the slightest breeze every now and then and we realised how lucky we’d been so far. This tiny little bit of wind was the reason our hands were freezing without gloves within minutes and despite layering up, we were getting a bit cold again.

Onwards then half past 1 in the afternoon. Down the frozen path over a bit of rock and grass and all of a sudden Rich was on his bum, clutching his leg in agony. Shit! I hurried to his side and after a first calm assessment (I was at least calm) I was relieved that nothing was broken. I helped him off the cold ground and the wet patch that had been the ice covered puddle he had slipped on.

Looked like he had properly twisted his knee, but after waiting out the rush of adrenaline for a couple of minutes he was able to start wobbling with my help. We had about 5k to go still, but also 3.5hrs left until sunset, so we carried on for now. I silently slapped myself for not taking a walking pole as I normally do. But there were no river crossings today and neither were there steep boggy descents or large herds of cows, so I simply hadn’t bothered. Now we could’ve really used a pole. I learnt my lesson for sure. Always be bothered.

Lending him my arm, we slowly made our way down and eventually Rich got a bit more stability back and could make his way down without my help although I stayed close when there were slightly “tricky” bits. My valuable stash of “high octane” Ibuprofen surely helped with him as well. At least this I never go without and it’s part of my minimum first aid kit.

The Vale of Ewyas was an absolute gorgeous little valley we walked down in along Nant Bwch, with steep hillside across the river and subsidiary streams joining it after tumbling down a series of small waterfalls. It would’ve been so nice… almost perfect.

Lovely path along Nant Bwch

The path turned into a minor road with 2k left to reach the car. I had hope to bring the car up and give Rich a lift down. Twice I scouted down ahead and twice I returned shortly after reporting large icy patches I would not get my car past. Bummer.

Finally after what felt like an eternity we reached the car. 4pm. Despite the mishap and the pain, Rich was up for a beer at Llanthony priory hotel, so I gingerly steered the car back along the icy road.

The priory ruins were impressive, a little bit like a mini Tintern Abbey. The church part of the priory built as early as 1108. Wow. The setting sun dipped the surrounding hills into a warm glowing red as we entered the small, but cosy and warm pub right within the priory grounds.

Llanthony priory

Rich had his beer, I had a cuppa tea and with faces glowing we finally relaxed a bit. We were the only guests, but didn’t mind. Lovely little place and reading some of the flyers and notes on the wall the hotel prides itself in not having any WiFi or even a telly in their rooms. Digital detox. In such stunning surroundings a pretty good idea. You don’t really need to be distracted.

Made our way home after an almost perfect mountain day. You don’t get many of those. In terms of the weather that’s true and I wouldn’t mind more of them. In terms of the mishap, I’m certainly glad we don’t get many of those.

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