South Wales highest mountain
I stood on the summit of South Wales highest peak, Pen Y Fan. The biting, icy wind, howling around me. Visibility was down to just a few metres in the dense, wet mist. My rucksack, heavy on my shoulders, with the weight of my overnight camping kit and camera equipment. My legs burning and my heart beating fast from the steep, non relenting, uphill climb. It’s at moments like this, I feel alive!! This is what makes it all worth while. To some, it must feel like, a living hell. To me, it is every bit a dream. Only in this kind of environment, with the full force of nature against you, do you truly feel free and at one with yourself. This is the time to look within and reflect on life.
It all started from the comfort of my camper van. I had parked up for the night in the National Trust car park, just outside of Brecon. There is nothing better than waking up, knowing, you are heading out to the unknown. Your imagination begins to run away with you, as you picture the days events. A fresh cup of coffee and a pot of porridge is enough to bring me back down to earth. Time to check my rucksack for the final time to make sure I havent forgotten anything. I swear it gets heavier every weekend!!
Leaving the van behind, it’s uphill from the very start. I have kept the clothing layers to a minimum, just a long-sleeved, merino wool base layer and my trusty Rab micro-light down jacket. A few hundred metres in and I already know the jacket has to go. Keeping your body free from perspiration, is key for keeping warm when it gets colder higher up the mountain. The well trodden path leads you over a couple of styles before turning rocky. You can hear the trickling of water as it runs over the rocks, creating mini waterfalls. The sun is beating down and it is surprisingly warm for a mid February day.
As I climb higher the path becomes steeper and my legs begin to feel the weight of my rucksack. Sleeping out on the mountain is a great experience, you just need to get through the pain of humping everything you need up there. The higher I go the colder it starts to feel. The clouds are starting to roll over the summit. Wispy at first, but the darker, thicker ones, are in the distance. It won’t be long before they are upon me. I rounded the mountain and then it hits me… the bitterly cold, strong wind!
In a matter of minutes, I have gone from the tranquility and warmth of one side of the mountain, to the breezy and freezing ridge that I now stand on. I think it’s the mountains way of letting me know who is boss…. Getting my coat, hat and gloves on quickly, is paramount to me keeping warm. I move off, following the ridge and admiring the cloud formations. The sun is still bright in the sky but there is no warmth to be had from it.
As I head even higher still, the visibility drops and the summit is lost in the cloud and mist. Every now and then the cloud thins out and the bright sun breaks through, to create a magical looking surrounding. I could be on the moon. I stop, camera to the ready and wait. I want to capture this on film, as sometimes the weather can assist in producing a great photo. I don’t have to wait long before getting the shot. I even get lucky with a couple of walkers silhouetted on the ridgeline through the mist.
It has been a quiet walk up today, only seeing the odd fellow walker here and there. That is all about to change. I climb the final, steep, rocky outcrop, to the summit. As I clamber onto the plateau that is the top, I am greeted by what looks like Bournemouth beach on a hot summers day. Walkers of all ages taking selfies to comemorate them reaching the top. Where did they all come from? Must have been the more traditional routes up the other side. Not one for mingling with others, I took my own obligatory selfie and made the short walk to Corn Du. Another summit just a few minutes walk from Pen Y Fan. Again it was busy here, so time for me to head towards the lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch, which was to be my home for the night.
On heading down I come to an Obelisk, marking the point of which a young, 5 year old lad, called Tommy Jones died. This is the tragic story of the youngster as told by the National Trust.
On 4 August 1900 a miner from Maerdy, at the head of the Rhondda Fach valley, decided to take his five-year-old son Tommy to visit his grandparents who still farmed near Brecon. They’d travelled by train and planned to walk the four miles to Cwmllwch, the farmhouse in the valley just below Pen y Fan.
By 8pm they’d reached the Login – now in ruins – where soldiers were encamped for training at the rifle range further up the valley at Cwm Gwdi. The father and son had stopped for refreshment when they met Tommy’s grandfather and cousin William, who was 13. William was asked to go back to the farm and tell his grandmother to expect Tommy and his dad, and Tommy ran off up the valley with him.
When the two boys were halfway, Tommy who was frightened by the dark perhaps, started to cry and wanted to return to his father at the Login. So the two boys parted. William completed his errand and returned to the Login within a quarter of an hour – but Tommy hadn’t returned.
His father and grandfather started the search immediately, joined by soldiers from the camp. The search was halted at midnight and resumed at 3pm the following day. The search continued for weeks. Every day, parties of police, soldiers, farmers and other volunteers systematically combed the area with no luck.
After reading accounts of the search, a gardener’s wife living just north of Brecon is said to have dreamed of the very spot where Tommy was found. She had a few restless days before persuading her husband to borrow a pony and trap on Sunday 2 September to take her and some relatives to Brecon Beacons, which they’d never climbed before.
They reached the ridge below Pen y Fan and were making their way towards the summit over open ground when Mr Hammer, who was a few yards in front, started back with an exclamation of horror. He had found the body of little Tommy Jones.
No one could explain how the five-year-old had managed to reach the spot where his body was found. He’d climbed 1,300ft from the Login. Today the spot where Tommy’s body was found is marked with an obelisk. The jurors at the inquest donated their fees after determining that he had died from exhaustion and exposure.
There was a quietness here, a kind of calm, which was surprising considering the weather today. This is where I would have lunch and take time to reflect, on what must have been a very traumatic time, for both young Tommy and his family.
The day seemed to brighten up again as I was having lunch and I could see the lake, reflecting the mountains, below me. Time to get down there and find a good spot for wild camping. I had to take care on the descent. Everything was slippery and with a heavy rucksack on my back, the last thing I needed was a twisted ankle. Llyn Cwm Llwch is quite sheltered by the horseshoe shape of the mountain, so offers a good level of protection from the elements.
I made my way around the lake to a slightly higher spot of ground that was dry and flat, perfect for my small 2 man tent. Twenty minutes later and my tent is pitched, mattress inflated, sleeping bag out and the water is boiling for a hot cup of coffee. There is nothing better than lying in a warm sleeping bag with a hot drink, tent door open, taking in the views of the mountainside. Now is the time to look back on the day, to reflect on the walk, to remember all the little details you noticed. Quite often if leads to one falling asleep!
My evening meal is made up of a boil in the bag, stew and dumplings and chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce…. delicious!! This is by far the easiest way to eat when out wild camping. After watching the sun go down behind the mountain, it’s an early night for me. The one thing I find is that I always sleep well after a hard day walking.
After an uneventful night and dragging my weary body from my warm sleeping bag, it is time for breakfast. A full english breakfast, boil in the bag of course! Packing everything away, checking that I have left no equipment or rubbish behind (remember to leave no trace) it is time to start making my way back down to the camper van.
The path leads me away from the lake and gently heads downhill. I take a detour from the recognised path and head over to the stream that is cascading down the rock face, creating some stunning waterfalls with the peak of Pen Y Fan high in the background. Crossing the slippery, moss covered rocks, that lay in the shallow water, I head around the hill before walking past the lowland farms and fields of beautiful white sheep. Knowing I am just a few kilometres from home, I take in the beauty of this wild and rugged land they call the Brecon Beacons.
All too soon I’m back in the car park and my walk for this weekend is over. I will however be back here many times in the future as this place has a special place in my heart and soul.
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Enjoy the walking and stay safe.