ON THE ROAD AGAIN – DAY 87


SCRAMBLING UP (& DOWN) SNOWDON

Today we climbed Mt Snowdon – all 1,085m of it. Then we had to get back down the mountain – all 1,085m of it. It was one of the most epic, beautiful days we have ever had. It was also by far one of the hardest days we have ever had. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s a mere kilometre up, scrambling up (and down) Mt Snowdon is not an easy undertaking. The mountain’s slopes are covered in scree, steep stone steps, and jagged rocky outcroppings. This makes for some tricky footing and an intense day of hiking. The views, however, are spectacular; and as exhausted as we are, it was worth every step!

 

 

The highest peak in Wales, Mt Snowdon has a number of ridges that lead up to its peak. There are about half a dozen trails that lead to the top of the mountain, most of them following one of these ridges at least part of the way. We did a lot of reading and research* before choosing the trails we wanted to walk and (based on our skill level, lack of local knowledge and my intense dislike of heights and precipices), decided to climb up the Llanberis Trail and down via the Miner’s Track.
*Mt Snowdon has been described as “the busiest mountain in Britain”, with thousands of people coming to hike the mountain every year. There are some seriously precipitous parts to the mountain, however, and many inexperienced walkers have been killed trying to scale its heights without proper preparation or due caution. They even had the helicopter out today whilst we were hiking, searching for someone that got lost and went down the wrong side of the mountain! The last thing we wanted to do was to over-estimate our abilities and end up as smears on the landscape, so we erred on the side of caution and chose 2 easy routes for our trek today.

 

MT SNOWDON HIKES

[Source: http://www.visitsnowdonia.info/snowdon_walks_-_6_routes-95.aspx%5D

 

At 8km the Llanberis Trail is the longest route to the summit, but it has the shallowest gradient and is thus the easiest of all the trails. We chose this route to start with just to get a feel for how tough Mt Snowdon really is – i.e. if even the “easiest” route proved to be too much for us, we wouldn’t have even attempted any of the others!

 

 

Turns out the Llanberis Trail is fine – even for cream puffs* like us. The path was easy to follow, well maintained, and a pretty easy climb. The first bit, getting from the village of Llanberis to the trail head, was actually the steepest bit! Once we got on to the trail proper though, it was fine.
*A “cream puff”, by our definition, is a rather soft urbanite whose natural habitat is more likely to be the 5-star resort, rather than a mountain-top!

 

 

 

 

We had a bit of a huff on the last bit, up to the peak too, but once we were up there, the views across the valleys of Snowdonia National Park made it all worth it.

 

 

 

 

The Llanberis Trail follows the line of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which is one of the national park’s biggest attractions. This narrow gauge, rack-and-pinion railway was opened in 1894 and exists purely for taking tourists up and down Mt Snowdon. It’s ridiculously expensive, but every time the tiny train came chugging up the mountain, it was packed! Seems the Snowdon Mountain Railway is as popular today as it was 100 years ago!

 

 

We had originally wanted to climb to the top of the mountain, then take the train back down. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy to do. Tickets are generally sold as return trips, and you can only get the train back down the mountain if someone chooses to walk down and thus leaves a free seat. Given how busy Mt Snowdown gets, we didn’t want to count on being able to get the train back down* and so went prepared for a 2-way hike.
*We DID check, but no seats were free for the trip down today.

 

 

It’s often foggy, misty and wet up at the peak; and given that the name Snowdon means “snow hill” in Old English, it’s common to get a bit of a white dusting up there, even in June! Luckily for us, though, the weather was on our side and the hike was made far more pleasant by the lack of rain, sleet, or snow. We had been warned to take wet weather gear and be prepared for all sorts of possibilities as far as the climatic conditions went. Great Britain is in the grips of heat wave at the moment, however, so we enjoyed 25 degrees and blue skies.

 

 

The visibility was so good, in fact, that we could see all the way to the coast! On exceptionally clear days, Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man are all visible, apparently. We couldn’t quite see THAT far, but near enough. Totally awesome!

 

 

 

 

It took us about 2.5 hours to get up to the top of Mt Snowdon via the Llanberis Trail, and we spent about an hour up there enjoying the views and refuelling at the café up there.

 

 

When the time came to start heading back down we felt confident enough to tackle a different route down, and enjoy some different views. We chose the Miners’ Track as it’s only rated “Moderate” in terms of difficulty, and runs down the eastern edge of Snowdon (the Llanberis Trail runs roughly down the northern mountain ridge), past some beautiful lakes.

 

 

We knew we were in for a bit of a challenge as soon as we started on the Miner’s Track: the first section of this 7km trail is quite steep and involved A LOT of scrambling over rocks and stepping carefully through loose scree. Not fun when your legs are already a little tired, and you’re just a little (or a lot) afeared of heights and the only thing between you and what feels like imminent death is… well, NOTHING! Shane was fine (being part mountain goat), but I was soon wondering if I had made a terrible decision trying to come down this way…

 

 

 

 

Going slowly and taking lots of care, we both made it down the first part of the Miner’s Track without any injuries or incidents. From there the trail flattened out and was much easier to navigate.

 

 

The valley we walked through for the last part of the Miner’s Track was formed by a glacier many eons ago and contains a number of deep lakes. We skirted around a couple of these alpine lakes, giving us some of the most amazing views of the day. It was incredible seeing Mt Snowdon and the other peaks reflected in the waters of Llyn Llydaw and Llyn Teyrn.

 

 

 

 

Leaving the lakes behind we rounded a final corner and made our descent into the hamlet of Pen-y-Pass to await the bus* back to Betws-y-Coed. All in all it took us 6 hours (including the hour’s rest at the top) to scale the mountain and get back down – not bad for a couple of cream puffs!
*They have a great system of buses through Snowdonia National Park that criss-crosses the region. This means you can start your hike in one village and end in another, like we did today.

 

 

A short bus ride later we were back here in our favourite little village, ready for a hearty meal and a hot shower. And now we’re bathed and refuelled after our epic 15km hike/scramble, and just about ready for bed. Scaling a mountain sure does take it out of you, but man was it worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – DAY 86


RURAL ESCAPADES IN SNOWDONIA

Snowdonia National Park is home to more than 25,000 people, most of them farmers. Today we went exploring through some of the rural landscapes of this area, enjoying the sunshine and views of Mt Snowdon as we crossed fields, clambered over stiles, and strolled through tiny rural hamlets. Along the way we saw a Neolithic burial chamber, a herd of alpacas, and a whole lot of glorious scenery.

 

 

Yesterday’s trek took us west, along the banks of the River Llugwy; for a different set of views we went east today, up into the hills above Betws-y-Coed.

 

 

The first part of our walk was all uphill, as we climbed out of the Conwy Valley (within which Betws-y-Coed sits) and into the Garmon Hills. Up there the land is a mixture of sheep and dairy farms, with a bit of woodland thrown in for good measure.

 

 

Once up in the hills we were quickly assaulted by the odours of rural Wales, and captivated by views across the Conwy Valley towards Mt Snowdon and its lofty neighbours (most of which are around 900-1,000m high).

 

 

 

 

The only pocket of civilisation in the Garmon Hills is Capel Garmon, a tiny hamlet that is home to just 46 people. There used to be a pub there, but it’s currently closed for renovation. Similarly the 19th century church the town is named after, St Garmon’s Chapel, is closed. Not much to see there really, though just outside the village itself lies a Neolithic burial chamber dating from 2,500BC.

 

 

 

 

Stone Age people lived in the area and were responsible for building the communal tomb at Capel Garmon. The remains of numerous people and shards of ancient pottery were found within the tomb, all giving clues about how the earliest inhabitants of Wales lived. These relatively isolated, mountainous areas remained the preserve of the Neolithic people far longer than elsewhere in Britain – the Celts only arrived here in about 600BC.

 

 

 

 

Since the time of the Celts the economy in this area was based on agriculture, though in the 19th century slate quarries were established as well. The slate quarries are now closed, but agriculture continues to be the mainstay of the local economy. In particular, wool and dairy products.

 

 

After crossing a (very large) number of (very poopy) fields we found ourselves in a meadow with a lovely, friendly horse and her friends, the alpacas. Not sure why the local farmer has added alpacas to his stock. Maybe it’s for their fleece (which is very soft and fine, but durable apparently); or maybe the horse just needed some gentle companions. Either way, these South American imports have found themselves living in Wales with some of the best views in Snowdonia!

 

 

 

From the alpaca field we crossed into an area of dense fern undergrowth. “How dense was this ferny grove?”, you ask. Why, this dense….

 

 

 

Luckily there were no stinging nettles or blackberry bushes mixed in with the ferns and we got through without any adverse effects*. The ferns grove turned into a lovely forest that we got to enjoy for a a mile or so before emerging onto a narrow country lane.
*One of things we LOVE about hiking around Great Britain and Ireland is that there are no bities! Unlike Aus, here you can go trampling through tall grass and thick bush and not have to worry about poisonous spiders, venomous snakes, or other nasty little critters like crocodiles, scorpions or drop bears. Bush walking in Aus is NOT for the feint hearted!

 

 

 

 

Pretty soon the country lane brought us to a suspension bridge that crossed the River Conwy and led directly into Betws-y-Coed.

 

 

 

 

After a good 6 hours of tramping through fields we were glad to be “home” and, after a hot shower and warm cup of tea, we headed straight out to the Pont-y-Pair. The Pont-y-Pair is one of two local pubs in Betws-y-Coed, and since it’s only 100m down the road from our B&B, our favourite of the two. It’s warm and inviting inside, the locally brewed beer is good (or so Shane tells me), and the food is hearty and wholesome. What a perfect way to end a great day in Snowdonia!

 

 

 

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – DAY 85


WATERFALLS, FAIRY GLENS & FOREST TRAILS

Snowdonia National Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Wales, which is why we’re here! We arrived this morning after a short train ride from Conwy and headed straight out to explore the area around Betws-y-Coed, the village we’re staying in. We ended up walking along the River Llugwy for a few miles, through vividly green forests, across a few sheep-filled fields, and past some great waterfalls. This is just such a beautiful part of the world!

 

 

Betws-y-Coed is northern Wales’ most popular inland holiday town*. It sits where the River Conwy meets its 3 tributaries flowing from the west, the Llugwy, the Lledr and the Machno. Much of it was built in Victorian times, and all the buildings in the centre of the village (including the B&B we’re staying at) are constructed from the dark grey slate that is everywhere around here. It’s all just so cute!

*Not that it’s busy, at least not at this time of year. No doubt once school holidays are in full swing it gets busier, but for now the town is bustling without being congested and crazy.

 

 

 

 

Betws-y-Coed means “prayer house in the wood” in Welsh, an apt name as the village most certainly has a great “prayer house” (i.e. St Mary’s Church), and a lovely wood (i.e. Gwydyr Forest).

 

 

Betws-y-Coed is the principal town Snowdonia National Park* so it’s really well serviced, but still has a great country village feel to it. It’s also in a wonderful setting – surrounded by rivers, dense woodland and magnificent mountain scenery.

*Like most national parks in the UK, Snowdonia is inhabited. More than half the land area in the park is farmland, but this is interspersed with generous swaths of forest and “wilderness”. To ensure the longevity of these areas there are significant limitations on what construction can be carried out within the bounds of the national park. Basically families who have farmed here for generations continue to do so, but no new development can occur. On an island as old and populated as Britain, this seems like a good way to ensure the preservation of both land and culture.

 

 

 

 

Snowdonia National Park is the largest national park in Wales and boasts the highest mountain in Wales (Mt Snowdon – 1,085m), and the largest natural lake in Wales. We’re going to hike up The Mountain (as it’s referred to here abouts), sometime in the next few days, but today we focussed our energies on exploring Gwydir Forest and the banks of the River Llugwy.

 

 

It was just lovely, watching the crystal clear waters of the river flow beneath ancient bridges, around dark grey rocks, and under the overhanging canopy of trees.

 

 

 

 

At one point the river waters were channeled through a narrow canyon and then down over a set of cascades – Swallow Falls they’re called. We stopped there for a snack and to enjoy the sound of the water crashing down over the rocks.

 

 

Our walk also took us through Gwydir Forest. This dense woodland was just the kind of place every child pictures in their mind when they read stories about fairies and the like. Oak, birch, and ash trees, interspersed with lush green undergrowth, buttercups, daisies, and bright purple foxglove flowers.

 

 

 

 

We were out walking for about 4 hours overall; not a huge day, but a good way to start our stay here in Snowdonia. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and we can’t wait to do more of it over the next few days!

 

 

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – DAY 84


THE BEST DAMN CASTLE IN WALES!

We sold our house in Aus before we started on our travels in 2013 and haven’t really had any desire to get another one. But today we found our new home! It is just the most adorable place and would make an awesome place to live. It’s in the village of Conwy, in northern Wales. The place needs a bit of work, but with a bit of TLC, it could really be lovely. What do you think?

 

 

We left Ireland under gloriously blue, sunny skies this morning; it was an absolutely perfect day for sailing across the Irish Sea and we had an easy, smooth run from Dublin to Holyhead (Wales).

 

 

Dublin city was still fast asleep when we boarded the ferry at 8:00 this morning. Only a few gulls followed us out of the port and the green hills of Ireland soon faded into the distance as we sailed away.

 

 

After a short and uneventful crossing* the Isle of Anglesey came into view and we were soon back in Britain again.
*Uneventful for us at least! School holidays have just started over here and the ferry was packed full of families heading off for some family fun in Britain. Many of the parents looked sleep deprived, haggard, and pretty stressed. Then one young girl threw up her breakfast and this set of a chain reaction of little ‘uns retching and barfing (luckily this all happened on the outside deck where it could all get washed away easily). Not to sound like a couple of smug DINKs or anything, but the whole thing really validated our decision not to have kids!

 

 

 

 

We chose not to linger in the port town of Holyhead, but jumped straight on the next train bound for Conwy. We passed through Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch on our way and just had to get a photo of the longest place name in Europe! Originally called Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which means “St Mary’s church by the pool near the white hazels”, the town was renamed in the 19th century. The ridiculously long name was intentionally chosen in a bid to attract visitors travelling on the newly constructed railway to stop and take a look around town. The name was invented by a local cobbler and means “St Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave”. It was certainly one of the most successful marketing plans of all time as the name change literally put LlanfairPG on the map!
*The village is referred to by locals as Llanfairpwll or LlanfairPG.

 

 

Our stop for tonight is Conwy, a town of 2,000 people here in northern Wales situated right at the mouth of the Conwy River. We stopped here to enjoy the town’s sea- and river-side location, and see one of the best preserved Medieval castles in Britain: Conwy Castle.

 

 

This gritty, dark stoned fortress sits on a promontory of rock above the Conwy Estuary, commanding views of the land all around it. It’s an incredible castle and hard to miss, especially with the peaks of the Snowdonia National Park rising behind it.

 

 

Constructed by the English king Edward I in 1283, Conwy castle was built as part of a “set” of fortresses designed to protect the Welsh coastline. This so called “iron ring” of castles were all designed to be heavily fortified, defensive structures. As a a deterrent to any would-be attackers, they were also built to be as imposing as possible. Conwy Castle is certainly that, even today.

 

 

We spent most of our afternoon exploring the castle, its soaring curtain walls and 8 huge round towers. It’s a huge building, intimidating in size and impressive in every way.

 

 

 

 

The views from the battlements were breathtaking; from one side we could look out across the River Conwy and the inlet, whilst from the other end of the castle Snowdonia National Park and all the farmlands around Conwy were easily visible. There was no sneaking up on this fortress, that’s for sure!

 

 

 

 

Within the castle there we found the remnants of a great hall and kitchen, as well as Edward’s private chambers and a royal chapel. Though most of the castle is now roofless, it was still easy to get a sense of how majestic this building once was.

 

 

 

 

UNESCO considers Conwy Castle to be one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe”. We agree! (Not that our opinion counts for much.) In fact I love Conwy Castle so much that I’m contemplating finding out how much it would be to buy. Needs a bit of work and might be a bit expensive to heat in winter, but it’s just so AWESOME!

 

 

Not having had enough of Medieval architecture we set off to explore a bit more of Conwy itself. Conwy is a classic “walled town”. Its circuit of thick, stone walls, guarded by 22 towers, are also remarkably well preserved. We were able to walk around the whole town on the walls, admiring the town from our elevated position.

 

 

We came down off the walls to see St Mary’s Church, Conwy’s central church. This Norman chapel is the oldest building in Conwy and has stood within the walls since the 13th century.

 

 

Strolling through town we eventually found ourselves down by the waterfront, where we enjoyed an ice cream whilst watching the sea birds reeling above .

 

 

Just by the waterfront we stumbled across one of Conwy’s smaller attractions: The Smallest House in Great Britain. This tiny cottage measures just 3.0mx1.8m and seemed so small it looked like a dolls’ house. It amazed us to find out that the cottage was in continuous occupation from the 16th century until 1900 when the owner, a 180cm tall fisherman called Robert Jones, decided he’d had enough of not being able to stand up properly in his own house, and moved out. The house is still owned by his descendants today and is open for (short) visits.

 

 

From the quay and The Smallest House in Great Britain we walked around the headland, to the sea-facing side of Conwy. The views along the way were stunning and it was great seeing people out walking their dogs, fishing around the river-mouth, and their boats out for a day on the water.

 

 

 

 

Eventually we came around to the newly built Conwy Marina where the comfort of the pub beckoned to us. The nautically themed ale house was busy, but not packed. We found a table, ordered a couple of drinks and soon struck up a conversation with the couple next to us. One drink led to another, and soon it was dinner time, so we stayed on and enjoyed a great meal down there by the water.

 

 

 

 

With the sun shining and a gentle breeze blowing, it was a wonderful way to spend the evening and reacclimatise ourselves with Wales after our weeks in Ireland. Mind you, Shane got a bit scared when he heard that there’s a HEAT WAVE coming this week – seems temperatures over here on the island of Britain are going to reach nigh on 30 degrees! Sounds great if you ask me!

 

 

 

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – DAY 69


BUSES, TRAINS AND FERRY RIDES – THE LONG WAY ROUND TO IRELAND

There’s no denying that the Brecon Beacons National Park is beautiful – it’s a glorious mix of high moors, green valleys, fresh clear rivers, and quaint farming villages. We could easily see ourselves going back to the Beacons for a dedicated hiking holiday, to walk all the way from one end of the national park to the other enjoying local fare and the uniquely Welsh hospitality along the way. For now, however, we’ve decided to make the great leap across St George’s Channel and move on to Ireland. Rather than fly we decided to book ourselves on to a ferry – it’s so much more scenic that way (and after so many internal flights through China, we’re a bit over the flying thing). Most of our morning was, therefore, spent getting from Brecon to Pembroke Dock, the port-side Welsh village the Irish ferries leave from; our afternoon was then spent aboard the MS Isle of Inishmore, bound for in the Republic of Ireland.

 

 

Making the 2:00pm ferry from Pembroke Dock meant an extra early start this morning* to ensure we got on the first bus back from Brecon to Cardiff. We had the bus to ourselves most of the way and enjoyed our last views of the Brecon Beacons by the light of the early morning sun**.

*We’re generally early morning people anyway, but 5:00am is early even for us!

**We missed dawn, even with our early start – with the Summer solstice so close, dawn is about 4:30am here at the moment (sunset is just after 10:00pm).

 

 

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Two hours later we were back in Cardiff, sitting at the train station enjoying a coffee along with the morning commuters. The train took us from Cardiff Central to Pembroke Dock, past the ubiquitous rolling green hills of Wales, alongside the beaches of western Wales, and through the seaside holiday towns of Barry, Swansea, and Tenby.

 

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We reached Pembroke Dock around lunch time and enjoyed a tasty, simple lunch in a local eatery before hucking our packs across town down to the pier. The town itself was pretty nondescript and consisted of not much more than a couple of rows of identical worker’s cottages lined up along the main street. Talking to the owner (and head chef and waitress) at the place we ate at, we found out a little about Pembroke Dock’s history.

The natural harbour Pembroke Dock is situated in has been used by fishermen for many thousands of years; from Celts, to Vikings, Romans, Normans and English, the harbour has long been a shelter from the prevailing south-westerly winds. In the 8th century a small fishing village known as Paterchurch was established. The town remained fairly low key until, in 1814 a Royal British Naval Dockyard was established here. Over the span of 112 years a total of 268 Royal Navy vessels were built in Pembroke Dock and the town flourished.

Unfortunately for Pembroke Dock, however, the tides turned and the last ship launched from the dockyard in 1922. In 1925, it was announced that the Royal Dockyards at Pembroke Dock were redundant and would be closed. This started the town’s decline. Today the town is one of the poorest in Wales, with high unemployment and little infrastructure. It’s little more than a dock for the inter-island ferries that go between Wales and Ireland, with a train station and a few guesthouses and cafes catering for tourists just off the ferry, or on their way to the docks.

We could definitely see, even with the short amount of time we were in Pembroke Dock, that the town was a little worse for wear. We knew there would be some towns like this in Wales, however, as economic hardship is a harsh realty in many parts of this country. As coal mining and heavy industry wound down operations throughout Wales in the 20th century, many towns, like Pembroke Dock, have struggled to remain vibrant and relevant. Expecting something and actually seeing it are different things however, and it was quite a shock in some ways seeing how lack of industry and limited employment opportunities can affect a town.

 

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To be honest we were glad to board the MS Isle of Inishmore, bound for Rosslare. The ferry was massive – it can carry up to 2,200 passengers and almost 1,000 cars. It was virtually empty today though; just us, a few trucks, and a coach load of “package tourists” from the USA. Not only were we lucky enough to have the ferry to ourselves, but the channel was flat as a mirror. We had a great crossing with hardly any swell and no wind. The worst thing that happened was that our perfect blue skies disappeared behind a bank of clouds for the afternoon and we left Wales under cloudy skies. Not that we’re complaining – the weather has been impeccable over the past week!

 

 

Our final view of Wales (at least for a little while) were of St Ann’s Head and the islands of Skokholm and Skomer as we sailed into St George’s Channel.

 

 

 

 

After a total of 4 hours sailing we pulled into Rosslare harbour. This tiny port town is our home for this evening because, after 12 hours in transit, we’re spent and looking forward to a hot shower, a warm meal, and a good night’s sleep in Eireann (aka: Ireland).

 

 

We’re actually REALLY excited to be here in Ireland as Shane’s family has links to this fabled green isle*. Like many people, Ireland has been on “must wander” list forever; this small island has a big reputation for beautiful scenery, friendly people, beautiful music, fascinating history, and fun times in the form of the legendary craic. Like everywhere we’ve been so far, we know we won’t be able to see it all, but we hope to see and sample enough of Ireland to leave us with lasting impressions. We hope to experience enough over the next few weeks to be able to form our own opinions and make our own memories of Ireland and the Irish people. Starting tomorrow – tonight sleep beckons…
*Like most Australians Shane’s a “bitsa*” but there’s a good whack of Irish in there. That is, Shane’s family lineage contains all sorts of “bits and pieces “ – bit of English, bit of Danish, bit of Russian, bit of French, bit of Irish; as Shane likes to put it: he’s an Aussie, made locally from the best of imported ingredients.

 

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – DAY 68

Day 68 - Trekkin' Brecon

TREKKIN’ AROUND BRECON

After yesterday’s trek through the higher parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park we decided to explore some of the lowlands today with a stroll through the Usk Valley. Compared to the hilly terrain of the Beacons, this was a far more sedate trail that took us along the River Usk, through meadows and fields, all the way to the village of Abergavanney. Under blue skies once again, we got to enjoy more epic views of the Welsh countryside. It was so sunny and warm, in fact, that we got sunburnt. Not that we’re complaining, mind you, better sunburn than frost bite!

 

 

The River Usk delineates the boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park and flows through Brecon town, down through the Usk Valley, and on to the sea just north of Cardiff. As it passes through the Usk Valley the river flows through farming villages like Talybont-on-Usk, Crickhowell and Abergavenny. For our adventures today we decided to check out some of the villages and scenery of Usk Valley.

 

 

 

 

We started out nice and early and spent the first part of our trek traipsing through fields* of grasses and wildflowers under the watchful eye of local farm animals.

*Here in the UK, the local shires and farmers have agreements in place to provide walking trails through both farmlands and public lands.  There’s a multitude of gates and fences to navigate, but basically it means there are uninterrupted walks crossing all over the countryside, with small markers to help you choose the right paddock to wander through (and avoid the bulls).

 

 

 

Eventually the path we were following took us down to the river banks and we joined the River Usk on its run southwards. The River Usk was quite shallow, but crystal clear, the whole way along.

 

 

 

 

Apparently the river is renowned for its salmon and trout. Over lunch in Abergavenny we heard how salmon weighing more than 30lb (14kg) have been caught in the river hereabouts.

 

 

Passing through grasslands and woodlands we saw a few ruins and remnants of old castles along the way. It seems the Usk Valley contains many sites of archaeological significance as the it has long been a trade route through Wales, with the river allowing access from the sea up into the central highlands.

 

 

 

 

After a few hours of walking we reached Abergavenny, our predetermined end point. This bustling metropolis of 13,000 people is only 10km from the Wales/England border and is promoted as “The Gateway to Wales”. Surrounded by hills and situated at the confluence of the Rivers Usk and Gavenny, this was another picturesque town that, like Brecon, lends itself to a slower pace and contemplation of the goods things in life… probably in one of the TEN pubs along the main street…

 

 

 

So we stopped for a late lunch and a beer at the Kings Arms, most assuredly (we had been told) the best pub in town for lunch.

 

 

Lunch (chicken pot pie with carrots and the most mustardy mustard-cabbage we’ve ever mustered) was indeed splendid and left us replete and in no mood to trek all the way back to Brecon!

 

 

Instead we went for a stroll through Abergavenny itself, admiring the cute little cottages and impressive old buildings.

 

 

 

 

Along the way we discovered Abergavenny’s castle. The castle, now in ruins, had a stone keep, towers, and ditch as fortifications. It also housed the family and army of the local lord up until the 15th century.  This is the brilliant part of trekking the British countryside – no need for a plan, epic and ancient wonders will jump out at you regardless.

 

 

Originally the site of a Roman fort, Abergavenny Castle was built in 1087, soon after the Norman conquest of Wales. It was built by the Normans to overlook the River Usk and its valley, and so guard against incursions into the lowland areas from the hills to the north and west. Owing to its geographical location, the town was frequently embroiled in Welsh/English border warfare and was the site of a massacre of Welsh noblemen in 1175. Nothing like a bit of gory history to aid with digestion…

 

 

From Abergavenny Castle we headed towards the nearest bus stop and made our way back to Brecon the easy way, basically retracing our route watching the same countryside zip past at 60km/h.

 

 

 

 

Tonight is our last night here in Brecon. As much as we are LOVING the Brecon Beacons, we want to keep exploring and are setting off westwards tomorrow. Not quite sure yet how far west we’ll get get – tune in tomorrow to find out…

 

 

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – DAY 67

Day 67 - Brecon

BRECON UP IS HARD TO DO…

Hiking up the Brecon Beacon mountains today was awesome! The whole area is criss-crossed with hiking trails and, spoilt for choice, we ended up going for one of the longer walks across the central part of the Beacons. The views were spectacular, the sunshine glorious, and the day a success all round.

 

 

We woke, once again, to blue skies and perfect weather and so set out nice and early to go hiking. Shane was struggling a little to get going, so we stopped in for a coffee first.

 

 

He perked up nicely after his morning caffeine hit though, and we were soon on the bus bound for The Storey Arms.

 

 

Contrary to what the name might suggest, The Storey Arms is not a pub. It’s an outdoors centre where you hire mountain bikes, hiking gear, and other outdoorsy paraphernalia. It’s also the starting point for a whole lot of hikes and easy place to access by public transport.

 

 

The most popular hike in the central Brecon Beacons is the circuit that takes you up Pen-y-Fan (the national park’s highest peak) and back down again. We have often found we prefer hikes that give us views of the mountains, rather than hikes that go up the actual mountain, so we chose to head in the opposite direction to the 4 other hikers we saw, and walked towards the slopes of Craig Cerrig-gleisiad instead.

 

 

The path we took on our hike today is outlined below. Essentially we followed the ridge of Craig Cerrig-gleisiad all the way up to about 630m, enjoying views across the valley towards Pen-y-Fan the whole way.

 

 

 

 

The wind whipped up a bit as we were traversing the ridge and we were soon wiping snotsicles* away and pulling out our wind-proof jackets.
*Snotsicle = snot + icicle.

 

 

 

 

At the peak the trail turned west and we wound our way across the saddle and back up towards the next peak (Coed-y-Fan). The whole way up and across we were dodging sheep, Welsh ponies, cows, and their rather fragrant droppings. Being late spring the lambs have all been born and were so cute, with their snowy white wool.

 

 

 

 

We stopped on the leeward side of Coed-y-Fan for a snack and to admire the views (out of the wind). With sweeping views down into the farmland below, it was a pretty good spot for a break. The countryside around here is gorgeous!

 

 

 

 

As we descended down off the mountains, the trail took us through fields full of curious sheep and meadows awash with buttercups, daisies and clover flowers. Apart from the very rural odour, it was beautiful.

 

 

 

 

After about 3.5 hours of walking we ended up at The Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre, a visitor’s centre that sells hiking maps and souvenirs. It also has a restaurant that serves hot food* and drinks. We stopped for a quick coffee and then continued on.
*Wish we’d known THAT before we set off – the shepherd’s pie smelt soooo good and made our bananas and sandwiches seem like peasant fodder by comparison!

 

 

The rest of the walk back onto Brecon township was less spectacular, but still picturesque. We walked down country lanes hemmed by 3m high hedges, across woodlands and meadows, and through a couple of villages the size of a postage stamp.

 

 

 

 

Finally, after 18.5km of trekking, we made it back to our guesthouse where we’re enjoying a well earned break before we head out for dinner. The place we’re staying in is a renovated 18th century barn, built from the grey slate that the Brecon Beacons are full of. It’s simple but very comfortable and the couple that run it are lovely. Plus we have the national park right on our doorstep!

 

 

 

 

Tonight’s dinner is going to be down at the local pub, where it’s £5 curry night*. We discovered the place last night and enjoyed their slow-cooked beef and mushroom stew so much we’re heading back tonight. We may even see the same “crowd” that was in there last night#!
*The UK is expensive, especially given the exchange rate at the moment gives us £1GBP for $2AUD. So we’re becoming connoisseurs of “The Daily Special” and simple, cheap (but tasty) pub meals.
#As soon as we walked in to the pub last night the 3 old guys who were there gave us a bit of a grilling (i.e. Where you from? How long you here for? What you doing ‘round here?). We must have passed their tests of good character, however, because they were pretty friendly after that. It made for an entertaining evening, chatting to the locals about life in Brecon and the state of things in Wales. Love country pubs!