Freesteel Blog » Avoiding Nadilog by Walking in Wales

Avoiding Nadilog by Walking in Wales

Friday, January 3rd, 2014 at 5:26 pm Written by:

Well, it was a plan. Xmas is a drag, what with either having to go away on holiday or spend days overeating with the family feeling inadequate because you didn’t bring any presents. My thoughts of a flying holiday in Lanzarote had been deemed impractical, and Becka’s plans for a week XC skiing with friends in Norway looked equally difficult due to the lack of passenger ferries.

Before and after 3 days of walking in the over Xmas

I’d had this walk in Wales on my mind for ages. Let’s do it, I said.

“But the weather will be crap.”

Exactly. It’s only a walk, and we wouldn’t be wasting good weather on something that doesn’t depend on good weather. In fact the worse it is, the more adventurous it will be. It’s only Wales. It’s not like the Pacific Crest Trail. How bad can it be?
Lots of folks had advice. I argued against buying any specialist equipment, such as lightweight tents and special gas camping stoves. I don’t want walking holidays to become a habit. And anyway, the amount of food Becka was packing for fear of going hungry was going to outweigh all the grams shaved from expensive gear. If we really cared about weight we could have jettisoned the bag of pears, for example. Fed them to a horse.

I try to avoid buying duplicate gear because it clutters up the house. Our old stuff is too knackered to give away, but not broken enough to throw out. We both happened to have good sleeping bags which we keep for best. Mine is an indoor packs-to-nothing one for the purpose of couch surfing, and Becka’s is a four season monster bought for cave camping in the Dachstein. The tent was our old quasar clone from 14 years ago before we acquired something larger and more suited to car camping. And then there was the bulky meth-burning Trangia that’s really quite convenient. I have been converted to the idea of putting carry mats on the ground underneath the tent.

Day 1. Llandrindod Wells to Gro Hill via Drum Ddu. The River Ithon at Diserth and the river Wye at Newbridge were in flood. We skirted round some woods to avoid having to paddle across a plank, sheltered in a barn for lunch, and then started up the track (which we immediately lost) to the top of Drum Ddu.

My grandparents lived in Llandrindod Wells for many years, and I was dragged out walking in the hills on many occasions as a horrible child. I distinctly recalled the name Drum Ddu as one of the peaks we climbed. Maybe I was twelve. Some moments on this walk had deja vu, particularly on the tracks close to the carparks in Elan Valley. This weird fountain in the farmyard was one of them.

We’re grown-ups now, so all this walking should be a cinch. As we headed down from the peak across a totally bleak valley without a single shred of shelter, the horizontal hail started up. I was too stubborn to put on my waterproof trousers, and my legs got soaked. The winter gloves were equally sodden. As we stomped through the boggy tussocks of Y Gamriw without a path in the diminishing light, I gave up trying to keep my feet dry in my crappy boots. We camped in the first stand of trees we came to and Becka took loads of pictures of me snoring asleep.

Day 2: Claerwen Dam to Strata Florida. Up before dawn to chomp through a huge bowl of fruit salad muesli and coffee. Filthy wet socks and boots weren’t as bad to put on as I had expected. My thermal leggings had dried after I’d worn them all night while they kept me cold. Waterproof overtrousers went directly over them. I stole Becka’s dry water-proof mittens to make up for the fact that she still had dry feet in her heavy-duty leather walking boots. No I’m not going to get a pair for myself because I have no intention of doing a lot of heavy-duty walking trips in the future. I’ve already got a half-knackered heavy-duty pair for walking across the plateau in Austria. This is only Wales. We should have just walked in wellies. Or accepted sopping wet feet as a standard part of the experience, as they do in New Zealand.

The public lavatories at the foot of the Claerwen Dam were unlocked. Marvelous. Wales does do bogs well. Unlike the other four dams, which are Victorian, this one was opened in 1952 by the Queen. My mother has a distinct memory of lining up there along the track with all the other girls from the whole of mid-Wales in their best outfits for hours to welcome the Queen. The car drove past. The Queen got out and unveiled the stone with her name on it, and quickly drove away without even a wave. People were quite miffed. Maybe it was too early in her career when she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do for her job. Her job is like Santa Claus; it’s to dress up and behave in a way in her capacity as the Queen that makes people feel good.

Up on top it got rather snowy and marshy. We navigated by dead reckoning, without having done the basics of keying critical waypoints into the GPS that would have made it a whole lot easier. We were on the south side of the reservior. The north side has a long convoluted track along the water (boring to walk, but good on a bike). I’d lead my sister and mother across the moor from the other dams and wound up there with a long walk back to the car once. They were not amused.

There are a lot of sheep around here. We got down into the correct valley, wading through mud, and eventually hit a flooded road that lead all the way to Strata Florida, which is a funny name for a ruined abbey in Wales, and why I’d always wanted to come here. Turns out it controlled a lot of lead mining in the area back in the day, which was why it was so well off; not because it was in a particularly holy location, like the Skelligs of Ireland.

We pitched up in the woods on the side of the road, where we had to turn out the lights every time a car passed because Becka was so worried we’d get caught and told to go away.

I said, you’ve got to be kidding. Nobody cares we are here. It’s Christmas day. The only reason someone would bother get out of their car and tramp through the wet woods to hassle us in our tent would be to give us a mince pie. Didn’t happen. We ate our boil-in-the-bag curries, listened to a podcast, and fell asleep. I’d been blowing snot out of my nostrils all day with a cold to the extend that think I must have been dehydrated.

Day 3. Direct to Aberystwth. The reason none of the stops were planned is I had no idea how far we would get in a day, between the lack of light and the soreness of the feet. That’s the other reason for going out on the shortest days of the year — no chance for certain people to insist on a 13 hour forced march to make the most of the day. I am capable of a lot of whinging, but having the sun set is so much more decisive.

The original plan was to follow the Borth-Pontrhydfendigaid Trail north to Devil’s Bridge and then make our way to Aberystwyth the following day, but even Becka thought the path was going to be too squalid and boring. So we got on to the Yswyth Cycle Trail and dragged ourselves onwards. I was in a pretty sorry state. The Boxing Day kayakers on the river were probably having a lot more fun than we were.

The problem with walking is it’s so slow you can’t really travel out of civilization into the wilderness and then back into civilization on the same day consistently, like you can on a bike. You’re going to use a lot of time traversing the suburbs, so you’d better learn to like it. The backpacks were significantly lighter for having eaten all our healthy non-Christmassy food, but my feet were oh so sore for the last two miles into town. We sat in the square as the night chill set in searching the internet on my phone for a hotel that was open.

The Four Seasons Hotel (the clue is in the title) saved the day. The best £65 we have spent for a night. I am so grateful I almost considered wasting an hour creating trip-advisor account in order to provide a positive review. Becka washed and dried all our stuff on the towel rack, while I sat in bed watching trash TV. She enhanced the boil-in-a-bag curries (heated from water from the kettle) with a box of raw mushrooms, and grumped when I found it unpalatable. One day I’m going to institute a raw mushroom eating contest to see how crazy it drives people. It sounds like it should be easy, but there’s only so much crunchy mush you can can take in one sitting. The hotel cooked breakfast, on the other hand, was better than any Xmas dinner, given the state we were in.

After a walk on the wild water front as the storms came in, we caught the train back to Liverpool in the morning, had tea, packed Becka’s caving gear and drove off to Bull Pot Farm where she caved every day for the next five days and complained she didn’t get enough, and I did my best to work on this stay-down linking feature while looking out at the rotten weather. I try to explain that this is efficient, because there’s no way I’m going to be able to focus on this stuff when it’s flying weather again. Rock on with 2014.

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