Llanymynech Rocks

Orienteering again last Tuesday evening, this time at the Limestone quarry below the impressive cliffs at Llanymynech, on the Shropshire/Powys border. There were climbers out on the cliffs, and the whole area is a nature reserve, but the frantic activity meant that I didn’t get time to stop and admire the place.

Rather than the usual flags-on-poles and electronic dibbers, the control points were ground markers: small red and white plates with an attached pin punch. These were impressively difficult to locate, particularly in the complex broken ground and undergrowth below the cliffs.

I wasn’t at all happy to hit just 13 out of 30 controls in the 45 minutes allowed – there were several that I knew must be within a metre or so, but I just couldn’t locate and had to leave. However, the results showed that at least I wasn’t alone in suffering.

I learned two important lessons:  In complex terrain it’s vital to read – and understand – all the control symbols shown with the map rather than just heading for the control location and hoping for the best. And secondly, when the map’s that cramped, taking reading glasses or a good magnifier is a good idea.

The Monk’s Trod

Elan Valley 5-August-2011

The Elan Valley is a fascinating place from a walker’s perspective – geographically dominated by the huge reservoirs of Claerwen, Craig Goch and Caban Coch and their dams, providing water for Birmingham and the Midlands. The bulk of the land compulsorily purchased is now managed by the Elan Valley Trust, formed in 1989 to encourage public access to the area – The hills here were free to roam long before the CROW act came into force. The trust also maintains a bothy at Claerddu with unheard of luxuries like a flushing toilet and gas lighting.

Only a couple of hills hit the magic 600m mark, but there is a huge expanse of rolling open moorland with hidden lakes and deserted farmhouses to explore. The valleys are really the heartland of Elenydd, beautifully captured in Anthony Griffith’s book and photographs.

Planning a circular walk isn’t easy here, as the rivers (and reservoirs) can make crossings difficult. Also – despite the open access – there are few paths shown on the map, and as I’d found from a previous visit, many of those don’t exist on the ground. Navigation in poor visibility can be challenging in the extreme.

I’d planned a circular route from the small car park at Pont yr Elan on the mountain road to Aberystwyth that would take me over the hills and down towards Claerwen, returning mostly cross-country to hit the road near the Craig Coch dam. A couple of miles of road walking would complete the loop, but that seemed a small price to pay.

The path I was following is the Monk’s Trod – an ancient road that joins the abbeys of Strata Florida and Abbeycwmhir. Legally it’s a BOAT – A Byway Open to All Traffic, but restriction orders have banned motorized vehicles from it for many years. Just as well, as the bog is so deep in places that you’d need a helicopter to pull out your 4×4. (It’s probably easier just to jump up and down on the roof until the entire vehicle is submerged…)

Despite the restrictions, there are still many places where you can see the damage to the peat from vehicles.

The highlight of the walk was reaching Cerriglywddion – here the continuous sea of moorland and peat is interrupted by two gorgeous lakes, surrounded by small rocky crests and summits. An old farmhouse – boarded and locked – is hidden here too, with every surface smothered in lurid green paint. If you stick to the path, you’d never see it, despite being just a few hundred meters away.

I headed back cross-country, eventually finding a faint quad-bike track from the plateau of Trumau down to the abandoned farm at Lluest aber-caethon. A couple of miles back up the road to the car before a gentle drive home to assemble a trampoline…

Download file for GPS

View in Google Earth

A Pair of Wellingtons

Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons, 14-July-2011

Not those, these:

Mynydd Du (the Black Mountain) is at the queiter western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and is very different in character to the central Beacons around Pen y Fan. There’s still the amazing red sandstone cliffs of the northern escarpment, but the land further south is much wilder, and rockier. The reason – Limestone. The geology of limestone areas is very distinctive, due to the way that the stone is eroded by rainwater, forming Karst landscapes, often with extensive cave systems.

My walk started from Dan yr Ogof, where there’s a large showcave and various other attractions including, rather surreally, a dinosaur park. However, parking is a reasonable £3 and you can get straight onto the hills without any road work. The weather was baking hot with a gentle breeze, and the sky a brilliant blue as I headed up past a group of Welsh ponies.

The limestone outcrops and sink holes make for interesting walking – a straight line is rarely an option, and there’s plenty to look at. It’s also a great place to practice navigation skills, but in poor visibility it would be exceptionally challenging.

I’d read the story about the MF-509 memorial and wreckage on Carreg Goch, and reckoned that would be a good objective to locate. The memorial cairn was surrounded by many wreaths and crosses, and seeing it and the wreckage in such a remote place was surprisingly moving. It amazes me how aluminium can resist the mountain weather so well for over 65 years.

I headed back to join the path which eventually fords the Afon Twrch, before fading out completely. After a stop for lunch it was a hot but straightforward slog up the hillside to Waun Lefrith where the drama of the escarpment is finally visible, with Lyn y Fan Fach far below.

It’s a brilliant and easy walk from here along the escarpment, with one steep pull as you reach the trig point of Fan Brychieniog, which gives great views over to Pen y Fan and the (other) Black Mountains.  I wanted to continue along as much of the Fan Hir ridge as possible, before dropping down to cross the Afon Haffes back towards the start, but this was mostly off path, and I needed to pick the best spot to cross before the river runs into the deepening gorge of Cwm Haffes. I aimed for some meanders just downstream from a waterfall and headed downhill.

About half-way down I saw a flash of red about 100m in front, and was very surprised when realised I’d stumbled on another memorial cairn with a poppy wreath. No dramatic wreckage here, just a handful of rusted metal and molten aluminium, which is all that’s left of Wellington BJ697.

I’ve finally cracked getting a GPX track from my Motorola Defy into the blog. Here’s the day’s route:

Download file for GPS
View in Google Earth

Run, Walk or Fight?

One of the things drummed into us on last year’s ML training course at Glenmore Lodge was the importance of navigation – and that a handy ‘off-hill’ way of boosting your navigation skills was to do some orienteering. With this in mind, I’ve done a couple of short events with my local club – Wrekin Orienteers – to see how it went.  The intention was to avoid actually running, and just concentrate on the nav, but needless to say it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

The first event at Carding Mill Valley was on terrain that I’m reasonably familiar with. The navigation itself wasn’t difficult, but making a good route choice is a harder challenge. I was pleased to tick off 18 of the 20 controls within the 45 minute time-limit, but a major cockup misunderstanding about the rules saw me collect 70 penalty points and be classed a less-than-impressive 21st out of 25.

The second event in the grounds of Concorde College was in very different terrain, and using a 1:3000 scale map takes some getting used to. No results published as yet, but I’m confident I didn’t do much worse.

Hillwalking, and other frivolous pastimes