The well kept secrets of Wales – Part One

Once more a long weekend took us by surprise. We had no plans at all but 4 days of freedom, no work, no nothing, just freedom. So as usual, Google maps and street view worked over time. We were eyeing the Alps, Normandy, even Brittany, until we noticed the small, innocent looking piece of land in the western part of the Great Britain. Wales.

That was decided, ferry was booked and maps were hunted down on the last minute. Our road trip to the Brecon Beacons National Park started on Wednesday afternoon, after work. We sorted the traffic chaos of Belgium, we hopped onto the boat in Calais and sailed across the channel and started driving left. Which can be horrifying at the beginning.

It was not a short drive and the roads through Welsh countryside, they are not exactly wide. At many spots we were afraid our car would not fit in between the high fences on each side. On top of that, the blind corners and summits are plentiful. Eventually, we arrived past 3 in the morning to our first camping spot, in a foresty valley close to a hill called Sugar Loaf. We were surrounded by perfect darkness and the stars in the sky were so bright, they almost looked to be close enough to be touched. Top that off with owls hooting in the forest and you are in a  fairy tale. Wales did its best to welcome us.

After a cold night came a brisk morning and we finally got to see our surroundings. Sheep. They do remind you that the location is UK. They are everywhere. Our first climb was the Sugar Loaf, nothing too high, but they promised a nice panoramic view from the top. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and mildly windy. The spring hadn’t yet reached too far, the colors were in the shades of beiges and browns, birds singing all around us. It was not too dissimilar to the German heather, we had visited a year earlier.

After getting back to our car, we headed for a search for our next camping spot, closer to the actual beacons of the Brecon Beacons park. We found a bunch of small roads running through an area of moorlands and something called shake holes. Shake holes are round depressions on the ground, that vary in size and are formed, apparently, by dissolving limestone. Anyways, they look odd in the landscape.

With the shake holes came a surprise. Wild ponies! I had no clue, that alongside sheep, they also herd ponies in the wild in Wales. There was a small herd of Welsh Mountain Ponies hanging around a parking area. My inner pony girl didn’t really need any more encouragement and jumped right out running around like crazy. And it was the season for foals, of course! Those tiny little cuties!

After a small walk in the moor, getting lost and diving into holes, it was time to find a spot for the next night. We found one surprisingly easily again, at a parking right next to our next destination at the beacons, with a waterfall and other nice things at site. We had our campfire and some sparkling wine as we listened the night fall over the forest, and the owls waking up. Next day we would be conquering the beacons of the Brecon Beacons, which means quite some climbing.

As we crawled out of our tent, we were greeted by a lovely old Jack Russel terrier, bringing the news, that the parking area was soon going to be flooded by hikers, going for a guided walk. So we tore down the camp at record speed and shoveled down a breakfast and checked our route. We would be heading up to the ridge of the beacons from the side of a reservoir from where it was a short hike for the highest peak of Pen Y Fan, which is the UK’s highest peak south of Mt. Snowdon.

The beacons are a damned pretty line of mountains. With soft slopes to the south and steep cliffs to the north. The trail following the ridge was crowded, being public holiday and all, but even my peace loving Finnish soul was able to handle it, once we first sorted out a standoff with some rams.

On the way to the top, we saw a parachute jumping off to the air, flip in a weird way and disappear from sight. Not long, and we saw a rescue helicopter approach the scene. The jumper had been smacked to the steep wall of the Cribyn, the peak next to Pen Y Fan. The rescue operation took a few hours, but the jumper seemed to survive eventually. Scary stuff.

We walked the peaks, which looked to be the favorite picnic spot for many and admired the amazing view over the green lands. You could probably see all the way to the sea, on a clear day. Finally we found a ridge to take us back down to our car. For the final descent the trail maker seemed to have adopted very water like strategy. Straight down and into a swamp.

After the walk we were sun burnt and it was rather apparent, that we were immensely out of shape. Which is scary, since in a month, we should be conquering a whole different type of mountains, high ones. But at least we know, that they shall be only one way from here. Up.

That brought our day into conclusion. Next camping spot in mind we drove off, further to the west, towards The Black Mountain. About that, I’ll write in the following post. Hang on  for a day or two, the trip is getting better!


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