Living in South Wales means that I am never far from the mountains or the sea. These two things that I love are both within easy reach at just a 30-minute drive away, which makes me feel very lucky indeed to have them on my doorstep. Despite this, it has been a while since I have found the time to head to the mountains for a ramble.
My parents are keen walkers and my Dad is a trained Mountain Leader. He takes groups of walkers on rambling holidays and guided walks all over Britain and even abroad. He loves what he does and it doesn’t feel like a job for him at all as he enjoys it so much. I definitely follow in my parents’ footsteps with my love for the mountains. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being out in the wilderness, surrounded by nature, with fresh air filling your lungs, untouched countryside views sprawling all around you and barely coming across another person for miles. I have always enjoyed being active and spending time outdoors hiking and climbing in the open air. It is uplifting, invigorating, rejuvenating and refreshing. Being up in the hills feels like a little bit of well-deserved “me time”, far away from the digital world of emails, Facebook and phones. It is a chance to escape it all and just enjoy spending time with the people I care about most – my family, friends and of course my dog, Pepsi.
I recently booked some time off work around my birthday. I have (luckily) never had to work on my birthday and I intend to keep that tradition going for as long as I possibly can. Part of my plans during my time off included a walk with my parents and I left it up to them (the experts in my opinion!) to decide on a location for our mountain hiking adventure. All I asked for was that the walk wasn’t too long and difficult and that we went on a day when the weather was forecast to be good. I usually don’t mind getting out in the rain… It all dries out after all! But if you’ve read my recent blog about my Y Not Festival experience, you will know that I have had enough rainy weather to last me a while and I was keen to avoid looking like a drowned rat again any time soon!
So, our plans were made and we were headed for the Carmarthen Fans, also known as the Black Mountain Range between Carmarthenshire and Powys in the Brecon Beacons. We set off early in the morning when it was foggy and drizzling – not exactly the clear sunny day that had been forecast. But we had a bit of a drive to reach our destination and my fingers and toes were crossed in the hope that the weather would clear up. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The rain got worse and persisted throughout the day, but we were not going to let that stop us! Togged up in our waterproof coats and walking boots, we set off from a secluded village in the middle of nowhere.
Starting off at a little stone church at the heart of a village, we walked down a winding lane that led us to the mountains. I asked Dad to take me on an easy walk, but it didn’t feel very easy when we were immediately climbing up a steep ascent that looked like an old rocky river had once run there! I was hot and out of breath in no time (I blame my asthma for that!!) but once I reached the top, we were already surrounded by incredible views. I could see for miles across rolling fields and hills which were being disguised by the cloud and rain that was creeping in.
We continued walking onwards and upwards through fields and grassy mountainsides. As we got higher and higher, apparently the views were usually breath taking, but unfortunately all we could see this time were white clouds all around us. It almost looked like the ground dropped away down a cliff at some points where everything was consumed by the clouds. But we still came across some unexpected surprises, like badgers’ setts burrowed into the hillsides and lines of sheep following their leader.
The terrain soon started to change and become more rugged and rocky, with limestone jutting out beneath the grass. My Dad had been here before and knew that there was a secret cave hidden away on the hillside in this area. It proved a little tricky to find in the fog, but he’s good with his compass and map and we found it in no time. There’s no wonder that not many people would find this cave. From the outside, it just looked like a little hole in the ground. Just like another badger’s sett. But he said he had been into the cave before and although it’s a bit of a squeeze to get in, it opens into a cavern inside.
I’m not a lover of small spaces, but I faced my fear and clambered into the cave with my head torch on. The entrance to the cave was a tight gap between the limestone rocks. it was narrow and slippery from the rain and it tilted downwards meaning that I had to lower myself into the cave backwards. It was a bit daunting to say the least, but just like my Dad had said, once through the small opening, the cave was quite a bit bigger inside. There was another awkward small gap to climb through before the cave opened into a cavern full of stalagmites and stalactites. It wasn’t a big cave, but it was more than big enough for the two of us and I could even stand up at points. Beyond the main cavern, the cave descended into another smaller space that sometimes filled with water. A rainy day was definitely not the time to go exploring down there and I was too much of a chicken anyway! We made our way back out of the cave (getting a little bit stuck along the way) to have a lunch pit-stop with Mum and Pepsi who were waiting outside, sheltered from the rain by the natural barrier formed by the cave.
A short time later, we were refuelled and ready to go. Once again, the easy walk became not so easy! We were walking uphill again, but this time on a sloping, lumpy-bumpy, boggy surface. I got wet feet when my boots were unexpectedly submerged in hidden bogs and poor little Pepsi was soaked to the skin as she jumped from puddle to puddle. The views were, yet again, supposed to be fantastic, but it was all left to the imagination under the blanket of fog around us.
I was glad to reach the summit and begin our descent to Llyn Y Fan Fach – a glacial lake with a legendary story to tell. It was on the trek down to the lake that we came across other people for the first time during our walk and like us, they were drenched but still undeterred from exploring the mountains and lakes around us. As we descended the mountain, a ridge started to appear from the fog and slowly but surely, a stunning lake emerged before us surrounded by the steep sided ridge. The landscape reminded me of the natural beauty of Iceland, so pure and untouched! It was worth the trek to get there and I can imagine that it would be the perfect spot for a picnic on a sunny day. However, I was just glad that the rain and mist had cleared up enough for me to get a good view of the lake.
At this point, my Dad being the keen mountain-leader that he is, launched into the mystical story of the lady of the lake – an ancient and local Welsh legend. The tale is about a young man who often took his cattle to graze on the Black Mountain and who one day saw a beautiful lady on the shore of Llyn Y Fan Fach. He offered her cheese and home-baked bread and asked for her hand in marriage, but she refused because his bread was too stale. On another visit to the lake, he made a second attempt, offering the beautiful lady a fresh loaf of bread that had been taken out of the over early to ensure it was not too hard. Once again, the lady at the lake declined, claiming that the bread was not baked enough. On his third attempt, the lady of the lake accepted his loaf and his offer of marriage and she brought him a large dowry of cattle, sheep, goats and horses from the lake. However, she warned him that if he were ever to strike her without reason three times, he would lose her and she would return to the lake with her animals. The couple lived together for many years and raised three sons, but over the years the husband did strike the lady on three occasions. Although these occasions were not intended to harm her and were not out of malice, true to her word, the wife returned to the lake with her animals, leaving behind her husband and children. The sons missed their mother very much and returned to the lake in the hope of seeing her again and one day, the lady of the lake appeared to them and showed them some medicinal herbs and remedies from the lake. Legend says that the three sons then went on to become the famous Physicians of Myddfai. It was a captivating story and I love Welsh legends and myths, but on this occasion, I didn’t see the lady of the lake.
We meandered our way back down to the village where we started our walk. The sun was finally trying to come out through the clouds which dried us off at last and I kept stopping to take photos because the views were so beautiful. Overall, by the time we got back to the car, we had walked just over 11 kilometres, but it didn’t feel like a long trek because it was full of surprises along the way. Despite the typical Welsh weather, I still love the mountains more than I can describe. They’ve got so many tales to tell and treasures to discover and I’m very lucky to call Wales my home! Get in touch with Simon Foster (my Dad) if you’re interested in finding out more about his guided walks.