On a dreary, damp Saturday morning, the last day of March, we headed off from Knighton, Powys, the clock tower in the middle of town marking the start of the 133 miles national trail that runs through mid wales to Machynlleth and back out towards Welshpool a mere 30 miles further north of our starting point.
We left in good spirits and as we headed out of town, taking a wrong turn and having to turn around, we slowly started to climb into the hills and had our first encounter with what was to become a constant companion on the trail. Mud.
Our morale took a nosedive as the drizzle continued and the mud got thicker but we stopped for lunch and cheered up as the rain relented in the afternoon.
We pushed on through the afternoon but the going was slow, we had to divert slightly to avoid a pond of liquid mud and a group of rather frisky cows, which would have been fine if another group of hikers hadn’t just made them even more jittery, but we were making our customary 2 mph average that we do on most walks. We stopped again in Llangullo for a warm up in the pub and then headed up into the hills. After a short section on tarmac we got back into open country and it really started to feel like we were on a long trail again.
About 6pm fatigue started to hit the kids so we started looking for somewhere to camp. We were short of our planned goal of 12.5 miles but had covered over 10 that day, and with the usual first day late start and tough trail conditions we were happy and confident of making the distance up over the next few days. We headed up onto the moorland around Beacon Hill and after negotiating a wobbly gate, we snuck into a small forestry plantation, where we pitched the tents and tucked into some minestrone cup a soup before settling down for the night.
We woke to a frosty morning and blue skies, had a quick biscuity breakfast and headed off down the trail, through open hill country which felt higher than its 350m elevation and stopped for second breakfast just after the point we were aiming to end the previous days hiking. That was a good thing really, the boggy ground would have made pitching up quite a task, so after some porridge and coffee (not the kids) we carried on through yet more ankle deep mud. The kids were enjoying breaking the ice on the abundant puddles but by lunchtime they were all suffering with wet feet and cold hands. We stopped for lunch above a farm in Felindre and tried to dry boots and feet and change socks.
The afternoon was really tough going, it got colder and greyer and the trail conditions were at best, awful. A hard wet winter had really taken its toll and I was beginning to think that maybe we were a month too early. We pressed on and on and were getting really tired and fed up of the mud but then, and this really lifted our spirits, we walked almost through a windfarm. This was also an ideal spot to camp for the night but we were again short of our target and if we were going to have time to finish the trail we would have to press on at least for a couple more miles.
We had a long, very hard day on the trail and although we had made up some lost mileage from the previous day we were still 3 or 4 miles from where we had planned to camp but after consulting the map we decided to jump into a field a little way of trail for the night. We had just got the tent up when it started to rain so we had oatcakes and squirty cheese for tea and an early night.
I started knocking the snow off the tent at about 10.30pm and had to pull a sleeping Evan away from the edge of the tent as the snow started to build up. It was quite exciting because we hadn’t woken up to snow while camping before. I was sure it would turn to rain and be gone by the morning.
The world was white when we woke up so we quickly packed away the tent and headed through the snow to the village of Llanbadarn-Fynydd and a little shop where we had hot coffee and a sausage roll for breakfast. We spoke at length about the conditions and while Nana, (My Mum who had joined us for the first few days) decided to leave the trail and head home, we resolved to press on, after all it was raining lightly now so the snow will be gone by lunchtime!.
As we headed up the hill we realised we were heading for hiking like we had never encountered with the kids before. The combination of snow on the ground, mud under the snow and zero visibility meant that the going was extremely slow and navigation was difficult. We were cold, wet and tired and we had all slipped over multiple times. I quietly checked the tent which was soaking from the previous night and packing quickly meant the inner was now also soaked. We had about 5 miles to go to a very basic campsite and 20 until a real opportunity to dry out at Llanidloes which at this rate was another 2 and half days and the forecast showed no let up in the rain. As I turned to Hazel to talk about giving up, I slipped, bent my knee the wrong the way and burst into tears. Our hike was over.
We had made an escape plan which was put in motion by a text message but it was with heavy hearts we left the trail to the safety of a roadside resting spot and sat in the rain waiting for our lift. I was really down and wished we could have carried on. I know deep down we made the right decision, hiking is supposed to be a fun thing for us to do as a family, we embrace the challenges and suffer the hardships together as a family and while this trip had been a bit of a slog from the start, it had ultimately turned dangerous and while we will always look for adventures that challenge us we will never cross that line. The trail will be there for next time.
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