Brecon Beacons 2017

Previously posted separately from my phone in the little blue tent but now all parts together plus some thoughts on the trip as a whole.

Day 1.

After a quick visit to see the grandparents in the shire, we’ve crossed the border and are camping in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

We left around noon and headed for Brecon where the canal and a pair of Canadian Canoes waited for us. Now, I’ve not really paddled before apart from a little mess around at the beach but Hazel was pretty proficient in her youth so for once, she was our leader in this new adventure.

With Evan and I in one boat and Lil and Isa with their mum in the other we headed out along the water. It didn’t take long to get the hang of it but a brief lapse in concentration would often see the boat not quite facing the right way.

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After picking blackberries from the bank and possibly scrumping a few early apples we finished the afternoon racing through the last few bridges back to the canal basin. Shoulders aching we headed for the play park and some doughnuts.

As I write (for the first time from the phone) we’re settling down in the famous old blue tent, at a lovely campsite in the national park. We’ve had noodles for tea and tomorrow we’re heading for Pen y fan and later on we’ll go looking for the bat cave. Apparently the Dark Knight was filmed nearby so I expect we’ll be chasing the Joker around the Brecon Beacons most of the evening.

Day 2.

Oh the rain! It was dry when we woke up, we had a porridge breakfast and headed into the mountains for Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn. However by the time we pulled into the car park at the bottom of the hill it was bloody awful. Now we’re not usually fair weather hikers but today we made an exception.

We headed off for the Four Falls Trail nearby, a nearly 6 mile loop which at times turned into some light scrambling (for us at least) and takes in, as suggested, four waterfalls. The weather improved for a moment as we hiked but then got steadily wetter and wetter but not as damp as we got when we managed to go behind the curtain of one of the falls, a first for the children and Hazel.

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Later on we found another little hike to the waterfall which was in Batman Begins or the Dark Knight. Isaac was especially excited to find the entrance to the Bat Cave but he’s made me promise not to reveal the location incase the Joker reads Just up the trail.

Back at the campsite we’re the only ones left. I think everyone else has gone somewhere drier but we’re warm and cosy in our little blue tent.

Day 3.

It’s quiet up here. I’m sat on top of Pen Allt-mawr just above Cwmdu. It’s 8:45am and occasionally the sun is peaking through and lighting the valley below and its innumerable shades of green.

I’ve been selfish and come out on my own and left everyone else sleeping. Some of our family joined us yesterday and it’ll be great for the kids to play with their cousins later and for Hazel to spend time with her brother but sometimes I just need to climb a big hill.

I left camp and followed a footpath for a bit before jumping onto some sheep tracks. It was hard going but after an hour I’m here and very pleased with myself. A 700+m hill before breakfast can only be good for the soul. If I head back down now I might get some porridge, or I could just sit for 10 more minutes.

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Postscript

After getting back down to camp I found that there was no porridge. There was however, bacon and sausages so that was quickly devoured. As our companions were recovering from an epic charity hike in the Cotswolds the previous weekend we just went down to Crickhowell for a wander along the river and the canal. It was a nice gentle stroll which included a stop in the pub which was a real treat. We’re not really ones for pub stops, neither of us really drink and the kids aren’t fussed so I was slightly surprised to be called back after walking past the place without evening noticing its existence. The kids played nicely with their cousins and we managed about 6 miles of gentle riverside walking.

I feel we have unfinished business in the Beacons, we didn’t get up any sizeable hills together but hey, there’s always next time. We did go kayaking for the first time and the waterfalls were a real treat so we can’t complain. Considering the weather I think we made a really good fist of 3 days in the National Park.

Review: Coleman Cobra 3. Our Little Blue Tent

The Tent that Redefined our Adventuring.

A few years ago we came to a conclusion. Camping holidays are frustrating.  We would get together all the stuff we felt we needed, cram it into the car and drive for hours, kids squashed in like sardines to a campsite that had been booked months in advance and build a camp. Then we head off to explore and return every night to basecamp. Yes we had loads of fun but we seemed to spend so much time in the car that it got too much. No more car camping. (You can read more about our decision making here)

I managed to pick up two 3 man Coleman Cobra tents at a good price and they have had a really positive effect on our camping expeditions. The idea was to be more portable while we’re away and that has definitely happened. I bought 2 tents so initially Hazel and the little ones could share while Evan and I go into the second. When the kids get older they can share and husband and wife can be reunited. That was the plan.

The first time we took them out was just to the back of the Island (or the south coast if you prefer). We set up the first tent really quickly and immediately put the second one away. These tents were massive (for 3 man tents) so we decided to experiment. As it was only for one night we all piled in and we had plenty of room.

Since then we have only ever set up one tent at a time and it’s only now that the kids are three years older that it’s beginning to be a squeeze. The second tent lives in my backpack (inside a smaller stuff sack with poles strapped on the outside) for impromptu wild camps. We have even swapped the inner for a groundsheet in the summer if we know bugs won’t be an issue

So far these tents have kept us dry and warm (it went down to -8 last March) and I have every confidence that they will perform admirably when we hike the West Highland Way this Easter. The only slight issue we’ve experienced is that condensation can be an issue but I’m sure that’s only because there’s 5 of us in it, anyway when it’s dry we generally leave the doors open so I can doze off under the stars.

Update January 2018:

The tent did indeed perform well on our West Highland Way trip last Easter the only downside was the weight. After a couple of days I really felt every gram of the 2.9kg but in fairness it kept 5 people warm and dry in at times some horrendous weather and I think I’ll struggle to find a tent that sleeps 2 adults and 3 kids for much less weight unless I spend an obscene amount of money.

There were a couple of times when we had to hike longer to get to a campsite for the night because potential wildcamping spots in the trees were too small for the tent, but would have perfect if we’d carried a tarp as well.

All in all, we love our little blue tent but this will definitely be the last year we all cram into it because the kids are growing too quickly. Whether we look for an ultralight 4 man replacement or get an additional 2 man tent for the kids to share while we stay with the Coleman remains to be seen.

Moel Siabod; Our Most Favourite Mountain

“That was pretty rad what with that drop and the scrambling and the wind, pretty scary in parts, you know cos of the kids and that sheer drop and….. That was ****ing amazing!”

We had just got back to the camp and we were all tired and exhilarated and hungry and well, just buzzing really. It was another of our 9 or 10 hour days on the hill but this one just felt different.

We had broke camp at around 6 am and the kids were excited. We had planned the whole trip around today and Isaac had been constantly telling his teachers at preschool that he was going to climb Moel Siabod during the summer. So off we went, across the stream at the end of the campsite and then upwards and onwards.

The kids ran ahead of us once we had done the little bit of roadwork and were on the mountainside, stopping a the occasional stile or fork in the trail. We headed up through the old quarry towards Daer Ddu.

 The Daer Ddu ridge on the south east side of the summit is a popular route but it does involve some grade 1 scrambling; albeit friendly in nature

Daer Ddu was the reason for such an early start, although I’d done some reading and studied the map I wanted to get “eyes on” before committing to it. We hadn’t really done any scrambling before so we were looking for a nice introduction.

All I can say is WOW. For the most part it was easy going, there were one or two places where I felt a bit exposed and while the kids were happy to go anyway, I did backtrack and find an alternative route that just felt a bit, well, less droppy!

I think something clicked on Moel Siabod and we went from parents taking their children up a mountain to a real team. The kids could lead the way when appropriate and when someone had to take charge, they would follow instructions without any complaints. We made sure we stayed together, the bigger kids helped the smaller ones and we got to the top together.

The Minffordd Path – Cadair Idris

It feels like an age ago but in November 2015 we headed up Cadair Idris. There is a longer story but here it is in pictures.

Sea to Summit

On Saturday morning, an hour or so later than planned we left Shanklin sea front on our latest adventure. To climb to the top of the Isle of Wight. An alternative route would have started in Ventnor and involved a steeper climb, mainly through town and a much shorter distance, but to go from Shanklin seemed a better option.

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We follow the coastal path, which circumnavigates to whole of the Island, (a 76 mile route we hope to do at half term) along the esplanade with its crazy golf, fast food cafes and amusement arcades to the steps which take up the cliffs and through the edges of town. For most of this stretch you can’t see the ocean, the view blocked out by large ugly buildings that could be hotels or retirement homes, its hard to tell which at times. The walking becomes better as you leave Shanklin and pass onto the Landslip at Luccombe.

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Its a proper trail from here and as the vegetation closes in around you the Hart’s Tongue Ferns and sedges that line the trailside help you to forget the last forty minutes or so pounding tarmac. It’s safe for the kids to run ahead and its here we spot a Red Squirrel playing in the Ash and Sycamore trees, the kids climb the trunk of a Sycamore that has fallen across the path like an archway. The path meanders on nicely and we start to climb as we head inland.

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We pass through the Devils Chimney, a steep staircase cut through the rock that smugglers use when, well, smuggling, and after crossing the road we’re onto the downs and heading upwards towards something that looks suspiciously like snow. That suspicion is confirmed when I get an icy smack on the back of the head and a wet chill down the inside of my jacket. (I cannot confirm, but I reckon it was my Wife). Further up still we find three sets of eyes staring at us from deformed faces. The snowmen built the day before are clearly struggling to keep themselves together in the warm winter sunshine but the children manage to find enough snow to add to the group of icy watchers.

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We pass grazing goats and follow a long fence line which houses the compound of the radar station. We find the trig point on the top of St Boniface Down (officially a Marilyn) and the views are great. We look down on Ventnor, North to Cowes and the Medina, West over to far away Freshwater and down to the East, Shanklin and Sandown. We can’t, however, stand on the very top of the Isle of Wight because its sits, behind the fence in the radar station. I think about making the kids crawl under the tiny gap between gate and puddle but decide that we’re close enough and take a photo at the gate.

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We return to the sea along Shanklin Down, which is extremely muddy, back through town for a last leisurely stroll along the beach. Sea to Summit and back again. Done.

More photos and our route from this hike can be found on facebook.com/justupthetrail

Snowdon 2015

They’re just part of the Adventure, right?

The guy in the car park looked at us like we were mad and to be fair to him there was a little bit of crazy that had brought us to this point.  The clocks had changed over the previous weekend so wanting to make the most of the now limited daylight hours we had arrived at an empty Pen y pass car park at first light on a chill but sunny late October morning. Up the PYG and down the Miners, a well trod route offering enough interest without being too taxing. Probably four hours up and three down all being well.  Just as I tightened my backpack straps and prepared to set off I was reminded of the “crazy” element of our little band of summit seekers.

“Dad, Mum said can you do my laces?”

Was it crazy to bring the kids along? Part of me was sure it was but we were ready with extra snacks, plenty of additional breaks factored in and naturally a preparedness to do some carrying. We were also, and this was important to us, happy to bail at any stage if it got too much for them, after all it was supposed to be fun, so a day IN the mountains was favorable to half an hour on top of one.

I checked my watch as we set off and it was 7.45 am. We chatted to countless people passing us as they charged by and again a couple of hours later on their way down while we were still stubbornly heading upwards. The kids were in great spirits and they pretty much ran and skipped up although our youngest, Isaac who had just turned 4 in September was determined to find the hardest route to the top. If the track went around a rock he had to scramble over it. Evan (8) plodded on in his own little world with a quiet determination and Lil (6) chatted all the way. With plenty of stops we reached the rather busy summit by just after 2 pm.

We headed back down after another snack break, and had a little paddle in the lake alongside the Miners Track. No one complained about sore feet or legs but I’m surprised the children’s hands weren’t sore from all the high fives and fist bumps they received from fellow hikers. Even when the rain set in about 4.30 there were no complaints. We got back to the car park about 5.45 pm, a full ten hours on the hill, in the dark and with only our car left parked up. Within 5 minutes, two out of three were asleep in the back while we made our way back to our lodge.

I think back on that day now, more than a year and several other hill days and summits later, to the guy who thought we were mad to take three young kids up Snowdon and to how proud I was with their efforts, I mean WE DID IT, no one cried, no one complained, no one carried anyone else and EVERYONE wanted to do it again the next day.