Wilderness Wales


The Longest Day

Fourteen years ago, on this very day in 1993, I did my longest walk ever, a circuit of Mynydd Du. My goal was to bag as many summits and high points as possible enroute, hopefully 18 of them. IIRC the total distance was around 22 miles and the total ascent 5,600ft. I was still walking in imperial units at the time! I failed to complete my goal, managing only 15 of the 18 summits. I bypassed the last three because I was so knackered. I made the mistake of not taking enough food with me, and my legs got very sunburnt.

Unfortunately I was taking a rare few months break from photography at the time, so I have no photos of the walk. A pity, but at least that enabled me to travel light for a change. Here’s the account I wrote at the time, slightly modified.

The Escarpment

Started from Gwyn Arms at 7:55am, bright sunshine, very hazy. Followed the Afon Tawe to the ‘Private No Entry’ sign. Cheek! This is a right of way! Turned left and up through fields. Difficult fence to cross at top, interesting contortions negotiating blackthorns and barbed wire. Followed drainage ditch to ruins, ground still wet and boggy due to much recent rain. Stopped for food, pastie & chocolate bar. Continued up to Allt Fach, steep and tiring. Walking easier from here on. Stopped at crags 500m, changed into shorts, very warm now, applied sun cream to arms, shoulders, neck and face, but not my legs!

Long, tedious slog up Fan Hir, exhausting, made me wonder about the sensibility of doing the full planned walk. Increasing cloud cover, Cumulus initially, with hints of Cirrus. Lovely boulder field on the way up. Enjoyable walking and hazy views from Fan Hir ridge, spotted first walker with dog at Llyn y Fan Fawr. Increased pace to Bwlch Giedd to try to outrun other walkers. One or two stops up to Fan Brycheiniog, tiring but not too bad. Spotted walkers approaching therefore short rest at shelter before continuing. Easy walking to Twr y Fan Foel & Fan Foel, good view of Bannau Sir Gaer in spite of haze. Spotted tent on far side of Llyn y Fan Fach. Cumulus got much thicker, getting slightly chilly in the shade, assumed that the clouds would lessen away from the main summits.

Stream flowing at Bwlch Blaen Twrch suprisingly, made me wonder about potential camp site here. Good ground but difficult to get to with heavy sacks. Another tiring ascent up Picws Du but took it slowly and the views compensated. Spotted walker descending Fan Brycheiniog. Most pleasant walk along Bannau Sir Gaer. Unfortunately passed walker, child and dog. Spoilt the whole day! Saw two backpackers striking camp next to lake, thus verifiying earlier sighting. Awful path improvement beside gully, prettily arranged white stones, contrasting the red, bordering the path in an upright fashion, Yeeuch! Perhaps they’ll be planting a nice shrubbery there next! Continued over vague summit of Waun Lefrith, past nice pond, just in time to avoid confrontation with group of backpackers. Now I was in the wilderness.

The Wild West

First serious bog at head of Afon Mihartach, no problem though. As expected, less cloud cover in this area. Reached Carreg yr Ogof by midday, nice to see all these white limestones. First proper rest, more food, pork pie & chocolate bar. Gave my feet a good airing, seemed to be in good condition, replenished the talcum powder in my socks. Not very tired on the whole, and considering that all the hardest slopes had been done I decided to do the full walk. Bad decision, but didn’t realise it at the time.

Spotted a couple more walkers on my ascent to Garreg Las, avoided them though. Stopped at Carnau’r Garreg Las. Rough walking here but my feet handled it well. Saw another walker at a short distance, seemed to be taking great pains to avoid me, good! Wandered vague route over very interesting rocks at Godre’r Garreg Las. Clouds dissipating, endless sunshine from now on. Descended difficult steep bouldery rocks en route to Blaen y Cylchau. Lovely streams here, replenished my water supply, shame to put a puritab in. Looked like a few good spots for tent pitching, but didn’t have time for a closer examination. A bit far to walk to though. One walker and two backpackers passed in opposite directions on the slopes above me while I rested.

Decided to do Cefn y Cylchau ‘because it was there’, although when I got there I couldn’t really find it, talk about a vague summit! On a par with Waun Lefrith. A few nice ponds around though. Walking westwards I proceeded to discover another summit (sorry, insignificant eminence), a lovely bunch of rocks sticking out of the moorland, identified as being the little squiggle on the 540m contour line. Continuing the trend I proceeded to another eminence, more difficult to pinpoint, but easier to name; Cefn y Truman.

Still feeling quite good at this point. After a bit of bog I reached my previous camp site on the Afon Clydach, but was unable to find my lost tent peg. Steep ascent to Moel Gornach, taking it slowly, getting rather tired now, but not so bad ascending Garreg Lwyd. Stopped for my second major rest about four o’clock, for almost an hour this time. More food, two pasties & chocolate bar. Gave my feet a second airing, starting to get sore now, not enough talcum powder left. Legs starting to burn, applied plenty of sun cream to them, but too late. Feeling fairly tired now, felt like going to sleep. Wished the walk was over, but over nine miles still to go. Low distant Cirrus, haze clearing, breezy.

The Minor Summits

Easy walking to Foel Fraith, ascent not too bad. Sun burning back of legs, put long trousers back on, and t-shirt. Getting very tired descending to Carnfadog. Nice cairn at Carnfadog, excellent view up Afon Twrch, light really clear now. Deviously steep, rough, bouldery ground descending from Carnfadog, even had to climb rocks at one point, no fun in that state though. Very boggy ground approaching Nant y Llyn, unavoidable, didn’t care if I got my feet wet. Got my feet wet, didn’t care. Didn’t care much about anything by this point, just wanted to get back, but still six miles to go.

Sunburnt legs getting very painful, agonising descent of Nant y Llyn, rough and boggy. Afon Twrch looked wonderful, nice to see it again, although jumping boulders to cross it was no fun. Stopped for a longer rest at bottom, didn’t really want to continue, but no choice. Faced with the imminent prospect of ascending Tyle Garw, 140m of the steepest slope of the walk, I found myself admiring the sundew, trying to take my mind off the inevitable.

Tyle Garw was every bit as bad as expected, extremely steep, rough and exhausting. Had to climb the crags at the top and got myself into a position where I had to leap a wide gap over a 10ft drop. Once I reached the top even flat walking was tiring. Yet more painful rock climbing to reach the top. Llorfa wasn’t far away, an easy bog to negotiate.. A much longer rest at Llorfa, and still over four miles to go. I decided to eat my last bar of chocolate, a difficult decision because I knew I’d need the calories later, but I also needed them now, so I ate it. I should have brought more food.

A long flat stretch to Carreg Lem fortunately, but unfortunately flat generally means bog in the mountains. Very strange grass actually, more like a lush lowland variety, never seen it before at that altitude, very odd that it was a bog, although I was past caring at that point and just walked straight through it. Gentle rise to Carreg Lem, difficult to ascertain the summit, in fact there were a few. I didn’t ascend the highest one, it wasn’t far away but I couldn’t really be bothered anymore. It didn’t look far to Sinc Giedd but somehow it took ages to get there.

The Final Leg

When I reached Sinc Giedd I took a long rest in the shade and applied sun cream to my legs again. I had intended to ascend Disgwylfa, Carreg Goch and Castell y Geifr from here, for an almost complete circuit of Mynydd Du summits, however any further ascent was out of the question. I decided, reluctantly, to head for the nearby bridleway, offering the path of least resistance back to the car.

Although only an easy three mile stroll, it felt like the longest three miles I’ve ever walked. My cold was bothering me considerably even though I’d hardly noticed it all day. Each time I stopped to rest it was even more difficult to get going again. My head was aching from twelve hours of sunshine, even though I’d sensibly worn a sun hat for much of the day.

As the sun began to set and I entered the world of shadow, I felt quite cold. I donned my spare clothing but that didn’t seem to help much. The final downhill stretch was very steep, and therefore difficult, but the sight of the Gwyn Arms was a great compensation. Crossing the Afon Haffes was mildly tricky under the cicumstances.

Walking back through the farm I found a number of cows and calves wandering around, and it occurred to me that the big, black ones with the nastly looking horns might be a bit protective of the frolicking calves. Sure enough, one of them was, and after a few threatening moo’s it trotted over to escort me out of its territory. I was in no mood to be intimidated so I just ignored it and carried on walking. It didn’t become aggresive and gave me no hassle. The final few yards were no longer a problem, and I reached the car at 9:16pm.

Total time taken: 13 hours 21 minutes.

Originally posted on June 6, 2007