Monday, 7 June 2010

The Brecon Beacons, April 2008

My first wild camp took place in the Brecon Beacons in April 2008. It was fiercely cold with snow still on the peaks of Fan-y-Big and its neighbours and I was lumping a Berghaus Crag, a Mountain Hardwear PCT1 and some other less than lightweight kit. I'd learned from my earlier experiences as a twenty-something but now, bold and experienced, I was still burdened with a heavy, mountaineering pack - a poor choice. Whilst reasonably comfortable, it was simply too heavy.

Still, overcome with excitement, I grabbed the train from London to Newport and then onto Abergavenny, from which point I took my pre-arranged cab to a campsite in Talybont-on-Usk. Raining and, by now,
very dark, I pitched in a field which, even in the grim, inky blackness, I could see what mostly mud. Nevertheless, I ploughed on and pitched. The days were yet to come where I would have the erudition to bring a MSR pack towel to soak up dampness after pitching in the rain and I simply got my kit out, shuffled into my bag and tried to sleep. It was 4C and the rain kept me awake most of the night.

In the morning, I packed my kick with mounting excitement only to discover a field full of lush grass, perfect for camping. Only one part of the field was muddy...

Undeterred by this omen, I headed into Talybont, grabbed some sustenance for brekkie and for lunch and made for the hills. I took the path past the YHA and Talybont reservoir up to Tor-y-Foel and Bryniau Gleision. The views were amazing and I realised that everything that had gone before was well worth it.

As I continued on, the wind got stronger but, for all my gear faux pas, I was warm. A decent shell was recalcitrant against the wind and a fleece beanie from Les Deux Alpes bought at the last minute on a skiing holiday was perhaps the most welcome bargain of my life at that moment. Eventually, navigating across Access Land for the first time, I found myself on Pant-y-Cregiau (and began my obsession with photographing Trig Points). Not much for the view, I have to admit but an amazing wilderness milieu.

After this, I dropped down to Torpantau, ready to seek out what I had planned as my wild camp for the night. However, I had not reckoned on my fierce pace and early start - it was only 1pm! Somewhat wary of the snow and the fact that I had not slept well at 4C the night before, I was not content to head up to 650m+ and Craig-y-Fan-Ddu so opted for the easier option instead - I took the Taff Path all the way back to Tor-y-Foel. All in all, I must have clocked up 28km that day and I was shattered!

Every time you go hillwalking, you learn valuable lessons on kit selection, preparation and route planning. I was fortunate that I had selected a route that allowed me the chance to head back to an easier place to wild camp - pitching in the snow or at a height where I would have been far too cold is clearly not the best introduction to wild camping but, in the end, I found a place reasonably ok and enjoyed my time. The next day, I took the valley path along the River Usk (a river, coincidentally, I would some years later kayak in a Dagger Mamba 8.0 on Grade I and II whitewater) to Abergavenny - I learned nothing from that walk except that my feet ached and my rucksack needed replacing.

Oh, and I have not taken the train since - it's far easier to drive, have a change of clothes in the car and not be tied to cabs and trains which, on a Sunday, are not frequent...


  1. The best learning is out on the hills. Fine photos of some as well.

  2. Thanks. I agree - it's all about time in the hills and seeing what works for you and what skills you're lacking so you can practice them.

  3. Thanks. I agree - it's all about time in the hills and seeing what works for you and what skills you're lacking so you can practice them.