There are occasions when we become slaves of the weather forecast, watching it religiously to see what we might encounter on a day out in the hills. This was the case this weekend, when we were heading out to walk a circuit around the northern end of the Black Mountains. If the truth were known, I was not looking forward to the prospect of getting a good soaking in the heavy rain and strong winds forecast for the day of the walk. There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. This became apparent as I stepped out of the car in my shorts and flip-flops to be greeted by fellow walkers covered up to protect themselves from the blustery wind with its autumnal nip and the inevitable rain that was going to be driven by the wind soon after we started walking.
This circular walk of 11.5 miles was going to take us immediately up the steep northern face of Hay Bluff, followed by the long southerly trudge along the largely pavemented Offa’s Dyke Path, until we came to a small pile of stones with a faint path leading off it to each side. That marked the way down, gently at first, and then more steeply on a muddy, slippery path to Capel-y-ffin where we would break for lunch. Another steep climb would take us up the nose of Darren Lwyd and along the ridge to eventually reach the summit of Lord Hereford’s Knob (Twmpa), before descending to Gospel Pass and back to the cars parked by the stone circle. It is not a particularly difficult route with the steep up sections only lasting about half an hour each. The hardest part is the descent to Vision Farm, the setting for Bruce Chatwin’s, “On Black Hill”.
Geared up for the wind and the impending rain, we set off. The reward of this walk is that within half an hour of setting out you are on the top of Hay Bluff with its dragon embossed trig point. On a clear day it has an imposing view across the Wye Valley to the hills beyond, but today it was all a bit murky. Flurries of light rain began to fall and, as we walked south along Offa’s Dyke, we could see a wall of thicker, heavier and more persistent rain coming towards us from the south-west. We just had time to make some adjustments and additions to our outer layers before it hit us.
One of the more pleasant aspects of a walk are the conversations you have en route. In the ensuing conditions, strong winds, rain, hoods up and a narrow path conversations were virtually impossible, so for much of the time we were left to our own thoughts.
Descending, carefully, we made our way to Capel-y-ffin and the shelter of the ancient yew trees around the graveyard of the chapel. The trees gave us excellent shelter from both the rain and the wind.
Immediately after lunch we had our second climb up the steep nose of Darren Lwyd, although the route avoids the more direct approach and takes us zig-zagging to a rocky outcrop just below the brow of the hill. In pleasant conditions this outcrop gives stunning views down the Llanthony Valley, but today it disappeared in a haze of cloud and rain.
One of the group was clearly having some difficulty and seemed to be drained of all energy. Unfortunately, I could not contemplate her making the long trudge along the ridge to Twmpa and eventually back to the cars. The weather had deteriorated significantly, the wind had strengthened and the rain was sheeting down. The best she could do was to retrace her steps back to the shelter of the chapel at Capel-y-ffin with Trevor who volunteered to look after her. This would leave me free to guide the rest of the group, pick up my car and collect the two from the chapel.
I gave no instruction about their descent other than to take their time in the slippery conditions. I fully expected them to retrace our steps. I learned later, when I picked them up, that they had had an enjoyable adventure! I decided not to ask too many questions.
The rest of us set off up the ridge of Darren Lwyd. I decided to set a good pace as there was nothing to be gained from lingering, fully exposed to the wind and rain. Fortunately, the wind was behind us so that instead of battling into it it was helping to push us along. There were several boggy areas we had to negotiate, but we made excellent progress and reached Twmpa after about an hour. Ironically, the conditions began to improve; the sky to the south-west began to brighten and the rain eased. The sun even temporarily brightened up some of the fields in the Wye Valley below.
The descent to Gospel Pass and on to the cars was very straight forward. It was only when we stopped that I began to appreciate how wet I was. At no time during the walk had I felt cold or wet. Instead of feeling miserable I felt excited about the conditions, enjoying feeling the elements. I felt invigorated and energised, which just proves my point at the start of this blog, that it does not always pay to be influenced by the forecast. Provided you have the right gear, bad weather can be some of the best weather to go for a walk in.
Having divested myself of my outer layers, revealed my legs again and donned my flip-flops, I drove over Gospel Pass to Capel-y-ffin to pick up Trevor and Ann. Their downward adventure meant they had only arrived at the chapel a few minutes before me, but they were in good spirits and no harm had been done, although Trevor’s hat decided to allow the wind to separate it from his head and disappear in the bracken, never to be seen again.
Photos curtesy of Claire Cox