Sunday, April 25, 2010

none more black

My excellent and attentive web hosting provider assures me that my photo gallery will be back up and running literally Any Day Now. I've got a bit of a backlog of stuff to upload, but here's a sneak preview. These are a few photos of a couple of recent outdoor jaunts, one Hazel and I did a few weeks ago, and one I did on my own yesterday.

We did a last-minute impromptu getaway on Good Friday for a night in a B&B , which turned out to be the Ty Newydd Country Hotel just down the road from Penderyn village. Now if you've been paying attention then you'll know that Penderyn is home to Wales' only distillery, so obviously with a few hours to kill on Friday afternoon it would have been rude not to stop in and have a look around. You can get a very basic tour with a couple of free snifters afterwards for a fiver a head, so that's what we did.

Here's a couple of Penderyn facts for you:
  • The way their wash is produced (it's specially brewed to Penderyn's specifications at the Brain's brewery in Cardiff and then tankered up) would disqualify them from calling their product "single malt Scotch whisky" were the distillery in Scotland; the rules dictate that while there's no requirement to malt your barley on-site (and very few distilleries do) or bottle the end product on-site, you must do everything else on the distillery premises. Fortunately as the only distillery in Wales they can make their own rules.
  • The peated expression (which was probably my favourite of the ones I tried) is produced by finishing the standard Penderyn spirit in casks that previously held Laphroaig. This is basically the same method used to make the Glenfiddich Caoran Reserve.
  • There are apparently no plans to release any aged expressions of Penderyn; I suspect this is largely down to the volume of spirit they produce from their single still. If you're going to start laying down casks and leaving them for ten years and more you need a bit of spare production capacity, and it sounds like they're pushed to keep up with demand as it is.
Anyway, the following day we went over to Glyntawe, which is maybe 8-10 miles north-west of Penderyn as the crow flies, though a fair bit further by road. This is a good base from which to explore the western peaks of the Brecon Beacons, collectively known as the Black Mountain (though in fact it's several mountains). Because these aren't quite as high or as easily accessible by road as the eastern Beacons, and Pen y Fan in particular, they see only a tiny fraction of the visitor traffic that the eastern Beacons do, which on the one hand is a shame as these are interesting and challenging hills, but on the other hand is just fine by me, meeting other people not really being the point of the whole exercise (just the opposite in fact).

Other reasons we didn't meet more than half a dozen people all day would have included it being Easter Saturday, and also that there was quite a thick covering of snow on the ground once you got above 1500 feet or so, drifts of a good couple of feet near the top in fact. The highest point of the Black Mountain is Fan Brycheiniog at 802 metres (2631 feet); it has two summits of identical height, one of which has a trig point, the other having to make do with a low cairn.

As Hazel was off photographing a wedding yesterday I thought I'd take the opportunity to get another walk in, particularly as it was such a glorious sunny day. The route I chose was broadly the same as the one shown on this map (taken from this interesting list of walks on BadgerTrek). A couple of reasons for this: firstly I wanted something long and challenging to fully capitalise on being out on my own (no disrespect to my regular walking companions) - the route on the map claims to be 17 miles, and since I parked a bit further away in Crickhowell here I probably had to walk another couple, so I reckon 19 miles would be about right. Secondly I'd had in mind for a while a trip taking in Waun Fach, the highest point in the Black Mountains at 811 metres (2661 feet), and it's legendary for being a bit boggy, so a hot dry day at the end of a longish sequence of hot dry days seemed like the ideal time to tackle it.

A quick explanatory word: the Black Mountain in the Brecon Beacons is different from the Black Mountains of which Waun Fach is the highest point, and of which the Black Mountain and the Black Hill are subsidiary peaks. Hope that's clear.

Anyway, the route up from Crickhowell takes in the Iron Age hill fort of Crug Hywel from which the village takes its name, as well as the shapely twin peaks of Pen Cerrig-calch at 701m (2300ft) and Pen Allt-mawr at 719m (2359ft). The best that can be said of Waun Fach itself is that the views back down the ridge from its slopes are impressive; the summit plateau itself is a vast featureless bog with only a disembodied concrete stump in the middle of an eroded muddy depression to mark the spot where the trig point once stood. Even after a long dry spell some of the terrain was still a bit squelchy; in the wet it must be a bleak treacherous marshy hellhole, and if you insist (as I do) on standing by the summit marker to have your photo taken you might have to swim for it.

Again, because these hills don't quite have the glamorous appeal of the eastern Beacons they're really not all that heavily frequented - apart from the group of mountain bikers that crossed my path just before the Waun Fach ascent I don't suppose I met more than a dozen people all day. I bet you could barely move on top of Pen y Fan though.

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