Tuesday, May 09, 2023

king marvellous

Remember the heady days of Wills-&-Kate-mania, back before his face started going all weird? Believe it or not that (i.e. their wedding) was as far back as April 2011, a date which I commemorated by fucking off up a mountain for the day (in, thankfully, splendid weather) and declining to engage with any of it on any level. Ah, memories. 

A lot has happened since then for all of us, William included, including some salacious, probably untrue, but nonetheless extremely entertaining rumours about his sexual preferences and most notably the recent demise of his elderly grandmother and the belated ascent of his father to actual King of the United Kingdom, remembering of course that we live in one of the more absurd of the gazillion possible parallel universes, one where concepts like Being A King exist as actual things. As part of the ceremonial transition from beloved public surrogate grandmother figure who was almost certainly an Actual Nazi in private to jug-eared halfwit and maker of overpriced oaty biscuits who inexplicably owns a significant chunk of Wales, there's a coronation ceremony to be held, where the great British public can enjoy many hours of wall-to-wall TV coverage of tens of millions of pounds being hosed up the wall so that an elderly man can be fitted with an absurdly impractical hat, which he will almost immediately take off and never wear again.

So, all in all, I concluded that it wasn't for me, and, since I was offered the opportunity by my patient and understanding wife to absent myself from proceedings for most of the day, I decided to go and walk up some hills. Adhering to the general (albeit loose) principle that I'd prefer to do a walk I haven't done before (even if some of the intermediate summits aren't new) I devised a walk of around 16 miles in the Black Mountains, on the grounds that that would provide a nice challenge that would occupy me for most of the day.

One obvious cloud on the horizon, no pun intended, was the absolutely atrocious weather forecast. But, if you've only got one day, you have to just do the thing you intend to do in the weather that presents itself, or stay home. So I packed up my waterproof gear and headed off, the plan being to park at the Pont Cadwgan car park, cross the road and head roughly westwards through the Mynydd Du forestry to the ridge which eventually leads north-west-ish to Waun Fach, the highest point of the Black Mountains (and which I visited once before as part of the epic 20-mile hike mentioned here), and then loop round the head of the Grwyne Fawr valley, bag the trig point on top of Rhos Dirion and then head back down the parallel ridge and eventually drop off the top of the ridge back down to the car park.

The tricky bit of most walks of this nature is getting started, in particular getting up above the fence-line marking the boundary between areas where you have to be careful about path-following to avoid straying into someone's property and open land where you can just wander where you like constrained only by the natural topography. This walk proved a rather extreme example of that for a couple of reasons: firstly that the weather forecast was unfortunately pretty accurate and the actual conditions provided weather that varied between annoying light drizzle and relentless heavy drizzle. This doesn't prohibit going out in it, but it does mean everything is several times more difficult and time-consuming, especially when you have a need to regularly consult phone and map for navigation purposes, and in this case it was both as the phone coverage was pretty much non-existent. The second reason was that it turned out that the people who manage the Mynydd Du forestry have been conducting a ruthless campaign of path closures recently, including pretty much all paths that lead up onto the ridge.

After an hour or so of fruitless trudging up and down forestry trails and occasional retracing of steps I decided to call it a day and head back to the car park to try a different route. Hilariously, it then took me another hour to find a route out of the forestry back to the road, and even more hilariously having regained the road and thought, well, at least it's just a regular trudge of a mile or so from here back to the car park, I then had to negotiate a flooded section of road by climbing a bank and scrambling into a hedge.

Scarcely believably, by the time I'd got back to the car and taken some of my frustration out on a pork pie and a couple of spicy Peperamis, I'd clocked up almost six miles of fruitless and increasingly enraged and waterlogged wanderings (roughly clockwise in the map below). I was reminded of our doomed attempts (in similar weather) to bag the couple of seemingly innocuous Munros behind our holiday cottage in Ballachulish in 2011.

I couldn't just give up and go home, though, partly because it was only lunchtime and there'd be a very real danger of still catching the tail-end of the coronation coverage, but also because I wanted to do a thing that actually achieved its original objective, however modest. As luck would have it my route back took me past the Fro car park, which is conveniently placed for a furious up-and-back assault on the Sugar Loaf from its north-eastern slopes, an angle from which, as it happened, I'd never been up it before (previous ascents were from south and, erm, also south).

The weather was still pretty shitty - not quite as rainy but very misty - but on a nicer day this would be a pretty good route up, nice steady ascent, probably some nice views. The only drawback is that there isn't an obvious way of making it a non-step-retracing circular walk without incurring a significant amount of low-level tedium at either start or end. I wasn't in the mood to worry about this and just smashed straight up, bagged the trig point and them came straight back down by the same route, four miles round trip, bish bosh, sorted. 

So, lessons: don't assume that getting to the start point will be straightforward, do as much research as you can but be prepared to be thwarted and have to replan either in a minor way or in a completely wholesale throw-plans-away-and-start-again way, do take an actual map in case of mobile signal blackspots, don't be put off by a bit of rain but do take some appropriate wet-weather gear and if you get completely fucked over doing your original thing, go and do another thing. As a life philosophy there's not quite as much there as there is in playing French cricket, but it's still good. 

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