To the Brecon Beacons

Off to the mountains for us next. The Brecon Beacons are supposedly named after the practice of lighting fires ‘beacons’ to warn of impending danger.

The road to the Brecons runs along the ‘heads of the valleys’ via old industrial towns like Merthyr Tydfil and the remains of that Victorian industrial heritage are everywhere, obvious with their slightly ostentatious and (given the dark stone of the area) forbidding architectural style.

The Brecons offer a wealth of parking/wild camping possibilities so we were intending to take advantage.

Our first night was at the National Trust carpark below Pen-y-Fan, we arrived on possibly the sunniest day so far in the early afternoon and watched the locals using this as their outdoor gym, turning up in lycra and trainers and making a quick dash up and back down the peak. That night the wind picked up and gusts rocked Bertie, the following morning was still brightly sunny but the wind was blowing, a better day for mountain walking as it mitigated the intensity of the sunshine. We were doing the horseshoe walk across Corn Du, Pen-y-Fan and Cribyn and then back along Graig Fan Ddu ridge. On the way we dropped down to the Neuadd reservoir where we could see one of those Victorian structures, a huge towered dam/weir which was no longer holding back any water as the reservoir had been drained.  Despite the wind keeping the temperatures down we were still very happy to see the ice cream van at the bottom to reward us for out 10 miles in the mountains.

Deeply eroded paths on the popular Brecon Beacons
Resting spot at Lower Neuadd reservoir
Looking back from the Graig Fan Ddu ridge

That night we decided to move to a lower elevation to avoid the wind. We moved along to a parking/picnic spot next to the A470 and the Llwyn-on reservoir. No wind maybe, but a bit too much traffic noise. However we were in good company with a couple of families in a caravan and motorhome enjoying a stopover on their way to their half term holidays and treating themselves to a BBQ.

After a traffic disturbed night we had a look at the maps and spotted a parking place on the other side of the reservoir. We moved first thing and then we made our plans for the day which were based around watching Exeter Chiefs in the rugby premiership final. To earn a few pints we cycled into Merthyr, then back out across the viaduct to Cefn-Coed where we found the Railway Inn serving an interesting (and yummy) selection of pies who were willing to feed us and put BT sport on. Chiefs won again in a nail biting (for Paul) final that went to extra time. It made the final uphill struggle in the rain all worth it.

Part of the Merthyr Tydfil viaduct – this picture doesn’t show just how miserably rainy it was

We stayed in that parking spot for the next night, watching the comings and goings of cars with interest – what were they doing? We had fun making up stories about them – but I did make sure we were extra secure that night!

The next day we moved on, the spell of sunny weather had obviously gone for good, the skies were grey and showery. We moved onto the west of the Brecons area to the Black Mountain where we stayed in another wild camping spot with massive views north, probably the best views so far.

That was four nights in a row wild camping. Thankfully the toilet had not reached capacity, but our water supplies had reached zero. Time to find a campsite so we could have a shower and cup of tea!

Boar Encounter

Our next stop was the Forets of Dean for some wild camping.

Wild camping usually means two key things, firstly finding somewhere to park overnight where no-one is going to object and secondly relying on the resources in the van for day to day needs. 

Bertie had been topped up with water when we left the Mendips, that would take care of drinking and washing, Bertie’s toilet had been emptied, which would take care of sanitary requirements (wee and poo in other words – we don’t know how many days we can go before it will be full up, but we’ll find out I’m sure) and one of our refillable gas canisters had been installed and filled, to take care of heating, cooking and the fridge. Hopefully the solar panels would mean our leisure battery would stay topped up for that most important of needs – connectivity.

We found a spot in a forestry car park, busy with cyclists and dog walkers but big enough for everyone. Later that evening, as the day time visitors started to leave, we  were joined by a German and another British Motorhome.

Our spot in the forest

We stayed here for two nights, at one point a chap rolled up in a Motorhome next to us and started chatting about the Bore, it took us a little while to understand that he’d seen the big yellow banana (kayak) on the roof and wondered if we were going to ride the Severn bore. We weren’t. We had toyed with going to watch but given it was due to happen over the bank holiday weekend we’d decided to leave it for another occasion.

We made the most of the next couple of days with bike rides and wanders through the woods, at one point we thought that the woods all looked the same, but it was just us going round in circles. 

There was an interesting sculpture trail, some picturesque ponds, and most exciting was our close encounter with a Wild Boar; we were cycling along the nice easy family cycle path when I heard a loud rustling in the undergrowth, ‘wow – that’s one big dog’ was my first thought as something large and brindled charged out of the undergrowth, across the path and into the bushes on the other side of the cycle track. By the time I’d realised it was a boar, put my brakes on and fumbled my phone from my pocket it was way too late for a photograph, but I was really chuffed to have seen my first wild boar.

Sculptures in the forest

View over Woorgreen lake

A flying visit

The next stop for us was the Mendips. We were due to spend a couple of days with Aaron and Kate before they flew out to Morocco for a well deserved break.

Unluckily for them Aaron was told at the last minute that he’d been nominated for some additional training that meant their holiday was going to have to be cancelled. Luckily for us that meant we got an extra couple of nights with them.

We stayed at Cheddar Valley touring park, Aaron and Kate stayed in a static van on the same site. Next to a caravan club site, this was much better value and the staff very friendly and accommodating with our change of plan.

We did an extended circular walk around Cheddar gorge with Aaron and Kate, followed by a bit of tourist shopping and beer drinking. The last time I was in the Mendips was when I was at university, I was a member of the university caving club (LUSS – Lancaster University Speleological Society) and we had a little trip underground at Swildon’s Hole. Visiting the tourist caves didn’t hold much appeal for me, and the price didn’t appeal to anyone else either, so we contented ourselves with a lot of cheese tasting (and buying).

All of us (and Aaron’s dodgy facial hair) as we walk back along Cheddar Gorge

As we walked back down into Cheddar we had a minor drama as we met a couple and their two dogs walking up the steep section from the village. One of their dogs, an elderly poodle cross, took it into her head to follow us downhill and nothing could stop her. In fact she then bounded ahead of us and much to everyone’s consternation went off piste as she tried to find a way across the wall and back onto the main road. Luckily, between us and another couple we managed to get her reunited with her owners, who sternly told her that she wouldn’t be allowed off the lead again.

The next day we took advantage of Aaron’s (brand new) car to go further afield and visited Brean Down. The peninsular here has some interesting features including a Napoleonic fort and Second World War fortifications which fitted nicely with Aaron and Kate’s RAF interests.

Some of the Second World War fortifications
Napoleonic fortifications, later used for WWII training
Gun emplacements for training – practice rounds were fired into the bay at Weston-Super-Mare