My victim (quite apt choice of words, you will see) on this occasion was my wonderful friend Hannah, who had been trying to arrange a weekend away with me for a while. Location: the Brecon Beacons, now re-named "Boggy Beacons". Ahahaha, see what I did there? (Warning, witticisms only get worse from here.) I've had the good fortune to spend quite a lot of time in the Beacons, canyoning and walking, but Han hadn't, so I got my little book of walks out and picked the well-known Pen Y Fan Horseshoe. I want to pretend that this was based on something solid or technical, but unfortunately I am known for scanning books for the highest peak in any given area and heading for it. I've done Pen Y Fan in exactly this fashion before - parked at the bottom in the Pont ar Daf car park, legged it up to the top and back down. I believe this earns me the label "peak bagger", which before this walk I possibly would have been proud of. The Horseshoe promises a much prettier route and a more substantial walk, so we went for it.
We probably should have guessed that it wouldn't be as simple as this after our third time driving up and down the same road, but I think the winter sunshine and excitement had gone firmly to our heads. Finally, Fergus (my beautiful Fiesta) was parked "securely" in a rather questionable alternative car park to the one suggested as it was closed, and we were off down the road again, but on foot this time! Progress! Enthusiastically clutching the book, we began looking for the first landmark listed. Half an hour later and we were still looking, facing different directions on a little bridge and desperately trying to make the description fit either side of the valley. We knew we had to get on top of the ridge, dammit, but how? After several enquiries including the response "I don't know, but we've seen two horses?" we thankfully happened upon a lovely Welsh man who told us how to get to Pen Y Fan. Reluctant peak bagger that I am, this was enough. I desperately wanted to do as much of the walk as possible while we still had good light, so we were quickly on top of Graig fan Ddu. I am getting fitter by the month, so am determined that my breath was taken away by the view, and not the climb. Pen Y Fan and Corn Ddu looked absolutely stunning, some stubborn snow still clinging to the sides and glistening in the afternoon sun. Both Hannah and myself exclaimed like loons on several occasions "there's no light like this one!" and I think we're right - it was about 2pm by this time and the hills were glowing. I have yet to find a better feeling than the one being on a mountain provides, no matter how small. You just feel...agh, I could gush for hours about it, but it's empowering and peaceful at the same time. I only ever feel real contentment when I'm up there.
"I couldn't restrain myself any longer and scrambled quickly upwards. Next moment I was on the summit of my first mountain.
I returned after the happiest day I had ever spent. And next day I returned home. But my new enthusiasm for the mountains went home with me and gave me little rest in the years that followed."
- Edmund Hillary, "High Adventure", on his first experience in the mountains. No I'm not comparing us...
Walking book firmly shoved in the rucksack, we headed for Pen Y Fan. My new boots were behaving perfectly, though reminding me slightly of my Spice Girls days when I would totter around in pink foam platform shoes. They're not pink, just high. As a reward for their hard work, I was being awfully careful about where I stood (the first bit of mud is always the worst), until we reached the bog we had been warned about by our nice Welsh man. All of our "Fan Y..." jokes died on our lips as we tried to navigate the slightly less boggy (technical term) areas, until this too became hilarious and we were bounding up and down like men on the moon. Unfortunately, while quite amusing, this did slow us down considerably and I soon became concerned about losing the light. Eventually, responsible adults that we are (what?), we decided to turn around while we could still enjoy the view on the way back. In turn, the mountains decided to mock us. Method: drowning. We reached a section of the bog that resembled more of a still stream and, I once again blame the winter sun euphoria for this, we laughed in the face of it. Literally. "Take a picture of me right by this bit!" Famous last words, as two seconds later I was crouching thigh deep in said 'bit' and Han had one foot firmly stuck. Goodbye sexy boots, hello bog juice. When we were both free (three double handed yanks later, oo-err) and had recovered from the hysterical laughter, we assessed the damage. For a reason I don't think either of us will grasp, Han threw her gloves away from her in the commotion, perhaps allowing them a chance for freedom? So we were left with one pair of gloves, albeit soaked, and four very wet legs. It's still a bit too painful to discuss the boots right now. My trousers came up trumps though - this was also their first outing and within minutes they were dry and I was brushing the dirt off easily. Not naming any names (Craghoppers kiwi pro stretch).
We squelched our way back down to the Neuadd Reservoir in a comparatively uneventful fashion, stopping to soak up (ha) the atmosphere and take lots of pictures. To some, and it took some internal fighting for me to not feel this too, this may seem like an unsuccessful walk, but that depends what you walk for. Some, like the not particularly pleasant man we passed on the way up who snorted at our attempt and then actually pulled over in his car to gloat afterwards, seem to go purely to 'bag a peak' or prove something. I can't deny I haven't walked with that attitude before. But my goodness it's more fun to walk for walking's sake. I quickly typed out a conclusion to this post when I was writing the beginning and planned on changing it to edit out the cheesiness, however nothing else seems to say it better: "This walk has taught me that it isn't always about the highest peak... it's the journey, and who you do it with." Oh dear, definitely an over-used line, but too true to ignore I'm afraid! I said to Hannah at the end of the day, for me there are two types of walk - the one that is a success all round; beautiful weather, good views, challenging but achievable, and then there are ones like our half a horseshoe; an unexpected adventure. Good for the soul, if not the equipment. Days like that make you feel like you're on top of the world, even if you didn't quite make it to the top of South Wales.
(On a completely unrelated note, ahem, come back soon to hear about our return the following day to claim Pen Y Fan...)