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A Walk in the Park


Well it was a walk in the park but not in the usual sense, that of something that is easy – just a piece of cake so to speak. This was a little more vast than that because the park in question was the Brecon Beacons National Park, the playground of the SAS, but to be fair we were not humping 60 lb rucksacks and a rifle, we merely carried light waterproofs, warm clothing and food supplies.

There is nothing threatening about a bucket or a list for that matter, it is when the two are combined in a bucket list that the trouble starts. One in our midst was the proud possessor of such a bucket and top of his list was to walk up to Pen y Fan, the highest point of the Brecon Beacons and, furthermore, the highest point in southern Britain. Many people do this walk from many directions so we didn’t think that it would be beyond us, we thought we ought to get on with it before we got any older.

The weather recently had been mixed so we were crossing our fingers for a dry but not too hot day and we were pleased to find that Thursday 9th July dawned to give us just that, and that goes to show that the weatherman can be friendly sometimes!

We arrived at the car park by about 10.00 to find that many others had had the same idea but nevertheless we found a space for the car. So boots and hats on, rucksacks shouldered and off we set. I had been before but some time had elapsed since then and, that time, we had tackled it from the other end. From this end it is up all the way – relentlessly, but we could see Corn Du in front of us and that was our first target. The foxgloves were out in abundance and together with the changing light due to the scudding clouds they made for a very colourful addition to our walk although I have to say that our eyes were too often directed downwards because of the uneven path. Experience has taught me that it is wise every now and then to stop and admire the view behind me, it also assists in relaxing the leg muscles.

The other walkers on the path were many and varied, mostly small groups but two fairly large ones, a first school bravely cared for by about half a dozen adults with the dual task of keeping the eager half back in the fold and getting the laggers to keep up. Not a task I would have liked. The other was a group of youngsters raising money for charity. Then there was the odd individual who was running the route and putting us all to shame.

We set our own individual pace and stopped every now and then for a quick drink and to regroup. As we sat there on the side of the track we wished our passing co-walkers a ‘good morning’ and it was duly returned. There is a camaraderie when you are out on a walk and everyone is there for the same purpose – enjoying the wonderful scenery that the countryside has to offer, the fresh air and the constant warbling of the skylark so high in the sky as to be invisible.

Corn Du is getting bigger and bigger all the time and it helped to spur us on and as we were climbing higher all the time we were being refreshed by a welcome breeze. We reached the saddle just before the final climb and to the north the views took in the Epynt mountain range and far beyond. To the south a long, deep and wide valley at the end of which are the upper and lower Neuadd reservoirs then further still the two halves of Pontsticill reservoir, the open cast Celtic Energy site above Merthyr and, with a pair of binoculars you could just see the sea. But enough of this! We cannot put off the final challenge any longer, we have a steep climb in front of us culminating in a gruelling final set of steps to get us onto the plateau of Corn Du then, relatively speaking, everything will be much easier. And it certainly was gruelling, especially after all the walking we had done so far but it is a case of one step at a time. Alan had long gone and was probably sitting down at the top trying to decide whether to break open his sandwiches, I led the trio as I felt I had to be at the top first to record the conquering of Corn Du for the first time ever, well for Richard and Mike anyway!

It felt good to, at last, be up on this vast table and now we had views to the north east taking in the town of Brecon and beyond. After a brief rest we were off again in order to reach the highest point, Pen y Fan. Now we could see the contours of the northern side and directly below is Llyn Cwm Llwch, in shadow at that moment but I knew that if I waited for a short while the clouds would move over and the sun would light it up, and so it did. The weather can be really kind sometimes.

And now I must catch up with the others, they are probably at the top by now and we must have a photograph in case anyone thinks we are just making all this up as we go along. There were many waiting to record their own achievements including three cheerful young ladies that we had passed several times on our journey. I was asked by one of them if I would be kind enough to take their photo and then she would reciprocate and take ours. I was happy to do so. You know, I was sure I had seen her before so I said “aren’t you Ellen Dowd” “Yes, I am,” she said proudly, “how clever of you!” and then proceeded to show me what to press on her phone camera. “Hmm,” I thought. I really am not used to using a mobile phone for taking photographs and I struggled to see the screen, particularly in the bright sunshine. Anyway I succeeded and then it was our turn so here we are, satisfied smiles on our faces after reaching the pinnacle.

Finally it was time to tuck into our well-deserved sandwiches which we did facing south, the direction was not important as far as the eating was concerned it was just that we had a long view down the valley and we had our faces to the sun. This is living and gives a different meaning to ‘eating out’ – and a different experience too!

The sun was dodging in and out of the clouds and there was a particularly dramatic edge to our left so I spent my time eyeing the progress of the light and waiting for the right moment. The only trouble was the path up from the east was between us and the slope and Murphy’s Law dictates that someone will reach the top, turn and look back during the time of best light.

There are many failings in life but you can always rely on Murphy’s Law. She moved eventually and I was able to get a shot before it was time to get up from our comfortable position and make our way back down. We skirted round Corn Du and took a right turn to join the other path going down, this should be easier we thought, ignoring the long slope upwards ahead of us. Isn’t ignorance so blissful when you want it to be so! As you would expect there was a stream at the bottom but there was little water and nice, flat stepping stones so the traverse was easy. But not so the climb up the other side. Fifty yards away two horses were grazing and I am sure we were not the first to think of rounding them up and getting a lift to the top. But we are not ones who fall back on cheating when things get tough so we got into our rhythm and put one plodding foot before the other keeping our eyes off the summit which we knew would be false – it always is!

I was the lucky one of the quartet I think, in that there was always a view to see which involved a wait while the light sorted itself out for me. Then, with my leg muscles rested and pleased with the knowledge that I had a photograph which may please someone, somewhere, I could stride away to where the others were waiting.

There was a view of the Beacons Reservoir just before we reached the end of our journey at Storey Arms so I came off the path to look over the ridge and capture the shot before rushing on down to rudely overtake the others so that I could be there in front of them to record their delighted faces as they reached the final twenty yards or so.

It was a great day and it all happened because of Mike’s bucket list!

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