Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Monday 17 December 2007 - Hoary Plynlimon

Today’s jaunt was triggered by a call on Saturday from an old friend who ‘needed a good walk’. He suggested joining us in the Glyders on New Year’s Day, but I perceived a more urgent need. So by Sunday morning we had worked out that Plynlimon, today, was a good choice, it being about half way between Manchester and John’s home in South Wales.
I left home at 6.30 under a dark and starry night with a hard frost, and a weatherman on the radio proclaiming ‘today’s hot spot will be Aberystwyth’, ie just near our day’s objective. By Oswestry I should have been admiring a sunrise like last Tuesday’s, but there was clearly a meteorological problem and the day crept in grey and cold, with freezing fog. I’d not got John down as a particularly punctual sort of chap, so I felt guilty arriving 15 minutes late for our 9 am rendezvous and clasping a hand icy cold from its 50 minute sojourn at our starting point, Eisteddfa Gurig.
Boots and fleece were donned and after parting with a £3 parking fee to the farmer (I won’t repeat here what John thinks of sheep farmers!) we set off on the easy path up Plynlimon, a biting wind tugging at our clothing. Everything had been whitened by a thick layer of hoar frost. John spent all day in his Neutrino down jacket, though I never did see any gloves (Note 1), and I was cosy after donning a layer of Paclite Goretex over the Vapour Rise smock when we got to the summit. It took little more than an hour, but up here at 752 metres we needed to descend some way to the west to a spot where we could enjoy a relatively sheltered tea break.
It was a real battle against the elements to regain the ridge, almost a crawl, and we were nervous about how we would fare on our easterly bearing through the fog in the face of the wind. But the conditions eased a little as we passed above the source of the River Wye, hidden in the mist.
The compass (John had embarrassingly forgotten to bring his) assisted us in transcribing an arc to reach the source of the River Severn. Here, where the county boundary fence turns ENE, John rashly expressed a measure of delight at my success in navigating in the mist.
We never did work out why the new looking boundary stone plinths were engraved ‘w.w.w. 1865’.
The wire fence looked very solid, with about an inch of hoar frost glued uniformly to the thin wires.
If there’s a plaque marking the source of the Severn, we missed it, as I erred to the south before chancing upon the obvious channel with the embryonic river and a well-made path. So we forded the River Severn and lunched on its banks before continuing down the path that soon entered Hafren Forest. Here the trees looked like a different type of fir, as the coating of frost gave them a grey appearance. We enjoyed a kilometre along the Severn Way before continuing on a forestry track in improved, if imperfect, visibility, chatting about trips. Earlier in the year one Jim Wickwire had contacted John and together with two Japanese climbers they had attempted Mount Burney in Southern Chile. Here’s John’s report on an earlier trip to Burney, which possibly triggered the call from Wickwire. It had been a wet trip, and John had become increasingly weary of Wickwire’s seemingly infinite library of tales of lost companions on earlier trips. These people had not been misplaced in the in the geographical sense, as we were now, but more in the ‘Storm and Sorrow’ sense. (Note 2)
Distracted by the chatting about Wickwire and Co, and John’s desire to start a blog to enable him to recount to the world some of his memorable trips, we found ourselves heading north. So we headed back down a path beside Afon Hore and followed ‘Wye Way’ signs. After a while we were going north again. So we turned around and headed back, in the wrong direction, down the hill. I think that by the time we turned around again to head back up the hill, John was probably regretting complimenting me on my navigation skills!
D**n these forest tracks and paths that aren’t on the map. And the fact that I forgot to bring a GPS!
This time we got round the northerly loop and at last escaped from the forest to head south on a good track, past a path to ‘The Source of the Wye – 1 km’, and on past old mine workings, a copse and a farm, to reach a barn a Y Drum, near which we were surprised to see that an entire small copse of trees had recently been felled.
After contouring south then west we disturbed a snipe before crossing a river by mistake. Stubbornly holding our ground, we declined to re-cross until confronted by high fences that forced us back onto our planned route. We then left the track to follow an ancient pathway, indistinct in places, crossing the river for a third time and rising to a col at about 500 metres from where, at last, we gained a splendid view of the sun as it emerged from an orange haze to briefly blind us before drifting down behind the ridge of hills beyond which the ‘hot spot’ of Aberystwyth lurks.
From here it was a pleasant stroll back to Eisteddfa Gurig where we enjoyed the dregs of our tea and the last crumbs of caramel shortbread before wending our ways home.
This was one of those ‘Grand Days Out’ in excellent company. Thank you, John for providing the stimulus. We saw nobody all day, as seems to be the norm in the Welsh hills on a weekday, outside Snowdonia.
Here’s the route, which worked out at about 23 km (probably 2 more than it should have been) with 960 metres of ascent, and took us about 7 hours.

Note 1 –John tells me that an early mentor was one HW Tilman, who when asked by John why was he not wearing gloves on a freezing cold day in the Atlantic, replied “I’m a sailor, John; proper sailors don’t wear gloves”. Hmmm.
Note 2 – A number of John’s friends, who had heard about Wickwire’s reputation for losing his companions, jested on his safe return from Burney – “Hello John, we didn’t ever expect to see you again!”

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