So as you may have noticed the walk is complete, after a long day (in distance rather than time). I decided to condense the day and a half into a single day for a few reasons. Firstly, tomorrow's weather. I was aware that if the forecast wasn't good for tomorrow I would get wet in the morning, then have to get on a train and sit there wet all afternoon. Secondly, today's weather. It was nowhere near as bad as forecast, and apart from an hour and a half this morning and a shower this afternoon it was ok, giving me plenty of incentive to keep going. Thirdly, time. For the first time on the entire walk I set off before 9:30 (I think), at 8:15. This was because if the weather was bad and I got lost I'd have plenty of time to find myself again. As it turned out the navigation was easy because the weather wasn't bad, so I stonked along and found myself at Carreg Cennen Castle (the end of the official day's walk), having already stopped for lunch, at 2pm, leaving plenty of time to do the extra half day as well.
So here I am in the White Hart Inn in Llandeilo with a relaxing day ahead tomorrow, in a room that was surely meant for someone else. It's got a four poster bed, so I've made myself at home by hanging the tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, rucksack cover, waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers from it to give them all a good airing. Unbelievably none of them are actually wet. It's chucking it down outside now though.
I don't find getting up early easy, but something in my mind had me awake before the alarm this morning, so I was up and away to try and avoid being in the rain for the long first ascent. It worked, so when it did rain I was only doing slight ascents and descents. And nearly all of the paths were great today. By the time the fourth mountain was conquered the weather had settled, leaving a straightforward walk to the castle, approaching it from the cliff side which is quite dramatic.
Carreg Cennen Castle - impressive.
I had suffered from not having come across a single cafe in 13.6 miles so far, so was grateful to get to the castle cafe. Roger and James were already there. They had once again left very early but had taken a difficult low level route so I had caught them at their lunch stop. They then took a road route to make up time so had got to the castle first. The cafe did free coffee refills, which could have meant that I was still there now, but after four I decided I'd better move. Just as I was leaving the Belgian couple appeared yet again, having visited the castle. Maybe they are keeping an eye on me, like two guardian angels. Or maybe they aren't. I said what will surely be a final goodbye and set off on the last leg. The only feature of note on the route was Carn Goch, the biggest iron age hill fort in Wales. My book was very enthusiastic about it, and hopefully the picture below does its majesty justice. Or maybe it doesn't. It looked to me like something Redrow had started and given up on.
Carn Goch - impressive, apparently.
And I was now looking down on Bethlehem, the end of the walk. I had a phone signal so I booked a taxi to take me to Llandeilo after I'd finished, because all of these long distance walks seem to end in ridiculous places, and started the final descent. The end of Offa's Dyke had been a huge anti-climax (culminating in a night in Caldicot, the most God-forsaken town in the world), with last year's Lleyn Peninsula not far behind. Glyndwr's Way was great because Jen was with me and there was a lovely end-of-walk garden in Welshpool. This threatened to be another anti-climax, so I used the taxi to head it off at the pass. I walked into Bethlehem (where's a donkey when you need one?), reached the Beacons Way bench, took a photo and the taxi arrived. Within 30 minutes I was in the bath with a pint of bitter - perfect. I finally succumbed to a celebratory portion of chips tonight, to accompany my celebratory steak. Roger and James were in the pub as well so we congratulated each other on our achievements. I might just sleep well tonight.
it's the morning after and I'm on the train home, travelling on the beautiful Heart of Wales line. After a few days of quiet, relative isolation it's almost nice to be amongst others again. Almost. The couple sitting in front of me are snogging relentlessly. He is about 60 and she about 20. She looks worse for wear and they both smell terrible. Opposite two men are studying maps and an atlas with magnifying glasses. One of them is talking continually, such words of wisdom as, "I notice that this is a double track station whereas the previous one wasn't", and, "Good Lord, we passed straight through that one. It looks as if nobody from Hopton Heath is travelling this morning."
I think, as is the norm at the end of a walk, a few reflections are required, beginning with the important question:
Why Holy Mountain to Bethlehem?
I have absolutely no idea. Presumably someone at the National Park office noticed the potential for some sort of pilgrimage. Which it isn't. Especially since Bethlehem looks like this:
What it actually means is that the official start is inconvenient and the official end is inconvenient. Why not just start in Abergavenny and end in Llandeilo or Llangadog?
Is the Beacons Way worth doing?
Absolutely. I've thoroughly enjoyed it and it is a hefty challenge, with a significant amount of ascent each day (I haven't added up the grand total yet, but it will be pretty high). The waymarking is fantastic, to the extent that I could have done it without the guide book, just a map. The only gripes I could find are with the short section of head high bracken after Crickhowell, which was horrendous, and the Storey Arms to Craig y nos day, which was dull and the paths poor. There is a huge lump of a mountain just to the north, why couldn't they send us over that? The walk could easily be made into a National Trail.
How was the weather?
Overall fine for walking, but the sun was not out a great deal of the time, and I felt sorry for some of the people camping who were obviously hoping for better. It was a bit warm for walking in the first half, and much cooler afterwards. I often get asked, "What will you do if the weather's bad?" The simple fact is that if it bothered me I'd go walking abroad. I'm happy with whatever gets thrown at me (like Biblical walls of rain). I also had an itinerary, with some accommodation paid for, and therefore no choice!
When is a mountain not a mountain?
I always used to think of anything over 2000ft as a mountain, but maybe it should just be left to choice (if it looks like a mountain, it's a mountain). For example Moel Famau near Mold looks like a mountain but would fail my 2000ft test by some distance. Here it has confused me further. The Black Mountains aren't really that big (apart from a couple in the north), mainly around the 400-500m mark. Yet The Black Mountain (singular) has lots of mountains. How about the Blacker Mountains, or the West Black Mountains, or the Bigger Black Mountains?
What were the best bits?
Scenery - All of it.
Walking - Carmarthen Fans.
Weather - For sun, day one. For walking, the Pen y Fan day (day 7).
Wildlife - Red kites on the rest day, slugs at the first campsite.
Challenge - The first hour uphill on the last day, to beat the rain.
Accommodation on the route - Danywenallt youth hostel (amazing!).
Evening meal - I have to say that the Chef & Brewer on the first night beat the lot! I'll be hunting one down close to home in the near future.
Cake - The freshly baked scones at the Farmyard Cafe.
Beer - Too many to mention. Every pub I went into had a hand pump and good beer. I took the photo below of a poster advertising Hobgoblin in the pub at Craig y nos.
And a few worsts?
Accommodation - Park Farm Campsite in Crickhowell. How could this be worse than a site with no facilities? Because it was full of nutters.
Food - Mmmmmmmmmuesli.
Walking - Soggy paths (day 8).
Scenery - Beacons Way, the dull and soggy day (day 8 again). Cambrian Way, pretty much any town.
Weather - The dull and soggy day (yes, that one).
Are slugs bad?
No, they just need a purpose in life. Why did they feel the need to slither all over my tent (don't answer that!)? They must be looking for something, but maybe they don't know what. I do feel more of an affinity towards them now though. It could be because if I look at the route I have walked on a map it looks suspiciously like.........
What has happened to wasps?
I haven't seen a single one. Not even in the pub gardens. Are they extinct? Have the slugs eaten them all? Will my roses be covered with greenfly when I get home?
How is my karma?
It's been a grim year. My recent premonition that it could be (an ironic) 4 funerals and a wedding this year looks like coming true (still, at least the funerals are in the past now and we still have the wedding to look forward to). So I really needed to get away from everything, and as a result I am feeling karmically sound. I'm not really very good at sitting still for long, so it's handy that I do find walking incredibly relaxing. I mean, things can't be bad when the most you've got to worry about is a lack of wasps and an abundance of slugs.
What will I do next year?
For the first time, I haven't got a clue.
-- Posted from Kev's iPhone