The Beacons Way

The Beacons Way
The journey taken by the Beacons Way, my route from Day 4 to Day 12 (with a rest day on Day 8 - hooray!). The first 3 days follow the Cambrian Way.

Day Ten - Llanddeusant to Bethlehem, 20.4 miles.

Total ascent, a whopping 1242m (4075ft).

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

Day Nine - Craig y nos to Llanddeusant, 10.5 miles.

Total ascent 831m.

I must start this post by congratulating Soph' on her fantastic GCSE results which she received this morning and sent to me by text. I managed to speak to her from the top of a mountain soon after and she was very excited. But I don't envy her doing 'A' level maths next year, the memory still brings me out in a rash.

Today started in a perfectly ordinary way. I passed the emus, said hello to a girl taking two donkeys for a walk, strolled alongside the llamas' enclosure, passed the 'Rocks of Wales' garden, walked between the legs of a plastic brontosaurus and into the Showcaves cafe for breakfast. After breakfast the caves themselves were now open and people were beginning to arrive, so I walked again between the legs of the brontosaurus (this time dodging small children), again passed the criminally ignored 'Rocks of Wales' garden, strolled again alongside the llamas' enclosure (noticing this time that just one of them had a colourful coat on - there's a musical there), reached the emus but this time headed for the exit, and an enormous pig in a field.

The 'Rocks of Wales' garden - underrated.

I had actually had a peaceful night in a campsite for the first time on this trip, but seemed tired and sluggish walking to begin with (I really am Slugman!). I had decided to take the high route recommended by the pub landlord last night, despite his worryingly dry sense of humour, and it was superb, not least because I saw the biggest slug I've ever seen on the path. In fact everything about today was superb (if I have one criticism it's an odd one - at 10.5 miles it isn't a long enough day, but is hard to lengthen), the paths, the landscape, the weather, perfect. The weather bit means perfect for walking, not sunbathing, it was cloudy and cool but never really threatened rain until the very end, when it didn't matter anyway and then didn't rain anyway. The high level route took me up Fan Hir, the first of the Carmarthen Fans, part of the Black Mountain. This small range, with it's steep cliffs to the north, is a stunner, and in my opinion the real jewel in the crown of the Brecon Beacons (rather than Pen y Fan). I had heard that the area was beautiful but was still taken aback.

The Carmarthen Fans, looking ahead......

......and looking back.

As today was short I slowed down considerably once on top, as I knew I had a straightforward ridge walk that I could make as long or as short as I wanted. So I made it long, with several stops. After the very long ridge of Fan Hir the route passed over the high point of Fan Brycheiniog (802m, 2631ft), Fan Foel and Picws Du (at which point I received Sophie's text) with constantly brilliant views, then gradually descended. I stopped for lunch in a slightly precarious spot near the edge of a cliff, but it was sheltered with superb views. I checked the time on my watch and happened to notice my altitude - 666m. So I moved!

Later I took a detour to visit Llyn y Fan Fach (that's a lake, English folk) which inspired a great story, the Lady of the Lake (Google it!). She didn't appear so I headed for my accommodation, the youth hostel at Llanddeusant. I was now in pretty remote hill country, and was considering what emergency supplies I had when, incredibly, I came to the Farmyard Cafe! How does this keep happening?! I'd timed it perfectly because the owner had a batch of scones in the oven, which would be ready in 15 minutes. I waited with a cafetiere, wondering exactly why I had bothered bringing emergency supplies.

When I reached the youth hostel Roger and James from the pub last night were already there, but it wasn't open yet. It's strange how attitudes even to walking amongst walkers can differ. I like to set off at about 10 and walk late. They start at 7. For me the walk is the whole day. For them they like to finish early and have the rest of the day for other things. This meant that they started 3 hours ahead of me today, so could have done well over half of the walk before I even noticed the llama with its coat of many colours. I did though wonder how long they'd been waiting outside the hostel when I arrived at 4 (which for me was very early). At the precise moment I got there the wardens opened the door and I was in, then straight out again. I had decided that I really had, and I mean REALLY HAD, to celebrate Soph's results with a beer. Well it would have been rude not to. However this was the one night of the entire walk when there were no accessible alcoholic drinks. Or were there? I was only just over a mile from the Red Kite Feeding Centre we went to on my rest day, and they had beer! I dumped my pack and scuttled downhill then uphill and made it on time, only at that exact moment to bump into the Belgian couple I had met in Llanthony who had also started the Beacons Way. Unfortunately the girl had picked up a knee injury and they'd had to stop after 3 days. It was great to see them though and they seemed pleased that I was still going. And they'd seen the red kites doing their swooping thing. AND they'd found a campsite in Crickhowell on the same night as me that didn't have an enormous fight and a visit from 3 police cars.

Anyway I got my beer and cooked an astonishing meal - Tesco dried pasta with chicken and mushroom, accompanied by Beanfeast bolognaise. For dessert I had some mixed nuts. The hostel is another fab one and I'm now sitting in the communal living area and one of the wardens has lit the log fire. It's all very cosy.

But here's the bit I can't get my head round. The YHA take on volunteer wardens in some hostels. You go on a training course, then are given a week in a small hostel (which this most certainly is) to see how you get on. The couple from Leicester acting as wardens this week are doing it for the first time, but they're both teachers! Are they mad? They're both back in work next week, what kind of a holiday is that? Mind you it would be very easy to say the same about me.

Tomorrow is the last whole day, and generally considered to be the hardest to navigate in poor weather. And the forecast for tomorrow is poor. So I may disappear into the wilderness, never to return. Or I may be kept alive by a convenient string of previously undiscovered cafes and pubs.

-- Posted from Kev's iPhone

Day Eight - Storey Arms to Craig y Nos country park, 14.8 miles.

Total ascent 622m.

A day of showers. Five in total. My Met Office app had said that it wouldn't rain today, so I ended up a bit disappointed with the weather. The sun never really got much of a look in until the latter part of the walk.

But first a brief resume of yesterday's 'rest day'. After popping into WH Smith to see if there was anything in the local papers about the fight in the campsite last Saturday (there wasn't - old news by now) we drove to Carreg Cennen Castle, which is actually on my route very close to the end, but I didn't think I'd really want to drag my rucksack around it during a walking day. When I spoke at my Dad's funeral a few months back I said that when I was younger we went to pretty much every castle in Wales. This is indeed true, but the few we didn't go to were in this neck of the woods and further west, including Carreg Cennen. It is a ruin in a very imposing position and was well worth visiting.

We then drove to a red kite feeding centre, which is basically a bird hide looking out onto a fenced off patch of grass in a field. At 3pm a man appeared and chucked some raw meat around. Almost immediately the kites appeared, but it was a long time before they eventually came down in earnest, waiting first for the rooks and magpies to show that it was safe. When they did come it was a quite stunning sight. Most swooped down and grabbed the meat as they flew past, but two just landed on the grass and had a good munch. We were impressed!

So this morning Jen dropped me off by the burger van and I was off again. Within 30 minutes I had the waterproofs on, and they stayed on for most of the day. The path was initially parallel to the main road, but as the path climbed the road dropped, so it was soon far below. The path soon veered away and I then had a six hour walk that consisted of little more than very boggy paths on uninteresting hills. So the walk itself was as disappointing as the weather. A dull day does tend to happen on most long distance walks, after all the scenery is unlikely to be relentlessly wonderful. But despite the total ascent being quite modest it was pretty tough walking. I was continually hopping from tussock to tussock to keep my feet dry, which becomes tiring quite quickly.

So the highlights? I stopped for a short break in one of the valleys and headed for the only seat, a log bench, where Sean had kindly left me a message saying exactly what he'd done to Stephanie on that precise spot. I decided that the rain had probably washed away the evidence by now and was grateful for a sit down.

The other highlight was Craig y nos country park, at the end of the walk. A landscaped park previously owned by a famous opera singer who I'd never heard of and have now forgotten the name of, apparently she was big the the 60s (that's the 1860s). I had stocked up with quite a bit of food in Brecon because facilities are scarce in these parts, but the country park had a lovely cafe so I was able to increase my chances of survival with some Victoria sponge and lots of coffee. There was a large family group there already so I sat nearby to eavesdrop, hoping for an amusing anecdote, but today it just wasn't to be.

The campsite is part of the National Showcaves of Wales, recently awarded a prize for being the best natural wonder in Britain. It is also home to unusual animals and plastic dinosaurs. And an exhibition of rocks. The campsite seems pretty good, but compared to my previous efforts it could hardly fail to be. The field next door is home to several emus, which is nice. I hope they don't have any early morning cockerel-like habits.

Well it makes a change from sheep.

The Showcaves also has a cafe which serves breakfast and I am currently in the Gwyn Arms over the road having an evening meal, so maybe it's not quite as remote as I originally thought! But there is one notable difference: for the first time on the entire walk I'm in a pub full of walkers and climbers, including two blokes (Roger and James) also doing the Beacons Way. They started a day after me but caught me up when I had the day off yesterday, and appear to have enjoyed today about as much as me. The landlord here is quite a character, with a very dry sense of humour, and he has recommended a detour tomorrow which I might follow, as it stays higher and was also mentioned on the National Park website. He also does a mighty fine rice pudding, and I felt I had earned one today.

Which just leaves shower number two. It was, as something earlier in the walk was that I've forgotten, Biblical. I was approaching the summit of Fan Llia (at 632m) and noticed that the distant scenery had turned into a grey blur. Gradually, nearer hills did the same until a curtain of grey was just in front of me, with nothing else visible. I was right on top of the mountain and went into Delia Smith mode, standing there yelling, "Come on then, let's be having you." Maybe I should have gone into Charlton Heston mode instead and tried to part it on either side of me, because when it hit it hit hard, and my world was turned entirely grey. All I could do was stand there in the deluge and wait, and after about five minutes I could start to make out a few features through the murk. And shortly after it had passed. Now everything behind me had disappeared, but that was no longer my problem.

-- Posted from Kev's iPhone

Day Seven - Danywenallt YHA to Storey Arms, 12.4 miles.

Total ascent 1071m (3514ft).

The big one! A long lakeside and woodland walk, followed by all the high peaks of the Brecon Beacons. So I needed one thing more than any other for breakfast (apart from coffee, but I knew there would be coffee), and that was porridge. Sure enough the YHA delivered the goods.

I came into this walk hoping to shed a few pounds but at the same time pretty fit. The latter is down to having done lots of training this year, including a long run every week and the Chester Half-Marathon (I tend to think of running as training for walking). The former is down to eating and drinking too much. So at the start of each day I've been really good, ignoring full, cooked breakfasts completely. I've also had packed lunches almost every day. The difficulty is towards the end of the day. "Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body, I don't know". Well it's doubtful Morrissey was singing about exercise but it's a good question. So replace body with tummy (I can sense a cover version coming on) and I would definitely say that as the day reaches its end the tummy takes over. How could I possibly think, "Hmm, I'd better pass on the sponge cake", or say, "I'll have a slimline tonic please barman, rather than three pints of your finest ale". It just doesn't happen, though as a noble token gesture I haven't had chips yet.

So the porridge was delicious, and I was able to eavesdrop two separate family conversations (you do hear some great things when you're on your own, which is probably why the likes of Bill Bryson did so much solo travelling. Though he did have his mate with him for 'A Walk in the Woods', probably the funniest travel book ever). The father in the family of four behind me at one point said, "Well that's it then, the end of the holiday. Now I can go back to work and have a rest before the next one." To be fair it seemed that he had been ill and the youngest child was currently ill and crying incessantly. But my favourite conversation of the holiday, or possibly any holiday (though I appreciate that the context was a bit sad) came earlier between another family of four, possibly from the wedding as they looked shattered. It went something like this:

Mum to Dad: How are you feeling about Dai?
Dad: I'm still totally shocked to be honest.
Girl (of about 5): Is he the poorly one?
Mum: Yes he is.
Girl: What did you say his name was?
Mum: Dai.
Girl: That's a funny name.
Mum: It's a Welsh name. Dad knew him when he lived here.
Girl (after a long think): Is he going to die?
Mum: No he isn't going to die.
Girl (after a very long think): Because if he did, it would mean that Dai had died.

If you've seen 'Outnumbered' you'll be able to imagine how gruelling it was, and how inevitable the final line was!

The cloud was down as I set off but I was confident it would lift. More significantly the temperature was noticeably cooler (but still warm) at 17 degrees. My initial path seemed to be along an old railway line, which rose very, very gradually and curved very, very gradually to the right over the course of about 5 miles, ending in the heart of the Beacons. I had hoped for good views of the lakes and mountains to my right but there were trees on both sides for its entire length, so it was time to stride out.
If Jennie had been walking this stretch she would have used the lack of distraction to align her chakras and go into a zen-like karmic trance, at one with her surroundings. I started by calculating the average gradient of the slope, which was quite straightforward. As I had estimated it was about 5 miles or 8 km long, and I knew that the height gain over the distance was 200m, then the average gradient must be 1 in 40. I then noticed that the path was about 3m wide. Bearing in mind that the curve the path made on the map was about a third of a circle, or 120 degrees, I decided that you could probably calculate how much further I would walk if I walked on the left hand side of the path (the outside of the curve), as opposed to the right. I could not calculate this without more maths knowledge than I have. I then wondered whether I could outrun an average fly, and if not what speed the headwind would need to be in order for me to be able to do so. I do not know how fast flies can fly so I could not calculate this either. Then the path ended.

I was in the thick if things and immediately faced with a pull up to the summit of Craig y Fan Ddu. The rucksack felt almost non-existent now and in no time I was at the top, and at the highest point of my walk so far. I then headed north across high level bogginess towards the northern escarpment. This is the sheer, imposing face you see from Brecon, and it is magnificent. The weather was absolutely perfect, high level cloud with plenty of sunny breaks and improving all the time, and I knew I was in for a classic few hours walking over four peaks.

It went as follows:
Up a bit to easily reach the summit of Fan y Big.
Down quite a lot to a bwlch and up quite a bit further to the summit of Cribyn.
Down quite a lot to a bwlch and up quite a bit further to the highest peak, Pen y Fan (886m, 2907ft).
Down a bit and up a bit less to the summit of Corn Du.

My issue was with Cribyn. The guide book recommended leaving it out because it would make the day too long. How could it be left out? It was just begging to be climbed, I couldn't just walk round it. So I didn't, and the summit provided a great spot for lunch and the best views of Pen y Fan. I also saw a red kite circling around, the second I had seen (the first was yesterda), but much closer this time. Fantastic birds.

Pen y Fan (left) and Cribyn (the pointy one). How could you miss this peak out? You just wouldn't, would you? Ok I'll answer that for you, no you wouldn't.

Pen y Fan from Cribyn.

I reached the summit of Pen y Fan and a couple kindly took a photo of me. I was pleased to finally be on top of the highest mountain in Southern Britain (Ben Nevis next, the other mountain I should have been up by now but haven't).


And 30 minutes later my walk was over and I was waiting to catch a bus into Brecon. I was stunned by how quick and easy the descent was, and I hadn't really noticed it on the map. I would say it's considerably easier to walk up Pen y Fan than Snowdon, which is saying something when you can ascend Snowdonia next to a railway track! It's about 1 and a half miles up a gradual track. Mind you some of the people I passed (and there were plenty) looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. Which begged the question why weren't they somewhere else when Pen y Fan was making them so sad?! Maybe people feel obliged to do it as part of a Brecon Beacons holiday. I was relieved when I finally came across a large group of Japanese tourists messing about by a stream near the bottom and having a great time. They obviously had no intention of getting to the top.

On the way down Pen y Fan I had really enjoyed the high level walk, and was looking forward to a day off, but in true Roy Keane style I was also looking across the A470 at the next challenge. The wilder, more remote mountains of the western Beacons.

The wait for the bus was an hour, so I bought a drink from a nearby burger van. The lady running it said that she'd find a customer to give me a lift down to Brecon, and within 5 minutes she had! A couple from Llanelli kindly dropped me in a car park in the town centre, I walked round the first bend and a voice said, "Hi Kev." It was Jen, with Liz. A lucky meeting meant that we could check in to the George Hotel and relax. It was great to see them both and come back to normality for a little while. Tomorrow is a day off so there won't be a post, and I'll resume on Wednesday, though I'm expecting my phone signal to disappear as I head further west.

-- Posted from Kev's iPhone

Day Six - Crickhowell to Danywenallt Youth Hostel, 15.9 miles.

Total ascent 949m.

Firstly, I know that days 4 and 5 have got muddled up. So please use your skill and judgement to work out which one to read first.

Secondly, thanks to everyone who has sent me a text, for whatever reason. Be it to let me know that you're reading the blog (which is nice), tell me what the weather forecast is (which isn't always nice) or even let me know the football scores, it's been good to hear from you. For those who mentioned it I think the reason comments won't upload is because the all powerful Google require you to have a googlemail account first.

Thirdly, what a night! I left the pub when the locals began to get aggressive with each other (well it was a Saturday night in Wales), having decided to watch Match of the Day at home after the walk. As I wandered back to the site I could hear Metronomy playing at the festival incredibly clearly, enough to make me a bit envious in fact. As I approached the tent the sound was gradually drowned out by the party taking place at the campsite farm. Unfortunately the quality here was lacking, as dodgy 80s tunes followed even dodgier 90s ones ('Fairground' by Simply Red anyone?). I went to the loos next door and while I was washing a lad came out of a cubicle, no flush, then another went in, then came out, no flush, then about 5 minutes later a man who looked like Burt Reynolds came out carrying a shoulder bag. I went to bed.

By three o'clock the entire campsite and caravan site (and it's big!) was awake, either listening to or taking part in the fight taking place outside one of the caravans, about 100 yards from me. It had started with an incredibly loud swearing match between an Irish father and son, and escalated beyond belief. My favourite bit went "Go to bed" "No you go to bed" "No you go to bed" "No you go to bed", though to be honest it was a bit scary.

In the middle of all the thumping and smashing a police car trundled in, then another, then another. The next hour was calm followed by bedlam as negotiations continued, following which the police took the pair of them away. We all sighed with relief. Then the sobbing and wailing started, really loud sobbing and wailing. It was to this, and probably the distant accompanying wails of Van Morrison, well into the fourth hour of his set, that I finally drifted off.

It's hard to say how well I sleep in a tent (on a normal night!). My thin inflatable mat is great, the sleeping bag comfy, the tent waterproof. But if it rains I wake up, at least to begin with. Then I think I haven't slept at all when I have. So probably ok on the whole, though I haven't mentioned the pillow, because I haven't got one. I use my fleece jacket and I reckon I lose a good hour each night trying and failing to form it into a non-lumpy shape.

So I was tired when I woke up, but I had a plan and it worked. The forecast had said rain at about 10am which would gradually clear, and it was spot on. So I was up early munching mmmmmmmmmmmmmmuesli, packed and ready to go by 9:30, and in Crickhowell tourist information by 10. It had a coffee machine and free wifi, so I spent an hour in there while it poured down outside. The rain eased off and off I went. Within half an hour it had stopped and that was it. The downside was the path itself during the first half of the day. Fighting my way through head high bracken was no fun and the path went most of the way up a hill, then just traversed it for a good few miles. I was though now directly above the Green Man Festival, and felt like I was almost there, listening to bog standard indie in a wet field (I think it might have been The Guillemots, but I'm not sure). At about this point I also reached the half way mark of the walk, so I celebrated with a nearby slug and many horseflies before delving back into the bracken. I was relieved when a road appeared.

As has been the norm on this walk, the weather took an upturn and the afternoon's walking was glorious. I headed up another stunning valley at the end of which stood just two houses. The first was beautiful, like a National Trust property. The second wasn't. And as I got nearer I heard the sound of a generator. It was creepily like the start of the Texas Chain Massacre (the classic 1972 version obviously). I could even hear a chainsaw. I passed by quickly, ignoring the two small children who said hello and the cheery lady. It was definitely a plot to lure me in.

"Ah, roast walker for Sunday lunch. Who's going to carve?" Vrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Secretly disappointed that the chainsaw was actually an angle grinder, I climbed steeply uphill and was on ftop of the world again at 400m. The Sun was baking and my watch recorded 30.4 degrees at one point (and no it wasn't on my wrist, pedants, it was strapped to the rucksack), but there was a decent breeze the views were tremendous. And this was my last walk in the Black Mountains, before the Beacons proper.

Make a scale model of a Black Mountain and amaze your friends:
1. Take a Swiss roll and cut it in half lengthways.
2. Arrange the two halves end to end.
3. Paint it green.
4. Insert sprigs of parsley to represent bracken, but leave a path along the top.
5. Sprinkle with raisins to represent sheep poo.

The best thing about them is that once you're up you can walk for miles (11 on Hatterall Ridge!) on the flat, so it's great for, say, old people. If you can airlift them in first.

The path descended slowly to Bwlch, then soon after Llangynidr, where for the first time I joined a canal towpath, on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Within 5 minutes of joining it I came across two women and two young girls who had steered their holiday narrow boat into the bank. Once back on track one of the women looked ahead and said "Bloody hell, what's that?". It was a lock.

A canal-side pub was just up ahead so I stopped for a drink. The pub was showing the City match but I could see they were losing 2-1, which meant they would win, so I sat in the garden. The all female crew soon went past having negotiated the lock well, but shortly after setting off on my final leg I came across them again. They were being told off by a man in another narrow boat for leaving the lower lock gates shut or something like that, and were getting a bit flustered. One of the girls said "Mum, I'm not sleeping in this, it's brown and there's loads of poo." She had a point, the canal was very, very brown.

Reflections in a brown canal. Poo not pictured.

There was still one ascent to go and it was hard work after the pub stop. I've left the Beacons way for the night to stay in the youth hostel next to Talybont Reservoir. I got there at 7:30, my latest finish yet, but I've always enjoyed walking till late when it's sunny. So what can I say about youth hostels today? Well if this one is anything to go by they're fantastic. It's remote, it doubles as an education centre and last night there was a wedding here! This is fairly obvious because a fair few of the guests haven't left yet (the ones who were camping), including the bride and groom who are in a camper van in the car park.

The girl running the place tonight is really laid back and a group of teenagers cooked my dinner, which was lovely. There is a bar, a coffee machine and I have my own room. Oh and they seem to have left me to serve myself!

It's a youth hostel dining room Jim, but not as we know it.
-- Posted from Kev's iPhone

Day Five - Llanthony to Crickhowell, 13.2 miles.

Total ascent 955m.

Before I set out on this little jaunt I did a bit of research on t'internet to see what the best diet is for a long distance walk. I kept researching until I found the one I liked best. For breakfast it recommended either porridge with honey or scrambled egg on wholemeal toast. This morning I made the logical assumption that if you can have both that's even better, so armed with a very full stomach I set off to climb 3 hills/mountains/whatever they ares. That wasn't before delaying my start because I was in a bit of a grump about the weather, which was still very gloomy. I then saw a weather forecast on tv and knew that things were set to improve.

I had met a grand total of zero fellow walkers in the 4 days so far, but because of where I was I wasn't too surprised when I met a lovely Belgian couple at breakfast who were walking. What I was surprised about was that they were also doing the entire Beacons Way and in the same timescale as me, including the same day off in Brecon. I had a great idea - we could all share a room to save money! Having considered this for a few minutes I concluded that they might not like my great idea, and kept it to myself.

It had looked cold outside from inside the pub, but it most certainly wasn't. I started with a wander around the impressive priory.

Llanthony Priory.

The route today was up down up down up down. The first up was really tough, through waist deep bracken with no breeze. The second down was a pain in the backside, with far too many twists and turns through small muddy fields and along nettly tracks. Everything else was an absolute joy, just the right temperature on the high moors with fantastic views in every direction.

The cloud was fairly low in the morning and early afternoon, but lifted to give me my first views of the high peaks to come. Every one of the long walks I do seems to have an 'ultimate day', the one where you really want the weather to be perfect for walking. Last year it was the day I left Aberdaron and walked round the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula. It was glorious. This year it is Monday, when I traverse the summit of the Brecon Beacons including Pen y Fan, which for whatever reason I have never been up before. Here's hoping! In fact the second half of the walk is generally quite a bit higher than the first, and more difficult to navigate, so a nice week where it cools down just a bit will be lovely please, er, God.

I had lunch in the porch of a small church, again in the middle of nowhere, with a friendly couple from Suffolk. They did regular holidays in the Beacons, especially since they had retired. This was nice to hear the first time, but after the fifth "oh and did we mention we're retired?" I was thinking of useful things you could do with a bell rope. By the way my packed lunch from the pub was monumental. I can't recommend that place highly enough. Respect!

The final hill was Table Mountain (oh for goodness sake, it's just not that high! And no, it's not that one.). Two years ago myself, Jen, Soph, Becks and Liz went to the Green Man Festival, which takes place just outside Crickhowell, and is overlooked by the profile of Table Mountain. I really enjoyed the festival but spent quite a lot of time wanting to pop out and climb it, so I was looking forward to standing on top and trying to work out where the festival site was from above. It wasn't hard. I approached the edge and was confronted by a landscape dominated by thousands of tents! It hadn't occurred to me at all that it would be on this weekend. After about 10 minutes descending towards Crickhowell I could hear music, but not clearly enough to tell who it was. A few minutes later the sound of bluesy guitar noodling wafted past and I lost interest.

Crickhowell is a very attractive town/big village. The campsite is a mile over the river, a relaxed site with ground you can actually get a tent peg into (as opposed to my last building/campsite). There are signs dotted about asking for no noise after 10pm, but when I went to pay the lady who owns the site she recommended that I camp well away from the house because it's her birthday and she's having a party which will be loud and go on till late! I ignored her and parked myself nearby. I fancy a bit of party music later.

Insert your own 'fowl tent' joke here.

I wandered back into Crickhowell for some food. On the way there was a car in a lay by up ahead and a woman was setting up a tripod. It looked like a good spot to take a photo of the bridge with Crickhowell beyond. Then she stuck a microphone on top of it, and I noticed her Environmental Agency jacket. It clicked that she was measuring the decibel level from the festival. I was enraged. What happened to 'freedom of making a racket' once a year? I asked her if she could hear anything and she glanced at me but said nothing. I was further enraged. I said, "The Prodigy are on later, you'll need a Geiger Counter for that". I thought this was funny, but she looked anxious and went to hide in the car. I was lying of course, it's Van Morrison headlining tonight, so everyone should sleep well.

And now I'm back in Crickhowell town/village. It's the kind of evening we only get two or three of a year - Mediterranean. I'm sitting at a street table outside the Dragon Inn having just eaten a steak and ale pie (also monumental). A number of pubs and cafes in this street have had the same idea and the atmosphere is great. The forecast says that rain is moving in again tomorrow but who cares? I could stay out here all night, but it's the first Match of the Day of the season later and hopefully one of the pubs will be showing it.

-- Posted from Kev's iPhone

Day Four - Abergavenny to Llanthony, 13.1 miles.

Total ascent 933m (yesterday was 723m).

Note - the gremlins took my first draft of this day when I tried to upload it. It may appear again one day, who knows.

I was going to start this post with "I frogmarched the first 2 and a 1/2 miles today", but have spent some time thinking about it. I could only think that it originated from the French Foreign Legion or something, so I decided not to.

It was still dry when I started today, so I aimed to reach the top of Holy Mountain before the predicted downpour arrived. I f*********d the first 2 and a 1/2 miles (oh dear, that sounds worse!) as it was a link between me leaving the Cambrian Way and the official start of the Beacons Way. And it was along a road.

I was delighted to find that Holy Mountain is owned by the National Trust, so you get a nice shiny bench to mark the start of the walk and a nice path to the top of the hill.

'The Rucksack', this time auditioning for a role as a beetle-like monster in Doctor Who.

This path worked its way up through woodland to emerge on the summit ridge with superb views of ................. nothing. Not a sausage, just greyness. I didn't hang around long and soon found the nice National Trust path down the other side.

The non-view from Holy Mountain.

Holy Mountain looks like a normal hill which has fallen into two pieces, a big bit and a smaller bit. This is because when Jesus was crucified the earthquake which ensued caused the hill to split. That's what everyone round here thinks anyway, apart from the ones who don't. They think that it was caused when it was hit by a passing Noah's Ark during the flood. Ooh, what to believe, what to believe? Better stick with Jesus I reckon.

It had been drizzling for a while and was getting heavier when I reached the half way village of Crucorney, which happened to have a pub. The oldest pub in Wales in fact (yes, another one!). It was quite busy and the clientele looked suitably horrified as I slithered past (I am Slugman!). The lady behind the bar was lovely and found me a quiet spot where nobody could see me. She also let me eat my packed lunch there. I had a phone signal so took the opportunity to send and receive some texts. I was hoping that Jon could come for a day of the walk but he's just got back from Cuba and starts work again on Monday, so not this time. Anyway he said he's got the sh*ts so it's probably for the best. Oh and he complained that he hasn't had a mention in this year's blog yet, so there you go, Jon.

As I was leaving a man sitting at the bar said, "You're going to get drenched, mate." I was tempted to say "Ditto" and empty my water bottle over his head, but wisely resisted. Anyway I got the next to last laugh because within a minute of leaving the pub the rain stopped. Sadly the last laugh was his because it soon started again.

Then everything changed. As I reached the summit of Hatterall Hill (which happens to be higher than Holy Mountain, duh!) a battle which had been raging all day reached its climax. Michael, God of Weather had held the upper hand against Alfred, God of Walking, but it suddenly became balanced. During the next hour I was in cloud, out of cloud, in cloud, out of cloud. One minute I could see nothing, the next the landscape stretched away in the distance, the wild and rugged hills of Wales to my left, England's green and pleasant land to my right. It was stunning and the highlight of the walk so far. I could have stayed up there for ages, but Michael was starting to win the battle so I began the descent into Llanthony.

Llanthony Valley is, with in my opinion the exception of Wasdale in the Lakes, as good as valleys get in England or Wales. Very long and narrow with ridges towering along either side. And at the bottom stands Llanthony, with its medieval priory, a few houses, a campsite and a pub. Oh yes, a pub. When I was booking accommodation for the walk this was the last night I booked. I kept phoning the campsite as I knew it would be a busy Friday but got no answer, so in the end I booked the pub instead. As I walked past the sodden tents I was quite relieved.

The Half Moon advertises itself as basic, but aside from shared cubicle toilets and showers it is great, and the proprietor was the first to know what to do with a walker, taking my wet waterproof coat, trousers and rucksack cover away to dry.

I'm now sitting in the bar having eaten. It's quite busy, presumably with the campers from along the road. I had to laugh earlier. The landlady was behind the bar and said to her daughter, "It's Friday night, let's go girl!" They then both moved from behind the bar and sat on chairs in front of the bar, and there they presumably will stay.

Sent from my iPhone

-- Posted from Kev's iPhone