Neil was 60 and so we had an invitation for a birthday weekend at a cottage on the southern flank of the Brecon Beacons. This was the venue we used to visit as students, Tir y cwm, and so an opportunity for reminiscing, catching up and introducing my boys to a slice of my youth.
We travelled down Friday, reaching the Therwell viaduct in two and a half hours and driving through deeper Wales from Chester. The boys were introduced to the language, we stopped in Rhayader for chips and struggled to catch the last of the tour on the radio. After a visit to Costcutter in Ystradgynlais for fresh victuals we headed up the forest track into the Giedd forest.
It was great to catch up with Neil, Dale and their families and friends and play some roofball again – a cross between squash and volleyball. The cottage had some modernisation but in other ways was uncared for and so left me with mixed feelings; partly hampering for the old days but also wishing I lived closer so that I could once again help out on the working parties.
Saturday Dale had devised a walk with nocturnal exploration and so once we were up we headed ‘over the mountain’. We parked at Dinas rock, difficult, as many outdoor centre minibuses were also lined up and wetsuit clad ‘participants’ were spilling everywhere. This used to be a quiet walk with occasional rock climber but the use had changed. We wandered up the right bank passing climbers on boulder problems and gorge walkers below. The scramble up below the old ramp was interesting and this accessed a bridge crossing to the silica brick mines.
The silica mine consisted of a core passage wide and square and sloping downwards away from the river – the strike, whilst across this the dip was at a greater gradient. Up to the right (going in) the angle made it difficult to climb but wide open voids were easily accessible. On the opposite side a smaller stoop and easy climb down accessed a pool with difficult traverse and passage beyond. I stood in the water as the children traversed around but a dead sheep ahead was soon smelt, barring reasonable progression.
Outside, the second group of gorge walkers had reached the fall, traversed around on hands and knees and were jumping into the plunge pool. This wasn’t a difficult evolution and the quality of the water was far from Cumbrian but it seemed an appropriate use of this old industrial area. Litter was minimal and the bank erosion of negligible effect.
From here we climbed northwards over the ridge and dropped down onto the Mellte. One group was using a crag as an intervening obstacle and using an interesting body belay around a vertical rock, but not the forearm. Instead of harnesses or belay belts a stoppered slip knot was used as standard. I couldn’t help but think that a heavy fall onto a rope belt combined with a difficult to hold body belay could end up in a marginal situation.
Dropping to the Mellte we crossed at a bridge to be greeted by several groups converging on two jump points – Loonies Leap. Some of our group wanted a go and so stripped to costumes. This was an interesting place and made some of the older members in our group question what was to be gained by these ‘experiences’. Most people lined up to jump in in sequence but once someone was unsure others pushed past rather than give them space to rationalise what they were doing.
Overall the mix of tourists, by-passers and gorge walkers was a peculiar one, it was as if the barbecuers appreciated the spectacle of entertainment whilst the jumpers needed an audience in some strange symbiotic relationship.
The fence beside the higher jump had been destroyed by the adventurers (for they were not canyoners) burnt by visitors and barbecue rubbish had again been left. There was not a direct correlation here between walkers journeying through and the debris but I did wonder how they addressed the damage they had caused? Was there an access agreement? did they carry out rubbish? And how much variety was introduced into their journeys?
Over the water one instructor made a good job of controlling the jumps and dovetailing the public with user groups. I had heard her calming their language earlier and it was these subtle nudges to behaviour that left me with a warmer feeling than that of the masses.
We wandered back down the right bank to find one group was changing in a church hall – out of sight – well done.
From here, we drove up across to the Henrhyd falls.
This is a lovely walk down to a classic fall with shallow plunge pool. You can walk around behind the fall and the boys appreciated a drop of larger scale. We returned Sunday up through Leominster although a move across to the motorway at Ross would have been much quicker.