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Today we were off to the Brecon Beacons for the second of our training walks in preparation for the Kilimanjaro trek in August. This time we managed to line up the three of us; Huw, Chris and myself to spend a day doing a circuit to Pen y Fan.
It was just the one day because I needed to back in London on Sunday for a rehearsal, so to make the most of our time we went over and spent Friday night in the Brecon Youth Hostel – my first experience of hostelling. It’s something I imagine we’ll be doing a lot of on our Round The World trip, so I was keen to see what it was like.

As it turned out it was perfectly okay and not so different to how I imagined it would be; basic facilities, but clean and functional and with friendly staff. That said, I suspect Brecon is quite a small venue compared to hostels in larger/more popular destinations, so while our only companions here were fellow hikers (who in my experience are a fairly decent species), I am still bracing myself a little for friction in places where we’re bunking with lots of Gap Year teenagers!

[Does anyone reading have experience with hostels overseas at all? Any especially good/bad stories?]

So anyway, having been woken by the sound of birdsong and the occasional lark calling, we cleaned ourselves up and took advantage of the plentiful breakfast supplies available for a fiver. Over yoghurts, fruit and a fry-up we watched sheep being herded by a collie dog in the neighbouring field and mused on the origins of the hostel building (I think we settled on former vicarage or rectory – a bit too fancy for a farm house.)

Having seen heavy rain forecast for the day, the sun was a pleasant surprise – but it didn’t last. It was blue-sky when we left the hostel but as we pulled into the Beacons Reservoir car park fifteen minutes later, the heavens opened and dumped a hailstorm on us.

Setting off into the hailstorm

As we set off onto the hill, the hail became sleet and snow and I was convinced we were in for the miserable, damp, cold day that the forecast had promised – but after less than an hour, the snow subsided and we slowly began to dry out. Before long, the sun was out again. After that, it was a real mixed bag between sunshine, light rain showers, one biting hail shower and occasional strongly gusting winds, but for the most part a really bright, beautiful day.

When Huw had been laying out the route for us the previous evening, it had sounded like there were several arduous climbs involved, but it actually turned out to be quite manageable. We did a circuit from the cars around into Cwm Cerw, crossed some rather boggy ground to Twyn Mwyalchod, crossed the dam of the Upper Neuadd Reservoir and climbed Tor Glas to join the Beacons Way.  We followed that back around Gwaun Cerrig Llwydion and skirted Cribyn, finishing with the ascent up a rocky path known as Jacob’s Ladder to reach the 886m summit of Pen y Fan. For all the bad weather earlier, Huw described the view from the top as the best he’d ever seen it, which made it all that much more worthwhile.  Given the forecast it might very easily have been covered in cloud with no view at all!

The view from the top of Pen y Fan

We managed a good pace too, keeping up quite a reasonable speed throughout the day and finishing none the worse for wear! The idea behind these training walks though is less about our fitness and more about getting to know each other a bit better, in advance of the more arduous trekking to come. Today seemed quite positive in that regard. I’ve dubbed Huw, with his Welsh background, our Team Poet for his evocative use of language. The masterpiece of the day being, in my view, his decision to go around, “the slippy-muddy fally-downy,” bit of a particular descent. (As he observed, they don’t give those PhD’s out to just anyone, you know!)

Chris, on the other hand, is proving to be the Team Comedian. His crown being awarded for one particular zinger;

Liam: [The ability to learn from our mistakes] “is probably the one thing that separates us from the lower forms of life.”

Chris: “Yes, well, that and the Welsh Border!”

I think Tanzania is going to be enjoyable for so many reasons!

The only disappointment of the day were the photographs. I’d taken my Canon Ixus compact camera rather than my SLR, but it really wasn’t up to capturing the colours or the sweeping views of the day. I’ve been thinking I should get something with better optics that will also geo-tag my pictures as I take them. That will probably happen sooner rather than later, I think. As self-appointed Team Photographer, I really need to make sure I produce the best images of our travels!

So if anyone is in the market for a beginners compact camera (a Canon Ixus 80 IS, in this case) please let me know!

If you do want to see the rest of the photos though, you can find them here –>