Two weekends, what to do ?

After 2 consecutive weekends away packed with adventure, I couldn’t decide what to do with myself…

So I decided to do exactly the same for the following 2 weekends 🙂

Me in front of Pen y Fan

In 2003 when things were a bit tough, I decided to do a weekend survival course (with the now defunct UK Survival School).

Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking.

I mean, if life’s getting you down, how can skinning rabbits for food and sleeping in a shelter of your own creation in the driving rain make things better? 🙂

Honestly, I don’t know, but I reckon that when the cut and thrust of daily life hits you (relationship problems, gas bills, Star Trek Voyager ending…) it’s time to head out in search of adventure and clear your head.

As it was, I had a fantastic time, living in the outdoors, learning new skills, and generally turning off my phone and getting away from it all.

Courses were based out of Talybont on Usk, near Brecon. I did 3 seperate courses there and on one section, on mountain survival, we decided to walk up Pen y Fan.

We got near to the top, but severe weather forced us back.

The shelter I constructed

After my evening meal (fish and rice cooked on the fire) I lay in my survival shelter listening to the rain and feeling uncomfortable (which didn’t bother me, as I realised I love doing that stuff).

I remember knowing that I’d return and get to the top of that hill, although I was uncertain when.

I’m the weekend events co-ordinator for CDWG. We try to have a weekend away every 3 months and an annual fixture is the Easter weekend in Llangollen.

But I got to thinking (well, Nikki did !).

Although I love Llangollen and it’s one of my favourite places to visit, 4 consecutive days off is a bit of a wasted opportunity if you visit somewhere you can reach in a short taxi ride from your own home 🙂

So, I moved the venue to the Brecon beacons, as there are loads of cool mountains around there to climb and Brecon itself, is a popular town with lots of good accommodation and nice bars and restaurants for the evening (it’s not all about walking !)

Having dinner in the Gurkha corner

Good Friday is the day we normally travel to our base destination. Nikki and I had arranged to stay at the Castle Hotel so we got there and checked in, then went out to explore the town.

Brecon is the home of the famous Gurkha Company (Mandalay), who are based at the infantry battle school.

The town of Brecon has a long association with the Gurkha regiment, going back to 1974 and it was practically impossible to buy a drink or newspaper without being greeted by a friendly Nepalese woman who was probably related to someone from the regiment.

We never like to miss an oportunity, so we booked a table at the Gurkha Corner restaurant.

Very much in the traditional Rusholme style (basic furnishings, occasional wobbly chair, but genuinely friendly staff and  and breathtaking food).

I ordered Khursani Kukhura (Chilli Chicken). It was offered as medium, hot or extra hot. I ordered hot!

It was delicious, but I had to run to the bar twice while eating it, to resupply the cold beer.

As we left, they asked if I enjoyed the food. I said it was excellent, and that I’d like to shake the hand of anyone who could eat it EXTRA hot 🙂

A few drinks in different pubs around the town, then its off to bed, as we’re up in the mountains tomorrow.

Pen y Fan from Cribyn
Pen y Fan from Cribyn

A delicious breakfast (served by lovely Nepalese ladies, who were no doubt the wives and daughters of serving Gurkha soldiers).

The  car was fully loaded the night before with our gear for the day, so all we had to do was procure fresh sandwiches and we were on our way.

We met 4 of our friends at the car park and headed for the hill.

Pen y Fan is internationally famous, as it’s used by the British Special Air Service regiment for selection.

Most details are confidential, but roughly speaking, a person has to carry a rife and a heavy pack over a 42 mile endurance trail, which will see them pass over the mountain and back again 3 times.

We weren’t so ambitious. Our route would be Corn Du, Pen y Fan (from all those years ago) and Cribyn.

Walking up was just as windy as I’d remembered. Corn Du was completed, and we headed for Pen y Fan, which I’d not stood on since 2003.

The top, was like Blackpool; there were so many people there (they had taken the shorter route from the Storey arms), so I’ve put up a photo of it once we’d reached the peak.

An amazing peak, which I’d definitely recommend walking if you’re in the area.

Sue and Aled
Sue and Aled descending Cribyn

We complete the final peak, Cribyn and the pub is calling, so we head back and I get talking to Sue and Aled.

Albert Einstein said: “Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it feels like a minute. Put your hand in an oven for a minute and its longer than any hour. That’s relativity. ”

Hill walking is a bit like that. Chatting to good friends, talking about genuinely interesting things and I felt like we were back at the car in 10 minutes (although obviously, my watch said different) 🙂

The White Heart in TOU - a trip down memory lane

On the way back, we drive past the White Hart in Talybont on Usk, where we used to go for drinks after survival school courses.

I was delighted to see that Owen still runs it. Took me back, as I’d usually walked into this pub with my rucksack on my back, bedraggled after numerous days in the woods, with my first taste of a pint and a nice piece of steak to bring me back to reality.

That evening, back in Brecon, we all have dinner at the George pub/hotel to celebrate (superb food, but the “band” were just too loud !).

We’d probably have stayed in there all night, but instead, rushed our food and were on our way.

Note to landlords: Yes, a good live band will put people in a good mood and they will drink more. But if they aren’t and they’re too loud, it will just empty your pub.

Sue and Helen

Our 2nd walk is Fan Brycheiniog the highest peak on the Black mountain (not be be confused with the black mountains, which are also in that area).

In the car park, there seemed to be some sort of company motivational event gearing up.

I was amused by seeing complete strangers, but instantly recognising their “role” in the company (Alan from accounts, the live wire, the pretty receptionist, the 3 times divorced finance manager etc).

Luckily, my distraction is short lived. The excellent Sue P and easily remembered name, Helen H (rhymes with Helly Hansen) were up for adventure. They’re unorthodox walkers.

By that I mean, they bought Nikki a bottle of wine as a thank you for planning and organising the walks. Long may this “unorthodox” practice continue and I hope its spreads.

Another high pass trek, with howling gales.

Black mountain peak

On the top, we stop for lunch.

A circular dugout, away from the wind has been nabbed by some other walkers, so we find a heath “wall” out of the wind.

An interesting conversation over lunch about women Bishops in the Church of England and then it’s back down the hill, where there are friendly horses all along the trail.

We get back to the car park with pub aspirations.

The spirit of enterprise has left the landlord unfortunately and although it’s a sunny day and the front door’s open, a sign says it won’t officially open for another month. This sets a trend for the next day.

The Castle Hotel
The Castle Hotel

In the evening, with Sue and Aled already gone, Sue and Helen head for home.

We head back to the Castle hotel which has become our home.

Our final evening, we go to the Red Dragon Chinese restaurant.

When I pop in and ask if they have a table free, they explain they are full. Seeing a table in the room, completely unused, I ask if we could have dinner at that table.

A quick conversation in Chinese, and we’re ushered to the free table.

The last evening of our adventure, Nikki and I share an intimate and pleasant meal.

So what to do tomorrow ?

The Dragons back

Brecon is famous for the Black Mountains, which is sometimes confused with the Black Mountain.

The previous day, we’d done the highest peak on the Black Mountain and so today, on our way home we decided to walk in the Black Mountains.

Nikki had found an amazing route called the the Dragon’s Back, which involved several peaks in a winding trail and we were lucky with utterly fantastic weather.

A family were doing the same walk. Luckily, I found this spot behind some rocks to have a wee. Perfectly innocent, but with children around, it’s easy to do something like that and end up on the sex offenders register.

More superb “Nikki” sandwiches and we’re off again, and we’ve reached the top in no time.

We get back from an amazing walk and there is a pub next to the car park.

I wander over to get a drink, before our long journey home; a chap cutting grass in the garden explains that the pub is closed today.

I’m not Richard Branson, but I couldn’t help thinking he’d be better serving pints to the 20 other car park customers and paying someone to cut his grass !

We head for home.

The Artichoke

Back home, hot bath and then we go to Artichoke for Sunday roast.

I “transition” from my adventure self, back to my normal, pay the bills turn up on time kind of self (both are essential, the 2nd one might not seem that fun, but he pays for the adventure of the first 1).

My daily, mobile idea factory

On my way to work, I took this picture with my phone.

I always say, never waste a pound or a minute. My train to work is 13 – 15 minutes, so I use the time to think of ideas, make lists and plan stuff.

If I need any data (availability of trains, opening times etc) I use my phone, but otherwise, I just use the notebook and pen. I feel like the blank page is calling to me for ideas.

Hebden Bridge

Friday’s here before you know it, and Nikki and I are having dinner, discussing plans for the weekend.

We’ve arranged to meet my brother. Like Nikki and I, he and Leigh (his wife)  make the very most of their free time, so the irony is that we struggle to find a time when we can all meet.

But we’ve finally worked something out, and we’re going over the next day.

Nikki and I decide to make the most of a trip to David’s with a day walk. But where?

Ridiculously, the best expert I know on walking in that area, hasn’t lived permanently in the UK for 10 years. It’s my oldest friend Frank.

Frank suggests Ebden Bridge and we decide to walk the Ebden Bridge round.

We arrive early to find a cafe and consult the map to align it with the walk pdf I’d printed out. The village centre is empty of people and it’s starting to rain.

Otherwise though, I’m delighted to see so many familiar places. Frank used to come here each year for his birthday and I was a regular attendee.

A Yurt

The walk begins at Callis community gardens.

Loads of people seem to live here using primitive technology, and I’m delighted to see a Yurt as I walk along the Canal bank.

There were children’s play areas, wind chimes and all sorts of other hippy shit, in a friendly and harmless setting.

Section of the Penine way

As we continue, the walk pursues a long section of the Pennine Way.

It’s a lot steeper than it looks on the map (perhaps you should have been reading it a bit more closely says Nikki).

We continue around, head over pack horse bridges and the like, then something amazing happens.

Gibson Mill

We arrive at a place called Gibson Mill.

Looks familiar to me, but I can’t think from where.

Then I realise. When my friend Dave married Jen we arrived by an old bus and walked a mile along an old mill road, before they got married in the old mill.

At the time (since I’d been dropped off) I had no idea where I actually was. But then I realise and it instantly brings back happy memories.

We have a nice ice cream and lolly served by a Polish guy, then head back to Hebden Bridge.

The town centre is transformed now, with a busker and the Shoulder of Mutton pub is packed inside and out. There’s a fab vibe everywhere, so I pop in to the Rohan shop.

Our next stop is David’s house.

Dave and Leigh's house

Chance to catch up with my brother David ( I haven’t been to David’s house in at least a year and it’s great to catch up with him and Leigh and for them to meet Nikki).

We have coffee from this really cool coffee machine, get settled in and then head to Bella Sera restaurant for dinner.

Superb food and good company, but like so often when life is really good, it flies by and before you know it, it’s practically midnight and time for bed.

I should mention that David isn’t a big fan of photos, so didn’t want to be photographed. The picture above, is the lovely Leigh, during David’s 40th birthday. David would like me to point out that he has a more modern TV now.

In the morning, we get to chat over a delicious breakfast cooked by Dave. But we’re all busy people, so by 11am, Nikki and I are back on the road.

We’d intended to visit the War Museum of the North and the Lowry, but because there was a local derby, we headed for home. Just for a change, we watched Gone girl, which we both enjoyed.

The evening finished with another evening in the superb Artichoke. We’re part of the furniture in there, but the food and service make my normal rule of “never become a regular, you’ll be taken for granted” defunct.

My new Robot hoover

One other fab thing, was Dave had been clearing out his loft.

He gave me this brilliant Robot vacuum cleaner. I haven’t had much chance to try it out, but I’ve got spectacular (lazy) plans.

And with that, 2 more adventure weekends are over. Tired, but I’ve enjoyed the very essence of life.

The search for adventure continues…

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