Beacons Way Pt 3: The Long March

Beacons Way Pt 3: The Long March

Jake // September 20, 2018

So I was now alone. With close to 60km to go, over nasty terrain. I set off from Bwlch at 10am and began my long journey. I should probably have left earlier as my goal was to get as far as possible before nightfall. The first stage was to reach Crickhowell, a little over 18km in distance. It was a large town so I planned on also getting some hot food as I went though. 

I quickly left Bwlch behind, it wasn’t a particularly taxing section and on my own I was able to travel at significant speed even breaking into a run at points. I don’t think there was even a summit on the entire route. The trail kept dipping in and out of small villages and roads, I did get lost at one point though. I invaded a pheasant farm, those birds are bloody loud… and stupid. They could just fly away instead they stay to be shot season after season.

Annoyingly the weather couldn’t make up its mind so I had to keep stopping to put my jacket on and off. Terrain wise it was decent mostly just flat grass. Although I did slip over multiple times at once point landing in a pile of dog poo nasty! Despite getting slightly lost I made very good time reaching the outskirts of Crickhowell in well under four hours.  Unfortunately the route merely takes you around the outside and I didn’t want to waste any time heading into town so I just pressed on. The route continued to follow a trail up and up for what seemed like forever. I briefly stopped to refuel.

It was quite nice walking through the woods a welcomed change from the expanse of never ending mountains. I walked on and reached my first summit Crug Hywle also known as table mountain for its very flat top. You didn’t actually need to summit it as part of the route but I fancied a nice view. It was however very windy so much so I almost got blown off. The hill also had the remnants of another hill fort.

The route then began to descend again, once again crossing roads and farmers fields. Causing me to get lost again! My only criticism of this otherwise amazing trail is that the route markers are very poor, I like the fact you are required to navigate yourself across the mountains but through fields it’s a complete nightmare to navigate without proper markers. More grumbles to come later.

On my way down I bumped into a small group of older men also doing the way, the other way around I wished them luck. The rest of the section was largely uneventful, unfortunately the route seemed to go up and down valleys quite a bit… a lot of ascent, nothing new for Brecon though. But it was nice, finally got to do some open land mountain and hill walking the whole point of coming to the Beacons. The weather also held up to and the views were very nice. 

I was enjoying myself but as the day wore on and I came towards the end of the second section I began to tire. After passing through a few more villages, another 20km leg was complete and the holy town of Llanthony came into sight. As I approached the village it began to get dark. The village has a very impressive old church some parts in ruins others parts have been converted into a nice hotel and restaurant. I had a lovely outdoor toilet to sit in as I replenished my water and ate something while taking shelter from the elements. The last section was a bit of a grind but I had made decent progress. I had been going maybe nine hours and had travelled 40km. 

It was now dark and I still had 16km to go at night. My first challenge was escaping the town and ascending back onto the hills, I got stuck amongst a maze of fences. I began to get very frustrated I must have spent an hour travelling a few hundred meters. I can’t remember how but I found a trail heading up and I eagerly followed it. The first summit of the section was of Hatterall Hill it wasn’t steep instead just a very long stretch of constant uphill, now I was making progress again I was in good spirits and around I could see the lights of numerous towns and villages a sign of returning to civilisation. It was however incredibly windy, I don’t think I have ever faced conditions like it. It came in gusts and kept blowing me 6 feet from side to side without my poles I would have been blown over for sure.

Eventually I began my descent, I can’t really remember much about this part as it’s just one big blur. But I descended back onto farmland which means one thing if you have been reading from the start… getting lost. It was 4km total and I think I was stuck for around 3 hours going around in circles in was an absolute nightmare. At one point I got stuck in a field despite my guide and map telling me it was the correct way, in the end I decided to brute force it and simply push through in a certain direction till i joined the path. While going over an old step gate the wood snapped and bashed my leg, I was now limping. I then got stuck in a dried river bed surrounded by thick bush, it was however on my map and ran adjacent to the trial. I seriously considered quitting at this point and just waiting it out until morning, but through some shear miracle I found the path and crawled out of the river tearing my clothes as I did. I will never walk at night again…. until the next time I want to travel to some crazy distance and I forget how bad it was!

But by now I was on the home stretch, one final summit before the rest being roads heading back to the train station where Shanie was waiting for me in her car. I headed towards Skirrid Mountain expecting it to be more open ground I could easily navigate…. Nope more farmland and fences. It took me a while but I finally found a way through, I was now on open ground. I sped up being so close to the end. I then found this:

The bench, the official end point. I was immediately overcome with emotion, it had been a really tough day and the final section had been one of the most emotionally draining events of my life. But it was over… well kind of I still had another 5km to go before the actual end but that was nothing. I was very happy that my ordeal was over. I rolled into town during the early hours of the morning, it had taken me just under 15 hours to make it 57km. If I didn’t get so lost during the final stage I could have easily averaged 4km/h not bad. I was in a state, my feet worth destroyed but I had finished another box ticked.

In total I had walked 162km in under 5 and a half days, not too shabby. Overall despite my complaints I did really enjoy the trip, simply by sticking to walking in the daytime the experience would have been much nicer. If you want to you can also complete the route over an 8 day period which allows you to stay in proper accommodation every night, a preferable option for some. 

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