My Beacon’s Way – By Shanie

My Beacon’s Way – By Shanie

Guest Article // November 6, 2018

Recently, Jake took me on a hike called the Beacon’s Way – a 100 mile hike traversing the whole of the Brecon Beacons National Park from East to West. This route is expected to take around 8 days to complete. (For more info about this route, check out the website: http://www.breconbeacons.org/beacons-way)

Considering the last hike we went on took only 3 days and very little of that we were walking due to the appalling weather conditions, this was my first real hiking challenge. While I will leave him to describe the route in more detail and finesse than I possibly could, I thought I would share my own experience which hopefully you beginners out there can relate to.

So after getting to Wales, we parked up at the end point and got the train back to the start point of our hike. The first thing I can say is that hiking bags definitely don’t go unnoticed in tight spaces such as train carriages. If I wasn’t bashing someone over the head accidentally with my roll mat, I was getting cornered by other hiking enthusiasts giving me extended stories of their own previous trips. Even once we made it off the train, walking through small villages with our rather large bags drew a lot of interested looks!

Soon however we had made it past the villages and were onto more open ground. We were greeted with incredible views as the sun went down. Having started at around 17.00, we walked until well after sun down and made it to Castell Carreg Cennen- the official end point of the first day. Under the full moon, the castle looked incredible. We were lucky to see it in a different way to most day walkers! After this point, we pushed on for a further 5km or so to find water and a place to camp for the night. Safe to say, I was already knackered and a little apprehensive of the days to come.

Over the next few days we continued the hike, navigating through farmer’s fields and open moorland, always pushing ourselves to achieve more distance than was set out for each official day. During this time I learnt so much about hiking and also about myself.

The first thing I definitely noticed was the weight on my back. The weight of my bag fluctuated around 19kg, depending on the amount of water I was carrying. I had never carried so much weight on my shoulders for an extended period of time! During the last hike, we were carrying less food and water, and I only really carried it for 1 day of walking as the rest of the time was so broken up with the weather. This time however, the pain in my shoulders was pretty constant by the second day. That blissful period after a rest when your shoulders don’t hurt became less and less until even a rest did not seem so appealing. It was at this point, somewhere in the third day, I realised that shoulder pain sucks, but if there’s no point in resting, then you may as well carry on walking and get the route done!

The second thing I noticed was how important food was. Being a lover of food when I’m at home, I’m surprised it took me so long to realise this. The mornings were cold, and once we were up we wanted to get going as quickly as possible. The thought of hanging around to get the cooking gear out to make hot food seemed unbearable so we often just went with a cereal bar for breakfast. I was often super grumpy in the morning, complaining about my shoulders or how long we had left to walk. After lunch however when we would take the time to have a proper meal, I found myself a lot more upbeat. Looking back I have just one word to describe this phenomenon – HANGRY! If only I had noticed this connection sooner, I’m sure I could have saved Jake a lot of frustration in the mornings. I’m definitely putting a decent breakfast at the top of my list for our next hike!

This leads to my next point – morale. High morale is so important on a hike to keep you going and to keep you in a good place. Clearly a large proportion of my morale came from food, but it can be found in a number of unexpected places. For example, at the end of the third day, we decided to stop a couple of hours early because we didn’t want to start off up another mountain range with only an hour of daylight left. Because there was no rush, we took our time setting up camp, got changed into our warm kit and made a proper dinner. I also took the time to properly wash my feet and legs in a nearby river as we hadn’t had showers since we started and I was ridiculously muddy. Just the simple fact of being that little bit cleaner, better rested and in high spirits when we started walking the next day made all the difference in the world and we had a great morning of walking.

The final point I would like to make is about feet. Proper footwear and caring for your feet is probably the most important lesson I learnt on this hike. Unfortunately this time, I was unable to finish the full hike that we had set out to do all because of my feet. After days of rubbing, walking through mud and rivers, and putting on dirty socks, some blisters I had on one foot began to look infected. On the 5th day of the hike we made it to a B&B where I was able to better assess my feet and they were looking pretty rough. With some important training coming up for me this month, it wasn’t worth the risk of serious damage so I made the decision to stop my hike. I had done everything I could in previous days, making sure I was drying my feet at night but it simply hadn’t been enough. I had only been in running trainers, not designed for long distance walking over rough ground and I think this was part of the problem. The first thing I’m going to for my next trip is buy is some proper hiking boots and perhaps some gortex socks to help in keeping my feet drier during the day.

Jake agreed that I should stop at this point, but we both wanted him to finish what we had set out to do. While I took a taxi back to the place where we had left the car, he soldiered on through the rest of the route completing the final 58km in a ridiculous 15 hours when it should have taken a further 3 days! After heading to the local minor injuries unit to get some foot meds, I took the time to drive up to a viewpoint and chill out with the sheep and a book. Absolute bliss!

So I didn’t manage to complete the full route however, during the five days I managed, we made it over 100km which is way more than I have ever managed before. Once I decided to stop, Jake told me that unless I came back and did the route again from start to finish, I would never feel that sense of completion. While I was adamant he was wrong at the time, I am already thinking about going back to complete the route and with the lessons I’m taking from this trip, I hope that I would have no trouble in completing it second time around!



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