A Night in Grwyne Fawr Bothy
Its new years eve eve and with a sudden change in temperature the white winter wonderland of a few days prior has all but vanished, leaving us with the wet winter weather we are used to. Ideally, we hoped for a blanket of crisp white snow and clear skies to accompany our trip, but plans are plans, and the weather is the weather.
We take to the road on what is just a short drive away from our foothold in the Brecon Beacons. While already equipped with some items we stopped off in the small market town of Talgarth to gather some extra supplies from the local Co-op: 1x Milk, 1x Pack of Sausage rolls, 2x Of the cheapest sandwiches (chicken mayo), 1x Bunch of Bananas, 2x Packs of AAA batteries for the head torch (by one get one free) one pack for the bothy, 1x Pack of Hob knobs
For dinner we keep it simple: some bread and a few sausages to cook in the fire, accompanied by a small dose of gin, whisky and of course: an ample supply of tea and coffee. Leaving behind the main road we continue upward on an exceedingly narrow, barely one car lane that winds its way up through a small woodland to the foot of the Black Mountains.
After some carefully tight manoeuvring around some tree surgeons and an unusually sharp T junction that warranted a three point turn up a near vertical transition (challenging even the defenders ground clearance), the surrounding woodland eventually gave way to a reassuringly large wall of grassy green hillside. We park up on a soggy patch and take a brief look at our map, gathering our bearings before eventually braving the piercing wind that flows unhindered across this open landscape.
Saddled with our overfilled rucksacks we take a moment to do the obligatory pat down to double check we've got everything and then arm ourselves with our unnecessarily large bag of logs for a necessary night of warmth and comfort. We begin as a team holding one strap each - sharing the load - before eventually opting to take it in turns as the gradient takes a turn for the steep, and deep snow patches warrant a more considered approach. There seemed to be no ‘right’ way to handle its uncooperative weighty shape and so: you swapped hands, swapped shoulders, held it with a straight arm, and even used both hands at times. Finding no suitable way to hold it you eventually reverted back to the original method, and began cycling through all of the equally uncomfortable positions.
While we were sweating and struggling up the climb our canine companion: Darcy, ran laps around us investigating curious scents and splashing merrily in every puddle and snow patch in sight. Nearing the summit of Rhiw Cwnstab the ground becomes moist and green hillside gives way to a plethora of golden brown hues of hardy moorland grasses. It makes this otherwise bleak landscape a pleasing spectacle as we begin the gentle descent toward the reservoir.
The entirety of our journey to the bothy remains a grey and dull affair, looking like rain could dampen our parade at any moment. The recent change in temperature has meant the snow melt has left raging torrents on the waterways, and paths. At times it was hard to distinguish between the trail and the stream guiding us to our destination at Grwyne Fawr reservoir.
Travelling from the north as we were, you would be forgiven for missing the structure nestled deep in the V of the valley at the mouth of the reservoir. Grwyne Fawr is a particularly small bothy and sleeps a maximum of three people (cosily) on a mezzanine sleeping area. Its size means there is always the gamble of it already being occupied, so we made sure to be there extra early on in the afternoon to avoid disappointment.
After carrying such a heavy bag of logs over the 4 mile route it would have been unfortunate to be met with an already occupied bothy. Of course this would be a great present for the residents, but fortunately our efforts were rewarded, and we secured the occupancy. Inside the bothy there is a singular rectangular window that doesn't let much light in on a grey day like today, a miniature table, stone bench, chairs, and a small but exquisitely crafted stove that tapers into the flu.
Soon after arrival I scoop up some questionably brown peaty stream water ready for a celebratory cuppa to accompany our chicken and mayo sandwiches, followed by a few hobnobs for dipping. Under normal circumstances I may have considered these sandwiches a somewhat unwise purchase, but with a little exercise under our belts they more than made for a satisfying lunch.
To avoid burning all our wood prematurely, we hold off on starting the fire until we were ready for our sausages. As the light disappears from the valley the bothy becomes dark and dingy, and we turn to the torches and headlamps to provide some illumination while we fix ourselves a wee dram of whisky. The cold white light of the LED's does little to make the space feel homely, but once the fire is underway, a warm comforting glow penetrates the dark recesses of the room and we begin to feel quite at home in this quaint little building.
In winter a fire goes along way to making what has the potential to be an otherwise uncomfortable evening, a pleasurable experience. Something that has filled mankind with a light and warming reassurance when the sun goes down for thousands of years. A simple delight of a primitive necessity, providing a little something for all the senses.
Whenever I describe this kind of trip to someone who has no desire to do a trip like this, I'm often met with confusion and a complete lack of understanding as to the why? It's sometimes hard to convey, and I completely understand their sentiments when you describe the somewhat unappealing wintery scene. But theres something in being away from the distractions of modern life and all its convenience, that makes me appreciate a few slightly burnt sausages in-between two slices of bread in a dimly lit room with a good friend and a dog sipping whisky into the night.
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