An overnight visit to Grwyne Fawr Bothy in Wales.
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 considerably less enjoyable, wet winter weather, that we are used to. Ideally, I was hoping 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 we were 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 Pack of Sausage rolls
2x Of the cheapest sandwiches in the place (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 kept 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.
We hit the road again leaving behind the main road into Talgarth and continue upward onto 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, the surrounding woodland eventually gave way to a reassuringly large wall of shimmering emerald hillside.
We park up on a soggy patch of grass and take a brief look at our map to gather 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. We each have the odd wobbly moment in the snow just as we start to work up a sweat as we near the summit of Rhiw Cwnstab.
Once we begin to plato 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 and from the bothy remains a grey and dull affair, looking like rain could definitely 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 water way that was guiding us to Grwyne Fawr reservoir.
Travelling from the north as we were, you would be forgiven for missing the structure nestled deep in the valley at the mouth of the reservoir. Fortunately we had seen a few pictures of the shelter beforehand and could work out its position in relation to our surroundings.
Grwyne Fawr is a particularly small bothy overlooking the reservoir 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.
It would have been particularly unfortunate after carrying such a heavy bag of logs over the 4 mile route 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 and overcast 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 peaty brown stream water ready for a celebratory cuppa to accompany our chicken and mayo sandwiches, followed by a few hobnobs for dipping.
If I hadn't just been walking for two hours burdened with a large bag of logs I may have considered these sandwiches a somewhat unwise purchase, but with a little excercise under our belts they more than made a satisfying lunch.
Note: Any food can become gourmet if your hungry enough...
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. We turn to the torches and headlamps to provide some illumination while we fix ourselves a wee dram of whisky to keep us going. The cold white light of the LED's does little to make the space feel homely, but once the fire is underway the bothy is transformed, and a warm comforting glow penetrates the dark corners of the room as we start to feel quite at home in this quiant little building in the Welsh countryside.
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/modern 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.