Date: Saturday June 7th 12:00pm
Description: Yet another slog! May have miscalculated this, but it turned out to be a weekend of adventure! The plan, was to run the 40k from Merthyr, Pontsticill, Talybont, Gwaun Cerrig Llwydion, Fan y Big, Cribyn, Pen y Fan, then back along the western ridge of the horseshoe back to Pontsticill and Merthyr. Total around 6-8hours.
I probably should have got the earlier train, but starting at noon should give me enough time to get back. The run from Merthyr to Pontsticill along the Taff Trail is steady. Weather conditions are variable, sunshine and showers. That’s 10k, and I’m already pretty tired. The bag, with a few kilos worth of water makes a difference! Rather than exploring the reservoir now, I defer to see it on the way back. So up to Cerrig y Llwyni. This I am NOT running, which is a shame. I just don’t have it in me. But you get above the treeline and every meter you climb, the view just gets more amazing. I’ve never seen the Brecon Beacons from this angle and it all just looks fantastic! Pen y Fan and Corn Du looking so distant at the end of the valley. I have my work cut out!
Steam train whistles echo across the valley. I see rain coming my way. Out comes the lightweight jacket. Does the job! Then I get a bit more adventurous and curious, so a brief scramble up the rocks to peer down into the Cwar yr Ystrad quarry. Again, a complete change of scenery. I have a bit of a cautious explore down into the disused quarry. It’s like Amon Hen from LotR, surrounded by rocky cliffs. I bump in to three girls hiking up to Cairn y Bugail. But I’ve got to get to Talybont!
But it was Pen Bwlch Glasgwm that offered the first opportunity for some “sky” running. The path crosses over into the Talybont valley and weaves along the steep sides. Sheer drops to the left side. It’s FANTASTIC running this part.
The route down through the forest is slower, as it’s a stream bed that’s pretty slippery. And the Talybont reservoir is beautiful, even as a hail shower hits. But it’s now 4pm and 22k down. I realise the run is on hold for a while as I start the steep ascent to Twyn Du. To add insult to injury, a fell runner passes me on the way down. (Maybe I should have done this the other way round.)
As I get to the top by Cairn Pica a massive boom of thunder comes from the storm that’s now grown over Sugarloaf, not too far away! I’m running out of time and I’m knackered, on top of a mountain next to a thunderstorm. Hmmm. So I consider my options. I could get back down to Pontsticill and Merthyr. Or I could get to Storey and get a bus back to Merthyr. It’s flatter at the top, so I can at least get back to jogging. I find the Wellington Bomber Memorial, as I see another heavy looking cloud over Brecon. There doesn’t seem to be anything coming my way in between, but as I run up to Bwlch y Ddwyallt, the black clouds come over the top. Jacket on! I’m rather concerned that I’m on top of a mountain, surrounded by thunderstorms, with two hiking poles poking up from my bag. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s now past 6pm. The clouds clear. I can get data and phone coverage up here. I decide to check the train times from Merthyr back home. 8:30. No way am I gonna make that. I could stay in Cardiff, or I could see if the YHA at Llwyn-y-celyn. Luckily I still have their business card. I ring from the top of the mountain and they have a bed free. If I make it by 10pm, I’ll get dinner as well! Now that’s motivation!
Another fantastic moment of sky running along Craig Cwareli. This time the drop is on the right. I run as close to the edge as I can, not the most sensible thing to do, but I’ve rarely felt so alive! Learning to love the exposure!
It’s a return to the Fan y Big diving board before bounding down to Bwlch ar y Fan and then a gentle walk around the back of Cribyn. Pen y Fan and Corn Du looked mystical, rising up into the cloud skirting their summits. Feeling calmer about making it back to the YHA, I’m less worried and stressed about the run, and instead I’m enjoying the amazing scenery and solitude. What an amazing thing, to be in present in this place. Calm.
I make it up a bit further and can see the cloud swirling off the top of Pen y Fan. At the top of the steps, I sit and take in the experience. Through the breaks in the cloud, I can see the cloud tops are not much higher. Feeling on top of the world. The circle of the low sun can be seen through the mist, drifting in front. It’s quiet up here.
I spend a short amount of time at the summit, as I’m keen to make it to the YHA with enough daylight. I don’t have my head torch. As I start my jog down, out of the mist comes a walker, stark bollock naked. That’s different. As I jog further down, I emerge from under the cloud and the sky and landscape seem dramatic. I get to the bottom and walk up to Storey Arms. I notice some girls wearing race numbers, and ask what they’ve been up to. They say they’ve been doing a 30k walk. They ask what I’m doing, and I tell them I’m doing a 40k jog and hope to make it to the YHA. They give me some giant chocolate buttons to spur me on 🙂
I pass a couple of wild horses along the track to the YHA, but the light is good. Across the field and the bridge I’m so glad to get to the YHA door! What an amazing place this is. I have a dorm to myself, I can borrow a towel to have a shower, fish and chips for dinner. What a fantastic end to a great day of running and amazing scenery. And despite feeling like a failure, I’ve managed 42k, marathon distance, with 1,500m ascent in 9 and a half hours. Completing Scafell Pike Marathon seems doable, given decent conditions!
In the morning, I end up talking to a veteran hiker. He hikes alone now, following the death of his partner. But we compare notes about why we hike, and both agree there’s something bordering on spiritual being alone in this landscape so close to the sky. I catch the bus and end up watching a film at the cinema in Cardiff before making it home in the evening. A great weekend!
I’ve leant a lot. And had a lot of fun.