Wild Welsh Wales 2016
Kit Constable Maxwell and Dr Raymond Bird set off to travel in the most picturesque part of Wales between the Brecon Beacons and the Welsh Lakes. We drove to Rhandir-Mwyn, near Llandovery, and booked into a Caravan Club campsite lying in a picturesque meadow bedecked with bluebells and bordered by beech trees.
The campsite was level, flat and beautifully presented. It was bordered by a small river running alongside the Cambrian Way. In the village nearby was a wonderful pub which offered plentiful refreshment to many a traveller.
Welsh lake district
On Sunday we set off to drive a picturesque, rambling, unfenced road winding up the hills. The view of three lakes meeting together at the foot of a steep grassy slope was spectacular.
From crest to shore, sheep and their lambs grazed. We followed our little road down into the forest, up over rocky passes and then down to watery valleys with rivulets tumbling down the hillsides. The woods were filled with bluebells and the banks ablaze with other wild flowers, primroses, daisy, dandelions, buttercup, forget-me-nots. It was a wonderfully unspoilt expanse of verdant nature. We passed barely a single car all day and had this whole big area to ourselves.
Brecon beacons and Carreg Castle
Next day we drove south to cross the great barren reaches of the Brecon moorlands. I had walked, run and jumped over every part of it years ago as a soldier on training exercises. On this occasion I was very happy to be comfortably seated in my trusty Land Rover, a veteran of trips to Asia, North Africa and European mountain ranges.
We stopped on the hillside and shared a brew-up from the Kitmax Twintop Tuckbox and were quickly surrounded by a number of semi wild piebald ponies, who peered with interest at our activities.
We toured some wonderful sites and drank in spectacular views, before completing a grand circle and returning on a little unmarked by-road we had missed on the way out.
I had spied a spectacular castle in the distance and now set out to find it. Navigator Raymond insisted it wasn’t on our map so we had to employ guesswork, imagination and perseverance and after roaming around the extremities of the Beacons, found one tiny road, wandering off into a small valley. We took it.
A mile later we came upon the spectacular 11th century Carreg castle. As we arrived, the sun came out and so did the Kitmax Twintop Tuckbox. We had a grand picnic of sardines, cheese, boiled eggs, Ryvita and Raymond’s favourite tipple, a stout mug filled with two teabags and six generous spoonfuls of sugar and lots of milk. The teabags were left in, squeezed and the mix well stirred. I know how to make my 92 year-old navigator happy.
The castle was built on a sheer limestone promontory, a great bluff of rock that gave it a commanding view of the valley below. At the rear was a steep access path leading away from our car park. I set off up the path, leaving Raymond clutching his mug of elixir. When I returned I found Raymond asleep on his picnic table with a smile on his face. It seemed a pity to wake him.
Flights of Red Kites.
One of the delights promised by periodic road signs, in English and Welsh, was a visit to the ‘Kite Feeding Station’ – run by one devoted farmer who has supplied free meaty pickings for several generations of Red Kites. The kite was previously almost extinct in Wales, but now we were treated to an astonishing display of swooping and soaring raptors by at least 70 specimens at one time.
An amazing profusion of these great hunters with their flared wings and distinctive forked tail. They circled overhead before stooping at terrific speed to snatch a tasty off-cuts. Spreading their wings and flaring their tails, they picked up tasty chunks of meat and soared back into the sky while cameras clattered enthusiastically, hopelessly late. Lots of feathery blurs were captured - but the speed of the action was going to take some careful photographic planning. The event was a tribute to conservators and to the enlightened sheep farmer who has become the kite’s best friend.
Afon Fflur, the Vale of Flowers
The main focus of our trip was to drive the Strata Florida, a long-abandoned Roman road, littered, we laughed, with the gravestones of inexperienced drivers. It had been raining heavily the previous night and I was concerned about the depth of the river crossings. Fortunately we met three motor cyclists who had been up the track that morning and were forced to turn back. “The last ford is chest deep”, they said.
Ah..." I replied. That answered the question for us; we would return in two days when the water had, we hoped, subsided.
The route is tough and not for beginners, and we were sympathetically aware that there had been a fatality on this trail recently. There are 1:1 slopes to climb, steep descents where you nosedive into a river crossing. The rocks and boulders are concealed from view by turbulent water. The Discovery met the challenge with customary control using every ounce of movement in the independent suspension. I tackled each challenge at walking speed or less, in low range, 2nd gear, which gave me tremendous traction with enough revs to moderate speed as required.
One descent was so steep I clipped the front spoiler as I descended, breaking the fixing. I effected a quick on-site repair with a short length of wire kept under the bonnet for such events. On the steepest climbs it is easy to snag the tow bar drop plate. I had modified mine with an angle grinder, but even then caught a few rocks when exiting holes at maximum angle.
There are seven separate river fords to cross on this track, and the many trenches of standing water were a watery challenge to be taken with care. Short of getting one’s navigator to walk into the water first, a intelligent guess of its depth has to be made by observation beforehand. The last ford was the deepest and longest, a sustained water splash causing the bow wave to surge over the bonnet of the Discovery.
We emerged from the last ford dripping water and happy. We drove up the forested valley and reached a high crest and a delightful, unbroken view running off before us, all illuminated in the bright sunlight. A few more tricky scrambles round rocky promontories, clinging to the hillside and we arrived at Florida, the Abbey of Flowers. This was a Cistercian Monastery first established in 1164. The original site is now occupied by Old Abbey Farm, near Pontrhydfendigaid, which translates as ‘The Bridge of the Blessed Ford’.
Our trip achieved everything we had set out to achieve. We returned to Llanerchinda Farm where we had stayed in the Stable guest house. The welcoming staff provided great food and commendable comfort. Co-host Andrew had given us invaluable hints about tracks and green lanes in the area, and his generous advice greatly enriched our experience.
Within a few days we were home, the Land Rover largely intact after these adventures and Raymond and I treasuring the memory and experience of this wonderful unspoilt part of Wales.