With so little walking under my belt this year, when by chance I spotted that the annual Ystradgynlais Christmas Walk was taking place, I knew I had to go.
With visions of strolling across the Brecon Beacons in the crisp winter air, blowing away the festive season’s cobwebs, I couldn’t wait.
Of course, when the morning came, in line with much of 2023. It rained… with added yellow weather alerts!
I’ve never really set out to walk in the driving rain, and was a little disappointed and apprehensive when I saw the forecast. But unperturbed, I reasoned with myself that in Wales, if I let the rain put me off doing things, I won’t do much at all. I packed my gear and headed to the cross where the walk was due to start.
A local tradition since 1977, lead by local walking enthusiast and historian Arwel Michael, the Ystradgynlais Christmas Walk has changed a little over the years – one of the main reasons being the closure of certain pubs that were used as destination points, but the constant of enjoying the scenery on our doorstep still remains.
With the popular Ancient Briton pub as today’s destination, the walk went from central Ystradgynlais, up through Cwmgiedd, and into the hills just south of Giedd Forest before arriving in the foothills of Cribarth and back down to the pub. The route had to be tweaked somewhat with the heavy rain causing passable streams to turn into raging torrents. Even drovers’ trails were completely awash and we had to skirt them through open fields which presented their own issues becoming more like bogs.
Unfortunately, my boots were compromised. Whilst they’ve done me proud in the past two years I’ve owned them, today they were just not up to the task and took on water around halfway into the 5.3 mile walk. I spent the rest of the walk feeling like I was undergoing a foot spa, but at least by this point, I didn’t have to worry about carefully navigating flooded sections of the route. It was wading time.
Photography was difficult. The constant rain made using my phone impossible – touch screens fail miserably when wet. I resorted to using my battered Lumix LX5, though even this had trouble focusing properly. That said, I did manage to get a few pleasing shots of the atmospheric mist over Giedd Forest.
On the higher ground as we got closer to Cribarth, the winds really picked up sending the rain into our faces like a million stinging needles. We dropped down to the foothills above Abercrave before following a high woodland track down into Ynyswen as the rain intensified before following the A4067 up to the Ancient Briton.
Absolutely saturated at this point and having to stand on the doorstep and wring pints out of my socks, I can’t say a pub has ever looked as inviting as the Briton did at this moment. A couple of foreign visitors smoking by the door looked puzzled at us, and we explained we’d been hiking. They took one look at the torrential rain, another look at us, before clearly concluding that the Welsh are a strange people indeed.
Drip-drying at a table near a roaring log fire, four pints of lager helped to stave off the cold. I felt really good, and appreciated how much better it actually is to get out in it for a few hours, then retreat into the warm, rather than peer out at it from inside all day. It’s amazing how the imperfect can be so perfect.
Would I go walking in this weather again? Definitely! However, I need to have a serious look at my gear.
A good pair of over trousers would help – something I could remove at the pub.
A rain cover for my tactical rucksack is a must – I love its MOLLE system of attachments, but it isn’t even near being waterproof, and on the walk, the penetrating water added to the weight. In addition to a cover, I need to pack everything in drybags for that extra protection.
Whilst I packed water, a flask of something hot would not go amiss on a walk like this – coffee or soup maybe.
My baseball cap was also saturated by the end of the walk, so it would be good to invest in a waxed cap.
And lastly, I need to take a look at boots. If I can get a pair that will keep my feet dry, and last for years with good maintenance, it could be a game changer.
So there we have it, a really successful last walk of 2023. New friends made. The promise of future group walks. A great way to wind down the year.