- Mind craving green and blue
- Lungs gasping for fresh air
- Limbs antsy for a challenge
- Back aching to sleep on the dirt
- The Camping Bug
It’s official. We’ve caught The Camping Bug. The only way to alleviate the symptoms? Spend more time outside.
If you’ve read our blog or you follow me on Instagram, you’ll recall that a few weeks ago we spent a blustery, frigid few days wild camping in Wales’ Brecon Beacons National Park. The gale force winds, snow accumulation, and blinding sleet only made the experience more epic. At the end of the weekend, our drive back into London left us feeling simultaneously exhausted but strong and alive, as well as a bit bummed out and longing to be back shivering in our tent instead of inching forward in city traffic.
One weekday morning a few weeks later, I was feeling particularly anxious to escape the city again. Luckily, we had a free weekend car rental we needed to use, and an upcoming weekend with no plans.
We decided to return to our same wild camping spot, not only because we knew that we would be able to navigate our way if we arrived after dark [MC: I’d say “pretty sure” is more accurate]. We were also eager to actually see the landscape that was hidden by the white out conditions last time around.
This turned out to be a smart plan because as I suspected, Mike wasn’t able to leave work early [MC: those emails weren’t going to take care of themselves!], so we departed London during Friday afternoon rush hour traffic and didn’t arrive to the car park at the base of the mountains until well after 10PM.
On the drive out, I was feeling lethargic and sleepy. We considered pitching our tent somewhere near the car and beginning our hike the next morning, in lieu of hiking the 70 minute climb to our previous campsite in the dark. But, as soon as we stepped out of the car into the fresh Welsh air beneath the starry sky, I was invigorated. Cold, dark, steep hill, almost midnight? Let’s do this.
We shouldered our packs, studied the map one last time in the car light, and headed out onto the trail. Having seen the terrain once before, the trail felt familiar, and with a mostly clear night sky and full moon, we steadily navigated our way. With each step, I inhaled deep breaths of the clean air – the crisp breeze smelled of nearby farms, trees, dirt.
As we hiked, we wondered what we would do if we didn’t have the whole lake to ourselves this time, and if someone was in “our spot”. The blizzard may have deterred fellow (sane) campers last time, but I suspected that this time we may have company.
Sure enough, we climbed over the last hill to the overlook above our little lake and spotted a gray tent in the distance. We quietly set our bags down, and searched around for the driest place to pitch our tent for a few hours rest (by the time we finished the climb, it was nearly 11:30 and I knew we’d wake up with the sunrise the next morning).
Sure enough, I awoke to gentle purple and blue light illuminating our tent in the morning. Never having seen Llyn Cwm Llwch properly before (last time we had arrived and left in white-out conditions), we were in awe of our surroundings when we opened the tent.
I grabbed my camera and quickly climbed up the surrounding hill to a peak midway between the lake and Corn Du, hoping to get a better view of the pending sunrise. Mike followed, and we stood waiting for the sun to come up over the mountain ridge and light up the valley. As we waited in the silence, all I could think was, I need to start more mornings like this.
I’m growing increasingly comfortable sleeping in the wild. I’m notoriously scared of the dark, so it’s been an adjustment for me to get used to nature’s noises outside of our tent (Mike has the luxury of taking his hearing aids out and enjoying a blissful night’s sleeps. One of the perks of being hard of hearing.) This particular campsite actually makes me feel safe – probably because I’m familiar with it now, and because we’re surrounded by hills on all sides.
When I did wake up during the night, I listened to a strange, constant humming noise that almost sounded like a helicopter. I had heard this sound once before – on a work trip back when I was a geologist. My coworker and I were driving the back roads of an Army base in Oklahoma at night. We suddenly approached a flooded dip in the road and got out to survey whether we could cross. As soon as we opened our doors, we were struck by an unusual throbbing roar. We walked up to the stream and saw literally thousands of frogs mating in the stream, and the noise was their mating call.
I was pretty sure that what I was hearing outside of our tent must be the same source. Sure enough, after we watched the sunrise, we made our way back down to our campsite where we found the stream absolutely teeming with frogs and tadpole eggs scattered everywhere.
Mike’s brother, Brian, is a biologist, so I wanted to get as many pictures of the frogs as possible to share with him. We wondered aloud whether the frogs had hibernated over the winter in the stream, and how long frogs lived. When we sent him the pictures, Brian would later inform us that this particular type of frog can live an average of eight years. They hibernate through the winter underwater before becoming quite “active” in the Spring. As we were packing up camp later that morning, Mike found a happy frog that had climbed into his pack overnight! [MC: I’m still unclear how we decided on the mood of said frog.]
While I was busily distracted by the frogs, our fellow camper emerged from his tent and wandered over to greet us. He was extremely friendly, and we chatted about Wales and the Beacons while standing at the edge of the pond, watching the mating frogs (nooo…we’re not creepy at all!). He was a frequent hiker in the region – he’d been watching the weather and decided to pop up to Llyn Cwm Llwych for the night in order to summit nearby Pen Y Fan in the morning. He wished us luck on our hike and headed off – we watched him get smaller as he disappeared up the ridge that wound its way around the lake.
After our new friend departed, we set up our camping stove by the edge of the lake and made some coffee and my personal favorite – breakfast burritos. While we were enjoying our coffee, I watched another speck along the ridge get larger, until it became clear enough to reveal another hiker.
The hiker made his way down to us, and as he approached our cooking site, he mumbled something that was either Welsh, or English in the thickest accent I’ve ever heard that it may as well have been Welsh [MC: it’s all Greek to me]. I asked him to repeat himself, and his response sounded something like, “Was thar an’ther tent her’a this lake las’ nigh’? Did’ah fella make’es way up tha’ ther’ hill thas mornin’?”
“Ehh…was your friend here last night?” I replied. “Yes, there was another guy here this morning, you just missed him!” The man shrugged, mumbling something about a meeting spot and time, and continued on down the hill. I’m still not sure whether I gave him the answer he was looking for.
On our previous trip, we had intended to complete a popular 8-mile circular hike, but the conditions prevented us from doing so. We decided to reattempt this hike on this trip, so after scarfing down the breakfast burritos, we packed up camp. We made our way back down to the car park to reorganize our bags and set out on what turned out to be a full-day, 15-mile excursion.
The car park was full of HUNDREDS of angry sheep. Honestly – one tried to chase me for food, which is unusual. Typically, we’ve found grazing sheep are terrified of humans and run away when you approach them [MC: believe me, dear readers, Casey has tried]. I stood watching the sheep before we set out, amused by their behavior, and struck up a conversation with another man in the car park who was frying up some bacon out of the back of his van (respect, dude).
I asked him if he knew (a) why the sheep were behaving so strangely and (b) why one of the sheep looked like his face was painted black, while the rest were completely white. He chuckled and explained that the farmer had just driven through the area on his tractor without feeding the [expectant] sheep. Apparently the black sheep was a common Scottish variety called the “Scottish Blackface Sheep” (how original, Scotland). Although they weren’t very common in England and Wales, you could occasionally find them in larger herds.
The man asked me if we would like a cup of tea (I know that if we ever move out of the UK, I will forever miss the British for whatever it is that compels them to offer a hot beverage in any situation), and whether we had camped in this area before. When I told him that we had camped in the Beacons a few weeks prior, but we would love to see more of Wales (Mike would probably suggest it was a mistake for me to mention this), he went around to the other side of his van and retrieved a map. He brought it over, opened it up, and proceeded to give me a [MC: HALF HOUR] verbal tour of the Welsh countryside, and all of the lovely areas that we just can’t miss. I could feel Mike mentally willing me to wrap up the conversation so we could be on our way. Somehow, strategically, I managed to wind down the conversation, thank him for his offer of tea, and we moved along.
The beginning of the hike was comprised of a gentle road that wound its way between seven foot hedges and through several farms (another thing I love about the UK – the public right to roam). We were so engrossed in conversation that we missed our intended turn, only realizing this fact once we were about a mile and a half out of the way. Thank goodness we did add this bit onto the hike – otherwise, we wouldn’t have found the lambs!! [MC: Yes. Thank goodness, indeed.]
We found our way back onto the right path which spit us out onto Cefn Cwm Llwch, the trail that approaches Pen Y Fan from the north. As we hiked along the increasingly steep incline, we stopped to take a few photos along the way as the clouds rolled in around us.
Just before the hardest bit, we paused, dropped our bags, and took in our surroundings. Cribyn (another peak) was to the east of us, Llyn Cwm Llwch (our campsite) was below us to the west, and Pen Y Fan and Corn Du were ahead. We knew the final climb was going to be challenging, so we took a few deep breaths of the crisp air and pressed on.
The final few hundred meters of the “trail” up Pen y Fan’s north facing peak is grows steeper and steeper, with the last few meters a vertical scramble. I had to ignore my fear of heights and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. As I pulled myself up over the ridge and onto the peak, we found ourselves actually inside a cloud. Unfortunately it didn’t make for the best views (and it was surprisingly wet!), but it was a really awesome feeling to have made it to the highest point of the climb.
We snapped some photos, inhaled a bag of peanut M&Ms (Mike is really proud of his M&M consumption rate), and continued on to the southwest to summit Corn Du. Corn Du’s peak was also in the cloud, so we didn’t acclimate to our surroundings until we descended out of the cloud and onto the ridge, which overlooks Llyn Cwm Llwch. It was breathtaking to view our little campsite from such a different perspective.
On our way down the ridge, we passed Tommy’s Obelisk . This is a memorial to a little boy who went missing in the Beacons in August of 1900. His parents enlisted the authorities and search parties to find him to no avail. A few weeks later, a woman in the nearby town of Brecon read the “missing boy” reports, and then apparently had a dream about the location of Tommy’s body, on the ridge north west of Corn Du. She had never been to the Beacons before, so she persuaded her husband to climb to the very spot that she dreamed, and there they found the Tommy’s body. This story is one of the many Welsh cultural stories that attribute magical properties to the Beacons.
We arrived back at the car in the late afternoon, thus completing our circular route. We were thrilled to finally complete the original hiking plan that was disrupted by the blizzard in our previous trip. We now had to decide whether to set up camp by our car, thus avoiding an additional 1.5 mile climb back up to the lake, but risk being awoken by angry sheep all night. Or we could push our thoroughly tired legs through another ascent and enjoy our campsite by the lake once again. The peaceful campsite prevailed over the angry sheep, and our legs complained mightily during the last push back up to Llyn Cwm Llwch.
It was most definitely the right decision, and worth every minute of complaining muscles. We enjoyed a full pasta dinner, slept a full night of quiet among the stars, and woke up to this sunrise.
Three Weeks Makes a Difference in Weather
In case you don’t feel like clicking back to our Winter Wild Camping post, I’ve included a few side by side comparisons of photos from each of our trips. Given the wildly different conditions in the same location, these trips truly illustrated the amazing variety and contrast of the seasons!