Sunday, 10 June 2012

Llanthony to Hay-on-Wye

My guess was that everyone at breakfast was a walker, but in fact I never saw any of them again, so perhaps some were cyclists, or at least going eh other way. I left soon after 9:00, having arranged for my luggage to be taken on to brother Nick’s home in Hay.

The local horses taking it easy
There were no more than a couple of hundred metres of gentle going before the path turns uphill, and then its solidly uphill for 2km or more. It rapidly became apparent that the route I had taken down the previous afternoon was the wrong one, and obviously less well defined and more difficult. The route I took this time was much easier to follow. It may not appear as a nice green dotted line on the map, but it’s pretty obvious on the ground.

It’s a long ascent through – the best part of 400m of climbing from the Half Moon and Llanthony Priory. Most is relatively modest in gradient terms, but there are several steeper pitches. Quite soon after leaving the priory I was passed by a group of three climbers (out for a day trip from Bristol, it later transpired), but felt rather better when I found them taking a rest near t he top of the climb. Classic hare and tortoise stuff!

Looking back down at Llanthony Priory
After that it was just a long fairly level walk across the top of the ridge. This is right on the boundary between England and Wales, and involves an almost imperceptible climb from an initial 600m where one first reaches the ODP to just ov er 700m where it reaches its highest point some 5km later. There are good views to the hills in all directions, but the lie of the land is such that you don’t really see down into the valleys. I had been told before starting on this section that I might find it more interesting to get to Hay via opne of the valleys either side of the ridge, and I can understand that point of view. However, even if the views were not everything one might want, they’re still pretty impressive. It was hazier than it had been the previous day, but one could still see huge distances in all directions.

Most of the going was fairly straightforward with grassy paths and occasional gravel laid in rougher stretches. However there were several places where flagstones had been laid across boggier bits, and given the recent rain and the state of the surrounding ground I was grateful for this. Only at one stage is the path not obvious underfoot. This is where it crosses a stony area devoid of any vegetation, but there are stone cairns at 50m intervals to show the way. However, even without them I think it would be virtually impossible to lose one’s way. The Guide Book makes much of navigating across these heights; in fact it’s kid’s play. I don’t think it would really be a problem even if cloud restricted visibility to a few yards.

Me at the Trig Point on Hay Bluff - 677m
After passing the high point of the ODP (702m), the route starts to drop gently towards the North. Here I met a father and his (?) 10-year old son who had made their way up from the opposite direction, He had Swarovski binoculars, so was obviously into birds, He said that they had just put up a grouse. Unfair! I had been hoping to see red grouses at some point on these heights, but despite walking 10km to their one didn’t get as lucky as they had been.

There is then a steep descent for 20 ro 30m, where the path divides – right down the gentler way to Hay, and left to Hay Bluff, which is a real lookout over the area to the North, and has a trig point at 667m. I chose the latter – and felt I had made the right choice. The view from the Bluff is fantastic. There’s nothing as high for miles and miles to the North and East; only to the West is there anything as high, and here there is a succession of bluffs at the edge of the Black Mountains overlooking the Wye valley below.

At the top I took a photo for a group of four (of my sort of age!) who had come up from beneath the Bluff. One of the women was actually in sandals, would you believe! I was hugely impressed by their efforts, though I did soon realise that they had actually climbed only a little over 100m from a car park beneath the Bluff rather than all the way from Hay.

The path down from Hay Bluff.
Would you tsckle it in sandals?
It was actually a long descent – first steeply down the North face of the Bluff, then a long way across an open common area, then down through fields and lanes to Hay itself where the festival was coming to a close after a fortnight of (sodden) capacity crowds. A pint in a local pub, and a knock on my brother’s door soon after 5:30. Susan arrived from Hereford by bus a couple of hours later to join me for a couple of days in Hay.

Another reasonable day. Cloudy with sunny intervals; no rain. Temperature 13 to 19C. 20.66km; 560m ascent, 663m descent. Moderate to severe. Long climb from Llanthony, occasionally rough going on the rockier bits of the ridge, and a long descent into Hay.

The end of Week 4. So far, it’s 640.37km and 14,209m of climbing. (Pretty well the same amount in descents, of course, which are sometimes more demanding.) One blister, one night’s cramp, three atrocious days and a couple of others that weren’t too brilliant. Lots of good company, and some outstanding scenery. Morale pretty good.


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