Derek Brockway takes more walks around Wales. He tackles two well-loved mountain ranges - the Black Mountains in the Breacon Beacons and the Glyders in Snowdonia.
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I thought it was Weatherman Walking, not Weatherman Climbing!
-You can let go now.
-Yeah, it's this way.
-Oh, all right, then.
Walking in Wales often means climbing a mountain or two.
So this week I'm tackling two iconic mountain ranges.
The Glyders in Snowdonia
and the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons -
both different to climb, but equally breathtaking.
Later I'll be scrambling to the summit of Glyder Fawr,
taking in the highlights of Cwm Idwal along the way.
But first, I'm heading to the heart of the Black Mountains,
exploring the history of the Rhiangoll Valley,
before ending with some brilliant Beacon views.
The Black Mountains are steeped in history, myth and legend,
so I've come to the small village of Bwlch, which means pass,
to find out why this area should definitely NOT be passed by.
Helping me hit the hills is Emma Harrison,
who runs a bunkhouse in the area and provides guided walks up into the nearby mountains.
She also used to be in the Army Reserves.
So I'm hoping she's going to take it easy on me and not give me my marching orders!
-Lovely to meet you.
-Lovely to meet you too.
-Welcome to Bwlch.
We're on the A40 at the moment, it gets a bit noisy,
so walk this way and we'll go somewhere a bit quieter.
Nestled in the Black Mountains in Powys,
Bwlch is just a short drive from Brecon.
Leaving the village, we head along country lanes
and cross fields down to the village of Cwmdu.
Here we join the Beacons Way to enjoy views across the central
Beacons before dropping back down to Bwlch -
a total hike of nearly seven miles.
The village of Bwlch gets its unusual name
as a result of sitting in a gap between two hills.
And this pass through the hills is now part of the busy A40.
Originally it was the turnpike road, so it's been busy for centuries.
The traffic used to come through, it was gated,
and you had to pay to get past.
And our bunkhouse was originally a coaching inn.
The road goes all the way from London to Fishguard.
That's right. And then they could get across to Ireland.
This is the first hill of the day,
but you'll be pleased to hear that it flattens out really soon.
-It's a good warm-up for the hills ahead.
So we're going to head off into the fields for a bit of peace and solitude.
Make sure you wear good boots,
as it can get pretty muddy in places.
So we're going to swing away from the Usk Valley now
and into a new valley called the Rhiangoll.
And just over here is a really interesting stone fortification
called Tretower Court and Castle.
You can just see it in the distance.
-It's quite unusual to see a castle on a valley floor.
Do you know why it's there?
I think it's because the mountains were so inhospitable,
there was no way of accessing around them,
so when the Normans advanced on Wales,
they decided to put the castle on the valley floor.
And they controlled movement between the major towns of Abergavenny,
Brecon, Talgarth and Hay-on-Wye.
And what's this ridge called, here?
That's called the Pen Allt-mawr ridge line,
and it's got a lot of burial cairns on it, you can just see them sticking up,
and in fact, the Rhiangoll Valley has got the highest concentration of burial
chambers in the whole of the UK.
Really? We're not going up there today, though?
No. Luckily for you, we're not!
We're going to keep going downwards.
We're heading down into the village of Cwmdu now.
You can just see the church tower in the distance.
-It's a nice little place.
-Oh, really beautiful.
-So, where are you from originally, Emma, because your accent isn't local?
-No, it's not, Derek.
I'm originally from near Coventry.
But school trips and family holidays to places like Snowdonia
and the Peak District left me with a lifelong love of mountains.
So what brought you to Bwlch in the Brecon Beacons?
I trained to be a librarian,
but I never really settled into the role
and craved a bit of adventure, so I joined the Army Reserve in 2001.
I spent ten years in the Royal Signals as a radio operator.
I've got some photos, if you'd like to see them.
And there you are, all kitted out.
Took me all over the UK and I managed to work overseas
-for a couple of years.
-You saw lots of action and adventure.
Absolutely. This is me in Canada, learning arctic survival skills,
and they also taught me how to ski.
And that's me in the Middle East.
-It was very hot.
-Sat on a tank.
And it was out there that I met my husband, Pete, who's Welsh,
which is why we came back to Wales and we bought a bunkhouse up in the Brecon Beacons.
Because this area is really popular for people who like walking,
biking, everyone who loves the outdoors.
Everyone who loves the outdoors.
And as we reach the valley floor,
we are treated to a walk through a carpet of buttercups.
I think spring must be my favourite time of year,
when everything springs into life, leaves on the trees,
and just look at these beautiful buttercups.
They're really pretty, aren't they?
It's just magnificent living round here
and seeing it all bloom around me.
Arriving at the small hamlet of Felindre,
Emma has some more Welsh history to share.
And here there is a little school that was set up by a very influential local man
called the Reverend Thomas Price,
who was a very important man of his time, very passionate about Wales,
its language and its people, and at the time when the British government
were trying to squash the Welsh language, he decided to set up this
tiny little school so that local children could learn Welsh alongside English.
He wanted to keep the language alive.
Absolutely. I'll tell you more about him later.
Instead of walking next to the busy road to Cwmdu,
we pass through the peaceful caravan park
and take the lanes to the village church.
And, over here, there is an ancient memorial stone
that was found in the fields about a mile away from here,
and it was given as a gift to the Reverend Thomas Price
and he arranged for it to be set in the wall and the inscription says,
"Here lies Cattoc, son of Teyrnoc."
-How old is it?
-It's from the Dark Ages.
Very, very old.
And over here, Derek, is Thomas Price's tomb.
He actually designed it himself and it's Grade II listed.
So who exactly was he, what did he do?
Well, a local man who did so much for the Welsh language and the
literature as well.
He's one of the original translators of the Mabinogion, and we've seen
the school that he set up to teach Welsh language to local children,
and that was his bardic name.
-Can you say that?
Do you know what it means?
It's archaic Welsh, and I've read that it translates as Sunny Hill,
and that's the name he used
when he submitted his poems and pieces of literature
to the Eisteddfods.
In fact, one of his poems is inscribed on top of this tomb.
So he was a great man and a hero of his time.
'He also wrote the acclaimed Hanes Cymru, a comprehensive study of Welsh history,
'as well as playing a major part in the revival of the Eisteddfod.
'It's such a shame that so many people don't know about him today.
'Leaving Cwmdu, we begin our long climb up into the Beacons.'
So, you've had quite a gentle walk so far,
but we've now joined the Beacons Way, which is
a long-distance footpath traversing the whole of the National Park.
So, where does it start and where does it end?
It starts at the Holy Mountain just outside of Abergavenny and ends in a
little village called Bethlehem.
How long does it take to walk the whole thing?
Probably be about eight days, Derek.
-I quite fancy doing that one day.
-Yeah. Are you feeling fit enough?
Emma, have you heard of the old saying,
"Ne'er cast a clout till May be out"?
No. What does that mean?
It dates back to about Elizabethan times
and I think "May" refers to the hawthorn blossom,
not the month, and a clout is an old word for a piece of clothing.
So in other words, don't strip off until the may blossom is out!
Wise words. I'll remember that.
-It's hard work, this.
-It certainly is.
-I've got an idea.
Come on, I thought you were in the Army!
-You're too heavy, Derek!
Oh, look, blue sky!
Are you enjoying it so far, Derek?
Now that steep bit's over, yes.
As a reward for your effort, it's the most magnificent view,
probably the best in the Black Mountains,
across to the central Beacons.
Just over there is Pen y Fan and Cwmdu.
I've been up there so many times, it can be like a motorway.
Yet, you come here, it's so peaceful.
We've hardly seen a soul.
'In fact, this walk is so quiet it's been named locally
'as "Walking with solitude". And today, it's just us,
'a circling kite and the beautiful song of the skylark.'
'And it seems it's not just me
'who's been inspired by the scenery up here.
'JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord Of The Rings,
'might have got some ideas from this landscape, too.'
Just before we start our final descent back into Bwlch,
can I tell you a fantastic story?
It's said that Tolkien holidayed here,
just before he started writing Lord Of The Rings,
and he was inspired by this landscape.
So just look into the distance, that mountain that looks like a volcano,
that's Sugar Loaf, and that's said to have inspired him to create the Lonely Mountain.
And just across there, the town of Crickhowell,
that became Crickhollow in the books.
And Llangattock and Llangynidr Commons are The Iron Hills,
and beyond them is the industrial belt of Ebbw Vale and Merthyr Tydfil.
If you can imagine when Tolkien was here,
there might have been lots of smoke and fire coming from the iron and
steelworks and so, that is said to have become Mordor,
which sounds very much like "Merthyr".
And then this hill in the foreground, that's Buckland Hill.
If you walk round there, it really feels like Middle Earth.
You can just imagine hobbits running around.
And Buckland is actually where the hobbits live in the books.
When you tell it like that, it really is believable.
This landscape is so inspiring.
Emma, thank you so much for a wonderful walk.
The Black Mountains really are beautiful, and so quiet.
We definitely have been walking in solitude, haven't we?
We have. I'm so glad you've enjoyed it.
And if you fancy trying this
or another of our walks, go to our website...
It's got detailed route information
and walking maps for you to print off.
Or you can download it onto your tablet and take it with you.
Snowdonia is an adventure playground for outdoor lovers,
packed with peaks, climbs and scrambles
that get your heart pumping and your head spinning.
So I've set my sights on Glyder Fawr,
the fifth highest peak in Wales.
I'm going to need stamina, an iron will, and a head for heights.
Taking up the challenge of getting me to the top and back down again is
mountain man Berwyn Evans.
He's been climbing and guiding all over the world for over 30 years,
and all started right here in the Ogwen Valley.
Bore da, Berwyn. Sut wyt ti?
-Bore da, Derek.
-I'm looking forward to today's walk,
doing some scrambling, but it's going to be a challenging walk, isn't it?
I think it will certainly be a challenge,
but there are a few things that we need to make sure first,
that we got the right equipment and we're prepared for what's to come.
Right, all-important hat.
Lunch, of course.
Some water in the sides.
Waterproof trousers and a light waterproof coat,
just in case there's a cheeky shower.
Yes, let's go for it.
'Berwyn is also carrying a map, compass and a first-aid kit and,
'most importantly, he knows how to use them.
'One of the biggest causes of mountain rescue call-outs
'are for people who are unprepared on the mountains.'
And today my Glyder gauntlet starts in Snowdonia.
Parking up near Ogwen Cottage,
we head off to Cwm Idwal before climbing up from
Devil's Kitchen to reach the summit of Glyder Fawr at over 3,200 feet.
We then retrace our steps and make our way back to our starting point,
a walk of nearly five miles.
This is where we start to climb.
That's right. This is where the hard work starts - just here.
I'd like to show you something over here.
This is Ogwen Cottage.
This is where I spent five years of my life working in the outdoors.
Ogwen Cottage was owned by Birmingham Education Authority.
And they brought children from Birmingham up here
for a week to experience the outdoors,
and part of that work was working with young adults and
also getting qualified as well.
What a perfect place to start your career,
with all this on your doorstep.
-Shall we carry on?
-Yeah, let's go.
And today, young people still come to Ogwen Cottage, as it runs regular
outward bound courses aimed to get them into the great outdoors.
So, heading towards Cwm Idwal now, Berwyn.
And I just love this landscape, the big,
towering mountains, and just look at that low-hanging mist.
It's awe-inspiring, isn't it?
This is Cwm Idwal, Derek.
And this is a glaciated lake.
All the features that we see around here are pretty much
what's left over from the glaciers that were here about
10,000 years ago, so we've got hanging valleys up there,
we've got moraines along here as well and we've got
these boulders here, as well,
and these boulders were really kind of important
in a chap called Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.
Yeah, I THINK I've heard of him!
Yeah. He came here in 1831 and discovered
that there were seashells in there.
So he deduced that, at some stage,
that rock must have been under a shallow sea.
Millions of years ago, Wales was in another part of the world.
That's right, it was a lot warmer and a lot further south.
It's amazing to think, isn't it, that Charles Darwin was once here
and this area helped to form part of his Theory of Evolution.
It's an extremely important place.
And a lot of people come here to visit because of these features.
WOMAN SINGS IN WELSH
Any legends of the lake?
Yeah, there is. One is that the name, Cwm Idwal, comes from Idwal,
who had his head chopped off about a thousand years ago,
it was thrown into the lake and, ever since then,
no bird has ever flown over the lake.
It's not true, though, is it?
Ah, well, the minute I tell a group the story, within seconds
there's a seagull flying over the water!
This area really is an adventure playground for all ages.
There's just something for everyone.
Rather them than me, Berwyn.
Yeah, these are the Idwal slabs.
They're very popular with beginners.
There are about 200 metres high,
but there are more challenging routes here, as well.
-Have you been up there?
-Yeah, I've done a lot of climbing here,
not just taking people from Ogwen Cottage, but also for my personal
climbing around the edges as well, the steep bits.
You've got Homicide Wall on the right and Suicide Wall on the left.
It looks good fun, but let's stick to the path.
Yeah, let's go for it. Onwards and upwards.
So, quite straightforward so far, Derek, eh?
Yeah, not too bad.
We're coming to a bit of a tricky bit coming up now.
I've been on steeper paths in the Alps.
-Shall we go for it?
-OK, let's go.
We take it nice and slowly, and make every foot count.
Do many people come a cropper here?
They have done in the past, yeah, a bit of a slip.
It's easily done.
-'Well, that wasn't too bad but,
'in winter or after heavy rain,
'the stream is a lot wider and harder to cross, so do take care.'
It's getting a bit steeper now.
This area's called the Devil's Kitchen, isn't it?
Yeah, that's right, Derek, yeah.
-Why's it called that?
-The story goes when there were ships out at sea at
Red Wharf Bay just off the coast of Anglesey,
you could look up into the mountains and see this valley and the clouds
and the mist swirling, and it looked quite ominous up here.
So the warm air rises upwards, condenses, cools,
forming all these swirling clouds that look like steam.
That's right, so the Devil's Kitchen, yeah.
And in Welsh it's called the Twll Du, which is the "black hole".
I think I prefer the name the Devil's Kitchen!
Yeah, yeah, it's a little bit more spectacular, isn't it?
So, Derek, it's a good time of the year to see some wild flowers
growing in the mountains. We've got some wild thyme, and a rarity here,
-Pretty, isn't it?
It is. This is a good plant to indicate that we're at altitude,
because it only grows up here.
-What about the Snowdon Lily?
-That plant's isolated
up on the high cliffs around here and on Snowdon.
So, I'm afraid we're going to be out of luck today.
Unless we've got a rope.
Onwards and upwards.
There we go, Derek. It's steepening up a little bit now.
We don't need ropes for this bit, then?
No, no. We're going to have to use our hands a little bit.
Not for the faint-hearted, really, is it?
No, no, it should be all right.
That was a bit of a challenge there, Derek.
-It was, a bit.
-How about if we have a bit of a sit-down
-and have a bit of a snack, eh?
-I think we've earned it.
Take advantage of this lovely view.
-It's fantastic, isn't it?
-Yeah, it's beautiful, isn't it?
I always think food tastes much better when you're outdoors.
Yeah, you feel as if you've earned it, eh?
So, have you always enjoyed being in the mountains?
Yeah, yeah, ever since I was a teenager roaming the hills
down in mid Wales. That's what inspired me, really,
to get involved a bit more and earn a living from it.
So tell me about your job.
-What do you do, exactly?
-I do a lot of training these days and a lot of
kind of technical advice work, but it wasn't always that way.
I had a bit of a scare around 11 years ago, when I was diagnosed with cancer.
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
So that was two years out of my life, really.
You must have been really worried.
Yeah, the family,
my boys were young in those days as well,
and it was a really traumatic time for them,
for me and the family.
But we kind of battled through and there was light at the end of the
tunnel, in the end but, really, it was my family,
keeping healthy and keeping going in the outdoors really inspired me.
So staying out here and coming into the mountains made you stronger and
-helped you get over it.
-Shall we carry on?
-Yes, we better get to the top before sunset.
'This walk is now getting pretty hard and involves some scrambling,
'so make sure you're prepared for this type of terrain.
'And as we leave Devil's Kitchen, the going gets even tougher.'
-The fog's getting thicker.
Yeah. You have to be prepared for...
You've got to be careful, haven't you, on this stuff?
Yeah. And you've got to be prepared for all weather conditions.
'I'm glad Berwyn is with me.
'Up here, the weather is closing in - fast.
'We're at 2,300 feet and totally surrounded by fog.'
Yeah, I'm not sure we're going to see much from the top, unfortunately.
Well, I don't know, we might be lucky.
It might clear by the time we get to the top.
Now, there we go, Derek. Look at this.
-This is a fossil of a shell
that was laid down in a shallow sea.
-Millions of years ago.
-400 million years ago.
This mountain used to be under the sea.
So that is a fantastic find, there.
Isn't it? It's a geologist's paradise up here, isn't it?
It absolutely is.
Just goes to show, we don't have to have fantastic views to get
an interesting day out.
-A fossil. All yours.
It's starting to clear up, Derek.
That's what we call a sucker's gap in the weather world.
Yeah, and there's a nice view from here.
-Fantastic. And we can see the top, now, as well.
It's unbelievable, but it's clearing,
and just check out the landscape up here.
It's like the moon, with finger-like rock formations all around us.
-There we go.
We made it. The summit of Glyder Fawr.
And it's covered in midges!
-Just look at those views.
Well, Berwyn, thank you for being a wonderful guide and for such
a challenging and rewarding walk.
I know you've climbed all over the world, but with views like this,
there's no better place than home, is there?
Absolutely. But it does look like it's clagging in a little bit again,
so I think we better make our way down.
I think you're right. Come on.
Week two sees Derek tackle two of our well-loved mountain ranges - the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons and the Glyders in Snowdonia. Starting in the small village of Bwlch, his walk explores the history of the Rhiangoll Valley and the village of Cwmdu, before hitting the hills to follow the Beacons Way, up and over and back to Bwlch. His next challenge is to climb one of Wales's supermountains - Glyder Fawr at over 3,200 feet! It's tough going, with scrambling and thick fog - will he get to the top?