Saturday and the weather forecast for the end of the afternoon was for winds in this corner of South Wales comparable with those of St Jude Storm last weekend, wind speeds of 25 mph with gusts double that and heavy showers. So I decided to defer cleaning the loo and other chores I always look forward to, and went back up the mountain.
What a difference to last time! I live on the east side of the ridge and so with westerly winds the half hour trek to the top in the lee was windy but nothing exceptional. As soon as I reached the ridge path the change was sudden and dramatic. Shoulder dipped, body angled into the wind, head down to lessen the stinging of the horizontal rain on the side of my face.
The wind got stronger as I climbed up Little Mountain and then dropped just as dramatically as I dropped into the small valley at Coed Ithel with what is usually a shallow trickle of a stream to cross on flat rocks.
With the heavy rain on already waterlogged ground the stream was many times its normal width and the only way across was to wade. Thankfully I could pick out a way across which meant it didn’t overtop my boots but by then my feet were wet through anyway so it wouldn’t have mattered.
The path up the other side had become a tributary stream with more water flowing down it than is ordinarily in the brook. Then onto the open ridge, the eastern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and winds stronger again. Now I’m walking like a crab with feet braced wide apart at right angles to the wind, upper body bent.
On top I could barely stand. Air is forced upwards as it blows onto a mountain, a phenomenon used by gliders (paragliders, hang gliders and sailplanes) and known as ‘ridge lift’. On the leeward side the wind dips down and, as well as creating a problem if you fly too low back over a ridge, can create a gap in the clouds. I wanted to get a photo of this gap with the trig point in the foreground so I moved towards the short cliff on the western edge, fiddling to take my camera out of my pocket as I did so, but when I turned and put my back to the wind I found myself being blown across the top, running to stay on my feet, unable to stop myself. I dived behind the trig point, crouching for shelter.
I estimated that the background wind was 50-60 mph with gusts maybe 80 but at such frequent intervals that you could lean on them. The only way I could even attempt to take photos was to get down on the ground and then the rain was so heavy and persistent that I gave up. I had intended but forgot to take a plastic bag for just such an eventuality.
With the wind continuing to strengthen and from the southwest the walk back was if anything more difficult. There was no way to avoid the rain lashing ferociously into my face and I had to take of my specs which became opaque. The wind blew the breath back into my mouth if I opened it, tore the air from my nostrils. Jet-snot landed in the next county. I spent much of the time legs braced apart, upper body bent in the manner of a front row scrum forward but staggering like a drunk. In stronger gusts I was pushed backwards like a scratch college rugby team coming up against the Welsh pack.
Past the Folly Tower and onto the lower part of the ridge the thin hedge baffled the wind and I could walk more normally. Just as well because by now it was dark and I felt I had taken a pummelling, played a full match and extra time. I had in fact been out for just shy of 3 hours on what is normally a 2 hour walk. I was looking forward to long hot soak in the bath.
I estimated recently that I have walked to the top of Garn Wen, the local mountain, 425 metres ASL, about two thousand times since we moved to the house in 1975. Some days, like this, are memorable. Very satisfying!