The weather forecast for Saturday in Old South Wales was for wall-to-wall sunshine. A real bonus after days of grey skies. As I struggled out of bed and the sun slipped over the ridge on the other side of the valley it certainly looked promising.
For the morning I had pencilled in a trip to a farmers’ market in Cardiff to replenish supplies of ‘block’ butter and eggs. Since re-homing our hens when I went to Greece for the summer in 2010 I haven’t found any eggs which get anywhere near our own in terms of quality and freshness. Since then I have bought a total of three 6-packs of apparently ‘free-range’ eggs and enjoyed none of them. The block butter, 6 inches square and sliced as you want it, is very salty and reminds me of what they made on my uncle’s farm in Carmarthenshire when I was a lad. I homed in on the Roath Farmers’ Market and Trecastle Eggs after a recommendation by people I met and walked with on Nisyros. Now I go to restock every couple of weeks and my cholesterol level is taking a beating but I enjoy the food. Prices are higher than supermarket but then so is quality and there is no marginal cost as I travel on the bus using my Old Fogey’s Bus Pass.
I got back home at 13.05 full of enthusiasm to get out in the mountains. With the return to GMT from BST it now gets dark between 16.30 and 17.00 so I didn’t have much time to play with but within seconds I hatched a plan. The late start and the short day meant I could take in the sunset which from a ridge-top was an appealing prospect (pardon the pun). The obvious choice was to go up the 425-metre Garn Wen, the mountain behind the house. An hour to the top and another back down. But I fancied something different.
Earlier in the year I wrote a chapter for a book called Bus Pass Britain Rides Again on service number 30 to Brynmawr, a bus I have used many times. Critically for today it would take me up to the Whistle Inn close to watershed at the top end of the Eastern Valleys with a great walk back over the mountain. A quick check on bus times on the internet and I had 40 minutes in which to grab something to eat (scrambled eggs with peppered salami on buttered toast in case anyone is interested), change into walking gear and get to the bus stop. No problem! Galvanised by the prospect of reaching the high point on the ridge in time for what promised to be a spectacular sunset, I was focused and, with everything achieved, had a couple of minutes in hand.
The Whistle Inn is at the foot of the north scarp of Coity Mountain, the highest ridge of the South Wales coalfield and part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site, a key location in world history as one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution. Now the attractions of the area are the echoes of the past and the fact that it fringes the Brecon Beacons National Park from which it is in many ways indistinguishable in landscape terms.
I started walking at 15.10 in deep shade with the low winter sun behind the ridge and the air distinctly cold which, together with enthusiasm and determination to get to the top before the sun sank in the west, propelled me pretty rapidly upwards.
I was not disappointed. Broaching the top of the scarp I came out of the shadow of the mountain and into the sun, long shadows thrown across the tussocky grass of the high, undulating moorland. Continuing up to a high point of about 550 metres delayed its setting behind the ridges to the west which receded in a golden glow, fiery sword slashes of cloud across the front of the sun as it sank slowly, sharp in the cold, clear air.
I dawdled on the top until the sun had finally disappeared from sight and then set off rapidly eastwards and homewards knowing that I needed to get off the mountain before dark. It’s not a dangerous mountain, no precipitous drops to wander over, but I didn’t fancy floundering around in the deep troughs between the knee-high tussocks, nor wandering into one of the bogs. As I dropped off the open mountain into the fenced fields I also needed to see where the next stile was so I could take a line towards it and not grope my way in the dark trying to find crossing points.
The final obstacle before reaching a rough track was to find the way to a low footbridge across a small stream running from old colliery workings with uncomfortable boggy bits all around. As I reached the track, now in darkness, I spotted a sign erected at this end of the path “DANGER! KEEP OUT’. Not much help when approaching from the ridge top.
Half an hour along the track in near blackness looking down on the town below switching on the lights and I reached civilisation and a bus stop for the X24 to get me back home. Total walking time 2½ hours. Total time from leaving the house to arriving back, 4 hours.
A very productive and enjoyable sunset stroll.