Wednesday was the wettest day of the year. Admittedly it was the first day of the year so not a lot to compare it with but if many of the remaining 364 days match up to the amount of rainfall then we have a problem.
Recently my son and I have started a New Year’s Day tradition, he mountain bikes and I walk along the mountain ridge which lies between our two houses and have a pub lunch in the Goose and Cuckoo in Upper Llanover. The weather is usually ‘interesting’, in the mountaineers sense of the word. In 2010 the ridge was covered in snow and natural ice-sculptures. 2014 and it was windy and wet. Very wet.
The farm track at the start of the walk was flowing, stones bouncing along, the ditch at the side filled to the brim with water the colour of drinking chocolate pouring off the fields. By the time I reached the ridge top at the Folly Tower, just below 300 metres I was in cloud and the rain was horizontal. It must have succumbed to the law of gravity and reached the ground at some point but apart from what was dripping off me that seemed unlikely in the near future.
Sheep stood huddled under hedges, fleeces hanging with mud, looking too depressed and heavy with water to be bothered to run away.
The path down to the stream at Coed Ithel, vegetation irrevocably damaged by illegal off-road motorcycles and so normally mired in mud in wet weather, was being scoured to bedrock. Crossing the usually shallow ford was impossible. The stream, now a torrent, would have offered an interesting white water kayak experience but for the overhanging branches which rendered it suicidal. My only way across was to push upstream from the ford through brambles, find a narrow point, and jump. Left foot slipped in as I hit the opposite bank and the water overtopped my boot but I was across.
Every depression in the ground on the ridge-top was filled with pools of standing water, one overflowing into another until it reached the edge and became a stream looking for the lowest point. The usually dry and stony path off the ridge down the eastern flank of the mountain to the Goose and Cuckoo was one such stream. Part way down, water from the path diverted into the ditch at the side of the forest track which crossed it but was soon replaced by another stream as more run-off fed into the bed of the historic sunken way between the two major valleys of the Avon Llwyd and the River Usk.
My son arrived in the Goose minutes after I did, wet, cold but buzzing after a good bike ride. We had bowls of bean soup and steamed dry standing in front of the log-burning stove. The few other customers had come by car and soon left. The landlady was a little despondent; a group of 20 walkers she had been advised were coming and had catered for had phoned to cancel because it was too wet!!!
We set off back, again by different routes, me on foot, he cycling. We knew that this time we were heading into the teeth of the wind. Fortified by soup but a little sluggish at first on the climb because full of beans, gastronomically, I must confess to being elated once on the ridge–top partly because it was downhill from there, partly with the satisfaction of having overcome difficult conditions.
Standing by the trig point at the top of Garn Wen, as if in response to the wave of a hand the cloud suddenly lifted opening views across the valley and down to the coast. Back the way I had come was still shrouded in cloud. The amount of standing water was now more obvious, pooled in places where in nearly 40 years I had previously only seen dry ground.
The water level in the stream at Coed Ithel had dropped slightly making jumping across at a more convenient spot viable. A pull up to the top of Little Mountain, the final climb on the route, and despite tired legs there was now a spring in my step.