Thursday 15 May 2014
Borth, Ceredigion, Wales to Bath, Gloucester, England
Having traversed Wales from south to north, we now steered a course from the Irish Sea eastward across Wales to the Brecon Beacon highlands and down to the Severn Estuary and back into the midlands of England.
Reaching a sign to Devil’s Bridge (Pontarfynach), we enjoyed a pleasant diversion as we followed narrow roads into high villages. The trail down to the falls down in a very steep and deep little gorge of the Rheidol and Mynach creeks was accessed by slate steps to view stunning falls and bridges built upon bridges. Following a side track, I found that the undergrowth beneath the forest wash soft and deep, a wonderful wild place of many unfamiliar plants.
Searching for Sarah Bunton’s Luxury Chocolates, we searched high and low to no avail in four directions from Y Caban, the village adjacent to Devil’s Bridge. The search, though unfruitful, gave us purpose and was fulfilling in that it allowed us to appreciate the splendor of this splendid highland with its isolated hamlets and farms.
Turning into the visitor center at Brecon Beacons National Park was a bit of a letdown. There isn’t really much to these “mountains”, but to hear a local Welshman rave on about the majesty of the heights to his foreign mates made me salivate. The nearby peaks were only just over 800’ in elevation, with gradual prominence, and even the glacial valleys of the Black Mountains above Crickhowell were scenic, but not at all wild or awe inspiring. Heading off the main highway in the valley of the Usk River we wound through narrow lanes past Pencelli Castle (Penkethli) and around a picturesque village at Talybont-on-Usk before returning to the highway and continuing past Bwlch (Bulk) to Crickhowell (Crug Hywel). There, I sought higher ground in the longest vale that penetrates the Black Mountains (Mynyddoeff Duon), threaded along Gwyne Foch to the head of glacial valley past tiny creekside outposts at Llangenny and Llangenau. Though steadily climbing, the vistas obscured by flowery hedgerows along narrow roads got narrower and narrower and ever winding until still 8 miles from the end of road and the Priory, I lost heart and turned around lest the lane, barely wide enough for a single car, would require backing down 300 yards. This would have been a wonderful for a bike ride, but not a fit passage for an automobile, and I’m sure that Susan approved of my turnabout.
Following the Usk River valley, I enjoyed this south facing slope, but I preferred the highlands and forests of the Cambrian Mountains. Dropping down to Newport through Pontypool and Cwmbran, we rejoined the motorway and soared back over the Severn Bridge out of southern Wales into Gloucestershire, circumvented Bristol, and proceeded into the midlands and the city of Bath, a university town. In this World Heritage City, famous for its Roman steam baths, sprawing over sizable hills along the Avon, and we enjoyed a fine Thai dinner at Salathai after locating our accommodations on Bathwick Hill after failing to find it on Claverton Hill. For all their Brecon Beacons National Park acclaim, it appeared to me that the prominence of the hills around Bath exceeded the gradient we had crossed through the Brecons, and I found this surprising that a city in the Midlands could have such steep elevation changes. Indeed, the altitude of the River Avon lies at about 59’ and the highest hill in Bath is at 781’, making for a 700’ prominence.
Bees, of a large black variety that were slow and curious, buzzed about our faces at the entrance to our dorm, but signs warned us to stay calm and not harm them as they are protected due to decline caused by foreign competition. After an initial bout of screaming, it took some effort to calm Rachel down and learn to ignore them.