The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
Wet, Wet, Wales
I think the sticky mud of Essex has just about displaced the distinctive pink mud of the Black Mountains. Our New Year trip featured mud, a lot of mud. This makes it sound like the weather was awful, but it really wasn’t. Of the seven days we were away, only two were a complete write-off: the day we left and the day we decided to head for the mines.
The Big Pit museum near Abergavenny is a fantastic visit. They have real mine workings you can don a hard hat to visit, lots of massive machinery and galleries of memorabilia to give you a taste of the lost mining communities of Wales. It also had a very nice café.
Our first walk from the Cwmfforest centre took us up the Dragons Back. It started with Castel Dynas, a rather lovely Iron Age hill fort with some Norman stonework on top. The descent from this small hill seemed to be particularly slithery before we then picked up the steep climb to get onto the ridge. It was somewhere around this point that poor Sarah slipped and sprained her ankle. We didn’t notice for a little bit, not because we were heartless (well, maybe a bit heartless!) but with our heads down concentrating on the climb it was all too easy not to notice someone lagging behind. Luckily Sarah had Robin to look after her and they managed to catch up with us when we stopped for an extended breather on the first knobble of the dragons back. What it didn’t tell you in the guide book is that the Dragons Back is basically a string of false summits ruthlessly leading you on, only to dash your hopes when cresting only reveals yet another peak beyond. It was hard to be too disappointed, though, this was the best weather of the trip. We had blue skies with scudding clouds. What showers there were seemed to be falling in the neighbouring valleys, so what we got was streaks of golden sunlight illuminating the fields in vivid green. It was enough to take your mind off the steep climb, but possibly not a painful ankle. A small sub-set of our party turned back to return down the valley, whilst the remainder continued up to the head of the valley. Now, presumably at the dragon’s head, there was no shelter from the wind and, although the views were still stunning, you didn’t want to hang about. It was a tough call because although it was very cold, the weather was just getting better and better. Too quick and you would miss the best part of the day! The descent from the ridge took you down to the pony trekking path. There were a few steps, but mostly it was a rubbly path leading down to a sunken green lane and then on to the tarmac close to our bunkhouse. As we got close to the road we met a mountain biker on the way up – it was Robin! Having escorted Sarah safely back to a cup of tea and an elevated ankle, he was making the most of a beautiful evening. Mind you, he did need hosing down afterwards….
A Bit More Thames
I think we started walking the Thames Path in 2007. At a rather slow rate of progress we had made it to Windsor by 2012. Now that we are out of easy reach from the city, accommodation is a little harder to find. The good people of Eton and Windsor are much more likely to put up rowers than a bunch of muddy walkers. However, there is YHA Jordans, which we’ve stayed at many times, but not recently. It’s a drive, but Windsor, Slough and Maidenhead are all within easy reach. To cap it all, the Manager remembered us from when we’d done volunteer work there in 2002. The patio extension we built is a bit cracked and worn (not unlike the people who laid it!), but you could still make out the ‘CYHA’ we wrote in the cement.
The start to 2016 has been very wet just about everywhere, and the Thames path was no exception. Very, very muddy, it gave you an excellent thigh workout as you slithered through gates trying to remain upright. But the weather was really very kind to us. A bit chilly, but the only proper rainy patch was avoided by a cunning occupation of a tearoom in Cookham. They were a bit overwhelmed by the sudden custom, but it was just the ticket whilst the rain eased off.
This bit of the Thames Path is very nice: the tarmac is left behind and although muddy on the floodplain you are surrounded by beautiful hills and some very posh houses. I was pleasantly surprised by Maidenhead, Marlow and Cookham, which were very lovely – almost a shame we were only passing through. Still, who knows what delights await us as we head towards Reading on the next leg?
Please send any comments on these pages to Dave Plummer