Shortly into our journey we discovered our first mistake. We were travelling on Ascot ladies day, and the M25 and the M4 as a far as Windsor were even busier than usual. However once past all the hats we made excellent progress and soon crossed the Severn into Wales. The road signs immediately became English subtitled in Welsh. As we went deeper into Wales they changed to Welsh subtitled into English. This wasn't too much of a problem, but as Welsh is the language that vowels forgot we realised that pronunciation was going to be a challenge for the next few days.
The Billericay contingent arrived at our destination, the Castle Inn at Pengenffordd, by mid afternoon and set about two immediate tasks. Check out the accommodation, and ensure that the pub had a TV on which we could watch England v Switzerland. With both tasks sorted out we set off for our first walk, a short scramble up to Castle Dinas just behind the Castle Inn. In the evening we were joined by the Hampshire team and we all settled down to watch Mr Rooney become even more famous.
The accommodation was a bunkhouse, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It was a room with 12 bunks. Just. There was no room for any thing else other than a table in the middle. In estate agent speak it was "rustic and cosy", in reality it conjured up pictures of stalagluft 15. However, remembering our motto we all settled in.
The following morning highlighted one disadvantage of bunks. It was some time since any of us had slept in one. This became obvious when Mark exited his with all the grace and aplomb of a snooker table falling off a cliff. No need for alarm clocks that day.
The day's activities were a walk around Porth-y-Ogof to inspect the caves being tackled later, and then the falls at Ystradfelte. Ystradfelte is a truly beautiful place, where the river has cut through the rocks over thousands of years to form a gorge and several waterfalls. Unfortunately it was here we had our first accident. I was trying to sample the water, when my foot slipped and I found myself falling into the river. My fall was broken by a tree trunk lying across the river coming into contact with the bridge of my nose. After the rest of the party had stopped laughing they did eventually enquire after my well-being. There seemed some disappointment when it was confirmed that my nose wasn't broken. Remembering our motto I carried on. The highlight of the day was the curtain falls. At this point the river fell around 30 feet and it was possible to walk behind the falls and look back through the water. It was a place that will live long in the memory for its magnificence.
On Saturday we tackled the highest peak in South Wales, Pen-Y-Fan. For this walk we separated into two groups, those with the climbing ability of mountain goats and us mere mortals. The first group tackled several peaks in a horseshoe of mountains around the area; the rest of us took on Pen-Y-Fan and its nearest neighbours. The views from the top were breath taking, and although we did get caught in a rain shower or two, the splendour of the countryside far outweighed the inconvenience.
On Sunday we again divided into two teams. One group went back to Porth-y-Ogof to explore the caves, and the other team climbed Sugar Loaf, a hill just outside Abergavenny, so called due to the resemblance between Abergavenny and Rio de Janeiro. We each had to make the choice between, being squeezed into small confined dark places, up to your neck in cold water, or walking in bright sunshine and wonderful clear air. Guess which I did. When we met back at the bunkhouse, the cavers to a man reported on what a great experience it was, I will take their word for it.
For our last full day we decided to take to the river Wye, and canoed from Glasbury to Hay-On-Wye, a distance on the river of about 5 miles. Most of the party were in two man Canadian canoes. The river was quite low and one of the more heavily laden canoes containing Mike and David kept getting stuck on the bottom. In their over enthusiastic attempts to free themselves they twice managed to turn it into a swimming trip. Whoever had designed the canoes had thoughtfully attached a small rope to the back of each boat. This meant that if you were really careful it was possible to hold onto the rope of the boat in front and enjoy a much easier ride than previously. Sadly the crew providing the tow forgot our motto and a short exchange of splashing ensued.
As we reached our destination the rain started, and by the time we had the canoes out of the water and onto the minibus we were in the middle of deluge. A few of us went back in the minibus to get the cars and I can say there was genuine sadness as we pulled away from the car park watching our friends getting so wet. By the time we got back with the cars the rain had stopped and we enjoyed a coffee as we said goodbye to the Hampshire three who had to travel back a day early. After our goodbyes the rest enjoyed what Hay is famous for, it's dozens of second hand bookshops.
For our last day we had planned one last short walk but we decide not to, partly due to tiredness but also because I was suffering with a twisted ankle, which I collected whilst getting the canoes out of the river. So it was time to head home and leave Wales behind. It had been an excellent trip, full of fun and friendship. The countryside was magnificent, and the walking was excellent. I think we all felt we would have liked to have stayed longer.
Next year the AHWC is planning a trip to the Isle of Arran in September. Requirements for joining the AHWC are, being male, having a sense of humour and enjoying being outside. A passing resemblance to any character from The Lord Of The Rings is a benefit. If you are interested contact any of the members.