00:25am Wednesday early hours
I’m sat in my sleeping bag on a wooden plynth sipping whisky from a plastic bottle. Burning to my left is a fragranced candle (Fresh Cotton) bought in a hurry from Wilko’s, Merthyr Tydfil, and I am so glad I bothered to carry it. The blustery wind is buffeting the slightly cracked window pane but the candle light creates a sense of calm. I am ok. This is ok. I think I will get some sleep pending my new friends nasal habits…
Let me back up a few.
Earlier today in a whirlwind of chaos that I seem to be able to create quite easily I set off to Rhayader with one aim in mind, and that was to execute my finding space plan. The plan being not that well formed apart from having found a couple of disused shepherds huts dotted around the Welsh Cambrian mountains, and with some form or another their doors are open to those who seek shelter in the Welsh hills. I promise to write about what it is actually like to stay in a bothy, and also about travelling alone, because until now I did not know what on earth to expect but for now this is more of a story of the last hours. I also promise to add more photos. Let’s just say I’m publishing this from the internet in 1999.
With 3 days of riding uploaded to the Garmin in a slightly haphazard fashion I was feeling less than confident on the drive up, consoling myself in a Costa latte from an out of town shopping park. This was a solid last reminder that I was really glad i wasn’t the one loading up the car with the latest fashions and homewares but actually I was heading off into the hills- albeit clutching my scented candle and anti bac wipes. I was off on a somewhat apprehensive adventure, my mid week mid Wales crisis. I had some kind of a plan- step 1 find the god damn paper maps, step 2 find a shop that sells the Garmin charger that I left at home (kind of critical) step 3 find a chippy for a good fill before leaving.
Steps 2 and 3 were satisfied in Brecon, step 1 was still proving allusive with neither of the outdoors shops stocking the bloody 200. Directed to the Elan Valley Visitor centre (who would absolutely have them I had been reliably informed) I arrived skipping in through the door to soon realise that actually the 200 is not at all the map i need and the one I do need, they don’t have.Even more worrying at this point is the blank looks each of the 3 guys at the centre give me when I ask them about the bothy I had planned to stay at. Never heard of it, they tell me. This doesn’t help my nerves. We finally find a 1:50,000 map with the bothy on but with the detail not good enough one of the guys starts to call a few local shops for me. Low and behold, Daisy’s the newsagents comes up trumps, and a message is relayed to me between who I presume is Daisy and the centre guy to warn me of the cost of the maps- £8.99 a piece. This is not London, and I love it.
Maps in hand and Daisy delighted after I tell her how much I struggled to find them (5 shops…) I duck into the pub next door armed with highlighters to put these maps to work. The rain is still pretty full on at this stage, and coming up to 4pm I start to question my intentions to ride tonight. A quick check on one of my four weather apps tells me it is due to stop any minute now, and low and behold with an old fashioned look out of the window it’s stopping and brightening up.
It’s time to get my shit together. Coffee left on the table I dash to the car and start to whittle down what exactly is and is not needed. I have no idea. I’m making it up. Cables, bobble hat, book…fragranced candle…something missing…whisky!! God damn. The offy on the high street sells nothing less than a 750ml bottle so it’s time for a rethink. Small bottle of water purchased, tipped out into bidon, pop into pub next door and two doubles to go please, and yes in the bottle, and no I’m not going to cycle drunk.
My arrival into the heart of the valley is met with no signal, a ridiculously strong headwind and sheep shit for days.
Making the most of the calm from the wind when reaching each of the little sharks fin curves in the road hugging the Claerwen Reservoir I take a moment to stop and take it in. I also manage to panic eat a Clif bar in record time. I hadn’t realised how much energy I had burnt by being nervous. I was starting to just about settle these nerves just as the sky came to life, not only providing me with the most beautiful light but also a sharp reminder that I didn’t have long to go until I lost any form of light completely.
Passing the last farm marked on the map for quite a while the track got wetter and wetter, eventually leading me to the ford I had been expecting, now more a heavy laden stream in full flow. Bike up, deep breath and in up to my thighs. Rye smile.
From my limited research and a very handy walkers anonymous forum post sent to me earlier in the day by a dear friend, I knew there was no track to this bothy. Turn right off the road and keep going until you find it, pretty much.
Turning right took my breath away. The sky had turned into a violet blue and a pink full moon had appeared low in the sky, my reward for the fierce headwind and many mind demons along that track.
Bothy spotted, and a flashing of torches inside led to a small panic of who could be there. Plan B ready to be activated (leave…!) I knocked on the door and was greeted by barking dogs and three of the Welshest men you will ever have come across. Within minutes I was offered a game of cards, given some food and shown where I could sleep upstairs, if I liked, and where I did, pretty soundly apart from being half woken every few hours by one of the lads adding another log to the stove, keeping our little cottage warm and cosy.
13:17pm Wednesday lunch
I’m sat here now in the tiny town of Devil’s Bridge remapping my route due to some invaluable local knowledge from the lads and judging the conditions I’ve encountered so far- wet, boggy and pretty cold. I’ve just ordered another coffee and I’m in no real hurry to leave, I’m content and feeling confident about my second night to come in the wilds of Wales.
Ps: just as I publish this I have become an aunty again, little Frankie was born this morning, and is beautiful. What a clever sister I have. This adventure is for you Frankie x