Date Undertaken: 20 – 21 January 2018
This year, I’ve set myself a challenge. Call it a new year’s resolution if you like. I’m planning to get outside, at least once a month, and explore parts of Wales I’ve either never been to before, or not visited for a long time. I’ll be “ticking off” every bothy that is located in this great nation. To most, they are abandoned dwellings on the map, forgotten memories of lives lived more simply. But to a few, they are a welcome refuge from the harshness of the wilds of the mountains of the UK. Located mainly in Scotland, there are relatively few in Wales, so it makes for a good challenge in a year. More information on these can be found on the Mountain Bothies Association site.
I wanted to ensure that I started with a decent bothy, with a good potential for getting warm and dry (the chances of staying either in January in Wales are slim!).
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Along with my partner in crime (another Simon) we set off late morning and travelled up to our start in Llangurig, arriving just after lunch. We were however greeted with a slightly unexpected sight…
As we knew from the route that we had quite a lot of ascent to the first bothy site, this was a bit of a worry! Nevertheless, we pressed on. Shortly into the first hill (getting us nice and warm) it turned quite slushy, making progress up a steep hill quite difficult. At least that’s what we told ourselves. We had both commented that this would be a bit of a “shakedown” trip – blowing out the winter cobwebs and Christmas excesses, making a start on getting the fitness back up to somewhere near where it should have stayed over the dark months, and to test and hone our bikepacking rigs (more on that later).
As we had got off and started pushing, upon rounding a corner in the slope, we met another cyclist coming in the opposite direction. He was obviously on a bit of a journey, judging by the amount of panniers and bags he had on his bike. When I asked where he was going, he said “Scotland”. Thinking he’d maybe recently started, I followed this up with “where have you come from?”. “Africa” was the reply. He then said he had to keep going as he was very cold. To be fair to him, he did look thoroughly soaked. Whereas we quite enjoyed the respite and break from the slope, he definitely looked like he didn’t.
EDIT: Turns out, this guys was in a pretty bad state. Upon our return, he had posted on a FB group about the tough time he’d had, literally just before we met him. One of his posts below. I’ll revisit this video later…
Within a further few hundred metres, the route veered off the road, and into the forestry. This was the last time we’d see tarmac until the following day. The track continued to snake up and over the forested uplands – as it continued to do so, the slush became more and more solid, as well as gradually deeper. While the angle eased, the ability to get on the bikes and peddle did not. Before long, there was a good two to three inches of snow on the ground – making peddling on our setups impossible. Part of me was wishing I’d got a fatbike back in the Summer when I bought my bike, but quickly remembered how pointless it would be for the few days a year it would be useful.
We continued biking (read walking) the route until we arrived at the first bothy – Nant Rhys bothy. From the outside, it looks like a two-storey, multi-roomed building. Instead, the plastic-framed window in the bottom right of the picture is the room that contains the fire and three or four sleeping platforms. The rest of the building is, in essence, a barn with a few large tables and seats – not a lot else.
There was a couple inside, who had just lit the fire. Although a welcome site, it hadn’t quite warmed it up yet, so we didn’t stay long.
Although we hadn’t stopped for long, we had cooled off quite significantly. Hats and gloves we’d worn to this point had got pretty damp in the drizzle and snow and were now cold. A quick swap to a warmer pair and we were off again. Finally coming out of the forestry and onto the tops, it was pretty cloudy, so not a lot was visible. And then seemingly out of nowhere…
It was a complete surprise (although we knew to expect them – they’re on the map!) that something so massive was hidden away in the cloud. The noise they made was quite scary, especially when on occasion, they’d make a huge BOOM sound… we didn’t stick around!
A couple of wrong turns later, and with darkness fast approaching, we came across our destination from the other side of the valley – Nant Syddion bothy. In the fading light, it almost looked like there was a whole party going on, as the bottom set of windows were all lit up. We cautiously made our way in to find two walkers inside, who were literally packing up to leave. The window ledge was filled with tea lights and candles, which gave a comforting warmth to the room, and the appearance of a festival in the wilds!
Much hilarity was had in trying to make do with the various bits of leftover pots / pans / kettles in order to cook our boil in the bag food (for some reason, we both thought we’d each brought cooking kit – turns out neither of us had!).
Attempt 1 – kettle on top of stove. Due to some “customisation” in the bottom of the fire, most of the heat was going either out to the sides (more on that in a minute) or straight up the chimney – kettle got tepid at best.
Attempt 2 – kettle directly in fire. This would be fine to get it hot, but the kettle had long since lost it’s handle. Cue sticking a crowbar into the spout through to the other side, trying to keep it balanced, while carefully placing in the fire. This worked a treat, but then the reverse was nothing short of an art form – much tongues out in concentration required. See below for the successful removal.
All of that heat was going somewhere…we had both put our wet shoes on either side of the stove. Not touching, but a good 4-5 inches away. They had been gently steaming while we were cooking, suggesting that they were drying out. As we were eating, Simon did comment that he thought he could smell burning rubber. Turns out he did – his shoes! We did spend the rest of the night very carefully keeping an eye on items placed nearby to dry. We did sample some beverages to assist with the sleep, and to see which would taste best having been in a bag all day.
After a pretty comfy night’s sleep, Simon got up first and thought it was a clear morning when looking out the window. Unfortunately, that was not the case. It was pretty much certain on all forecasts that it would rain all day – they were right.
Suffice to say, I’d been impressed with the Lomo 13L Bikepacking Seat Bag so far – it had kept everything stable and dry on Day 1, but today was going to be a real test for any of our waterproof kit.
It was scheduled to be one of those days where no matter what you were wearing, you will get wet. I opted to stick with wearing my Madison Zenith Hooded Softshell jacket to keep warm and reasonably dry. The fabric itself performed brilliantly, but as this is a softshell, the seams are not taped, so it quickly leaked through them – this is not a criticism, I was clearly using it outside of it’s intended spec, but it did continue to breathe well, and kept me at a comfortable temperature.
Suffice to say, not many photos were taken, but here’s a few, just to give you an idea of the day…
As we came over the last high point, the rain once again turned to sleet and slush, then snow. From the top here, it was a good 5-10kms of downhill, with almost no effort at all. Having been completely soaked all day, we got very cold, very quickly. A stop to put on extra hats was needed, and then came across the cattle grid where the cycle tourist came off (see video above). I know it was him, as the tyre tracks and footprints were still there.
As we rejoined the route from yesterday and rounded almost the last corner, we came across two walkers, who turned out to be the couple we saw in Nant Rhys bothy on Saturday – talk about coincidence and timing! Quick chat on how we each had got on (still freezing cold!) but their mention of the The Bluebell Inn in Llangurig doing a good pub lunch pushed us on to finish even quicker.
One down – eleven to go!