The Beacons Way: A Weekend Adventure

This two-days backpacking trip was a challenging and memorable journey through the Beacons Way, with Sophie, packed with stunning landscapes, unforeseen obstacles, and acts of serendipitous kindness.

Day 1: An Unexpected Journey – Abergavenny to Llanthony Priory

Morning: Setting Off

Our little adventure started as we stepped off the train in Abergavenny mid-morning and embarked on the trail towards Ysgyryd Fawr. The way to the starting point of the walk took double my original time estimate – I’m not as fit as I used to be. On the climb to Ysgyryd Fawr, my legs started to ache, more so than usual, with cramps in my calves, which was surprising. Probably due to the weight of the backpack which I’m not used to. This tested my endurance but it also offered us a chance to meet many friendly faces along the way.

Afternoon: Detours and Discoveries

Navigating the descent from Ysgyryd Fawr, we took a detour amidst fields of sheep as the signage wasn’t great. My GPSMAP 67i came handy to get us back on track. We stopped for lunch by a stream, under a tree, where and inadvertently left a water bottle behind (not my best move on what appears to be the hottest day of the year so far). After that much-needed lunch break, we turned our steps towards the Skirrid Inn, where we got some refreshing drinks.
The Skirrid Inn is the oldest Inn in Wales and inside, you can see signs for the well and a noose hanging from the stairs. Apparently hundreds of people died there in the civil war.
We left the pub, refreshed for the impending climb to Hatterall Hill where we joined Offa’s Dyke.

Evening: Peaks and Valleys

The ascent was gruelling, yet the sight of numerous paragliders (there must have been hundreds of them!) and the spectacular panorama from the ridge atop Hatterall Hill, with England on our right and Wale on our left) and meeting some wild horses too, made every step worthwhile. As the day wore on, our progress slowed and we realised we won’t hit our time target of around 18:00 for the campsite. We missed a turn, straying from Offa’s Path instead of turning onto the Beacons Way (I blame the signage) and extending our journey by a few miles before finally retracing our steps and finding our way back to the Beacons Way, via a less-travelled path with a massive elevation drop, crossing several small streams.
The way down to Llanthony was tough on our legs but we were rewarded by beautiful sights of the Priory as we approached the village.
As we made our way towards Llanthony, we turned a corner into a captivating woodland that seemed lifted straight out of a fairy tale. Then for the first time in hours, we encountered another soul—a dog walker out for an evening stroll, a comforting reminder that we were drawing closer to civilisation.

Night: Camping (under the Stars?)

By 20:30, we finally reached the priory and found our way to the busier-than-expected campsite. It was a bank holiday weekend, and the available spots were few or not visible, within the long, unkempt grass of the field. The absence of an on-site loo facility was an unexpected challenge (I knew there would be no showers but not no toilet!), and we had to rely on a block of toilets located a couple of minutes’ walk away in the car park. We managed to pitch our tents quite quickly and fill our water bottles from the available water tap.

By the time we reached the bar at 21:10, we were met with disappointment—food service had ended at 20:30. Resorting to what was available, Sophie purchased us a slice of bara brith at the slightly exorbitant cost of £4.50 for a cling-wrapped piece of bara brith, as well as two Welsh cakes.

Back at our tents, I used the opportunity to try out my new solo stove, unpacking the Wayfarer meal pouches I’d brought along. The first attempt resulted in a slightly charred meal (sorry, Sophie), but I managed to perfect my technique by the second round, with a bit of stirring. As the evening chill set in, the warm meal brought us much-needed comfort.

Next came the challenging task of cleaning the burnt pan, a situation made trickier by my oversight in packing a sponge and washing up liquid. With a touch of ingenuity(?) and a lot of laughter, we used found items including toothpaste found on the floor, leaves, and grass to scrub the pan…

Despite the day’s struggles—from navigation issues and physical exertion to the unexpected dinner dilemma—we ended the evening on a high note. We enjoyed instant hot chocolate made with boiling water and shared the slice of bara brith, a warming treat.
The campsite was quiet by 23:00 – and although we could hear singing from the other campsite, further away in the village, I was too tired to care.
As it was a clear night, and we were in one of eighteen International Dark Sky Reserves, I was hoping to stargaze, but my fatigue won. I snuggled in my sleeping bag, open my hand warmer pack to bring me a bit of comfort and I fell sleep under the unseen stars.

Day 2: Overcoming Challenges – Llanthony Priory to Abergavenny

Morning: A Change of Plans

I woke up to sore muscles but felt ready to go. We knew our planned three-mountain hike to Crickhowell would be pretty much impossible, after the suffering from the previous day. So we revised our plans over breakfast (tea and yummy flapjacks made by Sophie) choosing a flexible approach with various options and prioritising a slow, enjoyable trek over arduous mountain climbs.

Afternoon: Unexpected Kindness on the Trail

Our journey led us through beautiful woodlands, thought Llanthony Woods along the forest track. We made good progress. We met two gents on horsebacks who advised us not to take the low road by the farm as the ford was quite high (we could see the mud marks on the horses’ legs) so we enjoyed a dry hike. Eventually the track lead us at the Queen’s Head in Cwmyoy. The landlady allowed us to purchase refreshments despite the pub being closed and advised on the quickest route back to Abergavenny. However, wanting to avoid a long walk along the roadside in the hot weather, we decided to tread through the woods back towards the Skirrid Inn.

Evening: The Final Leg

Arriving at the Skirrid Inn, we discovered there was no public transportation on a Sunday. Also, Sophie phoned all the taxi firms in Abergavenny and none had availability. With our options dwindling, we enjoyed a lovely hearty lunch and began planning a long walk back to Abergavenny, with the fewest climbs possible. Just when we thought we were in for another long haul, a kind couple (Josh and Eva) offered us a ride; we’ve been so lucky to me such kindness on our way!
I was sat next to Sandi, their dog on the way to Abergavenny: she was soooo cuddly!

Reflecting on the Journey

Our expedition ended with a happy feeling, despite physical exhaustion and unforeseen challenges. Waiting for our train home (delayed because our train got cancelled), we indulged in ice cream and reminisced about the journey.

It has also inspired us to do Offa’s Dyke!
For myself, it was really great training for my walk on Hadrian’s Wall in just under 2 weeks.
I’ve learned a lot, about managing food, and water, the impact of carrying more weight, cooking on my stove, camping and navigating. This has also deepened my appreciation for the kindness of strangers and the beauty of the Beacons Way.

I want to thank Sophie for her invaluable company, navigation (and tasty flapjacks!). This adventure would not have been the same without her.

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