The wind was howling through the valley with a coldness that only winter brings, rain beat against every surface and although dark I could feel the trees swaying above us. Why are we doing this I thought to myself, most people on the Friday before Christmas head out to the pubs for a few beers and a dirty kebab on the way home and yet here we were in mid Wales taking on everything mother nature could throw at us. It was at this point I realised this is what I prefer these days, so I maned up, turned the heated seats off and stepped out of my truck 😉
Myself and good friend Ian had decided this year we would take the party to a remote bothy deep in the Elan Valley. Lluest Cwm Bach has become a favourite of mine, partly for its location, partly for its character and feel but mostly because you can often have it to yourself. Some bothies can cater for big numbers but this little gem can get cosy with four or more, luckily its location keeps it from getting too busy.
The only way in is by foot or bike and depending on the time of year or weather, foot can be the best option. Tonight was a prime example, we made our way mostly by the muted reflection of the moon that cast what little light it could through the fast moving clouds. We battled against driving rain and wind that was enough to knock us and our laden rucksacks over, add into the mix a comical slip each on sheep poo which resulted in sending myself and Ian tobogganing down the wet hillside to a rumble of laughter. Comedy moments aside it made me silently think about the harsh conditions many used to face on a daily basis when farming these remote areas years ago. The terrain is tough and the weather can be harsh, there were no phones, cars or quick ways to seek help should something go wrong. I felt like we had stepped back from our daily lives and were entering a night of primitive living.
After what seemed like an age the bothy came into sight, I couldn’t see smoke wafting from the chimney nor the flicker of candles or head torches in the windows. We were in luck, our bolt hole for the night was empty and we would have the place to ourselves. The Christmas party was on!
Fire lit, mats and sleeping bags rolled out it was time to open the beers and let the gluttony begin. Wet socks were from the hike in were steaming away and that feel good factor was rolling in pretty fast. We covered the table with cheese, meats, olives, crisps, beer, wine and much to Ian’s delight I knocked up a beef stroganoff on the gas stove.
Often I travel by bike into a bothy carrying nothing but the essentials, the bare minimum of kit and food but every now and then it is great to hike in, rucksacks bulging for a night of great food, drink and company. There’s something a little bit special about cooking a feast and treating these remote basic shelters like home for a night. With phones switched off, no tv, radio or other digital distractions every bite of food and every sip of drink tastes just that little bit better.
As the time ticked away and we passed into the early hours of Saturday, the drink infused chat had turned to a little plan that had been talked about beforehand. We had decided it would be a good idea to ride from Lands End to John O’Groats this summer. Rather than the usual 10 days, a support van and hotels we have opted for 8 days and to bikepack it. Carrying our own kit and sleeping where ever we end up each day. Admittedly there are many out there reading this that could do it much quicker but for two guys that like cycling more than cycling likes them this would be a challenge.
After a fine yet short nights sleep we woke up to much better weather, the sun was showing itself on occasion and the rain had passed. It seemed that our stomachs were still working overtime to digest the previous nights banquet and the extravagant breakfast we had planned was shelved. A strong coffee or two later we packed our gear, stowed away a few unneeded items for the next visitors and went about cleaning the bothy. I pride myself on leaving a bothy as clean if not cleaner than when I arrived.
With packs on our backs, we set off towards our cars. I always feel slightly sad when leaving these places, it seems I connect with them and their past. I spend my time dreaming up what past years brought to these places and those that lived in them. For those few hours I spend in the bothies I feel like I’m leaving something deep in the walls, another chapter in their history.
The hike back was fun and we laughed out loud as we remembered our crazy journey in the dark, retracing our footsteps and marks that had been left in the wet hillside from out slips and slides. Everything felt so heightened in the dark, each stream sounded like a river, each boggy area felt like it went on for miles, yet in the light of day it was just a walk in the park.
Netherton Foundry (great pans)
Howies (Legendary Merino base layers)