Another weekend and another DofE expedition in Wales – this time the Silver DofE group was being assessed (with one member completing it for her Scout Diamond Award).
Their start point was Newcourt farm campsite, Felindre (SO195368). We love this place, and the owner has always been welcoming and accommodating.
We love this site for a variety of reasons, for one, it’s dedicated to the DofE so there has been a lot of considerations as to what DofE groups/leaders would want to have to help them with their expeditions – dedicated DofE wifi, a large foul weather shelter for preparation, cooking and eating, classroom upstairs and leaders/staff toilet and shower. For another reason, it’s a good location for participants to walk into the mountains and there’s a lot of access points for supervisors/assesses to find them if needs be. And lastly, we’ve always had a warm welcome here and love chatting with the owner about the area and various changes to the DofE Award. I highly encourage others to use this site for their DofE expeditions (as well as public camping). I know we’ll be back again.
After seeing the participants leave and head off into the hillside we left the car behind and took the camper to the parking spot near first meeting point, Hay Bluff (SO 244 366) trig point, to meet up with them.
We were up at the trig for quite some time, the group struggled a bit with the first part being so steep and within a forest in the heat… it was just a lot to begin with. Terry spent much of his time on his drone, I took panoramic shots on my phone and we both ate lunch… the Bailey become the hero of the day!
My bottle of water rolled all the way down the side of the hill and he decided to chase it all the way down trying to catch it! I wished we’d filmed it, as it was rather funny (but also scary and heart stopped to see him go after it without pausing) and once he’d caught up with it he found it was too big for him to comfortably hold in his mouth; but, if you know Bailey like we do, he’s one determined dog when he wants to be and it took a while but he carried it straight back up the hill to us where we rewarded him with a drink of water from it and cuddles.
Eventually, the group came, we sorted out kit, said our goodbyes and headed off to find that night’s campsite and get sorted for that. Their route would take them along Offa’s Dyke Pass, pass Black Darren and down to the campsite so they’d completed the hardest part of the day when we left them – it was just an easy ridge walk then downhill from here.
The Llanthony Priory campsite is very basic – a small field with a tap at the top and some recycling bins – yet it is very popular with DofE groups, small campers etc and, at £3 per head, is a bargain. The toilets are in the car park but aren’t owned by the campsite owner so aren’t cleaned often (bring your own loo roll)… still, looking around the priory at dusk is a must as it’s beautiful.
(Try the cellar bar here as well!)
There is a great little pub nearby called The Half Moon Inn which served up a very tasty venison burger at a reasonable cost of £9.95. Interesting history to the place, when the Grwyne Fawr reservoir (located just over the hill) was being built the Half Moon Inn was the ‘local’ for the workers (‘Navvies’). The reservoir was the site of the murder in 1136 of the Norman Marcher Lord Richard de Clare, 1st Earl of Hertford, by the Welsh under Iorwerth ab Owain and his brother Morgan, grandsons of Caradog ap Gruffydd. This resulted in a period of conflict between the Welsh and English in South Wales.
On a stomach full of delicious-burger-delightedness we rested in the camper watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. before falling into a nice warm sleep…
Woke to a gorgeous camper view the following morning. I’ve developed a love for sitting/lie-ing with the side door open whilst reading and it was interesting to watch people walk past, make eye contact, then they quickly walk on with head down/looking away, not sure what they’ve probably just seen – lol (a blurry eyed, bedraggled horrible looking creature no doubt!)
Bailey likes to people watch from the doorway as well…
The participants, sore their excursion yesterday and raw from sunburn, began the day with determination to get their biggest challenge [of this day] out of the way quickly – a steep hill walk to get to the top of the ridge on the opposite side of the valley.
Our agreed meeting point was situated in a lovely forest area which we explored and I got my camera out to try and capture the vibrant green of the trees and plants.
The thing that people often don’t realise about the DofE expedition is that, sometimes, there can be a lot of downtime depending on how self-sufficient the group is. When a group is well prepared and confident in their navigation the leaders tend not to worry as much; in fact, they might even manage to get in an afternoon nap…
… that includes their pets as well! Bailey did not wake despite leaving tempting cake in front of his nose…
This group was good and exactly where they were meant to be and when their route card said they would be. “The first day is the worst day” is my motto as the participant’s anxiety, worries, fitness etc can sometimes hinder them but by the second I’ve found they usually have found their ‘stride’ and by the third… well, it’s always the fastest they’ve walked all weekend!
The last overnight camp for these guys was a wild camp by the reservoir. This is a favourite spot of ours and we spent 2018 New Years here wild camping and waking up in the snow.
Three red kites flew overhead as we walked to the area to meet with them at their site. They are easily spotted with the red of underbelly, slender wings and forked tail soaring above overhead.
Silently soaring on fingered wings
Twisting and turning and using the breeze
Gliding above us he sees many things
Side-slipping, diving and dipping with ease
His beady eyes pick out his prey
Above the ridge he starts to hover
Making minor adjustments for the wind on his way
He swoops on his victim without any bother
The vale of Cwmystwyth is far down below
Splendidly glowing in the late evening sun
The red kite spins and puts on a show
He really knows how to have some fun
He’s the red kite, the colour of Wales
The path of his flight writes a song in the skies
The Welsh Dragon’s tongue is in the fork of his tail
Power and beauty clash as he flies
We ate dinner at a favourite pub of ours, The Skirrid Inn, reputed to be one of the oldest pubs in Wales standing for over 900 years. The name of the Inn is from the Welsh word for Shiver – Ysgyryd – which is also the name of a mountain nearby called Skirrid Fawr. It has been said that over 2,000 years ago, in the hours after the Crucifixion of Jesus, the mountain itself showed its anger, shuddering, shivering and breaking into two creating the “the Great Shiver” or Ysgyryd Fawr & “the Little Shiver” or Ysgyryd Fach.
Inside the pub, there is a noose on the stairway leading to the bedrooms upstairs. In its past, it was both courtroom & an execution place with its’ own oak hanging beam. The criminal would be tried upstairs, and if found guilty, would be hung by a noose in the basement. Ghosts have been reportedly seen in the building and it is listed as one of Britains’ Most Haunted Pubs. They do make a good beef burger here as well.
Our morning view wasn’t as lovely as the previous’ day view had been and, because Terry wanted to see the participants off early from their campsite in the morning headed out early and I snoozed some more before heading back to Newcourt farm to wait and complete some work that was needing to be done this weekend…
Terry did get a great shot of them on his drone whilst they walked their route towards their finishing point.
When it had finished there was nothing left to do but head home! They were all immensely proud of their achievement but also tired, sore and sunburnt. I’m sure they will all sleep well tonight!
So I visited old ‘haunts’ this weekend and I suspect, though not too sure as haven’t seen the routes yet, that when I’m back here in a couple of weekends with the DofE school group I’ll probably see the same sites again (although, won’t be in my camper this time sadly!). Not complaining though- I can’t get enough of this place!