Wild Camping in Wales May 2012

For the May bank holiday weekend earlier this year, me and my friend Jennie decided to go wild camping in the Brecon Beacons. Neither of us had ever been wild camping before; in fact I had only been camping once since I was a kid and that was three years ago at the Relentless Music Festival! Nether the less we were both in the mood for a little adventure and cheap holiday so we thought we would give it ago. We did a lot of research about wild camping in the UK before we set off. From what we found out on line, wild camping in Wales is not really very legal, (apparently it’s perfectly ok in Scotland), but plenty of people do it and as long as you are discreet and tidy up after yourselves you can generally get away with it. The worst case scenario I had read about was that someone got spotted and asked to move on. With that in mind we set off to the Brecon Beacons for a long weekend.

Seeing as we would be wild camping, we would have to pack up and carry all our tent and things around with us each day so we packed as lightly as possible: Tent, sleeping bags, the tiniest stove we could find, camping gas, mess tins, food and water, first aid kit, toilet roll, a change of underwear and that was pretty much it. I’m glad we didn’t take anything more as walking up mountains with that lot on our backs was hard enough!


Day One – our first night in the wild!

We took a train to that place I’ve heard so many horror stories about, Merthyr Tydfil, and from there walked up into the national park. Not knowing how easy it would be to find a suitable place to set up camp we hadn’t set ourselves any challenges for that first day, just to get as far as we could until we found a place to camp.

Leaving Merthyr, the walk was pretty uninspiring; run down houses and businesses and tarmac roads, but as soon as we got into the national park I started to get really excited about the weekend ahead of us.  As much as I love nature and wild scenery, I’m really more of a city girl and it had been ages since I had been in the great British countryside.  I’d forgotten just how picturesque the British countryside is.  Virtually every corner we turned took us past views that looked as if they had been taken straight off the front of a postcard.

the great British countryside

country lanes

We walked about six or seven hours on that first day, and, with bellies still full of ‘real food’ and childlike excitement about the adventure ahead, it felt easy and enjoyable.  We found too possible places to set up camp.  The first was a little quiet stretch next to a reservoir, and the second a patch of farmer’s land on which sheep were grazing.  I was concerned about being caught by any angry farmers, particularly as it was lambing season so the farmer would probably be making regular rounds, so we chose the reservoir.

the reservoir

Not being sure what people in the area thought about wild camping we hung round the area for a while to suss out the situation before finding a nice quiet, (relatively) flat patch of ground behind some trees to put up our tent.

our first wild camping spot!

tucked away (almost) out of sight

When the tent was up and we were inside we felt much more secure and happy with our chosen camping spot.  Being right next to the reservoir we had plenty of water to cook with, were out of sight from any possible passers by, sheltered from the rain under some tall trees and had a stunning view across the water.

room with a view

our home for the night

We had a rather unsatisfactory dinner of Ainsley Harriet Couscous, played some cards, put on all our jumpers, hats and gloves and got an early night ready for a day of walking up mountains in the morning.

gourmet cuisine

dressed and ready for bed!

Day Two – a 20 mile hike!

We woke up with the sun, and the incessant baying of sheep, and were dressed, fed and packed up ready to go by about 9am.  We were keen to get some proper walking done today and had set our sights on a peak called Fan y Big (yep we picked that one purely for the name)!  It was a long but enjoyable walk and somehow the weather was on our side.  I’m sure if you had asked me at the time I would have said something different, but in hindsight it was an easier walk than we expected, even with the backpacks –   well, it took a lot less time than we anticipated anyway.  The views from the top were simply stunning and not really worth attempting to describe with words so check it out for yourself:

ascending Fan y Big!

on top of our first peak of the day

view from the top of Fan y Big

Some how the top of Fan y Big was the only place we managed to get mobile phone reception for the entire weekend so we made quick calls to let the doubters know we were still alive and had managed to wild camp and decided to head off in search of higher peaks to climb!

We made our way, slowly, up Pen y Fan.  At 886 meters it is apparently the highest peak in Britain, south of Snowdonia.  I won’t lie to you, it was a hard climb.  My excuses are that we were carrying our heavy back packs up it, somehow – I’m not sure how or why, we climbed it without stopping for something to eat all day, and with no fresh water I was becoming increasingly dehydrated.  I think possibly the main reason it was difficult might actually have something to do with my poor level of fitness!  However, we did eventually make it, Jennie about 5 minutes before me, but nevertheless we made it and were once again rewarded at the top with superb views across the Brecons.

Jennie reaches the top ahead of poor weak Mia

view across the Brecon Beacons

view from the top of Pen y Fan

866 meters above sea level

Not being content with the walking we had done so far we decided to walk back down via a huge ridge which I’m afraid I forget the name off, and by the time we had finally got back down to ground level, if that even exists in Wales, we decided we might as well head all the way back to last night’s camping spot where we knew we would be able to camp undisturbed.  Suffice to say, by the time we got back to our camping spot, 10 hours after we had left it that morning,  I was completely wrecked.  I still hadn’t eaten since breakfast, had hardly had anything to drink all day and my feet were covered in blisters.  Jennie worked it out when she got back home and apparently we walked 20 miles that day!  I think Jennie had to do most of the work putting up the tent that night!

Fan y Big, Pen y Fan and the huge ridge we walked along in the background

Day 3 – a can of Coke!

Today, being our last day,it was time to pack up and start on the long journey back to Merthyr Tydfil.  We decided to go back a slightly different route for a change of scene, and once again it was extremely beautiful. The first half of the journey was lovely, but soon is started to rain and my energy levels were lagging.  Jennie mentioned something about a cold glass of coke and from that moment on the journey was horrible as all I could think about was an ice cold drink.  Luck was not on our side however and by the time we got to a cafe only to discover it was closed I think we were both on the verge of becoming grouchy.  In search of something to drink before we both collapsed we took a detour through a little village called Pontsicill.  There were two pubs in the village, the first one we got to was closed, as was the second.  Feeling a little depressed at having taken the detour for nothing, we collapsed on a wall outside the pub.  Suddenly the pub door opened and a man welcomed us in; the pub didn’t normally open for another hour or so but they had seen us sitting outside and decided to open up for us!  We sat inside that little pub for a good hour just eating crisps, I think I had four glasses of coke!  It was a really lovely pub, proper old school with low ceilings and comfy leather chairs and really friendly staff.  The landlord was an extremely Welsh looking man with a fantastic moustache, a warm smile and hairy farmer’s arms.  We had a little chat with him about our weekend, watched a bit of Come Dine With Me and went on our way feeling refreshed.

A couple of hours back on the road and a car slowed down and stopped in front of us.  It was the landlord of the pub we had been in.  He was heading over towards Merthyr Tydfil and did we want a lift?  We hopped in the car and what would have taken us another three hours or so to walk took us just fifteen minutes in the car!  We had a really good chat with him about life and the work with troubled teenagers that his son does.  He was a really lovely guy and it was great ending the weekend with such a friendly experience.

Because we had saved so much time getting back to Merthyr we still had about four hours before out train back to London from Cardiff so we head of the Cardiff for a little look around, some well earned lunch and a pint.