This year the Gold practice was significantly earlier than other years, as was abundantly clear from the paucity of lambs and the remains of deep snowdrifts as we drove up the Vale of Ewyas through the Black Mountains on the last Friday of term. The various wintry ‘beasts’ had left plenty of snow on the hills, picking out the contours and giving things an altogether more serious impression than their summer faces normally show. Several nervous conversations ensued about the rating of sleeping bags, the number of warm layers packed and the calorific content of rations being carried, but generally the team was impressed with the gentle beauty of the mountains.
After arrival at our first camp, tents were pitched and we set off for a micro-nav bimble in the surrounding hills, getting everyone up to speed on bearings, backings and making use of small contour features. This was particularly useful for one overseas candidate, who as a direct entrant and a stranger to British Hills, initially felt a little out of his depth. In the evening, navigation skills were further reinforced by a night nav exercise in the valley bottom, finishing just as the heavens opened for an all-night deluge; unbelievably the only rain seen on the whole expedition.
The next day saw the candidates make their way along the whole length of the Black Mountains, taking in the high point of Waun Fach. Cloud came and went, but some views and great team work ensured that all went smoothly, though there were a few tired feet as the team dropped down into Capel y Ffyn for the night. Again more lessons were learnt about the amount of water needed and the most efficient way to share weight out amongst the group.
A busy Sunday saw plenty of other walkers out on the hills as our team set off up to Lord Hereford’s Knob, and then over Gospel pass, before climbing up Hay Bluff and bimbling along Offa’s Dyke before dropping back down to Llanthony for the night. Another great day with clear blue skies giving extensive views up into Mid Wales and out across Herefordshire to the Malvern’s and North to the Long Mynd. Bliss.
Feet were tiring by now so the team was quite relieved to have a relatively short day on Monday, though it did involve some interesting navigation. Good time was made and everyone collapsed punctually into the bus for a contented, if fragrant, journey back to Surrey.
A huge thank you to Mrs Young for joining us in Wales and many congratulations to the team on a really successful expedition. Not only did you show a growing set of hard skills, but a real appreciation of team work and an ability to look out for each other. Planning now commences for the assessed expedition to the Lakes.