Our estate here in Llanfoist just across the bridge from Abergavenny is called Mountain View. What I’ve done is take some photographs from the top floor of our home where we have skylights in the roof to show you. There are seven hills in fact surrounding the town, so let’s see how many we can see!
Now for two hills that Debbie and I have yet to climb, Bryn Arw two and a half miles North of Abergavenny and Skirrid Fach (or Little Skirrid) one mile to the east.
Now not surrounding Abergavenny, but seen in the distance from above Llanfoist on the Blorenge on a good day is the Brecon Beacons most popular climb…
Operation Dynamo also known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk” saw a flotilla of 700 little ships cross the Channel to rescue over eight days 192,000 British and 139,000 French troops trapped on the beaches there in 1940. The film “Dunkirk” with Sir John Mills has always been one of my favourite movies that never fails to make me shed a tear or two of pride over that wartime achievement.
So today, 77 long years afterwards, in respectful homage to those brave seaman and rescued troops, Debbie & I decided to hire a small day boat from Brecon canal basin for 2 hours along the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal. Not exactly as arduous an expedition as for the folks in 1940, but given our track record of “Nutbrown” together, still quite a brave undertaking…
We left Llanfoist at 11am and despite going as slowly as possible down the Brecon Road savouring the views of the Brecon Beacons we arrived way too early.
Parking up outside the Brecon Theatre we spoke to Dave at Dragonfly boat hire & luckily he allowed us an extra 30 minutes before the original noon start I’d booked the day before.
After a rather brief safety briefing (we declined lifejackets as the depth of the canal is apparently only 2-3 feet) & signing my life away we headed off at a steady 2 knots with the 8 horsepower outboard barely at tick-over!
After we emerged into the sunlight again I spotted a heron and Debbie managed to take this photo before it disappeared for fresh fishing grounds!
Fortified with some bubbles and the odd quaff we finally approach the turnaround point in front of the lock, this is where the fun and games started as I tried to turn the boat around before mooring for our picnic. Fortunately there was no-one around to watch my increasingly desperate attempt to avoid ramming another boat moored on the bank but “all’s well that ends well” and we finally by some miracle made it without a single (hard) knock…
After finishing our picnic we made our way back to the basin, with Debbie taking over for just enough time for me to take the following picture of Pen y Fan in the distance. Shortly afterwards a low flying Apache helicopter buzzed us overhead on it’s way to some special forces exercise no doubt.
After another half hour or so we arrived back to Dave at the starting position about 15 minutes late but somewhat miraculously I executed a perfect left turn and gently moored alongside the wharf from where we’d departed just short of 3 hours previously. Great value for money for just £30 and highly recommended, especially on a warm sunny day.
Going back to the Dunkirk theme as our adventure finally came to an end I was put in mind of a speech made on the 4th June 1940 by Churchill made in the House of Commons. “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender …”
Hopefully history won’t repeat itself with Brexit…
Yesterday was an odd day with two return trips to Brecon in the space of a few hours after meeting up with two old friends while suffering a slight communications breakdown!
The two friends in question were firstly “Boycie” from the wonderful “Only Fools and Horses” TV comedy, played by actor John Challis. The second hand car dealer with Marlene his wife was always one of our favourite supporting characters in the show so when tickets became available for an evening with him at the Brecon theatre we snapped them up ages ago.
John had starred in one of our favourite Tom BakerDoctor Who episodes “The Seeds of Doom” as baddie “Scorby”. John said it was one of his happiest times making the six episodes. Athelhampton Hall in Dorset was the site we visited when the kids were small as part of our young family’s obsession to visit filming locations of the series. I remember it was a long drive from home only to find on arrival it was shut!
The second friend to meet up with in Brecon yesterday, only a few hours earlier, was my old (pun intended) Gartner colleague Paul Gunstone who’d put me up in his house in Ireland years before when I was visiting clients and prospects in the government at the time.
Paul has a fantastic sense of humour which was often displayed to great effect during quarterly operations reviews with senior sales management that I was invited to as guest. I always looked forward to his presentation as he was never “politically correct” and as one of the more mature area managers was less concerned about being “on message” as they say. Hugely entertaining!
I won’t go into too much detail here but each year he goes on a “pilgrimage” to South Wales and climbs Pen Y Fan usually with his family in tow! Out of the blue Debbie told me on my return from the tip that Paul had Facebook messaged me he would love to meet up mid afternoon after the descent!
I responded to the affirmative and suggested we meet up at Talybont en route to Brecon, as I remembered last year he was staying in a hotel there and assumed he was doing the same this year. Unfortunately Paul only had data signal at the top of the mountain and I only had it at home. Worse neither of us had each others mobile numbers which has changed since leaving our former mutual employer!
As I headed off in the Freelander without receiving a reply and no data connectivity materialised on arrival at Talybont we took the dogs for a short stroll before deciding that Brecon was our best bet for a signal but all we got was GPRS until I managed to piggyback on some free WiFi!
Instantly I got 5 messages, sent him my number and received a call from Paul to announce he was parked up in Waitrose opposite our estate in Llanfoist! He then instructed us to find a dog friendly pub garden and wait for his arrival with young son Nathan.
After about half an hour we finally met up and chin wagged over a pint before reluctantly making our way back home – Paul wasn’t staying over this year and had been on a day trip with Nathan so we invited them to have lunch with us next year now that communications had been firmly established!
Dropping the dogs off at home we retraced our steps in the Galaxy this time towards Brecon and our evening with “Boycie”.
Paradoxically, despite eating out three times in the last week, my waistline continues to reduce. I put that down largely to Molly’s arrival as she needs walking regularly every day and being such a larger dog than Hamish deserves a longer walk. Of course that might be doing a disservice to Hamish as when we got him back from the Pets at Home groomers in Merthyr Tydfil the other day I couldn’t help but nickname him “Fatty Arbuckle“!
The first sojourn was during Eisteddfod week when Sian & Alan our friends from Merthyr Vale came over to celebrate their 33 year wedding anniversary with us. They’d booked a table for four at La Brasserie Italian restaurant in Abergavenny town for 7.30pm. We had a great night walking to and fro stopping on the way back at the Bridge Inn in Llanfoist where there was a band playing before heading home where Sian and Alan stayed for the night in the spare room.
Next on our gastronomic journey was a trip back in time to the White Swan in Llanfrynach where Debbie and I first met on a blind date 26 years ago. I spoke with the owner who’d taken out the lease back in February who told me she’d actually had her wedding reception there many years ago and had even worked behind the bar too!
On this occasion we celebrated with Rose and Paul who made the introduction, so it was a double celebration really as it was a great opportunity to wish Paul a happy 60th birthday, before they travelled to their French holiday cottage the next day for a three week holiday.
It was here that all attempts at a calorie controlled diet were thrown to the win when I attempted (& failed miserably) to conquer the Pen Y Fan burger pictured below in all its glory. I think I managed half of it before distributing the remainder around various plates to hide the shame!
Looking rather glamorous and svelte to my left was this vision of loveliness which seemed to attract more than a fair share of “likes” when posted to my Facebook page. For some reason I’m not pictured….
Last, but not least yesterday Debbie and I took our good friends from the round Britain cruise George & Thelma for a picnic to the Brecon Beacons Visitors Centre based just outside of Libanus. We parked up and set up on the green overlooking the real Pen Y Fan!
We slowly carried down from the Galaxy 4 collapsible chairs, a picnic basket, hamper and blanket before tucking into a lovely spread of chicken, tongue & ham rolls, hard boiled eggs, sausage rolls, pork pies, tomatoes, crisps & salad with blueberry muffins, flasks of milky coffee & tea, 2 glasses of Pinot Grigio for the ladies, can of cider for George and a rather amusing can of zero calorie Fanta for the driver….
If we’d taken one of the dogs, it could have been a scene from Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five“!
After a scenic drive through Hirwaun & rejoining the Heads of the Valleys road at Penderyn ( famous for Welsh whiskey & for the third day in a row) we headed back to Blaina and dropped off George & Thema before coming home to Molly & Hamish who were waiting for us patiently in their crates.
The end result after this orgy of eating out? I feel slimmer than ever! Of course it helps being surrounded by the seven hills of Abergavenny of which we’ve really only conquered two, namely Blorenge & Skirrid Fawr, so Sugar Loaf next….
Today has been absolutely beautiful in our Llanfoist “escape”. The sky bright blue with hazy clouds, the sun out but a fresh breeze to cool you down. The intention on getting up this morning was to go down to our favourite garden centre in Raglan and buy some more bags of purple crushed slate – 40mm. Exciting it wasn’t I know but I’d only covered about 30% of the sliver of garden that runs along our outside side wall and it needed to be finished.
As we headed off in the Freelander I sighed to Debbie and mouthed silently wouldn’t it be great to go up Skirrid instead, after all I’d passed it four times the previous day when ferrying our two resident grown up “children” to and from the riding school. Much to my surprise not only did Debbie lip read perfectly (either that or she has bionic hearing like Jaime Sommers) but she instructed me to return home to pick up Hamish.
As a result we headed off to the new National Trust car park which only charges £3 a day for non-members off the A465 towards Skenfrith. Parking up there was only 2 other cars in this huge car park (perhaps the letter in the local Abergavenny Chronicle paper complaining at the “extortionate” price had put people off) and we made our way to the path leading up through the wood to the summit.
It was a great walk with even greater views – highly recommended to all! We took a piece of sandstone near the top as a memento which Debbie will eventually paint letters/numbers like the one she did for Pen y Fan.
When Debbie and I moved to Wales last August, we set ourselves a number of goals, not least making a success of our lives going forward as a retired couple, still in love after 26 years together!
Well, much to my surprise this morning, after watching 2 episodes of “The Good Life” in bed, Debbie told me to get a move on and get dressed in outdoors clothing and drive us to the car park near the Storey Arms just outside of Brecon where we were going to make our first attempt on Pen y Fan.
I couldn’t believe it, surely neither of us were fit enough to make the summit just yet, even though this was on the top of our “bucket list” goals? Despite this & equipped with my Berghaus fleece, Debbie’s M&S windproof jacket, warm gloves, hat, small rucksack, 2 packets of crisps, one packet of polos and a bottle of water, our hastily convened expedition left Llanfoist in our trusty 4×4 towards Brecon around 10am….
The car park when we arrived about 10.30am opposite the Storey Arms was full, so we headed past into the larger car park on the left near the toilets and burger vans… The last time I had parked here was at night in full combat gear carrying a Sterling SMG in an army 4 tonne truck 30 years ago while doing my Squad 29 basic training in the T.A.!
Instead of going straight up across the bridge on the easy path up to the summit (in ignorance it has to be admitted) we walked along a man-made clinker track 300 yards back to the Storey Arms and went up the smaller, more arduous path towards our goal.
What a fantastic day, and what a fantastic wife! So proud we did it together and we’ll have this sandstone memento (purloined near the summit) inscribed like Popsy did for his little piece of Blarney Castle all those years ago! 🙂