January is usually the month of empty pockets, full stomachs, sobriety, inactivity and hibernation. But not for the twenty-five women who signed up for a weekend in deepest Wales on the first weekend of the year!
2016 will forever be known as the year of the hiking boot, a baggy waterproof and a wetsuit. This is how Girls Explore….and this is how we do January!
Towards the tail end of 2015 I created a group/community called Girls Explore to unite women to get outside to explore the wonderful accessible places in the UK and push themselves to get fit in the process.
The plans for the first GE weekend was to descend on Wales in our best (new, dirty and colourful) outdoorsy gear, have a giggle, drink wine, and from the look of the weather forecast get pretty soggy. Friday 8th January arrived and off we departed in our car convoy. (I would like a say a big thank you to all the ladies who drove you were superstars all weekend).
As it turns out, the first challenge of the weekend was to navigate our way to the bunkhouse. Unfortunately the postcode did not direct you to the exact location and instead of arriving at the lovely Held Bunkhouse, several of the girls got rather acquainted with the neighbours of the fluffy and feathery variety. Cue a huge sigh of relief when the last (rather muddy) looking pair stumbled in through the doors at 11pm, and wahhhooooo team all present and correct!
The Held Bunkhouse was a wonderful surprise, there were several bunk rooms sleeping between two to eight people; and for eight lucky ladies the snuggle den caused some hilarity in the form of ‘oh this is every mans dream of a girly weekend’. The communal space was gorgeous with vaulted barn-esque ceilings and had a huge well-equipped kitchen that seated 24 on long tables. http://www.heldbunkhouse.co.uk
As we all arrived at different times on Friday it was a chance for the girls to meet, greet and chat over some dinner and vino. It was a great to get a group of likeminded girls together who enjoy the freedom of getting outside and exploring Britain’s countryside- as everyone said during the two days it was just a very lovely bunch of people!
We had a fairly mellow wake up call and once the sun had come up over the welsh hills our landscape and playground for the weekend reveled itself- it was blooming beautiful even snuggled under a grey cloud blanket. Once everyone had waterproof-ed up we were on route in our trusty car convoy.
There are several routes from the Gwaun Hepste car park but due to a logging closure our chief navigator, compass bearer and map reader Alex (AKA Girls Explore new guide) sent us on a short cut through the forest, and following a bum slide or two through Brecon’s finest bogs. Now this was a short straw gamble of foot placement. Shouts of ‘run, jump…noooo not that way’ and cackles of laughter saw Emily pull the short straw, and knee deep she went.
Following the bog circus, we stopped to compose/dust ourselves down and had some fun snaps on the river over the bridge then headed off in search of the waterfalls. The route took approximately 5 hours with a few stops for pictures and lunch. Sgwd yr Eira was the main attraction due to fact you can stand behind it. The recent rainwater had turned this waterfall into a rushing torrent; the speed and force the water tumbled over the rocks above was majestic and we were fortunate to have the place to ourselves (clearly the hordes had other ideas on a soggy January morning).
Emma had kindly sorted us a table at the White Swan Inn located in Llanfrynach which was a 20 minute drive from the Bunkhouse. The food was superb, the vino was flowing and we had a huge ‘cheers’ smug in the knowledge we deserved every last drop. The local waiter provided endless entertainment with his punch line-less stories, and Wendy enjoyed a 25 strong female choir for her rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. It was a lovely chance for the girls to catch up about their lives back home, and aspirations for the coming year.
Finally the weather front appeared to take a turn for the better and the forecast was promising some sun early on the Sunday. Warnings of a 6:30am wake-up were circulated and we all hit our bunks early ready to take on Wales. Pen-y-fan was the target and hiking boots were drying on every radiator in anticipation. In Basement Jaxx style we had a ‘where’s your head at…’ wake-up and the groans were replaced by ‘ooooooos’ as the sun rose, we were graced with dustings of snow and Pen-y-fan was clear up top! Lets go get her girls…..
A slight dilemma on route, in that the previous days rain has flooded our route to the car park where we were attempting to climb Pen-y-fan from the North Side. We successfully managed a seven-car reserve convoy back up the narrow road and parked up in what we thought was the perfect spot fit with honesty box.
Finally afoot, and stomping up the steep open hills towards the peak of Pen-y-fan, Fanny Big and Cribyn. The conditions were crisp and the views spectacular over the Brecon Valley. The snow from all the rainfall the day before was a fun surprise and it meant the ground was firm underfoot which made the climb slightly easier, however it was a steep climb on the northern route so several breaks/photo opportunities were welcomed.
So the main route up/scramble over Cribyn looked slightly ominous covered in snow, so thanks to Alex and her trusty compass we took off on a ledge that traversed Cribyn and lead us to the ridge up toward Pen-y-fan. Unfortunately/fortunately (I’m yet to decide) as the weather was starting to close in and engulfed us in blizzard we received a phone call to let us know our car park of choice was not actually a car park and we needed to move our cars. Back we went to calm the angry farmer, while the other troopers marched on to Pen-y-fan and successfully made it to the top. Proud moment!
As first weekends go this was a total experiment and a raging muddy success, the girls all mucked in, got on and I hope they got loads from starting the New Year outside in the wilds.
It’s been a few weeks since Brecon and several of girls are getting in the winter spirit by purchasing off road trainers and hitting the trails together. We have so much to look forward to in 2016.
Meeting new interesting people was my soul motivation for starting Girls Explore and I couldn’t have wished for a nicer group of ladies to see in January with and I feel very lucky to have met some inspiring girls who are sailing about on the same wavelength. Roll on more adventures in 2016….