Monday, 28 May 2012

Brecon Beacons - Wild Camping

When my sister Zoe and her good friend Kate asked if i'd take them on a training weekend to add to their preparations for the Pyrenees i jumped at the chance. I seem to spend most of my effort in planning trips away trying to convince others to go with me, so it was a refreshing change to have two enthusiastic companions for a weekend.

They are planning a four day hike along the Freedom Trail in the Pyrenees this summer, camping each night and carrying all they need for the duration. As such i thought an overnighter would be a good way to test out new gear, get a feel for what gear IS required and also put some miles in to get the legs in shape.

We planned a route starting from the south of the Pen y Fan range taking in all the main peaks then dropping down to the east and biviing next to Talybont Reservoir. Day 2 would be a much shorter day skirting over the ridges to the south east before returning to the car near Pontsticill.

First on the agenda though was the kit sorting! I gave the usual speech about cutting off toothbrush handles and that taking a pillow would be somewhat of a luxury but it was clearly falling on deaf ears. So with some general advice onboard we headed off. In fairness they did a good job at keeping pack weights pretty reasonable and they definitely looked more like Gold Duke of Edinburgh standard than Bronze!

Now technically as this is my photography blog i should talk about photography. This weekend gave me a dilemma of my own with what camera kit to take. Having preached the virtues of a light pack i felt slightly hypocritical reaching for my heavy full frame SLR. This is often a decision i ponder as all my camera gear weighs a ton and seems slightly at odds when i'm trying to shave grammes off all my other kit. This weekend however i decided light is right and ditched the SLR in favour of my trusted Lumix LX3. Good as this camera is it is a few years old and i'm now on the look out for an upgrade ready for the big alps trip this summer... will let you know when i've found something.

Back to the hill.. The weather was FANTASTIC. Not only was it hot and sunny there was a stiff breeze making the sunshine more than tolerable. What's more, the hills were empty! Rarely have i seen the Brecon Beacons so quiet. I can only imagine that everyone is planning their mass exodus next weekend for the jubilee. I would love to laugh at their stupidity for trying to go anywhere on a bank holiday but i too will be enjoying the traffic jams and crowds in the Lake District, oh well.

Having started slightly late and adopting a nice leisurely pace we found ourselves on the top of Fan y Big (great name, Kate led the charge with the innuendoes!) at 17:30 considering the remaining 6 miles still to go. Rather than cut the route short and have to compromise on a good bivi spot we decided to press on. With plenty of  daylight it made for a fantastic evening walk across the eastern edge of the range down to the reservoir. This is what i love about wild camping, being out on the hill enjoying the peace and isolation at the times of day most other people are in the car on their way home. From a photography perspective this is definitely the time of day to be out and about. The softening light and greater definition in the landscape brought on by the lengthening shadows really make the hills quite atmospheric. This was definitely the point i was regretting my decision to leave the SLR at home.

It turns out that the banks of Talybont reservoir are pretty steep. Not a problem unless you're trying to find a comfy spot to camp. Fortunately, after some searching, we managed to find the only 'level' patch around which was a welcome result at the end of a long day. After getting the camp sorted the moment we'd been looking forward to all day arrived, jumping in the reservoir. Well tentatively tip toeing in to the ice cold water. A very refreshing (and brief) experience. Apologies to the folks in Brecon whose drinking water the reservoir supplies, Kate did assure us she resisted temptation to further pollute the water!

Given that we planned to stay next to a reservoir i couldn't resist packing my fly fishing rod. I spent an hour casting away pondering the best way to cook the huge trout i would inevitably catch. This came down to two options. A Bear Grylls style Sushi option that would no doubt impress the girls but may lack a little flavour in the absence of any wasabi, or a steamed option. Armed with only a jet boil stove i thought i could wrap the trout fillet in tin foil with a little water then place the parcel into some boiling water. Boil in the bag trout! Unfortunately, daydreaming over, the only inevitable thing about my fishing is the one that got away so we settled for boil in the bag meatballs instead.

I slept in a simple bivi bag. For those that have never slept out in the open i can thoroughly recommend it. There is something very special about feeling a warm breeze on your face and looking up at the stars as you doze off. If you haven't done it before, do it! It does help though when it's not raining!

We woke to another amazing day, warm and perfectly still. After a few more hopeful but fruitless casts to try and catch breakfast we set off up through the woods munching on some of Kate's low calorie cereal bars, just the ticket to fill you up for the day.

It was a great walk back over the eastern hills returning to the car near Ponsticill Reservoir. After just two days away it felt like we'd had a real holiday and a great adventure. I'm always impressed with the Brecon Beacons. Being able to have an adventure like this and still returning to Bristol in time for a Sunday roast is fantastic. I hope i was able to pass on a bit of advice and a few tips to prepare Zoe and Kate for the Pyrenees. If they show half the determination and enthusiasm they did this weekend they will be just fine!

Remember you can check out more tips, trips and adventures on my Facebook page, let me know if you 'LIKE' it! Or check out my website at


  1. Great pictures Ben! Just had a thought for your LX3 replacement. I have an X100 and I am always amazed at how good the pictures are but how about an XPro-1 for something a bit more versatile?

  2. Cheers Dave, I'm actually thinking about the X10. i need it to be pretty compact for some of the mountaineering requirements and a zoom lens is a major bonus. The other camera i've been looking at is the Canon G1 X. For anyone else considering this dilemma there's some great info on the UK Climbing forum..