From the 21st to the 24th of September, twelve students completed a four day expedition for their Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Over this period, the pupils would have to be self-sufficient, carrying all of their food, drink, shelter and other supplies without any outside help. Combined with the mountainous Brecon landscape, this was inevitably going to be an extremely tough challenge.
Day 1 started close to the Llyn Y Fan Fach reservoir, on a rather drizzly Thursday afternoon. Whilst high spirits on the minibus ensured that the rain did little to thwart good moods, a late start due to road works and a parking problem meant that it was a race against time to get to the first camp before night. With the days rapidly becoming shorter, it must be said that it is better to do the expeditions in the summer! The weather gradually improved as the group progressed past Fan Brycheiniog but an undefined path over marshy terrain was certainly not helpful. Still, a frog sighting was at least a small highlight. A fast pace meant that it was only around 7 hours before everybody arrived at the camp in Dan yr Ogof. After setting up the tents and cooking a modest meal, it was time to contemplate the gruelling 27km second day.
Day 2 was a huge trek from Dan yr Ogof to Rhydywernen Farm, a campsite just north of Pen y Fan. To top the 27km off, bad weather was scheduled to close in during the afternoon, and, oh yes, it did. But much before that point, a large hill within 15 minutes of the start of the walk felt like a teaser of what was to come. A relatively simple pathway through the Ogof Ffynon National Nature Reserve after passing a caving club was followed by another brief stint upwards on a Roman road known as Sarn Helen. Next, the group followed a road below the Fan Llia and Fan Dringarth summits, before taking a path around the Graig Cerrig Gleisiad National Nature Reserve, during which the rain came down heavy and did not stop for quite some time. Continuing onwards past the mountain centre and towards a road going east, very nearly the last stretch of the day, was when everybody’s feet felt the strain. By motivating each other, a very tired bunch of participants reached the campsite, put up their tents, with many going straight to bed! Thankfully, a brief period when the rain finally stopped was ideal for putting up the tents. The ground was still wet, though, so this meant that virtually everything still got wet. It was not a perfect ending to a tough day but the group were happy it was over. Whilst Day 2 was hard due to the distance that had to be covered, the next day presented its own challenges.
Day 3 was it shorter in distance? Yes. Was it easier? Absolutely not. In typical DofE fashion, distance is not the be all and end all. Fatigue from the first two days was evident, and, because of course it was, Pen y Fan happened to be in the way. Leaving early to try and avoid a walk in the dark, the group set off with determination to tackle Wales’ most overrated mountain. Progress was slow, with the heavy bags and lower energy levels taking their toll. It didn’t help that visibility was poor, either. But, as always, the group prevailed and reached the summit (along with too many tourists). The weather had even cleared too. There was no time to take a picture and take in the views, however, as the climb took considerably longer than expected. Descending past Cribyn then ascending up Fan y Big, the path soon followed a seemingly endless ridge eastwards. Eventually, the path started to go down, but this was torture for the feet, and by the time the group had got to Aber, it was pitch black. The last part of the walk was done in darkness, in great pain, and in sheer desperation. Arriving at Talybont-on-Usk was an amazing moment but equally tormenting due to the allure of the pubs serving hot food and refreshing drink – something that was really needed after, what many would describe, the hardest expedition day ever. It is safe to say that everybody had a good night’s sleep after the twelve hour walk, and the Silver group at the campsite were heroes for assisting us.
By some small measure of mercy, Day 4 was notably shorter and fairly sunny. Despite three days of pure walking, the desire to get home virtually eliminated the fatigue and energy deficit. The group made extremely fast progress through the Talybont Forest along the Taff Trail, before passing the Dyffryn Crawnon Nature Reserve. After a quick lunch near the abandoned quarries, this incredible burst of energy continued all of the way to the Pontsticill reservoir where the expedition finally came to an end. A jubilant minibus trip home emphasised everyone’s relief and pride of having completed the expedition and being one step closer to completing their Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at Brynteg would not take place if it were not for the hard work and dedication of Mr Brown. Your commitment is appreciated even though this was not evident on the expedition! Also, a special thanks to Mrs Bevan, Mrs Perna and Mr Rudall for overseeing the expedition, along with Dave for coming out to assess us.
Sign up for DofE if you haven’t already! It is a challenge, but will give you memories that last a lifetime, it develops you as a person, and the DofE can make you stand out on your personal statement or CV!
Dafydd Thomas year 13