I had an aspiration this morning to take a picture like that which opens this post. For the last few years I have changed my habits over the new year. When the children were young and I was active in the village cricket team then there were parties to go to, followed by recovery and the New Years Day football and Rugby match between the west and east of the Kennet Valley for the Baliszewski Cup (named after the founder of the tradition, Edward Baliszewski, who died in 2008). Played by all ages, to ad hoc rules including two simultaneous football matches played with two balls on the same pitch; men may only play with one ball, women and children with either. (Yes I know its a wikipedia quote, but I wrote than entry so there). Now the children had both departed to metropolitan centres for more adult entertainment than I can cope with these days and generally the social life of the village has moved on.
So my modern practice is to head for the hills, find a cheap hotel and sleep through the new year transition walking the next day. Last year I met Mr Toad on the South Downs and the year before I completed a sentimental Treleddyn Round on the Pembrokeshire coast. The former was in sunshine, the latter in rain. This year New Years Day would also be occupied with the Blues gaining revenge for their Boxing Day defeat by the Dragons (home advantage works both ways) and a long drive to Lorna Doone land (as Exmoor is now known) so I did the main walk, as reported, yesterday. However I planned to do something in the morning and an ascent of Pen-y-fan to gain the summit for daybreak seemed a good a idea. The forecast was generally dire but indicated that there might be a break in the clouds around 0820 so I decided to go for it. This time I also allowed half an hour to get the contact lens in and managed it in twenty minutes abandoning two lens in the process.
It was a short drive in rainy conditions to the car park Euan and I had used only few days before and the rain stopped as I arrived. So I kitted up, donned the head torch and set up the path. I was not the only one, there were five other parties who all arrived around 0715 with similar intent, but I stepped out with the advantage of the solitary (and now fit) walker so I was soon ahead looking backwards on a small crocodile of head torches wending their way up the path. Conditions were blustery but hopeful but as I breasted Bwlch Duwynt I was knocked off my feet my a gust of wind that I was not prepared for. Upright again I moved cautiously to the top and struggled along the path that contours around the slope of Corn Ddu to reach the summit plateau of Pen-y-fan. Discretion was the better part of valour here, I could have made the additional summit but it would have been hazardous. As it was I was knocked over twice more and the hail started to come in horizontally which was OK as it was behind me, but I knew I had to return.
At the summit there were others, one lost his cameral blown out of his hands and over the edge (mine stayed in its pouch). I crawled up the summit cairn, walking was not an option. Having exchanged various greetings with others who had braved the elements I tightened every aspect of my clothing and started a careful return trip into the teeth of the wind. I managed that intact until turning right on the Bwlch and starting to relax I was thrown onto my face but uninjured I then followed the sheltered (a relative term) path back to the car. My fingers were so cold that it took ten minutes to undo the bootlaces. Mind you a cafe had opened in a trailer and I (and others) gathered around it to order bacon butties and tea while warming our hands over the cooking plate. Four hard miles in two hours with around 400m of ascent and the Paramo clothing held up well, some water got in around one knee but the zip was not fully tightened and I lost no heat. I need to do something about the gloves however as that might have been a problem.
So a different way to spend New Year and a great one. I got back to the hotel in Merthyr to a hot shower, then down to Cardiff to take my 89 year old aunt out for lunch and conversation then the Arms Park for a Blues victory. From there it was a long drive to Exmoor, made longer by flooding and foolishness. One idiot drove past me at over 60 mph and hit a flood and ended up in the ditch. The police were already there so I carried on, but even if they had not been I would have been tempted!
So the Christmas break is almost over. One more walk tomorrow, then a meeting and back to work. But I like my new New Year tradition more than the old, and the weather is just a part of the experience.
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