Friday, March 20, 2009

Llanddeusant Boy's Weekend

Thursday 19th March
Al arrived at John's early on Thursday morning. Both were nervous - this year the organisational duties for the annual Boy's Weekend had been left in the hands of the TCA. Over the last year there had been a string of 'Extraordinary General Meetings' to discuss The Route, The Beer, The Food, The Rugby etc.. and now it was all coming to a head. The bar had been raised by last year's Scottish outing and the biker boys were keen to do their best to emulate the experience. For the first time the bikers were dragging the institution west, across the border to Wales. The Llandeusant YHA, once The Red Lion pub, had been booked a year before.

Bikes were loaded onto the roof, holdalls and rucksacks into the boot and the pair made for their first stop, Devizes to pick up Ad. Another bike, another rucksack and a cup of tea before setting off once more for Sainsbury's Cwmbran. £300 worth of morning goods later and the trio were on on their way to rendezvous with Jim at the Breconshire Brewery to pick up 36 pints each of Brecon County Ale (3.7%), Golden Valley (4.2%), Cribyn (4.5%), Red Dragon (4.7%) and Rambler's Ruin, (5.0%). We were even treated to an impromptu tour of the brewery by the friendly staff before carefully stowing the 'polypins' in the back of Jim's X-Trail and heading off again. A bizarre misunderstanding also saw the group rendezvous with Phil and Graeme at the brewery.

Except a brief stop for a bacon butty the convoy proceeded without event, even as the roads gradually got more and more narrow, until the final turn of the journey. Al, leading the party, overshot the turn and insisted on a demonstration of his new reversing sensors. Sure enough - the beeps got closer and closer together as his car reversed towards Graeme's enormous Land Rover Discovery, which filled the rear view mirror. Similarly the beeps merged into a continuous high-pitch alarm as Al reversed straight into the 'Disco' with a thump! Fortunately no damage was done to Graeme's vehicle (although Al's boot remained stuck shut for the remainder of the weekend).

The Hostel is described thus on the YHA website: "A break in this rural retreat will restore your spirits. Set in the least developed area of the Brecon Beacons, the hostel overlooks the magical Sawdde Valley... Trails lead up to the legendary Llyn y Fan glacial lake and the heights of the Carmarthen Fans. Circular walks will take you to an Iron Age fort, Roman camps and standing stones. The hostel, a former inn built in 1789, retains many of its original features and offers a warm welcome with an open fire in the lounge". It certainly looked inviting and Jo, the Warden, was as friendly as she was efficient in her safety briefing on arrival.

"The Old Red Lion"
Llandeusant YHA

Beer and luggage were unpacked, bunks claimed and beer laid out in the 'drying room'. Beer was sampled and the first handful of arrivals enjoyed the real ale and glorious evening from the spectacular vantage point of the Old Red Lion beer garden. Ad and Al surveyed the spectacular ridges of Bannau Sir Gaer way above the Youth Hostel and remarked how much they fancied an assault the following day. And so it was that months of careful route planning by John went up in smoke over a couple of beers. John got stuck into preparing the lamb cobbler for the following evening as Jim and Al made a batch of Welsh cakes.

John's carefully planned route goes
up in smoke over a beer with Al and Ad

Others trickled in and the bar system, consisting of tiddlywinks and a sheep-shaped piggy-bank, were explained increasingly incoherently to new arrivals by Al.

Al conducts the first of many briefings...
...as the sun sets on the first evening.



Friday 20th March
Al was up first - if you discount the fact that Andrew Sloane had decided to crash in the living quarters after being kept awale by Jim & Peter's farm-anima-esque snoring - he knew that others would be expecting his Boy's Weekend Special porridge laced with raisins and his secret blend of spices. Ian was delegated the cooking of this vat while Billy-Bob and Jon cooked a splendid fry-up. Although chilly it was gloriously sunny and a few took advantage of breakfast in the beer garden listening to Graeme's running commentary on the latest Lambing Action from the adjacent field.

Ready to go!

The party then split in to its two component groups and the bikers were the first to set off: The five cyclists enjoyed the short downhill section on country lanes towards the track which heads up to Llyn y Fan Fach dam. The track was relentless - the 'granny ring' gear was the only option for mile upon mile. A brief respite was provided by a fish farm half way up - there was much hilarity at Billy-Bob's expense as, bringing up the rear, he stopped for a breath and toppled off his bike.

Eventually the dam was reached and energy gels were consumed (all except Jon who had brought a pot of jelly). The five then started the long walk with the ridge looming large overhead. The ascent was hard, slow work, hauling the bikes over the uneven terrain. However, the views across the Fan were very rewarding. Eventually the bikers reached the plateau and remounted for the first time in an age.

Ad takes in the view of
Llyn y fan fach

The gradual ascent to the cairn was terrific - with no marked trails and a sheer drop to the left. The group were smiling so much their faces started to ache. Once at the top Jon and Ad dangled their legs over the precipice. The group were treated to a spectacular fly-past by a police helicopter as they drank their isotonic drinks and made an ad hoc lunch of Welsh cakes and chocolate bars.

Time for holiday snaps

After the obligatory group photo the bikers simply pointed their mounts downhill and let go of the brakes. What followed was 20 minutes of sheer adrenalin - punctuated only by brief stops to say 'hi' to Mags and Peter, and to admire the Llyn again on the way down. Ad had a close encounter with a dog which was taking it's owner for a walk and Jon complained about the fork malfunction that he had experienced.

Team Photo at the Summit:
Jon, Al, Ad, Billy-Bob, John

In a fraction of the time that it took to reach the summit the bikers were once again back at the Old Red Lion, beer in hand enjoying the afternoon sunshine. It was not long however until their minds turned to the evening's entertainment: Jim and Al made another batch of Welsh cakes, Ad and Paul put the finishing touches to the dessert and John put the lamb cobbler in the oven.

Bikers' Route Map (click to enlarge):

Bikers' Elevation Profile (click to enlarge):

The more intrepid walkers kitted themselves out in shorts for what was a sunny but breezy day and a testing 20km (12.5 mile) walk.

The walking party set off at 10 am albeit with the usual dawdlers of Alan, Brian and Phil at the back. The first part of the walk was a stroll down the road to the filtration station before a steady 1.5km walk up the shale track to the lake, Llyn y Fan Fach gaining some 250m in elevation along the way. The steady slog saw the walkers strung out with those at the front hell bent on getting to the lake as soon as possible and others taking in the scenery, the Red Kites, Buzzards and Ravens to name but three species.

Start of the ascent up to
Llyn y Fan Fach

It was on the approach to Llyn y Fan Fach that the peleton of bikers were observed walking and pushing their bikes up the first 170m ascent to the Bannau Sir Gaer ridge. At the lake the walking party split into three with Mags, Pete and Andrew following the bikers up onto the first part of the Bannau Sir Gaer ridge. The speedy walkers with Ian and at times Barry, Chris and Jack at the front blazed a trail along the foothills of the ridge with the bikeless peleton of Jeremy, Graeme, Matt, Michael and twitcher Jim faithfully following close behind. The perennial backmarkers of Alan, Brian and Phil were left in our wake. The undulating trek along the foothills of the ridge took the group to the south end of Llyn y Fan Fawr and at 10 kms and after just over two hours a refreshment stop was called for.

Welcome refreshment

Refreshment break over the group, now joined by Jim, faced the 200m ascent to the summit of Fan Brycheiniog, 802m above sea level. The climb wasn’t to everyone’s liking with the group becoming strung out but Ian tested his new aortic valve and was one of the first to the trig point. Reunited at the trig, others of the group remarked that Ian’s performance had set them thinking about surgery too! It was at the summit that the panoramic views across the Black Mountain and beyond could be best appreciated even though the long distance views were spoilt by a smog-like haze. The back marker group were spotted at the foot of the ridge making their measured way to Llyn y Fan Fawr. From the summit there is a fine ridge walk of some 4km taking in three distinct cairns at 781, 749 and 677 m with the escarpment ever present on our right hand side.

Graeme practicing for
his next catalog shoot

The group was fast approaching the final cairn above Llyn y Fan Fach with various members trying to cast stones into its blue waters to no avail! It was also the opportunity to snap off those Max Boyce photos to record the “I was there" moment.

The Walkers' Advance Party
sporting mainly navy blue and khaki

There then followed the long 4km descent and return to base. Once everyone was home and hosed a menu of lamb cobbler, followed by Welsh Whisky Trifle with raspberries was served and the instructions for the bar were once again related by Al. The evening saw Peter tear up his 'dry weekend' plan as he could also no longer resist the lure of the 180 pints in the drying room.

John's Lamb Cobbler

In keeping with the history of our accommodation Al and John had constructed a traditional Pub Quiz - consisting of 3 general knowledge rounds, a picture round and a music quiz set to pictures from previous Boy's events. At times things got a little fractious but on the whole there was less disruption than previous Scrabble encounters so the exercise was deemed a success.

The Picture Quiz
(click to enlarge)
:

One point for each individual pictured


The Music Quiz
(click to play):

video
1 point for the right artist/composer
and 1 point for title of the track


Saturday 21st March
Saturday morning saw more superb weather over the Brecon Beacons and (after Graeme had conducted his customary update on the overnight lambing movements) various parties had different itineries for the morning before the afternoon’s final Six Nations matches. Ian had planned an 11km (7 mile) walk through farmland and then onto the moorland with Carreg Ogo at 565m above sea level the target, the bikers (minus Jon) planned to circumnavigate the Usk reservoir, where a birding party of Jim and Jon were also heading.

The group of Ian, Barry, Brian, Chris, Jack, Graeme, Matt and Michael set off in anti-clockwise mode – Alan and Phil, it subsequently transpired, tackled the route in a clockwise fashion. To reach the moorland the group tackled various obstacles consisting of loony sheep, frisky Highland cattle and crossing a river not helped by on the one hand an absence of footpath signs and on the other no footbridge. At the river it was Graeme who showed us how not to cross by losing his footing and having an impromptu sit down. After that example it was boots and socks off and paddle across.

To the strains of bleating new born lambs in the air and the stripped carcasses of sheep on the ground we made it to the open moor at which point we faced a 350m steady climb over the next 2kms. Thinking on his feet (literally!) and mindful of the stern talking to from Big Al the previous afternoon and then before and after breakfast about not getting back later than 1:30 pm Ian led his group upwards to about the 480m contour and then around the northern slope of Carreg Ogo for a refreshment break at a point where we could see both where we had walked and our destination. The summit will have to be tackled another time.

Saturday Bikers:
Al, John, Billy-Bob and Ad

The bikers had a more leisurely day in mind - a bimble around the Usk reservoir. Bikes were strapped onto cars and driven the short distance to the car park adjacent to the lake. The route comprised well maintained track and tarmacked lane with passing places. However, a ford provided some excitement and the dam at the head of the reservoir served as a sprint race track - an event which Ad and Al both launched themselves at with relish (...for the record Al winning both legs, Ed.).

Billy-Bob splash-down

Immediately after the sprinting Grand Prix, on a perfectly level and straight section of tarmac Billy-Bob managed to wrap his handlebars around Al's and eject himself from his bike. In an incident which saw a role reversal from the previous year Al patched his pal up with the first aid kit he had brought along.

Ad enjoys some rare off-road action

Approximately 3/4 of the way round the lake John contrived to get the group lost with a 'shortcut' through a dense section of forestry. Soon the bikers were carrying bikes in what felt like a reenactment of jungle warfare. Eventually Wrong John found a way out of the woods and we joined the track again to meet up with the car park and the waiting twitchers.

Biker's Bimble Map (click to enlarge):

Meanwhile Jim and Jon's birding splinter group had walked part of the way round the reservoir where they were rewarded by sightings of Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebe, and a national rarity, a Great Grey Shrike. Bikes were once again strapped to cars for the short journey back to base and the remaining beer for a cheeky pre-pub snifter.

The Saturday Bikers enjoy a post-ride drink
with the Birdman of Llanddeusant (Jon)

Walkers drifted back to the hostel in dribs and drabs, prepared for the fixtures ahead and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine before the mass exodus to the Red Pig pub about a mile down the road.

Barry makes the most of the light

Richard, the landlord, had promised Al over succesive weeks that he WOULD be open in time to cater for the party. An unannounced inspection on Friday afternoon seemed to suggest the contrary with tables and chairs piled up and several individuals brandishing paint brushes. However, when the group arrived after the short (but very hilly) mile walk beer was on tap, the telly was installed and the pub looked as if it had been open for years, although a note in the window announced that they were to open for one day only - we were guineapigs! Richard served up pint after pint of Tomos Watkin OSB as the group arrived at the pub in dribs and drabs - some had taken advantage of feeding time at the local Red Kite feeding station opposite.

A Red Kite homing in to
the feeding station


Others were more desperate for a beer, and/or the pre-match build-up. As the beers kept on coming the buffet lunch was arranged in the dining room - what fantastic fare. Those connoisseurs of pastry based products amongst us agreed that a finer pork pie had never passed their lips, while the local cheese came in for numerous complimentary Mmm's and Ahhh's. Meanwhile France demolished Italy in a game that played largely to an empty bar in the other room.

Italy 8 - 50 France

The buffet out of the way and attention turned to the rugby. All except two of the Boys were supporting England and there were only a few locals in the newly opened pub. The atmosphere was partisan and fortunately the result went the 'right' way for the majority.

England 26 - 12 Scotland

The ecstasy of Scotland taking an early lead....

...and the agony of the final result.


Towards the end of the Calcutta Cup match the ranks of locals began to swell for the main event. England fans switched their allegiances to Ireland, but the locals evened things up and the atmosphere was tense for the Six Nations decider. Sadly Ireland came through to win a closely contested game but the final whistle also signalled dinner time for the Boys.

Wales 15 - 17 Ireland

Dinner was a three-course affair and, although the service and some of the dishes were a little rough around the edges (it was their first night after all!) the fair was mostly good, honest local nosh. We could not fault the warm welcome, the brilliant atmosphere and extraordinary lengths that Richard had gone to to open up in time for our visit. A couple more beers after dinner, and (complimentary!) bottles for the walk home for some, and we wandered back to spend our last night in the Old Red Lion.


Sunday 22nd March
After a breakfast of hot cross buns and toast with Al's home-made Seville Orange Marmalade activities turned to the traditional clean-up operation. Various individuals were reunited with clothes and equipment that had been mislaid since the first night, polypins were crushed and binned and the left-overs distributed with the efficiency of a UN aid initiative. Eventually everyone had packed themselves into their cars, said their goodbyes and it was up to John and Al to close the door on a fantastic weekend in Wales.

Boy's Weekend 2009
- Left to Right -
Top: Jack, Matt, John, Andrew, Jeremy,
Barry, Jim, Mags, Billy-Bob, Jon
Middle: Phil, Al, Michael, Graeme, Ian
Front: Peter, Chris, Ad, Alan, Brian

On behalf of the TCA we should like to thank the Old Guard for inviting us again to participate in this institution. We trust the arrangements met with your satisfaction and we hope to see you all again next year.

(Posted by: Al & Ian; Photos by John, Barry, Ian & Al)


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