So, the East Cheshire Ramblers are off to the Brecon Beacons this month and this area was an area of many excursions in my youth when I was an active member of the Bristol Youth Hostel Social Group. Come rain or shine our band of happy youthful walkers would head off once a fortnight to one of many youth hostels in England or Wales but often the group would spend a weekend at one of the ‘simple’ grade Welsh hostels in the middle of winter. I recall numerous occasions of turning up to a bleak cold lonely youth hostel on a Friday night to spend a couple of days walking with friends of a similar age, cooking meals, organising walks and transport and looking forward to a warm bed when we got home on a Sunday night. Regardless to the weather, the weekends were always planned well in advance but one such weekend does stand out as one to remember.
Llwyn-y-Celyn Youth Hostel lies just off the A470 between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil and was a favourite and much frequented youth hostel by the group but the events of a weekend in February 1978 shall remain in my mind for the rest of my life.
Like most weekends, the Friday evening would be a drive to some remote youth hostel somewhere down a dark lane in the middle of nowhere and on this Friday evening the drive was no different to most other trips away except it was cold, dam cold!
From a warm car it was the usual walk in pitch darkness loaded with rucksacks and boxes of provisions and guided only by a feeble torch to the lights of the youth hostel down some grassy uneven path. Now in 1978, Llwyn-y-Celyn Youth Hostel had no heating except for an open fire which we took in turns to stand by. With hands grasping the warmth from mugs of tea all round we would retire to a cold dormitory and fall asleep after much banter. Ah, those were the days!
Saturday dawned a cold day and already there was snow on frozen ground and after
breakfast our leader for the day, Richard led our party for two miles down the deserted A470 before turning right and taking a path to cross the Afon Tarrell. We continued north east on a sheltered lane to a cross roads where we turned right. Soon we were on the flanks of the Brecon Beacons and aiming for Corn Du but the ferocious and biting wind often bowled us over and we were blasted by ice particles in our faces. Progress was extremely slow and never before had I experienced weather as bad as this. We made painfully for Pen Milan and reaching about 600 metres the way ahead was often obscured with blinding blowing snow. It was here we decided to abandon our attempt on the Brecon Beacons summits. The ground at this height was frozen solid and we opted to make for the Storey Arms to find food and shelter. It proved a slow struggle across the open moorland of Y Gyrn but we were glad when the Storey Arms came into view only to find that it was not a pub. (Well you live and learn). By now it was lunchtime and we took shelter in a conifer plantation to eat ice cold sandwiches and drink frozen squash. With the weather deteriorating we decided to head back to Llwyn-y-Celyn via the main road. A short drive in the afternoon was spent at the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre trying to warm up with mugs of tea and coffee.
With the hostel being extremely cold, we ventured into Brecon during the evening in search of a warm pub. The pub we found was full of entertainment as the landlord’s daughter had got married that day and many of the drinkers were already drunk or merry. We returned by car to Llwyn-y-Celyn Youth Hostel with a bag of chips just as the snow started to fall heavily. The story doesn’t end here however as to go to bed, we dressed up in all the gear we had with balaclavas, bobble hats, coats, scarves etc. By now the hostel temperature was down to minus ten centigrade. We fell into an uneasy sleep with the wind and snow blowing outside. By the morning, the dormitories were covered in snow even inside the building with fine snow penetrating every nook and cranny in the building to give a covering from 2 to 18 inches on the floor and most of the beds were covered in snow. Beards and moustaches were frozen from our breath. On investigating outside it was soon apparent that we were totally cut off with the cars buried, some almost completely in snow and the snow drifts everywhere of three to four feet deep.
After breakfast we started to organise a major dig. Along with our group there was a party of scouts from Reading and together we started to clear the drive from the hostel up to the main road even using spare slates off the roof. As the wind was blowing so strong, the snow was blowing back and we were fighting a losing battle. Starting the car engines was another problem as under each car bonnet the snow had filled every nook and cranny. No traffic was using the Brecon to Merthyr road. By late morning a local farmer had reached us with his tractor and one by one the cars were winched up the hostel drive to the A470 but not without some damage. Later in the afternoon a snowplough reached us and with much bump starting of the cars we eventually got them all going. The snowplough then escorted us to Brecon and after a journey with a detour via Newport, we eventually arrived back in Bristol tired and exhausted.
Now I’m not expecting you to have any such bad weather like this; after all it will be late May but when you are on the bus on Roger’s walk on Saturday heading up to the Storey Arms, spare a thought of those walkers in those pioneering days of the late seventies.