Saturday, March 30, 2013

Publication day looms

The author in the Brecon Beacons

 I would like to thank my partner for… providing cheer and company on the walks themselves, and for not complaining – too much – when the weather took a turn for the worse.’ 

Harri Roberts, author, Day Walks in the Brecon Beacons

Can there be anything more exciting than seeing your partner's words in print as his first walking guidebook hits the shelves (figuratively speaking)? To see your own contribution acknowledged in black and white?

Product DetailsApril 1 marks the official publication day for Day Walks in the Brecon Beacons (although the book has been available to pre-order from publisher Vertebrate and other online book stores for several weeks now). Underneath the thumbnail of the cover and book description on Vertebrate's site, there’s a little bio about Harri, which I’m going to repeat here:

Harri Roberts is a freelance writer, editor and translator based in Newport, Gwent. He has authored a number of Welsh walking guides, including a forthcoming official guidebook to the Wales Coast Path (Amroth to Swansea section). 

His love of the Brecon Beacons developed during research for an ambitious guide to the Cambrian Way, a high-level, Welsh ‘end-to-end’ across some of the most scenic and mountainous terrain in the country.

The trail levels out above Talybont reservoir 
So it’s finally looking as if all the hours of driving, freezing nights huddled in our tiny tent, aching legs and sore feet (plus the long hours confined to the study writing it) have been worth it. 

And just in case you're in any doubt, writing hiking books for a living is a long, mostly uphill struggle. 

I say this with feeling because I’ve been there alongside Harri from the outset and I'd like to believe my small contribution (photography and sandwiches) has gone some way towards helping him fulfill his lifelong ambition. 

To this end, I’ve trekked miles up, down, across and around Wales in sun, wind, rain and drizzle. I’ve been frazzled, frozen, soggy and sunburnt, hungry, thirsty, blistered and just bloody fed up. I've laughed and cried, paddled through icy waters and assisted in freeing countless sheep from barbed wire fences. I’ve ‘lost’ the camera more times than I care to remember, and spent more on bus fares in six years than in my entire previous lifetime.

Occasionally, for practical reasons (like needing to be dropped off/picked up miles from civilisation or a bus route or hiking in particularly difficult terrain like the Rhinogs), Harri has opted to walk alone but those occasions were relatively rare and as publication day of this first book approaches, I wear my hiking writer’s partner badge with pride. 

I've walked the miles, captured the images, earned my title. I've worked hard so that on April 1, I can announce with complete authenticity, 'Today, readers, I'm going to be The Walker's Wife'.

Looking down from Allt yr Esgair
Not that hiking in the glorious Brecon Beacons, with its spectacular peaks and escarpments, gorges, open moorland and peaceful valleys, can really be considered 'work'; rather we've simply been indulging our passion with the promise of a pay cheque sometime in the distance future .

Fortunately, the majority of our Brecon Beacons hiking was done last spring before the jet stream got stuck down south and the mountains were transformed into bleak, verdant bogs. Later, we were glad we'd seized the moment and spent the fine weather exploring trails, footpaths and quiet, metalled lanes.

We hiked some of the most popular spots in the National Park and some of the most remote. We joined a convoy of hikers approaching Pen y Fan from the north ridge (amazingly, we’d managed to forget it was a Bank Holiday weekend) and enjoyed the company of sheep on the isolated slopes of the (confusingly named) Black Mountain.

In early March, just two days after completing the Llanelli Half Marathon (my first ever race of this kind) and sporting rather spectacular blood blisters on the soles of both feet, I was back in the ‘saddle’, scaling a Black Mountains escarpment (Route 6: Castell Dinas and  Rhos Dirion) .

In May, and with the Black Mountains walks done and dusted, we battled against cold winds to complete a ten-miler around Mynyydd Llangatwg and Craig y Cilau (Route 9). 

Llangors Lake: a beautiful setting for bird-watchers
The landscape was always interesting and varied, even for a seasoned Brecon Beacons visitor like me.

The beautifully constructed wooden bird hide on the western shore of Llangors Lake was a wonderful surprise, as was the wooded ridge of Allt yr Esgair (Route 8). In the book, Harri describes the latter as ‘a pure delight, with panoramic views complemented in May and June by a wild profusion of colourful flowers’ . I can sum it up in two words, ‘absolutely stunning’.

The serene Olchon Valley (Route 5), just outside the National Park, is off the well-trodden tourist track but is equally appealing (the valley is now known as the setting for the film Resistance, based on the novel by Owen Sheers) and well worth walking.

Another Black Mountains gem is the 11th century Partrishow Church, with its intricately carved 16th century rood screen and the chilling, faded wall painting of a skeleton holding a scythe, hourglass and spade. 

A rival for Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa?
A couple of miles away, subsidence in the hillside has caused the tower of St Martin's Church, Cwmyoy to lean precariously like a Welsh Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

One morning, we stumbled upon a field of daffodils, out of place against the wild heather-covered escarpment looming above but uplifting nonetheless.

We wandered among sheep, cattle and horses, along the Roman road of Sarn Helen, sections of Offa's Dyke and behind waterfalls.

Finally, in August and after the wettest summer in 100 years, we finished walking the Brecon Beacons and, for me at least, the hard work was over.

Inevitably, some memories fade as the months pass. But it doesn't really matter because we'll always want spend time hiking across the varied landscape of the Brecon Beacons, book or no book.

An unexpected field of daffodils 

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