River Tarrenig/Bidno Diary
Wednesday 21st - Friday 24th August 2019
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11 Miles Total
TRNG Source Grid Ref: SN 793865
TRNG Confluence Grid Ref: SN 840826
Bidno Source Grid Ref: SN 837858
Bidno Confluence Grid Ref: SN 893803
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2 Wild Rivers. Backpacking Plynlimon P1
2 Wild Rivers. Backpacking Plynlimon P2
I arrived at Pont Rhygaled near to the confluence of the Tarennig and Wye having travelled on the bus from Llandrindod Wells with two friendly district Hustlers and Jay. The conversation was mostly about habits, which I could relate to having had previous addictions of my own. Listening to old familiar stories I was glad to be a committed outdoorsman now as opposed to scraping life together on the streets. I wished them well because that’s all you can do knowing of the doubts and fears people live with.
Keenly stepping off the bus at Pont Rhydgaled I was greeted by something else familiar to me but one that brought back, not an image of addiction and depravity, but one of life as Paul and I made our way up to the source of the Wye in August 2014 almost 5 years ago to the day. I timed it this way to invoke exactly that; a keen sense of our time together and it worked.
Stood at the confluence with the Tarennig and Wye and its accompanying information board, which resonated with me, I admired once again the serene scene before me. I remember now the Tarennig entering the Wye as it formed a mildly swirling pool that tenderly welcomed the Tarennig into its waters. The both it seemed moved consciously onward together mindful of their union. In many respects Paul and I felt just like this as we ventured forth into Plynlimon and onto the Wye source back in 2014. It was a beautiful walk punctuated by a comparable harmony and excitement. I smiled as a feeling of love welled up inside. ‘We’re at the Tarennig and Wye Paul,’ I said before photographing and filming this.......
Down the forestry track there were more familiar sights most notably a young spruce tree sprouting from out of a dead stump. This was here 5 years before. Then I took a photograph of it, which is now on my Wyeexplorermark Instagram. My voice was animated as I grasped the notion that some things still remain or hardly ever change. It’s as if a portion of Paul was still here merely through the marginal change exhibited in this unusually sprouting tree.
Some things were new though. It’s a different year and day with rain threatening to poor down from the forever shifting skies. Mindful of how quickly the heavens can open up I came prepared with my brolly. They do open up with a sudden gush of water in which case I duly popped open my brolly in reply. In fact, this area is where I became aware of the brolly’s use. Similar weather occurred when Paul and I walked this way by mistake in 2014. We were going to walk over the mountains towards Rhayader as opposed to following the Wye Valley Walk. But whilst we stood looking up at what we had to climb we thought better of it when factoring in the boggy terrain beyond.......
and the fact we had no map. There and then the rain came down in which case Paul popped out his brolly nice and smug as I was left to dive under his canopy. I thought then what a good system and have since started bringing one out with me. And yes, I’m smug to when the rain hits suddenly. Thanks Paul!
In front of me nearby to this valued moment alive in my mind is Cae Gaer Roman Fort situated not far from the Tarennig, which is less than a kilometre in front to the North. I say in front because the fort is situated North to South at it’s lengthiest. It is only small at 290 Ft (North South) by 390 ft (East West). Nobody is clear why it was built on account of its small size at 2.25 Acres. A full cohort its understood consists of 500 men, which would have been a tight squeeze.
Two theories abound. It’s suggested that maybe the cohort was understrength, or that the full cohort was divided between 2 small camps the latter theory being inspired by the presence of a small Roman fort 8 miles away at Pen y Crocben. Whatever the reason it is in a remote basin with the Tarinneg down below to the North, which is where I’m heading.
As I walk towards Hirgoed ddu and then to the top of Cripiau at 500 meters for the views I once again think about my visit here with Paul and the aborted mission that saw us walk alongside the Tarinneg for 2.5 KM. If we hadn’t have had the idea to walk over the mountains that day we would never have walked this stretch of the Tarinneg together. Wow, some things are done it seems in the highest of realms. I mean I can place Paul alongside the Tarinneg with me now 5 years on, which is a thought and feeling that emerges later on as I approach the source.
On top of Cripiau views of the valley below from Eiestddfa Gurig in front of me towards the Wye valley further to my right or East open up. The valley with its forest plantation bearing down on the A44 road is looking majestic as tiny cars and trucks wind their way through protected from the elements. Exposed in front of me is the Plynlimon range with the mighty Plynlimon itself standing inflated above all other peaks. It’s wet up there but despite this I’m keen for the oscillating weather is proving exhilarating once more. I’m outdoors in the Wye catchment and loving it.
Down below I take shelter briefly in what appears to be a local makeshift bus shelter. I drink, change my camera batteries and observe the traffic whizzing by the sound of which I could not hear up above. It’s a busy road but at altitude you are insulated from just how fast and busy the world is. From a distance the traffic is, not only silent, but slower in motion to as if it slipped through a portal into another dimension. Soon though I’ll be insulated from the busy world once again as I cross the road and head on up towards the base of Plynlimon where the source of the Taranneg awaits.
Eisteddfa Gurig is home to a hard-working farm now but it was once reputedly the place where the 6th Century Celtic Roman Catholic Bishop St Curig rested after moving in land from the beaches of Aberystwyth where he had landed. Here to establish the order Llangurig further down the valley takes its names from the Saint. Names do fascinate me as they tell a story. Together with Eisteddfa, meaning ‘seat’ I am passing through the seat of Curig.
Well, I’ve had my rest and so I continue on up with the rushing waters of the Tarennig to my right. It’s resembling a mountain brook or stream now as the bed is rocky and the descent fairly steep. And what with waters rushing in from off the mountains on all sides it’s alive with the sound of fresh water something I love about mountains. My feet, breath and the sheep to compliment the soundscape, which infuses me with a delight not felt elsewhere other than here.
I am of course passing through a working land.......
what with the sheep all about me and the old Lead mine embedded in the valley carved out by the Tarennig. The lead mines were established in the 1800’s extracting many tons of lead from its depths. I can only but imagine the working life of the men that toiled in the wet and cold. They too were immersed in another dimension as they were hardy folk with clothing, shelter and tools far more basic and less advanced than today. Everything is subjective to the time but it still doesn’t detract from the fact that they saw through a vastly different prism. I admire them and feel their spirit.
Nearing the source and now off the track I have to cross a bog deep under foot. The elephant grasses stand rounded at the base and tall in which case I step in between them to a squelch with each step. They are accompanied by large mounds of Sphagnum Moss almost to my waste. They’re resplendent with their compacted diamond like leaves or gametophores. The green leaves grow constantly whilst the material below dies eventually compressed by the material above. Here, after 1,000 years you’ll see dark peat that is rich in carbon. Yes, these peat bogs up here are some of the finest carbon storage units in the world. They are invaluable.
At source I admire this wild landscape and the mighty Plynlimon stood above me. Very few people stand here and I can see why. It’s not straight forward getting here. The infant Tarinneg trickles by me, which I can now step over. Aaah, it’s remote here like being on a deserted island something Paul and I would revel in as we communed with the sources of other mountain rivers like that of the Irfon high up on top of Bryn Garw further South. I pause to take it all in my life with my twin included.
Moving away from the Tarennig I want to find a camp as close to the River Bidno source as possible my next objective in the morning. I decided to walk two rivers to save coming up here a second time and knowing of the potential loop heading East from Plynlimon I decided it was a good idea economical in essence. As I make my way to my camp, the details of which I do not know yet, I pass by other places that invoke memories of Paul and I up here back in 2014. We must have passed over the infant Tarinneg I think to myself as we hiked off the Plynlimon summit towards the Sweet Lamb estate. We did step over it! Maaan, once again I’m reminded that Paul has been amid the Tarennig both here at source and its confluence. I am thrilled to place my twin here beside its waters because it’s another river I can confidently say we communed with together.
I don’t necessarily commune with the Sweet Lamb estate because I am aware of how busy it is. I’m certain it’s open access land although the estate owners may challenge me on that. Never the less I walk East over the estate mindful and respectful of the fact that it’s under ownership. In fact, signs of it being a private business are everywhere.
There’s the heavily gravelled track that I’m walking on, which forms part of the Welsh GB Raleigh circuit, there are the sheep dotted about the landscape, one large storage container now acting as an above ground shooting but stands motionless amid moorland and down below we have thousands of Pheasant all being fed for sport. In all directions they flee as I pass by and for good reason by their estimation.
Beyond the Sweet Lamb outbuildings situated in this wild and rugged part of the Cambrian Mountains I spot our old 2014 camp down below on a bend of the Wye, which is flowing young down from Plynlimon. I didn’t expect to be here at all but seizing the opportunity I proceed to step off the track and walk towards the old site that’s still flat like an island amid the bog. The bog proves to deep, which makes me wonder how long it took Paul and I to reach the camp site. I double back and find a marginal flat spot overlooking it right next to the track but sunken enough to feel potentially obscured from sight.
During and after pitching I’m amazed to be here 5 years on. I stare at the old site from above seeing clearly my twin and I camping for the first time beside the infant Wye infant to Plynlimon ourselves. We were excited then and when I look at a photograph of Paul stood there, I distinctly see how his anxiety and depression has melted away as the mountain and great outdoors.......
works its healing magic. He was happy as was I to be there. It was a seminal time for us both, which I breath in now complete with all shapes, sounds and contours that he to observed as keenly.
In the morning after a constant barrage of rain I’m greeted by a young game keeper who tells me in no uncertain terms that I’m not meant to be there. I know this but tell him I got in late and assure him that I have every respect for the estate. In my enthusiasm to get the walk done I didn’t think about it before but it would have been prudent to.......
to contact the owner telling him of my project. I’m sure that if I had done so he would have been very helpful. I will do next time out of respect because knowing these rivers is about just that.
Down the track having packed up I speak to a shepherd who is bringing the sheep down of the high hills with his colleague and.......
their dogs. He informs me of a right of way through to the Bidno. The Game Keeper advised me differently but this guy is older and is speaking with a grey beard and a knowing Welsh tone. I take his word for it, which is born out on top as I come across rights of way markers.
I get close to the Bidno source deciding that it’s good enough on account of the rights of Way. I don’t want to upset anyone so I admire the interior from here. I am close within a kilometre, which gives me a good sense of how this short small river begins. It’s once again sprouting forth from rich moorland bog that’s been damned up top as part of estate infrastructure now. It continues flowing passed the Southern tip of the massive Hafren Forest, which takes its name from the River Severn. The Afon Hafren or River Severn is not far away at all at only 1Km North. It’s spitting distance.
It’s unusual to think that the Severn and Wye emerge from the same mountain yet head in different directions. They’re born of the same stuff but in flowing through distinct landscapes and through an array of different towns they both adopt characters that almost speak a language apart. This is like people. You can come from the same family but in traversing different roads common ground can seem blurred at times. There is of course common ground when we strip back the roads that each take, which I can see in the Rivers Severn and Wye.
The Pheasants are everywhere at the top here near to the start of the Bidno. The public right of way goes right through their feeding grounds, which are peppered with feeding troughs. They’re mad with fright, which produces an unusual thought as I walk through them. It’s as if I’m in an air tunnel so pronounced is their fear. I walk and they spread outward. We are connected for sure.
On the ground I come across a few dead young birds. Scanning the bog down in what is a very wet basin I think to myself it must be home to many a carcass. Again, this is all flowing into the river off the estate. It’s a bit like the lead mining polluting the waters in the 1800’s. The extensive operations feed and all must have an impact. Indeed, with the Hafren forest on its doorstep the rivers up against it for it’s known that plantation forest is very acidic and not very good for its PH level. Having said this, agencies like the Wye Usk foundation are trying to change the rivers makeup by liming many river sources higher up. It’s hoped by reducing the PH level of the rivers it will encourage more invertebrates thus encourage spawning fish let alone other life above the water’s surface.
Crossing the river successfully with the forest to my left and high hills to my right I begin to get a sense that the Bidno is a largely forgotten river. Few people walk this valley, which is situated just off the A44. Later I realise that passing traffic wouldn’t even notice the turn off it being so unannounced and obscure, which I like because it preserves its off-piste feel. I can’t get enough of this new route. I stare admiringly at the spruce, high pines, what look to be Giant Sequoia and broadleaf species that populate the valley and slopes. The river is down below snaking its way towards the River Wye some 4 miles to the South East. Meanwhile the rain is lashing down and the hills are full of resting cloud, which creates a moodiness akin to a wild Japanese romance. It’s beautiful!
Half way through the valley I see a dog emerging out of some brush on the opposite side of a field. The.......
owner calls out to me, ‘do you mind dogs?’ in reply I bellow in a friendly tone, ‘no.’ We come together in fine spirits two obvious outdoor enthusiast amid the rain-soaked hills. Her name is Jicktca pronounced yitka. A Czech who has lived in Wales for many years we chat without any tension between us such is the joy we are both feeling. She loves it here she tells me as does her dog Poppy evidently. As we talk I film, which she does not mind at all Jicktka being an open kind of woman advanced in years. In fact, she’s that open she invites me to call by next time I am in the valley.
Having bid Jicktca and Poppy goodbye I make my way towards the confluence happy having met a wonderful person along the way. I have a mind to call by her house to see if her partner is there. I presume she has a partner in which case I will ask for some water whilst informing him or her of Jicktca’s whereabouts. Before that I’ll record the rushing waters of the river.
At Jicktca’s home I knock on the door to be welcomed by George who enthusiastically greets me as a wondering hiker. He’s keen to know about the hike because he and Jicktca used to own two outdoor centres. They’re instantly resonating with my bedraggled appearance having both been there before and currently it would seem. With a fine chat and my bladder replenished I continue onwards to enjoy a break in a barn on top of a roll bale. It reminds me of my sweet grand parents who farmed North Herefordshire all their lives. They would know of this simple pleasure.
Rejuvenated, I investigate some empty chalets down the way. All around them is sheep shit indicating that these locked up wooden places have been unused for some time. I wonder who owns them because they’re perfectly habitable. Bemused I walk on towards the confluence, which isn’t far now. It’s been brilliant in the Bidno valley. No, the whole walk has been yet again awesome. That awesome I think about Paul who would be equally as enthralled. I miss him with every step I take.
At the T Junction I observe the road carefully as this A44 is busy. I’m back to the land of the busying. It sure is a dimensional shift as I leave behind the remote slowness of the Bidno Valley for a confluence with the Wye that’s not.......
for the romantic. Below me is the river passing beneath a concrete bridge probably built in the late 50’s or early 60’s. Heck, it may even be a 70’s construction purely practical, utilitarian and or unidealistic in its design. Whatever the history it noticed the Bidno a river that however small evidently has significance as it enters the Wye. I’m happy to see the Bidno and wye meet and to think of my journey as the traffic rushes by, which is a flowing stream that has an equal right to exist like that of the river down below. Now for the hike back to Rhayader!
Written by Mark Jickells