34th Across Wales Walk
6 September 1997
day of the funeral of Diana,
This page provides timings and reports for the 34th Across Wales Walk.
To download a table of entrants and times (Excel 4.0 format, approx. 55kb) click here.
"The only challenge walk to cross a country in one day" - this was the interesting message on the entry form. The walk had always been on my secret agenda so this was to be the year. Being a bad sleeper at the best of times I decided that the floor of the hall at Clun would do neither me nor those around me any good. Accordingly midday on the day before the event saw me heading towards Clun in our camper. After an easy drive across the Cotswolds I arrived at about six in the evening. Stuart Lamb the event organiser and I had walked together about five years previously in the Ironbridge Challenge and it was good to renew our friendship.
The reveille at 3:15 on Saturday morning saw a beautiful clear night and by 4:15 luggage for Aberystwyth together with food and clothing for the checkpoints had been placed in the segregated areas of the hall. A short walk into the village saw 98 starters [out of 112 entries] board the coaches for the journey to Anchor Bridge. By the time we walked out of Anchor Bridge we had been joined by 4 hard men, Clive Lungmuss, Richard Rosser, Peter Stevenson & Philip Gwilliam, who had left Aberystwyth on Friday to do a double crossing by walking to the start [unsupported] and then back again to the finish with the main field. If you find that amazing, wait until you see what is said about one of their number.
A few miles on the road saw us turn onto the Kerry Ridgeway at which time heavy cloud had taken the place of the stars and the first few spots of rain fell - not much just irritating. No route description is given and you can choose any route to visit the five checkpoints. However the grid references given were followed by most people as they were the most direct route. CP1 at Llwyn Madoc (8 miles) was gratefully reached and the drinks/biscuits went down very well. Llandinam, one of the few villages on the whole route, was soon passed through with CP2 at Cefn Bach (16 miles) soon to appear with Stuart Lamb and his troops in attendance with very welcome hot drinks. The next CP at Hafren Forest (25 miles) was for many people the main stop as this was just before the climb of the event over Plynlimon (c.2500 ft). Although a long slog to the top, it was worth it to clearly see the Brecons to the south and Snowdon to the north - you could also see the next check point about an hour or so away. I found the descent much worse than the climb with deep tufted grass in some places hiding deep water gullies. The CP was at the far end of the dam on the Nant-y-Moch reservoir.
With all the main climbs behind us and with 32 miles under our belts the real urge to finish was showing. As suggested we avoided the scree near Craig-y-Pistyll by opting for the route through the fire-break to descend in the valley for about two miles to the final CP at Elerch (38 miles). Not a stop here, just a pause and onward to the finish at Clarach Bay. The final 2½ miles down the road lasted an eternity and ten minutes from the finish I gave the weather best and put on my jacket.
We were taken by car the 3 or so miles to the Pantycelyn Halls, University of Wales at Aberystwyth. If ordered, a decent meal was available. We all had our own rooms and the luxury of a bath! In the morning a full breakfast was served followed by the award ceremony. It was here we told of the "Double Crossers" who normally sleep in a barn near Anchor Bridge but this year the farmer had the cheek to fill the barn with straw - the fearsome four slept by the roadside in dustbin bags before doing the return trip. The real shock was that amongst the fastest 7 runners (crossing time 10h 20 mins.) was one of the four who did the double crossing! I salute to Phil Gwilliam you are amazing!
The coaches soon arrived for the return journey to Clun which took place in drizzle and lasted about two hours. By the time I had made myself a drink most people had departed and the invasion of Clun was over for another year.
On a personal note this was probably my hardest walk but it was superb. I thank you Stuart Lamb and your team for the organisation, back up and effort involved in the event - I'll be back.
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Clun Car Park, Saturday 6 September, 4.30 am. - Orion, Cassiopea, the Northern Cross, a planet - Venus(?) - all so bright, it seemed an auspicious start to our cross-country (literally), Across Wales Challenge Walk. Why so early? So our buses could get us all to Anchor Bridge on the Welsh border in time for our 5.00 a.m. start with Plynlimon Mountain (2467 feet) and other 'interesting' terrain before us, on our 45 mile route to Clarach Bay. Approximately 20 runners, 80 walkers and/or joggers, not to mention the four 'commuters' the hard men who started from Clarach Bay the day before, ready to join us 'one-way trippers' for our early start!
Soon we were at Anchor Bridge, adrenaline pumping and raring to go. I found myself alongside the most experienced X-Wales tripper of them all - Neville Tandy - 30 odd trips behind him. He must be the best companion one could have wished for on such a venue. However, about ten seconds after we started he was jogging! Now I always do some jogging on these occasions, but not from the word go, so this came as a bit of a shock! Still I recalled that last year, my first experience of this event, he and I finished more or less together in about 14 3/4 hours, so I wasn't too worried. Jogging along in the dark side by side, he informed me that last year he was suffering from a knee injury which had slowed him up badly. Now I was worried - I'd been banking on that 14 3/4 hours! How much further would he maintain this jogging lark I wondered? By now we were a long way behind the runners and a long way ahead of the walkers. This meant of course that if he dropped me I might well experience some navigational difficulties being on my own, particularly over Plynlimon later in the day. My worries proved needless; much later he told me that he'd been just as worried - i.e. would I drop him? What a great team we were proving to be, we were so evenly matched.
At last daylight arrived, soon after the Kerry Ridgeway, and we were jogging once more, to find that our 'scouts' pace' of brisk walking alternating with sensible jogging had got us to checkpoint one, eight miles along the route well before 7.00 am. Here we received a great welcome plus light refreshments (experienced at all five checkpoints) and were quickly off again for the next eight miles. By now, it had been light for some time so I was able to help out with the navigating (my cheap torch had already proved to be somewhat ineffective)! Across Mochdre Brook - wet and muddy but no problem - and we arrived at Llandinam, a wee bit of civilisation.
Further on I became very puzzled. Here was a small river, and either it was flowing in the wrong direction, or we were on a reciprocal heading. Nev solved my puzzle - it was a tributary flowing into Afon Clywedog and not into Llyn Clywedog Reservoir. We still couldn't find a bridge over the blessed thing though, so there was only one thing for it - SPLASH! SPLASH! and a couple of fences (not stiles!) and we were soon back on the correct route.
Next we passed a group of buzzards. They must have been buzzards because they looked much bigger than crows and they were brown: no comment from Nev as we continued past Glyndwr's Way (to be launched in the year 2000, according to our August Strider) and so on to Hafren Forest. A mile and a bit further on we joined the forest track at map reference 885 855. This is the point where the present route joins the old route, which Nev had done about 30 times before. No need now for maps, compass or reading spectacles. Nev led the way to the next checkpoint (the picnic area). More refreshments then onward - bound for Plynlimon!
We left the track at precisely the right spot to commence our scramble up the steep grass slope forming the lower ramparts of the big P. It was here we were honoured by the company of a very understanding young lady tripper who kept pace with us - no problem. I had met her a little earlier while I was responding to the 'call of nature', unaware that she was just around the corner. She arrived as I was in 'full flow' as it were - and tactfully observed that she could see I was well hydrated! I apologised for my ungentlemanly (or gentlemanly?) behaviour and she said not to worry, as a nurse she'd seen it all before. Up and up and up we climbed - it's a big mountain, especially after about 30 miles. Very windy, but not too cold on top.
Our descent led straight down to the pumping station (Nant-y-moch Reservoir). Why was I wearing road-running trainers with virtually no treads? Two falls on the way down: the first time my feet were going faster than the rest of me, the second time the rest of me was travelling faster than my feet. (Is this a 'double whammy'!). Good job it was grassy - lots of blood flowing from wrist, but no real damage.
Checkpoint four, in the middle of Nant-y-moch Reservoir, was travelling at eight mph, so Stuart later reported, according to his GPS 'global positioning system'. In fact the checkpoint was at the end of the dam and quite still. Great alarm however: the checkpoint team wondered if I had gone crazy and started slashing my wrists, I was such a 'bleeder'! I wonder what they meant by that! Anyway, with my socks changed we pushed on to map reference 748 866, where Nev decided to shortcut across Nant-y-moch Reservoir's peninsula, while I kept to the shore. His way was quicker of course and despite jogging I was still 200 yards behind when the two tracks again converged! The path left the reservoir behind as it continued south-westerly for Llyn Craig y Pistyll. It was hereabouts that we joined Richard Rosser, an extremely modest and crazily fit young Welshman, one of the hard-men, 'commuters' no less! There followed a short discussion as to whether we continued via the notorious Craig y Pistyll scree, or the sensible safe firebreak route. Naturally we opted for the former and once again I'd forgotten that Nev had studs on his shoes while mine were practically tread-free! I made it with just two close calls, but I am resolved never to repeat this route in such footwear. I must just tell you on a lighter note of the absolute beauty of the freshly blooming heather with its background of bright yellow gorse - what a sight!
After the scary bit, it was plain sailing to the penultimate checkpoint at Bont-goch (Elerch), with a fine view of Cader Idris on the way. From there it was seven miles to the finish at Clarach Bay, which we covered in 1 1/4 hours to arrive just after 5:45 p.m. - 2 hours quicker than last year!
The end of the Walk however was by no means the end of the weekend. Some of the best bits were yet to come. The University accommodation and meals which were superb, the local pub with its 'Double Dragon' brew provided a fitting venue to share our day's adventures and the comradeship and warmth of the Presentation Ceremony on the Sunday morning reflected that of the whole weekend. Thank you, Stuart and Bob and all your wonderful team. See you again next year!
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None of us could have ever imagined that the 34th Across Wales Walk would coincide with an event such as the funeral of The Princess of Wales. Nevertheless, following consultation with both entrants and supporters, it was decided that, rather than cancel the event for 1997, the Across Wales Walk should continue as planned. Indeed crossing the principality on that day seemed, in itself, particularly appropriate. So whilst the rest of the nation were following the momentous events in London, 93 of the 98 entrants crossed Wales within the 18 hour time limit.
'Essex Man' and Tom ably sum up the 1997 Across Wales Walk and I would like to thank them for their words of appreciation. Thanks must also go to members of West Birmingham Hostelling Group who manned the checkpoints and to North Powys & North Dyfed Raynet groups who provided their usual excellent radio coverage. Finally, I would like to thank the entrants who, I hope, enjoyed the event as much as I did. Overall, it was a weekend that I'm sure we will all remember for a long time. See you all again next year on the thirty-fifth Across Wales Walk.
Organiser, Across Wales Walk
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