Emma and I usually go around in circles thinking of something to do on a Bank Holiday weekend, but with the early May Bank Holiday fast approaching we both had the same idea. Active weekend.
I sought suggestions from my brother, who has gotten into mountain walking over the past 18 months, of where we could go with Raife in a carrier and take the dog. He suggested Ysgyryd Fawr, or ‘The Skirrid’, in Abergavenny, which he’d walked with his five-year old daughter just a week earlier.
After a sweltering parkrun in the morning, we set off to The Skirrid in the beautiful sunshine.
It was the first time we’d really had to consider the risk of sunburn and Raife’s skin. Naturally, given the terrain, we used a carrier meaning his body would be protected from the sun. But that left his little arms, legs and face exposed. Of course, we applied plenty of sun cream. But the heat meant he needed a bit of extra protection. Em took a hoody with her, so we tied that around her front, positioning it to cover his arms and legs depending on where the sun was.
The next thing to consider was Sherlock staying hydrated. He’s a strangely fussy dog when it comes to drinking water. Considering he’s a tad overweight, staying hydrated was even more important for him. We took his bowl with us and before starting the walk, put some nice, cold water in a bit of shade for him. Do you think he’d drink it?! No.
Anyway, we set off on a path leading us to the foot of the mountain. Emma had Raife in the carrier (I did offer!), while I took care of the dog. I followed the route suggested by National Trust website, turning left at the gate. Turns out there are two gates and that step was actually intended for the second one! No bother, though. We just ended up taking a five-minute detour around a windy, boggy, dirt track right back to where we turned off anyway.
Even just a short time into our walk, which was estimated to take us two hours to complete, we realised just how hot it was. And walking up this really quite modest mountain was going to be tough. My brother explained that the route left around the mountain was longer but flatter, and right was shorter but steeper. So we were quite content that it wouldn’t be too strenuous given that one of us had our 6-month-old baby strapped to our chest.
After taking the turn to head left, it was quite some time before we saw anyone else, leaving us wondering if we’d gone the wrong way. Looking to our right we saw how high we still had to climb, but looking to our left we saw how far we’d already come. The picture was stunning, looking at the rest of the Black Mountains. The sky was so clear and the fields were so green. It really felt like summer.
We made our way around the mountain, noticing the sheer rock faces and even as we got close to making our way up, just how far we still had to go. The National Trust route said there would be a ‘steep but short’ climb following a grass path. When we came to that path and looked up, it still looked steep. Really steep. But reassured by my brother’s recommendation that the walk was fine to take Raife, we started the walk up the grass path. That walk soon became a climb, though.
As we got higher and higher, the climb became tougher. We didn’t think we should continue up this way. But looking behind at what we’d already done, we agreed it would be more dangerous to go back down.
Raife had slept the whole walk so far, until we neared the top of the mountain. When he woke, he screamed. We’re not sure whether he was hungry or he was scared waking up and in unfamiliar surroundings and being so high. When the climb came to a stop on a sort of ridge near the top, we stopped to take a breather in the shade and give Raife a feed.
How many people can say they’ve had booby at the top of a mountain?!
I scouted ahead just to check the safest/flattest route to the very top of the mountain and thankfully it was just a 30-second gentle walk a little further up the hill. Of course, we took the obligatory top of the mountain photos as we marvelled at the view. We swapped over on the way down, with me taking Raife in the carrier and Emma taking Sherlock. With no shade at the top of the mountain, we tucked a muslin square into the carrier just to make sure he was completely protected from the sun.
We definitely didn’t fancy going down the way we came so headed down the mountain in the other direction. Going down presented its own challenges, having to make a real effort to see past Raife to look where I was placing my feet. I was confident that if I did slip I’d fall backwards, thus protecting Raife, but I didn’t want to take any risks.
There were definitely more people taking this route up the mountain. It made me wonder why the National Trust sent us up the other way! We saw a woman running, yes RUNNING along the length of the top of the mountain and back down again. There was a guy running up the mountain in boat shoes. And there was even a guy wearing a fleece!
After navigating the steepest parts of the mountain, we ended up having two scares near the end of the whole walk. First, I stubbed my foot on a log across the path, which almost sent me and Raife flying. And then a few minutes later, I turned my ankle, again almost sent us flying. I must’ve snapped a twig in the process because Em thought she heard my ankle breaking!
We made it back to the tired, sweaty but unscathed. We needed some food and spotted a sign for a tea room just down the road. Well, I say “spotted”, it was right in front of us as we left the car park! I’d definitely recommend the Copper Kettle Tea Room if any of you ever walk up The Skirrid. It’s a lovely little place in the middle of the countryside with a cosy patio area, which was amazing in the sun. The food was lovely and cooked fresh with local ingredients, and it didn’t cost too much either.
So there we have it! Raife’s first big adventure.
I’m seemingly unable to write anything that’s less than 1,000 words at the moment. Sorry!