The Forest of Dean.

Away Days



Away Days - Out of the Forest.

A Black Mountains Ramble - The Start.

It was dawn on the Big Day - my Birthday and like the 71-year old kid that I am I had to be up to see the first glimmer of morning. I looked out of the double-glazed window from the somewhat over-heated hotel room. The lady on the wireless had said, "Changeable but mainly dry with a little wind." Well, there were blue skies (umm, actually a sort of black with grey bits but I was sure that they would have been blue if it was properly light). Too early to get up, too early to wake Herself up - I made a cup of tea and sat in my pyjamas gazing out of the window.

A very short time later, I awoke again. It seems I had dozed off in mid-cup. The view from the window was now sunnily bright and showed a very cultivated hillside. A scramble of rocks, artfully placed and bushes even more carefully arranged to give contrasting patterns of shape and colour. A beautiful view ... but I wouldn't like to be the gardener.

Finally, 'MyLady' awoke and we chatted and looked at the view from the other window. In the far distance was the locally named "Table Mountain" and hidden behind it and so out of sight was the target for today - the ridge on the far side of Sugar Loaf. We had a pleasant and leisurely breakfast and I checked my two cameras and four batteries and made sure I had my whistle, compass, map, chocolate ... the list went on for ever. I was a bit nervous because this was the first time I had been on a walk with a professional Mountain Guide. Would I be able to keep up ? Would I last the distance ? Perhaps, I ought to have gone and seen the grandchildren and been cossetted by them ... Umm.

The appointed hour, 10 o'clock, came and I reported to Pavel, my guide for the day, and he checked me out, that my boots were on the right feet and that I wasn't out of breath from climbing down the stairs and we were ready to go. "Where are you going to park the vehicle ?" I asked. "Oh, It's not far. We can walk from the Hotel" he replied. I thought of the beautiful but long and distant view from the bedroom window and thought a longer, lingering, "Umm."

Anyway, when push came to shove we were off and I strode along, easily keeping up with Pavel's casual saunter. Down the valley a bit, along through a few cuts and up a bit and then across a very busy road to the bridge across the river. This, of course, is unique - one side of the bridge has one more arch than the other ... Goodness only knows what happens if you canoe your kayak down the wrong cul de sac arch. There are little bays let into the side of the bridge to allow pedestrians to duck out of the way of medieval carts and such. They were quite useful for keeping clear of heavy lorries that seemed to want to share the pavement as well.

After a bit of zigging and zagging through local byways and up past a school we turned into a lovely footpath beside a stream in a long narrow piece of woodland. We rapidly gained a bit of height until we came out, above the houses, and across a field or two with the mountains in the distance before us. A local Welsh donkey, looking very forlorn and sad in its field watched us go by. Then, seeming to understand what we were about, it suddenly cheered up and gave out a great echoing "Hee, Haw - Hee, Hee Haw," of donkey laughter. What, I wondered, did it know that I did not.

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