Getting to know a place. And as a consequence, yourself......

As I sat on the summit of Fan Foel, at the start of a bank holiday weekend in May, watching a mind-bendingly incredible light show, dance around this glacier carved landscape, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander back over the countless other times I’d been perched on this exact same spot, at the exact same time of day. Each unique, special, and offering much reward in it’s own way. For Fan Foel is as good a place to watch the sun go down in the Beacons, or indeed Wales, as any I have had the pleasure of bearing witness to. And with each visit, under that evenings unique conditions, the characteristics of this vista change wildly, with the eyes drawn to light painted grooves on Picws Du, or the glacial moraine dotted with grazing sheep, or even the lake - Llyn Y Fan Fach, set deep in shadow, fading into the hillside.

This area, The Carmarthen Fans, is where I call home. I’ve lived in its foothills and basked in their presence for the last 6 years. I think, as a result maybe, that I am rarely more comfortable, or “at home” , than I am with a tent set up on the windy shores of Llyn Y Fan Fawr, or laid out in my bivvy bag along the impressive ridgeline of Fan Hir, with the majesty of the western Beacons, aka The Fforest Fawr Geopark, set out in front of me. The scale of the Brecon Beacons National Park is clearly evident from here too, like in the views-for-miles perch of Twr Y Foel, a bronze age burial cairn on the northern aspect of Fan Brycheiniog, where you can see from Carreg Cennen Castle in the West, to Hay Bluff in the east, as well as, on clearer days, the Cambrian Mountains to the North. I visit again and again, easily spending 3 or 4 nights a month here, often more, in rain, wind, sun & snow, and sometimes, thanks to our wonderful Welsh weather, all of them in one together.

Living so close, and visiting so regularly, affords me the privilege of getting to know this place, not just the paths, cairns and topography, but also it’s many moods and faces, and of the unique and varied impact being exposed to those conditions, would have on whatever mental state I found myself that day, for there are many reasons I head out on to my local hills. Often it’s to seek counsel, and take advantage of the many years of wisdom the landscape has acquired, using the space and freedom to reflect. Whilst others, it can be for the sheer pleasure of the walk itself and the near sadistic joys had from pushing yourself up that first lofty climb from Glyntawe on to Fan Hir, or to share it’s dark skies with some like minded folk and marvel at the light of distant planets reflecting off the near black rippled night time waters of Llyn Y Fan Fawr.

For me to truly enjoy a mountain, much like a person, I need to spend time with them at their worst, as well as their best. And In doing so, in pushing on up the steep, stepped climb to the Bwlch between Fan’s Hir and Brycheiniog, knowing full well that the fog is as thick as custard up top, you get to know and appreciate your own limits, or lack of. The relationship between person and mountain is established, ie they’re the boss. It’s an empowering, challenging and deeply introspective experience that will always leave you feeling that little bit stronger, even if the strength has come from the sense to say this is far enough today. As, whilst the chosen summit is often seen as the destination, it is the steps that take us there that are most important and the ones that offer the greatest change / reward…

But if conditions, both the environmental, physical and emotional, are right, the rewards can be great!