Marhofn 133.07 - May 2005

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The Strange Subs of Mid Wales

Mark Trengove

What is it about the SubMarilyns? This select group of under-achievers has given me some of my most memorable hillwalking experiences. Take Mynydd Figyn and Mynydd Pencarreg for example (both 31C). I did them as separate walks in October 2004, and had one of my strangest days on the hills of Wales. I parked at the picturesque Tally Abbey and picked off the Marilyn Mynydd Cynros with little trouble, but its neighbour Mynydd Figyn was another matter. I got down to the lane on the north side of the hill without much difficulty and followed it west towards a farm nestling in a valley at Blaenwaun.

This was no tranquil rural scene, however. As I approached the valley I was deafened by the music blasting out of the place. Was it one of those deep rural raves one read about, I wondered? I thought a middle-aged male in hill-running gear might look a little out of place among the ravers, so I beat a hasty retreat. Best not to get involved. Not my scene.

So I detoured. And detoured. And detoured. It was the bullocks I blame. They didn't want to share their field with me. I ended up floundering in a muddy stream, and then the bramble thickets, for at least an hour. I tried to find a way through the 300 metres of forest to the open hill beyond, but only an armadillo would have made progress. There must be thinner forest in the jungles of Borneo, I thought. At least there were no war-painted tribesmen to waylay me.

All in a day's work for a (Sub)Marilynist, I suppose. And so it would have been, but for the bizarre events that followed. I finally tumbled onto the track winding up Mynydd Figyn, but it was more a sort of linear dump. Rusty cars, bottles and loose rubbish were strewn among the ruined cottages that lined the track. It made the approach to Billinge Hill seem like the Palace of Versailles. As I climbed the track I almost stumbled over a pair of young children playing in the dirt. Their faces wore war paint. It was too cold for Borneo though. A ragged young woman rushed out of a nearby caravan, which had seen better days (centuries, in fact), swept the children up with a disapproving look at me, and sped back into the caravan without a word. I realised I must have stumbled upon one of the famous hippy communes of mid Wales. It was a large and pungent settlement full of types who go to have a scrap with the authorities by Stonehenge at midsummer eve.

As expected, the true summit of Mynydd Figyn proved rather elusive, so I visited all the likely spots. The search was enlivened by the approach of two of the local commune inhabitants. One appeared to be streaming with blood down his face and neck. I was unsure whether to beat it or call an ambulance. I was glad I did neither; it was only red body paint. I then made a long and circuitous route around the south side of the two hills along winding lanes back to the car.

I had spent so long on my first route that there was only time for one more quick bag before heading home. I decided on Mynydd Pencarreg, which was to provide a different sort of strangeness. After parking the car at a cattle grid, I followed a lane up onto the open hill and across the moor. Suddenly I turned round to find a friendly sheepdog with wagging tail accompanying me. I had no idea where he had come from, as there were no houses for miles. We walked side by side for several minutes until I stopped to tie a lace. The dog didn't wait for me, but pressed on. As I set off again I saw him as he breasted the hill some 100 metres ahead. When I got to the place where I had last seen him, however, there was no trace of him. All around was a flat featureless moor with no cover, and the lane stretching out straight ahead of me. The dog seemed to have vanished into the thin air whence he had come. Bagging the SubMarilyn seemed rather an anti-climax.

I suppose these two hills summarise the quirky pleasures of obscure hills - you just never know what's round the corner.

A hippy type takes time out from drawing OS maps to enjoy the summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1974

A hippy type takes time out from drawing OS maps to enjoy the summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1974

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