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Leventon's Line. Solo Unsupported Run By Matt ‘Moley’ Hand.

(A trip to the seaside for an over 60).
June 9/10th 2013.

A baking hot Sunday afternoon in June and I was sat at the bus station in Barmouth, surrounded by the worst excesses of a Welsh seaside town, a screeching funfair, the pervasive smell of fried chips, a procession of wobbling pink bellies and a mixture of regional English accents. Strangely, I knew I would be very happy to return back here the following day.

I jumped on the bus and handed the driver my bus pass, “A single to Llangollen please, I’ll be running back” I told him; he gave me the kind of look reserved for the slightly dotty elderly, so I sat back in the packed bus and enjoyed the 2 hour ride, looking out on many of the hill ranges I would soon be crossing. I alighted at the bottom end of Llangollen, checked my watch and set off at 6.25pm on a fine and hot summer evening. I had been waiting the opportunity for this run and with the weather due to break in 48 hours I decided to go for it now. Because I suffer badly in the heat I thought an evening start would give me the best of the cooler weather, my only concern was the new moon which promised a very dark night for navigation, my concerns were justified.

I started with a pack weighing 12.5lbs which included 1.75l of water, I reckoned I wouldn’t find a water supply over the Berwyns, but hoped to pick some up very soon after (I was wrong).So with a loaded pack on my back I was soon sweating up the first hill in the evening heat and drinking my precious water. Once past Finger Farm it was a gorgeous summer evening on top, dry underfoot, great views and feeling fresher as the sun set, I set into a comfortable rhythm careful not to push the pace, regularly sipping water and stopping to eat on every hour, I felt great. By Cadair Berwyn the light was fading but I thought I could reach the road without my torch so I pushed on harder, inevitably somewhere between Moel Sych and the next cairn I followed the wrong trod and drifted off down the slope too early, out with the map and torch and retrace my steps, I was relieved to find the duckboards and made Milltir Gerrig in 5hr 5mins.

It is only 200m to the fence line opposite, so I crossed the road and went straight up the incline, another mistake, by not taking a bearing for those 200m I drifted southwards in the blackness, wondering where the fence had gone, pause, another sort out and re-orientation back on the correct line. The ground underfoot up the fence line was horrible in the dark, I fell down sink holes which were now dry, and so I wasn’t alerted to them by the usual sound of underground running water, I was very lucky to avoid serious injury and proceeded even slower and with more care. I floundered up through the long heather and grass in the dark and was mighty relieved to eventually find Cwm-Sian Llwyd trig in my head torch beam, but already well off my planned pace. From here I walked on compass bearings South Westwards keeping to the higher ground till I met the long track and began running again at last. My big concern now was water, I was dry, thirsty and unable to eat without water, I knew if I didn’t find some in this section I may have to abandon the run as I would not recover from the dehydration if I carried on much longer. I reckoned my best chance would be as I lost height towards the minor road and as I jogged down the track I started to see some dampness in the peat banks and drainage gullies, fingers crossed for something drinkable. I reached the minor road crossing in 3hr 10m, oh so slow, slow, slow, but still in one piece with no accidents.

A drain pipe ran under the road with a trickle of water into a small pool, I peered into the pool and my torch beam illuminated its occupants, tadpoles paddled around in the weed, assorted water beetles beetled about and a solitary newt lay on the mud and glared back up at me malevolently. Springwatch from a Welsh puddle. I drank deeply, avoided the bugs and filled my bottles – my first water supply in over 8 hours – I could carry on.

I had never been over the next section so I took a bearing up Foel Y Geifr and bee lined it, battling through the thick heather was hard work and I wished for some light to pick out a trod perhaps. More plodding over the rough moorland on assorted compass bearings followed; as the pitch black night started to break, grouse alarm calls followed my path through the seemingly endless peat hags and heather. I longed for some proper daylight and visibility to show me some features to orientate by and give me the confidence to push on. But when daylight arrived it was accompanied by a thick mist and I could see little more than when it was pitch dark, humbug, there was no alternative to a slow and steady plod. During this grinding slog I had some strong mental battles over quitting. I was frustrated by my lack of progress, I had nobody to blame for any navigation errors, I had nobody to have a ‘sense of humour losses’ with, I was fed up with falling over, I simply wanted to sit down have a little cry and go home. But if I did that, I would have to come back and try again, returning here a second time appealed even less than continuing forward, so I had a little talk to myself and forward I continued. Eventually I bumped into a fence line and rattled down to the road. Botheration, wrong road, another 1/2mile back up to Bwylch y Groes - when will I eventually learn to put my glasses on and check the map every time? A 2hrs 30m section completed.

Bwlch Y Groes, I was now on ground I knew well and the long climbs start, but my legs felt shattered from the heather bashing and the sack weight was taking its toll (though I am steadily eating my way through the contents), I knew I must take it steady, be disciplined and look after myself with regular stops. I decided to fill both my water bottles at every opportunity despite the added weight, from here on I knew only 3 definite water stops to the end, so I filled up in the next valley and climbed up Foel Hafod-fynydd. From this top I could see nothing, there should be inspiring views of the Aran ridge and the lake below the cliffs, but the mist was so thick I never even glimpsed the water despite passing virtually alongside Creiglyn Dyfi on my way up the grassy slope onto the Aran ridge.

As I neared the top of Aran Fawddwy I broke through the cloud in the final 50ft, to the north, Snowdonia was bathed in sunlight, but the ridges I would traverse held back a solid bank of cloud from the south, which not another single peak showed through. So I stopped and sat in the morning sun for a few minutes enjoying its warmth and admired the views northwards, before plunging back down into the murk; it was decidedly cold and yucky on the run across and up to Glasgwm. I am fond of Glasgwm, I have spent a few nights up there wild camping, pitching my tent open to the east to catch the first rays of morning sunlight, happy memories but no place to linger in the cold this morning. I walked down to Llyn y Fifn and filled my bottles again; here I once observed a springtime frog orgy of such obscene proportions it would have shamed the Romans; but no more frogs, just tadpoles in my water today. So onwards to the Bwlch Oerddrws crossing which I reached in 4hrs 10m.

I climbed up through Craig y Bwlch onto the ridge and along to the Waun-Oer trig where the cloud had now burnt off and the sun was warming the day – it promised another hot one. Then some easy jogging through Mynydd Ceiswyn and down the footpath route, where I filled my bottles for the final time then crossed the A487 and started the steep climb opposite. A 1hr 50min section.

Being a clear day the usual keen photographers were out on the slope up to Gau Graig. If you have ever wondered what sort of interesting birds they expect capture on film, it is of course some rather large ones – this being part of the famous “Mach Loop”: http://www.pbase.com/derekslater/loop&page=all . I left them to their fun and ground my way to the top of Mynydd Moel at a speed Tonkins would have been ashamed by (Tonkins is our 100+ year old pet tortoise), wispy cloud still skittered over the ridge as I jogged towards the Penygadair trig in the happy knowledge that all serious climbing was now behind me. The descent of the rock strewn Pony path was painful on the soles of my feet, which were now very sore and I felt a blister ‘pop’, ouch, there was also considerable heat in the sun and my water was low again, the hard work was done and I wanted the finish. Back on softer grass I followed the final ridge run over Craig Las and onto Craig y Llyn, from this point I had mentally positioned the last trig, Pen y Garn, as ‘just round the corner’ (I have no idea why, wishful thinking?), so as I topped Craig y Llyn and saw it 2 ½ running miles away my little heart sank again. I slogged my way over there, touched the final trig and set off on the pleasant downhill jog to the bridge. As I crossed what felt like that “never ending” bridge run, I looked down on an angler on the sands beneath me, who had just landed a nice Bass of over 4lbs, for a second I kind of wished I had gone fishing instead, but the thought passed.

The final jog through town to the station and that was it. I went into the co-op, bought a celebratory ice cream and bottle of lucozade and sat on a bench in the still blazing sun; a pair of middle aged women puffed on their ciggies, ate their chips and scrutinised my sweaty, smelly and knackered body whilst muttering disapprovingly. I knew I would be happy being back in Barmouth!

This last section was 5hrs 5m and I stopped the watch at 21hrs 50mins. I had followed Yiannis’s 2005 route variation with the logical conclusion at the final trig, but there are options to lengthen or shorten this depending on one’s requirements or how knackered you feel on the day. A more leisurely expedition with an overnight wild camp offers many more opportunities for fun on the hills.

In conclusion, I think the route lends itself nicely to the unsupported runner and it’s achievable by those of average ability who want to test themselves on a long trip out in wild country, but are not out to break any records. This was my first ever attempt at something solo like this and if I can do it, so can you. Sections 2 & 3 are pretty hard graft mentally and physically, they do need a patient approach and acceptance that you may go slowly, and don’t attempt them at night, work their schedule around daylight. There are regular buses from Barmouth (it’s the Wrexham bus), you can find unrestricted parking in or very close to town for your car, so everything is in place to do this trip solo or with a mate at short notice. Good forecast, pack a bag, off you go.

I carried in my KIMM sack:
3/4l Fairy Liquid bottle for drinking water + 1l spare bladder to top-up.
1 x 500gr cooked pizza (with extra toppings, yummy).
6 x bread rolls – 580 gr (peanut butter & jam, marmite).
Golden syrup cake – 210gr (the one thing I couldn’t finish eating)
Salted peanuts – 115 grams, I can always eat these and good for taking in salt.
Chocolate/caramel bars – 155gr. I saved these for the very last section, no problems eating them then.
I x sachet of lime ‘Vitafresh’ (from New Zealand) just a powdered juice additive, nothing fancy.
Survival bag, first aid, spare thermal tights, PHD Minimus down jacket (for emergencies), old Gore-Tex top as a windproof, Myo XP head torch + spare batteries, maps & compass, Mountain King Trail Blaze poles, assorted personal ‘bits & pieces’. I ran all the way in short sleeved T shirt (+ the windproof top at night), shorts and Sportiva Crosslites – which are now slightly trashed.

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