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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

One Week in Wales: Day Seven

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Image: Lorna Holland
Missed the last instalment? Catch up here

The morning of our last full day dawned crisp and clear, weak sunlight filtering down over Brecon and casting a hazy glow over the distant mountain tops surrounding the town. Despite still feeling a little tired from yesterday's excursions, we vowed to make the most of the day and round off our holiday in style before the long drive home the following day. To that end, as we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast supplied by the lovely Gail, we finalised the plans we had already outlined the night before.

After all, a delicious meal of a full Welsh breakfast (for him) and a toasted muffin with smoked salmon (for me) was the perfect fuel for climbing a mountain.

Yes, you read that right. To make up for the lack of proper walking we'd been able to do throughout the trip thanks to my illness, we decided to give it one last hurrah and really go for broke. Although Brecon is surrounded by many hills and mountains (the Beacons really are spectacular) there is one in particular which dominates the skyline and always draws the eye. Pen y Fan - the highest mountain in South Wales. It's imposing, it's challenging, and we were about to tackle it on a quest to reach the summit at 886 metres above sea level.

Despite constant reassurances that we didn't have to do it if I wasn't feeling up to it, I was determined not to let the glandular fever beat me. Both of us share the common trait of extreme stubbornness, but luckily, this can also play to your favour as it prevents you from giving in, providing that extra source of motivation to keep you going to the very end.

Being somewhat notorious for my terrible sense of direction, I left him in charge of the route and instead, focused on mentally preparing myself for the challenge to come. Admittedly, these preparations could have been much better, as I remembered to lug my camera the whole way up the mountain but didn't think to bring even one bottle of water between us. For someone under doctor's orders to stay hydrated, that really wasn't my smartest move.

Regardless, it was too late to turn back now. The heights of Pen y Fan awaited us.

Despite thinking we had selected the easiest route up the mountain, it turns out somewhere we had gone wrong and actually ended up on a much more challenging trail. After an initial steep climb, the path then alternated between misleadingly flat lulls and ridiculously steep inclines, with little in-between.

The whole way up and down is meant to only take a few hours, but at my pace, peppered with continual rest stops, it took us a lot longer. Still, this wasn't a problem, as we took things in our stride and had plenty of opportunities to check out the stunning scenery as we got increasingly higher up the mountainside. We also had the added bonus, if you could call it that, of a helicopter constantly flying to and fro above our heads, tasked with the mission of bringing sacks of materials to help rebuild another footpath.

However, while the scenery was undoubtedly stunning, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it was easy. Dealing with glandular fever isn't exactly a walk in the park at the best of times, so deciding to climb a mountain while still suffering probably wasn't the smartest idea I've ever had. Still, I'm stubborn, I was determined, and no matter how long it took, I was going to reach the summit.

And that's just what I did.

pen-y-fan, mountain, summit, wales, couple
Image: Lorna Holland
The journey up was probably one of the most difficult things I've done. I had neared my limits, both mentally and physically, but I just kept going - I refused to allow myself to give up. The climb made the both of us tackle our demons and face our fears, yet the fact that we helped one another and pushed ourselves to make it together is something that really stood out to me then and still does now as I look back. And let me tell you something - standing on the summit of Pen y Fan, looking down on Brecon like a tiny chocolate box town below, was the best feeling in the world. With my man by my side, it truly felt as though we were on top of the world; we had conquered our challenge.

By the time we had finally made it back to the car and gulped down plenty of water, time was ticking on. I was in no fit state to do anything and he wasn't faring much better, so we headed off in search of Crickhowell and our final night's destination.

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After stopping off for a well-deserved meal at Prezzo in nearby Abergavenny, we checked into our hotel for the night, the luxurious Manor Hotel. The hotel is situated on the hillside and gives stunning views across the valley (even though our window looked out on a flat roof, a whitewashed wall and a kitchen vent) and was by far the most upmarket stay of our trip. Of course, when we discovered the room came with complimentary use of the on-site swimming pool and spa facilities, we were definitely glad we saved this till last!

Deciding this would be just the way to ease our aching muscles, we instantly headed down to check out the facilities. The pool and spa were virtually empty, meaning we had the complex pretty much to ourselves, so we busied ourselves making full use of the pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. By the time we left, we felt refreshed and invigorated - the perfect antidote to a long day of mountain hiking!

Dinner that evening was enjoyed at a local pub in the village. It was nothing particularly fancy, but we enjoyed the food and made the most of each other's company nonetheless, reflecting on our week and looking back on the experiences we had shared.

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Image: Lorna Holland
After all, taking the leap to go on holiday with someone for the first time can be quite a nerve-wracking experience, especially given our on-the-go travel itinerary and my current health issues. But despite that, we both agreed the trip was a resounding success - we made countless memories and shared some amazing times together. This week will be one which I will remember for the rest of my life - I'm just glad to have shared it with you.

Have you enjoyed reading One Week in Wales? Let me know in the comments below!

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