On the longest night of the year – the 21stDecember – with the sun setting at 4.06pm and rising at 8.16am, my friend Lowri and I walked through the night – all 16 hours and 10 mins of it (and a little bit more to get to the finish).
This is a challenge that no matter where you live in the UK you can do – you don’t need beautiful scenery (wont see it anyway), a complicated route (who wants to do intricate map reading through farm houses and fields at 3.30am with dogs barking at you?) or facilities (as they will be closed). It’s something you can do right from your doorstop whether you live in the middle of the countryside or the middle of a city.
At the start, looking enthusiastic
Distance:- 36 miles
Height gained:- 1450m ascent
Key to success – happy feet, simple route, good partner and wine gums
The weather forecast for the night was predicted as mild temperature, heavy rain and gale force winds – pretty much what the rest of December had already been (wettest and mildest December on record for the UK). It started out clear and dry, and walking through the Beacons was lovely, with the mountains silhouetted by the moonlight.
Having a drink at the last port of call
The predicted heavy rain arrived for several hours, and when that petered to a drizzle and finally stopped, the winds really picked up and whooshed frantically through the trees. The sound was unnerving, as it was all around us. Lowri also took this opportunity to tell me the story of how she was almost killed by a falling tree! Great story…
We decided to keep the route fairly simple – using a mixture of the Taff Trail, country roads, canal towpaths, bridleways and a few paths through fields towards the end where the route was familiar.
Merthyr Tydfil – Talybont-on-Usk (Taff Trail) – Crickhowell (canal towpath) – Llanbedr (country lane) – Pandy (bridleways, country lane and finally footpaths)
full of beans
I took a lot of goodies with me, thinking that 16 hours of walking would require lots of fuel – cheese roll, pasty, jelly babies, chocolate, nuts, fruit and a big flask of tea. We stopped at Ponsticill for a hot meal about 6.30pm, and stopped again at Talybont at 11.15 for a break under the bridge. After that, didn’t really eat anything again, apart from a few nuts and jelly babies, until toast and tea at Pandy at 8.30am! Body clocks are funny old things, so even though we walked for over nearly 15 hours – I ate less than I would if I just walked for a couple of hours in the day. Saying that, if I were to do this adventure again, I would still pack lots of food in the rucksack – nothing worse than ‘bonking’ on the hill.
One of the biggest challenges of the night was the lack of scenery, especially during the canal towpath section. This coincided with the worst of the rain, so we essentially trudged for several hours, feeling tired and trying to avoid the muddy sections of the path (impossible). This section did bring one of the highlights though – spotting and watching an otter. An animal I have not seen in the wild before and simply lovely to watch.
looking not so full of beans
Underfoot was very muddy and the bridleways that we chose were particularly bad, one was essentially a stream. At 4am – the night at its darkest – wading through water and deep mud, I got a breech way above the boot that resulted in wet feet for the final 4 hours. Luckily, as it was mild and we kept moving, it didn’t really feel that bad, just a bit squelchy.
The most challenging aspect of this mini-adventure was not the weather, the darkness or the 36 miles on the muscles or joints but on the bottoms of my feet. The last couple of hours were particularly sore. This came as somewhat of a surprise as I have lovely walking boots that have been good to me. I have since had a conversation with my brother who told me how he and his colleagues (in the army) deal with long marches – I will be trying this method out in the next few months and will let you know if it works.
So, 16 1/2 hours through the night? What are my thoughts? Well, it was hard. One of the physically hardest things I have done in a little while. Would I do it again? Now my feet have recovered, definitely J
Essentials – other than the usual clothing and food:-
- Head torches – Lowri’s was particularly good, a CREE head torch
- Wine gums – I have discovered veggie ones in M&S, my hiking life has now been transformed!
- A good walking partner – thanks Lowri for being the only one to say ‘yes’
- An emergency supporter – thanks James, glad you didn’t have to leave your warm cosy bed to come and get us
The finish! (and photobombed by George the Cat)
Cost:- cheap (just lots of yummy M&S snacks and a pub dinner)
Logistical ease:- Medium – you need a good route, transport to start/finish and an emergency helper on-call is recommended
Adventure rating:- ****