Written by Kathy Philips, Year 10 parent

My daughter absolutely loved doing the Bronze hike for Duke of Edinburgh (DOE) scheme, so when we got the email from Mrs Cronnelly planning a hike for parents, I jumped at it. Allison Cronnelly (Alli) is the DofE co-ordinator at NWC and I’d already met her through my daughter, so knew how well planned the hike would be.  An information evening followed, which made us even more excited and we met Lou who was also going to be working on the expedition. Our hike would be the Silver DofE equivalent: approx. 42 kilometres over 3 days across the Welsh beacons.  Beautiful Welsh countryside and mountains – who could ask for more? We would hike across 4 mountain ranges: the Black Mountains, Central Beacons, Fforest Fawr and the Black Mountain/Y Mynydd Du.

On Friday 2 Sept, 13 very excited parents, together with Alli and Lou, left NWC on a coach. It was so great getting to know everyone, especially as we had our children in common, ranging from Year 2 all the way to Year 13. We arrived in Ystradfellte, Wales just after lunch where we met up with Andy who was going to transport our heavier items in his van so we only had to carry a lightish day pack! Our first hike was 15 kilometres, with a 530 metre ascent. It was stunning, and the perfect start to our trip. As we soaked up the gorgeous sunshine, you could literally feel all the stress of deadlines, kids, traffic and schedules melting away with each step we took. The weather? It was fantastic – sunny, but not too hot, and not at all the rain we’d been expecting. Some of our phones had no coverage on the mountain, so after the initial panic of not being contactable, it was great. No social media for 3 days! The hike took about 5 hours, the scenery was fantastic – grassy moorlands, and Old Red sandstone peaks. As well as sheep, we saw horses and their foal roaming free. One of them stood there looking at us for a long time, in what felt like a mystical moment.

After our hike, we arrived at the camp site, in what felt like middle of nowhere! The facilities were basic but clean, and yes, we had to put up our own tents. It wasn’t hard, and you get a real sense of achievement when it’s up. The area was actually part of a working sheep farm – you got to watch sheep being herded by a sheep dog, fascinating. Our actual camp site was surrounded on 3 sides by fields housing sheep, hundreds and hundreds of them, and a single gorgeous very tall brown horse! The sheep had just been moved from another area, so they were getting used to the new fields – this meant there was constant bleating on the first day as they were checking on each other. It was so touching and endearing… at first! Perhaps they knew of the torrential rain which came at 4am; rain and camping don’t usually mix well, but we stayed dry. The rain didn’t last long, and then we were back to enjoying the sheep orchestra which promptly started again, with the sheep now fully refreshed after their brief rest!


The following morning we got up, bleary eyed, and hiked to the foot of Pen Y Fan. Before we tackled the climb, for breakfast there was a van there cooking everything from egg rolls, to bacon butties. Everyone loved it. Maybe it was the clean air, or the 11 minute deep sleep I’d had (according to my fitbit!) but I can honestly say that was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. I wish I could go there every day.

Now for the big climb: Pen Y Fan. As the tallest mountain in South Wales, with an 886m ascent, it is used and loved by the locals, young and old. It is so tall that the peak is above cloud and tree lines. It was humbling to see men and women in their 70 and 80s hiking with little effort up there, and some even running. So different to some of us! There is also a real community spirit as locals meet up with friends on the walk, stop and chat. It is also used by special forces from all over the world, mostly for one reason: you can guarantee atrocious weather, which is exactly what you need for military training. Despite this, the weather was largely dry for most of our climb. We had to dig deep to make it to the top using walking poles, knee braces, and sheer will power. We talked about everything from our kids, to marriage to oil pipelines – anything to distract you from the effort you’re putting in! With every step, we could see why it is used as a Duke of Edinburgh Silver Expedition hike, and we even came across a group of school children from Cardiff doing exactly that. It was so touching watching them as they motivated, pushed and encouraged each other. We imagined our own NWC daughters in that group, and all Alli’s words about how much the scheme helps the girls made perfect sense.

We finally made it to the top, and by now the weather decided to live up to its reputation – rain and howling wind. Visibility was poor, but nothing could take away our sense of achievement.  We’d made it! Yippee! There were loads of people up there, young and old, all grinning and taking their turn to have their picture taken at the summit.

During the hike down the visibility improved, so we could soak up the incredible scenery – patchwork fields far, far below us. Shades of gold, yellow and green, kissed by the sun’s rays, as far as the eye could see. Some of the group described it as enchanting, stunning and breathtaking. For me, it was like someone had given nature a paintbrush, and asked it to put together its best work. Wonderful.

We did a total of 46,400 steps that day, but I know some of the group hiked even more trails that day!

The campsite on the second night was fantastic –  really pretty, with clean hot showers, and not a sheep in sight! Instead there was an orchard full of fragrant apples you could pick yourself. A pub dinner was another welcome sight with yummy food, great company and a really friendly landlady. Some of us went to bed shortly after dinner (too shattered), but I know some of the group had to be practically thrown out at closing time!


This morning we felt the effects of the long climb the previous day, with our calf muscles complaining big time. Ibuprofen gel and tablets, anyone?  Alli & Lou’s experience showed through because they’d only planned a gentle 10km hike next to a canal, after breakfast in a local café of course! The walk was so relaxing, and we got to talk to many of the locals – volunteers who worked the locks, and saw long canal boats gently gliding down the waterways. Canals were not made for speed, so you feel yourself visibly relaxing as you walk there. Wild apple, plum and pears lined the sides together with the ever present bramble. It was breathtaking watching the sun’s rays bouncing off the water, while munching on wild blackberries. We stopped time and again to drink it all in, arriving at our end point just in time for the coach to bring us back to Northwood. Our muscles ached (climbing down the coach steps took a long time) but our faces carried the biggest grins.

In the pub on the second night, we had talked about the highlights for everyone. Here are a few: the sense of collaboration as we encouraged and supported each other up those mountains; watching one of the dads do the washing up on the first night, closely supervised by 4 mums; getting to experience what our daughters will do, lucky girls; the friendships we made – I really missed them the following day, but we’re definitely staying in touch; Alli, Lou and Andy – incredibly wonderful and inspiring. We had such a nice time, Alli is planning another one for next year. I can’t wait, but maybe I’ll take some ear plugs with me next time.