Trail into the unknown

There’s a misconception out there that basically says that adventures have to be grandiose things, expeditions requiring supply drops, remote unexplored territories and, if the weather’s polar, a team of huskies for good measure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking epic adventures and I’m the first to admit I’m captivated by the great tales of exploration out there brought to us by the likes of Shackleton and Magellan.

But we mustn’t forget that the unknown is everywhere around us, and that unless you happen to know every inch of your local area in detail, there’s very likely an unexplored corner of your world just on your doorstep. Seen in this light, adventure is all around us waiting to be had; all it takes is to don on a pair of hiking boots and decide it’s time for a hike.

I’ve been exploring the trail local to chez moi for a few months now, and it never ceases to amaze me how much beauty and tranquility there is packed away in this peaceful little valley in which I live. Not far from my home runs a trail which, in one direction, beelines towards the hills and high moorland around Cwmystwyth, and from which I could strike out onto the rest of the national trail network, hiking or biking as far as the Welsh border, if I wanted to (and further beyond, too). Until now however I haven’t hiked along the trail in the other direction, because that direction heads eventually after a peaceful mile or two towards a well-known Welsh seaside town and it was the direction that led off into the hills that had my interest first.

But the thing is, much as I might be very familiar with the eventual destination of the trail, I hadn’t a baldy what really lay along the route to get there as I hadn’t actually bothered to hike it yet. Therefore, a trail into the unknown lay at my feet, and I decided to hike. I set off under a beautiful blue sky, the storm of the previous evening having well and truly passed through leaving warmth and far more summer-like conditions in its wake. The trail ran along the river, eventually meeting a side trail to a secluded beach, probably known only to locals. As I headed further on, I moved past the disused railway bridge at which there is a junction for a minor road back onto the main road through the valley, and pressed on down the bridleway that led enticingly into the trees beyond.

The trail afforded sweeping views over peaceful meadows, and once again I felt lucky to live in such a beautiful little corner of Wales, with pastoral¬† vistas everywhere I looked and tranquility to be found around every corner. About a mile further on I stopped to take a look at a noticeboard and a few benches placed just off the trail, to discover that Natural Resources Wales had handed the woodland here over to a charity community group who were replanting ancient native species in order to improve biodiversity. They’d set up trails in the forestry beyond, and looking at my map I began hatching a plan for my return route.

I hiked the next mile into the hamlet beyond rapidly, and as the trail dropped down to meet the main road into town a few miles beyond I turned about and began heading back, with the weather still holding up nicely. It wasn’t long before I was back in the forestry again and, taking a more detailed look at the map, I plotted out a route that would take me up to the top of the ridge and then over the farmland beyond, from where I could intercept the tiny minor road that would then drop steeply back into the valley and leave me with only a short walk back to the house.

I set off up the trail taking the highest of the available routes, steadily climbing on the graded tracks. Here and there, information boards had been placed by examples of particular species of tree, including one I couldn’t remember encountering in the UK before, the Noble Fir. As I pressed on I spotted a wooden building through the trees, and sure enough, it looked as though the volunteers who’d built all the benches by the trail below had put together a small shack in the trees, complete with a fully enclosed roof, benches and seats for a group. It had the feeling of a secluded, secret hideaway, nestled as it was amongst the trees, hidden even from the other nearby trails that formed part of the woods. This in a nutshell pointed up what I love about hiking around with no particular aim in mind but to explore all the local trails and side trails. If I’d just stuck to the main trail through the valley below and not come exploring, I’d have had no idea that this place even existed; I felt as though I’d been let in on a secret known only to a few people.

Leaving the shack behind, I pressed on upwards and gained impressive views through the trees to the other side of the valley beyond. Eventually the trail left the treeline and broke out onto high pasture. Crossing fields, I got ever improving views in all directions as I neared the height of the land, before finally topping out as I joined the minor road and got a brilliant view out to Cardigan Bay behind me with the grey-green brooding hills of Plynlimon, Cwmystwyth and the Elan region completing the panorama.

Wherever I go on my travels I try to keep an eye out for good sites for astronomy, and this place seemed ideal. There was an almost completely unobstructed view of the sky in all directions, and high up at the top of the ridgeline overlooking the peaceful valley below, there was no chance of light pollution posing any real problems. With a clear night, especially in winter, this spot should provide an excellent base for observing deep sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the beautiful Triangulum Galaxy, three million light years distant.

As I headed back down the road wended its way through wildflowers, and butterflies were making the most of the sunlight and warmth. It wasn’t long before I was back down at the original trail again, and making the short journey from there back to the house. It had been an enjoyable afternoon hike and, as with all good hikes, I’d found plenty of interesting details just off the beaten track where they’d been waiting to be discovered. If I’d not headed out this afternoon, I’d still be oblivious to the existence of a peaceful hideaway in the woods, and I’d have had no idea that there’s a window to the deep cosmos less than a mile from home. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how to find adventure on your doorstep.

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