Crickhowell Walking Festival
PUBLISHED: 14:09 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:35 20 February 2013
Chris Poole looks forward to the Crickhowell Walking Festival which promises exercise for walkers of all abilities in glorious countryside
Ledbury has its poetry festival, Hay-on-Wye its book festival. Hereford has the Three Choirs festival. Our region has an abundance of events to occupy us, to stimulate us and to enjoy. Crickhowell is different it has something aimed at keeping us fit while sampling and savouring the amazing natural resource on our very doorstep. On 27 February 2010, the Crickhowell Walking Festival will open, bringing a wealth of activities to the area.
Inspired by walking enthusiast David Thomas the festival first appeared in 2008. It presented an opportunity to explore the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, combining the health benefits of exercise with, for those from further afield, mini-breaks away from home. David describes the origins of the festival: We wanted to develop something that would provide a focus for visitors at a time of the year when we are not, traditionally, fully occupied with tourists. Spring is an obvious time with nature starting to show her full panoply as the countryside emerges from winter. A series of guided walks supported by talks and exhibitions proved very popular in 2008, grew to around 500 participants in 2009 and looks set to be even bigger in 2010.
Visit Crickhowell and the relevance of basing a Walking Festival here becomes obvious. Sitting comfortably in the Usk Valley with the sandstone features of the Black Mountains rising to the north and the cave-rich limestone of the Brecon Beacons to the south it is at the heart of magnificent, open country. Upland moorland rather than mountainous, the terrain suits walking at all levels of fitness and ability. A glance at the programme for 2010 shows more than 60 walks during the nine days of the festival. The levels range from easy meaning no steep climbs and a gentle pace to strenuous requiring fitness and stamina with several uphill climbs and likely to last all day. There are moderate and energetic walks in between the two extremes. All have experienced and qualified leaders. Careful preparation and contingency planning ensures that walkers remain safe.
The organisers have planned a range of events around the theme of walking. Star billing for 2010 is given to Doug Scott CBE. This world-famous mountaineer, the first to conquer the south-west face of Everest, will be giving a talk entitled Life and Hard Times, during the evening of March 5th in Crickhowells Clarence Hall. Other attractions include courses in mapreading, navigation and first aid. Children will find fun and games at an Adventure Day with the RAF. Music and films, pub quizzes and the festivities of the traditional twmpath (Welsh equivalent of the Scottish ceilidh) on St Davids Day (March 1st) all contribute to the festivals appeal.
This year the Walking Festival will be raising funds for Help for Heroes, supporting members of our armed forces injured in the service of their country. Squadron Leader Matt Larsson-Clifford, Commanding Officer of the RAFs Training Camp near Crickhowell, explains: Weve been involved with the Walking Festival from the outset. Its important to us that our service personnel are engaged within the community. We have the people and the skills right here at the camp to lead the most challenging of the walks. Sgt Rob Davies is one of those experts. He describes the most demanding walk of the festival in the remote wilderness of the Black Mountain: Those who tackle this will start out before first light and can expect to cover about 35 km in wild and hilly terrain. Well see the sites of half a dozen crashed aircraft which include a wartime Lancaster bomber and a Vulcan which suffered a disastrous navigation equipment failure.
For a small town Crickhowell is particularly well endowed as a local centre. The River Usk marks the southwest edge of the town with a slightly skewed bridge linking it to Llangattock. The main road between Abergavenny and Brecon runs more or less parallel to the river but meanders through Crickhowell with a marked pinch-point where the High Street arrives at the Bear Hotel. Its hard to escape the feeling that that corner of the hotel should have suffered from the predations of modern traffic colliding with the corner of the building but there is no obvious evidence of this.
The High Street has a fine array of shops including two family department stores, butchers, a baker, a newsagent and, importantly, an outdoor clothing and equipment shop. Crickhowell Adventure has been serving the needs of walkers and cavers for almost 30 years. Manager Jane Bradbury says: The Walking Festival gives a much-needed boost not just to us but to all of the towns retailers, cafes and B&Bs.
Crickhowells High Street is portrayed in quilted wall-hangings in the towns Resource and Information Centre. Here, the street has been replicated in scraps and remnants of fabrics painstakingly sewn together. You can step along this miniature street and, says the Centres Facilities Officer Suzette Pratton: Its not just the buildings that have been reproduced you can recognise some of the towns characters too.
Doug Scott, telling of his exploits on the worlds highest mountains, has a particular resonance in Crickhowell. A little to the north-west of the town, in the foothills of the Black Mountains, is a building known as the Manor House of Gwernvale. A hotel now, in the 18th century this was the family home and birthplace of someone who was to go far beyond the hills and mountains of his homeland to become a geographer and map-maker. And in recognition of his dedication and work as Surveyor-General of India, the worlds most famous peak was named after him. George Everest, later Colonel Sir George Everest, was a son of Crickhowell.
How fitting, then, that a Walking Festival should be based here. We can only speculate that George Everest would have approved. But Crickhowells inhabitants today can take pride in something that puts their town even more firmly on the map.