Hiking and Cycling Through a Pandemic

My first training session for the Tŷ Hafan 10nTaff challenge in 2020 took place on 2nd January, with my last on 30th December.  Over those 12 months, I hiked and cycled off-road a total of nearly 1,170 miles.  This involved ascending on foot 82,000 feet and on my mountain bike 47,000 feet.  That equates to climbing Everest from sea level four times or Pen-y-Fan from sea level 91 times in 12 months.

All that training and the challenge gets postponed until July 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic!

As a photographer, the past 12 months have been challenging.  Thankfully, I also work with two fantastic companies as a marketing consultant, which has kept me going.  However, it has meant spending much more time in front of my computer.

Sunset on top of the Garth Hill

When the world stopped turning in March 2020, I changed my working habits.  Throughout my working life, I’ve tended to start early and finish late, but this was a time for change.  I started finishing at between 3pm and 4pm and using that extra time to get out walking and cycling or just to spend time with the family.  I quickly realised that despite a shorter working day, my productivity stayed the same.  In fact, I felt much healthier both physically and mentally.

With the wonderful support of my wife, Jackie, I managed to go out hiking or cycling regularly, something I continued even when the pandemic situation improved in the summer.

With Welsh Government advice to stay local, the vast majority of my walks and cycle rides have been from or near to my home in Church Village near Pontypridd in South Wales.  This forced me to explore my local area, which has been a revelation.  I have found hidden worlds tucked away from the world.

Hiking and Cycling 1170 miles Ascending 149,000 Feet

In 12 months, I have hiked 688 miles, climbing 82,000 feet, with only two trips to Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons.  I have explored the Garth Hill, the tips of the old Cwm Coke Works near Beddau, the Smilog Woods near Llantrisant, the hills around Rudry, and parts of the Ridgeway walk around Caerphilly.  I have watched the seasons change before my eyes, with plant life and nature leaving their own distinctive mark on each season.

Off road cycling is a little different, but once again all local and mostly around the Garth Hill.  I managed 480 miles, climbing nearly 47,000 feet.

Hiking and cycling has been in all weathers, including heavy rain, thick fog, hot sunshine, and biting cold.  And I am not lying when I say I loved every minute.

Great Local Routes

I’ve found some great local walks with amazing views.  In South Wales we are blessed with some incredible countryside.  The mix of hills and valleys, woods and ferns, create a dramatic landscape.  Here are four great walks.

Garth Hill

The Garth Hill (located near Pentyrch) has become a very popular walk for people around Cardiff.  On a good day, the views stretch as far as Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons and across the Severn Estuary to Western-super-Mare.  I tend to walk up from Efail Isaf with a wide variety of routes providing hikes between 4 and 7 miles.  There are some steep climbs and some of the less known routes can get a little muddy.  And there are lots of lesser known paths which keep you away from the masses.

View from Garth Hill looking towards Caerphilly

Cwm Coke Works (near Beddau)

Only a few miles away from my home, but once there it’s like being in another world.  I am fascinated by our Welsh industrial history and when I wander up and around the old tips I see how that industry has formed our present day landscape.  It’s also amazing to see how nature has taken hold of the old tips, with trees and bushes thriving in the untouched environment.

Cwm Coke Works near Beddau

Rudry Mountain

In my early teens I spent hours cycling and walking up to Rudry Mountain from my home town in Caerphilly.  This year, after dropping off groceries to my parents, I returned to the woods and hills around Rudry.  I explored new routes, walking up and around the main hill and onto the village of Rudry itself.  In the middle of summer, I was often walking through ferns that towered above me.

Sitting on top of Rudry Mountain

Craig-yr-Allt (near Nantgarw)

Another little known route, and part of the Rideway Walk, is Craig-yr-Allt.  This was one of my regular evening walks, starting in Nantgarw and walking up Craig-yr-Allt and across to the top of Caerphilly Mountain.  A 4 to 6 mile up and down walk along a ridge with amazing views and some stunning heather.

View from Craig-yr-Allt towards the Garth Hill and Taffs Well

Once a Photographer, Always a Photographer

And, of course, being a photographer, I’ve been armed with a camera at all times.  I’ve taken photos on my mobile phone, my small Canon IXUS, my aged Canon 1000D, my Canon 6D (nice and light, ideal for walking) and my favourite Canon 5D (a bit heavy, but always the best for colour).  I’ve photographed sun rises and sun sets, the aftermath of Storm Dennis, birds of prey, flooded woodland, and old industrial landscapes.  I have discovered amazing hidden worlds that exist less that a few miles from my home.  I’ve recorded the gradual dismantling of the Cwm Coke Works in Beddau whilst walking over the old tips now overgrown with trees and bushes.

Even though 2020 has been a difficult and strange year, it gave me the opportunity to explore.  Despite never being far from my home, at times it was like being a million miles away from civilisation.  I often wouldn’t see a soul for hours.  And as I explored, I photographed these beautiful changing worlds.  A small selection of the photographs I have taken is on my website and thank you to the people who have been in touch and purchased prints.

Flooded woodland in near Cwm Coke Works

As we move into 2021, my training continues.  The rescheduled 10nTaff challenge to raise much-needed funds for Tŷ Hafan (the children’s hospice based in Sully South Wales) is set for July 1st to July 3rd.  Over 3 days we plan to climb the 5 highest mountains in north and then south Wales, before cycling off-road from Brecon to Cardiff.  All within 55 hours.  It’s one heck of a challenge, but I will be part of an amazing team of Dads, Uncles, sponsors and staff.

I am sure that I am not alone in exploring locally in 2020.  I am fortunate to have such an amazing playground on my doorstep and I can only imagine how difficult lockdown must be for those living in inner cities.  At times, it was my wife, Jackie, who had to encourage me to get out, but once I was in my hiking boots or on my bike I felt like a different person.  There is still more to explore.  There are paths I’ve seen that I want to walk.  There are routes I want to cycle.

Now it’s time to get my boots back on and get out for another walk.

Paul Fears is an industrial and commercial photographer based in South Wales, UK.