II’m under the moonlight, the moonlight in earnest, and my imagination is in overdrive. Surrounded by vast rock mounds – the chaotic remnants of 2,000-year-old ramparts – I envision skinned families huddled around their flock in the roundhouse, safe from the harsh winter cold, howling wolves and marauding Celtic tribes.
My overactive mind is excusable. The potent combination of a dazzling snowy moon and an enigmatic hilltop ruin is guaranteed to stimulate the senses. That’s exactly what Carmarthenshire walking guide Lisa Denison was hoping for when she launched a new series of full moon walks exploring Garn Goch, an Iron Age fort on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales.
“The night walks offer a very different perspective of the landscape,” says Lisa, a qualified flatland guide, as we wait for tonight’s group of six. “You lose detail but recognize blues, silvers and grays. Garn Goch is particularly atmospheric, with its stones bearing the shadow of an ancient community. It comes to life after dark when the senses are heightened.”
It promises far more fun than my last full moon hike. In one of several career lows, I joined a nude hiking group in Palm Springs. Led by a fully clothed guide, Scot Scott – his parents may have been in a hurry – we hiked through the Coachella Valley where, distracted by California’s oversized moon, I narrowly avoided sitting on a rattlesnake. The memory still causes a cold sweat.
Carmarthenshire poses no such dangers. But this morning, to fully appreciate the difference between Garn Goch in daylight and moonlight, I’m joining Lisa’s Quiet Walk, where gently encouraged rather than dictatorial stillness helps people immerse themselves in nature. We follow an extended version of the lunar route.
It takes 20 minutes to climb a bracken-covered path to reach the perimeter of the fort. The massive rock mounds betray the immensity of the rectangular structure, whose stone-clad walls were 30 feet high and 15 feet wide. An Iron Age skyscraper, was this a defensive structure or a permanently occupied city? Nobody is sure.
Whatever his role, Garn Goch offers one hell of a view during the day. Below us, the crumpled blanket of the Towy Valley chases a winding river whose Viridian hills are dotted with farms and hamlets. Above us, towering over fields and hedgerows, Trichrug hill rises to 415 metres.
Covering short sections of the Beacons Way and the Heart of Wales Line Trail, the walk follows old drovers’ routes, past gnarled hawthorns, skeletal winter oaks and Tolkienesque ash trees draped in moss. There are kites, buzzards and chirping “little brown jobs”. It is simply beautiful.
It’s sunny too. What happens during full moon hikes in cloudy or rainy weather? “I still run them,” says Lisa. “Even heavy clouds allow for a dreamy, diffused moonlight. There is always something special about night walks, especially in the ambiance of Garn Goch.”
The Scandinavians would agree. Full moon hikes share a nocturnal DNA with aurora quests and midnight sun celebrations. The weather gods may not be cooperating, but half the fun is in the great outdoors at unusual hours.
Weather problems will not arise tonight. As I make my way to the 6:30pm rendezvous above the village of Bethlehem – cue “Follow That Star” jokes – half the sky is home to a scarlet sunset and the other half to a huge, freshly risen moon.
To make the three-mile route clear of livestock and fences, it’s recommended that headlamp use be kept to a minimum. “Your eyes will start adjusting after five minutes,” says Lisa. “From the age of 40, they are fully used to the dark. When using your headlamp, stay well away from the person in front of you or they’ll walk in their own shadows.” There’s even some GCSE science involved. Nighteyes use rods rather than cones and detect darker hues, not bright colors.
With our bars fully engaged, we climb towards Garn Goch. The moon is weirdly bright. Forget tripping. Every root, rut and rock is brilliantly lit. The harsh light intensifies as we reach the wide-open hilltop. “Wow,” Lisa exclaims, “that’s like taking the spotlight for someone.”
We avoid the narrow path around the cairn and enter the fortress via a less dangerous path. The sparsely populated Towy Valley is now peppered with dots and dashes of light: widescreen-lit Morse code. The bright splash to the west is Llandeilo.
As predicted, spectral moonlight fires the imagination. Garn Goch is riddled with shadows, and all sides face the ominous black outlines of distant hills. Everything feels closer: the stars, the shifting clouds, the mysterious story.
We’re on dark sky reservation, but a 1,000-watt moon is astronomers’ enemy. Lisa holds her phone’s stargazing app skyward, studies her screen, and declares, “That’s the moon.” Stephen Hawking would be proud. She then identifies the constellations Ursa Minor and Orion and the star Sirius along with Mars and Jupiter. Minutes later, the backlit clouds entangle, creating an ominous sky worthy of an end-times B-movie.
While these are the same stones encased in the same widescreen landscape, this is a very different yarn goch than I saw hours before. You’ll be more focused on the past, more aware of what would have been a wild, potentially dangerous world outside of these mighty walls – and less distracted by the gloriously idyllic surroundings. It’s worth driving here in daylight to fully appreciate the site’s scale and setting, but stepping out into the countryside under a lunar site is an unforgettable, magical experience.
As the 90-minute walk ends, we trudge down from the hilltop, our perfect moonlight shadows being serenaded by a hooting owl. In Palm Springs, my nude foray culminated in a group shot taken from behind, with one photographer shouting “clench” rather than “smile.” There is no such trauma tonight. I’m going to Flows in Llandeilo for a bowl of smoked haddock au gratin. It’s classic ClockAnswer from Wales in Danish hygge: a cozy hug in Carmarthenshire after a thrilling hop between the Iron Age stones and the timeless moon.
The group walk was provided by Quiet Walks whose guided full moon hikes cost £15. Llandeilos pitchfork and supplies a hiking packed lunch provided