The Mountain of the Small Cairn and the Graigola Seam

First of all, a warning. There are two photographs of a spider at the end of this blog. Its a small one, and being on this blog, it can’t jump out and get you. Or can it?

An extended walk was long overdue. Both Rufus and I needed to stretch our legs, get rid of the cobwebs and head out into the countryside. So early this morning, we headed north to Brynllefrith and the hills surrounding it. Today, I decided to avoid the plantation itself, figuring that with all the rain we’d had recently, it would be one long, muddy path with added marsh. Instead, we headed north a little way before striking off west on Mynydd y Gwair and on to Mynydd Garn Fach. It was a grey morning when we set off but the cloud was high and there was a chance it might clear.

Underfoot, it was as wet as I had expected and we splashed along a very faint track left by quad bikes. Rufus ranged far and wide and on one pass by me, I noticed he had a passenger. I always keep an eye out for things on his coat, mainly to remove any ticks (although these are hard to spot). But this time, he had a spider on his head. It was a garden spider and it seemed to be quite happy riding along for free. Rufus must have brushed through it’s web on his wanderings. I’m not good with spiders, but I decided to remove this one and somehow I managed to catch it in my hand, where it retracted it’s legs and waited to see what I’d do. After grabbing a quick arachnid portrait, I set it down in a clump of grass.

After that encounter, I became aware of a lot of webs, mainly floating about and which I felt rather than saw. As we went on, they brushed up against my hands and I even found part of a web and a small spider in my hair. There were a lot of flying insects around too, which would account for the webs – an abundance of free food had obviously attracted the arachnid population.

The quad bike track turned into more of a rough path as it merged with St Illtyd’s Walk, a long distance path that stretches from Margam Abbey to Pembrey Country Park. We followed in the saint’s footsteps for a while, crossing the River Lliw (here a mere stream) before climbing the small hill of Mynydd Garn Fach (the mountain of the small cairn). We spiralled our way to the top by taking an anti-clockwise route around to the west and south. There are the remains of old mine workings here and the views from the top of the hill can be spectacular in clear weather. Although it was cloudy, the visibility was good and I could see all the way to Port Talbot and Swansea Bay.

We lingered a while at the top, with a great view of what is left of Brynllefrith and the Upper Lliw reservoir to the east, and Mynydd y Gwair and the distant wind farm to the north. Several years ago the wind farm was planned to be sited on Mynydd Y Gwair and there was a concerted effort by locals to oppose it. They were successful and the hill remains free of turbines. Part of the reason for not building here was the extensive mine workings discovered during the geographic and geological survey done in the area. Birchrock colliery further down the Dulais Valley was the site of several shafts exploiting the Swansea 5ft seam and the Graigola seam, which was accessed via horizontal shafts or adits, some of which can still be seen. There was a substantial risk of subsidence from the old workings, and of landslips where the Graigola seam reached the surface.

We didn’t know about the subsidence risk as we tramped all over the summit of Mynydd Garn Fach and instead we set off back down one of the tracks that lead from a mine adit on the east side of the hill back towards the River Lliw. Fortunately, we didn’t fall down any holes in the ground and made it safely to the waterlogged moorland opposite Brynllefrith. My car came into view while we were still a mile or so away and I noticed another car parked close to it. Wary of such things after my adventures on Fairwood Common, I checked through my telephoto lens but there was no sign of anyone nearby. But as we walked parallel to the woods on my right, I heard banging sounds that could have been from a shotgun. There are foxes in the woods, although I haven’t seen them since the tress were chopped down, so I hoped it wasn’t to do with them. I spotted someone in the woods wearing a red jacket and instinct made me take a picture. Looking at the photo (below) after, I could make out three men and a car with it’s door open. The car would be on a mud filled path so I’m not sure if it was stuck and they were trying to recover it.

As we neared the car, the first big blobs of rain fell and just as we reached the car, the rain started for real. We just managed to avoid a soaking.

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Pride and Prejudice – by Rufus

Just over a week ago, I scratched an itch. Just the once. Well, maybe twice, possibly a little more. Who’s counting? Little did I know what it would lead to.

Dave spotted it and for some reason, decided I needed to go to the doctor. So with little warning (and certainly no chance to get myself looking my best) I was in the car and in the waiting room. There were lots of other dogs there, all shouting and making a fuss. I like to keep quiet and listen when I’m there. After a bit of a wait (what is the world coming to?) I was taken in to a small room with a high table. I’ve been here before and I find the best thing to do is wag my tail and look happy. Sure enough, I was plonked on the table. At least Dave couldn’t complain because when I’d weighed just before going to the room, I’d lost over a pound!

Next thing I know the vet is prodding me and poking me and squeezing me. He stared into my eyes (I stared back into his), he stuck a cold metal thing into my ears and hummed and aahhed. Then he… well, I won’t say where his finger went but I’m afraid I considered it most unnecessary – I have my pride you know! The upshot was that he found that I have environmental allergies! I have long suspected that I am allergic to Dave in the same way that he is allergic to me. Clearly this was the proof I needed.

The vet gave Dave some medicines to give to me – Dave tried to keep them hidden but I saw the tablets. Tablets mean only one thing – chicken. He thinks I won’t notice if he wraps them in chicken. I play along because… well… it’s chicken. He also had some stuff for me ears and for my eye. I’ve found that with the ear and eye drops, if I make a deal out of it then Dave will make a fuss and give me a treat once he has succeeded in administering them. You may begin to understand why I like going to the vet, despite his errant fingers.

I made sure I didn’t scratch much when Dave was looking and to be honest, I did feel better. But out of the blue, today, he took me to the vet again! This time, it was a nice lady that looked at me and she was much kinder, keeping her fingers to herself. I may have behaved myself more because she was nice but I’ll never admit that to Dave. She gave me a steroid injection to help with my skin, which she said was looking good. Maybe I did stand a little straighter when she said it. So what?

When I got home, the injection had taken effect and I felt the need to bark at everything for a while. I also eyed up Dave’s weights and thought it might be a good idea to work out for a while. After all, I may go back to the vets again and I may see the nice lady vet. I want to look my best for her. I have been told a steroid injection will have this effect. But not long after, we went for a long walk on Cefn Bryn and I walked, ran and sniffed the need to visit a gym out of my system. After all, there were sheep and horses around and Dave needed me on top form to protect him from them.

I always know when Dave has a new lens for his camera, because he invariably points it at me. Today was no exception and for most of the walk I was staring into the front of a fisheye lens. Surprised I know this? Living with Dave, I know just about everything there is to know about photography. If nothing else, listening to him go on about this bit of kit or that bit of kit helps me get to sleep. When we’re preparing to go out I know I have at least 10 minutes to get ready as this is the length of time it takes him to decide which camera and lenses to take with him. I indulge him his little eccentricities as it usually means a longer walk.

Once again, I am grateful to Dave for the use of his photos. You can tell the ones taken with his new lens because they look all bendy (I believe the correct term is ‘distorted’ but bendy is a better word and it makes him scowl).

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A week of wanderings and weather

A week off! Not just any week off, but one that I booked at short notice. My original plan was to catch up with a mate visiting from New Zealand, but the arrangements fell through and I was left with a whole week with no plans. I like that.

In actual fact, there were several planned activities but plenty of time to fit in leisure time too. On Monday, the side window of my car was fixed swiftly by Autoglass. The rain cleared just in time for the chap to get the work done while leaving us time for a visit to Cefn Bryn. Keen eyed readers will remember that this was where the young gentleman broke in to my car. Part of dealing with the break in was to get over leaving it for the first time since Thursday. I watched my car like a hawk as we walked away from it before suddenly realising that I couldn’t let it dictate the things I would do. It disappeared as we dropped down the other side of the hill and I only allowed myself the occasional worry as we walked.

On Tuesday, Rufus went for his regular hair cut. He gets very hot in any warm weather as he’s always running around, and I try to keep his fur short. I’d noticed that he was scratching and restless and that’s normally a sign he’s too hot. Following his trim and when the day had cooled, we headed off to the hills and had a leisurely stroll around the base of Moel Feity, once again surrounded by sheep. Rufus charged around with his new found coolness while I snapped away in the gorgeous evening light.

Wednesday dawned clear and sunny and we were off at the crack of dawn to climb Moel Feity and enjoy the fantastic views from the summit. It warmed up quickly and there was a haze in the air as the approaching humid weather announced itself, but the clouds didn’t start to build until we were heading back down, when it became very warm. I spent a little time tidying up the memorial to the crashed Liberator bomber and then, as a treat for Rufus, we stopped off at the river where he paddled and swam and caught stones while cooling down.

Later, I sat outside in the night air watching the Perseid meteors light up the sky. The forecast thick cloud held off for longer than I’d expected and the weather was warm for that time of night. Rufus kept coming out to have a look, but for the most part stayed inside. He’s not keen on astronomy. I saw some bright and spectacular meteors as well as the International Space Station, several satellites and one airliner. I didn’t manage to get many good photos, though, and the following morning I regretted not staying up longer.

After a wander over the common in the morning, we watched the rain come in and I decided Thursday was Great British Bake-off day. I made apple and blackberry pies. More apple than blackberry as the crop of berries wasn’t as bountiful as I’d hoped. I ended up making 11 small pies as I didn’t quite have enough pastry for the 12th. They are rather nice, though.

That night, it was clear that Rufus was still scratching and I decided that in the morning a visit to the vets was in order to find out what was causing this and to get it sorted. The waiting room was packed out with hounds of various makes and models, most of which were quite bouncy and vocal. Rufus is always well behaved in these circumstances and I was proud of his lack of reaction when other dogs barked at him or lunged at him.

The vet had a good look over and decided that he had an ‘environmental allergy’. I asked what that could be and he described the same allergies as I have – dust and pollen. Apparently, these allergens can cause animals to have skin rashes and this is what Rufus has got. In short, Rufus has hayfever! I left the vet with several potions and the biggest tablets I have ever seen. I did wonder whether I’d have to cut them up but Rufus downed one (wrapped in chicken) with no concern. He has some eye drops, which are always a test of my patience and his escapologist skills. Every time I try to apply them, Rufus imitates a snake and wriggles out of my grasp. I went on the Internet last night and found a suggested technique which involved kneeling behind him and bringing the dropper down from above so he doesn’t see it. I managed to get one drop in his eye but he learns quickly so he won’t be so easy to fool again.

Today we went back to Whiteford, a familiar beach to those having read my blogs before. It wasn’t too warm as we set out and it always amazes me how few people go there – there were three cars in the car park, and several horses, foals and some sheep. Walking on the beach was lovely and we went out more than half a mile to the receding tide. Rufus had a paddle and chased after the Oystercatchers while I tried out a new lens I’d received that morning. By the time we got back to the car, the cool of the morning had given way to the heat of midday and we were both glad to get the air conditioner working.

Sunday is always a non-day for me and it will be tomorrow as I have to leave the freedom of a week off behind and try and get myself back into the work frame of mind. It will probably consist of cleaning, ironing and other household chores although I understand from Rufus that he is expecting another walk on the hills if the weather is ok.

<sigh> I suppose I’ll have to do what he says!

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Not going out

We’re not going out this weekend. “Too hot,” you say? Well, we tend to venture forth early to avoid the heat of the day, but that’s not the reason. “You have delicate and sensitive skin that you wish to protect from the ravages of the sun,” you ponder? Well, it is true that I was once approached to be the face of Nivea For Men*, but this is not the reason why either.

*Note: This is not actually true.

No. We are not going out today because on Thursday night, some small, sad youth smashed the driver’s side window of my car in order to steal my satellite navigation unit and my mobile phone. Only I don’t have a sat nav and I always carry my mobile phone with me. So instead he stole a pair of binoculars and a portable radio. Total value new, around £50. Total value to him? Probably less than the “four good blood samples and the two sharp fingerprints” he left behind (quote courtesy of the South Wales Police forensics officer).

All he left me was a mess. A small window shatters into several small windows worth of glass; the act of breaking triggers a biological response and each tiny crystal reproduces. And, I am assured by those who have also experienced the joy of a smashed car window, some of those crystals worm their way into the dark corners of the car only to emerge years later. The window is now double glazed with plastic and cardboard and so I can’t leave the car anywhere.

I count myself fortunate. No one of any consequence was injured (the young gentleman who did this deed is of no consequence). There are plenty of people in the world far worse off than me. So I find it easy not to be angry. In reflective moments, I even consider that the person who felt desperate enough to break in to my car probably has a drug or debt problem. But then I also consider that most people with problems do something constructive about them – and that choice of action is a far harder and more difficult thing to do than to hit a pane of glass with a hammer, fumble about in a car and come away with a large, bloody cut and two near worthless items.

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Sheep

No, this is not a Welsh porn blog entry. Rather, a cautionary tale for all those who are wont to stroll on the hills of a morning regardless of the presence of the ovine community.

We set off from the car and immediately encountered a large and wide spread flock of sheep. Nothing new there; its an occupational hazard of the pastime, and Rufus rarely bothers with them these days. Nevertheless, with such a widespread gathering ahead, I put him back on the lead so that we could pass though them quickly.

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Sheep gathering

No sooner had we passed the ovine event horizon, than a few of the bolder ones started to take in interest in us. We are accustomed to them running away from us or even standing and staring from afar, but for sheep to follow us, that is a different matter and a major rewrite of the rules. Soon a small gang had formed and they started to follow us along the rough path.

Sheep gang

Sheep gang

At this point, it gets a little hazy. Maybe they stalked us all the way to Carn Llechart, splitting up to cover all our possible moves and watching from the long grass.

Sheep watching

Keeping us under surveillance

Sheep watching

We see you

Maybe got in touch with their fellow ovines to keep us under surveillance. Maybe it was all a carefully enacted plan. Maybe it was co-incidence. Who knows? In the pressure of the moment, I felt we were being shepherded along and closely watched at all times.

Sheep running

Running to encircle us

Sheep

“You can’t go this way”

I tried not to show any nerves. I took photos, fed and watered Rufus and finally we made it to the little ring cairn. All the time, sheep peered from reeds, over tufts of grass and from between rocks.

Sheep

Covert sheep

After enough time spent at the cairn to make it clear we weren’t intimidated, we set off back to the car, trying to avoid any sheep. Of course, trying to avoid them when they were deliberately seeking us out was well nigh impossible.

Sheep

“Move along”

But eventually, we managed to find a route that avoided most of the flocks and saw us safely to the sanctuary of the car.

Maybe I was mistaken? After all, sheep are just stupid creatures that eat grass, right?

Sheep and lambs

They are constantly plotting.

Big Cats

There are only two ways to shoot big cats – with a camera, or with a tranquilliser dart. And the latter is only okay if you are licensed and authorised to do so for the greater good of the animal. And authorisation cannot be paid for with a ticket.

Any other way is cowardly, pathetic and strongly suggests some inferiority disorder. It does not make you a ‘man’; it does not make you superior; it does not make you better and it does not compensate for your having a small penis. After all, any arse with a weapon can kill an animal, particularly if the animal isn’t shooting back – which they tend not to do. If you feel you have to prove yourself to society, at least fight the animal on even terms – fists and feet. See who really is ‘the best’.

Things that make you better as a person include giving the money you would normally pay to murder animals to an organisation that preserves them for the whole of humanity, and letting everyone know about it.

I thought we’d left this kind of behaviour behind us. Maybe the answer is to take one of the big game reserves in Africa, fill it full of ‘real hunting men and women’ (and please feel the dripping sarcasm I attach to that phrase), remove all the animals and let the hunters hunt each other. That would be more acceptable to most people and it would greatly reduce the problem we find happening at the moment. And no one would care what happened to them.

Fortunately, most people are better than the the few who feel they have to kill for fun just to prove some sad, outdated point.

The photos below were taken at Longleat; not ideal but in this day and age maybe one of the few places where they are still safe.

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New Hill

The title conjures up images of massive upheaval of the very ground we stand on, momentous events changing the landscape. Well, that should have attracted the geologists scouring social media.

Today we set off for a new hill to us. It’s been there for countless thousands of years and in fact both Rufus and I have seen it many times as we climb Fan Nedd or Fan Llia. Fan Bwlch Chwyth (it translates as ‘Peak of the Windy Gap’) is across the Fechan valley and in the past I have never thought it accessible. However, a check of the appropriate OS map shows that all of the land there is open access. The reason fro our visit today was for me to try and find the wreckage of an Avro Vulcan bomber that crashed there in February 1966.

This bomber, XH536, took off from RAF Cottesmore on a training run on the 11th February 1966. My previous blog explains why Cottesmore holds an interest. I read about this crash while researching the Vulcan for that last post. The plane flew up the Fechan valley in poor weather and the crew thought they were in the Llia valley – a mile to the east. They turned east to enter the Senni valley but hit the high ground to the north of the Fechan before they could complete the maneouver. All five crew were killed by the impact.

We set off from the car on a beautiful morning with a cool breeze keeping the heat manageable. It was the first proper hill for both of us for a while and I took it easy. Rufus, however, doesn’t understand the concept of ‘taking it easy’ and soon left me behind. So I pushed a bit to keep up with him. Eventually, I found a pace that suited both of us. We eased around the northern end of the hill before reaching a dry stone wall, collapsed in places. A narrow path between the thick tufts of grass made the going a bit easier and soon we had pulled up onto the hill and after a few more minutes, the expected trig point came into view.

After a short break, we headed off southwards, facing Fan Gyhirych and, to the left, Fan Nedd. There was a clear route tot he top of Fan Gyhirych and I filed that away for use in the Autumn. One of the problems in tackling Fan Gyhirych from Fan Nedd is a field full of cows between the two tops. Another is a stule that is particularly for Rufus. The new route would bypass both.

Today was for getting the muscles used to hills again, so after a couple of miles, we turned back and started to look for the crash site. The description I’d read told how the plane left a long trail of debris, as it had hit the hill at around 450mph. The heaviest parts of the aircraft – it’s 4 engines and two undercarriage legs – travelled the furthest. The landing gear cleared the stone wall, about half a mile from the initial impact point. Today, the impact area is fenced off as part of an enclosed parcel of land. This meant I wasn’t able to get close enough to identify the area. Only a few pieces of aluminium remain to mark the debris field and it wasn’t possible to see these from the fence.

We headed back down, only mildly disappointed that we hadn’t been able to get to the crash site. I was more occupied with the fate of the crew and the otherwise beautiful location we had just visited. Rufus, with a different set of priorities, was more interested in bounding over tufts of grass, charging off to investigate every little scent and avoiding my camera every time I pointed it at him to try and snap his carefree runs down the slope.

Back at the car, it was warming up as it approached noon and we were both glad to head back home in air conditioned comfort.

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