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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Here, there and everywhere

If you’ve been following this blog then you may have picked up that I’m trying to capture an image (or many images) of trees in the mist. The forest I’m counting on to provide the goods is Brynllefrith Plantation, and it has featured in the blog several times. This weekend, the weather conditions seemed to be favourable for a nice early morning mist and as a bonus, we’d had some lovely sunrises too. The temptation to catch both was too good to miss.  We dragged ourselves out of bed and fuelled up with coffee, toast and, for Rufus, a ragout of beef and vegetables (he has better taste than I, and expects a different level of cuisine). Then we were out of the door and off to the woods.

Plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy. Ours didn’t. The sun rose behind a grey wall of cloud and only at the very last minute did a small, pinkish patch of sky appear briefly. The mist that should have been delicately entwining the trees didn’t materialise either. Instead, the grey sky produce a flat lighting that was very uncomplimentary. But it was ideal for macro work, so that’s what I started with.

As we walked into the forest along the rough track, cows called to one another from somewhere ahead. But their calls were strange and very unbovine-like. The still air and the tress made them sound alien and immediately reminded me of Jurassic Park. Who knows what dinosaurs really sounded like, but it was easy to imagine being in a world of giant monsters as the cows continued to call out.

The grey skies cleared and between the trees I could see hints of blue which very quickly became larger patches of blue. There was no chance of mist now, so I decided to move on somewhere else and give Rufus a change of scenery. He’s probably getting tired of Brynllefrith.

We ended up in Ferryside and by now the sun was shining and the day had become a lovely, almost summery one. We walked along the narrow stretch of sand that was all that was left as the tide came in. I tried checking on my phone whether the tide was turning but there was no signal. One look at the way the water was getting closer was all I needed and we had to make a rapid retreat back to the car park or risk getting stuck and having to walk along the railway lines, which follow the curve of the estuary.

On Sunday, I was determined to have another go at the mist and sunrise. So slightly later than Saturday, we set off back to Brynllefrith. This time we were rewarded with the latter stages of a beautiful sunrise over Cwm Clydach. There was a vague hint of mist but not enough for what I wanted. I like to pre-visualise photographs as it helps to concentrate the mind. In the past, photographic expeditions have degenerated into snap-shooting sessions with no direction or purpose. The danger with pre-visualisation, though, is that you can miss other opportunities in the quest for the one image.

With no sign of mist, and no likelihood either, we set off to explore the head of the Upper Lliw reservoir that snuggles up to the edge of the forest. It was mirror smooth in the still air of the early morning and although the colours were muted by the clouds, which had appeared after the sunrise, it was tranquil and beautiful. Rufus and I had fine time trying to find a path to the water’s edge without getting too muddy, or cut to pieces by the thorn bushes. Rufus was able to sneak underneath the bushes. I had to crash through them. We both survived and made it back to the car.

By now, the day was warming up as it had yesterday. So rather than head home, we set off for more adventures in the wilds. After a brief stop on Fairwood Common to get some photos of the mist rising in a small river valley, we headed on to Broadpool for a quick circumnavigation of the pool in the now warm mid morning.

Finally, it was back home for a belated breakfast and a snooze on the sofa.

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