Dave’s day of fun

I had a vague idea of two things I wanted to do today. Walk part of the Pembrokeshire coastal path near Tenby and revisit the Red Kite feeding centre, near Llanddeusant. The two are many miles apart. I accepted the challenge.

Driving down to Tenby, the road changes abruptly from fine dual carriageway to barely capable A road. And this is the main artery to three of our key ferry ports. I expected traffic, even on a Wednesday, and I got it. First of all it was someone driving to the speed limit. But one in their own mind. I worry when I see someone doing 30mph in a 60mph zone. Not because I’m in a hurry (I’m not, I enjoy driving and these days I keep the speed down to improve the fuel consumption) but because they are either unable to drive faster or are not aware of the speed limit. Then we hit roadworks. I think the driver in front panicked because there were so many signs and lights. The good news was that the roadworks were for a new stretch of road that should make the journey quicker and safer for traffic.

I finally arrived at Penally to find the red flags of the firing range fluttering away. I was pretty sure that would mean the coastal path was closed and sure enough, as I got to the top of the cliffs at the end of the South Beach, the gate was closed and the guard was watching. Still, the views out to Caldey and St Margaret’s islands were spectacular. Walking back I decided to take a different route off the beach and suddenly I was in the middle of a caravan holiday park. I spent a little while trying to find the exit. I was tempted by the pool, the funzone and the tennis courts, but I was on my way to the second destination and I was running a little late.

The Kite feeding centre was about 90 minutes away, although I wasn’t sure what the traffic would be like as the route was the same for much of the way. At least this time I wasn’t behind the snail. It wasn’t too bad and by the time I reached the centre, I had about 30 minutes to spare. So I had a coffee. In the hide, the wind seemed to be blowing right through the open end. It was cold standing there, but as soon as the Kites began to swoop and circle, I forgot about it. I had two cameras with me, set to different focus and exposure setting, and I swapped between the two. This was very much a test of the settings as well as another attempt to get decent photos of the magnificent birds as they fed. In the end I took some 700 pictures (and sorting them out afterwards, I got rid of around 150 – some were doubles, the majority were out of focus as I had expected).

On the way home I decided to call in to the quarry at Foel Fawr. It’s a regular place for Rufus and me and the area around is very photogenic. I had the infra red camera with me so that came out and I spent about 30 minutes climbing the hills and snapping away.

Today was one of those days without a firm plan and was all the better for it.

The Tenby route.

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Painting with light

The translation of photography is ‘painting with light’. It’s also a technique of iluminating an object at night with a torch, or using a light source to draw patterns and shapes in the dark and photographing them. I’d ben readng up on the former and had been planning to try it out at Arthurs Stone, on Cefn Bryn one clear night. I wanted to get a starry sky in shot too.

There was a cloudless sky as I drove home and I decided that the combination of sky and snow would make a good photo opportunity. So after a snack I packed the camera bag, donned three fleeces and an insulated jacket and set off for Cefn Bryn. I enjoy driving at night and once I was away from the traffic it was fun. Fairwood Common was white with snow that hadn’t melted. I had to stop to avoid two small ponies wandering along in the middle of the road.

Heading up to Cefn Bryn, the road was icy and I could feel the car sliding now and again. I took it easy, avoided a big icy puddle and pulled off the road on the top of the hill. Walking across the deep snow in bright moonlight felt eerie. It was quiet and there were none of the familiar landmarks. Several times, my boots sank into semi frozen mud and although I had a head torch, it was hard to tell if I was heading in the right direction.

Eventually I saw the bulk of Arthur’s Stone silhouetted against the lights of Llanelli across the Loughor estuary. I set up the tripod and started taking photos. I was using a long exposure of between 20 and 30 seconds and during that time, I was shining a torch on and around the stone. The results weren’t quite what I was after; the technique needs some practice. I switched to normal long exposure shots and thanks to the moon and snow, I got some pleasing results. (Have a look here for a photo of me taking a photo).

The journey home  was even more exciting than the one out, as the temperature had dropped and more ice had formed on the roads.

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Oh, snow!

More snow today. I left for work at about 7am and finally got in to my desk at 8.20. Although the roads were bad, the standard of driving of some of the people in front and behind me was worse and was the actual cause of all the delays. I watched an articulated lorry, stuck on a hill, slide backwards then get some grip and pull forwards, only to slide back again. In doing so, it blocked the road completely. I watched people abandon cars in the middle of the road. I saw a rubbish lorry slide down a hill out of control and nearly hit a car left at the side of the road ahead of it. The guy behind me was so close I couldn’t see his headlights – I suspect he planned on using me as an extra set of brakes if he needed to stop. Drivers too timid to attempt any manoeuvre slightly off the line of the tyre tracks on the road managed to block three lanes at a major junction.

I’m not impatient when it comes to things that affect safety. But I had my own reasons for urging a little more speed this morning. I was desperate to go for a wee. By the time I was crawling along the motorway and queueing up to leave it, I was also looking for convenient bushes. On the road leading to the office, I was looking for a convenient bottle in the car. Once parked, I negotiated the steps and slippery path gently knowing that one slight bump or slip would result in an embarrassing accident. The sigh of relief as I got to the urinal lasted for several minutes, and could be heard throughout the building.

At lunchtime I went out for a stroll, as it was clear and there was snow on the trees in the nearby graveyard. It was beautiful and poignant given the location, and tranquil too.

Leaving work this evening, I was braced for the horrors of long queues of slow moving vehicles but was surprised that my chosen route home was fairly clear.

About an hour after I got home, there was another 2″ of snow on the windscreen. And I get to do it all again tomorrow!

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Here we snow again

Sorry about the title.

I managed to get a last minute day off today (thanks boss). Rufus and I decided to make for Craig y Fan Ddu.I knew it would be white with frost and I knew it would probably be a challenge for the car and I to get to the car park. But what is life without challenges? Just before we set off, there was a beautiful pre-dawn glow in the sky and I took that to be a good omen, since the clear skies forecast hadn’t materialised properly.

We battled through the commuter traffic. Some how it didn’t seem so bad because we weren’t off to work and in no time we were flying up the A465 heading for Merthyr. Beyond the urban sprawl, the narrow lane leading up into the mountains was frosty, with large stretches covered in snow and ice. The car park was empty and the track leading to it covered in about 2 inches of snow. Great!

We set off on the steep path alongside the river, which tumbles and crashed down a series of waterfalls on my left. After 5 minutes, I realised I’d left Rufus’ snacks behind. Fearing that he’d eat parts of me as punishment, I went back down to get them. About half way up the path, we encountered the first of many sheep. As they wear camouflage at this time of year, they surprised both of us. Rufus was staring in disbelief at a sheep only a few yards away. Ever well behaved (!) he came back to me and we negotiated the ovines until we got to the steepest part of the climb. With my head down, I just got on with it and 10 minutes later, I was panting whilst looking out over a snow covered landscape to the south.

Rufus, of course, was unaffected by the climb and just wanted to get on with the rest of the walk.

We set off north along the ridge towards Graig Fan Las and Craig Cwarelli. The sun was out but not strong as there was a partial covering of thin cloud. A light wind served to chill the air but it wasn’t uncomfortable. For the first half of the route, there was a lot of ice on the path, making walking next to the sheer drop quite a challenge. Rufus’ four paw drive worked but even he was losing grip; probably because he was running everywhere. He was careful not to go near the edge, though.

Then we passed over a stream, an adventure in itself as most of the rocks in the path were covered in thick ice and the stream dropped over the edge of the ridge and down…down…down…

Beyond the stream, things changed. The path was covered in snow, which in places came up over me gaiters (I said gaiters, not garters. It didn’t reach as far as them). That’s knee height. Rufus learnt how to spot and avoid deep snow last time we were up here, so he was okay. I looked for the shortest route and found the going quite hard. We dropped down into the head of the Cerrig Edmwnt valley and the wind picked up. I had to stop to fix my gart… er gaiters and almost immediately I felt my fingers start to sting in the bitter wind. Neither of us waited long and we took off westwards. In the distance, Pen y Fan and Corn Du shone with white snow in the sunshine.

By now, the snow was taking it’s toll on Rufus. Snow balls between his toes where he has long hair and it’s uncomfortable for him to walk. I can usually tell and sure enough, he slowed and then started manicuring himself. I helped him clear the snowballs away and decided to turn around. We had to stop a few more times for snowball clearing, but he was okay. On the way back, I was facing the sun and it was lovely to walk in the sunshine even if there wasn’t a lot of heat coming from it. We met two walkers coming up, and I stopped to talk to them for a while. When I looked down, Rufus was lying flat on the path cleaning his paws again.

Before long we were at the drop to the car park. Despite being down hill, it was no less of a challenge as many of the stones and rocks underfoot had thin sheets of ice on them. But I managed to cope with that (Rufus just went for it and spent his time waiting for me by paddling in the river – which also cleared his paws of snow). At the car park, I put the backpack away, grabbed the camera and set off down into the woods. There’s a lovely set of waterfalls here and with the snow they were even more appealing. I threw stones for Rufus while snapping away at the river.

All too soon it was time to head home. Engaging super mega grip drive (ok, I selected the ice setting), we drove up the slippery track to the road. For a few miles, there was a lot of ice on the road where it had melted, flowed and refrozen as the sun dropped below the hills. Then the going got better and we were back on proper roads. Rufus was sleeping for most of the way back and flopped on the sofa when we got home.

See our route here. I wish I lived closer to the mountains.

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Floody hell!

Off to a Christmas party near Ewenny. Took the short cut down a country lane. The flood sign should have given us a clue but we are recent 4×4 owners so we thought it would be an adventure. Sure enough, at the low point on the road where it meets a stream, there was a vast expanse of water. But we could see the road markings through the water and we drove slowly. We made it without having to swim.

Then, cresting the narrow hump back bridge, we spotted ahead another vast expanse of water, making the first one look like a small puddle. The river was raging beneath the bridge and beyond, the fields were flooded. It was impossible to tell where the field ended and the road began, apart from the fence and road signs.

Needless to say, we turned around and used the main road.

All day while driving, I’ve seen so much standing water. And I couldn’t help noticing that everywhere the water has been, there have been blocked drains. In the village where my friend lives, the drains are completed silted up, causing a river of run off from the fields all around to flow past her front door. On the roads into the village, so much water is running along the gutters that it was spouting out of the drain covers like small fountains.

And in June, we will have a hosepipe ban again.

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Road Test

I picked up my new car last night. It was sad to see the Audi go but I’m looking forward to having new adventures in the Freelander.

I only drove it for a short time last night – I picked Rufus up for our lads night in and took him home – 30 minutes at the most. Even a short detour to add some driving minutes wasn’t enough. So this morning, early, we set off for Cefn Bryn and a walk in the pre-dawn gloom. The car was covered in frost, but after two minutes of faffing (trying to set the Bluetooth reciever for the phone) the windscreen was clear and we set off.

It’s great. My 7 year old’s excitement was justified. It handled differently to the Audi – as you might expect, as the Audi was a sport model. But it was firm and positive on the road, not bouncy like a tall vehicle can be. The driving position is nice and high giving a great all round view. Rufus seemed comfy in the back – another important element as he’ll be in it a lot I expect.

On Cefn Bryn, I even took it off road. Well, slightly off road, on to the car park where other people take their normal cars. Still, it was off the road and that qualifies in my mind.

We wandered off towards Penmaen along the ridge, the moon shining brightly and Jupiter and some of the brighter stars shing in the sky. All the while we were watching the sky lighten in the east as the sun neared the horizon. It was cold but not excessively so, and Rufus was happy that there were a lot of new smells to investigate. A lot of sheep and horses were nearby.

By the time we reached the high point, the deep red top edge of the sun had just popped into view and I stopped for a few minutes to watch it climb above the sea. Then it was time to turn around and head back to the car. By now a chill wind had risen blowing out to see and I was heading into it. Over Broadpool, a low ribbon of mist hung, making drivers on the nearby road turn their headlights on.

We drove home through the mist and, taking a short cut through a small village, we hit large patches of ice on the road. It gave me a chance to legitimately change the terrain response control to the slippery conditions settings. I’d like to describe the instant change in handling and grip, but to be honest, I didn’t notice anything. After a small adventure in the petrol station, where I misjudged the size of the car and had to reverse twice to get to the pump (in my defence, it was a very tight turn), we got back safely.

I’m a happy 7 year old!

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New car part 4: What have I done?

I pick up my new(ish) car tomorrow. I’m excited like a little boy. I’m sad at saying goodbye to the Audi as it’s been my favourite car so far. I’ve had a lot of good times and great adventures in that car and no matter what anyone says, these things leave an impression and lasting memories.

As if that’s not enough, I’m having work done on the house and it’s hidden behind a forest of scaffolding and planks of wood. The builders are doing an excellent job, working way into the darkness and in all weathers – last Thursday we had gale force winds and rain and they were still hard at it when I got home from work. On Monday they were here until 8.30, working by head torch and a single lamp. Alas, as the render was being chipped off the walls, my internet cable was severed and I spent three days without an internet connection.

Now I’m not addicted to the internet. I don’t always log on and there are few things I have to do on-line. But it just so happened that this week, I needed to do some manoeuvring of money from various bank accounts to be able to pay for the building work and, of course, for the car. I never really know how much I would miss being able to log on at will until I couldn’t. Of course, the builders said they would fix the cable but they’ve been busy sealing the walls so I don;t have any more damp coming in.

So tonight, I had a go myself. I managed to locate the master cable, removed the internet cable that split from the master and re split it indoors at the set top box. A few cuts to fix the connector to the cable and some squeezes from the pliers and suddenly I was on-line again!

I feel connected again!

New Car Pt 3: The headlong rush

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!

One minute I’m being all sensible and looking at my future, and the savings I’ll need, and the emergency fund for the unexpected, then I just happen to catch a hint of a glimpse of the car dealer’s website and there it is. It wasn’t there on Thursday, but it was there on Friday at lunchtime. Portent number one.

I happened to be going in the direction of the dealer after work anyway (no, really) so I decided to call in. On the way, I only seemed to see the same model vehicle on the road. Portent number two.

At the dealer’s, it turned out that the vehicle had just come in that morning, and they had just updated the website at lunchtime (portent number three) and the salesman hadn’t even seen the car. I took a quick look, had an attack of the tingles and booked a test drive for the following day.

On Saturday, full of suppressed excitement (I’m too old to get all childishly giggly and restless and obsessed – ahem) I took it out for a run and immediately knew it was the car for me. I played the negotiation game with the salesman but it was a pleasure as we were on the same wavelength and very soon we had a mutually agreeable cost to change. I have to say that it was a smooth process thanks to the people at Stratstone in Swansea. It was certainly the best car buying experience I’ve gone through.

I pick the car up at the end of the month. I can’t wait. I’m 7 and it’s going to be Christmas Eve for the next two weeks!

Freelander

My Freelander (picture by Stratstone Swansea). I hope they remember the number plates.

New Car pt 2:

If you read my earlier post, you might be wondering what car has caught my eye and will, hopefully, scratch the itch. Or you’ve stumbled on this because of the clever keywording and taging I’ve done and you thought it was a blog about deforestation in Bolivia. Or scantily clad women.

No such luck, I’m afraid. I’ve never been to Bolivia and I’ve never seen a scantily clad woman (ahem). My next car will almost certainly be …

… expensive. They always are. I start off with the perfectly logical and emotionless attitude that it’s only a metal box with some wheels and a lot of plastic and it’s only function is to transport me from A to B. Then, there is a period of revelation and enlightnement, usually when I’m thumbing through motoring magazines or jealously gazing at my friend’s car. I begin to realise that it’s more than an inanimate object. All my cars to date have had stories and memories attached to them; good and bad. And they have all called in to various places (C, D, E, F etc) on the way between A and B, as I believe in adventures and exploration.

I spend a lot of time in my car, so it has to be a pleasant place to be. It has to be comfortable, secure and I have to have a really good radio. It has to be a pleasure to drive over long and short distances. ‘m not particularly fussy over colour, as long as it isn’t a silly colour (like the pale pnk muscle car I saw the other day leaving work) or white.

Suddeny the cost starts rising. But I don’t drink or smoke and I usually like the simple things so this is one of my indulgences. I tend to plan in advance for the next car, so the money is saved up over a few years.

So here we are. The money is being gathered into a central pot as we speak. All those copper coins I’ve saved up over the years are being counted and carted off to the bank. My lottery winnings have been deployed.

It merely remains to finalise the choice of vehicle, which will come from a shortlist of two ot three. And you’ll be surprised to learn that they are all…

New Car pt1: The little itch

I’ve had ten cars in my motoring career.  Over the last few weeks it has become clear that it’s time for number 11.

It always works the same way. I say I’m happy with the current car and I mean it. Then the tiniest of little itches begins and grows and before long I’m ‘just curious’ about a change of motor. Even then, it’s not a foregone conclusion. But there comes a point where I ‘just happen’ to check the value of my car and nonchalantly check the prices of vehicles that have caught my eye. Then I find that I have to see how much I need to save up to be able to afford buy them.

At that point, I’m caught in a whirlpool of desire and doubt and a frisson of excitement. And I’m not ashamed of that. There are few pleasures in life, and for me the process of car hunting is one.

Everything then seems to rush headlong down a steep slope. See advert, visit dealer, test drive, play the game of price negotiation, experience a moment of doubt. And then I find myself at that point at which money changes hands and keys are exchanged.

Immediately afterwards, I suffer a nagging doubt and for a while (usually a few hours) I wonder what I’ve done. Then the moment is gone and I’m happy again…

… until the merest hint of a possibility of a tiny little itch starts again.

Of course, the point of this particular post is that I’ve had the itch again. In fact, it’s gone a bit further than that and I’m now at the stage where I know what my car is worth and I’ve narrowed my choice of new vehicle down to a couple of candidates. And they are… ahhh, but you’ll have to tune in to the next installment to find out.