S’no balls

The thing about snow balls is, well, when you try to catch them they are very cold and when they land in snow, you can’t find them. Dave loves throwing snowballs for me and I love trying to get them, but they’re never where I think they are. Dave laughs a lot. I think he knows something I don’t.

Snow is like a magnet for Dave. He gets all excited and does a little jig when he knows there is snow about. Inevitably, after the white stuff falls, we will go out. I know the signs. Apart from the little jig, he starts to fiddle about with his back pack. It gets stuffed full of things but as far as I can see, they are very light things that only make the pack look heavy. Then he starts to mutter about cameras.

You may have picked up from these blogs that Dave is keen on photography. He thinks he’s good at it and who am I to burst his bubble. Regardless of his talent, it’s very entertaining to watch him decide which camera (often, cameras). It usually starts the night before when he charges up some batteries. I’ve learnt to identify which camera will be going with us by the battery alone. Then he starts sorting through the lenses. Often, he will change his mind about the camera at this point. It becomes quite tedious and if I could be bothered to stay awake, I’m sure the boredom would be unbearable. By the time I’ve woken up, I can tell whether we’re in for a long walk or a short one by the relative sizes of the back pack and camera bag.

Today, the back pack was large and the camera bag was small. Long walk. I watched Dave fill the treat bag and that was quite full too. I like long walks, so I wagged my tail to let Dave know he’d made the right choice. We set off in the cold and dark but the car was soon cosy and warm. I’ve had my hair cut recently, and it was much more comfortable on the back seat. I dozed while Dave drove. Driving is not really my thing.

When I jumped out of the car, everything was white. Snow! I love it, except when it balls up between my paws. But we weren’t in our normal spot to climb the mountain and Dave explained that the road was too slippery. Last year, he had a bigger car and snow never bothered him but ever since he got rid of it for the hair dressers car he has now (I told him at the time but he wouldn’t listen) he’s been more careful where he goes and where he parks.

We set off along the river and once the sun had come up, it wasn’t too cold. In fact it was lovely, although I didn’t go in the river as I usually do because that would have been foolish with snow everywhere. Instead I jumped, bounded, jogged, walked and ran through the snow while Dave huffed and puffed behind me. I tried to help by offering to empty the treat bag but Dave was a little stubborn about that.

Then came the snowball thing. We must have spent ages playing snowballs. I tried to catch them in mid air – much easier than jumping for stones. I chased them until they disappeared. I barked at them, and at Dave when he was distracted with his camera. Great fun was had by everyone. We headed back to the car and I had a feeling that this wasn’t the end of it. Sure enough, we drove in the opposite direction to home and after a few minutes, parked at the side of the road. There was a fence and a stile and I was just about to demonstrate my stile style when Dave pointed out a gap in the fence. I went through that while Dave, too big to fit, climbed the stile.

We followed a level strip of ground on the slope of the hill. Dave went on about disused railway lines and quarrying but I wasn’t really listening as there were far too many interesting aromas under the snow. My nose got cold through all the snuffling and sniffing I had to do. There were sheep around – I could smell them. But Dave kept missing them as they were camouflaged against the snow. I didn’t bother with them (they’re so boring. No conversation and no sense of adventure).

By the time we got back to the car it was getting cold. Clouds were coming in and we’d been walking for more than 2 hours all together. Dave driedf between my toes (he’s kind like that) and while I dozed, he drove us home.

I’d still like to know what happens to the snowballs though.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 9: Frustration on the mountain

The plan for today was to climb up onto Fan Hir and walk along the ridge above the Cerrig Duon valley. As I’ve mentioned before, I love ridge walks as they give you a sense of space and freedom. Both Rufus and I were rested after Tuesday’s trek, so we were ready to go. The weather forecast said rain coming in around midday but we had a few hours before we were due to get wet.

We parked up and set off, walking under the trees along the river. I keep expecting to see kingfishers along this stretch of the Tawe, but I guess the combination of me and Rufus put paid tot hat. Instead, we threaded our way between two fields full of sheep, with drystone walls either side, and up onto the hillside. The first part of this route is very steep. The height gain is fast but over relatively quickly and that’s why I like this. You climb about 300m in around 30 minutes and then the slope slackens and the rest of the walk can be enjoyed at leisure. I used this route a lot during my training for the trek and much prefer this route to Fan Brechieniog.

We trudged up, taking a lot more than 30 minutes to get the ascent out of the way. All around, the hilltops normally visible each had caps of low cloud on them. Suddenly, we popped over the last steep bit and ahead lay the path up on to Fan Hir. But Fan Hir was under more low cloud and as we walked further, so I felt the first faint sensations of drizzle on my face. Over to the west, the clouds were coming in quite quickly. We marched on but it was clear that we were going to get wet very soon. So reluctantly, I decided to turn around. It was frustrating as we’d done the hard bit and I was looking forward to the reward.

As I gave Rufus some water and a snack, I heard a faint rumbling, not of thunder thank goodness, but a number of wild horses galloping along the track. As I watched, two started fighting while the others looked on as if fascinated. Sheep also looked up to watch the spectacle. We set off back down the track, negotiating the steep slope which was now becoming slippery with the rain. Under the tress we had some shelter, and I let Rufus have a paddle while I took some photos. We were watched by a sheep dog in the field next tot eh river. We’ve come across him before and he is very friendly. As Rufus and the sheepdog exchanged sniffs, I checked to see if the farmer was watching and then gave our new fried one of Rufus’ snacks. The sheepdog took it away, placed it on the ground and then started to roll around next to it.

Back home, Rufus had a quick shower to remove the smell of a dead sheep he’d found, and then dried himself off on my lap. Having completed the hard part of the walk, we were both tired and we both dozed on the sofa.

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Back on track 2: Return of the sun

My training calls for back to back hikes. This weekend, it called for two four hour strolls. It called very loudly at 6am. But not loudly enough. After my first decent night’s sleep for ages, thanks to a lovely cool breeze coming through the windows, I was reluctant to get up. So in my head when I did surface at around 6.30am, I was late.

As I left the house, the weather was looking similar to yesterday and I guessed that I’d be walking under a sheet of grey cloud. Part of the reason for walking this weekend was to experience the heat and get used to keeping hydrated. Although hot conditions aren’t my favourite, I was looking forward to some strolling in the sunshine. I was heading for Fan Brecheiniog, an old favourite. But before I got to the turn off to the lane that leads to the start of the walk, I decided to try an new route. I parked opposite the Tafarn y Garreg and took the signposted footpath from there. It would mean a southerly climb up Fan Hir and then a nice brisk walk across the ridge to the short but steep slog to Fan Brecheiniog itself.

Immediately, I realised this was a lovely little route, following the banks of the River Tawe for several hundred yards before cutting through farmland and up onto the first part of the climb. The river was shaded by trees and the sun was shining and it would make an ideal picnic spot at some point. I’m fairly certain Rufus would approve of it’s paw cooling potential, too. (Once again, it was too hot for Rufus to make the long distance).

Climbing up the southern end of Fan Hir, the sun was shining brightly but a breeze kept the temperature from being too much. But it was steep and I could feel myself warming up. This was what I was (perversely) hoping for as I could check that my idea of hydration would work. Using the bladder and hose system is great because you don’t have to stop to drink. The theory goes that you are more likely to drink more often in that case. But it’s harder to judge how much you’ve had to drink, and how much is left in the bladder.

I reached the top of the steep part of the climb. Although I was still ascending, the slope was gentler and I sped up a little. I was consciously trying to keep a slow pace to get used to the one I’d be using on the trek. It’s still the part of hiking I find most difficult.

Before long, I’d reached the crest of the ridge and I turned north to continue along Fan Hir. The views all around were fantastic. To the south was Craig Y Nos and Waun Fignen Felin. The latter was once the site of a large lake and much evidence that prehistoric hunter-gatherers stayed in the area has been found in the form of weapons and bones of their prey. Nearby is a stone row, the Saeth Maen, which may have been a marker for travellers in the area. It’s also the site of more modern remains; several military aircraft have crashed there or thereabouts.

To the east, the dramatic near vertical face of Fan Hir dropped to the Cerrig Duon valley and the course of the Tawe. To the west, the rest of the Brecon Beacons natioanl park stretched as far as the eye can see. It’s a beautiful part of the country.

I was concentrating on the view to the north. This was the path I was taking. Underfoot lots of broken stones made the going a little harder than usual. Ahead, the seemingly endless series of little summits were crested, only to find another one ahead. But before long, I could see Fan Brechieniog in the distance. The sun was getting hot now and I was glad I’d plastered on the sun cream. I’m using a small tube of factor 50 at the moment. I didn’t notice when I bought it, but it’s for kids. So it smells of banana. Every now and again, I’d get a whiff of banana in the wind as I moved along.

The short climb to Fan Brecheiniog was tough but over quickly. Then I walked along my favourite mountain to the very northern end, where I sat and stared out at the gorgeous countryside, while eating a Snickers.

Then it was time to turn around and head back. The view south, which dominated now, was of a more industrialised landscape. There were at least three sets of wind farms in view. I could see the building where I work. The sea was crammed in between the horizon and the sky and the lush green of farmland contrasted with the grey and brown of the upland moors and rocky tops. I was walking into the wind and sun now. My hat kept the sun at bay but the wind flapped the brim and one part kept folding down over my left eye. It was annoying and ruined my depth perception, but it didn’t cause any problems.

The drop back down to the river was steeper than I remembered and I found it hard going on the knees. The path was dry and dusty which made it slippery, too. I sought grass and natural steps in the rocks to try and stop myself falling, and I managed to stay upright the whole time. As I descended, the wind died down and it became very hot in the sun. At the river, the shade was welcome and I stopped several times just to enjoy the view. I spotted a movement in the water and saw a duck trying to paddle along. The water level was low so it couldn’t float and was content with waddling between pools and spots of deeper water.

Back at the car, it was boiling and I was glad to get the back pack off and to gulp down more water.

My second hike of the weekend was just over 7.5 miles and it took 4 hours. I climbed around 700m in that time.

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Dave and Rufus’ lads week day 3 – Black Rock

After yesterday’s marathon session on the Brecon Beacons, the plan for today was to take things a little easier. We decided to go up to the river and have a splash around in the sun, walking where we felt like at a nice, relaxed pace. And that’s what we did. We had a mini drama on the motorway – someone decided they wanted to be where my car was as I was overtaking and just pulled out but despite having to brake hard, we were ok. Rufus normally slides off the seat but he stayed put this time and we were soon on the A road heading north.

At the river, there was no one else around, although there were a lot of sheep. They tend to move out of the way so we just set off, following the river up towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. But long before we reached the lake, we turned off to skirt the hills along to the south. I followed a path made by countless sheep (Rufus followed a path of his own) and we slowly climbed up the hillside as we went. Before long we were on the crest of the hill and we had fine views down the valley, past the Cerrig Duon stone circle to Craig y Nos and beyond.

We came across a large stream dropping down to the River Tawe in the valley below. I’ve been thinking of camping some time this week, and this made a perfect spot to wild camp. There was flat ground and shelter. We stopped there for a while and Rufus was happy to chase the stones I threw for him. There was a lot of barking to keep me on my toes. Once again, Rufus seemed to understand what I was doing with the camera, and placed himself in front of the lens several times when he thought I wasn’t paying him enough attention.

We followed the river as it dropped down the side of the valley and so we were coming a cross a lot of waterfalls. We’d visited this same tributary before, but we had never climbed this high so the two high waterfalls were new to us. The sun was at a perfect angle to light the face of the rock and the only problem was that the light level was so high that a slow shutter speed was hard to get.

At the Cerrig Duon (it translates as ‘Black Rock’) stone circle, two minibus loads of people were gathered around the stones; some were holding hands, others standing on the stones. One person was balanced on a stone on one foot, hands held above their head. As much as I like to visit stone circles, I am not a stone hugger.

We threaded our was between little groups of sheep and managed to meet the Tawe. We walked and paddled back towards the car, passing more sheep and a small group of horses with foals, resting in the sun. Reluctantly, we climbed into the car for the journey home.

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Three summits

It was Saturday and the sky was clear. Rufus even made me go outside with him to show me how clear the stars were. It was his way of saying ‘I think we have to take advantage of this fine morning to stroll amongst the fresh air and open skies and talk of greater things, like treats and stone throwing’. I had to agree with him – the weather forecast was almost perfect and I didn’t know when we’d get another opportunity. So after breakfast, we set off for Fan Brecheiniog.

There was a band of golden sunlight on the ridge of Fan Hir as we drove parallel with it towards the parking area. I’d decided to stop further along the road so that we’d be higher up the side of Moel Feity when we started. It would mean a new route and we could conserve altitude by following the contours around. The plan was to get to Llyn y Fan Fawr, then up to the bwlch and on to Fan Hir for a lovely ridge walk facing the sun. If we had enough energy (ok, if I had enough energy – no question of the other half of the duo being able to manage it) then we’d head up to Fan Brecheiniog and bag a second summit.

It was cold, and the grass was crunchy under foot as we set off towards the mountains. The higher start meant we could look down on the Cerrig Duon valley and see the River Tawe as a silver strip in the sunlight. The path was drier, too, although we had to cross a number of streams as they tumbled down, trying to catch up with the Tawe. Some had cut deep beds in the soft ground and we undulated along for a while until we reached a major tributary of the Tawe. Then it was a steady uphill trudge through rapidly thawing marsh and mud. But fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and we made good time to the lake.

The water was right up to the shore and there was no chance of finding stones to throw for Rufus. The few I spotted were firmly frozen into the ground and even kicking them didn’t dislodge them. But Rufus was content with a drink, some snacks and a circumnavigation of the little promontory while I took photos. He can be considerate at times.

We made our way up the steep path on the side of the mountain. It was slippery with clear, glass-like ice. Snow on the shaded sides of the mountain had melted and run onto the stones, freezing again over night. I had to be careful where I stepped. Rufus made light work of it.

On the bwlch (a bwlch is a dip between two summits), the wind was cold and there was plenty of snow around. But the sun was warm and we turned left to climb the short distance up to Fan Hir and the ridge. Ice covered the path so we both walked on the grass, where frozen snow made for better grip. After a few minutes, we were on the flat ridge and the views were spectacular. The air was clear this morning and I could see all the way from Gareg Lwyd in the west to the Black Mountains in the east. Corn Du and Pen y Fan stood out as white coated peaks in the middle distance but as last week, they were topped with their own little clouds. It was comical, as there was no cloud anywhere else. It also reminded me of the first time I went up there and Pen y Fan was so well hidden in it’s own cloud that I didn’t realise it wasn’t there and assumed Corn Du was Pen y Fan! (You had to be there to realise how easy it was to make that mistake). Fan Hir’s peak is hard to spot. For some reason, when you’re on it, everything seems higher around you. It’s a trick of the landscape. Summit 1.

It was a beautiful walk and it was a shame when we reached the end of the ridge, where it begins to drop down to Tafarn y Garreg, and had to turn back. But both of us were fleeing good, so I decided we’d go on to Fan Brecheiniog next. As we neared the bwlch again, it was clear how steep the path up was. It’s the one bit of this walk I don’t look forward to, which is irrational as it’s about 5 minutes of the whole experience. But today, I know it would be bad because of the ice. Sure enough, the stones were covered in thick layers. But there were just edges and points of stone to give some grip. Coming down would be fun, but that was for later.

On the Fan Brecheiniog ridge, the ice was almost constant along the path by the edge, so I walked further in from the drop. I kept an eye on Rufus, who kept an eye on the edge, but he was emboldened by four paw drive and made a better job of it than me. At the cairn, the views north were fantastic and we stopped for a breather and just enjoyed the view. Rufus, I think, enjoyed the multitude of smells carried on the wind; this is a popular stopping point for walkers and inevitably, they eat here too! Summit 2.

We headed back, once again facing the sun, and it’s warmth was welcome. The stones down were treacherous but neither of us slipped this time, although Rufus raced over one flat stone covered in ice and his paws went in four directions. Typical for him, he recovered on the run and it barely stopped him. I would have gone bottom over breast.

At the lake, I found some small stones to throw and Rufus jumped to catch them. Tradition satisfied, we started off down the hill tot he car. But we were both still feeling energetic, so we detoured up the side of Moel Feity beyond the path we used earlier and climbed up the hill to the top. It’s not a steep hill, but there was no obvious path and we were walking over clumps of grass which made the going a little harder. There is the site of a WW2 aircraft crash on the top of Moel Feity but every time I’ve tried to find it in the past, I’ve failed. In the past, the weather has been foul when I’ve been on here, but today was [perfect, so I went in search of the little bits of wreckage still there.

Shortly after we reached the top (marked by a tiny cairn – summit 3) I spotted a white stone on the horizon. Sure enough, there was a small cairn there too and some remembrance poppies and a wreath. The wreath had been blown of the cairn and was only held in place because it had frozen to the ground. So I carefully placed it back on the cairn and secured it with two large stones.

On 24 August 1944, a US Navy Liberator (actually, a PB4Y version of the Liberator, 38753) crashed here while on a training exercise. The crew, Byrnes, Hobson, Manelski, Holt, Shipe and Keister all died in the crash. They so nearly cleared the top of the mountain. I spent a few minutes taking in the atmosphere and thinking about the crew. Fan Brecheiniog rose, snow covered, in the distance to the west. Rufus was great (as he always is when we visit crash sites) and kept away. Then we turned to head back to the car. But only a hundred yards or so further down the hill I spotted more red and on closer inspection I found a second cairn with, along side it, a small collection of wreckage. Again it was covered in remembrance poppies but the cairn had collapsed and the small bits of wreckage had been blown about. I spent some time collecting them back up and making the pile a little more secure. Then I built up the stone cairn so it stood above the grass. Finally, I rescued the little label with the crew details from a small ice covered pool and placed it on the wreckage pile. It was a small gesture but the best I could offer.

Then it was off down the hill and back to the car. We crossed bog and marsh, now fully thawed and waiting for us. Again there was no path and we made our way over grassy tufts, streams and a lot of loose limestone rocks. I had to be careful not to turn an ankle on them. At the car, it was warm and we were tired and we were glad of the opportunity to sit (or in Rufus’ case, lie) down.

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Ice topped…

…making cold weather puns. Sorry!

The snow was still there this morning so it was off again to grab Rufus and head up to the river. I expected to find some snow and, more importantly, icicles by the river. The combination of slow shutter speed, flowing water and static icicles was tempting. I also expected a few slippery patches on the road alongside the river.

But when we turned off the main road and on to the lane, it was white with compacted snow. A few places had darker patches which at first looked like melted tracks, but as I went over them, they were clearly ice by the way the car shimmied. It was great. The car gave me the confidence to keep going. In fact, the hardest part was not getting over confident. Despite the traction, I had to be able to stop again, and so I kept the speed down and stayed in 2nd gear, using the engine to brake on the downhill bits. Soon we reached the layby and parked.

As soon as Rufus was out of the car, he was bounding through the snow. It was deep and untouched and so he’d take a few strides then sink to his body, leap up and carry on. He managed to get tot he river before I’d had a chance to take more than a few steps. We wandered along the bank, careful of the overhanging snow and icy rocks. I set the camera up to take the first photo and suddenly there was a bark! I’d forgotten the rules. There were no stones to hand, so I threw Rufus a snowball, which he chased off until it stopped rolling. Puzzled at why he couldn’t see it, he started digging, I looked back to see his head under the snow.

I managed to take a few snaps before it was time to throw another snowball. He chased and dug for this one, too. This routine carried on for a while until it was time to move on. Rufus lead the way, breaking through the deep snow and showing me the path to take. In the distance, on the hill, a big black blob slowly split apart as a herd of cows grazed as best they could on any grass they could find.

It wasn’t particularly cold; there was no wind blowing, but mu fingers were getting chilly from all the snowballs, and Rufus was collecting snow on every part of his fur that touched it. He didn’t see too bothered and I checked a few times to make sure it wasn’t getting between his toes. We carried of for a bit, watching a line of 4x4s go by and then a couple of 2x4s struggling along. They were braver than me in these conditions.

I stopped to take some more waterfalls shots and looked down to find Rufus lying down, giving himself a manicure. I decided that it wasn’t fair to let him get coated like this so after a brief discussion, we reluctantly turned back for the car. We walked along the road, as the compacted snow made it easier and it didn’t clog Rufus’ paws. We’d gone further up the valley than I had realised and the view back down to the dot that was my car was beautiful. Everything was white apart from the trees, which stood out starkly. We strolled down the road, and finally made it to the car. By now most of the snow had fallen off Rufus and I cleared as much as I could of the rest of it. As soon as he got in, he lay down and started getting rid of the rest of it.

The journey down the road was as easy as coming up. I kept the speed low and only met one vehicle coming up. The main road was clear and we were home in no time.

When I got home, I went straight out into the garden to try some more macro shots. The wind that had thwarted me on Friday was non-existent today. And the thaw that was slowly setting in created some lovely, tiny icicles on leaves and twigs.

I love the snow. If we only realised that we get it regularly, and were suitably prepared in attitude as well as with supplies, there would be fewer problems and a lot less stress. If the corner shops didn’t hike their prices as the first flakes fall, if people only bought what they really needed (how much bread and milk will go to waste this week as the hoarders throw it away?) and more importantly, if people accepted that there would be a bit of disruption and adjusted their expectations accordingly, it would be a much better experience.

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Slip sliding awaaaay!

Out with Rufus this evening. Off to the river we went to catch the last rays of sunlight. I was looking for a place to cross so I could climb up to the stone circle. The river was quite full, as you would expect after a few days of rain. It takes a while to drain from the surrounding hills and mountains and the high water can be a few days after the actual rain has stopped.

So I was being extra careful in picking a place to cross. I had my wellies on so I could wade but even then, with some of the submerged stones slippery with slime, I had to be sure that my footing would be secure. All the while Rufus was crossing back and forth with four paw drive and the knowledge that I would dry him off later. Then I spotted it – a great big slab of rock, free from running water and extending almost two thirds the way across the river. I could cross on that, wade or jump the other bit and all would be well.

I got to the middle of the slab and suddenly I was falling. My foot had hit a damp patch that was like ice and my feet had gone from under me. You know when you fall and you feel it’s all going in slow motion., Well, that was me. I remember knowing I was going to be okay because the slap was bigger than me, and I remember thinking hitting the stone would hurt.

I landed on my hands and it did hurt. Then, a few milliseconds later, I started sliding down the slab towards the water. It was a pure cartoon moment. If I slipped off the slab, I would fall a foot or so into a pool of water that was probably deep enough for me to disappear under. I scrabbled and scraped and my fingers finally found the edge of the slab above my head and I managed to stop.

I may have sworn. If I did, it was probably only a mild expletive. Honest. I managed to stand up and found a crack in the rock to wedge my foot in. Then, pretending nothing had happened in case anyone was watching, I got back to the bank and started looking for another, safer, crossing point. The fingers of both hands had gone numb but I was okay.

I did manage to cross and I got to the stone circle. And I got back across safely again.

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