Above the clouds

The plan today was to head out to the hills. Fan Brecheiniog was my goal and I decided that as Rufus had been looking and feeling fit recently, I’d take him along too. It was a beautiful, cloudless morning as we set off and for most of the journey. But, typically, as we reached the little car park at the start of the path, cloud had descended and it looked like a grim and grey walk lay ahead. Visibility was down to a few tens of yards as we set off and I was fully prepared to turn back if it didn’t show any signs of clearing.

It was wet underfoot and we squelched our way along. There was no wind and it wasn’t cold under the insulating layer of cloud. We made good progress and soon reached the river, and crossed it to reach the start of the main slope up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. I’ve walked this route many times before and several times in thick mist, like it was today. I’m confident in being able to find the lake but I usually end up taking a roundabout route if the visibility is poor. Today was no exception; I felt we’d veered off to the south as we climbed the slope. In the past, I’ve missed the lake complete by going too far south and almost bumped into the steep side of Fan Hir. So today, I veered back to the north a little.

In the silence, I could hear the faint sound of a helicopter which quickly got louder until it was clear that it was hovering over Fan Brecheiniog. It made several passes before finally heading off again. I didn’t see it but the idea that it could fly close to the mountain made me hope that as we climbed the mist would clear.

Eventually, I reached the edge of a steep slope where I wasn’t expecting one. Mist blocked the view down the slope but I had an idea we had gone too far south again, so we turned north and followed a clear path. Then I saw Rufus heading down the slope! Before I could stop him, he stopped at the lake edge, which I only noticed by the ripples he made in the water. I had been walking along the lakeside because the mist had made it look like a void. We were no more than 10 feet above the water. Now I knew where we were, I headed back to the path that led to the top of Fan Brecheiniog. In all this mist, I had only been about 20 yards out.

At the end of the lake, I stopped to talk to a guy who had been camping and was just getting ready to go. We chatted for quite a while and he told me he’d seen several people climbing Fan Brecheiniog during the night. Some shift workers had gone up and come down in time to start their morning shift. He’d heard the helicopter too, and had caught a glimpse of it when the mist cleared a little. He thought it was the Coastguard looking for a day walker that hadn’t returned. All the time Rufus wandered about enjoying the opportunity to explore but we were getting cold while we weren’t walking so we said goodbye and headed off to the start of the staircase up to the top.

Rufus seemed fine and keen to go so I decided we would make the effort. We could always turn back at any time. As we climbed slowly up the path, I felt as if the mist was thinning a little but the visibility was still poor. Then, as we started on the final pull to the top, I spotted blue sky above and within seconds, we had burst out of the mist layer and we were looking down on the tops of the clouds.

If you’ve ever flown you’ll know that feeling of being above the clouds in perpetual sunlight. It was a wonderful feeling; all the better for us having made our own way here rather than by plane! The sun was strong but so was the wind on the top of the hill and it got much colder very quickly. But the 360 degree views were stunning. To the north and east, there was nothing but cloud below us. To the south, a hazy mist made the hills leading to the coast fade into the distance. To the west, the views were clear across the Black Mountain and beyond. I stopped to talk to one walker there and we tried to identify all the hilltops we could see.

To the east, Pen y Fan and Corn Du poked their heads just above the clouds and it felt as if you could swim in the cloud between them. We walked on to the cairn at Foel Fawr as we neared the cairn at the end of the ridge, cloud was being blown up the side of the hill and over the path. Small patches of snow remained on the top and they had frozen overnight. We crunched our way through and finally got to the cairn. It was such a different day to the one we had set out in. From a black and white world to one full of colour within an hour, and it did so much to lift my spirits after a long, damp slog through the mud and marsh below.

After a rest and some photos, we reluctantly turned around to make our way back to the car. As I type, there is much snoring coming from a tired hound.

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Cb

When I was a kid (yes, it’s one of those posts – please don’t interrupt.)

When I was a kid, living on RAF bases, I used to listen to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, (BFBS) in the mornings. One thing I remember from those days was the daily early morning weather report. BFBS did the equivalent of the shipping forecast for airmen. There would be a detailed weather forecast along with cloud types and heights to give the flight crews an idea of what to expect that day. I remember the strange sounding names, Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus and their variations, and the figures that gave cloud cover and cloud base height.

Just over two years ago, Rufus and I got caught in a thunder storm while I was training for a trek. Ever since, I’ve taken an interest in weather prediction and in particular the early warning signs of thunder storms. We had a heavy storm here yesterday, with a lot of lightning and very heavy rain preceded by hailstones. It was well predicted and before the weather changed, I decided to read up on the cloud types. I wanted to try to identify them as they built up and so see first hand the early stages of a thunder storm.

Classic thunder clouds are generally Cumulonimbus clouds, (abbreviated to Cb). They are instantly recognisable as massive and billowing. They can form quite quickly, within 20 minutes sometimes, by warm air rising within the cloud and drawing cooler air in from below. The billowing part is sharply defined while it is formed of water droplets, although this sharpness may fade as the water freezes at higher altitudes. There will almost certainly be rain beneath this cloud, and more often than not hailstones and lightning.

I watched these kinds of clouds forming to the north of the house yesterday. They were so massive and high that it was hard to judge how far away they were. A quick check on the weather radar ‘app’ I have showed they were about 10 miles north, and they were indeed producing lightning. Later that night, the clouds formed over the house and we had our own storm.

This morning was bright and clear of cloud and I decided an early start was in order. There was still some humidity in the air and although the forecast said no clouds or rain for us, there was a lot of lightning activity in Europe and we often get their weather. So I read a little more from the cloud book and found out that there are a couple of early warning cloud species to keep an eye out for.

Altocumulus Floccus (small tufts of clouds) indicate humidity and unstable conditions at high altitude. These conditions can feed and energise cumulonimbus clouds, an already energetic cloud system. They can indicate a coming storm. Altostratus Castellatus clouds also reveal instability at higher altitudes but the clouds are more dense and usually result from more energetic conditions. Again, these clouds herald a coming storm (or at least the conditions necessary for one to form).

Armed with that information, Rufus and I headed north to Mynydd y Gwair. Yesterday, this seemed to be lightning central according to the website I’d been watching, with several dozen strikes recording in the area. I almost expected to see smoking craters but there were none – I guess that only happens in movies. The sky was clear and the morning was warm as we set off over the moorland north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. Sheep parted before us as we squelched through the surface water. Here at least was evidence of last night’s storm.

At the little river that feeds the reservoir, Rufus jumped in and paddled upstream while I walked the bank looking for little waterfalls to photograph. I’d forgotten about checking the weather until I noticed the sun had disappeared. I looked up and saw a few puffy clouds dense enough to obscure the sun. Nothing to worry about according to my new found knowledge, so I went back to setting the tripod up. I was using a very dense filter so exposure times were in the order of a minute or so. The next time I looked up into the sky I saw some familiar clouds; Altocumula Floccus.

I decided to move out of the river valley as it was hiding the horizon and most of the sky. I wanted to see how widespread the clouds were and what was coming up. I moved downstream and saw that it was a very isolated patch of cloud which was clearing to the west. So I went back to photographing waterfalls again. Rufus, uncaring of the cloud types, splashed and paddled and bobbed his way downstream. We played in the water and I threw stones for him to catch and dredge. In a deep part of the river, I threw dead bracken stems for him to swim after.

I looked up again and saw more Floccus. But now, to the south, a larger bank of cloud was forming beyond the reservoir. It had the appearance of an early thunder cloud and I decided, given the conditions, that we start heading back to the car. Out of the valley, there was a breeze blowing towards the reservoir. One of the signs of Cumulonimbus is that as the warm air rises within it, it drags the surrounding air towards it, causing a breeze. It often leads to people thinking the cloud is moving against the prevailing wind. A wind in the direction of the cloud is a warning sign.

The breeze also made the walk back pleasant and Rufus ranged far and wide, unconcerned about any coming storm. And after a few minutes, although the cloud was growing, I wasn’t so concerned either. By the time we’d reached the car, the cloud had grown but hadn’t moved and rather than jumping in and driving off, I left most of the kit in the boot and we walked off onto a man made bank on the opposite side of the moor. We spent another 10 minutes or so exploring the surroundings before finally making our way home. Ahead, over Morriston, the clouds were thick and dark but as we neared home, they broke up and as I write this, the sky is full of larger Cumulus clouds (‘fair-weather clouds’), normal for the time of day and year.

Which means I have no excuses for not finishing off the lawn, tidying up the boarders and cutting down a couple of dead bushes.

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Mountain and lake – outdoor photography

By Rufus.

As you may be aware if you have read my previous blogs, I am developing as a photographer. (Developing, photography – ha ha! See what I did there?) Dave, my human, has decided that I am well enough to wear my camera harness again and this weekend I was able to get out and work on some ideas for landscape photographs I’ve been thinking about.

Yesterday, I got him to drive me to Garreg Lwyd, the site of an old quarry and one of the places we frequent often. I wanted to test my fitness, but I also knew that of the weather was nice there would be some opportunities for sweeping landscapes and possibly some cloud photos too. It was great to get out for a proper walk after the last few weeks, and I know Dave is in desperate need of the exercise to get him back to his mediocre level of fitness so he can take me for decent walks again. Garreg Lwyd is a mountain with a proper climb but it’s not too strenuous.

It was a gorgeous morning and there were plenty of tell tale scents of rabbits and foxes. We used a slightly different and steeper path but it didn’t take us long to get to the top. I managed to get some nice shots of the few clouds we saw. We walked for quite a while and I felt great and every time I checked on Dave, he seemed to be enjoying himself too.

Today, we went for another walk on the hills. I’d heard Dave mutter something about The Lake and although it’s quite a trek, I felt up to it. I only hoped he would be fit enough, too, and that he wouldn’t over do things. Sure enough, we set off towards Fan Brecheiniog and for a few minutes I wondered if we would end up climbing it. But I think that would have been a little too ambitious for both of us.

The sky was cloudless and the sun warmer than yesterday. I still have my late winter coat on so I welcomed the breeze which blew in now and again, and it was nice to dip my paws in the streams as we crossed them.

At one point I smelt a familiar aroma and went to investigate the dead thing it came from. I’m thinking of a creating a set of photos illustrating the fickle nature of fate and the fleeting moments we have on this planet. A dead cow would be ideal. Imagine my amusement to see Dave huffing and puffing his way up the hill towards me. I think he was jealous I’d had the idea before him. I managed to get one shot before he dragged me away. He has no concept of art.

The water of the lake was most welcome to my hot paws, and we walked around to the northern end where we sat and basked in the sun for a while. I found more bones and tried to set them up for photos, but Dave kept taking them off me. He just doesn’t get it!

On the way back, Dave carried my camera for me (he has his uses) and I roamed across the moorland. It was great to be able to run about. I think I put Dave to shame because I kept having to stop and wait for him to catch up. He tries his best but he is getting on a bit.

I’ve included some of his photos here too, other wise he’d get upset.

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Why we walk the hills

By Dave and Rufus.

There is no sound other than the birds high up in the sky and the gentle breeze making its way through the grass. The early morning sun is shining with a yellow glow, the air is crisp and clear and the remains of last night’s frost crunches under foot. In puddles, ice has formed random and surreal patterns that few will see. It’s warm despite the early hour. The noise of traffic is not invited here.

From the top of Moel Feity, our venue for today, there is a panoramic view of mountains and countryside. in the distance to the north a line of clouds have formed, as if waiting to enter into our arena. But they’re not allowed to spoil the morning. To the west, Fan Brecheiniog looks grey with it’s thin coating of frost yet to be touched by the sun. A small cloud pops over the top and spills down towards Llyn y Fan Fawr like a slow motion waterfall. The twin table tops of Corn Du and Pen y Fan are silhouetted off to the east. Even at this early hour they are probably busy with those keen to be the highest people south of Snowdonia.

We have this hill to ourselves. We can go where ever we want. There are little paths and tracks that the sheep have worn over the years but the sheep are all gathered together further down the valley this morning. We choose to follow the paths or not as the whim takes us.

He’s going to start going on about how time has no meaning next. I know, and I apologise on behalf of my human. Allow him his indulgence.

There is no sign of the passage of time other than the distant clouds and the mist on Fan Brecheiniog. Even the sun is lazy this morning.

There. See. 

We come across the little memorial to the crew of Liberator 38753 and a little later, a small pile of aluminium, some melted, which has been gathered from the crash site. I stop to tidy them both up as I always do when we come here, and we spend a moment or two having a think before moving on.

We walk the hills because of all these things and the things we will see next time. Sometimes its for the challenge, sometimes it’s to get away from the crap and sometimes its to get to the top.

Before he gets too carried away with the artistic dribble, lets talk about the real reason we walk the hills. Dave has this need to prove himself and I have to tag along just to make sure he doesn’t overdo things. I don’t mind; he’s good to me so I return the favour. When I wasn’t well, he stayed with me so he’s a bit out of shape right now. In the past he’s done it to get fit to climb hills in other countries – without me! But I don’t care really because I enjoy walking the hills with Dave.

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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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Run to the Hills

After some shorter walks of late, it was time for Rufus and I to head off to the hills. Neither of us had done much recently; I’ve been choosing woods and commons for our strolls so I can get some photos of the local wildlife, so the bigger hills were out. Instead, I decided to head off the Lly y Fan Fawr, a favourite of Rufus’ and sufficiently challenging to make a nice return to proper walking. As Rufus is getting on a little (don’t tell him I said so), I keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not overdoing things but he’s always been an active and fit hound, and he enjoys the outdoors.

I was disheartened to find sheep everywhere when we parked up. Rufus isn’t interested n sheep unless they run. Sheep are only interested in running when they see us. As a result, I always have Rufus on the lead when we’re near enough that he might chase them. For the first half hour, he was on and off the lead as we encountered sheep hiding in dips, skulking by the river and popping up from behind boulders. But in between, we were able to get some quality stone catching and dredging done. I am clearly improving in my stone throwing skills as Rufus didn’t have to bark once.

As we followed the river up the hill, the sheep disappeared and I was able to let Rufus roam. This is where I wanted to check to see if he was okay and not getting tired. I needn’t have worried. While he isn’t as fast as he used to be, he still has the energy to range across the hillside, occasionally stopping to make sure I’m ok. In fact, I found myself running out of puff and Rufus was coming back to urge me on.

On the way up, I saw a pair of bright purple flowers on their own and standing out against the green of the moorland. Not being a flower expert, I couldn’t identify them but they looked vaguely orchid-like to me. I snapped away until Rufus came to hurry me along.

It was boggy underfoot. No surprise there after our recent rainfall, so I was very quickly soaked. Rufus isn’t bothered by the water so I decided not to be either. After several close shaves, where I nearly disappeared into the bog (well, maybe not quite) the lake appeared ahead and Rufus was off. Fan Brecheiniog was capped by a blanket of cloud, as was the far end of the lake.

We didn’t stay long as a cool breeze was blowing, and without the sun to warm us up it was getting a little cold. Rufus shot off and I let him choose the path going back down. We meandered down the hill, always heading towards the river. Such are Rufus’ priorities. I got even more soaked than I was already but we quickly reached the upper streams that feed into the Tawe. Then we followed the water down, past sheep and waterfalls, towards the car.

On the way back, I spotted an odd looking flower and leaf on the rocks by a waterfall. The leaves looked like little troughs with curled edges and the flower was tiny, blue and four petalled.  I took a few photos and once again, Rufus came along to see what the delay was.

After some more stone catching, I had to put Rufus on the lead to pass another small flock of sheep. These all had pink heads (no drugs, just dye to identify the owners) and it reminded me of a walk here a few years ago where I came across lines of sheep with pink, green or blue dye. They all stayed together in their respective colours, but moved in one long line, following a path across the hill.

Above us, a red kit circled and swooped, probably watching the lambs. In the distance across the road, I could see three more. We reached the car without incident, having walked three miles in just under two hours.

Back home, I managed to identify the two flowers. The purple one was an Irish Marsh Orchid and the little purple one was a Common Butterwort. The Butterwort is carnivorous and traps insects in the curled leaves with a stick coating.

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Proper Mountains 2: Great Pile

Day two saw me setting off from Llyn Ogwen on a route I’d wanted to do for a while. The walk up to Llyn Idwal is straight forward and I usually use it as a warm up when I first get to Snowdonia. Llyn Idwal is a lovely, hidden lake with crystal clear water, sheltered by the rock faces of the Devil’s Kitchen. My route today was up, though the boulders of the Devil’s Kitchen, on to Llyn y Cwn and then up the scree of the north west face of Glyder Fawr. (Glyder Fawr translates as Great Pile).

Devils Kitchen is the formation of rocks at the southern end of Llyn Idwal, and it got its name from the clouds that would rise up out of the cwm and which looked like steam rising from a kitchen oven.

The path climbed gently from the lake and along its shore until it reached a narrow but deep cleft in the rock. Here the path disappeared and although it was clear I had to get across, it wasn’t clear which was the best way. In the end, I slipped and slid and scrambled on my bum down to the narrowest point, jumped across and grabbed rocks on the opposite bank to haul myself up again.

Now the path climbed more steeply, and the smooth surface became broken rock and well placed flat boulders. I was climbing in what seemed like a rock fall, and in places it demanded hands and feet, although I wouldn’t have classed it as scrambling. Soon, the path disappeared and I made my own way up the very steep slope. It seemed from my viewpoint that I was heading straight for a vertical wall with no obvious route to the top. But as I got higher, so a possible escape began to come into view. Off to the left, a gap in the rocks suggested a route, and I headed for it. I was rewarded with a narrow passage up and onto the bwlch, and a short walk to Llyn y Cwn.

After a refreshment break, I headed up the scree slope in a series of zig zags, steep at first but flattening out as the top came into view. Unfortunately, as I neared the top, cloud descended and hid the blue sky and it very quickly became cold. A wind was blowing too and I had to stop to put an extra layer on. The weather forecast had suggested thundery showers for the afternoon, so I decided to cut short the planned traverse to Glyder Fach and content myself with Glyder Fawr’s summit. It was as I remembered it, rocky, barren and alien looking. I didn’t linger long on the top as it was very cold in the wind.

It didn’t take long to descend and as I got lower, so the cloud cleared. By the time I reached Llyn y Cwn again, the sun was back warming me up and the extra layer went back in the pack. Descending the path, it was clear that I’d missed the main path coming up and the expected struggle down slippery and loose rock was avoided as I used a well made set of natural steps instead. Looking back, the proper path was obvious but I found the point that I had gone astray and it was an easy mistake to make.

I really enjoyed this climb. It felt like a proper mountain walk and the scenery and views at all stages of the route, including the mist at the top, were spectacular. It’s one I’ll definitely do again.

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