The art of winter photography or…

… How I become an 11 year old at the first sign of a snowflake.

I love snow. I love the change it brings, making the familiar look new and magical. I love looking out of the window and seeing a white landscape, perhaps with one set of tyre tracks. Even better are the tiny trident footprints of birds and the bigger paw prints of foxes, all of which are common here when it snows.

On Friday, it didn’t snow. I was a little disappointed but I knew where the snow was. So after taking Rufus for his daily stroll (on a very cold Cefn Bryn) I set off for the Brecon Beacons. I ended up at the foot of Pen y Fan, at Pont ar Daf. I had no intention of climbing the mountain this time but I enjoyed an hour’s wandering around snapping the waterfalls and surrounding white hills. It wasn’t very surprising to see people setting off for the top wearing little more than jeans and a sweatshirt. I even saw one chap in a suit and smart shoes, although he was just pacing about in the slush and didn’t head off on the path upwards. Shoertlay after I left, I got caught in two heavy and windy snow showers, which would have soaked and chilled the walkers I’d seen setting off.

On Saturday, I headed up to Carreg Goch, the mountain above Craig y Nos. Here, despite the proximity of Dan y Ogof, I had the mountain to myself. I was heading for Saeth Maen, a small stone row, which I thought would be very photogenic in the snow. With no paths to follow and only a vague memory of the last time I’d been there, it was more of an adventure as I struggled through deep snow, which had drifted in hollows and against the reeds and grasses. I eventually got there and it was worth every slip and slide. The visibility was excellent despite it being overcast, and it wasn’t too cold. The silence was broken only by the gentle trickle of a small waterfall in the distance.

On Sunday, it snowed here and Rufus and I had a warm and cosy day inside.

Yesterday, I headed off once more to find the snow north of Craig y Nos. This time I wasn’t interested in walking and took all my camera gear instead. The weather was beautiful – clear and deep blue skies and crisp white snow. But unfortunately for me, there was no where to park. Every lay by and parking spot apart from one was under 8″ of snow. I even saw a 4×4 struggling in one lay by. I drove as far as Defynnog and although the landscape was stunning, I couldn’t stop anywhere to take photos. It was the classic fisherman’s ‘one that got away’. I finally managed to stop where the road passes above Crai reservoir. Although the car park was covered in compacted snow, I knew I could deal with that as long as I didn’t get stuck in slush. I spent about an hour walking down towards the reservoir along the main road, hopping quickly onto the side every time a car or lorry appeared in the distance. The snow here was nearly knee deep and I was soon soaked from the knee down. But it was worth it as the scenery and landscape was wonderful.

As I drove southwards, back home, the snow faded from the hills until I neared the motorway, where there was no sign of any of the wintery conditions I’d encountered earlier.

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Two trig points

As my leave drew to a close, I wanted to get one hill bagging walk in and today, according to the weather forecast, would be the best day. Not too hot, clear, and a Friday, which would mean fewer people out. I like that. Unfortunately, my walking buddy wouldn’t be with me as he’s still recovering from his knee injury so I decided to go for a route that would be impractical for him anyway. Stiles and fences are always a problem for Rufus as his enthusiasm to clear them leads to jumps and falls and swear words from me. This route has two and in the past I’ve had to lift him over both. I wouldn’t take him on this route again, so it seemed an ideal choice.

I sat in the car for a few minutes to let the rain clear. I hate starting off in the rain although once I’m walking I’m not too bothered by it. The route I’d chosen this time started off by climbing Fan Bwlch Chwyth, which we’d completed twice before (see here). Its a short but steep slog but the views north are spectacular and today there was the ‘whump’ of distant artillery firing on the Sennybridge ranges. From the trig point at the top, Fan Gyhirych dominates the southern skyline. The path is obvious and also obvious today was how wet it was. The drainage isn’t good here, which has saved this land from becoming enclosed farmland but made this part of the walk a soggy, muddy ordeal.

The sun was quite hot but it kept disappearing behind clouds and when it did so, a cool breeze blew. Before long I was at the far end of a ruined drystone wall looking down on the forestry track that formed the next leg of the stroll. I hadn’t really considered the distance involved today but when I checked I had already done 2.5 miles. I felt good, surprising since I hadn’t done any serious walking for several weeks, and none with a full back pack for several months.

This is sheep country and the stiles I knew lay ahead were around a whole complex of fences, gates and pens used to gather and contain the sheep during shearing season. When I got to the pens I saw that there was only one stile now but it was a difficult one, with slippery steps and deep mud either side. I managed to avoid falling in the mud (as if I’d tell you any different!) and headed off along the track towards the mountain.

Fan Gyhirych was one of my training mountains for the Base Camp treks so although I’d approached it from a new angle, it was very familiar to me. I was now heading along the curved ridge line that makes it such a distinctive sight from the road. In the winter this north face keeps the snow long after it has melted elsewhere. By the time I got to the second trig point, I had done just over 4 miles and I was beginning to feel the ache in my feet. A few yards north is a cairn of stones and here I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the views of the Crai reservoir and Fan Brecheiniog to the west.

Then, with some grey clouds threatening to soak me, I set off back along the ridge and down to the track. Quickly it was obvious that the clouds weren’t going to bother me and they cleared off leaving the late morning warm and pleasant. I had decided to follow the track all the way back to the road to avoid the worst of the marsh and mud. As I dropped down to the track, I stopped to chat with a fellow walker. His little dog was on a lead made of a belt. “I forgot his lead” said the walker, and we exchanged route information.

The track made the going quicker and I completed the four miles back to the car quite quickly. Passing a large plantation of conifers, I heard the  cry of a buzzard as it wheeled lazily overhead. It was later joined by a second and they used a current of warm air to gain height over the trees. The last few hundred metres were the hardest as although it wasn’t a steep incline, it was uphill and the tarmac was unforgiving on my feet. It was bliss to finally sit down in the car.

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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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