A walk on the common

Bank Holiday Monday. Sunny but with rain coming in around lunchtime. No surprise there, but what should we do? I had a meeting with Rufus, my outdoor pursuits consultant, and he suggested a walk on the common while the good weather lasted. There may have been some bias in his coming to that decision, but I trust his judgement.

I decided to write a lighter blog after yesterday’s and it seemed a good idea to base it on a typical walk in Gower – one of the ones we do all the time and take for granted. So here it is. You have been warned.

Where we go on Fairwood Common is dictated by the location of the livestock there. Farmers get free grazing on this land and in that past we have encountered one several times who believes the land is his own personal possession. As I like to let Rufus off the lead as much as possible, I always look for the cows and sheep and avoid them. Today the cows, along with some horses and foals, were at the top of the common so we had free range. I parked the car off the road and we set off along an old and overgrown access road built for the airport when it was an RAF fighter station. Near here were a dead badger and a dead fox – I’d seen them before so I kept Rufus on the lead until we’d passed. Further along the road was the corpse of a dead cow, but that had been moved since we were last here. It was safe to let Rufus off the lead now and he went trotting ahead as we weaved through bushes and tree branches, all the while the birds singing from the cover of the branches.

At the perimeter fence, we usually see rabbits beyond in the airport. There weren’t any today; maybe we were a bit late. But Rufus picked up their scent and spent a few minutes trying to squeeze himself through the chain links. Giving up, he padded along the fence heading north along the line of the main runway. Two planes were flying, taking turns to land and take off before circling around again.

This part of the common is littered with the remains of WW2 buildings. Most of them are little more than concrete foundations; some are raised above the level of the ground and one or two have several courses of red brick poking above the marsh. Today, Rufus passed all of these and made for the end of the runway. I let him choose the route as he has an uncanny knack of finding trails and paths.

Fairwood Airport was built as a fighter station at the beginning of WW2. Thousands of tons of ballast and slag from the local steel and copper works were deposited in the marshy area known as Pennard Burch. Time was found to excavate two burial mounds in the area before they were covered by the runways. The airfield was open in 1941 and played host to a number of squadrons and aircraft types. It now hosts one of the Wales Air Ambulance helicopters, which was taking off as we walked, as well as the Swansea Skydiving Club and a number of private planes.

At the far end of the runway, we watched the planes coming and going, including the large aircraft used to take skydivers into the air. A smaller aeroplane had to dodge out of the way as the big plane taxied to our end of the runway. Beneath out feet, the marsh land was in evidence and I though that it was amazing how they were able to build on this type of ground. According to the records, damp and drainage were constant problems throughout the war at this base. Rufus disappeared in the long marsh grass but I was able to follow his progress by the splash and squelch noises he made as he explored. He wasn’t worried by the low flying aeroplanes.

We turned back and went onto firmer ground slightly above the level of the airfield. From here, it’s clear that the airfield is built in a dip in the ground. Not an ideal location, but it is the flattest part of the common and the only suitable place to site the runway. We were walking through the remains of the buildings now and Rufus climbed on to every foundation raft to make sure it was clear of local critters. We made our way further from the perimeter fence to a point that would have had a clear view of the whole airfield. Trees now block the way, but they are recent additions. Years ago, I found the half buried entrance to what I thought was the Battle HQ for RAF Fairwood Common. A recent check of a site map proved me correct. Nearby are the filled in remains of two infantry trenches, and between them is the holdfast for a small gun, possible an anti aircraft weapon.

It was all downhill from here and the car was visible from this part of the common. It’s at this stage that Rufus normally slows down. Not because he’s tired but because he doesn’t want to go home. Today, he was too caught up in the smells of the countryside and he ranged either side of me until I eventually had to put him on the lead when we got close to the road. There was a lot of traffic as people took advantage of the sun to get out into Gower.

Then we were back at the car and our walk was over. We’d done just over two miles in about 80 minutes. No records were in danger of being broken today, but that’s not the point of our walks. It’s all about enjoying and having fun. And that we did.

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It’s only rain…

Training for the trek is stepping up now. I have to take advantage of every opportunity to get the hours in. The training plan calls for 3-4hr hikes at the moment. I’m happy, having done several 4-5hrs walks with Rufus on our lads week but I have to make sure that I keep up the pace and don’t become over confident. So the prospect of rain this morning wasn’t going to put me off getting out.

I went to see if Rufus wanted to come out and, surprise surprise, he did! We set off for Whiteford again. As we drove, the rain started. It wasn’t heavy but it was constant. It wasn’t cold either which would make the rain easier to cope with. We parked up and I got all my waterproofs on. Rufus waited impatiently, hurrying me up with little yaps and whines. Then we were off.

Last week, we explored a new route and I decided to try a slight detour along another new route. Not knowing where it would lead, we set off along a sunken lane signposted ‘Betty Church. There was no Betty and no church, but we soon got to a flat clearing in the woods. There was no obvious path but when I looked over the edge of the clearing, I saw that we were about 20 feet above the Cwm Ivy wood path that we used last week. There seemed to be an easy bit leading down so we went for it. Rufus charged off and I followed. But as soon as we got down the level of the path, we saw the thing wire fence topped with barbed wire. Rufus was all for jumping it but I stopped him. Instead, we went looking for a gap, or a part of the fence that was down.

Rufus was bounding up and down along the fence, while I was slipping and sliding as the ground was sloping and muddy. Inevitably, I went flying after stepping on a slippery tree root. As I lay on my side, Rufus bounded up and I swear that if he had been able to laugh, he would have been hysterical. Instead, he poked his nose in my face, backed off and as soon as I got up, he wagged his tail and jumped up to give my face a lick. Then we went looking for the gap in the fence again and he was bouncing around. Eventually, I found part of the fence flattened where a tree had fallen on it. I called Rufus and looked up, to see him vaulting the fence a little further off. We finally made it to the path.

From there, we followed a familiar route along the boundary wall by the estuary. Rufus desperately wanted to paddle in the water but it was thick with mud and he was good enough to listen to me and not wander off. We negotiated a solitary cow near the path (the others were behind a fence) and we made our way out onto the dune system and along to Whiteford Point. Today the tide was further in but on its way out. Fortunately for me, the big pool Rufus played in last week was still there, so I spent some time throwing stones for Rufus to retrieve.

By now the rain was getting a little heavier and it was quite miserable out, so we turned for home. I decided to walk along the beach on the way back – something we hadn;t down for a while. There was a wind blowing in from the sea and the rain continued to dampen our clothes, but not our spirits. The receding tide left lots of scents and aromas for Rufus to investigate. I just stuck my head down and trudged.

At the exit tot he beach, I put Rufus on the lead as there was a sign warning dog owners of ground nesting birds. Most of Whiteford is a nature reserve and we’ve seen lots of Lapwings and Sandmartins. Today, we also spotted several Common Shelduck on the marshland of the estuary. There were also some horses that appeared to be fighting – they might have been playing as there were foals around of various ages.

Walking back up towards Cwm Ivy, both of us could hear cows and they sounded perturbed. After our encounter with cows at Pembrey, I was a bit wary of what we’d see when we came over the hill. Sure enough, near the junction with the coastal path there were a lot of cows milling about and calling. A farmer was herding them out of the field to take them up through the village and who knows where. We backed off; the presence of Rufus may have made it harder for them to control the herd. The sounds uf mildly annoyed bovines slowly faded as they made their way along the path that we would shortly be following.

I gave them five minutes, then we set off. They stayed ahead of us but they left behind them the most awful stench and almost constant stream of dung; it took concentration to avoid every drop! But we did it and finally made the car.

Our route today.

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