A walk in the park

Yesterday was a washout, both literally (I don’t think it stopped raining all day) and metaphorically (as we had to stay in most of the day). I managed to get lots done on the photobook from our visit to Krakow last year but really both Rufus and I were feeling a little stir crazy.

We woke up this morning to more of the same weather and a forecast that said it would be wet all day. Faced with the prospect of another day stuck in the living room, we took an executive decision to go out regardless of the weather. After a second fortifying coffee, I got ready and got Rufus ready and without knowing what the weather was doing, we left the house.

It was raining, a steady, drab, grey rain accompanied by warm, humid air without a breeze to cool us off. The worst kind of rain in my opinion. We headed off to the local park as I hoped there’d be enough trees to give us some form of shelter for much of the walk. I’d forgotten how difficult the parking was and we circumnavigated the park looking for somewhere to stop. Eventually a space appeared and we dived in.

Usually the park is full of dog walkers and wouldn’t be my first choice of venue but my assumption that the rain would put many off was borne out and we had the park pretty much to ourselves. One or two dedicated walkers passed us with cheery smiles which helped in the grey morning. All the dogs we met were older and slower and like their owners, they were at their retirement age. I liked the idea of having somewhere to go for a gentle walk and it reminded me that Rufus is slowing down a little now, as am I.

The bluebells and snowdrops under the trees were still bright and fresh and some of the purples were strikingly deep and rich. The grass was a bright green too, and like the blades in my garden, were growing fast despite a recent cut. Trees were blossoming and despite my use of the the word grey and drab to describe the day, there was a magnificent range of colours in the park to brighten the day up.

Birds were taking advantage of the lack of activity and singing loudly. Several robins crossed out path, used to human activity and not at all concerned by Rufus’ presence. Crows pecked at the ground to lure worms to the surface and blackbirds darted about the tree branches, taking advantage of the new leaf canopy and the shelter it provided.

I’ve been going to Singleton Park for years. It formed a regular route as part of my daily training for treks and I’d often be seen there with camera and telephoto lens snapping away at the squirrels and other wildlife. I remember watching a man trying to coax a bird of prey out of the trees. When I asked, he explained that he’d made the mistake of feeding it before he’d exercised it and now it was sitting in the branches taking a post luncheon siesta. I’ve played gigs in the park as part of bank holiday events, once drowning out the next door ‘Its a Knockout’ event with our excessive volume. Early band publicity photos were taken at the modern stone circle, erected at the beginning of the 20th Century as part of the Eisteddfod celebrations.

Back home, both of us were soaked through to the skin but only one of us got a reward for allowing the other one to towel dry him. Life is unfair sometimes.

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Glove thing

I have a thing about gloves. Not a weird thing that will get me locked up or on some kind of register, or that would make you look twice at me before making an excuse to move several yards away. But I like a good pair of gloves. On the hills in winter, it’s important to have a decent pair of gloves, and a spare pair in case you lose one.

Lose one, you laugh, thinking back to your childhood when to stop that very thing from happening, string was attached to your gloves and fed through your coat so that even if the gloves wriggled off your hands, they dangled from your sleeve! Lose one, you giggle, knowing your gloves are always in your pocket if they’re not on your hands!

I have another thing about gloves. I often manage to lose one. The first time it happened, I was heading up Ben Lawers in a howling wind and in freezing conditions. Struggling with walking poles, doing my jacket up and keeping my hat firmly on my head, I managed to drop a glove on the path and despite several minutes of searching, I never found it. I kept my left hand in my pocket and managed to get to the top of my second Munro (and nearly got blown off the top, only stopping by hanging on to the trig point, but that’s a non-glove related story).

To satisfy my glove thing, I am often to be seen in outdoor clothing shops checking out the glove aisle. Friends laugh but they don’t understand the frequency with which I mislay these vital items of apparel. On all my treks, I have had at least three pairs of gloves (and this doesn’t include the liner gloves for the really, really cold days).

And the point of this blog entry? This morning, somewhere between Mynydd y Gwair and Brynllefrith, I lost a glove. And it was one of the decent ones I have, waterproof and lined but not too bulky. It had been to Everest Base Camp and to the top of Kilimanjaro.  I am not particularly sentimental, but this was a comfy glove that I’d had for a few years, and which I used as a yardstick for new gloves. Now it’s lying lost and alone in the mud on the hills above Swansea.

Tomorrow, I must head back to the outdoor shops to get another pair.

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Toys

I love trying new things. It’s a failing, really, as new things often win over old things in the short term and I find it hard to maintain enthusiasm unless I really get hooked. Yesterday, though the letter box came a small package with my latest toy – a 10 stop neutral density filter.

Not everyone’s idea of an exciting thing, and in the world of photography it’s almost ancient history, but at the bargain price I got it for, it was well worth the money for me to add another technique to the collection – you can always learn something and I love learning about photography. What does a 10 stop neutral density filter do, I hear you ask (or was it a yawn)?

Neutral density filters block light evenly across the spectrum. That might sound counter intuitive for photography, where the aim is to record the light, but in some circumstances there can be too much light. If you are trying to use a large aperture to throw a background out of focus, it can often be too bright to be able to open up enough to achieve that effect (particularly with smaller sensors, where there is a struggle to get small depths of field). A neutral density filter will help in managing the light levels. They can also be used to force a slower shutter speed and this means that movement can be recorded as a blur. The classic example, and one you’ll have seen to excess on this blog, is the blurring of the movement of water until it becomes silky smooth.   You can see examples here and here and here.

The strength of a neutral density filter is measured in a variety of ways but they all attenuate the light by fixed amounts, referred to as stops. Originally, a stop was the name of the piece of metal with a hole drilled in it that went between the lens and the film of early cameras to control the light levels. it ‘stopped’ the light. Later, variable aperture holes were used and most modern lenses have these. A filter might be rated ‘x2’, or ‘0.3’ and reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor by 1 stop. the equivalent of doubling the shutter speed or halving the size of the aperture. I’ve been using 2 and 3 stop filters (x4 and x8 or 0.6 and 0.9) for a while to get the smoothed water effect. The new filter has a significant increase in density and appears opaque unless you are staring at a strong light source.

The extreme effect this produces allows me to record the passage of time by making it possible to keep the shutter open for extended periods of time. While fast shutter speeds and high speed flash stops motion that would otherwise be invisible, so the 10 stop filter captures movement that is too small or too slow to be easily seen.

All that is fine in theory. Today was my first opportunity to try the filter out and Rufus volunteered to accompany me to the River Tawe, where I wanted to not only catch movement in the water but also in the clouds. I had an image of both sky and foreground being blurry with movement, and only the rocks in the water being sharp. Brief experiments in the garden yesterday showed that at such high density, the camera was unable to meter effectively and so I’d experimented to find a reasonable starting point with exposure compensation. It is recommended that after taking an initial reading without the filter, that you calculate and set the corrected shutter speed and aperture manually.

We got to a chilly and windy river just as black clouds were gathering ahead. While Rufus splashed about, oblivious to the wind and temperature, I set the camera up on its tripod and set about calculating the correct exposure. It was in the order of 60 seconds, so I set the camera off. Within 20 seconds, the drizzle started, and it was quite thick. Cutting the exposure short, Rufus and I dived for the car (which wasn’t too far away). After 5 minutes, it cleared up, so off I went again to a different part of the river. It took a while to set up and I was concentrating so much that I didn’t see the rain clouds gathering. I set the camera going for another 60 second exposure and… rain!

Today’s test of the filter clearly wasn’t meant to be, so after a few more minutes with no sign of the rain stopping, we gave up and drove off. Rufus had his walk in the woods near the upper Lliw reservoir, where the drizzle didn’t quite get through the canopy of leaves.

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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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Fan Nedd

Early start this morning. If Rufus had had his way, we would have been out of the front door at 6am but I was feeling a little under the weather and welcomed the lie-in until 6.45. After breakfast, we set off to the foot of Fan Nedd. It’s a relatively small hill from the road but like several in the area, can be extended by using different routes up and around. Today we chose the short route.

I could see the mist covering the hill tops so I knew this was going to be damp. I wasn’t expecting the wind at the top, and the cold. I guess winters is not far off! We took it easy going up but Rufus soon tired of the slow pace and raced ahead. I trudged up the faint path as the visibility dropped and the wind picked up. One benefit of the mist is that you can’t see how far is left or how steep it is. I was surprised when the ground began to level off and looking up, I saw the cairn. Standing next to it was Rufus, making sure I was on my way.

We sheltered behind the cairn for a few minutes had had snacks, drinks and a couple of photos. Then it was off across the top of the hill to the true summit about 300m away. A trig point marks this and recently, Rufus has decided that cairns and trig points are really indicators that a treat is required. I’ve noticed how he rushes to them and then doubles back to make sure I’m walking as fast I he thinks I should.

We walked on a little further to another, smaller cairn (treat marker) before turning back for the car. The wind was blowing into my face now and I hadn’t realised how strong it was. And the fine drizzle I found easy to ignore on the way up now completed misted up my glasses. Nevertheless, I was easily able to identify the cairns and trig points by the big black Spaniel waiting patiently besides them.

The big test today, though, was the descent to the car. It’s short but steep, like the last mountain, and slippery underfoot. I started down a little apprehensive but soon got into the stride of it. Until I slipped and landed hard on my bad knee. But it was fine (and still is as I write). In fact the whole downhill bit was okay and added to my growing confidence in pushing my knee again.

It was far too soon to go home (according to Rufus) so after dropping the back pack off in the car, we walked down to Maen Llia, the standing stone at the head of the Llia valley, and the river beyond. Rufus urged me to follow him to the river by jogging back and forth along the path. I had stopped to take a few photos of the standing stone in the mist but I got the message and followed him down to the stream. Many stones later, we trudged back to the car, soaked by contentedly tired.

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The fun starts here

A week off! Rufus is staying over and the intention for this week is to check my fitness before signing up for another go at Kilimanjaro. So that means a series of walks building up in distance and effort to test my knee.  During the week I hope to build up to a nice long walk up on to Fan Brecheiniog by Friday. The test will be the state of my knee after the week is up.  If it’s okay – I’ll be booking on to a trip taking place in January. If not – well, I don;t really want to think like that at the moment.

I picked Rufus up last night and we went straight out onto the hills above the River Tawe. It wasn’t too much of a hike but it was nice to get out in the fading sun. We ended up walking about 2 miles at a leisurely pace.

This morning, after a late breakfast, we drove over to Ystradfellte and the many waterfalls along the rivers there. I love the area and it’s been a part of my training for all the treks I’ve been on. Rufus loves the opportunity to get into water almost everywhere. I love the photo opportunities that the waterfalls give. Every time I’ve been here they are different. It’s always a challenge, not only to get tot eh waterfalls but also to try and find a new angle or approach. Today was no different.

The drizzle that started as we left the house turned into steady rain on the dual carriage way but it cleared to leave dreary grey skies as we parked at the start of the path to Scwd Clun Gwyn. We passed tow park rangers fixing a gate as we made our way tot he river and while I set the camera up for the first of many photos, Rufus explored the river bank. He didn’t start his normal habit of barking to get me to throw stones. I think because there were no stones to throw and he knew it.

We moved off to cross a bridge but the way was blocked by a kind of style. Rufus couldn’t squeeze under it (regardless of how hard he tried) so I lifted him over. He’s around 22kg in weight – heavier than a normal Cocker Spaniel because he is generally bigger than the average. Once over, he scampered across the bridge while I hauled myself after him. We walked up and along side the river, climbing the valley side to finally look down on Scwd Clun Gwyn from the opposite bank. Even this far away, I could hear and feel the power of the falls.

By now it had started raining again and so we sought shelter. A large tree provided this and we waited for around 15 minutes while the heavy shower passed over. In the end, bored by standing around, we set off anyway, resigned to getting soaked. But the rain stopped almost as soon as we left the shelter and by the time we’d squeezed along the narrow path high above the river, the rain had stopped completely.

Of course, it didn’t stay stopped and as we descended to the river bank again, the heavens opened for a short, sharp shower. Once we were soaked, it didn’t matter and my only concern was for the camera equipment. Eventually, we got to a spot where Rufus could take a proper dip and he spent a while swimming after sticks that I threw for him. I love watching him swim, specially when the water is clear enough to see his legs kicking against the current. The stick of choice was longer than him and he chose the most awkward way to carry it.

Finally, it was time to go home. At the bridge, I helped Rufus over (= picked up him and gently deposited him on the other side) He then turned to wait for the treat he normally gets when crossing a stile himself. I suggested he might want to give me a treat instead. There was no reply, and we made our way slowly back to the car, passing two lots of kids heading to the river dressed in heavy duty wet weather gear. The two park rangers were busy chopping down a tree as we walked past.

As I type this, safe and warm at home, there is a lot of snoring going on from the sofa, where Rufus is flat out on two towels, drying slowly as we both wait for dinner to cook.

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Twin Peaks

Rain is no excuse for postponing training walks. Nor is it an excuse for not patrolling the garden at 5am. The rain was steady and the birds singing despite it this morning and even the sun was sheltering from the rain first thing. But I went back to bed for two hours and by the time we were ready to leave… it was still raining. A drizzle that threatened to stay all day.

We set off for Fan Llia in the drizzle, passing through patches of dry weather and even a hint of blue sky through the grey cloud. But by the time we were driving along the narrow lane that led to the forestry car park, the drizzle had turned to proper rain. But it was okay because Rufus likes the water and I was cocooned in waterproof clothing. So off we went.

The first part of the walk, up to the stile, is a gravel path and easy enough to negotiate. The stile itself is a nasty one for dogs as the top crossbar is a double strip of wood with a gap big enough to trap a paw between them. I was very careful with Rufus but he was fine getting over it. Then comes the marsh. We start off at the foot of Fan Llia and all the water running off the hill gathers here. There are several footpaths, all equally muddy and soft. But once beyond that, the going gets quite good with a choice of routes angling up the hill.

Today I had to weave between paths to avoid little groups of sheep, who all seemed intent on walking towards us in order to get away. Rufus was on the lead (he doesn’t chase sheep unless they run – it’s an instinct for him) and it took a little forward planning to get through. But soon we were past the sheep layer and we had the hill to ourselves. About this time, the drizzle finally stopped and very quickly the wind dried us both off, giving Rufus a lovely set of curls.

We climbed up onto the ridge of the hill and plodded steadily on for the cairn of stones that marks the summit. We reached it in about 45 minutes and stopped to get some shelter from the wind and to have a drink and snack break.

Then it was time to move on and we continued on our way along the line of the Llia valley northwards. By now, patches of blue sky were beginning to appear through the cloud cover, which still obscured the mountains a round us: We seemed to be in a little island of sun. We walked on towards Fan Dringarth, which we passed without really knowing we’d got there. The only feature of this secondary summit was a disused quarry, overgrown with grass and sheep. All around were familiar hill tops; Pen y Fan and Corn Du, Fan Fawr, Fan Nedd, Fan Gyhirich and, in the distance, Fan Brecheiniog and Moel Feity – our theatre last week.

We walked on along the ridge, enjoying the warmth now the sun was finally out. In the end, our progress was brought to a halt by a stone wall and fence, and beyond a steep drop the the valley below. After a brief stop, we set off back along the ridge again, heading towards low cloud and rain crossing our path. I guessed we’d get damp by the cairn; it was only a few minutes after we got there that a short but sharp shower blew in.

We survived, and the wind soon dried us off so that when we got to the car, we were both comfortable and ready for more. So we spent half an hour in the river, me throwing stones and Rufus catching them.

Back home, we both needed a shower and as I type, we both smell fresh and slightly damp.

This is our route – 11km, 368m climb, 3 hours.

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