High Tide

The tide on Whiteford beach is scary. One minute the water is so far away that I can barely make out the breakers, and the next they spray is covering my glasses with a thin coat of salt. I’ve watched it race towards the shore in a continuous roll, I’ve felt it snap at my heels as I’ve retreated from it and I’ve walked out to the lighthouse when it’s been at its lowest. The prospect of a higher than usual (I’d read it would be the highest for 18 years, which is a lunar cycle) Spring tide this morning eased the decision on where to take Rufus for his weekend walk.

We left the house in the dark and reached the car park near Cwm Ivy before the sun had come up. By the time we’d walked through the woods and onto the beach, a beautiful morning was shaping up. The sea was choppy and the tide was fully in. It was the highest I’ve ever seen there, with the waves undercutting of the dunes in places. We walked along a narrow strip of sand between dune and sea until the waves barred the way, when we climbed up onto the tops of the dunes and made our way across the headland to the opposite side.

Out of the wind it was warm as the sun rose, not like a February morning at all. Walking in sand is tiring but great exercise and we had plenty of that as we made our way to the tip of the headland. Once out of the shelter, the wind picked up again and it was time to don gloves and hat and do up the coat. Rufus, with his permanent fur coat was happy to have a cooling breeze again.

We’d spent less than an hour in the dunes but already the tide had receded significantly. The lighthouse was still surrounded by the sea and on its metal skeleton, cormorants perched, warming in the sun. On the beach, lapwings and sandpipers scurried to and fro with the incoming and outgoing waves. As we walked back along the beach, a huge flock of sandpipers flew low over the sea. There must have been more than 100 of them flying parallel to the shore.

There was a lot of rubbish on the high water mark; most of it seemed to be plastic and I wished I’d brought a bag to put it in. I grabbed a tangle of plastic fishing line, which I brought home to dispose of. I’ve seen first hand what that can do and it’s not pleasant. One of the items washed up was an old football. It seemed to be a decent one, with stitched panels, and there was no sign of damage. It was just a little deflated (well, you would be too if you’d been abandoned on the beach). I kicked it, Rufus chased it and there followed a new form of football; one in which use of the mouth was allowed. I tried explaining to Rufus the rules of the game, but he just ran off and dared me to get the ball off him. He carried the ball for quite a while – unusual for him – and only dropped it when lured by the tempting aroma of some long dead aquatic creature. So I brought it home and it’s now in the back garden.

By now, the tide had all but disappeared and where earlier we were hugging the sand dunes, now we were able to range across the sand. But somehow, we’d done more than 5 miles, so it was time to head back to the car. Wet paws collected much sand as we crossed the dunes again and soon we were on the long uphill drag to the car park. A deep puddle solved the sandy paws issue and we were both grateful to reach the car.

Snoring occurred in the car on the way home, but I would not betray our friendship by saying from whom the snoring came.

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The Seaside

Yesterday, Rufus and I went down to the seaside. We haven’t been to Whiteford for a while and the morning was nice and warm without being too hot, so it seemed like an ideal time to reacquaint ourselves. I used Whiteford a lot during the early days of my trek preparation, and I know Rufus loves the area, so it seemed like a good idea.

We walked through Cwm Ivy wood to get to the dune system. Walking through the wood reminded me of the walk through the rain forest at the start of the Kilimanjaro trek. In fact, I remember thinking the same thing during the trek and mentioned it in my journal. The 20 minutes or so we spent in the woods brought back lots of memories; the only thing missing was the sound of  Turacos calling in the tree tops.

Then, suddenly, we were through two gates and out onto the sea wall that marks the boundary between the salt marches of the Loughor Estuary and the pasture of Cwm Ivy. This had been damaged in the storms earlier this year and the path had only just been reopened. A large section of sea wall had been washed away where a stream passes beneath it; a wooden bridge had been built over the breach.

It didn’t take long to get to the dunes and I found that great parts of it had been fenced off (or in, depending on which side of the fence you were on). I think it was to control the sheep as there were fewer around that on our last visit. In the distance, I could hear the sea which meant the tide was coming in. We headed across the dunes to the beach and sure enough, there was the sea.

There followed a long session of throwing sticks and fetching sticks as we slowly made our way along the water’s edge towards Whiteford Point. The beach was ours; there wasn’t a soul around. In the far distance, on a sandbank, a flock of Oystercatchers flapped and fluttered. We got closer to them until Rufus managed to spook them and they took off in one mass, flying low over the sea to another sandbank.

Walking back through the dunes, I heard the sound of aircraft and spotted a group of five planes performing aerobatics over the Loughor Estuary. It looked as if they were practising and as I watched, they looped and spun and dived with a large cumulus cloud as a backdrop. It reminded me of a painting of a Spitfire against billowing clouds.

It was getting hot as we headed back to the car, so the shade of the wood was welcome for both Rufus and me. We got back to the car having walked 5 miles and spent 3 hours in the sunshine. There was much snoring in the house in the afternoon.

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If you go down to the woods today…

…in theory, you would find a bunch of like minded souls on hands and knees pointing cameras at bluebells. That’s what I thought as I’d planned to meet up with some friends and colleagues from work to go hunting for photogenic bluebells. But, typical for me, I got the directions wrong and ended up in a completely different car park. With no phone signal to check where everyone was, I waited a few minutes after our rendezvous time and then headed off to where I thought the bluebells would be.

Merthyr Mawr car park is right next to Candleston Castle, a fortified manor house dating back to the 14th Century. It is in ruins now and is the home to ivy and other creepers. Not far from the castle, I came across a large area of bluebells and set about snapping away.

The danger with Bluebells is that they can end up looking pink or purple in a digital image because they reflect so much infra red light. So it pays to bracket exposure to try some slight under exposure. I added a polarising filter too, although this seemed to make little difference. As I was crouched down n the ground, I went to lean on a small branch only to notice a line of ants marching along it. A closer look revealed a veritable motorway system complete with streams of ant traffic moving in both directions. I went to fit a macro lens on the camera and saw that my camera bag was right in the middle of another ant highway. I looked around for a place to safely deposit the bag but everywhere was crawling with ants. I was reminded of every film where ants attack humans and I was waiting for the inevitable biting and tickling that would signal my being carried off to some underground nest.

But instead, I found a clear space for the bag and took some macro shots of ants carrying food back to the nest. I had to use the ring flash as the light levels were too low under the canopy of trees to allow a decent depth of field and shutter speed fast enough to freeze their movement. I was pleased with what I got.

I explored the woods for a while, sheltering from a couple of short but sharp showers under the trees. Then I slowly made my way back to the car, stopping once again to get some close ups of the bluebells, now looking their best in the sunshine.

Shortly after I left the car park, I got a couple of text messages telling me everyone else had arrived there.

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If you go down to the woods…

I called around for Rufus to see if he could come out to play, and he could! A lads day out!

Dave turned up and rather than have him cry again, I agreed to take him for a walk. 

We drove down to Whiteford and parked up in the little field before heading down to Cwm Ivy wood. The mist was just clearing and through the canopy of leaves the sun just managed to shine through. The wood was quiet and peaceful and the only other living thing I saw was a pheasant, which ran across the path in front of me.

There were lots of smells and I found a dead sheep to roll in.

There were a lot of sheep around, and quite a few horses on Llanrhidian marsh but no birds other than the odd seagull. Rufus found the only water for miles around in the form of a thick, muddy drainage ditch. He dived in.

I was hot and needed to cool off. Elephants have mud baths and if it’s good enough for them it will do for me. Besides, the way Dave mutters after I emerge covered in goo is funny.

After we’d crossed the dunes, we dropped down onto the beach. The tide was way out and in the distance we could see people harvesting cockles near Whiteford lighthouse. Rufus managed to find another pool of water left over from the last high tide. As I was sending a text message, I started to hear the now familiar grunts, whines and yaps that told me I was taking too long.

Dave was spending far too long playing with the little gadget he carries around and there was a significant danger of the tide coming in and the sun setting before he’d thrown me any stones. Al I did was remind him of his responsibilities.

I threw stones for Rufus and he was happy to chase back and forth, cooling his paws as he went.

The simple things can keep Dave occupied for hours.

We headed back over the dunes, meandering between the largest of them to find the easiest route back to the woods. I was too slow to stop Rufus rolling in a large, fresh cowpat. By the time I got to him, he was covered in it.

It was so aromatic I just had to cover myself from head to toe. Dave shouted a lot and wouldn’t come near me.

We walked back to the car in near silence. All my attempts to wipe the mess off him didn’t do much good and in the end I resorted to covering it in sand in the hope it would dry it more quickly. It worked to a certain extent and I was able to use fern leaves to remove some more. But the smell remained and when we got back to the car I had to open all the windows.

Dave must have been hot as he left all the windows open as we drove home.

Of course, Rufus had to go straight into the shower when we got home. There was a lot of huffing and puffing and groaning but I have never seen as much dirt and muck come off him. It took several applications of shampoo to get rid of the worst of the smell.

But I sure looked good at the end of it.

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Weekend Training

As you may have noticed by the theme of the last few posts, I’ve stepped up my training for the trek. I have to increase the time I’m out and I have to walk with weights to prepare for carrying the back pack. Based on experience, I think my trekking back pack will weigh 5-6kg so I’m trying to regularly train with at least twice that weight, often more if I can. I feel that the heavier the load I can manage regularly, the better it will be on the day. In the hot weather we have at the moment, it’s easy to make that weight up with water.

Yesterday, Rufus and I went out to Whiteford for a stroll. As we were walking through Cwm Ivy, I spotted a signpost for a footpath we had never tried before. I thought it would be something different, and it offered us the opportunity to walk through woods for a large part of the distance which would mean cooler conditions. Even at 8.30 am the temperature was climbing and neither of us like the heat of midday.

The path through Cwm Ivy wood was undulating but shaded by trees to give a gentle, green light. It twisted and turned until it was hard to judge which direction we were heading, but every now and then I caught glimpses of the dunes and pine woods of Whiteford burrows. Eventually, we left the canopy of trees and emerged at the edge of the salt marshes where we turned left to walk along the sea wall towards the dunes. I decided to stick with the trees as much as possible, so we left the main path and headed inot the woods. There was a nice breeze between the trees and we ambled along enjoying the morning.

We popped out onto the beach at Whiteford Point. I was hoping the tide would be in for Rufus to have a paddle but it was a distant line. However, there was a large pool of seawater close in and almost as soon as I had registered it, Rufus was in it up to his knees. There followed a 30 minute splash and chase session which Rufus enjoyed so much that he even ignored a passing dog in favour of the next stone. I turned to leave; an act that was met with a frantic series of barks which reminded me that Rufus actually runs our walks and I just participate. His barks echoed off the trees but in doing so, they lost some of their bass frequencies so although a large Cocker Spaniel barked, a tiny Terrier answered back.

Eventually, I persuaded Rufus that we had to leave and he reluctantly agreed. We headed back into the woods and weaved our way between paths, tracks and dunes. We went back through Cwm Ivy wood but even here the heat was growing and the tress that sheltered us from the sun also blocked any cooling breeze. In the car, the air conditioning was on full and we both enjoyed the fridge-like temperatures on the way home.

Today, I was up a little later after a late finishing gig last night. Rufus was home and so I decided to take a stroll down to the beach and as far as I felt like going. I was still sleepy when I left the house the the mile down to the sea front was enough to wake me up. I walked along the beach as the tide went out. There was a cooling breeze coming in from the sea which made the walking more pleasant. I managed to reach Oystermouth before deciding to turn back. By the time I got closer to Swansea again, the beach was full of people.

Swansea beach is a lovely stretch of sand that is hindered only by the unpredictable weather and a line of mud just below the high tide mark. I have great memories from my childhood of going to ‘the sands’ as I called them. Whenever I visited my grandparents (which was every 2-3 years as we stayed with them while my dad was posted from RAF station to station and was arranging accommodation), we would always go to ‘the sands’. I remember going there one day and seeing JCBs filling trucks full of the sand. I was distraught as being only 6 I thought the beach would disappear. Later I found out the sand was transported to Blackpool, of all places.

A good weekend of training, but I have to up the walking time over the next few weeks.

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Grey

Rufus let me lie in until 6.15am this morning. Although he checked to see I was okay at 12.30am, 3.30am, 5am and 5.30am and only hinted at his need to patrol the garden again. It was light when we went out and there was the suggestion that the morning would be dry, so pausing only briefly to look at the slugs and make sure they weren’t attacking my fledgling potato plant shoots, we had a swift breakfast and made our way to Whiteford.

Today’s training plan called for a long walk on relatively flat ground but with a heavier pack. With a large chunk of Old Red Sandstone from Pen y Fan in the bottom of the pack, it weighed around 22lbs (that should be around 10lb heavier than the pack I carry on a daily basis on the trek). As I’m writing this, the lack of weight on my back makes it feel as if I’m floating!

The wind was blowing and there was a hint of drizzly rain in the air as we set off towards the beach, but apart from one short shower, we remained dry throughout. We walked along the length of the beach to the headland with the recently turned tide slowly ebbing. Whiteford Lighthouse was engulfed in a rough sea. There was a little shelter around the headland as the dunes kept the worst of the wind off us, so we stopped there for a water break.

Turning back, we walked amongst the dunes so that I could get the effect of walking up and down short but steep hillocks. We shared the dunes with loads of sheep, some frisky horses and in the distance a number of cows. There were a lot of different species of birds today; waders on the sea shore, plenty of lapwings and smaller birds inland. Our route was lengthened by having to weave around clumps of sheep although Rufus showed little interest in them.

In the distance on the edge of the Landimore marsh, a pair of horses were making sweet love, and a loud racket too. We ignored them and carried on through the dunes and the woods before crossing the dunes to the beach again. In the hour or so since we’d left the beach, the tide had raced out by around 100m and waves were breaking in the distance.

We passed through the lapwings once again, and avoided a flock of sheep chomping on the grass of the dunes. Then all that was left was the long uphill slog back to the car park.

Back home, it was showers all around; me because I was sweaty and Rufus because he’d managed to roll in every single appallingly smelly thing on the beach.

Today we did 9km in just over 2hrs.

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Seeing the light (house)

Back to Whiteford again this morning. Although I love it down there, especially in the lovely weather we’re having at the moment, I’d like to be back on the hills. I think it might be a while before my knee is well enough to risk that, though.

So at 8.30 this morning, we were out in the sunshine and rapidly warming air on the golden sand of Whiteford. It was clear and there was little wind. Lapwings leapt into the air with their strange siren call as we made our way through the long dune grass. I thought we might have the beach to ourselves but a group of people appeared to be making a movie a short distance from the path to Cwm Ivy.  We avoided them and carried on along the beach towards Whiteford Lighthouse.

The tide was out today, in complete contrast to last week. I love the sound of the tide so I missed it’s lapping. I could see that it was out far enough that it would be possible to get to the lighthouse, so that’s where we aimed for. I tried checking my tide times app, but there wasn’t enough signal to get any data. Instead I decided to trust to luck and frequent checking of the tide line. I could hear words from a previous blog post ‘the tide comes in rapidly on this beach’ running through my head as we walked out. Rufus was uninterested in such trivia as tides. He was more interested in the strange maritime smells that assaulted his nose.

We passed the wreck of a small metal hulled boat. Despite many searches, I haven’t been able to find any information about it and I begin to wonder if it was an old boat brought there to use as a target. Eventually, after crossing masses of seashells and small and medium sized pools, we reached the stone and concrete base of the lighthouse. I love this place. It’s so characterful. Barnacles encrust the base and rust engulfs the upper parts of the tower. Whiteford lighthouse is the only surviving wave-washed cast iron lighthouse in the UK and one of only a few in the world. It was built in 1865 and went out of use in the 1920s, although it was briefly restored to working order with a solar powered flashing light in the 80’s. It is now a daylight only navigation aid. It’s also a Grade II listed scheduled monument.

In awe of the historical and engineering magnificence of the lighthouse, Rufus peed on it.

We headed back to shore. I kept a wary eye on the tide but it didn’t seem to be doing much. I also kept a wary eye on the route, as we were in prime artillery range territory and it was unlikely that the tidal part of the beach had been cleared as thoroughly as the dunes. We were both okay, though, and we climbed the tallest dune around to sit and have a snack. Of course, Rufus wanted my snack as well as his own. It wasn’t to be and with a huff, he went looking for adventures.

We made our way back through the dune system, weaving and wandering as the whim took us. I spotted a Kestrel sitting on a dune top, tearing apart some unfortunate prey. It was more interested in Rufus’ movements than mine, so I was able to get quite close before it flew off to a safer dune.

The while the sharp crack of shotguns had started to disturb the quiet. Near to Cwm Ivy tor, a club has built a clay pigeon shooting range. I say built, it’s a small container and some rope fencing off a dip in the dunes. It’s a little too close to places where people walk, the ponies and horses wander and more importantly, the Lapwings have their sanctuary. The coastal path passes behind the gun line but then turns to climb a hill to the left of the range. Be warned if you are in the area.

We trudged up the final path to the car park and I stopped to talk to the lady in the house nearest the gate into the village. She’s been putting a bowl of water out for dogs every day for the last 30 years. It’s certainly been there very time I’ve been there and although Rufus tends not to drink from it, I appreciate the thought. So today, I said thank you. We chatted for a bit about how dogs tend not to like fresh water. Then we completed our trudge to the car.

Today we did 10.3km in about 3.5 hours.

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Long way round

Day three of the walkies marathon. At a similar ungodly hour to last time, Rufus flumped down beside me in the bed and proceeded to edge me out. It’s a kingsize bed; there is room for both of us. But Rufus requires 7/8ths of the bed to be fully comfortable and I was in the way. 30 seconds later, the snoring started. At one point, it woke me and I woke him. I was greeted with a huge sigh and, 30 seconds later, the snoring started again.

At 4.30am, it was time to go out. At 5am, I relented, figuring that I’d get another hour in bed once he’d been out. At 6.45am, it was time for me to get up. All of these times were enforced with a wet nose and, in a new move this morning, a gentle tap of the paw on my cheek. I wanted to get up fairly early as i wanted to be out and on the beach before the rest of the world came to.

Sure enough, we were on the sand at just after 8am. This time, I had loaded the back pack up with more water and a large stone from the top of Pen y Fan. All that added up to 12 kg and today was meant to be an opportunity to start building some stamina up with that kind of load. It’s more than I’ll be carrying on the trek (if last time is anything to go by, I’ll have between 7 -9kg each day). To start with, I felt every gramme but as we went on, it became part of the background noise.

Rufus was happy exploring the high water mark, with all the debris from the recent high winds making a colourful line along the beach. The wind was cold but I was wrapped up warm. I kept an eye on Rufus in case he was missing his winter coat, but he was so busy running around that he had no chance to cool off. We left the beach and wandered across the dunes, through the wood we sheltered in last week and we even managed to find the only waterlogged, boggy marsh in the whole area.

Back on the beach, we turned to face home and trudged off. I was beginning to feel the effects of the weight on my back now and my pace slowed. Rufus had no such worries and ran off and round and up and down and back and forth. My knee was starting to ache again. I think I may need to give it a rest for a week before any more long distance walks. I was glad I was walking on sand, which had some give. I’ll have to make sure my training for the next few weeks is on softer terrain.

We got back to the car about three hours after we’d set off, having done about 6.4 miles and climbed about 120m.

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Pembrey

It’s my 80th posting, but you don’t see the country queuing up to have street parties for my Jubilee!

Rufus and I headed off to Pembrey this morning. We were both feeling tired so there was no mountain in our sights. Instead, a gentle walk on the beach and through the dunes. The weather looked cold and grey but it was deceptively warm once we set off on the Millennium Coastal path. I had to keep Rufus on the lead for a bit as there were a lot more cars on the cycle path than I would have expected. Eventually we came to the dunes and he was off.

We took it easy today; there was no rush and no hurry to be anywhere. Instead we strolled along the beach for a mile or so before heading back into the dunes and the outskirts of the country park. I sat on a bench to eat my lunch and Rufus lay down in the shade at my feet, after having drunk a bowl full of water. Rufus has his own litre bottle of water now, which goes everywhere. He’s good at drinking but will always try for food first. I’m going to have to train him to carry his own supplies, I think.

We passed a few signs on our walk. The classic one about no dogs on the beach between May and September but another one about not digging in the sand dunes. I think it does say a lot about our society that we have to have these signs. It used to be that common sense and supervision made the need for such signs unthinkable. What has this generation done to its kids?

And that’s my leave over. It was great, it went too quickly and I can think of a load of things I should have done but didn’t. Still, there’s always the next leave.

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