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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Speed (Bonnie) Boat

We headed off to Cardiff this afternoon to take a 1 hour speedboat ride in Cardiff Bay. Thankfully the weather was gorgeous – the semblance of summer had returned just for us as if it was part of the booking for the ride. The water was blue and didn’t look too choppy. I was looking forward to the experience with nervous excitement.

The two people on shore organising and giving us the safety talk couldn’t agree on the number of people actually taking part. Was it 12 or 13. It was 13 and they laughed it off, saying ‘we’ve never lost anyone yet’. Of course, they may well have done so and just got the count wrong. We donned the lifebelts (‘they’ll inflate automatically. But if they don’t…’) and were told about the life raft (‘it’s a 12 man life raft… er… but they can take more than that’). Then we were led along the floating pontoon to the boat.

It was a large inflatable/rigid boat (‘even if the inflatable part punctures, it will float’) with 12 seats (two people had dropped out and one had been added since the count – spookily we were now 12 as predicted by one of the counters). It was impossible to guess where to sit to guarantee staying dry, and I chose the seat that would take mots of the spray. I didn’t know that at the time, though.There were no seat belts and the advice we’d been given (‘hold on to the bar and push yourself into the seat’) seemed inadequate.

Then we were off, slowly, gently leaving the berth and heading out past people relaxing in waterside cafes and restaurants. Seagulls and ducks reluctantly floated out of our way. The water was smooth, the blue sky had a few white clouds. Everything was…

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrgghhhhhhh!

Getting Wet

Getting Wet

The acceleration was tremendous and without warning. Suddenly we were blasting out across the water of the bay, bouncing over the tiniest of waves, banking into turns and watching the spray pass close by. We jigged and jinked around the water for a few minutes and abruptly slowed to a crawl again as we approached the lock gates. This short burst of speed had only been a warm up. The open sea beckoned. We shared the lock with a couple of sailing boats and waited a few minutes for the water levels to equalise before sirens heralded the gates opening.

Then we were off, slowly at first as we negotiated the buoys out into the Bristol Channel. Then the engines kicked us forward again and we were off. The water was much more choppy now and the boats slammed down after each wave. It felt like someone was hitting the bottom of the boat with a sledge hammer. We shot forward, heading away from Cardiff and towards Steep Holm and Flat Holm. The skipper was skilfully manoeuvring the boat around to give us the best experience of speed and excitement. As Steep Holm neared, we crossed currents and bounced around on them.

Steep Holm

Steep Holm

We turned sharply, heeling the boat over until I thought I was going to fall in to the sea and test the lifebelt’s automatic inflating mechanism. We headed back the way we came and each wave of spray landed on me. We turned again and circled the island before seeking out the roughest parts of the channel.

Racing a Jet Skier

Racing a Jet Skier

Then we were heading back towards Cardiff Bay. The combination of speed and sun had dried me out and the skipper, spotting this, made sure I got another couple of drenchings. The we were racing a couple of Jet Skis and despite our full load of passengers, we were outrunning them as they were struggling with the waves. We did a number of figure of eights around a buoy close to the beach and then we headed back to the lock gates. We waited there for 10 minutes or so as the lock filled up with sailing boats. A brief blast across the bay signalled the end of the trip and we drew to a gently halt at the pontoon again.

Returing to harbour

Returning to Cardiff Bay

It was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to go again. The photos here don’t do it justice.

In the lock

Sharing the Lock

Megaspeedforcedoominator

I went with friends to a theme park yesterday. Great place, friendly staff, lots to do. So many things, in fact, that I’ll merge them all into one. This could be the greatest ride in the world. Hold on tight.

Rollercoaster

This is fun?

You get on after buying the entrance ticket. The ride starts off slowly at first, allowing you to see the full extent of what awaits you. It gives you the opportunity to top up with sugars, caffeine, saturated fat and salt and takes you on a short circuit of the park. Then, without warning, it starts to rise steeply and the carriage slows, anticipation building as you wait for the inevitable drop. At the top, you teeter for a moment on the edge of indecision – which thing shall I see first? – and then the rush starts.

In a blur you race down at breakneck speed, caffeine and sugar surging through your veins. Look, an amusement arcade flashes past giving you barely enough time to fire some coins into the slot before you’re off again, spinning around and battering your way through the crowds of screaming school kids. Quick, there’s a ‘shoot em up’ arcade game; look, air disc hockey; a train, animals, lights, water. The ride lurches around and you’re upside down. Below you, in the vomit zone, there are meerkats, an adventure playground with swings and slides and ladders, boats, bikes. Diiinooosaaaurrrrs! Woosh, down it screams, like you do, in an impossible dive and you feel you’re not going to pull out quickly enough to avoid the hyper hot dog barf burger outlet.

But you need the energy and the ride needs more fuel, too. The fast food is so fast it’s in your hands before you know it and in your stomach even quicker. The ride starts to clank back up again, going higher this time, way above the water and the noise and the movement and you look around trying to figure out what’s coming. Then you see it. Your stomach churns, you realise all that liquid sugar and chemicals have gone straight to your bladder. You question whether it’s acceptable to cry and you wonder how you can get off and still maintain your dignity. The inevitability of being strapped into a carriage locked onto the rails that lead to only one place hits you almost as hard as the concrete lintel would if it were 6” lower.

At the top, for a moment there is calm as the ride slows down to tease you. It’s going to be alright. Everything will be fine and you sigh your relief, ensuring no one sees you. But the ride lied. You plummet with ever increasing speed down, down, past vertical until you are heading at terminal velocity towards…

… the souvenir shop. And at the point where you are resigned to an instantaneous death by branding as you collide with a box of 500 Megaspeedforcedoominator key rings, the ride suddenly brakes and it slows, to pass rows of things you never knew you needed but which you cannot live without.

The ride is over. Clutching your Megaspeedforcedoominator key ring, you leave the platform and head towards the photo booth to see what a picture of you snapped at the point at which you realised all was lost and your life was over looks like.

It’s a photo of you at the entrance, buying your ticket.