Run to the Hills

After some shorter walks of late, it was time for Rufus and I to head off to the hills. Neither of us had done much recently; I’ve been choosing woods and commons for our strolls so I can get some photos of the local wildlife, so the bigger hills were out. Instead, I decided to head off the Lly y Fan Fawr, a favourite of Rufus’ and sufficiently challenging to make a nice return to proper walking. As Rufus is getting on a little (don’t tell him I said so), I keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not overdoing things but he’s always been an active and fit hound, and he enjoys the outdoors.

I was disheartened to find sheep everywhere when we parked up. Rufus isn’t interested n sheep unless they run. Sheep are only interested in running when they see us. As a result, I always have Rufus on the lead when we’re near enough that he might chase them. For the first half hour, he was on and off the lead as we encountered sheep hiding in dips, skulking by the river and popping up from behind boulders. But in between, we were able to get some quality stone catching and dredging done. I am clearly improving in my stone throwing skills as Rufus didn’t have to bark once.

As we followed the river up the hill, the sheep disappeared and I was able to let Rufus roam. This is where I wanted to check to see if he was okay and not getting tired. I needn’t have worried. While he isn’t as fast as he used to be, he still has the energy to range across the hillside, occasionally stopping to make sure I’m ok. In fact, I found myself running out of puff and Rufus was coming back to urge me on.

On the way up, I saw a pair of bright purple flowers on their own and standing out against the green of the moorland. Not being a flower expert, I couldn’t identify them but they looked vaguely orchid-like to me. I snapped away until Rufus came to hurry me along.

It was boggy underfoot. No surprise there after our recent rainfall, so I was very quickly soaked. Rufus isn’t bothered by the water so I decided not to be either. After several close shaves, where I nearly disappeared into the bog (well, maybe not quite) the lake appeared ahead and Rufus was off. Fan Brecheiniog was capped by a blanket of cloud, as was the far end of the lake.

We didn’t stay long as a cool breeze was blowing, and without the sun to warm us up it was getting a little cold. Rufus shot off and I let him choose the path going back down. We meandered down the hill, always heading towards the river. Such are Rufus’ priorities. I got even more soaked than I was already but we quickly reached the upper streams that feed into the Tawe. Then we followed the water down, past sheep and waterfalls, towards the car.

On the way back, I spotted an odd looking flower and leaf on the rocks by a waterfall. The leaves looked like little troughs with curled edges and the flower was tiny, blue and four petalled.  I took a few photos and once again, Rufus came along to see what the delay was.

After some more stone catching, I had to put Rufus on the lead to pass another small flock of sheep. These all had pink heads (no drugs, just dye to identify the owners) and it reminded me of a walk here a few years ago where I came across lines of sheep with pink, green or blue dye. They all stayed together in their respective colours, but moved in one long line, following a path across the hill.

Above us, a red kit circled and swooped, probably watching the lambs. In the distance across the road, I could see three more. We reached the car without incident, having walked three miles in just under two hours.

Back home, I managed to identify the two flowers. The purple one was an Irish Marsh Orchid and the little purple one was a Common Butterwort. The Butterwort is carnivorous and traps insects in the curled leaves with a stick coating.

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In Clyne d

With the weather forecast predicting more thunder and lightning, I was awake early this morning trying to decide where Rufus and I could go for a walk that would offer some shelter if the heavens opened. As we drove towards Gower, I remembered the Clyne cycle path. As a school kid, I used to play there as several friends lived with gardens that backed on to the woods. I’ve walked and cycled the path, and Rufus has been with me many times.

We parked up at the old Railway Inn car park. After a brief stroll along the cycle path, which follows the old railway line, and dodging a cyclist, we left the tarmac and headed in to the woods. I love walking through woods. At this time of year everything is green but there are so many different shades of green that it never feels monochromatic.

I had no idea what the weather was doing but no rain was getting through and there was no sound of thunder. In fact, the only sounds were the birds calling from the tree tops. It was a completely different sound to the dawn chorus we’d been used to. The path skirts three fields in a wide loop away from the cycle path before crossing under it through a waterlogged tunnel. On the other side there are signs of the industry that used to be in this valley. The concrete platforms for old buildings lie moss covered and slowly sinking into the mud. There is a large water basin – it looks like a short stretch of canal that is largely overgrown – and I’m not sure what that was used for, There was a brick works here and many buildings in Swansea are built with bricks marked with ‘Clyne’. The clay to make them was extracted from the nearby quarry.

Further down towards the sea, coal mining was the main activity and this had been going on from Medieval times. Bell pits – shafts dug into the ground and enlarged like an upside down mushroom – formed the first method of extraction. It was a dangerous method. The pits had a tendency to collapse. Several of the shafts are visible on the hillsides, fenced off as they are still pose a risk to the unwary. Not far from Blackpill you can still see the entrance to a more traditional pit. A horizontal shaft leads into the hillside where the coal was extracted along a seam close to the surface.

Closer to our route, two WW2 pillboxes guard a bridge across the old railway track. They are set out in a classic plan. One covers the approach from the fields, and Fairwood Airport. The other covers the first pillbox. As the line is set in a cutting, this bridge would have been the only way to cross south of the main Gower Road, which was also covered by a pillbox hidden in the bushes. It’s likely that both bridges would have been primed with demolition charges, too and the pillboxes would have covered the engineers as they readying the charges in the event of an invasion.

We wandered through the trees and along muddy paths, Rufus charging through and me skirting the worst of the gloop. Every time he hit a deep patch of mud, the squelching and splurting seemed to surprise him. Eventually, the mud got too much for Rufus and we reluctantly turned back. A damp and curly Rufus is resting and drying on the sofa (I managed to get a blanket on it before he settled).

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Heron

Awake early and with the prospect of wind and rain, I set off for Penllegare woods again in the hope of spotting the elusive Kingfishers. As soon as I saw the river, swollen with yesterday’s heavy rain, I knew they wouldn’t be around. Kingfishers prefer a gentle flow that they can dive into; this would have swept them downstream in an instant. So I headed off along the river bank and was rewarded almost immediately by the presence of a robin, which came towards me and my camera as if it wanted to appear in this blog!

Once again, the birdsong was loud and continuous. I’m useless at identifying birds by their singing but even I recognised the blackbirds, and this was confirmed by the numbers hopping about on the ground searching for food.

But then my attention was caught by a long neck, grey feathers and sleek head and as I looked, the heron leapt into the air and flew off along the river.  I watched it head off over the trees and managed a couple of snapshots as it made off. I love herons and despite seeing quite a few around the area, have rarely managed to get photos of them as they are so shy and cautious.

I carried on into the woods and across a recently restored bridge to walk on the opposite bank of the river for a bit. The Rhododendrons are starting to bloom and I found one tree that had bright red flowers, very much like the ones I saw in Nepal in 2011.

With the first drops of rain, I decided to turn back for the car and I retraced my steps across the bridge and along the side of a small lake. Suddenly, I spotted the familiar shape and colour of the heron again. I was surprised to see it as I thought it would have left the area. I stopped still and it eyed me up from the lakeside. I managed to slowly raise the camera without spooking it, and took a few photos. Then I moved gently so there was a large tree trunk between me and the heron, and slowly crept forward.

As I emerged from behind the tree, I had time for two quick photos before the heron took off but I followed it to see that it had only flown a few yards down the path. So I continued to slowly and quietly make my way along towards it, keeping bushes and trees and other cover between me and it. Had anyone been watching, they would have wondered what I was up to.

And then there it was, eyeing me up as I stood with the camera to my eye. I guessed that the camera partially blocked my face and may have confused the heron, as I was able to creep a little closer. I managed to snap a few more frames before I saw the bird tense up and launch into the air and fly off again, this time high up over the trees opposite where I stood. I decided not to wait around as I didn’t want to disturb the bird any more than I already had.

Still didn’t see any Kingfishers though.

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More fine weather

A hint of fine weather could be seen through the kitchen window. I put my boots on and looked out again. it was raining, quite hard. I read somewhere today that we in the UK should be grateful that we get a mix of weathers. Sat in my living room on the PC I can understand and appreciate the sentiment. But when I’m champing at the bit or miles from the car, I have a different viewpoint. This evening I wanted the rain to stop.

It did, and I was out as quickly as I could. As I drove off, there were spots on the windscreen but there weren’t many and I could see lighter, cloud free skies ahead. I knew where I was heading – a spot I’d found on Monday when I was out with Rufus.

Ruus wasn’t with me this evening – he had a day out with some canine friends. As I left the car and headed into the mud and bog, it was odd not to have him forging ahead and finding the best routes and I found I missed him.

The spot I was looking for wasn’t far from the car but it was slow going because of the deep pools and high tufts of grass. But soon enough I was at the little stream, hidden from the road by a few small trees. In the shade under the leaves, there were a few flowers and a couple of orchids. It didn’t take long to set up the camera and tripod, and then I immersed myself in the photography. I’ve said before how it’s my stress buster and on a lovely warm evening, with the sun now shining on my back, it was just what I needed.

I spent about 30 minutes by the stream and then took a stroll around the area looking for anything interesting. Very quickly I found a thick mass of web in the undergrowth that ended in a funnel. As I looked, I saw a movement and assumed it was the spider. But it was a tiny frog, hopping beneath the web. As I watched I became aware of another movement and my hair stood on end as I spotted the large sider responsible for the web. The frog had got away by now and I forced myself to take a few photos of the webmaster before moving on.

I thought this was a funnel spider and when I got home, looked it up only to find that the funnel spider was the third most deadly spider in the world. And not native to the UK.

All was okay, though, because it was only a Labyrinth spider, and perfectly harmless.

All in all, and despite the trauma of looking up spdiers on the internet, it was a nice end to the day.

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