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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Sharing the scone

It just isn’t done. A scone is a beautiful thing, particularly when smothered in butter and/or (don’t judge the calories) thick cream. It’s not for sharing, after all there are other scones. So imagine my unease when, having sat down in the sunshine to eat my scone and drink my coffee, I was approached by two Chaffinches who wanted me to share my scone with them.

“They won’t sell us a scone of our own,” they protested. I fell for it. For 20 minutes, I shared bits of scone with two hungry and grateful chaffinches.

I set off early this morning for Dryslwyn Castle and the plan was to climb to the ruins and then head off to the National Botanic Gardens nearby. Weighed down by a full bag of camera and lenses, I set off from the car park, pausing only to chat to a bird watcher returning to his car. “The Whooper Swans haven’t arrived yet,” he said in answer to met enquiry about whether he’d seen anything interesting. “I’ll try further up the river, but I think they may be late this year.” We parted with a comment about the weather, and I started the short but steep climb to the old castle.

At the top, I could see the rain coming in from the west and a rainbow showed where the rain was already falling. I didn’t linger; taking photos of the castle still bathed in sunlight with my normal camera and the one converted to shoot infra red. In the distance, Paxton’s Tower was also picked out by the sun. This was built shortly after Admiral Nelson’s death at Trafalgar by his friend William Paxton. It was part of the estate that now makes up the Botanic Gardens.

As I left the hilltop, the rain started and I just managed to get to the car before the heavens opened. After the short drive back tot he gardens, I waited in the car until the rains topped. By the time I emerged from the ticket office, the sky was clear and blue and the sun warm on my back. I spent the next hour or so slowly wandering around the site, ending up in the fantastic biodome built on the site of the original manor house. Inside, it was pleasantly warm and the flora were all from parts of the world with Mediterranean climates. As I made my way through African and Australian bushes, a small plane buzzed overhead.

Then to the cafe, housed in the old stable yard. A scone and coffee were on order and I’d seen one of the staff wiping down the seats outside, so I decided to eat out in the sunshine. Before I’d even finished buttering my scone, two chaffinches turned up. While one distracted me by sitting on the back rest of the chair opposite, the other tried to sneak in under the table. I slowly reached for my camera and this seemed to put the sneaky bird off. But in no time, they were both back and jumping on to the table. Maybe the crumbs of cone I’d scattered for them was too tempting. Maybe they were interested in my camera. They were both very tame and for a few moments I thought I might be able to get one to eat from my hand. But a loud child shattering the calm spooked both birds and they disappeared.

It was time to head back and I left plenty of crumbs for my little friends and set off down the path to the gate. On the way, I spotted dragonflies and I managed to act as voyeur as two of them expressed their love for each other while darting about over a little inlet of a larger pond. Having finished, one sped off and the other dropped into the water, only just managed to drag itself out before the wings got too waterlogged. A fine finish to the morning.

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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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A walk in the woods

Around 150 years ago, John Dillwyn Llewelyn created a vast landscaped garden at his home in Penllegare, to the west of Swansea. Over the years since his death, the land went to ruin and was forgotten. Now a dedicated bunch of volunteers are working hard to restore the gardens to their former glory.

I walk there a lot and have done for a number of years, so I’ve seen the changes as they’ve been made. Last year, I caught a brief glimpse of Kingfishers on the river and since then I’ve been popping down every now and again to see if I can catch a photo of them.

This morning, before much of the world had woken up, I was walking alongside the upper lake. The work done to clear this part of the garden is immense but I fear the downside is that where the Kingfishers used to catch insects on the river has now been exposed to everyone and his dog, and combined with the activity to clear the area has scared them off. Nevertheless, the walk is lovely and with no one else around, the sounds of a myriad of different birds is great to experience.

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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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Holidays!

I’m off on leave. I should have been clambering all over the Brecon Beacons  but that’s not happening at the moment. So I have to try and find things to do to make the leave worthwhile and that don’t involve creating dents in the sofa where by bottom fits nicely. It’s hard (no, not my bottom, finding things to do). But here goes.

Yesterday was taken up mainly with the bitty, tedious administration stuff that has to be done but doesn’t have to be liked. The car went for a service. I hate spending money and not getting anything for it and with a car service (or MOT) it’s just money that disappears. Rather like petrol and taxes and so on. I took it easy in the afternoon, cleaned, changed the bedding (bored yet?) and took a load of clothes and other bits and bobs down to the local charity shop. The house is looking a little more empty than it was.

Today was much better. An early morning phone call from the female equivalent of Stephen Hawking told me my travel insurance claim has been accepted and will be paid in full within 5 working days. What a bizarre call at 8am. They’ve obviously decided my land line is a mobile phone. Still, nice to know that I’m, not out of pocket for the trip. I only hope the record of my claim accurately shows it to be as a result of an injury, not a condition, so that I can get insurance when I do decide to do the next trek.

Happy with that, I headed off to the River Tywi at Nantgaredig to take photos of the bridge, hopefully with loads of mist, and then on to Dryslwyn and the castle. The bridge was mist free but looking east, some of the trees lining the river had mist as a backdrop. and I spent a few minutes trying different settings to make the most of the conditions. In my mind, I was thinking ‘high key’ and with a few straight shots as bankers, I played around with the exposure to lighten the scene.

Then it was on to the castle, which I could see on a hill top in the distance. At first, it looked as if part of the remaining wall had fallen away but as I got closer I could see that this was a trick of the mist occasionally covering the hilltop. At the care park, I wandered along the river bank for a few minutes, managing to disturb a heron in the process. Throwing all caution to the wind, I made my way up to the top of the hill – and my leg didn’t fall off! Unfortunately, the most was the wrong kind of mist – the type that obscures rather than adds depth – and the photos I’d imagined weren’t to be found.

Instead, I decided to head back home and to call in to the doctors to see if my X-ray results had turned up. They had and although I need to speak to the doctor, the receptionist said they were marked ‘normal’. Probably not mine then as little about me has ever been described as ‘normal’. Nevertheless, this second piece of good news made me reconsider going home to rest up, so I grabbed the camera and headed down to the Botanical Gardens in Singleton Park to get some close-ups of flowers. And I wasn’t disappointed. The dull conditions are ideal for macro as there are fewer shadows and the even lighting brings out detail. There was plenty of colour too, and I spent a pleasant half hour wandering around snapping away.

The day is still young, though, so once I’ve posted this I’ll probably be off to do some strimming in the garden. Not worthy of a blog post in itself, unless something dramatic happens.

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It’s official

Just been to see the doctor and he has prescribed a month of rest for my poor knee. If you’re reading this, gather at my house for I think I may need waiter/waitress service!

So after seeing him, I went for a chilled stroll through the botanical garden at Singleton Park. I never really knew what exactly was in there but it was beautiful. Lots of colourful flowers and plants and a squirrel, sort of hiding in a bush. But he just couldn’t contain his curiosity and kept poking his head out to see what iw as doing. Of course, I was poking my camera in to take his portrait.

Then, walking back tot he car, I was confronted by a road accident that had only just happened. A Ford Ka was across the road with it’s bumper ripped off and front tyres deflated. Being an ex-first aider, I started to get twitchy but there were no casualties – in fact it seems as if the two youths in the car had run away. I felt sorry for the woman who had just walked back to her parked car to find it part of the mayhem – the Ka had hit it before bouncing into the middle of the road. My car was only two vehicles away from the one they hit. I overheard a witness telling the woman that the youths had been speeding and had swerved to avoid a dog. Nothing for me to do, so I managed to do a three point turn and drive away from the chaos.

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