The wrong turn and the wrong river

Breaking news: The Tour de France took a wrong turn! To find out more, read on.

An early start for Fan Nedd was the order of the day, so that we could take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Neither of us are fans of really hot weather, and for walking on the hills, the cooler the better. So we left the house before 8am heading up the Swansea Valley to turn off at Crai and make our way through the winding, narrow lanes up to the little car park at the foot of the hill. But at the turn off to the valley, a bright yellow sign proclaimed that Sarn Helen was closed, with no explanation. I was annoyed, as there were no signs on the main road and we’d driven for about 15 minutes before reaching the first sign. But I was also amused, as the concept of the main Roman road linking north and south Wales being closed was funny. You can imagine the conversation… “Sorry, Julius, it’s closed.”

So we turned around and drove back and by the time I’d reached the main road again, I’d decided to head for Llyn y Fan Fawr. Rufus relaxed in the back and although he’s comfy in there, I don’t like to drive for longer than I have to with him as it can’t be much fun. So after we’d passed several parking spots, helpfully blocked off by single cars, we found our favourite spot and set off.

It was a lovely morning with sun and blue sky and a few fluffy white clouds. The wind kept the temperature down and I wondered if I should have brought my gloves. But I soon warmed up. Rufus relished the open air and bounded off in all directions. We passed, at a respectful distance, several horses and two tiny foals as we made our way along the flanks of Moel Feity up towards the lake. Fan Brecheiniog was looking tempting and by the time we’d reached the lake, I’d decided to head on up. It was still relatively cool and Rufus was looking up for it.

We made slow but steady progress to the bwlch and then plodded up the final steep part to the ridge and the trig point. The views were spectacular in the clear morning air. I had an idea that we should head down into the bwlch and go in search of an aeroplane crash site I’d visited a few years ago. A deHaviland Vampire hit the side of the hill there, killing the pilot and destroying the plane. We set off across the moorland, much tot he annoyance of the birds who tried to distract us. But keeping one eye on the ground for nests and one eye on Rufus (in case he found a nest) we made it down to the little valley between Fan Brecheiniog and Fan Hir.

I remembered the wreckage as being on the side of a little river and so we walked along the bank; me up on the top so I could see ahead and Rufus in the water. After about 15 minutes, there was no wreckage in sight and I was beginning to doubt myself. We stopped at a little pool and while Rufus paddled and chased stones, I sat and ate a snack. It was a lovely little place, sheltered and dry and I made a mental note of it in case we come wild camping in this area.

It was beginning to warm up now so I decided that rather than go looking for the plane, we’d head back and return another day. We set off towards the foot of Fan Hir to make best use of the dry path there and as we reached it, I looked back to see the glinting metal of the plane further down the valley, on the bank of a different river. We’d followed the wrong river (checking the map later there were two parallel streams invisible from each other). It was too far to go to and beat the heat, so we set off for the lake instead.

 

150,000 stones later, we dropped down from the lake and followed the marshy, muddy ground back to the car, passing the two foals with their older relatives enjoying the sunshine. At the car, we were both glad to get in and cool off with the air conditioning.

When we got down to the main road, it was full of cyclists. Fortunately, they were all heading in the opposite direction to me and so they didn’t hold me up. I felt sorry for the motorists on their side of the road as there were groups of cyclists for the next five miles or so. I was convinced that I’d stumbled upon the Tour de France. Cyclists in multi coloured jerseys and with a multitude of different bikes struggled up the hills and freewheeled down again. I didn’t envy them at all. It turns out that this was the Wiggle Dragon Ride 2015 and many of the riders were competing over a 300 mile course. Rather them than me.

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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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Play misty

The weather forecast was right. At 7am it was raining a fine, heavy drizzle. I know because Rufus had decided we should be out in it. Shortly afterwards, and somewhat damply, we had breakfast. I was tempted to head out then – spend some time getting thoroughly soaked and then spend the rest of the day drying off. But we decided to wait for a while and sure enough, the thick mist lifted a little until I could see the end of the garden.

The original plan was to head out to Whiteford but as we drove out to Gower, I wasn’t sure how long we’d actually be out. Rather than spend 45 minutes getting there, I thought it would be better to keep the travel time short so we could get a longer walk in. So we diverted to Cefn Bryn, avoiding the cyclists and the yellow jacketed people trying to direct traffic, and halved the time we were in the car.

On the ridge, the visibility was minimal and we headed off in the direction I hoped Arthur’s Stone would be. With no landmarks visible in any direction, it felt odd walking what was a very familiar path. It seemed that in no time we’d reached the burial chamber and we spent a few minutes exploring before turning back for the car. In no time we were back at the car park, and we cautiously crossed the road to head off along the ridge to the water reservoir above Three Cliffs.

Strange shapes loomed out of the mist, where the visibility had increased to about 10 yards. Mostly they were gorse bushes but occasionally they were sheep, horses and cows. Apart from the wind, it was eerily silent on the walk and this added to the spooky feeling of having no familiar landmarks to tell me how far we’d come. Even the small hill leading to the reservoir was indistinguishable without some means of seeing the lie of the land. Before we knew it, we were at the reservoir and the little summit of rocks about 100m further on.

We didn’t stay long – both of us being soaked through – and we made our way back to the car at a fair old pace. Once again we came across sheep, horses, a tiny foal (late in the year?) and more sheep. We also spotted two groups of manhole covers, painted yellow, blue and red, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Very surreal. We could hear the traffic on the road a long time before we saw it and I made sure Rufus was on the lead as I still didn’t know exactly where we were.

Back at the car, two damp boys were glad to be heading home for coffee and a treat for being a good boy and doing everything I asked. I was happy because my leg hadn’t fallen off despite walking at a fast pace for a reasonable distance. It all bodes well for another stab at Kilimanjaro on January.

This is today’s route.

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Corn Du and Pen y Fan

I woke this morning to find a hairy Spaniel lying next to me, belly up and paws outstretched. It’s not what I’m used to. I’m sure Rufus isn’t used to waking up next to me either. We got over our initial embarassament and it wasn’t mentioned again.

The weather forecast, for sunshine and clear skies, was accurate and so we made an early start for the Storey Arms and the path to Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I have’t climbed to Pen y Fan for over a year. It was one of the last training days I had before the trek. I see from my geeky notes that I’ve climbed it 41 times before.

We set off on the Storey Arms path towards Corn Du. This one was a favourite when I was training because it challenged mentally as well as physically. The first climb to the top of Y Gyrn is followed by a drop down to a stream, which further down the valley becomes the Taf. Then, it seems, you have to do the whole climb all over again. (Actually, the drop and re-climb is only around 55m but it is very disheartening to lose those hard earned centimetres.) The whole climb is visible from just above the stream and it’s clear that it gets significantly steeper towards the end.

On the way down to the stream we met a walker who had been camping below Corn Du the previous night. Yesterday, we saw snow on Corn Du and he confirmed that yesterday, there had been a fall of about 3 inches, but it melted during the night. It had been warm where he camped, which was a small lake in Cwm Llwch.

When we got to the stream, Rufus dived in up to his tummy. He was clearly relieved to cool down a little as the sun had started to warm him up. By the time we left, he was soaked and the river had lost some of the pebbles from its bed.

The drag up to the ridge was long and it felt endless. But suddenly we were at the point where our path meest the one from Pen Milan. Over a hundred years ago, a little boy was lost on the mountains and died in atrocious weather near here. Little Tommy Jones’ body was found just down the ridge and a memorial stone commemorates the incident. It’s a sad place and when the weather is misty and rough, it’s a sobering reminder of how dangerous this place can be.

We set off up the steepest bit of the climb. I plodded along slowly; Rufus bounded back and forth. The last bit is particularly hard going and I put my head down and got on with it. I looked up just before cresting the summit to find the silhouette of Rufus looking down to see why I was taking so long. Corn Du was windy and cold but it was great to have finally got there.

After a short break, we set off for nearby Pen y Fan, 13m higher but a greater cimb as we had to drop down to the saddle between the two peaks. It’s not far, but it’s enough when you’ve spent an hour climbing. The top of Pen y Fan was deserted, the way we like it. We had breakfast on its southern edge, watching little dots become people as they made their way slowly up from Cribyn. Pen y Fan and Corn Du are outcrops of sandstone and on the flat rocks that make up their summits you can see ripples in the stones. They were once part of a beach and the ripples are the same as those seen on modern beaches where the tide sweeps in and out.

Next on our agenda was a walk along Craig Gwaun Taf. The ridge stretches away to the south from the slope of Corn Du. It reaches down to the reservoirs in the Gwaun Taf valley and is part of the route of the Beacons Horseshoe. We walked along it for just over a mile and took a break at a large cairn before heading back.

It was time to head home and we made our way quickly down the tourist path to Pont ar Daf. It’s an easy path, well made and maintained but very busy and I prefer not to use it if possible. But I had promised Rufus a treat in the form of a bathe in the river Taf (the same river that he had paddled in on the way up).  He had shown no interest in any sheep on the walk but I put him on the lead when we were approaching some ponies, as they had very young foals with them and several ponies were pregnant. One of the foals was tiny, and still a little unsteady on its feet. Rufus showed no interest and neither did the ponies, so I let him off the lead again.

As soon as he saw the water, Rufus was off, leaving me behind. By the time I was nearing the river, Rufus had been in and had come back to meet me. He paddled and I threw stones for him to catch and all the while we watched a bunch of students making some kind of video just down river from us. I expect some of their footage has the insistent barking of Rufus as yet again I wasn’t quick enough, or I threw the stones in the wrong place.

We got back to the car exhausted but happy. Rufus was soon asleep on the back seat and i didn’t hear a peep out of him until we got home.

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