Seeking the snow

After yesterday’s cultural extravaganza, today was back to normal for a weekend. A short lie in, swift breakfast and a quick drive up to the mountains, which were still snow covered. We went back to Garreg Lwyd.

Last week, the deep snow and bitterly cold wind cut short our wanderings. This morning, despite much of the snow still lying on the ground, the weather was much better. For a start, the bitter wind was a mild breeze, and the sun was warmer. On closer inspection, there was less snow, too.

We set off on a much clearer path. The frozen snow crunched beneath my feet but once again Rufus was able to trip lightly on the frozen crust. He edged ahead of me and as I huffed and puffed up the slope, he darted here and there as if to highlight his superior energy levels.

As we got higher up, so the covering of snow thickened until we were walking over the broken rocks and boulders that normally create problems when trying to pick a way through them. And then we were on the flat summit with the cairns ahead.

By now, the sun was quite warm and I regretted my choice of insulated jacket. I noticed that Rufus, even with his shorter hair, was starting to feel the effects of the sun and for the first time in ages, he drank when I offered him water. At the cairns, we paused for a break and to enjoy being on a mountain. So often, I tend to head to a summit only to head back down again and there sometimes isn’t an opportunity to just enjoy. Today, it was lovely on Garreg Lwyd and I took the time to appreciate the views.

It was clear at the top, and to the south I could see the wind farm we often visit. In the little valleys beyond, there was the remains of a morning mist lingering. To the north, the Carmarthen Fans were white and very mountain-like, while to the west I could just make out the white tops of the Preseli mountains. To complete the panorama, in the east Pen y Fan and Corn Du stood out against the horizon. We’ve climbed them all.

Off we went down into the valley between Garreg Lwyd and Foel Fraith. The path was indistinct at first and it was a case of trying to pick a route between the bigger boulders, and hoping the snow wasn’t too deep. Of course, in places it was and several times I sank up to my knee as the top crust gave way. Once again, Rufus sprang daintily from snow drift to snow drift and hardly noticed the tough going I was experiencing.

The walk to Foel Fraith isn’t my favourite part of this route. It’s long and usually boring, although today the snow gave it more of an interesting feel. The frozen marsh and streams were most welcome, as wet boots are another pet hate of mine. Soon we were climbing up to the top of Foel Fraith and the Carmarthen Fans came into view again. I’ve noticed that in previous blogs I’ve spoken about continuing the walk on the Picws Du – something I was thinking this morning. I have yet to do it, though, and it would more than double the route length.

We stopped on Foel Fraith and after I’d taken some photographs and Rufus had eaten some snacks, I threw snowballs for him. He seemed to have learned that they are cold, because he didn’t make an effort to catch them as he normally does. Instead he sprinted over to where they fell, took a few sniffs to make sure they were the right blobs of snow, and then watched me eagerly for the next one. All the while, he was keen to show me how much more fit he was than me.

Then it was time to turn around and we retraced our steps back to the top of Garreg Lwyd before detouring across the summit towards the quarry. We made our way down the steep slope and into the little dips and cuttings where, in the past, limestone was taken to be used on farms and in industry. Given the conditions, even today, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to work here every day.

We finally reached the car about two and a half hours after we set off, feeling energised and exercised.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 3: Back to the hills.

“Rufus, I’ve got a new car. Look, it’s red and shiny.”

Dave, it’s a car. Like other cars, it has four wheels and a comfy seat for me to recline on while you drive me. It’s only purpose is to transport me to rivers and other bodies of water so I can paddle and swim. Get over it.

Yesterday, while Dave was drooling over… it.. I had my hair cut, which not only made me look good again, but really cooled me off. Cool and cool. So today, I was ready to go for a long walk. I stepped in to the back of the car – it really is easier to get into than that big monstrosity he used to drive – and settled down for what I expected to be a long, drawn out drive to Gower. But I was proved wrong. It was a long drive, I can’t think why, and I’m sure Dave grinned the whole time. When I stepped out, we were at an old favourite spot; Gareg Lwyd.

The last few times we’ve been here, it’s been misty and neither of us has been able to see much. Dave was training for his African hill walk last year and regardless of the weather, he would insist we went on. Last time we were here, he got lost and nearly walked over the edge of the nearby quarry. How I laughed. But today was nice, with a cooling breeze (not that I needed it) and fairly good visibility. We set off up the side of the hill. Dave kept looking back at his car and I sensed he didn’t want to leave, but I dragged him on past the sheep and before long, we were out of sight of the car park. It’s very rocky underfoot and I have to be careful not to go too fast in case Dave slips and twists an ankle trying to keep up.

On the very top is a huge pile of stones that Dave keeps calling a cairn. He also once told me that from a certain angle it looks like a woman’s breast, complete with nipple, and now he giggles a lot every time we walk past it. I can’t see it myself. Today, the conditions were ideal to extend the stroll down the other side of the hill and up on to Foel Fraith. We’ve done that one a few times too, and I know the way. So with Dave hesitating to stray further from his new acquisition, I charged down the hill and onto the flat valley floor. He had no choice but to follow me.

On Foel Fraith, it was very hazy and we could barely see the other hills we’d climbed in the past. I found our favourite resting spot – a collection of limestone boulders – and waited for Dave to catch up. To be fair, he’s good with all the food and drink and so I had a small feast while we sat and contemplated the world. But I could tell Dave was distracted, and soon we set off back to the car.

I had a nice surprise as when I stepped out of the car again, we were at my former owner’s house. I got to see all my friends again and have a wander around the new (to me) house. I always like going there. By the time we finally got home, it was late and we were both tired and it wasn’t long before we were both sleeping.

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More hills

As I type, Rufus is lying besides me, snoring quietly. We’re both tired after a stroll on Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith in the mist. The fire is on and there is rubbish on the TV. Perfect.

Rufus stayed over last night but we both stayed up late so I wasn’t woken until 6.30. The garden checked, we both went back to bed and it wasn’t until around 7.30 that we both surfaced again. We took our time – the traffic at this time in the morning meant that it was pointless leaving early and so we set off around 9.15.

By 10.15, we were at Gareg Lwyd, setting off from the car park to climb the first hill. It’s part of a quarry complex and limestone was cut from the hills all around here. There are plenty of man made dips, cliff faces and a lot of quarry spoil to be wary of, and the going is quite tough as there is a lot of scree where the limestone has been broken by the action freezing and thawing. Finding a path to the top that avoids the rough ground is always a challenge.

As usual with this hill, mist was lying on the top, making the featureless plateau hard to navigate. I always get disorientated on this hill and today was no exception. But I had come prepared – a map, compass, GPS unit and the mobile phone tracking app. I used the GPS unit as it displays an OS map and was quickly back on track for the two large cairns that mark the true summit.

And there they were, faintly appearing in the mist. Rufus beat me to them and waited patiently as I picked my way through the stones. After a small snack for him, we set off over the hill and down to the shallow valley between Gareg Lwyd and Foel Fraith. The mist lifted only slightly as we got the to lowest part of the valley and thickened again as we climbed back up the other side. A chill wind picked up, too, but thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as yesterday.

The top of Foel Fraith was also shrouded in thick mist. It’s a strange feeling to be out in this kind of weather without any visual references. It’s a little scary, challenging and exciting all at the same time. Of course, I was secure with the GPS, but I’ve been on these hills before and found myself veering way off course, despite electronic aids. Sure enough, on the way back and even though I was checking the route, I noticed I’d missed one of the turns of the path.

Turning back on track, I soon began to hear the sound of traffic on the road by the car park. Moments later, we descended beneath the mist and before us were the quarry workings and beyond that the flatter farmland of Llangadog, with sunshine picking out the fields.

Back home, we settled on the sofa and the snoring started.

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Lost Again

Last year, Rufus and I climbed Garreg Lwyd in the mist. Mist doesn’t normally bother me other than when I lose Rufus in it. But he knows where I am and while I’d be straining to spot him, he is usually sneaking up behind me. I can hear the metal rings on his collar clinking together sometimes, which helps. This particular time, Rufus and I kept close together and we walked from Garreg Lwyd to Foel Fraith and back. But on the short descent from Garreg Lwyd back to the car we got lost. When I checked the GPS track later, it was amazing to see how I’d strayed almost in a ‘U’turn back towards Foel Fraith.

This morning, we headed back to Garreg Lwyd and, typically, it was under a heavy blanket of cloud again. This time I was careful to make sure that the GPS track was working from the start so I had a reference point should I get lost again. It was hard to say how much visibility there was as there are very few landmarks to judge by on this mountain. The climb up, not too strenuous, reminded me of the terrain on my first Munro – Maol Chearnn Deag. There were lots of limestone boulders making picking a route hard,. I was conscious of Rufus’ small paws and I didn’t want him to struggle, but he was picking his own way over the rocks far more confidently that I was. His four paw drive made light work of the slippery surfaces.

Just before we reached the cairns, a figure loomed in front of us. A fellow walker, faint in the mist, passed close by and I guessed that the limit of visibility was about 20 yards. I don’t think he saw us. Shortly afterwards, I reached a line of rocks and I knew that by heading left (north) I would hit the cairns. Sure enough, in a couple of minutes, the large main cairn rose from the mist and in front of it was the trig point. This one seemed to be made of local stone and nearby was an older, collapsed trig point pillar.

We didn’t linger at the cairn and instead made our way a little further to the East. It was hard to notice the downward incline without reference points but as soon as I recognised it, we turned to head back to the cairns. Rufus was doing a fine job of spotting the easier paths, and he was also keeping within visual distance of me. Heading back in what I thought was the same route towards the cairns, we eventually passed them on the left – they should have been on the right. Even within 100 yards or so, I was becoming disorientated.

I checked the tracker and, keeping an eye on the path, we set off back towards the car. We were off track and we ended up passing through a wide boulder field. Even Rufus paused to check his footing but had no trouble crossing it. I tried to guide him along easier routes, but he kept heading back to the rocks as if he enjoyed the challenge. Our path ran parallel to the one we took coming up and that was fine for me. I knew we wouldn’t emerge on some precipice this way. As we descended, the mist thinned until eventually, I could see the main road and then the car park.

The point of today was to test my knee on longer ascents and descents. so instead of jumping in the car, we decided to explore the quarry. Herbert’s Quarry provide limestone for building and farming up until the 1930s. I’ve been here a number of times and I’m always taken by the exposure of the quarry to the elements. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to work here – walking here for pleasure is tough enough in the winter!

We walked over the workings, along little paths and up the sides of spoil heaps. We left the quarry behind and walked along a sheep track towards Foel Fraith for a while until we started encountering the hill fog again. After a brief rest stop, we turned back for the car. But we were distracted on the way back by little outcrops of rock and the views north, where the hill fog ended and the sun was shining. Well, I was, Rufus was interested in the myriad scents blowing on the wind.

Back home, there was much sleeping. And my knee seemed to have survived the ordeal. The route we took can be seen here.

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Get lost

Off to the hills this afternoon with my walking buddy Rufus. We headed on up to Garreg Lwyd, a gentle hill I usually use as a nice introduction back to hillwalking after a break. It’s an easy slope but the potential is there to go on and on and make a full day. I’ve mentioned before that one day I’m going to walk from there across to Fan Brecheiniog, which can be seen in the distance.

Today, it was misty and windy but not particularly cold. We set off in the clear but quickly climbed into the cloud level. There were the occasional moments of drizzle but it was mainly dry. Very soon, we were on the top of the mountain, as signified by the huge double cairn and the tiny trig point. But the path onwards to Foel Fraith was invisible in the murk. Nevertheless, we headed off in the general direction and after a sweep around in the general direction I knew the path to be in, we picked it up. Shortly afterwards, the mist cleared and we had a good walk up to the second mountain. On the top, we were once again in mist but it was dry and we sat and ate our respective snacks.

On the way back, I followed the path all the way to the top of Garreg Lwyd, once again in the mist. But for some reason, I headed off towards the north rather than west. I followed what I thought was the correct way and it only goes to show that you should never trust your senses when you have no reference points. I felt I knew where I was going and it was only when the mist lifted for a moment that I noticed the workings of the limestone quarry on the north face of Garreg Lwyd on my left (it shouldn’t have been visible, and should have been to my right) that I realised something was wrong. Even then, although I turned back in the right direction, I veered once again in the mist and ended up on the summit of the quarry. Although I realised that there were sheer drops ahead, and had Rufus on the lead, it was still a shock that I hadn’t managed to correct the route deviation.

I checked the route on the phone (I was running an app to track my route) and used that to get back on track and soon after we were descending back to the car park again. Rufus was happy that he’d had a long run out. I was happy to see the car.

Rufus was less happy when he found himself having a shower when we got home, But shortly afterwards, he was flat out on my lap and he didn’t move for two hours.

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Garreg Lwyd

On Saturday, Rufus and I decided to revisit an old friend – Garreg Lywd on the western end of the Black Mountain, near Brynamman. It’s a relatively easy hill to top, with the option to go on and on, potentially to Fan Brecheiniog if we have the time. We’ve never gone that far but the views to the east of Bannau Sir Gaer and beyond are gorgeous. We often mentally tick off the peaks we’ve done from here. Well, I do. Rufus just runs around, rolls in the grass and explores the rocks.

It was a beautiful morning with just enough of a breeze to keep things from being too hot. Even so, Rufus was drinking a lot but I’d anticipated that. On Garreg Lwyd, I took a 360 degree panoramic photo (which I can’t upload) as the views were so spectacular. We set off east towards Foel Fraith which meant dropping down to into a valley and climbing up the other side. It’s great exercise and relatively easy going.

At the top of Foel Fraith, we took a break and had a bit of a rough and tumble fight in the grass. I can tell when Rufus is enjoying as we play fight and he runs off and charges at me again. We moved on further east, dropping down into another valley and curving round to the north to reach the source of the river Clydach. Rufus has learnt to read the landscape and spots potential rivers by the dips and twists of the ground ahead. He quickly spotted the narrow cut of the fledgling river and was off down the hill like a shot. He stopped once to check I was following him before carrying on. By the time I reached the river, he was paddling up to the knees, grateful for the cooling water.

There then followed the usual battle of wills between me (trying to take photos of the waterfalls) and him (standing in front of the camera until I threw stones for him). He won, of course, but I managed to get some snapshots in too. After a short break, we followed the river down to the west and back towards the quarry where I’d parked the car.

The quarry at Foel Fawr was used to provide limestone but has long since ceased production. There are some ruined buildings and mining equipment. The view from the top of the quarry north is magnificent and there is a clear line between mountains and farm land. Today, there were hangliders launching themselves from the hills across the road.

The road north from here will be familiar to anyone who watches Top Gear as it features in several of their sports cars tests.

All too soon it was time to head back to the car and home. We’d had fun and some sun and that’s all you can ask for.

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