A walk in the woods

In the quest for the perfect misty woods photo every opportunity has to be taken advantage of. No matter how wet and muddy I’ll end up getting, it will be worth it. Or so Rufus told me this morning when I looked out of the window at the mist and drizzle and contemplated another day indoors. Of course Rufus didn’t actually say that to me. To imply that he can talk would be silly. No, he used his Jedi mind tricks to ensure that I knew that going out to Gelli Hir woods this morning was the right thing to do.

Gelli Hir is an ancient woodland, which means it is has been in existence since the 17th Century, probably longer. In the middle there is a pond which hosts ducks and dragonflies and boasts its own little hide. As you walk from south to north you pass through the oak and willow to one dominated by sycamore and beech. This place is one of my favourite woodland areas, with plenty of birdsong doing its best to drown out the occasional aeroplane from nearby Fairwood airport. In the spring, a carpet of bluebells fills the southern part of the wood. It’s always wet and muddy and all you have to worry about is how wet and muddy this time.

We set of in thick mist and the prospect of some lovely soft mist swirling around the old, twisted trees had me picturing what kind of photos I was aiming for. Too often I am guilty of not really visualising in advance and while sometimes I enjoy the spontaneity, I know I will get better results applying a bit of thought in advance. It’s one of the things I’m trying to get into the habit of doing.

We left the main path almost immediately and stepped into the mud and leafy mulch. It would be more accurate to describe the first 100 yards or so as marshland rather than path and we both splashed and squelched through, all the while getting wetter as water dripped from the leaves. And the atmospheric mist swirling around the trees? Nope! For some reason, there was next to no mist in the woods. We had dropped down slightly from the level of the moor when we left the main road and I hadn’t noticed. Rufus wasn’t worried and he enjoyed the myriad of new scents and aromas as he dashed back and forth, making sure he also sampled all of the mud.

In the distance, cows called to each other and it was eerie in the silent woods. For some reason, there were no birds singing and the mist helped to deaden any other sounds. Apart from the cows, all I could hear were out footsteps and the drips of water from the trees. Everything was a lush green with the recent rain, even in the dull grey light of an overcast morning. But still no mist.

We emerged from the woods back on to the main path and almost immediately reached the pond. A couple of moorhens were surprised to see us and disappeared with much flapping and splashing into the reeds. Two ducks remained calm and aloof and just kept an eye on us as we passed. A little further on, we climbed a small but steep hill and surprised a buzzard. Before I could even reach for my camera, it had spread its wings and flown off between the trees. Shortly afterwards, I started to hear birdsong again.

With little prospect of the beautiful misty woods I’d envisioned, we set off back to the car. Out of the woods, I grabbed a bag and we did a #2minutelitterpick along the road back to the main road. Looking back from the junction, the woods were shrouded in a thick mist. In around 10 minutes, I managed to remove plastic bottles, glass bottles and food wrappers discarded by the side of the road. Most of what I picked up was recyclable. Its a shame that people can’t be bothered to do a simple thing like take their rubbish home with them.

Back home, Rufus was so muddy that a shower was required and no amount of Jedi mid trickery prevented it from happening. We’d done more than two miles through the woods and so while Rufus dried out on the sofa (which involved a lot of snoring), I set off down the road to the local graveyard as I’d had a few ideas about capturing black and white images of the gravestones in the overgrown site.

When I was a kid, my gran lived opposite this graveyard and whenever we stayed with her, which was often, I’d sleep in the room overlooking the graves. It never bothered me and still doesn’t. I find graveyards fascinating; the inscriptions on the headstones are very much of their time and a lot can be read into the style of words and design. This graveyard has become very overgrown in recent months and while it’s a shame that some of the graves have all but disappeared beneath brambles and tall grass, it also makes for interesting photographs.

Many of the graves had collapsed completely, or were not far from doing so. A couple of the taller headstones were leaning so much that I was wary of going too close. Other graves were marked by simple wooden crosses that remained upright and betrayed their age through weathering. I always look for the distinctively simple military headstones and there were only two. One was from 1915, a ‘Serjeant’ Evans of 6th Btn, the Welsh Regiment. (I looked it up and found that the 6th Btn was sent to the Western Front in 1915). The other (Webb) was from 25 years later, in 1940. I couldn’t find out much about him other than the regiment was in the Western Desert at that time. He was 42 when he was killed, so he would have been 17 when Evans was killed and the chances are Webb would have served in WW1 too.

A grey day weather wise, and grey describes how I feel after having researched these two soldiers.

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Broadpool

Rufus and I head off to Broadpool a lot. It’s within 20 minutes of the house (on a good day with little traffic) and it’s a beautiful environment. Occasionally we have to give it a miss if there are cows around and I tend not to stop there if there are horses or sheep as they can easily be spooked and end up on the road. But more often than not we can spend up to an hour wandering around the lake and over the common. The variety of wildlife there is surprising. Apart from the farm animals, we’ve spotted rabbits, ducks and a solitary lapwing. I try and avoid the pool when the heron is there as she gets a lot of visitors and is very nervous. There are swifts and swallows, tree pipits, long tailed tits and geese. I’ve watched a barn owl hunting at the end of the day and recently a kestrel has watched over us as we walk.

Last Sunday it was a beautiful morning and we were at the lake before 8.30. The sun was warm and golden, the sky cloudless and the water mirror smooth. In the distance, cows called as milking time approached. We set off from the car and I let Rufus wander. We were testing Rufuscam which you can read about in this post, and he got some nice photos. All the wildlife photos here are from that morning.

I was happy witch my photos too and you can see them below. But how things change. At around 4pm, I saw a thin sea mist coming in over Mumbles and I thought it would make a great photograph to catch it in the sunset light over Broadpool. So Rufus and I jumped in the car and off we went. By the time we reached the pool, the visibility was down to yards and there was no sign of the sun. We went for a short walk in the gloom, which sucked all the colour from the landscape. Although the photos I took were in black and white anyway, had I used colour the only difference would have been a slight blue cast.

For most of the walk the road was invisible and only the sound of traffic betrayed it’s presence. In the distance, the cows still called, along with sheep and horses. The familiar became unfamiliar. It’s what I like about Broadpool; there’s always something different.

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49er

“Pen y Fan is that way. If you carry on in the direction you’re going now, you’ll fall off the edge.”

I’ve seen some inappropriate things and actions on the mountains but today ticked a few new ones. I’ve climbed Pen y Fan in just about every weather condition. Some of the best times have been in poor conditions; I particularly like walking there in the snow. This morning the weather forecast was overcast, drab, drizzle. Not ideal conditions, but I had a particular reason go there today. It would be the 49th time I’d got to the summit. I wanted to get the 49th out of the way because I’d like to make the 50th time something a little special.

Off we set from the car park at around 8am, hoping to avoid the masses. I needn’t have worried as the weather was enough to put people off at this time. It was cold and grey and I could see we would be walking into cloud before long. I couldn’t see any snow, though.

Around 15 minutes later, we hit the snow line. The fog was thick and very quickly, the snow went from muddy slush to a white covering that hid the path. At the same time, a light drizzle started. I checked on Rufus – he hasn’t done anything this strenuous for a while. But he was so far ahead of me up the hill that I had to assume he was enjoying showing up my lack of fitness.

We trudged on up, occasionally passing people coming down. I was surprised at how many had made it before us. The fog thickened again and the visibility dropped to a few metres. The snow made it hard to judge distance and the best gauge I had was Rufus, who stood out nicely against the bright white.

The drizzle was intermittent and as we got higher, so it became icy. Rufus didn’t seem to be suffering from the cold; in fact it wasn’t that cold as there wasn’t much of a breeze. It was bright too and we couldn’t have been far below the top of the clouds. It reminded me of the white out conditions on Ben Nevis I encountered in 2007, but without the risk of sheer drops either side of the path. The snow became deeper and the path was defined by footprints, bounded by deeper prints where feet had gone into the drainage ditches.

I stopped to chat to a walker coming down and I remarked on the number of people I’d passed coming down. He said they’d all turned back because to the conditions. I admire them for that; I’ve turned back on Pen y Fan and other mountains. It was something I was considering today, but Rufus was doing fine and I was confident of the route. As I stood and chatted, Rufus began to yap and nudge my leg. It was clearly time to carry on.

The traverse across the ridge in the lee of Corn Du is flat and it offers an opportunity to rest from the incessant uphill from the car park. Today it was most welcome, but the visibility coupled with the thick and unspoiled snow made it strange and a challenge. It seemed from the footprints that most people had indeed turned back at the ridge; the footprints visible now were old. We carried on but I had Rufus on the lead now, as I didn’t want him to disappear in the fog. He was still full of energy and threatening to bound off as I clearly wasn’t moving quickly enough for him.

A final short and unwelcome pull up on to Pen y Fan itself and suddenly we stumbled on the summit cairn. We stopped for a few photos but there was nothing to keep us on top, so we set off back the way we’d come. Which was easier said than done as there was little in the way of any indication of where the path was. I’ve been in this situation before and a combination of knowing which way the wind was blowing on the way up and remembering isolated marks int he ground meant I was confident of finding the path down. Still, there were a few moments of that thrill when you realise the risk. In small doses it’s not too bad a feeling.

It was on the way down that I started to encounter the foolish and the ill prepared. Four lads, only a minute from the summit, asking me where Pen y Fan was. One of them was wearing jeans. They were soaked and I know they were cold, and they wouldn’t dry out. Further down the path by Corn Du another pair of walkers who didn’t know where they were. Then my warning, with which I started this post, to the guy who for no apparent reason, struck off the path heading up towards Corn Du and a sheer rock face that he wouldn’t be able to scale. And he had a dog with him. Finally, another four lads, all in jeans, who turned back shortly after I met them, and passed me going down again.

Heading down the main path was easy at first, once I’d found place to turn down. I’ve missed that spot in far better visibility than today so I was prepared in case I got lost. I’d checked the distance from there to the summit and calculated the distance reading that I’d see when I got back. In the event, I didn’t need it as I recognised a few other landmarks. The snow was deep enough that I could descend quite quickly with fear of slipping but as we got lower and the snow thinned it became much more treacherous underfoot. Even Rufus was experiencing four paw slips and slides.

Then we started coming across a whole new set of people coming up. Just like there is a snow line, so there is a line below which the people you encounter are predominantly casual walkers out for a stroll. There are several ways to spot them. The lack of back packs or any proper walking kit, the ‘sprint-rest-spring-rest’ way they go rather than the slow but steady gait of the experienced walker. But the thing that annoys me the most is the manners. In my experience, a cheery ‘morning’ will always get some kind of response from a fellow walker. It usually results in a chat about conditions, previous hills and how much better it is to be on a windswept mountain in a hail storm than shopping. But the casual walker rarely responds, and if they do it is normally little more than a grunt.

I tested it today and greeted everyone I met with ‘morning’. At the top of the hill, in the worst conditions, we had several conversations and Rufus had a lot of attention. But as the snow thinned and the morning wore on, the responses got less and less until last last few, who didn’t even acknowledge my existence. But many of the people I came across below the snow line were wearing jeans, light macs and trainers. I only hope they would have the sense to turn back when the going got difficult.

We reached the car just over 2hrs after we left it. We got home around 45 minutes later and the snoring began some 10 minutes after that.

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Something wickedly aromatic this way comes

I was woken early this morning by a wet nose on my hand, a reminder that there’s a new boss in town now. But when I looked out, there was a lovely mist in the air and I immediately thought of getting out to some woods to try and get photographs of trees in the mist. We’ve been going to the woods above the Upper Lliw reservoir for a while now and I knew with the right conditions I could get the photos I had envisaged.

Rufus managed to eat half his breakfast but I was faffing about so much that I only had a cup of coffee. I knew the mist would soon burn off and so i wanted to get going as quickly as possible. We set off and it didn’t take long to make the journey over the misty hills to the little valley in which the woods nestles. Of course, with my luck, the mist had lifted from that part of the world and so we entered a clear, sunlit plantation with the early morning rapidly warming.

The calls of buzzards echoed through the trees as we made our way along the track towards the reservoir. In the distance, I could hear seagulls calling from the reservoir dam. As I feared, there was no sign of any mist and we reached the shore of the reservoir with only a few speculative photographs taken. The water was still and the seagulls were sat on the wall of the dam. On the opposite hills I could see mist brushing the tops, and I realised that the cloud was coming down again, which would introduce the mist tot he woods.

Off we went, back along the path. This time Rufus took a diversion the continued along near the shore of the reservoir and I followed. A subtle haze filled the woods and I managed to get some photographs that I was happy with. I’m always happy when taking photos at my own pace in such beautiful surroundings and I didn’t really want to stop. But I was conscious that it was getting warmer and both Rufus and I aren’t great in the heat.

Walking back to the car, I caught a whiff of something deeply unpleasant. Rufus has a habit of rolling in unpleasant things and I kept an eye on him in case he dashed off to dive into this one. But he seemed to show no interest, which is very unusual. Then it dawned on me why; because the deeply unpleasant aroma was coming from Rufus. He had already rolled in it while my back was turned (or more likely, my eye was at the viewfinder). Rufus is the master of discovering impossibly awful things to roll in. I don’t know what this was but I tried my very best to keep upwind of him. At the car I tried to wipe the worst of it off but it made very little difference. Needless to say, the back windows were kept open and the air conditions was on full blast in an effort to remove the smell from the car.

 

We took a short detour to see the wind turbines but further up the mountain the mist was much thicker and I only managed to catch a glimpse of the base of one or two, plus the odd blade slowly spinning by. Then it was back to the car and a swift drive home to the shower. A curly and damp but sweet smelling Rufus is currently dozing on the sofa.

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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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One more mountain to climb

At last, all the elements came together and when Rufus woke me up at 5.30 this morning, we got ready to head off to the hills. The weather forecast said mist but crucially, not rain. So with snacks, water, extra layers, map and compass packed, we set off for the old Trecastle road and our first proper mountain of 2013.

Leaving the car, the mist was down and visibility was probably no more than 50 yards. But we’ve done this walk in worse conditions and so I wasn’t worried. Rufus was happy – he’d be fine in any conditions – and so we set off along the riverside. No stopping for stones this morning. The goal was to get to Llyn y Fan Fawr and see what the morning was like before climbing Fan Brecheiniog. My only concern was that I hadn’t let Rufus get enough exercise over the last couple of weeks and that he might over do things. He tends to run everywhere and probably covers twice the distance I do on any given walk. As this one included several hundred metres of ascent, I wanted to be sure he’d be okay.

Of course I needn’t have worried. He out walked me on the slog up to Llyn y Fan Fawr, he chased stones, dredged them up from the lake bed and leapt after them when I threw them for him to catch. If I hadn’t been carrying the snacks and treats, I think he would have gone off and walked the circumference of the lake while waiting for me to have a breather!

Fan Brecheiniog wasn’t visible in the mist. Neither was the start of the steep path up its side or the far end of the lake. But we set off anyway. It felt great to be back on a proper mountain again. Fan Nedd was good, but the climb is only a few minutes and at the top you can see all the bigger mountains of the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountain, all tempting you to go there instead.

Half way up the initial climb, the wind started blowing and it got steadily stronger and colder. Although the mist wasn’t wetting, it condensed on the left lens of my glasses and made the visibility even worse. But before too long, we were over the worst of the climb and into the bwlch. The wind was stronger, but the slope was more gentle.

It’s a short, flat walk to the second climb and although that one is steep, it is short. In less than 10 minutes we were on the ridge above the lake, walking on flat stones that carry the remnants of what look like metal railing embedded into them. I’ve always wondered where they come from. Then, out of the mist loomed the little shelter and beyond that, the trig point. As Rufus hasn’t been near a steep drop recently, I put him on the lead for a bit until we could walk away from the edge. The wind was behind me now and with clear glasses, I could see the path ahead. In no time, we were at the cairn of stones at the far end of the ridge, at Fan Foel.

It was too cold to stay long at the cairn. I set the camera to take a photo on self timer and Rufus obliged by standing near me. Then we decided to head back down to the water. In the past when we’ve been in mist, Rufus has wandered off as we descend, disappearing for several minutes in search of some elusive scent. It scares me and I worry so I’ve taken to keeping him on the lead for the little section leading down to the first steep descent. Once past that, he was off to do his own thing – he tends to run around, then stop and watch me as I slowly make my way down the crumbling rock, always conscious of my 48 year old knees.

At the lake we took a break to allow my knees to stop burning and to allow Rufus to expend more energy. Stones were thrown, caught and dredged once more before we set off down to the river and the car. Of course, the mist chose this moment to start to lift and before long we were under blue sky, The sun still hid behind cloud, and the mountain was shrouded in mist but it was more pleasant walking. I like to see where I’m going.

At the car, I dried Rufus’ paws off and he jumped into the car. He was flat out on the back seat before I’d started the engine. I think he enjoyed. I certainly did.

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