Cold and frosty morning

“Snuffle snuffle”

“It’s only 5.30, Rufus. At least another half hour.”

“Snuffle, snuffle”

“Just five more minutes, please?”

“Snuffle snuffle”

“I’m getting up, honest. It’s just taking a while.”

We were in the garden, checking out the activities of the fox at 6.15. At 6.30 we were breakfasting on toast and coffee. At 7, we were heading off for the hills.

I decided I wanted to try the same route as two weeks ago. It gave a decent ascent (521m) without being too strenuous on the knee. I’m building it’s strength back up slowly so it would be silly to try something too much too soon. We set off from the car at just after 8 heading towards Moel Feity before dropping down into a shallow valley and climbing back up to Llyn y Fan Fawr and then on to Fan Brecheiniog.

The weather was gorgeous, cold and clear. The sun was still golden, turning everything it touched a deep orange colour  A thick frost coated the grass and most of the bog and marsh we encountered last time was frozen solid. We skirted the horses on the lower slopes of Moel Feity before turning north and heading up the flank towards the bomber crash site. I wanted to see if my little cross was still there. It was.

The view from Moel Feity was crisp and clear. Clouds were beginning to form a white woolly cap on Pen y Fan to the East and the moon was still shining above Fan Brecheiniog. With a brief stop for a treat and a drink, we set off towards the lake, hidden by low hills at this point. There are few paths and I always make my own way, avoiding the obviously tricky drops and boggy patches. I didn’t have to worry about the water and mud today, but there were enough little dips to keep me concentrating. Rufus tracked me some 50m to the north; he had his own agenda and there were plenty of scents that had to be investigated that didn’t require my presence. Every now and then he would check to see if I was okay.

In no time we reached the shore of Llyn y Fan Fawr. It was calm and the sun reflecting off it was dazzling. There was a lot of heat from the sun and the reflection too, so we stopped for a few minutes for me to catch my breath and for Rufus to catch some stones. Then it was off around the top of the lake and onto the path the climbs steeply to Bwlch Giedd. The path was shaded from the sun, and there was a thick frost on the stones making them treacherous. Even Rufus, with four paw drive, slipped on a couple. I kept an eye on him as we climbed higher but he quickly got the hang of it and, as usual, was waiting patiently for me as I huffed and puffed my way to the top.

I’ve said it before but the ridge to Fan Brecheiniog is one of my favourite places to walk. There’s a combination of solitude, space and achievement there that I rarely feel elsewhere. As we walked along the ridge this morning, I felt it again and it was magnified by the beautiful weather. I met several people on the mountain and we all mentioned how fantastic the conditions were at some point. Rufus and I went on to Tro’r Fan Foel, the ancient and eroded burial cairn on the tip of the mountain that overlooks land that was once inhabited long ago. Then it was time to turn back.

The journey down was uneventful. A thin mist was forming on Fan Brecheiniog, just as it had done on Pen y Fan. Moisture in the wind blowing up the side of the mountain was condensing at the top and blowing across the gently sloping west side. It didn’t affect the walk and wasn’t wetting, but it did spoil the views to the west. By the time we got down to the lake again (avoiding ignominious slips on the frosty path), the top of the mountain was covered in cloud in an otherwise clear sky.

We had to cross several streams swollen by recent rain on the way back, and at each one, stones had to be thrown (or barking occurred). Nevertheless, we managed to get back to the car just over 4 hours and 11km after we started. An enjoyable day.


“Rufus, Rufus, we’re home.”

Dramatic sigh

“We have to get out of the car now.”


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Business as usual

It was a hard weekend. A last minute gig on Friday night, preceded by a visit to Swansea that I decided should be made on foot as I am now in training for my trek. It was 8.2km in total. Then I pottered about in the garden on Saturday morning and spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening at a charity gig in Parc y Scarlets. I didn’t get home until 12.45am, and after missing the teapot and pouring boiling water over my hand, I didn’t end up in bed until around 2am.

Sunday was a more leisurely affair and after a late breakfast, Rufus and I took a short drive to the hills, where we climbed Fan Nedd. It was cold and very windy but I was wrapped up in several warm layers. Rufus, with his built in thermals and fur coat, was fine despite a fine covering of frost on his fur. We walked along the ridge heading south to the trig point and then the small cairn marking where the hilltop drops away towards the Forestry Commission woodland. We’ve done that walk before, and it’s tough on the ankles, with lots of tufts of grass and ruts. It wasn’t for us today.

Instead, we turned about and headed back to the car. Rufus took the stile in style (see the photos below) and we wandered along the road for a bit until we walked past Maen Llia and down to the stream that becomes the river Llia further down the valley. Rufus wanted to catch stones today, so I threw little ones for him and he jumped up to catch them, flicking water all over me as he did so. By now, the sun was starting to hide behind the clouds so we decided it was time to head home. Despite the cold, I was feeling warm but this was making me tired.

I dropped Rufus off at his house, and went home to a hot shower, hot food and a comfy sofa.

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Ice topped…

…making cold weather puns. Sorry!

The snow was still there this morning so it was off again to grab Rufus and head up to the river. I expected to find some snow and, more importantly, icicles by the river. The combination of slow shutter speed, flowing water and static icicles was tempting. I also expected a few slippery patches on the road alongside the river.

But when we turned off the main road and on to the lane, it was white with compacted snow. A few places had darker patches which at first looked like melted tracks, but as I went over them, they were clearly ice by the way the car shimmied. It was great. The car gave me the confidence to keep going. In fact, the hardest part was not getting over confident. Despite the traction, I had to be able to stop again, and so I kept the speed down and stayed in 2nd gear, using the engine to brake on the downhill bits. Soon we reached the layby and parked.

As soon as Rufus was out of the car, he was bounding through the snow. It was deep and untouched and so he’d take a few strides then sink to his body, leap up and carry on. He managed to get tot he river before I’d had a chance to take more than a few steps. We wandered along the bank, careful of the overhanging snow and icy rocks. I set the camera up to take the first photo and suddenly there was a bark! I’d forgotten the rules. There were no stones to hand, so I threw Rufus a snowball, which he chased off until it stopped rolling. Puzzled at why he couldn’t see it, he started digging, I looked back to see his head under the snow.

I managed to take a few snaps before it was time to throw another snowball. He chased and dug for this one, too. This routine carried on for a while until it was time to move on. Rufus lead the way, breaking through the deep snow and showing me the path to take. In the distance, on the hill, a big black blob slowly split apart as a herd of cows grazed as best they could on any grass they could find.

It wasn’t particularly cold; there was no wind blowing, but mu fingers were getting chilly from all the snowballs, and Rufus was collecting snow on every part of his fur that touched it. He didn’t see too bothered and I checked a few times to make sure it wasn’t getting between his toes. We carried of for a bit, watching a line of 4x4s go by and then a couple of 2x4s struggling along. They were braver than me in these conditions.

I stopped to take some more waterfalls shots and looked down to find Rufus lying down, giving himself a manicure. I decided that it wasn’t fair to let him get coated like this so after a brief discussion, we reluctantly turned back for the car. We walked along the road, as the compacted snow made it easier and it didn’t clog Rufus’ paws. We’d gone further up the valley than I had realised and the view back down to the dot that was my car was beautiful. Everything was white apart from the trees, which stood out starkly. We strolled down the road, and finally made it to the car. By now most of the snow had fallen off Rufus and I cleared as much as I could of the rest of it. As soon as he got in, he lay down and started getting rid of the rest of it.

The journey down the road was as easy as coming up. I kept the speed low and only met one vehicle coming up. The main road was clear and we were home in no time.

When I got home, I went straight out into the garden to try some more macro shots. The wind that had thwarted me on Friday was non-existent today. And the thaw that was slowly setting in created some lovely, tiny icicles on leaves and twigs.

I love the snow. If we only realised that we get it regularly, and were suitably prepared in attitude as well as with supplies, there would be fewer problems and a lot less stress. If the corner shops didn’t hike their prices as the first flakes fall, if people only bought what they really needed (how much bread and milk will go to waste this week as the hoarders throw it away?) and more importantly, if people accepted that there would be a bit of disruption and adjusted their expectations accordingly, it would be a much better experience.

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Snow more puns

It was cold last night. I’ve taken to using a hot water bottle to keep my feet warm at night. I may not need to but it’s comfy and I like it. There was no Rufus powered alarm clock this morning, either, so I ended up having a lie in until 7.45am. Lovely!

I decided to go for a walk first thing. I love the early morning when few people are about. It was fairly quiet even at 8.30. Having been disappointed with Singleton Park yesterday, I headed instead for a small park across the way from my house.  Walking down my road, the pavement was icy but as it was snow that had frozen, it was still a bit grippy. But at the bottom of the hill, where it joins the main road, there is a short, steep curve and it was like glass. I edged my way down, using the walls and railings of gardens as support. But inevitably I slipped and fell. Luckily, I went sideways into a large, soft bush growing in the driveway of someone’s house.

That was the hardest part though, and the rest of the route was more frozen snow. At the park, the trees still carried their loads of snow. Their branches were weighed down and several drooped wearily with the effort. A weak sun, filtered by thin cloud, gave a coppery glow to the park and it was leovely to have it to myself. I wandered for half a hour exploring the park and snapping away.

Then it was off to visit friends and Rufus.We spent a fun hour at the Lliw Valley reservoir where many snowballs were thrown and we built a snowman. Rufus chased snowballs and even managed to catch a few by leaping athletically into the air. But all that running around in deep snow meant that very quickly, he accumulated a load of snow around his paws until he looked like he was wearing snow boots. It didn’t stop him from charging across the dam and peeing on a very large snowman!

On the way home, I decded to detour to Cefn Bryn. It’s a heck of a detour but I wanted to get some photos of Broadpool and of Athur’s Stone. It’s great being able to nip off road to park without worrying about getting stuck. I popped over to the pool and took some photos. Cefn Bryn was looking wild and windswept and on the ridge I could see people sledging down the slopes.

On top of the ridge the car park was full and once again, I pulled up off road. I walked out to the stone and past wild horses that are often to be seen there. The landscape remined me a lot of Iceland. The snow was crunchy underneath and I didn’t stay long as the temperature was dropping.

Now where is that hot water bottle…

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Snow Day (for being out) pt 2.

I posted part 1 about 4 hours ago, with the intention of finishing off with part 2 at the end of the day. I was hoping to achieve loads and talk about it.

Well, I drank lots of coffee. It was nice coffee, too. Santos and Java – 5 on the Richter scale. No sleep ’til Tuesday.

I also went out into the garden to try some macro photography. It was very windy and it was hard to find anything that stayed still for more than a fraction of a second. With a small aperture and slow shutter speed, the miss rate was quite high. I’ve put a few on here but if the wind dies down tomorrow, I hope to get a lot more.

It’s already started freezing here and I’ve been putting salt down on the steps. I expect my steps now exceed the daily recommended intake of salt. I never add salt to anything expect potatoes when they’re boiling, and bread when I make it. And now steps.

I didn’t add vinegar, though. That would be wrong.

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Snow Day (for being out) pt 1.

There’s a certain light, even at night, that tells you there is snow outside. Even through thick curtains I could tell there was a blanket covering the road and gardens this morning. It was a little warmer than the night before, too. I looked out of the window and there it was.

I was looking forward to trying out the 4×4 in these conditions, as I needed to get confident in driving in them. An early morning start for work was the ideal opportunity. There would be little traffic on the roads and I could get to grips (pun intended) with 4 wheel drive. I set off just before 7am, down the hill towards the main road. I knew that 4wd wouldn’t help me stop; in fact, the heavier car would make it harder. So I let the engine do the braking and with little effort made it safely to the bottom.

The main road wasn’t much better than my road, and the car in front was struggling to make any of the little inclines. In the end, I had to move into the opposite lane to get past it as it got completely stuck. On the journey to work, I had to do this several times as people were not keeping momentum going, and finding it impossible to do hill starts. I had no problems in the Freelander – it was much better than I expected and made the journey an enjoyable challenge rather than a stressful trek. It took me twice as long to get to work but I arrived safely. Of course, there were very few others in and the message telling people the office was closed had been issued after I set off from home. I stayed for a while but decided to leave when the snow started falling more heavily, and drifting in the wind.

The journey home, now in the light, was better. For the most part, the roads were a little clearer (although some drivers were still not keeping the momentum going and were struggling on hills). I stopped half way home to take some photos and then made it back to my house. It was so satisfying to slowly drive up my road, an impossible drive in any other car I’ve ever owned. I even managed an uphill parallel park outside my house. Big grin!

But that all disappeared when I got in to the house. I could smell gas straight away. The only gas fire that was on was in the hall, and when I checked, it had gone out. I opened all the windows, then the front and back door. That always creates a wind tunnel through the house and sure enough the wind howled from front to back, clearing the gas. It also blew in a load of snow from the front door, where it had drifted. Now my hall was snow-bound, too. As soon as it was safe to do so, I closed the doors and lit the fire in the living room.

After a well earned coffee, I thought I’d walk down to Singleton Park and take photos of the snow laden trees. I even hoped to catch a squirrel or two against the snow. I negotiated the slushy paths (it was harder than driving) and made it to the park. But there was no snow. I could have been in a different part of the country. What little snow there was appeared to be confined to little patches; most of the grass was green and the trees completely clear. I wandered down to the main road, also snow free, and the across to the beach. The tide was in and the sea was rough and grey. It was very choppy and there was a strong wind blowing in from the east.

Disappointed, I turned around and walked back. There were lots of families with sledges, looking for snow to slide down and all of the kids were complaining. Back in Sketty, the snow appeared again, and it started to snow quite heavily too. By the time I got back to my house, big flakes were coming down. I had to clear the steps from the street and as I was doing that, the snow was recovering them. In the end, I gave up. Coffee was calling.

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Here we snow again

Sorry about the title.

I managed to get a last minute day off today (thanks boss). Rufus and I decided to make for Craig y Fan Ddu.I knew it would be white with frost and I knew it would probably be a challenge for the car and I to get to the car park. But what is life without challenges? Just before we set off, there was a beautiful pre-dawn glow in the sky and I took that to be a good omen, since the clear skies forecast hadn’t materialised properly.

We battled through the commuter traffic. Some how it didn’t seem so bad because we weren’t off to work and in no time we were flying up the A465 heading for Merthyr. Beyond the urban sprawl, the narrow lane leading up into the mountains was frosty, with large stretches covered in snow and ice. The car park was empty and the track leading to it covered in about 2 inches of snow. Great!

We set off on the steep path alongside the river, which tumbles and crashed down a series of waterfalls on my left. After 5 minutes, I realised I’d left Rufus’ snacks behind. Fearing that he’d eat parts of me as punishment, I went back down to get them. About half way up the path, we encountered the first of many sheep. As they wear camouflage at this time of year, they surprised both of us. Rufus was staring in disbelief at a sheep only a few yards away. Ever well behaved (!) he came back to me and we negotiated the ovines until we got to the steepest part of the climb. With my head down, I just got on with it and 10 minutes later, I was panting whilst looking out over a snow covered landscape to the south.

Rufus, of course, was unaffected by the climb and just wanted to get on with the rest of the walk.

We set off north along the ridge towards Graig Fan Las and Craig Cwarelli. The sun was out but not strong as there was a partial covering of thin cloud. A light wind served to chill the air but it wasn’t uncomfortable. For the first half of the route, there was a lot of ice on the path, making walking next to the sheer drop quite a challenge. Rufus’ four paw drive worked but even he was losing grip; probably because he was running everywhere. He was careful not to go near the edge, though.

Then we passed over a stream, an adventure in itself as most of the rocks in the path were covered in thick ice and the stream dropped over the edge of the ridge and down…down…down…

Beyond the stream, things changed. The path was covered in snow, which in places came up over me gaiters (I said gaiters, not garters. It didn’t reach as far as them). That’s knee height. Rufus learnt how to spot and avoid deep snow last time we were up here, so he was okay. I looked for the shortest route and found the going quite hard. We dropped down into the head of the Cerrig Edmwnt valley and the wind picked up. I had to stop to fix my gart… er gaiters and almost immediately I felt my fingers start to sting in the bitter wind. Neither of us waited long and we took off westwards. In the distance, Pen y Fan and Corn Du shone with white snow in the sunshine.

By now, the snow was taking it’s toll on Rufus. Snow balls between his toes where he has long hair and it’s uncomfortable for him to walk. I can usually tell and sure enough, he slowed and then started manicuring himself. I helped him clear the snowballs away and decided to turn around. We had to stop a few more times for snowball clearing, but he was okay. On the way back, I was facing the sun and it was lovely to walk in the sunshine even if there wasn’t a lot of heat coming from it. We met two walkers coming up, and I stopped to talk to them for a while. When I looked down, Rufus was lying flat on the path cleaning his paws again.

Before long we were at the drop to the car park. Despite being down hill, it was no less of a challenge as many of the stones and rocks underfoot had thin sheets of ice on them. But I managed to cope with that (Rufus just went for it and spent his time waiting for me by paddling in the river – which also cleared his paws of snow). At the car park, I put the backpack away, grabbed the camera and set off down into the woods. There’s a lovely set of waterfalls here and with the snow they were even more appealing. I threw stones for Rufus while snapping away at the river.

All too soon it was time to head home. Engaging super mega grip drive (ok, I selected the ice setting), we drove up the slippery track to the road. For a few miles, there was a lot of ice on the road where it had melted, flowed and refrozen as the sun dropped below the hills. Then the going got better and we were back on proper roads. Rufus was sleeping for most of the way back and flopped on the sofa when we got home.

See our route here. I wish I lived closer to the mountains.

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We were due some clear weather. At 5.30 am (when Rufus has to go, he has to go) it was cold and frosty out, but there was a hazy cloud in the sky. At 7am (when Dave has to go, he has to go) there was the promise of a nice sunrise in the sky but nothing more. We had decided to go to the mountains anyway. It couldn’t be worse than last week.

The temperature gauge in the car read -1C, I had a good idea it was below freezing as the windscreen was thick with frost. But a minute later it was clear thanks to the miracle that is heated glass. There was the prospect of ice on the single track road up to the parking spot near the river Tawe. I’d finally get to use one of the traction control settings for real. Alas, all the cie was confined to the sides of the road and the journey was clear all the way.

We set off in golden sunshine. Ahead, Fan Brecheiniog shone white against the blue sky. There was a thick, even frost over everything and because the grass is orangey yellow at the moment, the frost was pale yellow. It was lovely to walk and crunch through the grass as we slipped and skidded down to the river. There were icicles at the smaller waterfalls, where spray had soaked the grass. We crossed over, careful where the water had frozen on the banks, and set off on the trudge up to the lake. This was exactly the same route as I took last week, but the visibility was completely different. Ahead, the bulk of the mountain was always in sight. Behind, a haze shrouded all but the peaks of Fan Gyhirich, Corn Du and Pen y Fan. The sun was still low and dazzling, as was the frost.

All the deep marshy bog was frozen, which made progress much faster and in no time we were at the lake. Several other walkers converged on the lake from different directions. The Beacons long distance path climbs up and over Fan Brecheiniog, and there are several routes from where we started, depending on which bank of the river you follow. We stopped for some snacks and to throw stones into the still lake. Fan Brecheiniog and Fan Foel were perfectly reflected in the water.

Then it was onwards and upwards. Being able to see where we were going and where we’d come from made it much easier and as we climbed the views became more and more spectacular. Llyn y Fan Fawr took on a deep blue hue. The mountains between us and Pen y Fan – Fan Gyhirich, Fan Nedd, Fan Llia and Fan Fawr lined up in the haze. Rufus was off into the distance, and every now and then I got a disdained look as he checked to see if I was trying to keep up. Compare the photo of him on the path (below) with the one here taken last week. Eventually, he waited for me on an outcrop of rock, watching my slow progress.

Near the top, the ground was white as the frost was much thicker. I could make the path out, weaving its way up the final steep haul to the ridge. By the time I started on it, Rufus was away at the top. Finally, out of breath, I reached the ridgeline and from here it was fairly flat for around half a mile. It was gorgeous. This was worth all the huffing and puffing of the last hour, the tedium of the drive up here and even the early start. It reminded me why I love waking on the hills in the Brecon Beacons. A slight breeze was enough to require gloves, and I pulled the buff up around my ears and neck.

We walked on to the cairn at the end of the ridge and then on around and down slightly to the old burial cairn on Fan Foel. From here, the views north over the Usk reservoir were incredible. To the west, the long line of Bannau Brecheiniog stretched out away from us. Strangely, it was completely frost free. All too soon it was time to go back home and reluctantly we started back along the ridge. The sun was in my face now and it was getting warm again. At the bwlch before the final descent, I stopped and listened. It was silent. Then I became aware of faint sounds drifting over the air. Off to my left I could hear Rufus’s footfalls crunching the frost grass. A little over from that, I could hear faint bird calls. Somewhere ahead was what sounded like a steam train, extremely faint but there nonetheless. It was so peaceful.

At the lake, I chatted with a fellow photographer who was taking pictures of the reflections in the water, which was more mirror-like now. We moved on, away from him so that I could throw stones in the water for Rufus to catch and dredge without disturbing the reflections. Then we turned our backs on the lake and the mountain and made our way through the rapidly thawing bog and marsh to the car. By the time I’d pulled on to the road, Rufus was flat out in the back.

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Chance of Frost

After Wednesday’s joyful stroll in the worst kind of weather, I was determined to go back to the waterfall we found to get a proper look and get some decent photographs. Watching the weather forecast, Saturday morning was looking good apart from one slight technicality – frost and ice. The road to the start of the walk is narrow, high up and exposed. It’s situations like this that make me realise I really need a 4×4 as I find myself more and more in places where there is some uncertainty about being able to get there or, more importantly, get away from there.

So Rufus and I set out really early and slipped and slid our way alongside the River Tawe – more of a large stream at this point – until we found a suitable parking spot. (Of course, if I had a 4×4, anywhere would be suitable). Wellies on (essential for croossing the stream) and we were off up the hillside towards the waterfalls.

It was a beautiful morning. The sky was clear, the air was crisp and a thick frost underfoot took care of the mud. As we started up the hill, the golden sun poked it’s head over the hilltop behind us and we began to warm up. Overhead, people flew to or from America.

We very quickly reached the first waterfall, and while Rufus dredged the stream bed, I set up the camera and started to snap away. We moved slowly up the course of the stream, which was swollen with water from the recent rain. The rising sun partially lit the waterfalls but cast an annoying shadow too. Nevertheless, I got some great photos.

With a combination of several neutral density filters I was getting exposure times of 30 seconds or so and Rufus realised early on that this meant less time for stone throwing. So as I set the camera up for yet another picture, he stood on a rock in the stream and encouraged me with some a couple of well timed barks. It was no good, stones had to be thrown!

After an hour or so, we headed back down to the road and the Tawe and I rewarded Rufus’ patience with a lot more stone throwing and some swimming. We headed back to the car happy and content, with one of us being a little more wet than the other.

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