Addicted to waterfalls

I could hear the sighs from the back seat as we drove up the Swansea Valley and along the narrow lane that follows the Tawe almost to it’s source beneath the Black Mountain. Rufus loves a walk on the hills. He’s not so keen when he sees me with tripod and camera as it means long periods of waiting around while I take ‘another’ photo of some waterfall.

He’s only a dog, you may think. Yes, but he’s a dog who knows me so well now that he will do all in his power to prevent me from taking photos using a tripod. Including placing himself in front of the camera in exactly the right place to spoil a careful composition. You think I’m joking. I’ve included two photos here of Rufus making his displeasure known by standing in shot or staring at me. And bear in mind that the waterfall photo, in which he has invaded the bottom right corner, was a 20 second exposure. He remained there, in one spot , for 20 seconds.

The waterfalls we visited today are on the side of the Cerrig Duon valley, above the little stone circle that dominates the lower valley. They are easy enough to get to, once you cross the river over slime covered rocks. It’s a short but steep pull by the side of the gully that the water has worn into the limestone. The hardest part is navigating the steep side down to get to the waterfall itself.

Once there, the waterfalls are usually spectacular and today was no different. Not too much water so that there was definition in the way the water fell over the rocks. The main difficulty in getting a decent image is mastering the high contrast between the sunlit part and the shaded part. At this time of year, with the sun low in the sky, it’s harder still. Today, I made several exposures of each composition, varying the shutter speed each time to give me some files I could blend together to create a tone mapped final image back home.

And all the while, a hairy black Spaniel bounced and splashed and yapped and weaved between the legs of the tripod. I threw sticks for him, I suggested he went off sniffing for dead things in the sunlight grass. But no, he just wanted to hurry me along. And eventually, inevitably, he won. We left the shaded gully and emerged into the bright winter sunshine. The ground was still frozen and rock hard and there was white frost in places. Where water had formed puddles on the surface of boggy patches, it was ice this morning.

Rufus is good at following paths and he made his way down to the river while I was still faffing about, watching red kits wheeling about above the ridge behind us. By the time I had reached the river bank, he was on the opposite side of the water, watching me to see if I would slip and fall into the water. I disappointed him on that point, and we slowly made our way back along the river to the car.

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Early one morning

The sun woke me. That hasn’t happened for a while. I even managed to have a little lie in. But the morning was too nice to waste so after a swift breakfast, I was off down to Broadpool to see what there was to see, and photograph.

I didn’t expect the pool to be frozen but sure enough, the frost had got there before me. The sun was low and golden but a thin veil of cloud filtered it slightly. Nevertheless, I had the infrared camera out and tried a few shots and then as an experiment, I tried the same shots with the normal camera. Two are part of the slideshow below.

Small birds were rising and falling in the sky, trying to lure me away from their nests and I let myself be lured. I walked around the pool, carefully watching where I trod to avoid living things and the inevitable boggy bits, although they were more slushy today as the sun tried to melt the ice.

Then it was on to Fairwood Common and a little wood I’ve been visiting a few times. There are silver birches in it and in my head I have an black and white image by Ansel Adams of an almost white silver birch trunk against a darker background. I’ve tried to interpret a version of my own a few times and I’m getting some results I’m happy with.

Then it was back home for a coffee before heading off to the bank to redistribute a few pennies.

My knee is still giving me some pain so I’ve tried to stay off it this afternoon. I’ve even put a support bandage on to remind me not to run up the stairs. Typical – on a nice day I can’t go far!

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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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