Bicentennial

This is my 200th post. If you’re expecting something dramatic and/or insightful. I’m afraid you might be a little disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re expecting a few of my favourite photographs from the last 12 years, then you may be happy.

Climbing on Skye

Climbing on Skye

A great week on Skye with a mate (in the picture) during a snowy but sunny period. 2001. Here we’re walking up near McLeod’s Table in Trotternish.

Icicle

Icicle

On the same trip, heading through the forest to the Old Man of Storr, I stopped to snap this. I was using an Olympus CZ3030 at the time and still carried a 35mm SLR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trees in the mist

Caledonian Canal, Corpach

Glen Garry

Glen Garry

Sgurr nan Ciste

Sgurr nan Ciche

Three more images taken on various trips to Scotland. I climbed Sgurr nan Ciche in 2007.

Everest, Nuptse and lhotse

Everest from Kala Patthar

Saddhu

Saddhu

Olympic flame

Olympic flame

Sensual tree

Sensual tree

Nant Ffrancon

Nant Ffrancon

Rose

Rose

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

Craig y Fan ddu

Craig y Fan Ddu

Hercules over Pen y Fan

Hercules over Pen y Fan

And finally, some pictures of Rufus as a pup. As I type, he’s flat out in the front room having roasted by the fire for half an hour.

Rufus at 8 weeks

Rufus at 8 weeks

Rufus at 8 months

Rufus at 8 months

 

Don’t worry, normal service will be resumed for post 201.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Grey Days

Saturday

We knew it would be raining on Saturday morning and sure enough, when Rufus persuaded me to take him out into the garden for his pre-breakfast stroll, it was drizzly. After a brief discussion, we decided it didn’t matter. So we had breakfast and then off we went to Rhossili, up we went onto Rhossili Down, it rained, we got wet and some of us got muddy paws and heather tangled in their fur. We explored the old radar station, watched a huge flock of sheep depart en mass as we approached and made friends with several horses and a couple of foals.

Rufus had to have a shower when we got home. He doesn’t like the shower but I think it’s more about dignity than dislike. I make sure the water isn’t too hot and the spray isn’t too strong. He made a show of trying to escape; he understands the word shower and I spent 5 minutes rounding him up. In the end, he curled up on his bed and pretended to be asleep. But once in the shower, he wasn’t too bad. He tends to grunt and huff a lot, but if he really wanted to get out he could. Instead he allows me to wash under his paws and under his chin. The water was brown running off him, and I probably could have planted a small heather patch in the garden with all the bits that came off him. I don’t have a selection of hair care products, so he had to use the same Head&Shoulders Itchy Scalp hair shampoo that I do. Other shampoos are available and Rufus doesn’t endorse any particular products.

Sunday

Back in the day, I went to the Polytechnic of Central London. As soon as I left, they changed the name to the University of Westminster in the hope that I wouldn’t return and that they could purge all records of my existence there. In fact, I did pop back in December, but that’s another story.

I enjoyed my three years in London. I liked being self sufficient, I liked being in a place that really didn’t seem to stop, day or night. I was fortunate enough to live for the first year in halls of residence just off Oxford Street. It was fantastic. The course I took – Photographic Sciences – was an eye opener and confirmed my interest in all things photographic. Although I did become a little jaded at the end and took a break from photography (ironically, just as I started working as a photographic technician in the local further education college).

The things that held my attention most on the course were the experimental and technical photographic techniques. Some of the most interesting techniques for me were macro, high speed photography and filming, and infrared photography. This was a long time ago and everything we did was on film and we developed everything by hand. I remember right at the end of the course being shown a new little chip that was one of the first image recording sensors – the forerunner of today’s digital camera innards.

Since I left college, I’ve carried on with some of those techniques as best I could. While I was still using film, I used to use Ilford’s SFX emulsion. It had an extended red sensitivity that, with the right filters, could give some infrared effects. It took some handling though (you couldn’t load it in daylight) and gave grainy results. It was great! I got back into macro photography a couple of years ago, and I bought an infrared enabled Fuji S3 just over a year ago. I’ve used it a lot since, experimenting with the effect and finding the best combination of lens, exposure and subjects. I love the effect and have posted some results here int he past.

Last week, after some weeks of trying, I realised that no one wanted to buy my old D300 body. So after some research, I contacted Protech in Uckfield who quoted me a good price to convert the D300 for infrared photography. The company was great. I had a conversation with Jo, who gave me some advice about what lenses could and couldn’t be used. I sent the cameraq off at midday on Thursday and around 11am on Saturday it was back with me. A combination of a fast turnaround at Protech and great service from Royal Mail made that possible. Thank you both.

So for the rest of the weekend, apart from last night’s gig, I’ve been playing with the D300. There are a couple of immediate differences between it and the S3. The main one is that the infrared filter is different. GEEK ALERT – Do not read further unless you can handle nanometres without any side effects.

The filter on the S3 blocks light with wavelengths shorter than around 665 nanometres, that is, light in the visible part of the spectrum. In practical terms, (because filters aren’t perfect) this means that some visible light is recorded and the recorded image before processing appears a deep red colour. The filter in the D300 blocks light from about 720 nanometres, which means much less visible light is recorded. The recorded image takes on a more purple hue. The D300 allows for a custom white balance to be applied, which means that the review image on screen is very close to the black and white final image I would be looking to get. The D300 is a more advanced camera, it has better resolution and low light capability and is a more robust camera. The metering and focussing is better, too.

GEEK ALERT OVER. It is safe to continue reading.

So I’ve been trying lenses and subjects and all sorts of combinations to make sure it’s all working well. And it is! Bearing in mind that it’s been raining non-stop for the last two days, I think I’ve got some interesting shots. I’m certainly happy with the camera’s performance. The only think I haven’t been able to test properly is a sunlight landscape. Below are a few of the test shots. They’re not meant to be works of art.

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Around and about

In total contrast to yesterday, today was grey and grim and drizzly. I was tired after gigging last night and so I spent the morning indoors, cleaning and more cleaning and other necessities to make sure the house is at least presentable. I hate cleaning, as it tends to throw up dust which I’m allergic to. But it has to be down.

As a reward, when the drizzle lifted, I went for a stroll down through Sketty. I took the infra red camera and called in to a local graveyard on the way. It’s opposite where my Gran used to live. When I was very young and my dad was in the RAF, we’d come to stay when he was posted to a new station while he got the housing sorted. Even at that age, I was never frightened of the graveyard despite knowing what it was. Since then, I love walking through old graveyards and reading the inscriptions, which often tell a story. I was taken by one large grave, topped with a large white memorial written in French. The inscription was for a Swiss born woman and, later, her husband. But what made it more striking was that her son was buried there too, before her, as he was lost at sea as a merchant seaman during the war. It’s not only the servicemen who died to keep this country free.

From there, it was a short walk to Singleton park before calling in to the local supermarket and then, as the drizzle started again, home.

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More Holiday

As part of his holiday (but I’m not sure what his holiday is from), Rufus has been staying with me so that we can get out and about early. Over the last few days, we’ve been on mountains, on beaches and for long walks in between.

Fan Nedd is a favourite and has featured here before. It’s a short hill, less than a mile from car to top, but it has a number of extensions we can add, including a long one to Fan Gyhirych. This time we were content with walking along the ridge and past the trig point until the ground started to drop away again on the far side. In all, we managed about 2.7 miles. Compare that with the 42 miles a walker we met was doing for charity and it pales into insignificance but it was enough for us.

Cefn Bryn needs no introduction, and on Friday, we walked the whole length of the ridge until we were overlooking Three Cliffs and Penmaen on the coast. It was windy but not cold and the views from the top down to the sea were beautiful. It reminded me that I hadn’t been to Three Cliffs for ages. When I was in college, a bunch of friends and I would meet up during the summer holidays and head off to Penmaen and Tor Bay, just to to the right of Three Cliffs. We’d spend the day on the beach and every so often, one person would have to walk back up to the car park where a little shop sold ice cream and cold drinks. It was a hard slog up dunes before a long walk along a hot path to the shop. It’s still a  great memory, though.

On Saturday, we went down to Three Cliffs and Penmaen very early in the morning. Still we didn’t have it to ourselves. A sea fisherman was casting into the incoming tide. I couldn’t see if he was catching anything. Joggers passed us by and one or two local dog walkers shared the beach. Beneath Pennard Castle, we saw cows making their way down the dunes to the river. It was a warm morning and pleasant walking along the beach. But eventually, we had to make our way back up the dunes and that was hard going. At the top, I made a detour to visit the remains of an Iron Age fort on the headland overlooking the cliffs. All that remains now are earth banks with a gap between them, but they are still quite impressive and give an idea of what it must have looked like in the past. Much of the interior has eroded way so its not clear how big it would have been.

Beyond the fort is a chambered burial tomb that would have been there long before the walls and ditched of the defensive structure were built. But it might have influenced it’s placement; the area was clearly important to the early inhabitants of Gower. Now all that it left of the tomb is a massive collapsed capstone and the uprights that would have supported it. Two stones set at right angles to the line of the monument form an entrance portal and there are two more stones that seem to form a short passage outside the tomb.

Then it was back to the car and home for second breakfast.

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A world of their own

Around this time last year, I took my first serious foray into macro photography. Since then I have returned to it over and over again until I’m finding that it takes up a lot of my time. I enjoy the hunt for subject matter – it’s not as dramatic as stalking deer but the results can be just as rewarding. For me, anyway.

Partially as a result of recent events (see yesterday’s post) and partially as a result of recent financial good fortune (well, one gig), I decided to invest in a new macro lens. Note that I convince myself too easily by using the word invest – which suggests a return is likely – rather than spend. Photography is not a business for me, although I have made some sales and done some photography work in the past and even had an exhibition. And I wouldn’t rule out doing more if the right opportunity arose.

Invest, purchase, buy, barter… however you choose to describe it, I obtained a lovely Tamron 90mm macro lens. For a few years I’ve read nothing but good reviews about this lens. My existing macro is a relatively short 60mm focal length so the extra reach of the Tamron would enable me to keep my distance from nervy insects and spiders and still get the magnification I need. I played around with it last night and I was very happy with the results, although I need to refine my technique a bit. Used to getting in close with the 60mm Nikkor, I found myself bumping into flowers and a spider’s web with the front of the Tamron as it extends a long way forward as I focus closer.

This isn’t an advertising piece. The kit I use is largely chosen on cost, although I would not consider buying something without first having found some good reviews. Most of the less useful kit I’ve owned has, over the years, gone either to fund other kit, or in one or two cases to charity (look up disabled photographers – a worthy cause). I’ve stuck with Nikon since I started in digital nearly 10 years ago, so I have built up a nice collection of lenses. This collecting process means I have been able to upgrade and since I buy most of my lenses second hand, it hasn’t cost anything like as much as it looks. If I’m feeling particularly geeky I might list the kit at the end. If I’m really, really geeky, I might include a snapshot of them.

Particular bargains have included three ancient, second hand Nikkor manual focus prime lenses – 50/1.4, 85/1.8 and 180/1.8. They are built like tanks and they are heavy, but they’re great for low light situations and the 180 is good for wildlife. They cost me tens of pounds and I see that the autofocus equivalents are hundreds of pounds second hand. I grew up with manual focussing so that’s okay, and the viewfinder image is bright and easy to check sharpness. Exposure is also manual although I can programme the camera with several manual lenses so that it recognises them and can calculate the exposure for me.

I’m off on one again. Back to the macro photography. I was squelching through the mud in one of my favourite locations the other day and I suddenly realised that my perception changes as the nature of the subject changes. By that I mean that if I’m off after landscapes, I’ll be looking at the bigger picture. I’ll see detail, but as a part of the wider view. With large vistas, the detail tends to be less prominent the smaller it gets. When I’m in macro mood, I tend to start off trying to see the smaller detail but only seeing the bigger stuff until suddenly, as if a switch has been flicked, the little things begin to appear.

I love that moment as, without trying to sound too dramatic, a whole new world opens up. The hunt for subject matter is over.

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Centenary

It’s my 100th post. This time, exactly 100 posts ago, I was writing my first WordPress blog entry. So how should I celebrate? An insightful retrospective of my year of blogging? A cutting essay on the state of the world? Something to leave you questioning your belief set?

Ha ha ha! I can’t do stuff like that on tap. Instead, I’ll treat you to a summary of my week:

“Ingerlund…d’oh! Ahhh, sleeeeep…no, teeth time… bed now, I’ll read a scary story. Cool. C’mon Germany, d’oh! Mmmm chocolate…ouch, Hello Mr MP…just one more kilometre.. fetch the stone… hey that’s my friends on TV, sleeeep, mmmurray, mmmm chips ‘n’ curry sauce… zzzz..”

Prize (to be determined, but probably cheap and costing less than a Euro) for anyone who gets it all right. Suffice it to say it’s been a busy, bitty and brisk week. But overall, it’s been good as the important parts of it have worked out ok.

I have been trawling through my photograph archive, though, and I found a few images from slides that I thought I might post. And then, in a break from housework I took some infra red macro photos in the garden. Since I’m happier with those and they’re current, I thought I’d post them instead. But I’m quite interested in the slides, so they may feature in a future blog (feature…future, I’m getting good at this writing thing).

To everyone else celebrating a centenary – whatever it may be of – congratulations and here’s to the next hundred!

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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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Nant Tarw

Time to get out. I’ve felt cooped up recently, despite getting out now and again with Rufus. I’d decided that yesterday I would head off for a more substantial walk and see how far I went.

I’ve been interested in stone circles for years. I’ve been to lots of small, obscure and remote circles to photograph them. I’m not a stone hugger; my interest is an extension of my fascination with all thigs and places historical. Forget for a moment the famous circles at Stonehenge and Avebury. These are impressive but they lack atmosphere when crowded by tourists. Some of my favourite stone circles are tiny, and in the middle of nowhere. But it’s easy to get a feel for the atmosphere when visiting them.

I had a short discussion with Rufus and we decided to visit the stone circles at Nant Tarw, south of the Usk Reservoir. (Actually, I promised Rufus rivers and pools as he doesn’t share my interest in enigmatic ancient monuments).

I let Rufus out of the car while I got my backpack ready. But I wasn’t quick enough and I became aware of Rufus, watching me intently and uttering short whines and yaps to try and get me to speed up. We finally set off from the car in blustery conditions and followed a path through a forest to a stile. Stiles feature a lot in our walks and once Rufus grew big enough that he was hard to pick up, I’ve encouraged him to deal with them himself. Now, with scarcely a hesitation, he will clamber up, balance precariously on the top rung for a moment before launching himself from the top onto whatever lies below. Then he waits to see if I fall off before carrying on.

I’d found a map of the ancient monuments in the Nant Tarw valley and I was surprised to find that there were many more than I was aware of from previous visits. I’d planned the route to take in as many of these as practical. Areas like this are known as ritual landscapes. It’s highly unlikely that these monuments were randomly placed or coincidental, so they were probably all linked in some way, and there was some significance to their plan.

We passed a fallen standing stone, which Rufus had to conquer by climbing on top. There are a lot of boulders around the area, the results of pasture clearance or glacial action, but this one was sited on an old path, and there were smaller rocks at its base, suggesting they were used as packing stones to wedge it in place when it was upright. Its shape, long and narrow, was also unusual and ideal for an upright marker.

From here we headed south along a track before climbing up alongside an old sheepfold made using drystone walling. In the distance wa a modern version using breeze blocks; how things have changed. Above this, we came across the first burial cairn and I wondered how many other cairns had been destroyed to provide building materials for the sheepfold.

This cairn overlooks the sloping land to the north and is positioned on a direct line with the lower slopes of Fan Foel, visible capped by clouds to the south. Many Bronze Age cairns are said to overlook farmland and this one was no exception. In its day, large and covered in the light grey local stones, it would have stood out for miles, especially in sunshine. The ancestors keep watch over the crops and the livestock.

Heading further south up the hill, we soon came across the second cairn. Bigger than the first (because it hadn’t been robbed to build walls?) it too overlooked the rolling hills of Sennybridge to the north. There were clear signs of the kerbing that would once have defined the cairn. The stones were now scattered around and previous visitors had placed some of them into a central pile of stones that s the tradition on hill routes.We took a break and had a snack here while contemplating the remoteness and mystery of the place. Well, I did. Rufus just contemplated my snack (after he’d devoured his own!)

We continued on south towards the mountains. We were now heading towards a more modern monument and one I find particularly sad. On 5 September 1943, a Lancaster bomber on a training mission encountered a storm and crashed into the ground just north of Fan Foel. All 8 crew members were killed. I’d visited the place before and wanted to go back again. Please take a moment to read the names on the monument in the photo below. It’s how we remember.

We set off to the west, making for the stone circles and another cairn. By now, the sun was coming out and despite the fierce wind on the top of the hill, it was warm. I’d enticed Rufus out with the promise of rivers and pools, and we’d come across a couple, but not enough for him. As soon as he spotted the stream that gave it’s name to the valley, the Tarw, he was off, racing downhill to dive into the water. By the time I’d got to him, he was up to his tummy in fresh looking water waiting for me to throw stones for him to find. I love the way he concentrates on finding the stones I throw, or similar ones, and carefully taking them out of the water. By the time we were ready to leave, he’d lined up several stones on the bank.

We followed the stream west for a while before we came across a medium sized standing stone that marked the place where we should climb up to find the last cairn and the two circles. It’s likely this was deliberately placed to guide people to the circles as they were not visible from the stream itself. Up we climbed, past two more stones which may have been part of a row or just coincidental, and came out on a flat piece of land next to a burial cairn. This one showed signs of extended ‘horns’ which would have flanked the original entrance. But as with the other two cairns, the stones were scattered and the once proud monument was almost flat against the ground.

Beyond it to the south, two small stone circles were sited. I’d been here several times before and always enjoyed the feeling of isolation. The Nant Tarw is hidden from road and civilisation and is rarely visited because the direct route of boggy and indistinct. The stones of the circle are tiny. Most of them barely rise from the grass tufts of the moorland. Reeds grow from their bases further obscuring them. The two circles line up to follow the line of the valley and to their west is a fallen standing stone, much large than the circle stones, which has a short row of three more small stones associated with it.

From the circles, the very tops of Fan Foel and Picws Du are visible above the local horizon, which is a hill. To the east, the peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan are just visible poking over the top of the hills there. The valley is windswept and damp. It’s likely that the climate was different in the Bronze Age (about 4,000 – 2,000 years ago) and further on there is evidence, in the form of parallel drainage ditches, that the land was farmed. This was clearly an important place for Bronze Age man; the effort needed to plan the circle, find and move the stones (especially the large ones weighing more than a ton) would have impacted the farming that was taking place at the time.  Nevertheless, they did it. The purpose remains a mystery. And that is why I am fascinated.

We headed back to the car, over the drainage ditches and the bog they failed to drain. While I got rid of the backpack, Rufus stared longingly at the river just beyond the fence of the car park.

We ended up at the river and Rufus was delighted to dredge the riverbed for stones and sticks.

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The Weekend

Most of us spend 71.4% of our time thinking about it or planning for it, wishing it was coming, anticipating the difference it will bring or the potential it holds.  Sometimes we wish our lives away in the hope that it will come sooner.

My weekend started off with a takeaway and a movie. It’s a great way to end the week and we always have a laugh, whether it’s because of the movie (we tend to watch cheesey horror – the more predictable the better) or just a natural release of the stresses and emotions of a full on week of work. Tonight it was Frightnight, and with David Tennant in the role of a self styled vampire hunter, it was always going to be entertaining.

Saturday dawned grey and misty. I had a few things to do which would culminate in picking Rufus up from his hair consultant (a dog must look his best) after a summer cut to remove his shaggy winter coat. But first I headed off to Margam park to take some photos in the early morning mist. I like Margam with its beautiful Gothic house and the ruins of the original 16th Century manor house nearby. I had the park to myself most of the time I was there and I enjoyed the brief stroll around the grounds.

Then it was back to Swansea and the library and then a brief visit to the seafront. Eventually, with all my jobs and chores done I got round to collecting the hound, minus most of his fur, from the stylist. We headed off to the river Tawe, one of our favourite places and somewhere mentioned several times before in this blog. We had a great time splashing around in the water; Rufus was clearly relieved to have his warm coat removed. He managed to fall into a deep pool at one point when he over balanced in his eagerness to retrieve a stone I’d thrown for him. I managed to grab him but he made his own way back to the rocks and then, in revenge for my part in his soaking, he shook himself all over me so that we were both drenched!

Today, I woke early as the sun was shining through the curtains. Before breakfast, I headed off to Tycoch square and the site of my old junior school which has been demolished to make way for a block of flats. I’ve been taking photos of the area for a while in anticipation. The removal of the great red brick building has made a huge difference to the square, allowing more light in to the area. I’m sad to see it go (my mum went to school there too) and I hope the flats don’t overload the local infrastructure. I suspect they will, though.

Then I went down to Mumbles as there was a lot of sea mist and I could see the potential for some nice photos. I had Mumbles pretty much to myself, apart from the odd jogger and cyclist. I was back home by 9.30 to have breakfast (I’d been quite keen to get out). The rest of the day was spent doing work on the house (the bathroom again) and the garden. This is the year of sorting my garden out. Again. No, really. I’ve had enough practice.

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Walkies

It’s taken me a week to fully recover from the bug I had. In that time I’ve watched the weather improve and I’ve become more and more frustrated that I haven’t been able to get out. So on Friday, I was determined to get some fresh air. Aware of the dangers of over doing things, I called for my walking buddy, Rufus, and we took a leisurely stroll through the Lliw Valley to the reservoir.

Rufus hasn’t been well either so both of us took it easy. There was no rush and no sense of urgency. We went where we felt like, which meant an early departure from the usual path down to the River Lliw (a stream at this point) and a muddy squelch along it’s bank. You can guess who was leading this part of the walk. Eventually we returned to the path in the face of a barbed wire fence blocking our way.The weather was warm and sunny and it was a pleasure to be out.

We reached the reservoir and headed of to our favourite spot on the bank, where Rufus can paddle and swim and I can throw stones for him. He knew where he was heading and raced off in front of me. They’ve built some steps and a little platform there now, presumably to stop erosion and to provide a spot for anglers. It was ideal for both of us in our semi invaild state.

Stones were thrown and skipped (I’m a kid at heart) and there was a lot of paddling and swimming and some barking when I concentrated too much on taking photos and not enough on Rufus. Then it was time to head home. Reluctantly we both left and made our way back at the same leisurely pace. Fresh air is great!

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