Deliberate Movement

This morning, it was time to get out early before the rain set in. Or so I was told by a wide awake hound at 6.30am, 7am, 7.15am, 7.16am, 7.19am and then, after a short period of snoring, at 7.45am. The wind was howling but despite thick grey skies, there was no sign of the rain that had been promised. So after a brief breakfast interlude, we were off to Fairwood Common.

I had an idea to take some long exposure photos of the trees moving in the wind, so along with me and Rufus and the camera, I took a tripod and an ND 1000 filter. I was picturing images of sharp, solid tree trunks and blurred upper branches but when I got to the woods I was surprised to see how strong the wind actually was. Most of the solid tree trunks were also moving. Woods are not the safest of places in high wind but after checking the trees, I was reasonably happy that nothing was about to fall on us.

While Rufus explored in the leaves and mud, I set up the first of several exposures of between 20 and 30 seconds. The filter is so dense that I have to compose and focus before hand as there is nothing visible through the viewfinder. It slows the picture taking process down, which is fine and is something I need to do. I was pleased with the results in the viewfinder and the previews afterwards. These kinds of photos are hard to plan perfectly as the movement of the trees is random, so for each set up I took several exposures to get some choice over the final results.

By the time I’d take three of four different set ups, Rufus was getting a bit bored. I could tell by the way he sat next to the tripod and stared at me with his much practised puppy dog eyes look. It worked; we moved on and he got a small biscuit treat for his trouble.

Finally happy with the pictures I’d taken, I put the camera and tripod back in the car, and we went off for a proper walk which included barking, running, chasing sticks and following mysterious scents borne on the ever increasing wind. By the time we’d explored the whole area, it was staring to rain and it was time to head off back home.

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Stormy Weather

I made a quick visit to Mumbles this evening, it being dry (I haven’t been out of the house much recently) and windy. I hoped to get some photos of the high seas at high tide and I wasn’t disappointed. The wind was blowing roughly form the south and as I drove along Swansea Bay, the waves looked tame. But they were sheltered by Mumbles Head, and as I got to the car park at Bracelet Bay, the car was buffeted and the windscreen covered in spray and foam.

I battled the wind to get to the beach and was rewarded by some of the biggest waves I’ve seen there in a long time. I stayed for about 30 minutes until high tide had passed, then struggled into the wind and back to the car. There were plenty of people lined up on the sea front, mobile phones raised. There were a lot of flashes as people wasted battery power trying to light up the breakers.

Nature is powerful when aroused. The thing that struck me once again was the way I could feel the impact of the waves through the ground, even standing 40m away from the beach.

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Blown Away

It didn’t look too bad out when I jumped in the car and set off for the hills. There was a bit of a breeze, and the radio was telling me about gale and storm warnings for Scotland and the East coast. But the sea looked calm and I wasn’t concerned.

I was heading for Pen y Fan and Corn Du. On my first trek, these were my training hills of choice. I watched my fitness improve by seeing the time it took to get to the top drop by over half an hour in the space of 6 months. But having climbed them more than 40 times, they became too familiar and, usually, very crowded. I preferred other hills and after the treks, I stayed away. But today I needed the steady climb these two offered.

I started off from the Storey Arms car park. This route takes longer and has an ‘up-down-up’ profile that is great for mental preparation as well as physical. Just as you’ve climbed the first bit, you lose all that height gain as you drop back down to a little stream. Visible ahead for the whole of this descent is the re-ascent.

Once I’d set the pace, I found the going quite easy. I wasn’t rushing – there was no need. But I found I didn’t have to take a break  and I kept the plodding pace going. Before long I was on the re-ascent and feeling great. The wind picked up a little but nothing of any note. Before long I could see the shoulder of the hill, where the path to Tommy Jones’ memorial joins the route up to Corn Du. Just before reaching there, the wind picked up a lot more and began to gust strongly. Although it was blowing from behind, it didn’t help me as it was catching my backpack, which acted like a sail and blew me off course. The further I went, the harder the wind gusted.

At the shoulder, the constant wind was strong and the gusts stronger. The path changed direction and the wind was blowing from my right side. I made sure I was away from the edge on my left as the wind was now pushing me off course most of the time. As I climbed, it got worse and I found myself having to lean to my right just to keep going straight. Every time I lifted a foot to step forward, the wind would pivot me on my other foot. I couldn’t get a rhythm going and it made for tiring work.

The last part of this route is steep, slippery and hard going underfoot. And just before the summit, the wind became almost impossible to battle. I sat just below the edge of Corn Du, using the lip of rock as a brace, which I had to hold on to with both hands. Had I stood up at this point, I would have been carried across the flat summit to the northern edge, which is the express route down. I stayed like this for a minute or so until the wind died slightly. When I stood up, I was immediately pushed with some force onto the summit and only a combination of leaning back into the wind, digging my heels in to gaps between rocks and using my walking pole as a brace stopped me from going over. Even so, I was taking reluctant steps in the wrong direction.

I spent 10 seconds on Corn Du before I realised I had to get off and in to shelter before the wind picked up again. But the problem was, which way to go. I couldn’t have gone back the way I came as I’d been blown away before I could get any firm footing. There was only one way to go – east towards Pen y Fan. Crossing the summit was an ordeal and several times I was carried forward by gusts. Then I reached the little path off the top. This is made up of naturally formed steps and as soon as I started down these, the wind began to push me off balance again. I was struggling now and a little worried about getting off in one piece.

Further down the path I spotted three people sheltering by the side of the path, I decided to join them and took a few more steps. The next thing I knew, a gust knocked my legs from under me and I went skidding down the path. Fortunately, I was off the worst of the rocks steps and although painful, I wasn’t hurt (although as I type, my left wrist is painful where I landed on it). I sat in front of the walkers and I couldn’t help laughing. It turned out that all three had gone over in the same place.

They made to move off and the wind caught them. One went flying backwards, only just staying on his feet. The other two bent low and too small steps as the forced their way uphill. I got up, got blown forward but managed to keep my balance and slowly made my way to the gap between Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I was beginning to doubt whether I should go further. The path ran close to the edge on the left and I left it to move further to the right. Even so, the strong wind was pushing me to the left, and the gusts on top were almost like someone shoving me. In the end, I decided to let common sense prevail. I’ve been on Pen y Fan in the wind and it’s worse than Corn Du. And there are more edges to fall off.

Almost as soon as I’d made the decision, I found myself flat on my back again as the wind had beaten me once more. I turned to head around Corn Du as I knew the path was a little more sheltered but it was almost impossible to make headway against the constant force and the gusts. I could barely breathe as the wind was now in my face. Each gust snapped abruptly, making it hard to compensate in time and for a third time I found myself  blown over, this time close to a steep slope which might have seen my tumbling down to the valley below.

Time for a quick exit! As I made my stop start way along the path, the wind began to die down in intensity until suddenly I found myself in a strangely calm and quiet part of the path. Corn Du was deflecting the wind to either side and I could see the mist ahead swirling back and forth. I had five minutes of this calm, which was most welcome, before the wind began to pick up again. I expected the worst to be on the bwlch where the Corn Du path meets the one coming up from Pont ar Daf. Most times I’ve come up that way, the wind has been bad at the top. Today it was no worse that at other times. I guess the mass of Corn Du was affecting the wind patterns.

Grateful for some respite, I headed down the path. It was easy going despite a constant wind, still from the right. I stopped to chat with a chap making his way up and I warned him about the wind, He dismissed it because, as he said, ‘I come up this way every week and I’m off to Brecon for a cup of coffee’. Good for him!

Getting down to Pont ar Daf was quick and I arrive back at the car only two hours after I’d left it. I was amused to see my phone GPS had logged my route as over 160km in two hours – giving me an average speed of around 80km per hour. I have been training a lot recently, but I was fairly sure there was some kind of error and sure enough, when I checked at home, it seems it had been logging me at three points some 20km apart in a triangle over and over.

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The wind is in the door

My great aunt, who ran a little sweet shop in a small Gower village until the (and her) early 80s, used to say ‘the wind is in the door’ in her peculiar Gower accent if there was a storm blowing. I think she would have been able to use that phrase today,

We weathered the previous storm (weathered – did you see what I did there?) partly because we had several days warning. This one sneaked in, hidden in the shadow of the big one and hit my part of South Wales harder. Following a tip from a fellow photographer, I headed off to Rest Bay to see what there was to see with the sea (I’m on wordsmithing form today – there’ll be rhymes sometime soon).

I wasn’t disappointed. I could see the rough breakers and the foam filling the air from the car park. I battled to force open the car door and struggled to make my way down to the beach against the wind, blowing directly in from the sea. It wasn’t cold, but the spray acted like rain and stung my face as it blew across the sand. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were grains of sand mixed up in it.

I walked along the coastline, heading east towards Porthcawl. The tide was coming in and although I was side on to the wind, I found it hard to make headway in the lengthy gusts. Porthcawl came into view and I could see massive waves striking the pier and crashing over the lighthouse at the end of it. I found a small pavilion to shelter behind and took a few minutes to watch and listen to the sea. There was a low, constant rumble and a higher pitched sound as the water crashed onto the rocks and pebbles. The wind added to the noise, whistling around corners and rattling anything that was not completely fixed down.

I left the shelter and was buffeted as I walked along the promenade, occasionally brought to a complete standstill by a particularly strong gust. Ahead, people lent against the wind. Coastguards stood watch on the pier as two people had tried to get on it earlier. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that, given the ferocity of the wind and the sheer power of the waves. I took photos but I made a point of stepping back to watch and experience this powerful sea. All around, people were being blown about. As I left the pier the wind was at my back and I struggled not to go running into the middle of the road.

Huge waves were rolling in to the beach by the amusement park and bobbing about in the white water were a number of surfers braving the stormy seas. The sea was different here, though. With no rocks or walls to crash against, the waves rolled powerfully in to the beach. I didn’t see anyone manage to ride a wave while I was watching.

I turned to head back to the car and once again found myself leaning in to the wind as it tried, quite effectively, to prevent me from moving. The wind direction seemed to have change a little so that rather than coming in at 90 degrees to the path, it was now blowing slightly towards me. This meant that I was struggling to make any headway as the gusts were long and strong. Slowly I made my way up and back to the pavilion, where I took a few minutes to take some photos of the bay and the waves out to sea. Then it was off again into the wind.

I crossed the road, carefully as it meant letting the wind push me a bit, and walked as far from the beach as I could to avoid the foam. Nevertheless, I quickly became covered in it, so that I looked as if I’d been spat on by large people. Several times I was brought to a complete stop by a gust of wind, and I found the going quite hard. Great for my training, but not so good for getting back to the car before the next rain shower.

But eventually, the car park came in to view and after being blown away from the beach with no effort on my part, I finally reached the sanctuary of the car. It rocked and shook but it was dry and cosy.

I heard later that there were gusts of 89mph.

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Gone with the wind

A half day. A swift visit to the bank to pay some money into the holiday fund. Then off to get Rufus and straight up to Cefn Bryn.

It was supposed to be raining today but I decided to go anyway. Mind over matter. I have a thing about starting off in the rain so what better way to toughen up mentally? It’s the mind equivalent of press-ups! But by the time we got to the car park on top of the ridge, the rain was gone.

But the wind was blowing strongly enough to make up for the lack of rain. I had to fight the doors as I opened them. My coat flapped as we crossed the road. It was freezing cold.  And as we walked eastwards, the wind was blowing directly in our faces. It made the going quite hard. On top of that, the track was muddy, slippery and frequently blocked by large puddles. So it was hard work and a slow pace. Which was great for the exercise value.

We passed a mare and her foal, which could only have been a few days old judging by the size. She was very wary, the foal wasn’t so sure, but Rufus was on the lead while we passed so no harm was done.

Of course, on the way back, the wind was pushing me along, Before I knew it, I was jogging, dodging between puddles, and mud and slippery grass. I don’t run or jog. Too many bits of me move independently and without control. But no one was looking except Rufus, and he and I have an understanding. So on I jogged. Rufus was wondering what was going on and decided to run along side me, keeping pace easily and reminding me how much fitter he was than me.

I’m paying for it now, though. Aching feet, aching knees, generally tired. All the signs of a good workout.

This afternoon we did 4.7 miles in 90 minutes.

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Blowin’ in the wind

It was raining as we headed off to Rhossili. Grey clouds filled the sky but I could see they were moving quickly and over to the east there was a glimpse of sun and blue sky. With any luck, I thought, it would clear by the time we got there. And it did. At Rhossili, the rain had stopped and the sky was definitely lighter. We set off through the lanes to climb on to Rhossili Down. By the time we’d got half way up the wind had picked up to a point where it made walking against it hard. At the trig point, the wind was strong enough to unbalance me, and Rufus was being pushed sideways as he walked. All his fur, left to grow long for the cold weather, was blowing over to one side. When I faced the wind direction, it was hard to breath.

I love being on top of Rhossili Down. The view is spectacular for miles in every direction. Today I could see over to Llanelli and Pembrey. A rainbow hovered over the coast between Llanelli and Burry Port. The sun shone on the ridge of Cefn Bryn and the farm land around it, highlighting the fields and hedges. The same sunlight shone on the sea off Oxwich bay. It was rough and the sun reflected off the white water. Over the village of Rhossili, Worm’s Head was lit up by a shaft of sunlight to stand out against the darker see. White waves crashed up against its side.

We moved on, battered by the wind until we left the crest of the Down and dropped into the shelter of the col where the radar station was sited. This provided a welcome break from the cold and we stopped so I could take some photos. I could see surfers in the breakers on Rhossili beach and the waves looked good. You can see our route here.

On the way back, the wind was coming from the left, and I felt the cold in my left eye for some reason. Rufus was off chasing crows, who simply floated above him on the wind, just out of reach. Negotiating the slope down, which was slick with watery mud, was tricky but I managed it without falling. At the bottom, both of us were still feeling energetic so I decided that we’d drop down to the beach.

The path down to the beach leads through the site of the Medieval village of Rhossili, now lost to the sand. Humps and bumps in the ground, along with the occasional glimpse of stonework, indicates where the village was. A small stream flows through the area and is slowly eroding the earth bank away. A few years ago, several human bones were washed out of the earth as part of the early church graveyard was uncovered by the stream.

The beach was pretty much deserted. The occasional wind gusted across, blowing sand and spray along with it. In the breakers, one or two hardy surfers remained. The wind took the spray off the tops of the waves, blowing it back out to sea. A faint rainbow appeared each time this happened. Rufus and I walked along the base of the cliffs towards the surf. Sheep grazed on the hillside, in seemingly impossible places on near vertical strips of grass. We passed the wreck of a small ship nestles, sheltering, in the folds of the cliff and half buried in the sand.

At the water’s edge, it was very windy and I couldn’t tell whether the tide had turned and was coming in or not. Not wishing to be stranded, we turned back for the beach again and we headed on to the wreck of the Helvetia. I’ve been back to this many times over the years; it features in iconic images of Rhossili beach and I’ve snapped it myself loads of times. Today, as I took photos, we were both sandblasted by the wind as strong gusts blew along the beach.

It was getting cold and dark clouds looked as if they were heading in our direction, so we climbed up the earth bank near the little stream, and plodded our way back along the rough track to the car. I chatted to a couple of surfers who had spent the early morning in the sea. They said it had been a great morning but now the wind was up, it was getting harder to ride the waves.

Back home, Rufus decided to use me to help him dry off, and he fell asleep on my lap as we watched TV.

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