A week of wanderings and weather

A week off! Not just any week off, but one that I booked at short notice. My original plan was to catch up with a mate visiting from New Zealand, but the arrangements fell through and I was left with a whole week with no plans. I like that.

In actual fact, there were several planned activities but plenty of time to fit in leisure time too. On Monday, the side window of my car was fixed swiftly by Autoglass. The rain cleared just in time for the chap to get the work done while leaving us time for a visit to Cefn Bryn. Keen eyed readers will remember that this was where the young gentleman broke in to my car. Part of dealing with the break in was to get over leaving it for the first time since Thursday. I watched my car like a hawk as we walked away from it before suddenly realising that I couldn’t let it dictate the things I would do. It disappeared as we dropped down the other side of the hill and I only allowed myself the occasional worry as we walked.

On Tuesday, Rufus went for his regular hair cut. He gets very hot in any warm weather as he’s always running around, and I try to keep his fur short. I’d noticed that he was scratching and restless and that’s normally a sign he’s too hot. Following his trim and when the day had cooled, we headed off to the hills and had a leisurely stroll around the base of Moel Feity, once again surrounded by sheep. Rufus charged around with his new found coolness while I snapped away in the gorgeous evening light.

Wednesday dawned clear and sunny and we were off at the crack of dawn to climb Moel Feity and enjoy the fantastic views from the summit. It warmed up quickly and there was a haze in the air as the approaching humid weather announced itself, but the clouds didn’t start to build until we were heading back down, when it became very warm. I spent a little time tidying up the memorial to the crashed Liberator bomber and then, as a treat for Rufus, we stopped off at the river where he paddled and swam and caught stones while cooling down.

Later, I sat outside in the night air watching the Perseid meteors light up the sky. The forecast thick cloud held off for longer than I’d expected and the weather was warm for that time of night. Rufus kept coming out to have a look, but for the most part stayed inside. He’s not keen on astronomy. I saw some bright and spectacular meteors as well as the International Space Station, several satellites and one airliner. I didn’t manage to get many good photos, though, and the following morning I regretted not staying up longer.

After a wander over the common in the morning, we watched the rain come in and I decided Thursday was Great British Bake-off day. I made apple and blackberry pies. More apple than blackberry as the crop of berries wasn’t as bountiful as I’d hoped. I ended up making 11 small pies as I didn’t quite have enough pastry for the 12th. They are rather nice, though.

That night, it was clear that Rufus was still scratching and I decided that in the morning a visit to the vets was in order to find out what was causing this and to get it sorted. The waiting room was packed out with hounds of various makes and models, most of which were quite bouncy and vocal. Rufus is always well behaved in these circumstances and I was proud of his lack of reaction when other dogs barked at him or lunged at him.

The vet had a good look over and decided that he had an ‘environmental allergy’. I asked what that could be and he described the same allergies as I have – dust and pollen. Apparently, these allergens can cause animals to have skin rashes and this is what Rufus has got. In short, Rufus has hayfever! I left the vet with several potions and the biggest tablets I have ever seen. I did wonder whether I’d have to cut them up but Rufus downed one (wrapped in chicken) with no concern. He has some eye drops, which are always a test of my patience and his escapologist skills. Every time I try to apply them, Rufus imitates a snake and wriggles out of my grasp. I went on the Internet last night and found a suggested technique which involved kneeling behind him and bringing the dropper down from above so he doesn’t see it. I managed to get one drop in his eye but he learns quickly so he won’t be so easy to fool again.

Today we went back to Whiteford, a familiar beach to those having read my blogs before. It wasn’t too warm as we set out and it always amazes me how few people go there – there were three cars in the car park, and several horses, foals and some sheep. Walking on the beach was lovely and we went out more than half a mile to the receding tide. Rufus had a paddle and chased after the Oystercatchers while I tried out a new lens I’d received that morning. By the time we got back to the car, the cool of the morning had given way to the heat of midday and we were both glad to get the air conditioner working.

Sunday is always a non-day for me and it will be tomorrow as I have to leave the freedom of a week off behind and try and get myself back into the work frame of mind. It will probably consist of cleaning, ironing and other household chores although I understand from Rufus that he is expecting another walk on the hills if the weather is ok.

<sigh> I suppose I’ll have to do what he says!

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A weekend of numbers

It’s been a long weekend of numbers. Four days of fun. In no particular order, then:

Rufus and I had our 1st, 2nd and 3rd time on a mountain since February. We walked Moel Feity on Saturday, Fan Brecheiniog on Monday and Garreg Lwyd this morning. I still get the buzz when I reach to top of a proper mountain like Fan Brecheiniog and I’d forgotten what that felt like, since the last mountain we did – Pen y Fan in Feb – was in white-out conditions. We walked 13.5 miles and climbed a total of 2896 feet in 7.5 hours. It was great to see Rufus back on form after his recent illness, bounding up and down again on all three walks and putting me to shame, although he was rather tired at the end of the day on each one, as was I. The snoring after we got home was not all his.

I was kindly loaned series 4 of ‘The Walking Dead’, an American programme I’ve taken a particular liking to as it seems to be a cut above most of the American output we get here. I’d watched series 1 -3 in a marathon month or so but series 4 disappeared from my catch up menu and I was left without the means to get up to date for series 5, which started a couple of months ago. 16 episodes (about 660 minutes over four days – the perfect wind down after a morning on the mountains).

I’ve also started reading ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’, a might tome of more than 700 pages and which is proving to be a fantastic read so far – I’m around 200 pages in. It’s written using a slightly old fashioned form of English which fits perfectly the story and setting – early 19th Century Britain.

I’ve had a great few days off but packed loads into each one. Back to work for a rest tomorrow!

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Snowdonia

With Rufus curled up in the back of the car, cosy in a nest of pillows and blankets to give him some protection from my driving, we set off northwards in the drizzle towards Snowdonia. We stopped at Pont ar Daf, our usual starting point for Pen y Fan but to Rufus’ surprise (and probably relief) we ignored the path upwards and just spent a few minutes exercising little paws. Then, back in the car, we set off once more for Capel Curig and the little cottage I’d stayed in last year.

Rufus doesn’t sleep in the car but he was dozing as I checked on him during the trip. We stopped several more times before we finally met Eifion at the cottage. It was just as I remembered it from the outside but inside, there were a few new additions. The sofas had been replaced by a new set, and there was wifi! Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my laptop as last time there was no internet connection at all. While Rufus explored the cottage, I brought all the bags in. There were so many more, just because I’d brought him, or so it seemed. The reality was that I’d also brought a large bag of camera equipment. Nevertheless, there were a lot of blankets and fleeces for covering the furniture, and plenty of food, toys and towels. Did I get a hand bringing them in? No!

We settled in quickly and after food and coffee, we decided to take a stroll along the track at the back of the farm that Eifion had told us about. It wound it’s way up the side of the mountain. We passed plenty of sheep with lambs but none seemed too concerned and I made sure Rufus kept his distance. We were heading into wild country. This was well away from civilisation and I couldn’t help thinking about what it must have been like to be a sheep farmer two or three hundred years ago. Off to the south west, Moel Siabod stuck it’s peak into the clouds.

It was getting dark, not through time of day but because thicker clouds were gathering over the hills. We stopped on a rocky knoll and admired the rugged, barren terrain around. This was not good land for anything other than sheep. We turned back and strolled gently down the track again. We’d had a long day.

The following morning, the sun was shining and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. After a cooked breakfast, we set off for the Llanberis Pass. As Rufus was recovering from a tummy bug, today was going to be a day of short walks and photography. We wandered down the river, walking in the shadows of Crib Goch and Glyder Fach. Across the road, we scrambled up the scree for a little way and while Rufus chased birds in vain, I took a few snaps of the water tumbling down the mountainside. We disturbed a guy who had camped in the shelter of a large overhanging rock. We squelched through the marsh back to the car.

To take advantage of the gorgeous weather, I decided to head off to the beach. We crossed over to Anglesey and parked up at Porth Trecastell, a small beach near Rhosneigr. With the sound of RAF Hawks taking of from Valley, a few miles up the coast, we walked directly into the strong wind and out to the headland. About 6 years ago, Rufuis and I had posed for photos with Em and Oscar right here. As we reached the Barclodiad Gawres burial chamber, on which we’d set the camera, I had a text message from Em to say that she thought it was Rufus’ 9th birthday. So this holiday became his birthday present. We stood being buffeted by the wind as the camera on self timer took a snap of us in the same place as we had been last time. Then, in addition to the birthday hug I’d been asked to give him by Em, he had an extra biscuit and then I took him down on to the beach for a paddle – still one of his favourite treats.

By now we were both feeling a bit peckish – Rufus always does and I felt like having more than the packet of crisps I’d brought with me. So we headed back tot he cottage. The great think about this place is the central location. It is only a few minutes from the Ogwen valley and a few more minutes from several routes up Snowdon. So After food, we set off again for the mountains.

I love Llyn Ogwen and Cwm Idwal is one of my favourite places in North Wales. So off we went for a walk around Llyn Idwal, nestled in the Cwm and surrounded by the great mountains of Wales – Tryfan, Glyder Fawr, Yr Garn and Pen yr Ole Wen. Sheltered from the wind, the lake was fairly calm and we set of anti clockwise along the lakeside path. It was great; we just walked and stopped whenever we felt like. Rufus led the way (another birthday treat) and as we were in no hurry I let him set the pace. We watched hillwalkers returning from the surrounding peaks, and climbers making their way back to the car park after their assaults of the great rocks and cliffs. Snowdonia was where the early British Everest expeditions trained. We watched a pair of Canada geese swim towards us, curious to see what the black sheep was.

We spent some time on a little stream, where I threw stones for Rufus to catch. He loves this game and when he barked (he always barks as I’m still learning to throw them properly), the sound echoed across the cwm. Next thing we knew, a Heron lifted off from a few yards away and flew lazily across the water.

We ended the day back at the cottage. Tired but content.

Wednesday was another beautiful day. The morning was cold and clear and after a wake-up stroll along the farm track, we set of for today’s goal – the Devil’s Kitchen at the far end of Cwm Idwal. Last year, I used this route to climb to the top of Glyder Fawr but today, with Rufus still recovering from his tummy upset last week, I just wanted to get a bit of height to take some photos. I had in my head some black and white images using the infra red D300. We chose to go clockwise around the lake this time but first we had to pass through a herd of black cows. We dislike cows as they dislike us but this morning, they were content to watch as we walked by.

In the sun it was warming up rapidly, but in the shade the temperature was a little chilly. Unfortunately, the steepest part of the climb was in the sun and it was hot going. Rufus was coping well with the steep parts and I was well aware of my lack of fitness. Around this time last year I climbed Snowdon and Glyder Fawr on consecutive days. Today, I was struggling a bit. The path was made from large flat stones and each step seemed to get higher. Rufus cleared  each one in one bound. I seemed to be stopping a lot to take more photos!

Then the going got even rougher, with the man made path giving way to a more natural, rocky jumble. I was a bit concerned that Rufus might slip and get a paw stuck, or worse. Within a few minutes we came up against a high step of natural rock with barely a toe hold. There was no way Rufus could get up as there were no holds for claws and the stone was smooth. We’d climbed around half the height to the gap between Glyder Fawr and Y Garn and I decided to stop here. The views back down to Llyn Idwal and beyond, to Pen yr Ole Wen and the Carneddau were spectacular. I told Rufus we were stopping (I talk to him all the time when we’re on rough ground like this) and called him back to me. I took a few photos before turning to find Rufus on top of the rock step looking down on me! I have no idea how he got up there but he was clearly more at home than I was.

Not to be outdone, I clambered up after him and we carried on for a few more minutes. But now the jumble of rocks was getting tougher and I called Rufus back. We sat on a rock ledge and enjoyed the view while having a snack and a drink. Sheep bleated above us, more sure footed than we. It was quiet apart from them, and tranquil. I enjoyed these few minutes as they are what hill walking is all about for me. Rufus seemed to be happy too, sniffing about and joining me for the view (although that might have been his attempt at charming me into giving him a bit of Snickers).

We started back down again, and I tried to go ahead of Rufus to guide him down and make sure he didn’t slip. But as usual, I underestimated his ability to cope with the rough conditions and by the time I’d reached the flatter, man made section, he was there waiting for me. The rest of the path was easy and he trotted ahead as I frequently stopped to take more photos of the wonderful views ahead.

As we rejoined the lakeside path, Rufus decided he wanted to paddle again, so he shot off across the heather and marsh towards the water. I let him; it was his birthday week anyway. I hopped and splashed after him and finally caught up with him as he stood with paws in the cooling water. There followed some stone throwing and then we both looked up as we heard a strange barking sound. It was the Canada geese we’d seen yesterday. The pair had been joined by a second pair and they were all paddling towards us. We walked on by the shore of the lake and they swam parallel with us, barking and honking. Then they started squabbling amongst themselves and we were left alone.

We strolled back around the lake, passing through the herd of cows that hadn’t moved and finally got back to the car. It was hot now, and we were both tired so we headed straight back to the cottage. Lunch and a snooze was on the cards, and we both woke up again around the same time. After a reviving coffee, Rufus and I went up and along the farm track again. Walking up, we could hear two cuckoos calling from different trees across the track. But they were soon drowned out by the roaring of jest as planes from Valley carried out mock combat high above us. As we got back to the cottage, swallows were flitting about above our heads. I watched and they entered the barn next to us.  I spent the next 20 minutes of so trying to capture them with the camera, with varying degrees of success.

That night was clear and I’d received a tweet alerting me to the possibility of northern lights being visible in the north. As we were so far away from towns, I thought there might be a chance of seeing them so at around 11.30pm, Rufus and I walked back up the track until we were overlooking the cottage. It was pitch black and the stars were beautiful. While Rufus stood guard (I think he thought I was mad), I took a few long exposure photos but there was no sign of any aurora activity.

The journey home to Swansea was made in the rain. We stopped a few times on the way back to stretch our legs but really all we wanted to do was get home. We managed it in a little over 4 hours.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 9: Frustration on the mountain

The plan for today was to climb up onto Fan Hir and walk along the ridge above the Cerrig Duon valley. As I’ve mentioned before, I love ridge walks as they give you a sense of space and freedom. Both Rufus and I were rested after Tuesday’s trek, so we were ready to go. The weather forecast said rain coming in around midday but we had a few hours before we were due to get wet.

We parked up and set off, walking under the trees along the river. I keep expecting to see kingfishers along this stretch of the Tawe, but I guess the combination of me and Rufus put paid tot hat. Instead, we threaded our way between two fields full of sheep, with drystone walls either side, and up onto the hillside. The first part of this route is very steep. The height gain is fast but over relatively quickly and that’s why I like this. You climb about 300m in around 30 minutes and then the slope slackens and the rest of the walk can be enjoyed at leisure. I used this route a lot during my training for the trek and much prefer this route to Fan Brechieniog.

We trudged up, taking a lot more than 30 minutes to get the ascent out of the way. All around, the hilltops normally visible each had caps of low cloud on them. Suddenly, we popped over the last steep bit and ahead lay the path up on to Fan Hir. But Fan Hir was under more low cloud and as we walked further, so I felt the first faint sensations of drizzle on my face. Over to the west, the clouds were coming in quite quickly. We marched on but it was clear that we were going to get wet very soon. So reluctantly, I decided to turn around. It was frustrating as we’d done the hard bit and I was looking forward to the reward.

As I gave Rufus some water and a snack, I heard a faint rumbling, not of thunder thank goodness, but a number of wild horses galloping along the track. As I watched, two started fighting while the others looked on as if fascinated. Sheep also looked up to watch the spectacle. We set off back down the track, negotiating the steep slope which was now becoming slippery with the rain. Under the tress we had some shelter, and I let Rufus have a paddle while I took some photos. We were watched by a sheep dog in the field next tot eh river. We’ve come across him before and he is very friendly. As Rufus and the sheepdog exchanged sniffs, I checked to see if the farmer was watching and then gave our new fried one of Rufus’ snacks. The sheepdog took it away, placed it on the ground and then started to roll around next to it.

Back home, Rufus had a quick shower to remove the smell of a dead sheep he’d found, and then dried himself off on my lap. Having completed the hard part of the walk, we were both tired and we both dozed on the sofa.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 8: Chill out

After yesterday’s marathon peak bagging session, we both needed a quieter day. So while Rufus dozed, I went back to the local museum to see their 1914-18 exhibition. It was interesting to see the local aspect of how the Great War had affected lives at home. Panels detailed a number of individual’s experiences of the war, and of course, many of them didn’t survive the conflict. There were also a number of personal exhibits that emphasised the role of the individual rather than the anonymous numbers that appear in the history books. Letters home, written in pencil, sounded hopeful (in the sense that you always try and make light of a bad situation, plus you don’t want to scare your loved ones). But alongside the letter was another from the commanding officer to the parents expressing his sympathy at the loss of their son.

I shared the exhibition with a bunch of schoolkids. I hope they were able to pick up on the reality of what they were seeing. These are the people who need to remember and understand what war is really like so that the likelihood of it happening again is lessened.

When i got home, Rufus persuaded me that a short trip out was required and we ended up at the Tawe. It was a gorgeous evening with deep blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Rufus splashed about tin the river and I managed to get some photos of the sky. At one point, a strange wispy cloud passed over head. We got home a little chilly; Rufus’ paws were cold and so were his ears! I’ve never seen that with him before, so I spent some time warming up his feet before making tea.

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Rufuis and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 5: History

1: National History

The United Kingdom remains united. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. The arrangement may not be perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives. And if nothing else, the referendum has made people think and brought about concessions, The test is now about how the people of Scotland make use of them. I love Scotland and have been many times. Don’t break it.

2: Personal History

My mother’s side of family is from Gower. When we first moved back to Swansea, more than 40 years ago, we used to go out to Gower to visit relatives and I got to hear a number of stories about old Gower, before cars were the norm. There were ghost stories; my favourite is the one about the farmer who was driving his horse and cart down the lane one day when the horse inexplicable veered the cart into the side of the lane, tight up against the hedge. It wouldn’t budge, despite the urgings of the farmer. But after about 10 minutes the horse carried on as if nothing had happened. The farmer told his story and everyone made light of it. But within a couple of weeks, the farmer was dead and at the same time of day, his funeral procession passed through the same lane in the opposite direction.

My great aunt ran the sweet shop in Burry Green and I remember her well. Typical of country folk, she was independent but kind and friendly. There would always be a spread on the table when we called in, and I particularly remember that she used to slice her bread up incredibly thinly. But the highlight was a visit to the shop, where I would always be given something. As a child of about 9, the back of the shop felt slightly scary and there was the dilemma of going there (bad) and getting a bar of chocolate (good). Years later, when my aunt decided to move into a nearby nursing home – typical of her she made her own mind up and did it and there was no persuading involved – I remember helping to clear out the house. The shop had long gone but there were some fantastic old advertising posters.

One trip to Gower I remember was with my mum and dad and we went to a place called Bullin’s Well. At least, that’s what my mum knew it as. It’s Ryer’s Down on the maps. We took the dog we had then, a black poodle named Pickles (after the dog that found the FA Cup after it had been stolen in the 30’s – my dad’s idea) for a run and he thoroughly enjoyed. as I remember, he was fascinated by the horses on the common. I also remember a very low flying Canberra bomber passing overhead; I now know it must have been from the nearby Pembrey bombing range. But the thing that stuck in my mind the most was walking across the common to a clump of trees where my mum claimed there were the ruins of an old farmhouse.

Sure enough, when we got there, the ruins were where she said they were. They were only a few stones high – no shell of a farm house to mark the spot. Mum said relatives of the family, closer to my great aunt than my mum, lived and farmed there. The reason I remember it so well is that my dad took a cutting of a sycamore tree from there and planted it at the top of our garden. Now I live in the house I grew up in, and the tree is still there although considerably taller.

I’d thought about going back to Bullin’s Well several times, and we often drive past it on our way to Whiteford (which has featured many times in this blog). So today, when I was looking for a short walk after our two long days, I decided to go there to try and find the ruins again. Rufus didn’t object, so off we set. We walked up to the top of Ryer’s Down where I found a trig point – they pop up all over the place on Gower. Then we made our way down, following the hedge line back tot eh road. In fact, it was more of a tree line and I had to duck and squirm through some of the thicker parts as Rufus just ducked under the low branches. But everywhere I looked, there was no ruined farmhouse. By the time we reached the road again, I had decided that my memory must have been playing up as there was nothing. But when I got home and looked at the route we took on Google Earth, I spotted a few parts of the tree line we had missed and one part, inparticular, that looked as if it might have had a building on it.

So another trip is on the cards.

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In Clyne d

With the weather forecast predicting more thunder and lightning, I was awake early this morning trying to decide where Rufus and I could go for a walk that would offer some shelter if the heavens opened. As we drove towards Gower, I remembered the Clyne cycle path. As a school kid, I used to play there as several friends lived with gardens that backed on to the woods. I’ve walked and cycled the path, and Rufus has been with me many times.

We parked up at the old Railway Inn car park. After a brief stroll along the cycle path, which follows the old railway line, and dodging a cyclist, we left the tarmac and headed in to the woods. I love walking through woods. At this time of year everything is green but there are so many different shades of green that it never feels monochromatic.

I had no idea what the weather was doing but no rain was getting through and there was no sound of thunder. In fact, the only sounds were the birds calling from the tree tops. It was a completely different sound to the dawn chorus we’d been used to. The path skirts three fields in a wide loop away from the cycle path before crossing under it through a waterlogged tunnel. On the other side there are signs of the industry that used to be in this valley. The concrete platforms for old buildings lie moss covered and slowly sinking into the mud. There is a large water basin – it looks like a short stretch of canal that is largely overgrown – and I’m not sure what that was used for, There was a brick works here and many buildings in Swansea are built with bricks marked with ‘Clyne’. The clay to make them was extracted from the nearby quarry.

Further down towards the sea, coal mining was the main activity and this had been going on from Medieval times. Bell pits – shafts dug into the ground and enlarged like an upside down mushroom – formed the first method of extraction. It was a dangerous method. The pits had a tendency to collapse. Several of the shafts are visible on the hillsides, fenced off as they are still pose a risk to the unwary. Not far from Blackpill you can still see the entrance to a more traditional pit. A horizontal shaft leads into the hillside where the coal was extracted along a seam close to the surface.

Closer to our route, two WW2 pillboxes guard a bridge across the old railway track. They are set out in a classic plan. One covers the approach from the fields, and Fairwood Airport. The other covers the first pillbox. As the line is set in a cutting, this bridge would have been the only way to cross south of the main Gower Road, which was also covered by a pillbox hidden in the bushes. It’s likely that both bridges would have been primed with demolition charges, too and the pillboxes would have covered the engineers as they readying the charges in the event of an invasion.

We wandered through the trees and along muddy paths, Rufus charging through and me skirting the worst of the gloop. Every time he hit a deep patch of mud, the squelching and splurting seemed to surprise him. Eventually, the mud got too much for Rufus and we reluctantly turned back. A damp and curly Rufus is resting and drying on the sofa (I managed to get a blanket on it before he settled).

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Proper Mountains 1: Yr Wyddfa

This week, in a break with tradition, I set off not for work but for Snowdonia. The last time I was here was in 2010, as part of my preparation for the second Everest Base Camp trek. I wanted to go back partly to climb the Glyders and partly to get some decent photographs of the area. I prayed for fine weather.

On the journey up, I stopped off at Bwlch Oerddrws, where from the car park and the mountains above you can get dramatic photographs of military planes as they fly up the valley and overhead at about 200ft. The noise and the speed are exhilarating. I always aim to get here in time to have a coffee and a break and I usually build in at least an hour  here to catch a few fly bys. I managed to photograph a C130 and a Tornado during my stop over.

The cottage I stayed in was at the top of a narrow and rough farm track winding up from a similarly narrow and rough side road just outside Capel Curig. It had everything I needed as a base for walking except internet access and a mobile phone signal!

The plan was to climb mountains – as many as I could fit in depending on the weather. I was unfit, not having climbed a proper mountain in the UK since last year. I wasn’t sure how far I’d get or whether I’d only manage one before collapsing in a heap. At least the cottage had a bath that I could soak in if necessary. I watched the local weather forecast and made a loose plan based on the prediction that Tuesday would be the best day. Snowdon it was, then!

I decided against doing Crib Goch this time; if I was unfit, that would be a tough route to find out about it. So I set off on the Pyg Track around 8am. The weather was gorgeous, so much better than I had expected. It was warm going up alongside the Llanberis Pass before reaching Bwlch y Moch. I stopped to drink in the magnificent views down into the cwm with it’s lakes and river and was passed by several walkers heading up to Crib Goch. We joked (last one to the cafe buys the drinks, etc) and left them to their airy stroll. I set off along the Pyg track. It was like a familiar fried; the last time I’d come this way was during the preparation for my first trek to Nepal in 2007. In fact, I’d climbed it twice that year, in mist and then in sunshine. Today was like the latter.

A number of improvements had been made to the path. All of them were in keeping with the surroundings, but where erosion had threatened to make the route impassable, it had been repaired. It hadn’t made the path any easier though and I was soon feeling the strain in my leg muscles. But it wasn’t too bad and I carried on. The last stretch before reaching the railway line was easier than I remembered and the pull up to the summit was straight forward. After a few minutes sharing the summit with four mountain bikers (and their bikes) I headed off to the cafe for a well earned cream scone and a drink. As I tucked in, the train disgorged a load of passengers and they hobbled and shuffled through the cafe towards the summit cairn. I felt smug and finished my scone.

Coming down was straight forward. I detoured to take the Miner’s track on the way back and the walk along Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw was peaceful and a nice way to end the route. Apart from the 10 minutes when a military helicopter was buzzing me during a training exercise as it flew in and around the cwm.

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Winding down

With 17 days to go until I fly out to Tanzania, there are a lot of things to do. I still have to train but having down the long walks, these will be shorter but more frequent tramps through the countryside. And Rufus has agreed to accompany me, which will be a great incentive and pleasant company.

This morning, I got the last of my dollars and had a nice chat with the young lady at the travel agent. She was fascinated by the up coming trek (she wasn’t trying to sell me anything I didn’t want, and the questions and her reactions seemed genuine). And somewhere between then and when I found myself on Cefn Cul with Rufus, it all became a step more real.

The walk today was partly to check out my knee after yesterday’s testing route. And it was fine. As we walked in the wind and occasional sunshine, I was trying to think about everything I need to do before I set off on the 15th. I got the point where there were so many things (charge batteries, replace head torch batteries, redirect mail, online check-in etc) that I realised I need to make a list. I did this for my first trek, too, and stuck it on the fridge door. It even included ‘switch off lights’ as a last act before leaving the house.

The ground was soaking wet. It wasn’t so much mud as saturated ground. The water was running off in new rivulets  and where the going was flat, it sat in clear pools. Most of the time I had no choice but to walk in the water. The end of the ridge came suddenly – with a fence. Although the whole ridge is access land, I didn’t climb it as the sun was going down and I wanted to get back before we got a drenching from the clouds that were forming ahead of us. So we turned around and splashed our way back.

I left the path we followed to drop down to the road a little earlier and that was a big mistake. Off the path, the ground was uneven and full of holes and little channels where water had dug away at the earth. It made the walking much harder and I was staring at the ground the whole time. And I still managed to twist my left ankle and then turn my right one. I was fortunate not to injure either ankle but it’s a risk of continuing to train. I have no choice but I must be more careful.

Rufus doesn’t seem to have any problem with ruts and dips. He trots, dashes, walks and jumps along without a care. As we were crossing through a patch of high grass, he was bounding with leaps as sure footed as any mountain goat. He despatched the inevitable stile with ease, too.

I’m waiting to see what the weather forecast is for tomorrow before deciding on our day’s activity. The one thing I know is that there will be no lie-in. Rufus will see to that!

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Day of Reckoning

Yesterday, Rufus and I climbed Fan Brecheiniog. It’s one of my favourite mountains for a number of reasons; the views, the terrain, the airy ridge walk. It’s quiet, too. But yesterday was about testing my knee on a proper mountain, both up and down again. The steep final uphill sections were ideal for that. Going up was a test of fitness. Coming down checked out the strength of the knee itself.

The weather was pretty awful with heavy rain on the drive to the start of the walk, and drizzle when we set off. But then the sun tried to break through and I saw little breaks of blue sky.  When we started to climb up to the lake, we walked into cloud and more damp conditions. Underfoot, the ground was soaked by the recent heavy rain and everywhere there were new streams and rivulets forming waterfalls. Rufus was spoilt for choice over where to paddle.

At the lake, the mist swirled and cleared before blanketing us again as the wind took it. After a short stone throwing break, we started on the path up the side of the mountain. The rocks were slippery underfoot and the wind and rain started again. Not the most enjoyable time I’ve had climbing this route. Even Rufus, normally racing ahead, took it easy. I could feel my lack of fitness as we neared the top of the first bit. I was out of breath and ready for a rest. A minute or so took care of that and soon we were on our way again towards the second steep bit.

Although short, this bit is very steep and the rocks that form the path are always slippery. In the cold or wet, they become worse and today was no exception. There is usually a wind from the south east through the bwlch and that didn’t disappoint either. It took less that 5 minutes of careful footfall to get over the worst of the slope and to reach the welcome stone slabs that form the path to the summit and trig point. The mist was thick here and the wind blew heavy drizzle into our faces but we carried on (this makes us sound like Arctic adventurers – there is no comparison, of course). The trig point has recently been painted white so it was invisible in the mist until we nearly bumped into it.

We carried on northwards to the end of the ridge. There were no views this time but I wanted to get the extra distance in. With little more than a pause to get our bearings, we headed back along the ridge to the descents. I was using my walking pole this time and took it easy. I was very conscious of my knee but tried not to favour it – I wanted this to be a fair test. The first descent, slippery and steep, was over quickly and Rufus decided to leave me behind as I was clearly slowing him up. By the time I got to the second, longer descent he was no where to be seen and I spent a few anxious moments looking for him. He appeared over the crest of a low hill, charging towards me and wondering why I was making a fuss of him.

The second, longer descent was going to be the real tester, and I started off a little nervous of what would happen. As I went down, it became clear that my knee was fine; there was no pain and not even the burning sensation i sometimes get on descents.  Of course, the walking pole helped and I’ll be using this all the time now. But I was pleased that there were no unexpected creaks and groans from the joint.

By the time I’d got to the bottom of the path, Rufus was already at the lake waiting for stones to be thrown, so we spent 15 minutes of so splashing about in the water. Neither of us were going to get any wetter than we already were.  Then we headed down, out of the cloud and into the occasional drizzle as we followed the many new streams down to the young River Tawe, and eventually the car.

There was lots of snowing on the sofa as I watched TV that evening.

Today, we went for a shorter stroll on Cefn Bryn. The weather was completely different to yesterday and the sun was warm on the hillside was we wandered through the undergrowth. This was the second part of my knee test – how would it feel on the day after a mountain? The answer was fine! The slight ache that I woke up with soon disappeared as we walked along and although the going wasn’t as harsh and testing as yesterday, we still climbed the best part of 100m and walked more than 5km.

I think I’ll be booking the trek to climb Kilimanjaro tomorrow.

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