Broadpool

Rufus and I head off to Broadpool a lot. It’s within 20 minutes of the house (on a good day with little traffic) and it’s a beautiful environment. Occasionally we have to give it a miss if there are cows around and I tend not to stop there if there are horses or sheep as they can easily be spooked and end up on the road. But more often than not we can spend up to an hour wandering around the lake and over the common. The variety of wildlife there is surprising. Apart from the farm animals, we’ve spotted rabbits, ducks and a solitary lapwing. I try and avoid the pool when the heron is there as she gets a lot of visitors and is very nervous. There are swifts and swallows, tree pipits, long tailed tits and geese. I’ve watched a barn owl hunting at the end of the day and recently a kestrel has watched over us as we walk.

Last Sunday it was a beautiful morning and we were at the lake before 8.30. The sun was warm and golden, the sky cloudless and the water mirror smooth. In the distance, cows called as milking time approached. We set off from the car and I let Rufus wander. We were testing Rufuscam which you can read about in this post, and he got some nice photos. All the wildlife photos here are from that morning.

I was happy witch my photos too and you can see them below. But how things change. At around 4pm, I saw a thin sea mist coming in over Mumbles and I thought it would make a great photograph to catch it in the sunset light over Broadpool. So Rufus and I jumped in the car and off we went. By the time we reached the pool, the visibility was down to yards and there was no sign of the sun. We went for a short walk in the gloom, which sucked all the colour from the landscape. Although the photos I took were in black and white anyway, had I used colour the only difference would have been a slight blue cast.

For most of the walk the road was invisible and only the sound of traffic betrayed it’s presence. In the distance, the cows still called, along with sheep and horses. The familiar became unfamiliar. It’s what I like about Broadpool; there’s always something different.

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A walk on the common

Bank Holiday Monday. Sunny but with rain coming in around lunchtime. No surprise there, but what should we do? I had a meeting with Rufus, my outdoor pursuits consultant, and he suggested a walk on the common while the good weather lasted. There may have been some bias in his coming to that decision, but I trust his judgement.

I decided to write a lighter blog after yesterday’s and it seemed a good idea to base it on a typical walk in Gower – one of the ones we do all the time and take for granted. So here it is. You have been warned.

Where we go on Fairwood Common is dictated by the location of the livestock there. Farmers get free grazing on this land and in that past we have encountered one several times who believes the land is his own personal possession. As I like to let Rufus off the lead as much as possible, I always look for the cows and sheep and avoid them. Today the cows, along with some horses and foals, were at the top of the common so we had free range. I parked the car off the road and we set off along an old and overgrown access road built for the airport when it was an RAF fighter station. Near here were a dead badger and a dead fox – I’d seen them before so I kept Rufus on the lead until we’d passed. Further along the road was the corpse of a dead cow, but that had been moved since we were last here. It was safe to let Rufus off the lead now and he went trotting ahead as we weaved through bushes and tree branches, all the while the birds singing from the cover of the branches.

At the perimeter fence, we usually see rabbits beyond in the airport. There weren’t any today; maybe we were a bit late. But Rufus picked up their scent and spent a few minutes trying to squeeze himself through the chain links. Giving up, he padded along the fence heading north along the line of the main runway. Two planes were flying, taking turns to land and take off before circling around again.

This part of the common is littered with the remains of WW2 buildings. Most of them are little more than concrete foundations; some are raised above the level of the ground and one or two have several courses of red brick poking above the marsh. Today, Rufus passed all of these and made for the end of the runway. I let him choose the route as he has an uncanny knack of finding trails and paths.

Fairwood Airport was built as a fighter station at the beginning of WW2. Thousands of tons of ballast and slag from the local steel and copper works were deposited in the marshy area known as Pennard Burch. Time was found to excavate two burial mounds in the area before they were covered by the runways. The airfield was open in 1941 and played host to a number of squadrons and aircraft types. It now hosts one of the Wales Air Ambulance helicopters, which was taking off as we walked, as well as the Swansea Skydiving Club and a number of private planes.

At the far end of the runway, we watched the planes coming and going, including the large aircraft used to take skydivers into the air. A smaller aeroplane had to dodge out of the way as the big plane taxied to our end of the runway. Beneath out feet, the marsh land was in evidence and I though that it was amazing how they were able to build on this type of ground. According to the records, damp and drainage were constant problems throughout the war at this base. Rufus disappeared in the long marsh grass but I was able to follow his progress by the splash and squelch noises he made as he explored. He wasn’t worried by the low flying aeroplanes.

We turned back and went onto firmer ground slightly above the level of the airfield. From here, it’s clear that the airfield is built in a dip in the ground. Not an ideal location, but it is the flattest part of the common and the only suitable place to site the runway. We were walking through the remains of the buildings now and Rufus climbed on to every foundation raft to make sure it was clear of local critters. We made our way further from the perimeter fence to a point that would have had a clear view of the whole airfield. Trees now block the way, but they are recent additions. Years ago, I found the half buried entrance to what I thought was the Battle HQ for RAF Fairwood Common. A recent check of a site map proved me correct. Nearby are the filled in remains of two infantry trenches, and between them is the holdfast for a small gun, possible an anti aircraft weapon.

It was all downhill from here and the car was visible from this part of the common. It’s at this stage that Rufus normally slows down. Not because he’s tired but because he doesn’t want to go home. Today, he was too caught up in the smells of the countryside and he ranged either side of me until I eventually had to put him on the lead when we got close to the road. There was a lot of traffic as people took advantage of the sun to get out into Gower.

Then we were back at the car and our walk was over. We’d done just over two miles in about 80 minutes. No records were in danger of being broken today, but that’s not the point of our walks. It’s all about enjoying and having fun. And that we did.

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Return of the sheep

A crisp and clear morning, the last day of the festive holiday and a hound that knows what he wants. All these meant only one thing; a morning on the hills.

This time last year (expect more of that phrase in the coming weeks) I was into the last phase of training for my trek. One of my favourite routes was up and over Moel Feity before dropping down to the source of the River Tawe. From there, I would climb back up to Llyn y Fan Fawr and on to Fan Brecheiniog. This morning I decided to take the same route, although we would stop short of Fan Brecheiniog itself.

We set off from the car and immediately, my boots were soaked. Yesterday’s rain was still lying on the ground in great puddles, small streams and marsh. We splashed our way around and up the side of Moel Feity, spiralling along sheep paths in the cold wind until we reached the flat top. The wind blew even stronger and colder but it was great to be on a familiar hilltop again.

We crossed westward to the memorial to the crashed US Navy Liberator and spent a few moments tidying up before heading on towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. The top of Moel Feity has a number of tracks, some made by quad bikes, some made by sheep. But we decided to make out own to avoid the worst of the water. But it was an impossible task, so eventually I just accepted that I’d get wet. Rufus loves the water anyway and it never bothers him. He criss crossed my path, checking out the scents and aromas.

We dropped off the hill and down to the young River Tawe, which was flowing healthily this morning. Then it was another climb up to the lake through even more boggy ground until we crested a small mound to find the clear blue water ahead. Rufus was off like a shot and headed straight to the spot we used to stop and rest at during the training last year. The lake was full after the rain and it was only just possible to sit on the rocks.

Little waves covered the surface of the water and as eddy’s of wind spun off the steep side of Fan Brecheiniog, they created moving patterns on the surface of the water. The sun shone on the lake and high above us I could hear the echo of two walkers shouting to each other as they traversed the ridge to Fan Foel.

We spent a short time taking in the view and enjoying the solitude before reluctantly leaving for the dry comfort of the car.

The route down was easier, but wetter, if that was possible. Every tuft of grass seemed to conceal a small pool. As we passed through patches of reeds, I could only tell where Rufus was by the splash of this paws in the water. We crossed the Tawe a little further down the hill and although it was only 18 inches or so wide, it was deep and flowing fast even here. On the opposite bank there were several paths visible in the distance on the side of Moel Fiety. I knew from experience that each contoured around the hill at different heights. But which one to take?

Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter as they all led to the general vicinity of the car. Of course, I picked the only one that faded out after a hundred yards and turned into a marsh. The last mile was splashed and squelched, although Rufus seemed to avoid the worst of it.

We popped over a small ridge to find several wild horses sheltering from the wind. Both Rufus, I and the horses were surprised and for a few moments  we stood and stared at each other. The horses remained calm, Rufus came back to me to see what I wanted him to do and we walked past them with little disturbance.

With the car in sight, we came across a small flock of sheep. Their winter coats made them look much larger than normal and they all looked up as one to see what we were. I put Rufus on the lead and we slowly walked past. When I turned to look at them again, they were all following us. It was an odd thing to see as sheep usually head in the opposite direction to us. But for about a minute, they were content to tag along, almost within touching distance. At any moment, I expected a lunge from them as they sought to steal Rufus’ treats.

But we managed to escape their evil clutches, and got to the car in one piece.

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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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Play misty

The weather forecast was right. At 7am it was raining a fine, heavy drizzle. I know because Rufus had decided we should be out in it. Shortly afterwards, and somewhat damply, we had breakfast. I was tempted to head out then – spend some time getting thoroughly soaked and then spend the rest of the day drying off. But we decided to wait for a while and sure enough, the thick mist lifted a little until I could see the end of the garden.

The original plan was to head out to Whiteford but as we drove out to Gower, I wasn’t sure how long we’d actually be out. Rather than spend 45 minutes getting there, I thought it would be better to keep the travel time short so we could get a longer walk in. So we diverted to Cefn Bryn, avoiding the cyclists and the yellow jacketed people trying to direct traffic, and halved the time we were in the car.

On the ridge, the visibility was minimal and we headed off in the direction I hoped Arthur’s Stone would be. With no landmarks visible in any direction, it felt odd walking what was a very familiar path. It seemed that in no time we’d reached the burial chamber and we spent a few minutes exploring before turning back for the car. In no time we were back at the car park, and we cautiously crossed the road to head off along the ridge to the water reservoir above Three Cliffs.

Strange shapes loomed out of the mist, where the visibility had increased to about 10 yards. Mostly they were gorse bushes but occasionally they were sheep, horses and cows. Apart from the wind, it was eerily silent on the walk and this added to the spooky feeling of having no familiar landmarks to tell me how far we’d come. Even the small hill leading to the reservoir was indistinguishable without some means of seeing the lie of the land. Before we knew it, we were at the reservoir and the little summit of rocks about 100m further on.

We didn’t stay long – both of us being soaked through – and we made our way back to the car at a fair old pace. Once again we came across sheep, horses, a tiny foal (late in the year?) and more sheep. We also spotted two groups of manhole covers, painted yellow, blue and red, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Very surreal. We could hear the traffic on the road a long time before we saw it and I made sure Rufus was on the lead as I still didn’t know exactly where we were.

Back at the car, two damp boys were glad to be heading home for coffee and a treat for being a good boy and doing everything I asked. I was happy because my leg hadn’t fallen off despite walking at a fast pace for a reasonable distance. It all bodes well for another stab at Kilimanjaro on January.

This is today’s route.

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It’s only rain…

Training for the trek is stepping up now. I have to take advantage of every opportunity to get the hours in. The training plan calls for 3-4hr hikes at the moment. I’m happy, having done several 4-5hrs walks with Rufus on our lads week but I have to make sure that I keep up the pace and don’t become over confident. So the prospect of rain this morning wasn’t going to put me off getting out.

I went to see if Rufus wanted to come out and, surprise surprise, he did! We set off for Whiteford again. As we drove, the rain started. It wasn’t heavy but it was constant. It wasn’t cold either which would make the rain easier to cope with. We parked up and I got all my waterproofs on. Rufus waited impatiently, hurrying me up with little yaps and whines. Then we were off.

Last week, we explored a new route and I decided to try a slight detour along another new route. Not knowing where it would lead, we set off along a sunken lane signposted ‘Betty Church. There was no Betty and no church, but we soon got to a flat clearing in the woods. There was no obvious path but when I looked over the edge of the clearing, I saw that we were about 20 feet above the Cwm Ivy wood path that we used last week. There seemed to be an easy bit leading down so we went for it. Rufus charged off and I followed. But as soon as we got down the level of the path, we saw the thing wire fence topped with barbed wire. Rufus was all for jumping it but I stopped him. Instead, we went looking for a gap, or a part of the fence that was down.

Rufus was bounding up and down along the fence, while I was slipping and sliding as the ground was sloping and muddy. Inevitably, I went flying after stepping on a slippery tree root. As I lay on my side, Rufus bounded up and I swear that if he had been able to laugh, he would have been hysterical. Instead, he poked his nose in my face, backed off and as soon as I got up, he wagged his tail and jumped up to give my face a lick. Then we went looking for the gap in the fence again and he was bouncing around. Eventually, I found part of the fence flattened where a tree had fallen on it. I called Rufus and looked up, to see him vaulting the fence a little further off. We finally made it to the path.

From there, we followed a familiar route along the boundary wall by the estuary. Rufus desperately wanted to paddle in the water but it was thick with mud and he was good enough to listen to me and not wander off. We negotiated a solitary cow near the path (the others were behind a fence) and we made our way out onto the dune system and along to Whiteford Point. Today the tide was further in but on its way out. Fortunately for me, the big pool Rufus played in last week was still there, so I spent some time throwing stones for Rufus to retrieve.

By now the rain was getting a little heavier and it was quite miserable out, so we turned for home. I decided to walk along the beach on the way back – something we hadn;t down for a while. There was a wind blowing in from the sea and the rain continued to dampen our clothes, but not our spirits. The receding tide left lots of scents and aromas for Rufus to investigate. I just stuck my head down and trudged.

At the exit tot he beach, I put Rufus on the lead as there was a sign warning dog owners of ground nesting birds. Most of Whiteford is a nature reserve and we’ve seen lots of Lapwings and Sandmartins. Today, we also spotted several Common Shelduck on the marshland of the estuary. There were also some horses that appeared to be fighting – they might have been playing as there were foals around of various ages.

Walking back up towards Cwm Ivy, both of us could hear cows and they sounded perturbed. After our encounter with cows at Pembrey, I was a bit wary of what we’d see when we came over the hill. Sure enough, near the junction with the coastal path there were a lot of cows milling about and calling. A farmer was herding them out of the field to take them up through the village and who knows where. We backed off; the presence of Rufus may have made it harder for them to control the herd. The sounds uf mildly annoyed bovines slowly faded as they made their way along the path that we would shortly be following.

I gave them five minutes, then we set off. They stayed ahead of us but they left behind them the most awful stench and almost constant stream of dung; it took concentration to avoid every drop! But we did it and finally made the car.

Our route today.

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Grey

Rufus let me lie in until 6.15am this morning. Although he checked to see I was okay at 12.30am, 3.30am, 5am and 5.30am and only hinted at his need to patrol the garden again. It was light when we went out and there was the suggestion that the morning would be dry, so pausing only briefly to look at the slugs and make sure they weren’t attacking my fledgling potato plant shoots, we had a swift breakfast and made our way to Whiteford.

Today’s training plan called for a long walk on relatively flat ground but with a heavier pack. With a large chunk of Old Red Sandstone from Pen y Fan in the bottom of the pack, it weighed around 22lbs (that should be around 10lb heavier than the pack I carry on a daily basis on the trek). As I’m writing this, the lack of weight on my back makes it feel as if I’m floating!

The wind was blowing and there was a hint of drizzly rain in the air as we set off towards the beach, but apart from one short shower, we remained dry throughout. We walked along the length of the beach to the headland with the recently turned tide slowly ebbing. Whiteford Lighthouse was engulfed in a rough sea. There was a little shelter around the headland as the dunes kept the worst of the wind off us, so we stopped there for a water break.

Turning back, we walked amongst the dunes so that I could get the effect of walking up and down short but steep hillocks. We shared the dunes with loads of sheep, some frisky horses and in the distance a number of cows. There were a lot of different species of birds today; waders on the sea shore, plenty of lapwings and smaller birds inland. Our route was lengthened by having to weave around clumps of sheep although Rufus showed little interest in them.

In the distance on the edge of the Landimore marsh, a pair of horses were making sweet love, and a loud racket too. We ignored them and carried on through the dunes and the woods before crossing the dunes to the beach again. In the hour or so since we’d left the beach, the tide had raced out by around 100m and waves were breaking in the distance.

We passed through the lapwings once again, and avoided a flock of sheep chomping on the grass of the dunes. Then all that was left was the long uphill slog back to the car park.

Back home, it was showers all around; me because I was sweaty and Rufus because he’d managed to roll in every single appallingly smelly thing on the beach.

Today we did 9km in just over 2hrs.

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Corn Du and Pen y Fan

I woke this morning to find a hairy Spaniel lying next to me, belly up and paws outstretched. It’s not what I’m used to. I’m sure Rufus isn’t used to waking up next to me either. We got over our initial embarassament and it wasn’t mentioned again.

The weather forecast, for sunshine and clear skies, was accurate and so we made an early start for the Storey Arms and the path to Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I have’t climbed to Pen y Fan for over a year. It was one of the last training days I had before the trek. I see from my geeky notes that I’ve climbed it 41 times before.

We set off on the Storey Arms path towards Corn Du. This one was a favourite when I was training because it challenged mentally as well as physically. The first climb to the top of Y Gyrn is followed by a drop down to a stream, which further down the valley becomes the Taf. Then, it seems, you have to do the whole climb all over again. (Actually, the drop and re-climb is only around 55m but it is very disheartening to lose those hard earned centimetres.) The whole climb is visible from just above the stream and it’s clear that it gets significantly steeper towards the end.

On the way down to the stream we met a walker who had been camping below Corn Du the previous night. Yesterday, we saw snow on Corn Du and he confirmed that yesterday, there had been a fall of about 3 inches, but it melted during the night. It had been warm where he camped, which was a small lake in Cwm Llwch.

When we got to the stream, Rufus dived in up to his tummy. He was clearly relieved to cool down a little as the sun had started to warm him up. By the time we left, he was soaked and the river had lost some of the pebbles from its bed.

The drag up to the ridge was long and it felt endless. But suddenly we were at the point where our path meest the one from Pen Milan. Over a hundred years ago, a little boy was lost on the mountains and died in atrocious weather near here. Little Tommy Jones’ body was found just down the ridge and a memorial stone commemorates the incident. It’s a sad place and when the weather is misty and rough, it’s a sobering reminder of how dangerous this place can be.

We set off up the steepest bit of the climb. I plodded along slowly; Rufus bounded back and forth. The last bit is particularly hard going and I put my head down and got on with it. I looked up just before cresting the summit to find the silhouette of Rufus looking down to see why I was taking so long. Corn Du was windy and cold but it was great to have finally got there.

After a short break, we set off for nearby Pen y Fan, 13m higher but a greater cimb as we had to drop down to the saddle between the two peaks. It’s not far, but it’s enough when you’ve spent an hour climbing. The top of Pen y Fan was deserted, the way we like it. We had breakfast on its southern edge, watching little dots become people as they made their way slowly up from Cribyn. Pen y Fan and Corn Du are outcrops of sandstone and on the flat rocks that make up their summits you can see ripples in the stones. They were once part of a beach and the ripples are the same as those seen on modern beaches where the tide sweeps in and out.

Next on our agenda was a walk along Craig Gwaun Taf. The ridge stretches away to the south from the slope of Corn Du. It reaches down to the reservoirs in the Gwaun Taf valley and is part of the route of the Beacons Horseshoe. We walked along it for just over a mile and took a break at a large cairn before heading back.

It was time to head home and we made our way quickly down the tourist path to Pont ar Daf. It’s an easy path, well made and maintained but very busy and I prefer not to use it if possible. But I had promised Rufus a treat in the form of a bathe in the river Taf (the same river that he had paddled in on the way up).  He had shown no interest in any sheep on the walk but I put him on the lead when we were approaching some ponies, as they had very young foals with them and several ponies were pregnant. One of the foals was tiny, and still a little unsteady on its feet. Rufus showed no interest and neither did the ponies, so I let him off the lead again.

As soon as he saw the water, Rufus was off, leaving me behind. By the time I was nearing the river, Rufus had been in and had come back to meet me. He paddled and I threw stones for him to catch and all the while we watched a bunch of students making some kind of video just down river from us. I expect some of their footage has the insistent barking of Rufus as yet again I wasn’t quick enough, or I threw the stones in the wrong place.

We got back to the car exhausted but happy. Rufus was soon asleep on the back seat and i didn’t hear a peep out of him until we got home.

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