Where the dead things are

A day off. The first Rufus knew was when he came in to wake me up at my usual time and instead of watching me make breakfast after he’d been out in the garden, he watched me go back to bed for an hour’s lie in. Then, when I did finally get up, he was surprised that there was no rush to get ready, and that I was wearing walking trousers. We set off for Ilston woods in frosty conditions. I was hoping for some mist for a photo I’ve had in my mind for some time, of trees disappearing into a light grey morning haze.

There was no mist, but there was frost and mud. We wandered for a while but I just wasn’t getting any inspiration for photographs and Rufus was getting muddier and muddier. I didn’t want to take snapshots so rather than waste the early morning light, we headed back to the car and then on to Oxwich Bay. I haven’t been to Oxwich for ages. The bay sweeps around from the headland towards Three Cliffs. During the war, Oxwich was one of the bays used to practice for the D-Day landings. It was much calmer today.

We wandered through the dunes rather than across the sand. The sun was warm and despite the earlier frost, it soon warmed the day up. Dressed for freezing conditions, I had to remove a layer and roll my sleeves up! There were plenty of shady places for Rufus so I wasn’t too worried about him overheating. I’ve never walked though the dunes here before, and although it was similar to walking around Whiteford, the dunes were closer together here, and there was much more greenery.

Before long, we reached the little unnamed brook that marks the unofficial boundary between Oxwich Burrows and Nicholaston Wood. I headed off to the stream where it flowed in to the sea for Rufus to have a paddle and drink. But when I turned around, he was on the high water mark, rolling around in something aromatic. He has a tendency to find the dead things that are washed up on the shore and today was no exception. Although he knows he’l have to have a shower, which never goes down well, I think he also knew that the shower was out of action at the moment, in need of resealing.

Our stroll back was relaxed and the day felt almost summery with the strong and bright sun in my eyes the whole way. Needless to say, there was much snoring from Rufus after we got home. So I left him sleeping and dashed off to the DIY store to get the things I needed to fix the shower.

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Weekend

Both of us have been feeling under the weather this weekend. Rufus woke up on Saturday with a bad belly – I knew there was something wrong when he wouldn’t have any breakfast. Not even a morsel of scone. I felt as if I was coming down with a cold – sore through, headache and a bit of a dodgy tummy too. Being blokes, these were no ordinary, mild illnesses and so we decided to have a poorly lads day in.

All morning, Rufus’ belly rumbled and squeaked and he struggled to find somewhere comfy to settle. Eventually, my bed seemed his favourite spot, so apart from occasionally checking on him, I left him be. I spent the morning channel hooping and doing some housekeeping on the PC.

After lunch, Rufus had picked up a bit – the test is always will he eat a piece of chicken. He did, and after he’d eaten some dog biscuits as well, I decided we should go out for a breath of fresh air. We headed out for a quick wander on Fairwood Common. Neither of us was feeling particularly energetic but we had half an hour of fresh air, during which time we watched two lots of parachutists drop from the sky, whooping and screaming. I was surprised at how quickly they descended once the parachutes were open.

Back in the house, the inevitable consequence of a bad belly started. There’s no delicate way to say that Rufus started farting and didn’t stop all night. By now he was eating  properly but this didn;t help. By the end of the night, I had to be careful not to accidentally create a spark or the whole house would have gone up in a flash of flame and smoke.

This morning, we were both feeling a lot better so after breakfast, we set off for a walk on Cefn Bryn. It was a lovely morning and everywhere I thought of going, there were sheep, horses of cattle. In many of our usual spots, there were combinations of animals. So we ended up walking out to Arthur’s Stone. The view across the Loughor Estuary was fantastic and still air meant that the sound of the countryside – dogs barking, sheep and cattle and birds – were clear and sharp.

About half way around our routes, I crested a little hill to see a herd of wild horses galloping towards us. They were far enough away to allow us time to get out of the way, but for a few minutes there was some urgency to our walk. It turned out they were being scared by a quad bike that was coming up behind them. At first, I thought it was someone deliberately herding them, but the quad bike turned off after a while and left the horses alone. By now, they were following us although without the influence of the bike, they were no longer galloping. Nevertheless, for the last 20 minutes of our walk, they followed us at our pace, some 50 yards or so behind us.

In the tradition of lads sticking together, it would be wrong of me to mention that one of us tried to steal a bar of chocolate from another one of us, unsuccessfully.

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Slick

Poor old Rufus. Yesterday, with the prospect of thunder and lightning and with the knowledge that I’d be home early, I left him indoors. If he’d been out and there had been a storm, I don’t know where he would have ended up and that would have worried me all morning. So he had the run of the house. He was also booked in for a hair cut in the afternoon, so I’d have to race home lunchtime and get him, drop him off at the stylist and pick him up again several hours later.

Well, there was no storm and when I got home, I was late. Rufus didn’t really know what was going on as I tried to explain to him while letting him have a run in the garden and making a fuss of him at the same time. Within 30 minutes, I’d got him in the car and dropped him off. Poor old Rufus.

But when I picked him up again, he was looking good. And he knew it! With his fur shaved back to a smooth and short length, he was no longer panting in the sunshine. We headed home, paused long enough to change out of my work clothes and into something more appropriate and we were off again to Broadpool, where Rufus enjoyed a run, jump, paddle, bound, run again and (of course) a dip in a muddy pool.

This morning we headed off to Mynydd Betws for a longer walk. I’ve been reluctant to take him on longer walks recently because of the heat but now his fur was shorter, and the day was cooler, off we went. I was interested in the clouds that were around this morning. I’ve started a project to take infra red photos of clouds and looking out of the window before we left, there were great billowing cumulus clouds everywhere. I was a little nervous, as thunder was forecast for the day but the walks I had in mind would be okay, with plenty of advanced warning of an approaching storm. And it would give me a chance to snap more clouds.

There is a wind farm on Mynydd Betws and I’ve mentioned the location before. It’s a great walk, though, and we started off in the woods to the north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. Only the sound of birds could be heard in the woods and it was very tranquil and not too hot. We walked amongst the trees for a while and then off to the side, where there is a convenient gasp in the fence that allows us to reach a small stream. Rufus was in it before I’d managed to duck under the fence. I stopped to take some photos and Rufus let me!

Next, we went back to the car through the woods once more. I turned to check on Rufus only to find him sporting a cool new wool scarf. I think he must have caught his collar on it, and it stuck but he showed no interest in removing it. Not knowing where it had been, I took it off. A few minutes later, I turned to find he had now managed to get more wool on his nose.

We drove off to the wind farm on top of Mynydd Betws and walked out to one of the turbines. The skies were magnificent and I used the Infra red camera to capture a lot of the cloud forms, which were changing and developing minute by minute. While I was looking around I noticed a trig point shining in the sun on the next hill over. With no firm plans to follow, I decided to walk over to it and Rufus was more than happy to follow. Of course, he got there before me and was waiting patiently as I arrived.

Looking back to the car, which seemed a long way off all of a sudden, I noticed a big black cloud making its way slowly towards us. At the very least we would be soaked if that decided to unleash its contents on it. A big sign near one of the turbines had casually warned not to approach the tower if there was lightning about. We decided to make our way back to the car. The cloud was moving quite slowly and I was still tempted to stop and take photos so it took a little while to reach the car. As we did so, I felt several large blobs of rain on my face.

Driving home,. we passed under and beyond the cloud, which spent a few minutes trying to soak us. But on the other side there was sunshine and no sign of the expected storms.

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If you go down to the woods today…

…in theory, you would find a bunch of like minded souls on hands and knees pointing cameras at bluebells. That’s what I thought as I’d planned to meet up with some friends and colleagues from work to go hunting for photogenic bluebells. But, typical for me, I got the directions wrong and ended up in a completely different car park. With no phone signal to check where everyone was, I waited a few minutes after our rendezvous time and then headed off to where I thought the bluebells would be.

Merthyr Mawr car park is right next to Candleston Castle, a fortified manor house dating back to the 14th Century. It is in ruins now and is the home to ivy and other creepers. Not far from the castle, I came across a large area of bluebells and set about snapping away.

The danger with Bluebells is that they can end up looking pink or purple in a digital image because they reflect so much infra red light. So it pays to bracket exposure to try some slight under exposure. I added a polarising filter too, although this seemed to make little difference. As I was crouched down n the ground, I went to lean on a small branch only to notice a line of ants marching along it. A closer look revealed a veritable motorway system complete with streams of ant traffic moving in both directions. I went to fit a macro lens on the camera and saw that my camera bag was right in the middle of another ant highway. I looked around for a place to safely deposit the bag but everywhere was crawling with ants. I was reminded of every film where ants attack humans and I was waiting for the inevitable biting and tickling that would signal my being carried off to some underground nest.

But instead, I found a clear space for the bag and took some macro shots of ants carrying food back to the nest. I had to use the ring flash as the light levels were too low under the canopy of trees to allow a decent depth of field and shutter speed fast enough to freeze their movement. I was pleased with what I got.

I explored the woods for a while, sheltering from a couple of short but sharp showers under the trees. Then I slowly made my way back to the car, stopping once again to get some close ups of the bluebells, now looking their best in the sunshine.

Shortly after I left the car park, I got a couple of text messages telling me everyone else had arrived there.

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The last misty mountain

Including today, I have five days left before I fly out to Tanzania and try to get to the top of Kilimanjaro. Today was the last realistic opportunity to get some hill training in. At least that’s what Rufus was telepathically transferring into my head. I know it was him because I also had an overwhelming urge to fill my back pack full of doggy treats.

So after breakfast and a swift patrol of the garden, we were off and very quickly at the start of the path over Moel Feity and to Llyn y Fan Fawr. Last time we were heading in this direction, we ended up scurrying back to the car in the middle of thunder and lightning and a tremendous hail storm. Today, the weather couldn’t have been more different. It was cold and clear and a golden glow from the just risen sun brought out the yellows and oranges in the grass and it was as if we were walking on a brick red carpet. Albeit a soggy one.

We made our way up onto Moel Feity, stopping to tidy up the memorial to the American bomber crash. Wind had scattered some of the poppies and I placed them back on the small cairn, weighted down with stones. Then it was off down the other side and up the hill to the lake. By now, Fan Brecheiniog was covered in a fluffy cloud hat and for a moment I had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t another thunder cloud. That day still haunts me. But it wasn’t and we reached the lake relatively dry.

After a stop to refuel, during which I had the urge to sacrifice my Snickers to Rufus (which I only just managed to overcome), we started the steep trudge up on to Fan Brecheiniog itself. As we climbed, the cloud lifted so that by the time we were on the top, there was a light haze covering the ridge. Ahead, a huge aerial stucjk up from the stone shelter and as we passed I heard the distinct nasal clip of someone speaker over a radio circuit. I’m not sure what was happening but the two guys with the radio were comfortable in the shelter. Rufus and I walked on to the end of the ridge and took a few selfies before we turned around and headed back down to the lake.

At the water’s edge, I sat and threw stones for Rufus to catch. This will be the last time we walk together for a while and I wanted to make sure that he had a bit of a play as well as a good long walk. There was much wagging of tail and barking, which suggested to me that he was having fun.

The two kilometres walk back to the car isn’t the best part of this route and we splashed, squelched and slipped our way back in about an hour. Rufus was reluctant, as usual, to jump up on to the back seat but he didn’t know what I knew – we were only going a mile down the road to the river. Or maybe he did know. Maybe it was his idea? Once he realised we were stopping again, he was stood up and ready to jump out. I parked by the side of the river so that he could have a proper paddle, and rinse some of the mud out of his paws.

We walked up and down the river bank until I found some stones and there followed a stone fest. I threw, he chased. He jumped, paddled, slipped, bathed and barked. His tail wagged so much that if it had been submerged it would have propelled him up against the flow of the water. A few times he made athletic leaps across to a stone in the middle of the river, only to leap back on to the bank again with equal grace. A lot of fun was being had. All too quickly it was time to leave and Rufus dried off in the back while I drove behind horses, tractors, cyclist and slow learner drivers back home.

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Windswept

I went for a stroll to Singleton Park this morning. Although this weekend had been planned as a break from training, I actually like walking and so I have been out and about. Yesterday was quite a challenging afternoon. Today was the calm after the storm (I’m hoping that will be a new phrase like ‘the calm before the storm’ – remember, you heard it here first).

So off down the road to the park with the intention of photographing masses of brown Autumnal leaves and a few colourful trees. But the recent winds seem to have cleared all the newly fallen leaves, or other photographers have gathered them up for still life shots. I was left with the half rotten, dark brown ones that are slowly turning into mulch. Not photogenic at all.

But the sun was out and there were some colourful trees and I was happy. It was a lovely morning – I love the early part of the day before most people are about. It feels as if it’s special – mine – and only a few get to see it like this.

I was using the infra red camera a lot this morning and that really brought out the trees against the dark sky. I tried taking comparison shots with the normal camera and I’ve posted a pair here out of interest. I took a completely new route away from the main path; it surprises me how big Singleton Park is and I’ve lived near it for years.

I walked as far as the beach. There were several joggers and dog walkers and the tide was on it’s way out. Yesterday, driving along Oystermouth Road, the sand was whipping up off the beach and creating mini sandstorms along the dual carriageway. Today there was barely a breeze.

Back in the park, I started noticing storm damage. One tree had been stripped of it’s branches and stood like a might telegraph pole. It had clearly been done as a safety precaution as the job was too neat. Then I spotted a tree that had snapped off midway up it’s trunk. The sharp spikes pointed skywards. Finally, I found my usual route back blocked by a lot of branches. I skirted around them to find a tree completely uprooted. It was quite sad to see this massive and old tree pushed over as it if had been a sapling. I pass this tree every time I walk through the park and I always marvel at how big and sturdy it looks. Not being an expert in tree things, it looks to me as if it could just be pushed back into place, with a bit of mulching, and left to get on with it. But it is huge and I guess to get a machine that could achieve that would be expensive. I expect it will be chopped up for firewood.

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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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