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 The sofas had been replaced by a new set, and there was wifi!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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Seeing things in a new light

This is an unashamedly technical post. For those of you turned off by nanometres and transmission filters, other blogs are available.

A couple of years ago  I took the plunge and invested in an infra red converted camera. Since then I’ve learnt to understand the best conditions and subject to apply infra red to, and I’ve experimented with post processing.  I had my Nikon D300 converted to record infra red images in 2013. I love the effect, particularly when post processed into black and white images. This post is about the basics and is based on a presentation I recently gave to my local camera club.

The nanometre bit

Infra red light is invisible to the naked eye and has wavelengths starting at around 590nm and stretching on to 1000nm and beyond.

 

Most digital camera sensors are so sensitive to ultra violet and infra red light that a special filter is placed in front of them to cut this light out. Converting a camera to take infra red photographs is simply a case of replacing this filter with one that blocks visible light and transmits infra red. That’s what I had done to my D300. It gets a little more complicated because there are different filters available to allow different wavelengths of light to pass through (in the same way that coloured filters allow different wavelengths of visible light through). My camera has a 720nm filter, (which blocks light of wavelength less than 720nm). Sensors to pick up heat energy are a completely different beast and are not dealt with here.

As a converted DSLR camera doesn’t need a transmission filer on the lens, you can compose and focus as normal. The image in the optical viewfinder remains bright and in visible light. To see the effect of the internal filter you will need to use live view. If you are using an unconverted camera with a transmission filter, you will need to compose and focus with the filter removed as by it’s very definition, the filter will block out visible light.

My D300 was calibrated for focusing and exposure by the company that converted it (Protech repairs). I still find that when faced with different subjects, I need to adjust the exposure from the indicated values and a degree of trial and error is sometimes required. You’ll always find me reviewing the image immediately after taking it.

Effects

The sun emits as much infra red light as it does visible light and so it is possible, with a converted camera, to use exposure times similar to normal. The classic infra red effect – white vegetation and dark skies – happens because green leaves reflect a lot of infra red light but blue skies do not. Scientists use infra red photography to spot growth and dead vegetation in the landscape. Contrast can be high in these photographs and you have to keep this in mind when taking the shot. Water also absorbs infra red.

Infra red light penetrates skin slightly and this results in a a soft, blemish free appearance in portraits. Eyes tend to appear black. The longer wavelength of infra red light is less affected by haze and pollution and so landscape photographs appear clearer and crisper.

Flare can be more of a problem as most lenses are designed to be used with visible light. The lens coatings and internal coatings that reduce reflections aren’t as effective with the longer wavelengths. Some lenses suffer from ‘hotspots’, a bright central portion which varies (and may disappear altogether) with a change in aperture. Of the collection of lenses I’ve gathered over the years, about half exhibit a hotspot with the D300.

Lenses that work with 720nm Infra red and a D300 camera:

  • Nikkor 60mm macro
  • Sigma 10-20mm D f/4-5.6
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 (manual focus)
  • Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D
  • Nikkor 70-300mm AFS f/4.5-5.6
  • Tamron 90mm macro
  • Tamron 18-270mm
  • Vivitar 19mm (manual focus)
  • Sigma 170-500mm

 

Results

below are a set of photos I took this morning. I’ve been experimenting with additional filters progressively the shorter wavelengths. This is very much a work in progress.

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Twice in one day!

Neither Rufus nor I do heat. It’s great to see fine weather, the sun is a rare visitor and always welcome. But you won’t find either of us sweltering on the beach, or panting across some shadeless moorland in the high noon heat.

That’s why we both like the early morning. And there’s an added bonus; no one around. It means we can enjoy the countryside free of shouts and screams and this means more chances to see the native wildlife. Yesterday morning, we headed off the Brynllefrith Plantation again. We were there at 7am and immediately we were rewarded for our early start by the sight of a buzzard flying lazily between perches in the trees. All the time as we walked through the trees, sheep called and the echoes amongst the woods made for an eerie atmosphere.

After last week’s visit, I was wary of where Rufus went and my caution was rewarded when I was able to stop him from trying to investigate at an intimate level two dead sheep within yards of each other. Aromatic disaster averted, we dived off the main path to head deeper into the trees and away from any more ovines. I found myself being attacked by horseflies and wishing I had put on some of the insect repellent I’d got for the trek.

We walked for about two miles through the trees, down to the Upper Lliw reservoir and back again and by the time we left the plantation, it was getting hot. I had planned to head off the sort distance to the wind farm, where by it’s very definition I knew there would be a cooling breeze. But as we neared the car, Rufus munched on some grass and a minute or so later was suddenly sick. He didn’t seem ill (he’s been running around in the woods) but I decided to cut our walk short and head home. By the time we got to the house, all signs of a tummy upset were gone and a healthy appetite had appeared. I can only assume it was a bit of dodgy belly and he’s made himself sick with the grass.

The day was hot with little breeze to cool things down. Even in the shade the temperature was up. We sat and sweated and dozed and channel hopped between the Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games. But there was something missing. unfinished business.

Once the day’s temperature had dropped, we set off back to the wind farm. Rufus was bouncing once more and I wanted to try some long exposures of the moving turbine blades. I hoped there would be enough of a breeze to get them going. I needn’t have worried. as we made our way across the moorland, the blades were slowly swooping and swishing. In the silence of the late evening, I could hear them and the whine of the generators almost as soon as we left the car.

The sunset was quite disappointing but the evening was pleasant and the turbines dramatic.

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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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