Mynydd Preseli

Ever since our trek across the grey, dismal tops of the Preseli Mountains in September, I’ve planned to go back in better weather. Yesterday, the weather forecast said that today would be a beautiful, cold and crisp day with temperatures well below zero. Perfect!

We set off at about 7.30 am, well before sunrise to avoid the traffic. As I drove West, I watched the temperature gauge drop to a low of -6.5 centigrade. On the A40 west of Carmarthen, the road was lined with crystal white trees, coated with a heavy frost. I wanted to stop and take some photos but i also wanted to enjoy as much time on the mountains as possible. As tempting as it was, we carried on.

Last time, I spent a while trying to find the right lane, finally circumnavigating the Preseli range before discovering the layby. This time, not only did I study the maps but I also checked Google street view at one of the junctions. Very useful to see what the sign said!

We set off from the car, the only ones on the mountain which is how I like it. Ahead, Foel Drygarn rose up with the dawn sun turning its flanks golden. The remains of the weekend snow caught the sunlight and the three burial cairns on the top shone, like they were meant to do. The top of the hill is an old Iron Age hillfort and we walked through the weathered ramparts and made the trig point on the top.

The view all around was fantastic. Ahead, Carn Menyn and Carn Bica were our goals and between them a winter landscape stretched out. On Foel Drygarn, it was silent and still. These are my favourite conditions and I took a moment to just stand and enjoy them.

Rufus was happy to be out and the snow wasn’t heavy enough to cause him too many problems getting between his toes. Dropping down to the path was difficult as the grass was frozen and acting like a slide. I nearly slipped several times and regretted not bringing my walking poles. Rufus, with four paw drive, was fine.

We slipped and slid our way over to Carn Menyn – the source of the Bluestones for Stonehenge and had a short coffee break before setting off across Bwlch Ungwr towards Carn Bica and the  Bedd Arthur stone circle. This part of the walk was long and tedious last time; today, the glorious weather made it a much more enjoyable experience. The sun was quite warm now, and we made good progress up to the final goal of the day.

Bedd Arthur is a small setting of stones, much more an oval rather than a circle, and with a barely discernible bank and ditch. This makes it a henge monument. It overlooks Carn Menyn and is clearly part of an impart landscape for prehistoric man. Scientific study has shown that the whole of the Preseli range was covered in trees at one time, which had been cleared around 3000 years ago. With a different climate then, the area was populated and a busy environment.

For Rufus and I, it was an empty environment and as we sat on the rocks at Carn Bica, we enjoyed the silence and solitude (and a few snacks). Then it was time to head back to the car. As we left the rocks, we both spotted a solitary figure walking towards us and shortly after, we passed a young man with a very serious expression on his face. We barely had a grunt of acknowledgement to my greeting so we carried on and left him to his own thoughts.

As we reached Carn Menyn again, the crowds started to appear. We must have passed 10 people in groups as we walked back down, skirting Foel Drygarn. They had all missed the best of the day.

Today was one of those occasions when I really know why I love the mountains. The snow, the clear blue skies and the silence are all the things I like best about them, and Rufus’ company is perfect to enjoy these things.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 10: Holiday’s End

When I woke up this morning, Rufus had managed to take over about half the bed. Usually, he is waking me up but this morning the alarm beat him to it. Expecting a wet nose in the face, I was surprised to hear just a deep sigh from his half of the mattress. He was reluctant to head out into the garden and very keen to get back to bed again. We had a nice lie in while the sun came up.

It was a much better day today but I decided to let Rufus have a rest, so after breakfast I set off to explore Dinas Rock, near Pontneddfechan. It’s at the other end of the river that we often visit for its waterfalls. I’ve only been here a couple of time. Once to film a promotional video for the Princes Trust, when I went gorge walking with a bunch of volunteers. It was a fun packed couple of hours for me, as a non-swimmer. I spent most of my time bobbing along in a wet suit trying to keep a £2k video camera from sinking into the water. The second time was a brief visit with Rufus after we’d been drenched on Moel Feity.

The area around Dinas Rock is full of history. On the rock itself, there are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, which gives the area its name (Dinas means fort in Welsh). The car park was once a limestone quarry and nearby were other quarries and adits for the millstone grit that outcrops around here. Further down the valley is the Dinas Gunpowder mill, where carbon from the forest was combined with saltpetre from pigeon droppings and other ingredients to make gunpowder. They tested the quality of the gunpowder by using a sample to fire an 8″ cannon ball. If it didn’t meet the standard, the whole batch was destroyed. Carefully! When the site was decommissioned in 1931, the buildings were burnt out to remove the risk of accidental explosion at a later date from gunpowder residue.

The track I walked along was suspiciously flat and as I suspected, it turned out to be the route of an old railway. In fact, it was a tramway which led out of the valley and down towards Glynneath, following the route of the old road. The remains of the powder works and the watermills that powered it are still visible lining the river, but in a precarious state of decay. Back in the car park, groups of nervous school kids were heading off to do their gorge walking as I drove out.

Rufus had a good rest while I was out and after I got home, but this evening it was time for him to have a little walk. The sunset promised to be quite good so we set off for Broadpool, where we were fortunate in that there were now cows hovering around the pool. I forgot that the car is no longer a 4×4 and we bumped off the road to park; thankfully, I didn’t catch any body work on the ditches. After a short stroll around the shore of the lake, we returned to the part closest to the road where we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset complete with mirror like reflections in the water.

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More Holiday

As part of his holiday (but I’m not sure what his holiday is from), Rufus has been staying with me so that we can get out and about early. Over the last few days, we’ve been on mountains, on beaches and for long walks in between.

Fan Nedd is a favourite and has featured here before. It’s a short hill, less than a mile from car to top, but it has a number of extensions we can add, including a long one to Fan Gyhirych. This time we were content with walking along the ridge and past the trig point until the ground started to drop away again on the far side. In all, we managed about 2.7 miles. Compare that with the 42 miles a walker we met was doing for charity and it pales into insignificance but it was enough for us.

Cefn Bryn needs no introduction, and on Friday, we walked the whole length of the ridge until we were overlooking Three Cliffs and Penmaen on the coast. It was windy but not cold and the views from the top down to the sea were beautiful. It reminded me that I hadn’t been to Three Cliffs for ages. When I was in college, a bunch of friends and I would meet up during the summer holidays and head off to Penmaen and Tor Bay, just to to the right of Three Cliffs. We’d spend the day on the beach and every so often, one person would have to walk back up to the car park where a little shop sold ice cream and cold drinks. It was a hard slog up dunes before a long walk along a hot path to the shop. It’s still a  great memory, though.

On Saturday, we went down to Three Cliffs and Penmaen very early in the morning. Still we didn’t have it to ourselves. A sea fisherman was casting into the incoming tide. I couldn’t see if he was catching anything. Joggers passed us by and one or two local dog walkers shared the beach. Beneath Pennard Castle, we saw cows making their way down the dunes to the river. It was a warm morning and pleasant walking along the beach. But eventually, we had to make our way back up the dunes and that was hard going. At the top, I made a detour to visit the remains of an Iron Age fort on the headland overlooking the cliffs. All that remains now are earth banks with a gap between them, but they are still quite impressive and give an idea of what it must have looked like in the past. Much of the interior has eroded way so its not clear how big it would have been.

Beyond the fort is a chambered burial tomb that would have been there long before the walls and ditched of the defensive structure were built. But it might have influenced it’s placement; the area was clearly important to the early inhabitants of Gower. Now all that it left of the tomb is a massive collapsed capstone and the uprights that would have supported it. Two stones set at right angles to the line of the monument form an entrance portal and there are two more stones that seem to form a short passage outside the tomb.

Then it was back to the car and home for second breakfast.

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