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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The Seaside

Yesterday, Rufus and I went down to the seaside. We haven’t been to Whiteford for a while and the morning was nice and warm without being too hot, so it seemed like an ideal time to reacquaint ourselves. I used Whiteford a lot during the early days of my trek preparation, and I know Rufus loves the area, so it seemed like a good idea.

We walked through Cwm Ivy wood to get to the dune system. Walking through the wood reminded me of the walk through the rain forest at the start of the Kilimanjaro trek. In fact, I remember thinking the same thing during the trek and mentioned it in my journal. The 20 minutes or so we spent in the woods brought back lots of memories; the only thing missing was the sound of  Turacos calling in the tree tops.

Then, suddenly, we were through two gates and out onto the sea wall that marks the boundary between the salt marches of the Loughor Estuary and the pasture of Cwm Ivy. This had been damaged in the storms earlier this year and the path had only just been reopened. A large section of sea wall had been washed away where a stream passes beneath it; a wooden bridge had been built over the breach.

It didn’t take long to get to the dunes and I found that great parts of it had been fenced off (or in, depending on which side of the fence you were on). I think it was to control the sheep as there were fewer around that on our last visit. In the distance, I could hear the sea which meant the tide was coming in. We headed across the dunes to the beach and sure enough, there was the sea.

There followed a long session of throwing sticks and fetching sticks as we slowly made our way along the water’s edge towards Whiteford Point. The beach was ours; there wasn’t a soul around. In the far distance, on a sandbank, a flock of Oystercatchers flapped and fluttered. We got closer to them until Rufus managed to spook them and they took off in one mass, flying low over the sea to another sandbank.

Walking back through the dunes, I heard the sound of aircraft and spotted a group of five planes performing aerobatics over the Loughor Estuary. It looked as if they were practising and as I watched, they looped and spun and dived with a large cumulus cloud as a backdrop. It reminded me of a painting of a Spitfire against billowing clouds.

It was getting hot as we headed back to the car, so the shade of the wood was welcome for both Rufus and me. We got back to the car having walked 5 miles and spent 3 hours in the sunshine. There was much snoring in the house in the afternoon.

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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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Man Porn

Haha! Three thousand extra hits already, thanks to my clever title, and I’ve only just started typing this blog post. The power of search engines and that four letter word!

So, we all know what porn is. Don’t we? (If not there are a number of good, and not so good, sites on the Internet that will help explain it to you). But what about Man Porn? Well, depending on his (or her – Man Porn is gender neutral despite the title) particular interests it could be a car, lorry, train, plane, yacht, oven or vacuum cleaner (I knew someone for whom a particular vacuum cleaner was an object of slightly more than desire). And most importantly, I am not here to judge. It matters not what your particular ‘thing’ is. We are all adult and the world is free so unless you are causing harm or suffering (in which case, shame on you), be happy with, and celebrate, your particular item of Man Porn.

This post started because I’ve started working on my bathroom again and noticed that I had three power tools and lots of accessories for them, and all of it was strewn around the floor. It struck me that power tools were probably a form of Man Porn for some. I actually don’t like them but I appreciate them for the labour saving devices they are. I have the same approach to computers. I don’t really understand them but they do what I want them to do (for the most part) and they have an off switch.

I shall bare my soul to you now and reveal my objects of desire. Those who have read previous posts may be able to guess at some of them.

Cameras. Well, technically, any nice bit of photographic equipment really. A camera just does what you tell it to do and records what it sees in front of it. Nothing more. So how can it be an object of desire? I guess it’s a combination of look, how it feels in the hands (let’s be clear – size does not matter, okay?) and the satisfying clunk of the shutter. Interestingly, although the quality of the final image is important for photography, it doesn’t count on the Man Porn scale. I have several cameras and they are tools. I have one or two that are more than tools. They look nice, feel comfortable in the hand and they inspire me to take a particular kind of photograph. In the case of the DSLR, it’s the combination of lens and camera that works for me.

Musical Instruments. Guitars, actually, although I can well understand how someone would feel about an antique violin or piano. I find it hard to think of a modern keyboard as an object of desire and I’m not sure why. My first thought was that it was to do with the organic feel of a guitar made of wood, but that’s not it – the cameras I hold in high esteem are all metal, glass and electronics. So it must be look and feel – sensory stuff. My all time favourite guitar has been and remains the Gibson Les Paul. I love the shape and curves and the weighty feel. It had a fabulous smell of glue and wood. I owned one for several years and it made me learn to play better. I like the bass guitar I play in the band at the moment, an inexpensive Ibanez I got second hand. It’s rapidly becoming an object of desire, so it’s not monetary value, either.

Cars don’t do it for me, although I can appreciate a good looking vehicle. Neither do planes, bikes or boats, although the yachts racing for the America’s Cup this week are pretty cool. I don’t want one, though. It wouldn’t fit on the pond in the back garden.

So, what is your Man Porn?

Prepare for some Man Porn in the photos below.

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The Post Cherry

Evening,

Several of my friends have blogs and I was beginning to feel a little left out. A few years ago I used to blog for the band I was in, and that was fun. But I left the band – artistic differences (damn you, Coldplay, I was the best tambourine player you ever had) and I stopped blogging. So here is my first personal blog. I am a personal blog virgin; be gentle with me.

I’m a photographer so this will be photo driven but it will be about anything I feel like writing. One purpose for this blog – suggested by a friend – is to use it to motivate me to go out and take more photos. So expect photos.

This weekend I spent watching and snapping away at the Wales National Air Show on the beach at Swansea. Like any boy (and I’ve been a boy for forty hmph years now) I love all things aeroplane. So I risked exposure to the sun, thousands of spectators and sand blasting (the wind was quite strong on the beach)  to watch about 6 hours of great flying. Highlights for me were the Lancaster – nearly 60 years old and still going strong and a reminder of the dark times in which Swansea, like many other places, suffered – the air sea rescue skills of the Sea King crew and the the Wing Walkers.

But best of all were the Red Arrows. My dad was in the RAF and I remember seeing the Red Arrows perform many times at the places he was stationed. They were always good. They still are.

My first personal blog post. I’ve done it and it lasted longer than 3 minutes. Off to have a post blogial cigarette.

Dave

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