Run to the Hills

After some shorter walks of late, it was time for Rufus and I to head off to the hills. Neither of us had done much recently; I’ve been choosing woods and commons for our strolls so I can get some photos of the local wildlife, so the bigger hills were out. Instead, I decided to head off the Lly y Fan Fawr, a favourite of Rufus’ and sufficiently challenging to make a nice return to proper walking. As Rufus is getting on a little (don’t tell him I said so), I keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not overdoing things but he’s always been an active and fit hound, and he enjoys the outdoors.

I was disheartened to find sheep everywhere when we parked up. Rufus isn’t interested n sheep unless they run. Sheep are only interested in running when they see us. As a result, I always have Rufus on the lead when we’re near enough that he might chase them. For the first half hour, he was on and off the lead as we encountered sheep hiding in dips, skulking by the river and popping up from behind boulders. But in between, we were able to get some quality stone catching and dredging done. I am clearly improving in my stone throwing skills as Rufus didn’t have to bark once.

As we followed the river up the hill, the sheep disappeared and I was able to let Rufus roam. This is where I wanted to check to see if he was okay and not getting tired. I needn’t have worried. While he isn’t as fast as he used to be, he still has the energy to range across the hillside, occasionally stopping to make sure I’m ok. In fact, I found myself running out of puff and Rufus was coming back to urge me on.

On the way up, I saw a pair of bright purple flowers on their own and standing out against the green of the moorland. Not being a flower expert, I couldn’t identify them but they looked vaguely orchid-like to me. I snapped away until Rufus came to hurry me along.

It was boggy underfoot. No surprise there after our recent rainfall, so I was very quickly soaked. Rufus isn’t bothered by the water so I decided not to be either. After several close shaves, where I nearly disappeared into the bog (well, maybe not quite) the lake appeared ahead and Rufus was off. Fan Brecheiniog was capped by a blanket of cloud, as was the far end of the lake.

We didn’t stay long as a cool breeze was blowing, and without the sun to warm us up it was getting a little cold. Rufus shot off and I let him choose the path going back down. We meandered down the hill, always heading towards the river. Such are Rufus’ priorities. I got even more soaked than I was already but we quickly reached the upper streams that feed into the Tawe. Then we followed the water down, past sheep and waterfalls, towards the car.

On the way back, I spotted an odd looking flower and leaf on the rocks by a waterfall. The leaves looked like little troughs with curled edges and the flower was tiny, blue and four petalled.  I took a few photos and once again, Rufus came along to see what the delay was.

After some more stone catching, I had to put Rufus on the lead to pass another small flock of sheep. These all had pink heads (no drugs, just dye to identify the owners) and it reminded me of a walk here a few years ago where I came across lines of sheep with pink, green or blue dye. They all stayed together in their respective colours, but moved in one long line, following a path across the hill.

Above us, a red kit circled and swooped, probably watching the lambs. In the distance across the road, I could see three more. We reached the car without incident, having walked three miles in just under two hours.

Back home, I managed to identify the two flowers. The purple one was an Irish Marsh Orchid and the little purple one was a Common Butterwort. The Butterwort is carnivorous and traps insects in the curled leaves with a stick coating.

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Back to the river today. I am drawn to it by the photographic possibilities of so many little waterfalls and streams. Rufus just wants to be in the water, and catch or dredge for stones in it.

The stretch of the Tawe near it’s source, when it is still young and not really sure what it wants to be, is one of my favourite places to go. In the winter, it can be desolate in the snow and mist. In the spring and autumn, it can surprise with beautiful conditions like today, or it can be windswept and bleak. In the summer, it can be packed with tourists or if I’m early and lucky, quiet and still. A stone circle stands above the river, watching over it. In the distance, a standing stone directs people to the circle, and the path that has always existed through this valley.

There is a variety of wildlife on offer. I’ve have seen Red Kites wheeling in the sky and Pied Wagtails flying low along the course of the river. Many years ago I saw a Weasel or Stoat on the river bank but I wasn’t able to get a photograph. In addition to the inevitable sheep and lambs, there are horses and very occasionally, cows. Lizards squirm through the marshy ground near the riverbanks.

Ever since I started bring Rufus up here, he has loved playing in the water. He swims when it’s warm enough but he is mostly content to paddle or jump between stepping stone boulders. He enjoys chasing the stones I throw for him, as I’ve mentioned numerous times before.

I find the whole area very photogenic. I never tire of wandering the riverbanks with a camera and taking on the challenges it suggests. This morning, I took long exposure photos of the river, black and white shots of the valley and some close ups of Rufus (a challenge all of its own as he is rarely still). Then I watched as the wagtails flew around and I tried to capture them in flight, unsuccessfully. Finally, as we reached the car, I took a lovely shot down the valley.

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Dave and Rufus’ lads week day 4 – Just one more cairn

Following our training plan, today was down as a long walk. I had been thinking about where to go to give us distance and climb and I had decided on Craig y Fan Ddu. It’s a challenging initial climb with a range of options once we get to the top. An early start was in order and Rufus is very good at making sure I’m awake early. He’s learnt now that nothing happens before 6am but he still insists on checking to make sure I’m okay throughout the night. He appears at the side of the bed and if I’m awake, I give him a little tickle under the chin. That’s enough, and he trots back to his bed.

We set off early enough but as I was driving, I realised that it would take us nearly 90 minutes to get tot the start of the walk and it was too good a morning to miss out on time on the mountains. It was going to be a hot day and I wanted the main climb to be over before the temperature rose. So I changed out destination and explained to Rufus (he has a say, after all. I took his tail wag to be a sign of agreement). We made for the Llia valley instead, saving 45 minutes of travel time.

We set off from the car park at 8.13 exactly, according to the route mapper I use. The sky was blue and the sun was strong but there was a nice breeze keeping the temperature under control. Almost immediately, we encountered a stile, which Rufus took in his stride. Then we threaded our way up the side of Fan Llia, dodging sheep and lambs. To his credit, Rufus showed no inclination to chase them and was happy to lead me along the path. There are many pathways up the side of the mountain, some made by walkers but most made by sheep. And streams trickle down to the Afon Llia, making for some hard going. The fine weather had dried the worst of the marsh out, though.

In just over 40 minutes, we reached the cairn that marks the summit of Fan Llia. The views all around were gorgeous. I’ve mentioned in this blog before that Rufus and I have walked all of the mountains we can see from Fan Llia. I get a great sense of how the Brecon Beacons (from the Black Mountain in the west to the Black Mountains in the east) are laid out.

Just one more cairn, I said to Rufus. He was out of earshot, investigating a particularly pungent scent and I took his lack of answer to mean ‘ok’. So we continued north, curving slightly to the east as we followed the high ground. The sheep were fewer here but still Rufus ignored them in favour of a few small pools of water, in which he took great delight in cooling his paws off.

We reached a small pile of stones (naturally occurring so not strictly a cairn, but allow me this) and we stopped for a breather and to allow Rufus to cool down in the breeze, as the sun was beginning to heat things up. We sat for 20 minutes drinking in the view across the valley to Fan Nedd and Fan Gihyrich, watching the airliners heading off to America and Canada and listening to a cuckoo calling from the woods more than a mile distant.

Then it was time to find the next cairn. This one was on a new bit of the mountain for Rufus, although I had walked this way many years ago while preparing for my first Everest base camp trek. Our route took us across Cefn Perfedd and down into a valley that was criss-crossed by deep cut sheep paths which channelled us along. But on the other side as we climbed, the next cairn (a proper one this time) was visible on the horizon. We watched two soldiers with their bright orange hi-vis panels on their back packs as they crested the ridge and took a moment’s break at the cairn. Two more walkers left was we were approaching.

We stopped at this cairn for lunch. I had a Cornish pasty (Rufus had some, of course) and Rufus had a selection of snacks and chews, all good for him (no junk food for him on our walks). I always carry plenty of water for both of us and I use it as extra weight for training and we both had a good long drink here. It was getting warmer now and I had been watching Rufus to make sure he was okay as he can feel the heat, being a big black furry hound. But he seemed okay and when I suggested carrying on to the next cairn, Rufus was off before I could fasten all backpack straps.

This last section took us to a cairn set at the edge of Craig y Fro, overlooking an old quarry and the A470 just north of the Storey Arms. By now the cool morning was turning into a hot afternoon and here there was little breeze to cool us off. So after a couple of photos of the cairn, we turned to start the homeward trek. Above us, a Red Kite circled lazily in a corkscrew, taking it away from us.

We took the walk back more easily. We were both feeling the distance and there was no hurry to get home. So we took our time, stopping where we felt like it. We took a longer rest at the spot where we could look over Fan Nedd and once again the sounds of birds and rather hoarse sheep were all that we could here. The walk along the top of Fan Llia seemed never ending, with each little rise hinting at the summit cairn, but always disappointing until finally it was there, signifying the final drop down tot he car park. Sheep parted before us as we made our way through them and down to the stile, which Rufus cleared in two bounds. Then we were back in the car park.

The car park is next to the River Llia and what better way to cool off hot paws than by a paddle and swim in the waters? We spent another half hour splashing and swimming. Well, Rufus did and when he saw I wasn’t getting wet, he made sure he splashed me and shook himself dry on me.

Our route.

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Dave’s day of fun

I had a vague idea of two things I wanted to do today. Walk part of the Pembrokeshire coastal path near Tenby and revisit the Red Kite feeding centre, near Llanddeusant. The two are many miles apart. I accepted the challenge.

Driving down to Tenby, the road changes abruptly from fine dual carriageway to barely capable A road. And this is the main artery to three of our key ferry ports. I expected traffic, even on a Wednesday, and I got it. First of all it was someone driving to the speed limit. But one in their own mind. I worry when I see someone doing 30mph in a 60mph zone. Not because I’m in a hurry (I’m not, I enjoy driving and these days I keep the speed down to improve the fuel consumption) but because they are either unable to drive faster or are not aware of the speed limit. Then we hit roadworks. I think the driver in front panicked because there were so many signs and lights. The good news was that the roadworks were for a new stretch of road that should make the journey quicker and safer for traffic.

I finally arrived at Penally to find the red flags of the firing range fluttering away. I was pretty sure that would mean the coastal path was closed and sure enough, as I got to the top of the cliffs at the end of the South Beach, the gate was closed and the guard was watching. Still, the views out to Caldey and St Margaret’s islands were spectacular. Walking back I decided to take a different route off the beach and suddenly I was in the middle of a caravan holiday park. I spent a little while trying to find the exit. I was tempted by the pool, the funzone and the tennis courts, but I was on my way to the second destination and I was running a little late.

The Kite feeding centre was about 90 minutes away, although I wasn’t sure what the traffic would be like as the route was the same for much of the way. At least this time I wasn’t behind the snail. It wasn’t too bad and by the time I reached the centre, I had about 30 minutes to spare. So I had a coffee. In the hide, the wind seemed to be blowing right through the open end. It was cold standing there, but as soon as the Kites began to swoop and circle, I forgot about it. I had two cameras with me, set to different focus and exposure setting, and I swapped between the two. This was very much a test of the settings as well as another attempt to get decent photos of the magnificent birds as they fed. In the end I took some 700 pictures (and sorting them out afterwards, I got rid of around 150 – some were doubles, the majority were out of focus as I had expected).

On the way home I decided to call in to the quarry at Foel Fawr. It’s a regular place for Rufus and me and the area around is very photogenic. I had the infra red camera with me so that came out and I spent about 30 minutes climbing the hills and snapping away.

Today was one of those days without a firm plan and was all the better for it.

The Tenby route.

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Lets go fly a Kite

Yesterday started off with a nice stroll along the tow path of the local canal. The Tennant canal was completed in 1790 to transport coal from a pit at Glan y Wern near Crymlyn the river Neath, where it was transferred to larger boats. It fell into disuse after only 20 years but was restored and enlarged to carry barges of up to 50 tons in 1818 by George Tennant. I pass it often, crossing by a bridge at Jersey Marine, and I’ve equally often promised myself a visit one day.

Part of the path was closed due to engineering works on the nearby electricity pylons, so I was forced to head north towards Briton Ferry. But on the tow path, it was impossible to work out exactly where I was. And that was great. Minutes before I’d been driving through the suburbs of Swansea and suddenly I was transported nearly 200 years back in time.

As I walked, the landscape changed from a valley, in which acres of reeds grew, to a more industrial one with the remains of storage depots and little engineering sheds, now in ruins. I passed under several bridges, ironic symbols of the canal’s demise as they carried rail and road over the water. I passed horses content to graze and watch me with no concern. Eventually, I got to the motorway bridge, a vast modern construction completely out of place in my little world. Just beyond the modern concrete bridge, a smaller stone bridge contemporary with the canal stood, signifying an early track across. I turned around here as I had other plans for the rest of the day.

I went with friends out to Carreg Cennen castle. The Medieval castle sits on an outcrop of rock and is by far the most impressively set fort I have visited. It reminds me of Dryslwyn’s castle near Carmarthen, but is much grander. The views from the top take in the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountain, with Carmarthenshire off to the west.

We explored the castle, and ventured down into the natural cave that winds its way under the castle courtyard. It was dark and narrow, with a slippery floor but we came prepared with torches and squeezed the stooped our way down to the very end. There we found a natural spring, which would have been a useful water supply for the castle occupants during a siege. Evidence was found here of pre-historic occupation and, more recently, finds of two Roman coins suggests at least a prolonged visit by the Romans.

After a delicious lunch in the cafe, we drove along the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. We spotted signs for the Red Kite feeding centre and decided to take a look. We were so fortunate, because just as we parked, one of the staff told us we were just in time to see the feeding. For the next 45 minutes we watched from the hide as around 50 Red Kites wheeled and swirled in the air currents, dropping en mass every so often to swoop and pick up the meat that had been left for them. It was a magnificent sight, and even more special for being totally unplanned. Definitely one to return to.

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