The wrong turn and the wrong river

Breaking news: The Tour de France took a wrong turn! To find out more, read on.

An early start for Fan Nedd was the order of the day, so that we could take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Neither of us are fans of really hot weather, and for walking on the hills, the cooler the better. So we left the house before 8am heading up the Swansea Valley to turn off at Crai and make our way through the winding, narrow lanes up to the little car park at the foot of the hill. But at the turn off to the valley, a bright yellow sign proclaimed that Sarn Helen was closed, with no explanation. I was annoyed, as there were no signs on the main road and we’d driven for about 15 minutes before reaching the first sign. But I was also amused, as the concept of the main Roman road linking north and south Wales being closed was funny. You can imagine the conversation… “Sorry, Julius, it’s closed.”

So we turned around and drove back and by the time I’d reached the main road again, I’d decided to head for Llyn y Fan Fawr. Rufus relaxed in the back and although he’s comfy in there, I don’t like to drive for longer than I have to with him as it can’t be much fun. So after we’d passed several parking spots, helpfully blocked off by single cars, we found our favourite spot and set off.

It was a lovely morning with sun and blue sky and a few fluffy white clouds. The wind kept the temperature down and I wondered if I should have brought my gloves. But I soon warmed up. Rufus relished the open air and bounded off in all directions. We passed, at a respectful distance, several horses and two tiny foals as we made our way along the flanks of Moel Feity up towards the lake. Fan Brecheiniog was looking tempting and by the time we’d reached the lake, I’d decided to head on up. It was still relatively cool and Rufus was looking up for it.

We made slow but steady progress to the bwlch and then plodded up the final steep part to the ridge and the trig point. The views were spectacular in the clear morning air. I had an idea that we should head down into the bwlch and go in search of an aeroplane crash site I’d visited a few years ago. A deHaviland Vampire hit the side of the hill there, killing the pilot and destroying the plane. We set off across the moorland, much tot he annoyance of the birds who tried to distract us. But keeping one eye on the ground for nests and one eye on Rufus (in case he found a nest) we made it down to the little valley between Fan Brecheiniog and Fan Hir.

I remembered the wreckage as being on the side of a little river and so we walked along the bank; me up on the top so I could see ahead and Rufus in the water. After about 15 minutes, there was no wreckage in sight and I was beginning to doubt myself. We stopped at a little pool and while Rufus paddled and chased stones, I sat and ate a snack. It was a lovely little place, sheltered and dry and I made a mental note of it in case we come wild camping in this area.

It was beginning to warm up now so I decided that rather than go looking for the plane, we’d head back and return another day. We set off towards the foot of Fan Hir to make best use of the dry path there and as we reached it, I looked back to see the glinting metal of the plane further down the valley, on the bank of a different river. We’d followed the wrong river (checking the map later there were two parallel streams invisible from each other). It was too far to go to and beat the heat, so we set off for the lake instead.

 

150,000 stones later, we dropped down from the lake and followed the marshy, muddy ground back to the car, passing the two foals with their older relatives enjoying the sunshine. At the car, we were both glad to get in and cool off with the air conditioning.

When we got down to the main road, it was full of cyclists. Fortunately, they were all heading in the opposite direction to me and so they didn’t hold me up. I felt sorry for the motorists on their side of the road as there were groups of cyclists for the next five miles or so. I was convinced that I’d stumbled upon the Tour de France. Cyclists in multi coloured jerseys and with a multitude of different bikes struggled up the hills and freewheeled down again. I didn’t envy them at all. It turns out that this was the Wiggle Dragon Ride 2015 and many of the riders were competing over a 300 mile course. Rather them than me.

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Speed (Bonnie) Boat

We headed off to Cardiff this afternoon to take a 1 hour speedboat ride in Cardiff Bay. Thankfully the weather was gorgeous – the semblance of summer had returned just for us as if it was part of the booking for the ride. The water was blue and didn’t look too choppy. I was looking forward to the experience with nervous excitement.

The two people on shore organising and giving us the safety talk couldn’t agree on the number of people actually taking part. Was it 12 or 13. It was 13 and they laughed it off, saying ‘we’ve never lost anyone yet’. Of course, they may well have done so and just got the count wrong. We donned the lifebelts (‘they’ll inflate automatically. But if they don’t…’) and were told about the life raft (‘it’s a 12 man life raft… er… but they can take more than that’). Then we were led along the floating pontoon to the boat.

It was a large inflatable/rigid boat (‘even if the inflatable part punctures, it will float’) with 12 seats (two people had dropped out and one had been added since the count – spookily we were now 12 as predicted by one of the counters). It was impossible to guess where to sit to guarantee staying dry, and I chose the seat that would take mots of the spray. I didn’t know that at the time, though.There were no seat belts and the advice we’d been given (‘hold on to the bar and push yourself into the seat’) seemed inadequate.

Then we were off, slowly, gently leaving the berth and heading out past people relaxing in waterside cafes and restaurants. Seagulls and ducks reluctantly floated out of our way. The water was smooth, the blue sky had a few white clouds. Everything was…

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrgghhhhhhh!

Getting Wet

Getting Wet

The acceleration was tremendous and without warning. Suddenly we were blasting out across the water of the bay, bouncing over the tiniest of waves, banking into turns and watching the spray pass close by. We jigged and jinked around the water for a few minutes and abruptly slowed to a crawl again as we approached the lock gates. This short burst of speed had only been a warm up. The open sea beckoned. We shared the lock with a couple of sailing boats and waited a few minutes for the water levels to equalise before sirens heralded the gates opening.

Then we were off, slowly at first as we negotiated the buoys out into the Bristol Channel. Then the engines kicked us forward again and we were off. The water was much more choppy now and the boats slammed down after each wave. It felt like someone was hitting the bottom of the boat with a sledge hammer. We shot forward, heading away from Cardiff and towards Steep Holm and Flat Holm. The skipper was skilfully manoeuvring the boat around to give us the best experience of speed and excitement. As Steep Holm neared, we crossed currents and bounced around on them.

Steep Holm

Steep Holm

We turned sharply, heeling the boat over until I thought I was going to fall in to the sea and test the lifebelt’s automatic inflating mechanism. We headed back the way we came and each wave of spray landed on me. We turned again and circled the island before seeking out the roughest parts of the channel.

Racing a Jet Skier

Racing a Jet Skier

Then we were heading back towards Cardiff Bay. The combination of speed and sun had dried me out and the skipper, spotting this, made sure I got another couple of drenchings. The we were racing a couple of Jet Skis and despite our full load of passengers, we were outrunning them as they were struggling with the waves. We did a number of figure of eights around a buoy close to the beach and then we headed back to the lock gates. We waited there for 10 minutes or so as the lock filled up with sailing boats. A brief blast across the bay signalled the end of the trip and we drew to a gently halt at the pontoon again.

Returing to harbour

Returning to Cardiff Bay

It was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to go again. The photos here don’t do it justice.

In the lock

Sharing the Lock

Megaspeedforcedoominator

I went with friends to a theme park yesterday. Great place, friendly staff, lots to do. So many things, in fact, that I’ll merge them all into one. This could be the greatest ride in the world. Hold on tight.

Rollercoaster

This is fun?

You get on after buying the entrance ticket. The ride starts off slowly at first, allowing you to see the full extent of what awaits you. It gives you the opportunity to top up with sugars, caffeine, saturated fat and salt and takes you on a short circuit of the park. Then, without warning, it starts to rise steeply and the carriage slows, anticipation building as you wait for the inevitable drop. At the top, you teeter for a moment on the edge of indecision – which thing shall I see first? – and then the rush starts.

In a blur you race down at breakneck speed, caffeine and sugar surging through your veins. Look, an amusement arcade flashes past giving you barely enough time to fire some coins into the slot before you’re off again, spinning around and battering your way through the crowds of screaming school kids. Quick, there’s a ‘shoot em up’ arcade game; look, air disc hockey; a train, animals, lights, water. The ride lurches around and you’re upside down. Below you, in the vomit zone, there are meerkats, an adventure playground with swings and slides and ladders, boats, bikes. Diiinooosaaaurrrrs! Woosh, down it screams, like you do, in an impossible dive and you feel you’re not going to pull out quickly enough to avoid the hyper hot dog barf burger outlet.

But you need the energy and the ride needs more fuel, too. The fast food is so fast it’s in your hands before you know it and in your stomach even quicker. The ride starts to clank back up again, going higher this time, way above the water and the noise and the movement and you look around trying to figure out what’s coming. Then you see it. Your stomach churns, you realise all that liquid sugar and chemicals have gone straight to your bladder. You question whether it’s acceptable to cry and you wonder how you can get off and still maintain your dignity. The inevitability of being strapped into a carriage locked onto the rails that lead to only one place hits you almost as hard as the concrete lintel would if it were 6” lower.

At the top, for a moment there is calm as the ride slows down to tease you. It’s going to be alright. Everything will be fine and you sigh your relief, ensuring no one sees you. But the ride lied. You plummet with ever increasing speed down, down, past vertical until you are heading at terminal velocity towards…

… the souvenir shop. And at the point where you are resigned to an instantaneous death by branding as you collide with a box of 500 Megaspeedforcedoominator key rings, the ride suddenly brakes and it slows, to pass rows of things you never knew you needed but which you cannot live without.

The ride is over. Clutching your Megaspeedforcedoominator key ring, you leave the platform and head towards the photo booth to see what a picture of you snapped at the point at which you realised all was lost and your life was over looks like.

It’s a photo of you at the entrance, buying your ticket.