Castle Graig

In the late 18th Century, the lower Swansea Valley was one of the centres of copper working in the UK. Great quantities of cheap coal from further up the valley provided the power and the ore was brought in from other parts of the country. Swansea copper lined the hulls of Royal Navy ships, making them faster and more manoeuvrable.

Sir John Morris, who owned much of the industry along the Lower Tawe in the Swansea Valley, had a planned town built for his workers, originally Morris’ Town, which became Morriston. Between 1768 and 1774 he built Europe’s first purpose built, multi-occupancy dwelling place on the hill overlooking the metal works. It was a three storey block of flats with four 4 storey towers at the corners.

Today, the remains of two of the towers survive, the rest having fallen as a result of open cast mining, subsidence and in 1990, high winds. The local youth take the challenge to climb the ruins and leave their marks in the form of graffiti. More than one has ended up in the local hospital.

The ruins have seen great change in the Swansea Valley. The industry is long gone and replaced with a mixture of retail, leisure and housing. Where once smoke obscured the view and pollutants killed vegetation, now the view to the bay is clear and some of the flora is returning. (Time Team excavated a few years ago and found the level of toxins in the ground where the metals works were was still high enough to warrant taking precautions for the diggers.) Mother nature will always win despite or arrogant view that we are the shapers of the world.

Rufus and I were the guests of friends who showed us to the top of Castle Graig, where the ruins stand guard over the valley. The route is not easy to find, which is good because we had the hill to ourselves. Although they are under the care of CADW, the towers are in danger of further decay and even total collapse as they sit precariously close to the edge of a steep drop into the old mine workings.

Next time you’re shopping in Morfa, or taking coffee there, look up to the northern skyline and you’ll see the castle, watching you.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 9: Frustration on the mountain

The plan for today was to climb up onto Fan Hir and walk along the ridge above the Cerrig Duon valley. As I’ve mentioned before, I love ridge walks as they give you a sense of space and freedom. Both Rufus and I were rested after Tuesday’s trek, so we were ready to go. The weather forecast said rain coming in around midday but we had a few hours before we were due to get wet.

We parked up and set off, walking under the trees along the river. I keep expecting to see kingfishers along this stretch of the Tawe, but I guess the combination of me and Rufus put paid tot hat. Instead, we threaded our way between two fields full of sheep, with drystone walls either side, and up onto the hillside. The first part of this route is very steep. The height gain is fast but over relatively quickly and that’s why I like this. You climb about 300m in around 30 minutes and then the slope slackens and the rest of the walk can be enjoyed at leisure. I used this route a lot during my training for the trek and much prefer this route to Fan Brechieniog.

We trudged up, taking a lot more than 30 minutes to get the ascent out of the way. All around, the hilltops normally visible each had caps of low cloud on them. Suddenly, we popped over the last steep bit and ahead lay the path up on to Fan Hir. But Fan Hir was under more low cloud and as we walked further, so I felt the first faint sensations of drizzle on my face. Over to the west, the clouds were coming in quite quickly. We marched on but it was clear that we were going to get wet very soon. So reluctantly, I decided to turn around. It was frustrating as we’d done the hard bit and I was looking forward to the reward.

As I gave Rufus some water and a snack, I heard a faint rumbling, not of thunder thank goodness, but a number of wild horses galloping along the track. As I watched, two started fighting while the others looked on as if fascinated. Sheep also looked up to watch the spectacle. We set off back down the track, negotiating the steep slope which was now becoming slippery with the rain. Under the tress we had some shelter, and I let Rufus have a paddle while I took some photos. We were watched by a sheep dog in the field next tot eh river. We’ve come across him before and he is very friendly. As Rufus and the sheepdog exchanged sniffs, I checked to see if the farmer was watching and then gave our new fried one of Rufus’ snacks. The sheepdog took it away, placed it on the ground and then started to roll around next to it.

Back home, Rufus had a quick shower to remove the smell of a dead sheep he’d found, and then dried himself off on my lap. Having completed the hard part of the walk, we were both tired and we both dozed on the sofa.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 8: Chill out

After yesterday’s marathon peak bagging session, we both needed a quieter day. So while Rufus dozed, I went back to the local museum to see their 1914-18 exhibition. It was interesting to see the local aspect of how the Great War had affected lives at home. Panels detailed a number of individual’s experiences of the war, and of course, many of them didn’t survive the conflict. There were also a number of personal exhibits that emphasised the role of the individual rather than the anonymous numbers that appear in the history books. Letters home, written in pencil, sounded hopeful (in the sense that you always try and make light of a bad situation, plus you don’t want to scare your loved ones). But alongside the letter was another from the commanding officer to the parents expressing his sympathy at the loss of their son.

I shared the exhibition with a bunch of schoolkids. I hope they were able to pick up on the reality of what they were seeing. These are the people who need to remember and understand what war is really like so that the likelihood of it happening again is lessened.

When i got home, Rufus persuaded me that a short trip out was required and we ended up at the Tawe. It was a gorgeous evening with deep blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Rufus splashed about tin the river and I managed to get some photos of the sky. At one point, a strange wispy cloud passed over head. We got home a little chilly; Rufus’ paws were cold and so were his ears! I’ve never seen that with him before, so I spent some time warming up his feet before making tea.

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Heavy rain with a chance of getting soaked

The weather forecast said rain and that’s my excuse for having a lie- in. I say lie-in, of course I was up at 5.30am at the request of the boss for a quick sprint out into the drizzle before we both went back for another hour or so of kip.

The plan for today was to get some shopping done and then some chores around the house while the weather was bad. But as is the way with Welsh climate, when I got up for breakfast, the sun was shining. Breakfast and shopping over, there was no sign of rain so we had a brief discussion and Rufus decided we’d better head off to the hills to take advantage of the sun. Of course, as we left the house, it started to rain again but it’s only water so we hopped in the car and set off.

We went back to the river. We were there on Wednesday evening and as we wandered along the river bank, we were buzzed by an RAF Typhoon. This afternoon, there was no activity as we walked along the riverbank up towards Fan Brecheiniog. I had no firm plans for where to go and I thought we’d just wander and see where our noses took us.

Rufus’ nose took him into a deep pool and at first he was happy swimming about. But there was a strong current under the surface and I could see he was being swept off course. There was no real risk of him being swept away as the water left the pool in quite a narrow and shallow waterfall. But he wasn’t happy so I called him over to the bank. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it to the shallow bit as the current was strong, so he tried to climb a steep part of the bank. Between us, we managed to get him out of the water; I dragged him up and on to me and he kicked out with his back legs. I was drenched! Rufus was happy.

We carried on and with the sun shining and a breeze keeping the temperature comfortable, we headed up the hill towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. After the last day’s rain, the going was extremely soggy but we finally made it to the shore. We haven’t been there for a while and it was nice to see it in the sunlight. We walked around the shore and while I threw stones for Rufus to chase and catch, he splashed about in the shallow water. The level of the lake was much lower than usual even with the heavy rain we had yesterday; I don’t think I’ve seen it that low.

By the time we’d made a complete circuit of the lake, the cloud was heading back over the mountain. As we set off to the car, the rain started; light at first but getting heavier as we went. The only good thing was that I had my back tot he direction of the wind, which was gusting quite strongly. I was resigned to getting a soaking. Rufus was already wet from his dips in the river and the lake so he’d didn’t see the problem. About half way down the hill, the rain stopped and the sun came out again.

Back home, we both sat back on the sofa and there was much snoring!

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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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Moel Feity

We had a lie in this morning. Rufus didn’t shove his nose in my face until 6.30. I let him out in the garden and he ran around like a possessed hound after some scent from the night before. I was half tempted to go back to bed, but it was such a gorgeous morning that it seemed a shame to waste it.

Breakfast over, we set out for the hills. Moel Feity has featured here many times before. Today, under a cloudless blue sky, we set off up the slope towards the summit. I was hoping to visit the WW2 crash site of the US PB4Y that I’ve been to a few times. I wanted to see that it had survived the winter storms.

There was a cold wind blowing but the effort of climbing the hill warmed me up. Rufus was slow to start with, working the cobwebs out from his limbs. We’ve been a bit sedentary recently and he hasn’t been well. But once he’d warmed up, he was off and there was no stopping him. Every pool, every puddle and even some that hadn’t seen water for a week were investigated and paddled in.

It didn’t take us long to get to the top, but once again I’d missed the crash site. It’s marked by a low white stone and a few scraps of wreckage and it’s hard to see in the undulating terrain. I wasn’t too worried; we’d run across it on the way back. Instead, I kept going north over the flatter top of the hill until I could see the green belt of farmland beyond the hills. Rufus managed to find a large pool and I managed to find the only stone for miles around that was suitable for Rufus to chase into the water. Seconds later, he was investigating the depth and found it was up to his tummy.

We set off back down the hill and very quickly came across the memorial stone. I tidied up a couple of the rocks on the cairn and set the cross I’d left back up again. The first time I came up this hill, I came across a second cairn, made from more bits of wreckage. I came across it again today, about 50 yards down the hill. There is a lot of small pieces of aluminium, including quite a bit that seems to have melted. I picked up a bit that had been moved uphill, and this appeared to have signs of charring on it. I tidied this pile up as well and then we carried on down the hillside towards the river.

Rufus, with his gift of sensing water from great distances, was already way ahead of me and waiting at the river bank. When I stopped to take some photos of the waterfalls, I was reminded of my obligation to throw stones by the traditional bark and whine. Many stones later, we climbed into the car and it turned out to be my turn to drive again. Rufus flopped out ont he back seat and didn’t wake until we pulled up outside the house.

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River

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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