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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Out

Rufus is staying with me at the moment. He’s been pretty good this week, always lying on his fluffy cushion in the conservatory when I get home. So today, we went out to the river for a wander in the glorious sunshine. But it wasn’t sunny. A thick mist had descended during the night. Nevertheless, out we went.

We headed off to the river above Craig y Nos. There were waterfalls to photograph, and stones to throw. I suspected there would be more stone throwing that photographing. I was right.

Straight off, Rufus remembered what the tripod meant. As soon as I’d sent up the camera, he would position himself between it and the waterfall. Every time I got a nice composition, he would stand there, or jump into the water, or brush past, knocking the tripod.

We walked on, one of us wading, the other trying to keep dry. Eventually, the sun started to shine through the low cloud and before long, a patch of blue sky appeared. Within a few minutes, Fan Brecheiniog was visible and it started to get warmer. We walked up the side of Moel Feity and were rewarded with wonderful views down the Cerrig Duon valley. Not having done a lot of hill walking recently, we were both a little tired so after a couple of hours, we headed back home.

I was out in the afternoon. When I got home, Rufus was fast asleep on the cushion. I surprised him when I opened the door. But a little later, my neighbour called around to let me know that he’d seen Rufus out on the street, He’d tried to catch him, but couldn’t. Later he’d seen Rufus sneaking back through the side gate. I checked, as I’d blocked up a gap in it earlier in the week. But when I checked, there was another gap that appeared to be too small for him to squeeze through. My neighbour said he’d seen him push the wooden slat aside.

More fence work required tomorrow, I think.

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The last misty mountain

Including today, I have five days left before I fly out to Tanzania and try to get to the top of Kilimanjaro. Today was the last realistic opportunity to get some hill training in. At least that’s what Rufus was telepathically transferring into my head. I know it was him because I also had an overwhelming urge to fill my back pack full of doggy treats.

So after breakfast and a swift patrol of the garden, we were off and very quickly at the start of the path over Moel Feity and to Llyn y Fan Fawr. Last time we were heading in this direction, we ended up scurrying back to the car in the middle of thunder and lightning and a tremendous hail storm. Today, the weather couldn’t have been more different. It was cold and clear and a golden glow from the just risen sun brought out the yellows and oranges in the grass and it was as if we were walking on a brick red carpet. Albeit a soggy one.

We made our way up onto Moel Feity, stopping to tidy up the memorial to the American bomber crash. Wind had scattered some of the poppies and I placed them back on the small cairn, weighted down with stones. Then it was off down the other side and up the hill to the lake. By now, Fan Brecheiniog was covered in a fluffy cloud hat and for a moment I had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t another thunder cloud. That day still haunts me. But it wasn’t and we reached the lake relatively dry.

After a stop to refuel, during which I had the urge to sacrifice my Snickers to Rufus (which I only just managed to overcome), we started the steep trudge up on to Fan Brecheiniog itself. As we climbed, the cloud lifted so that by the time we were on the top, there was a light haze covering the ridge. Ahead, a huge aerial stucjk up from the stone shelter and as we passed I heard the distinct nasal clip of someone speaker over a radio circuit. I’m not sure what was happening but the two guys with the radio were comfortable in the shelter. Rufus and I walked on to the end of the ridge and took a few selfies before we turned around and headed back down to the lake.

At the water’s edge, I sat and threw stones for Rufus to catch. This will be the last time we walk together for a while and I wanted to make sure that he had a bit of a play as well as a good long walk. There was much wagging of tail and barking, which suggested to me that he was having fun.

The two kilometres walk back to the car isn’t the best part of this route and we splashed, squelched and slipped our way back in about an hour. Rufus was reluctant, as usual, to jump up on to the back seat but he didn’t know what I knew – we were only going a mile down the road to the river. Or maybe he did know. Maybe it was his idea? Once he realised we were stopping again, he was stood up and ready to jump out. I parked by the side of the river so that he could have a proper paddle, and rinse some of the mud out of his paws.

We walked up and down the river bank until I found some stones and there followed a stone fest. I threw, he chased. He jumped, paddled, slipped, bathed and barked. His tail wagged so much that if it had been submerged it would have propelled him up against the flow of the water. A few times he made athletic leaps across to a stone in the middle of the river, only to leap back on to the bank again with equal grace. A lot of fun was being had. All too quickly it was time to leave and Rufus dried off in the back while I drove behind horses, tractors, cyclist and slow learner drivers back home.

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Lightning

On Sunday, I wrote about a few minutes coming down off Fan Fawr when I thought there might be a thunder storm. I can think of nothing else that frightens me as much as being caught out on the hills in a thunder storm.

Fast forward to today. I finished work at 11, picked Rufus up shortly afterwards and at just after midday, we set off from the car to climb up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. The mountains looked lovely in the sun, with a sprinkling of snow on them. It was soggy underfoot but this route usually is, and my boots are waterproof.

Not long after we started, a light sleety snow started to fall, and it turned into hails stones. But it was a light shower. All morning I’d watched short, sharp showers pass over. Rarely did they last more than 10 minutes. The clouds ahead were nothing more than another shower. As we started to climb, the hail got heavier and the wind picked up. I knelt down and for a few minutes, sheltered Rufus from the worst of the hail. There was tail wagging and I got a lot of kisses – I think Rufus likes my beard, which I’ve left grow a bit recently.

The hail got a lot lighter and we set off again. A little way up the hill, the wind picked up and once again the hail started. And then there was an ominous rumbling. I knew straight away what it was, and I was frightened. Thunder coming from the clouds directly ahead.

I immediately turned around. There was no thought of sheltering. I made sure I could see Rufus and we started back down the path.  It had taken us about 30 minutes to get here. The thought of walking back with the risk of lightning for 30 minutes was rather unpleasant. So I began to jog. I was conscious of the risk to my knee but that was secondary. I kept talking to Rufus as he’s not happy with thunder and there were several claps going off. He seemed okay, treating the jogging as a game and criss-crossing in front of me. But he stayed close, which is not his preferred way when he’s out. It was clear he was aware something was up.

I took the direct route back towards the car. That meant missing out the detour to cross the river and I found myself on the wrong side of it. But the ground underfoot was a little flatter so we made good progress. And then I saw the first lightning bolt. It was over to the right, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Almost immediately there was a loud clap of thunder. I checked on Rufus, who was hesitating a bit, and I kept talking to him in what I felt was a normal tone of voice, although I was beginning to feel quite scared.

We got to the point where we had to cross the river. Without any hesitation, I waded through the shallows, the water slopping over my boots. Rufus was over quickly and we were about a minute from the car. Then I saw the second lightning bolt, directly overhead. Once again, fortunately, it didn’t touch the ground.The thunder broke at the same time as the lightning.  A little bit of my mind was wondering if a bolt struck the ground, how far away it would have to be so that we wouldn’t be affected. All around me was bog, waterlogged grass and river. I decided to concentrate on getting to the car.

The last few hundred metres was covered in a dash. Rufus was still by my side and he leapt into the car as I opened the door for him. I made sure he was in and shut the door, then climbed in to the passenger seat and closed that door.

Another flash and thunderclap happened at the same time, but I felt so much safer in the car. Rufus was standing, staring at me and I was trying to get my breath back. I gave him a lot of fussing but he was clearly wound up with the excitement of it all. A treat helped. The wind buffeted the car and blew snow up against the windows. In the time it had taken us to get back, I hadn’t noticed the hail turn to snow.

It took me five minutes to stop panting (I’m no runner) and by the time I’d calmed down, Rufus was lying on the back seat, watching me. Several more claps of thunder sounded while we were there but I saw no more lightning. Checking the GPS tracker, I saw that the 30 minute journey up had taken just over 16 minutes to cover on the way down.

The road was white with snow or hail, and I took it slowly at first as I drove down and away from the mountains,. The wind blew snow directly into the windscreen and the visibility wasn’t the best. After a few minutes of careful driving, we reached the main road. And a few minutes after that, the sun was shining and there was blue sky! As had recovered, and both of us had been robbed of a decent walk, I decided to stop on the way back so that we could walk a bit further. Careful to check the clouds,  we walked along side the River Tawe near Ystalafera. Compared to our ordeal, it was pleasant walking.

I’ve been in a white out on Ben Nevis, I’ve taken the wrong path on Blencathra and ended up clinging to the side of a vertical drop several hundred feet high, and I’ve walked along Crib Goch in a gusty breeze. But today was the most scared I’ve ever been on the hills.

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