Getting back to normal

Not one to encourage the jinxes to strike, I am reluctant to say that Rufus is back to normal after his recent illness. The best you will get from me at the moment is that he seems okay, and all the tests show improvements where we would expect them. If pushed I might even say ‘he’s getting there, slowly’.  It’s hard to explain how I know when he’s ill and when he’s better. It’s like trying to describe the subtle characteristics that define a loved one. One of the tests I always apply is the ‘stair test’. Basically, I watch how he goes up and down stairs. If he’s under the weather or his leg is aching, he takes it easy going up and hops down one step at a time. If he’s really not well, he’ll be very slow and hesitant in both directions. When he’s well, going upstairs is a race that he always wins, and coming down makes me hold my breath as he charges off, often two steps at a time, leaps the last two steps and only barely makes the turn at the bottom to miss the front door. I’ve seen more of the latter recently.

I have to keep reminding myself how ill he has been, as he has a tendency to bounce back from ailments very quickly. Last night, after our usual evening walk, he was very tired. Well, no wonder as he’s still a bit anaemic. This morning, on our stroll on Cefn Bryn, he was almost back to normal as he ranged far and wide from the path. Only his jogging rather than running betrayed his recovery is not yet complete. He’s snoring on the sofa now.

This afternoon, I decided it was time to plant the spuds. I first grew potatoes three years ago and I was very successful, with a huge harvest of over 22lbs. This year I dug the same patch, forked it over, added compost and weeded like crazy. As you can see from the photo, my crop of stones was mightily impressive. Bearing in mind this was the same patch I used three years ago, I don’t know where they all came from – particularly the big, head sized one. It took over an hour to dig the two trenches with all the stones I had to remove. That big one took 15 minutes of excavation to remove.

This year, in addition to the spuds, I’ve planted some carrots. I’ve never grown them before so it’s very much an experiment. Watch this space for more updates on the veg patch.

What does this have to do with Rufus’ recovery? Well, I knew he was back to normal as apart from a few checks to make sure I wasn’t having a sneaky snack of biscuits, he remained in the house, lying in the sun streaming through one of the windows in the hall. He knows about comfort and has no need to show off his energy levels.

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Work in progress – by Rufus

I told you about my new camera in this post. Since then, Dave (my human) has purchased a new harness just to let me take photos, and I’ve been experimenting with angles, viewpoints and settings.

Today we went off to Mynydd Carn Llechart for some more physio for my leg, and I took the harness and camera along. It was a beautiful morning, clear and cloudless, crisp and cold. Ideal for some landscape work. I’ve been concentrating on candid photography recently so this chance to take more considered images was most welcome. There was a cold wind on the hill, and more than a trace of snow which had fallen overnight. Under paw it was soggy and wet but it wasn’t too bad and I soon got the measure of it.

The sun was quite low as it was still quite early and we were walking directly towards it. This made some of the shots I tried quite difficult to take without under exposing the foreground or getting too much flare in the final image. I noticed that Dave was taking quite a few photos so I decided to take some of him taking pictures. I checked out what he was snapping and it was his usual and predictable snow covered mountain shots so I wasn’t missing anything significant.

We got to the cairn that gives the mountain its name after about half an hour of splashing and squelching across the moor. I went for some close up images of the stones while Dave was distracted by a pair of Red Kites wheeling about over head. When he’s not distracted like that he tends to get in the way of my photos, usually to steal my view point. I welcomed the chance to work unhindered.

We didn’t hang around long as the wind was still quite chilly. Heading back, the sun was behind us and the quality of light was lovely and warm. It cast long shadows which we were constantly walking over.

I’m quite pleased with my day’s work although I am still learning how to make the most of the low viewpoint I am usually faced with. So please view this gallery as a work in progress.

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Adventures in the world of slow

After yesterday’s fun in the snow, today was always going to be a little slower. And in a triumph of wordplay, I decided to head off to the River Tawe to start using slow shutter speed techniques with my 10 stop ND filter on the waterfalls.

As if to confirm the slow nature of today, a selection of Sunday drivers littered the roads. It’s not just their inappropriate use of speed I dislike, it’s the generally poor standard of driving that comes with the Sunday driver; braking hard at the speed sign rather than slowing to meet it, failing to indicate and wandering all over the road to name three. All three of these were in evidence today.

At the river, we wandered and strolled, occasionally stopping for me to take long exposure photos. Slightly more occasionally, we stopped for Rufus to catch little stones, chase them into the water and for him to bark at me if I got anything wrong with either activity. Things that count as being wrong are:

  • Not throwing a stone
  • Throwing a stone in the wrong place
  • Taking too long between stone throwing
  • Taking too long to operate the camera
  • Not handing out enough treats

He’s a good teacher though, and is never slow to correct me if I make mistakes.

Before we knew it, we’d been out for over an hour. The clouds were beginning to peep over the hills and the temperature was starting to drop again as the sun became obscured by the first signs of the approaching rains. So we set off back to the car. I was surprised at how far we’d come along the river, which is well below the level of the road, and it took a little longer to reach the car than I had expected.

Our journey back included encounters with a driver who seemed to indicate at every roundabout junction, but never acted on the indication. I actually got quite good at anticipating where he was going by the position of the car on the road. Despite his attempts to run me off the road, we arrived home and settled down to a day of slow.

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Toys 2

Last week I wrote about the abortive attempts to try out my new neutral density filter. Not in any way put off, we set off this morning for the River Tawe again. And once again the clouds, absent from the sky when we started, built up as we travelled north. By the time I was parking the car, there were ominous black clouds over Moel Feity and a descending mist over Fan Brecheiniog. Last time I saw these kinds of conditions, it was 12 months ago and you can read about the experience here.   Nervously, I started off towards the river. Rufus was completely oblivious and, of course, his was the right attitude. After a short drizzly rain shower, the blue skies appeared and the sun grew quite hot.

The first part of our walk was pure exercise. We walked and splashed our way along the river and up towards a drystone walled sheep fold, long out of use. It’s photogenic in most conditions – my preference is for grey misty light but in the low winter sun it made a nice subject.

We wandered back to the car and after a little drink, we set off down the river to find the bigger waterfalls. This time, the sun was out and warming my back but a cold wind was blowing along the valley. It didn’t stop us having fun and around the water. Because the new filter required much longer exposure times, I was able to throw stones for Rufus as I waited for the exposure to end.

I was pleased with the results of the photographs with the filter. There is a slight blue colour cast which can be easily corrected on the PC and I dare say I could create a custom white balance for it. I was hoping for some clouds in the sky so that their movement would show up on the final image but there was nothing in the direction I was looking. Of course, in the opposite direction there were plenty of clouds, but that was facing the sun and away from the waterfalls. I’ll have to seek some new locations for this filter and I already have some ideas and places in mind.

Looking at the track of our wanderings it seems that we walked north and south of the car and must have covered around a mile just taking snaps and throwing stones.

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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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Wednesday

The predicted gorgeous summer’s day showed up on cue this morning and so a surprised Rufus found me getting out of bed as soon as he came to wake me up.

(Yeah, because normally it takes several attempts before you wake up and we’ve usually missed half the day by then.)

Breakfast was a formality.

(It may well have been for you, but breakfast is important to a pedigree hound.)

We set off for the Llia valley. No hills today, just a nice long stroll along the river. It was too hot for either of us to climb a mountain.

(Speak for yourself. I could have sprinted up and down before the sun had a chance to warm me up.)

I parked up next to the river, balancing the car on the edge of a drop down to the water.

(I could have done with a parachute when I jumped out of the car.)

There followed an hour of splashing, jumping, paddling, swimming, barking and catching stones.

(And endless photograph taking.)

And then we jumped back in the car for a short spring down to the forestry car park, where I thought we’d be able to walk through the woods by the river, taking advantage of the shade. But only a few yards away from the car park, several trees had come down and blocked the path. There was no way around so after some more paddling…

(…and barking…)

…and barking, we crossed the river and took a short walk up along the forestry road until, about 150 yards beyond the bridge, more trees blocked the route. They all seem to have toppled as a result of landslip followed by high winds, as all the trees affected were on slopes and the earth around them had also moved.

I stood for a moment looking back down the forestry track and listening to the sounds. The birds were singing but it was a different sound to the dawn chorus, more upbeat and sharp. Very faintly, I could hear sheep. There was no wind in the tree tops today and everything was still.

It was getting hot without a cooling breeze so we turned back for the car, home and second breakfast.

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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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Late start (by Rufus)

Dave was snoring during the night which was probably why I didn’t have a great night. It was warm, too and despite the windows being open, I found it difficult to get comfy. I expect my appointment with my hair stylist tomorrow will help with that. Anyway, I woke Dave at about 6.30 and then again at around 6.45 and 7am. He finally relented (after I’d climbed up to nudge him several times) at 7.30.

The garden was still there, and apart from several interesting scents (I’ve heard Dave mention a fox and there was a cat in the garden last night), all was present and correct. We breakfasted and then I decided to have a nap on the sofa. When I woke again, Dave was watching rubbish on the TV. He has a tendency to do that if I’m not careful and so I let him know that the garden needed patrolling again, and that we really ought to get out and have some exercise. (His tummy is comfy to lie on but not healthy for him).

He drove me out to the river and although it looked quite cloudy and miserable on the hills, I guessed we’d be heading for lower down today. Dave goes on about his knee but it seems okay to me. Nevertheless, he is taking it easy at the moment. We walked along the river for a while and I was very pleased to see that he has learnt to throw stones quite skilfully now.  He still has the habit of stopping to take photos but I can usually  tell when that is going to happen, and if he gets too carried away I let him know by standing in front of the camera.

We left the river and headed along an old sheep trail that climbed up the side of the hill. Not ideal, as we were moving away from the water, but I could see the river down below, so we were never going to be too far away. The sheep scattered. They don’t like me and quite frankly, I don’t like them as they get in the way and make silly noises. The path was narrow and slippery at points, especially when we were walking over rocks. There was some mud too, but I was careful to avoid that. I don’t like the idea of a shower when we get home.

Eventually, we got to the top of the hill and it was flat going. Dave sped up and once I’d spotted a small stream, so did I. I got there first (I usually do) and was waiting for him for ages. I stood by a waterfall, as I knew he’d get distracted by it and would forget to throw stones for me. But he was very good and remembered. In fact, he was so into throwing stones for me that he didn’t see his camera and tripod fall over, and I had to point it out to him with one of my best stares. He was very good and didn’t swear.

We alternated between stone throwing and picture taking, which is by far the best way to do it. I didn’t have to remind him too often; he is learning fast. We could have stayed there all day (if he’s brought food with him) but before long the clouds started to gather and it looked like we were going to get soaked. So we both decided the best move was to head back towards the car. As we left the stream, the clouds were coming down so where we had been was quickly hidden by mist. It reminded me of yesterday, when I’m sure Dave got lost again.

We stayed out of the mist by descending, fortunately right down to the main river, where Dave sat to rest his weary bones (so he calls them) while he threw stones for me to chase and catch. Then we made our way back to the car, where I let Dave drive while I dozed in the back. I must have done loads as he had to wake me up when we got to the house!

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Dodging the rain

Dave:  A day off! Wake up late. Well, wake up at the usual time because it’s become a habit. Then doze and have strange dreams about being lost in the car park of a fictional out of town shopping centre. Then get up late. Breakfast. Grab a camera and head off to call for Rufus so we can explore the river before the rain comes. The weather forecast said we had until about 12.30.

Rufus: I am told Dave is coming over this morning. I’m trying to remain cool but it’s hard to concentrate on things like breakfast when I know I will have the responsibility of making sure he doesn’t fall in the water or make a fool of himself some other way.

Dave: The traffic isn’t as bad as I expected until I hit the lane, when it becomes like a London street. Nevertheless, I make it on time to avoid disappointing Rufus.

Rufus: Dave is all excited when he arrives, and to make him feel at home, I make a fuss of him. Then he starts gossiping with my house mate, and fussing over the cat. I start to push him towards the door. He’s quite heavy since he’s stopped taking me for long walks, so it’s hard work. Eventually, I get him to the door. We leave. He’s parked the car miles from the house and it’s raining, so we get wet. I don’t care, I plan to get soaked before the morning is out. 

Dave: The rain is quite heavy as we drive to the river, although the forecast says it will stop soon. In the distance, I can see the clouds getting brighter, which means they are thinning. There is hope. We park up by the side of the road and, with Rufus’ sighs reminding me I’m too slow in getting out of the car, I unleash him on the river.

Rufus: As Dave gets older, he gets slower. It’s sad but a fact of life. We were wasting precious paddling time while he tried to remember where he was and what he was doing. I tried politely to remind him.  

Dave: Rufus was in the water before I could close the door. As I walked along the riverbank, he waded along the middle of the river. After a few minutes the rain stopped and the sun came out. There was even a bit of blue sky peeping through the cloud cover. Although I wasn’t there to take photos, I couldn’t help but snap a few shots. I crossed the river and made my way up the other side to the stone circle. Rufus had a sniff around and made sure he featured in a few of my snaps.

Rufus: I had to stifle a laugh as I watched Dave try to cross the river. He tip-toed, wobbled, slipped and finally scrambled across. But he kept throwing stones for me so I did make an effort not to tease him. On the hill there were a lot of little stones arranged in a circle and they all needed investigating but Dave seemed to a little frustrated and didn’t want to take my portrait.

Dave: We made our way up the hill a little before joining a sheep trail and walking above the river. Sheep parted as we progressed and Rufus was well behaved; they didn’t distract him from his mission to find more water. It may have been because they were sprayed various bright colours. I’d seen this before on the mountain. Red (although it faded to pink) green and blue sheep all mixed up and spread across the slopes. Today we only saw pink sheep.

Rufus: The sheep were all different psychedelic colours, man. I wonder what was in the treats Dave gave me? I tried to ignore them but they were everywhere. In the end I pretended I hadn’t seen them and concentrated on finding the river.

Dave: Rufus weaved and wandered as we made our way along the path., But then he spotted a dip in the ground, quite far ahead. He immediately recognised it as the course of the river. although no water was visible. Without hesitating, he ran off towards it. It took me five minutes to walk to the river, during which time he’d popped his head up to make sure I was following.

Rufus: I’ve been studying geography recently and can now spot the signs of rivers and streams quite easily. I led the way so Dave knew where we needed to go to find stones, but as usual he was slow so I checked up on him to see that he wasn’t lost. 

Dave: We walked on a little, following the river up to a couple of pools where I knew Rufus would be able to swim. Sure enough, with a little encouragement, he paddled, bobbed and was swimming around.

Rufus: The river was a welcome sight as I needed to cool my paws. And then I got to have a dip and a swim. Nothing beats wild swimming on a warm Autumn afternoon.

Dave: We made our way back to the car by following the river all the way. Rufus only left the water to deposit stones on the riverbank before immediately heading back into the river. I threw some little stones for Rufus to catch, which he is getting good at now. But the ones he liked best were the ones he could find and bring back out of the water. We found another long stretch of deep water and he spent a few minutes swimming lengths for the sheer joy – no stones were involved.

Rufus: I like the challenge of finding a route through water. I like to give Dave something to occupy him so I make a big fuss of catching stones he throws, even if some of them go a little off target. But then we found a big pool and I had a swim back and forth to get the cobwebs out of the muscles. And t was a nice way to wash off the dirt of the walk.

Dave: In the car, Rufus cleaned himself then settled back for a snooze.

Rufus: You never know who you’re going to meet so I think it pays to look good at all times. When Dave drives, it’s boring unless he has to stop suddenly, so I tend to doze.

Dave: Rufus is staying over this evening so when we got home, we had brunch and settled down to dry off and watch a movie on the TV.

Rufus: Dave’s lap is an efficient means to dry my fur.

Dave: I think there’ll be another early morning tomorrow.

Rufus: You think? I know!

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Tor

Many years ago, when the world was in black and white, I went to University in London. In the summer holidays, when all my mates and I came home to get our folks to do our washing, we’d often head off to the pub or the beach. Our favourite beach was Tor, near Three Cliffs in Gower. From the small car park, a path led down to the beach. The past part was quite steep and sandy. At several points during the day, one of us would have to walk back up the path to the little shop at the car park for ice cream, drinks and/or snacks. That drag up the sandy hill was tough in the heat of summer. I still remember it years later.

I’ve been there a few times since and the steep hill has become easier as I’ve become fitter. Nevertheless, I always think of the sweaty, tiring walk from way back when summers had sun.

This morning, Rufus and I decided to head down there. The little car park was empty and the sun was just rising over the horizon as we left the car. Water trickled down the path from the recently thawed snow and a wind blew up from the sea, channeled along the path by high hedges either side.

We got to the steep bit and, as always, it wasn’t as steep as I remembered.  Worn rock showed where countless feet had tramped down and back up again. The last part was sand, and Rufus tore off at speed when he realised there was a beach up ahead.

The surf was high. Wind stirred the sea and drove it against the rocks in a succession of crashing and dashing waves. Spray formed foam which blew across the sand and tempted Rufus to chase it. But he was more interested in the stick I had found. He knew it would be thrown. He barked to let me know he knew.

He did a lot of running on the beach. I love to see him sprint off after a stone or stick. He has so much energy and has no concept of saving some of it for later. My right arm wore out before he did and after a while, we headed back up the not-quite-so-steep-as-I-remember hill. We circled around the cliffs above the beach. It was very windy and we were both buffeted as we made our way around to overlook Three Cliffs. This part of Gower has a wealth of history associated with it. We passed through the remains of an Iron Age fort and close by a Neolithic burial tomb. Overlooking Three Cliffs is the ruins of Pennard Castle, and near the drop to Tor is a large lime kiln.

After our busy weekend, we were both tired and back home, the sofa beckoned.

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