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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How does the sun cut his hair?

Eclipse!

Sorry. Over the last few days, the weather has been good enough and the evenings just long enough for Rufus and I to head out to Cefn Bryn after work for a stroll. Every time, there has been a beautiful sunset. I love sunsets (I love sunrises even more). In many photographic circles, they are considered cliched and unworthy, but I don’t move in those circles and so I keep taking my cliches, and enjoying them too.

At sunset, things start to calm down.  Apart from traffic noise, which isn’t intrusive on Cefn once you are out of sight of the road, it gets quiet, and usually still as the wind drops. The light is less intense, shadows are longer and the orange glow makes things appear warmer than they really are. There has been a haze on the last few evenings which has the effect of softening colours and turning everything into pastel shades. And when the sun finally reaches the horizon, it is a deep red colour.

Staying with the sun, there was an eclipse on the 20th, and where I live the moon covered around 90% of the sun. With the help of a welder’s mask and a variable density filter (thanks Pete), I was able to view and get some photos. It was eerie as the skies slowly darkened and when I went to the window in the office, there was a great mix of people all standing to witness the event using a variety of filters, some of which seemed distinctly dodgy. But more importantly, it brought a load of people of all ages and roles together more effectively than any scheduled meeting.

Outside, it was chilly and the shadows were odd. Being used to sunsets coming from the west, it was odd to see the different direction of light as it faded. I can just imagine what the people from thousands of years ago must have thought when their source of heat and light disappeared. And the relief when it started getting warmer and brighter again.

Today, as a reward for behaving at the vet when he had his vaccinations (he always does, but today he had a couple of compliments on how well behaved he was and how healthy he looked), Rufus had two walks. We started off at Broadpool where we were watched intensely by a solitary Canada Goose, who called over and over again. But Rufus didn’t want to play. Then we headed on up to the River Tawe, where despite my best efforts to fall in the river while jumping across between rocks, we climbed up to the waterfalls on the west side of the valley. Compared to last week, when I could barely move from the sofa, I felt so much better. Add to that the warm sun, which made it feel like a summer’s day, and watching Rufus bounding between and over tufts of grass or paddling in the water, and it was a most enjoyable morning.

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Twice in one day!

Neither Rufus nor I do heat. It’s great to see fine weather, the sun is a rare visitor and always welcome. But you won’t find either of us sweltering on the beach, or panting across some shadeless moorland in the high noon heat.

That’s why we both like the early morning. And there’s an added bonus; no one around. It means we can enjoy the countryside free of shouts and screams and this means more chances to see the native wildlife. Yesterday morning, we headed off the Brynllefrith Plantation again. We were there at 7am and immediately we were rewarded for our early start by the sight of a buzzard flying lazily between perches in the trees. All the time as we walked through the trees, sheep called and the echoes amongst the woods made for an eerie atmosphere.

After last week’s visit, I was wary of where Rufus went and my caution was rewarded when I was able to stop him from trying to investigate at an intimate level two dead sheep within yards of each other. Aromatic disaster averted, we dived off the main path to head deeper into the trees and away from any more ovines. I found myself being attacked by horseflies and wishing I had put on some of the insect repellent I’d got for the trek.

We walked for about two miles through the trees, down to the Upper Lliw reservoir and back again and by the time we left the plantation, it was getting hot. I had planned to head off the sort distance to the wind farm, where by it’s very definition I knew there would be a cooling breeze. But as we neared the car, Rufus munched on some grass and a minute or so later was suddenly sick. He didn’t seem ill (he’s been running around in the woods) but I decided to cut our walk short and head home. By the time we got to the house, all signs of a tummy upset were gone and a healthy appetite had appeared. I can only assume it was a bit of dodgy belly and he’s made himself sick with the grass.

The day was hot with little breeze to cool things down. Even in the shade the temperature was up. We sat and sweated and dozed and channel hopped between the Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games. But there was something missing. unfinished business.

Once the day’s temperature had dropped, we set off back to the wind farm. Rufus was bouncing once more and I wanted to try some long exposures of the moving turbine blades. I hoped there would be enough of a breeze to get them going. I needn’t have worried. as we made our way across the moorland, the blades were slowly swooping and swishing. In the silence of the late evening, I could hear them and the whine of the generators almost as soon as we left the car.

The sunset was quite disappointing but the evening was pleasant and the turbines dramatic.

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5 years in the planning

Yesterday, after 5 years of planning, discussion, postponement and more planning, I climbed Pen y Fan. Big deal, you may say, recalling the various times I’ve mentioned the highest point in the country south of Snowdonia. But yesterday’s ascent was a special one for me. I went in the company of a friend who, 5 years ago, was ill and who I promised to take to the top of Pen y Fan once she was better.

I’m glad to say she is better, and has been for a while. But it’s been impossible for us to synchronise our busy social schedules to arrive at a day to go. The weather hasn’t helped. Work hasn’t made things easy, either. But yesterday it all came together on an splendid, sunny morning. We were early enough that there were plenty of parking spaces and few people actually making the ascent. Normally on a summer Saturday there are queues of people making the long, steady climb to the top.

We set off at exactly 8am, as laid down in the project plan. We took a steady, approach and kept the pace nice and easy. Sadly, much of the talk on the way up was work related but it meant that we were occupied so that the metres slipped by without too much trouble. Before we knew it, we had reached the bwlch and rather than the howling gale I half expected, there was a gentle, cooling breeze which took the edge off the warmth we were all feeling.

It was a short walk to the top of the mountain, skirting to the east of Corn Du which wasn’t on the plan for today. The first time I ever came up here, in the company of one of my friends present yesterday, we’d missed pen y Fan completely as it was hiding beneath a cloud and we’d climbed Corn Du assuming it was our goal. It was only when we were driving off to have lunch afterwards that we realised there were two peaks not the one we’d seen.

No such trouble today and we spent a few minutes enjoying the clear view from the top before making our way back down to the car park again. By now, there were a lot of people climbing; families, dog walkers, joggers and lots of kids all sporting massive back packs. One of the rewards for getting tot he top is that you can be smug on the way down, jauntily breezing past those who, like you on the way up, are panting and taking short breaks to rest.

By the time we got back, the car park was full and as we sat and enjoyed hot drinks, we were passed by more walkers and many cars trying to find somewhere to stop.

A great morning.

 

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Ilston Valley

With the day to ourselves, Rufus and I both had a short lie in before getting up, still relatively early. The cool of the morning, and the solitude, both appeal to me and I know Rufus appreciates not having to walk, run, bark and generally show me who’s the fitter in the heat of midday. So after a quick breakfast, we were out of the door and off in the car to Ilston Woods.

We went there recently and both enjoyed the walk from the little village down to Parkmill. There is a river for Rufus to cool off in and the chance, however slim, for me to snap a Kingfisher. I’d conveniently forgotten about the mud. So much mud!

We quickly negotiated the little church yard and made our way through the gate into the woods proper. The canopy gave us some shelter from the sun for although it was only 8am, I could feel the warmth in the village. The smell of wild garlic was even stronger than last time, taking me back to the summers of the early 80’s when I was here a lot, taking photos of the church and wild camping amongst the trees. Very little has changed, or so it seems in my mind. The birds were competing between each other to see which ones could sing the loudest. There was a lot of movement as blackbirds and starlings flitted about. For a long time there were not man made sounds.

The river is quite low at this time of year, despite some recent heavy downpours, and in places it ran completely dry. I seem to remember reading somewhere that there was a swallow hole and of r part of its course, the water runs underground. Closer to Parkmill there was a health flow on the surface and this is where I saw the Kingfisher last time. There was no sign of it today, though. We must have been making too much noise.

At the southern end of the valley is the Gower Inn, where I celebrated my 18th birthday and, a few years later, passing my degree. We lingered a while by the river here before setting off back towards Ilston and the car. I try to vary the route a little and we inevitably take a wrong turning now and again. Today, I managed to follow the muddiest path back – even worse than the one we started off on.

Back at the car, we both paddled a little in the river to clean muddy paws before setting off home. It is Rufus’ mission in life to get the back of may car as dirty as he can and so as much as I try to clean him off before he gets in, he manages to keep some mud hidden from me!

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What to say?

I’ve been trying to think of things to blog about this week. When I started this blog it was going to be to showcase my photography but it very quickly went beyond that. There’s an argument that says if I want it to be successful popular I should pamper to the masses and do things that generate likes and followers and re-posts. But to me, that’s false because there is an inevitable change in the things I write and the way I write them. I would rather have 100 followers who do so because they like what i wriote than 1000 followers who do so because I write what they like to see and hear.

I could easily add video (one of the current popular things on social media) or blog endlessly about work related stuff (to tap into the professional side of my life) but that’s not what interests me on this site.

So today, some random, unconnected stuff that I feel I want to say. You may agree, you may not. It probably won’t get me followers. That’s ok, too.

Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, in terms of religion. One god, many gods, no god; it’s ok. But regardless of your opinion no one should die because of someone else’s beliefs, because they are just beliefs. All the major religions are, or have been guilty, but the recent issue of the pregnant woman being condemned to death because she renounced the major faith of the country she lives in is wrong.

How come, with all the research and study and highly paid people, that no one spotted many decades ago that we are all living longer? After all, it was on the news and in all the TV popular science programmes. Suddenly, the people responsible for managing our pensions realised that they were going to have to pay out for longer because the average lifespan of a UK citizen has increased. That didn’t happen overnight – it’s been a trend for hundreds of years. If I made such a fundamental mistake in my job I would quite rightly be encouraged to leave the company.

A friend pointed out to me after the final of Masterchef last week, that a large proportion of the world’s population are considered by the UN to be undernourished. Now, while it’s unlikely that the food on Masterchef would make a dent in that (although with the calorific value of some of the dishes, I wouldn’t put any money on that statement), I bet more people tuned in to watch it than have donated to a charity addressing the food issues (and I’m not talking about emergency famine relief, but long term projects). This is not a political grumble, by the way, and nor is it a plea for you to donate. It’s a comment on the state of the world.

Am I the only person that looks up into the sky, see’s a high flying jet, and wonders about the people on board and their destination and what they are doing? Its a rhetorical question, I know I’m not because I’ve spoken to friends about it before. In an uncharacteristically warm summer’s morning, I was out in the garden having a cup of coffee and watching the birds fly high above me. I saw three plans fly over head in a short space of time. My house is above on of the corridors for aircraft flying to and from the USA so it’s not unusually to see many planes. I used an app on my phone to see where they were going. The one that caught my imagination was the London to Dallas flight, climbing to it’s final altitude of 33,000 feet. First I realised that it was only 4000 feet higher then Mount Everest. Then I thought about the people on the plane and what their stories were. Business, holiday, celebration, misery. There would be some people on there frightened to death of the flight itself, and some excited about the time in the US to come.

Finally, for now, Rufus is back with me after a couple of weeks in his temporary home with his permanent family. Despite a comprehensive collection of fences, gates and wooden rails, he managed to escape several times and it seemed better for all concerned if he came back to stay with me while we create a permanent place for him to stay during the day when no one is around. It coincides with a week off for me, so some adventures are on the cards. I’m happy to have my buddy with me for company. I think he’s happy too. There is a lot of tail wagging going on!

 

 

 

 

 

Back on track 2: Return of the sun

My training calls for back to back hikes. This weekend, it called for two four hour strolls. It called very loudly at 6am. But not loudly enough. After my first decent night’s sleep for ages, thanks to a lovely cool breeze coming through the windows, I was reluctant to get up. So in my head when I did surface at around 6.30am, I was late.

As I left the house, the weather was looking similar to yesterday and I guessed that I’d be walking under a sheet of grey cloud. Part of the reason for walking this weekend was to experience the heat and get used to keeping hydrated. Although hot conditions aren’t my favourite, I was looking forward to some strolling in the sunshine. I was heading for Fan Brecheiniog, an old favourite. But before I got to the turn off to the lane that leads to the start of the walk, I decided to try an new route. I parked opposite the Tafarn y Garreg and took the signposted footpath from there. It would mean a southerly climb up Fan Hir and then a nice brisk walk across the ridge to the short but steep slog to Fan Brecheiniog itself.

Immediately, I realised this was a lovely little route, following the banks of the River Tawe for several hundred yards before cutting through farmland and up onto the first part of the climb. The river was shaded by trees and the sun was shining and it would make an ideal picnic spot at some point. I’m fairly certain Rufus would approve of it’s paw cooling potential, too. (Once again, it was too hot for Rufus to make the long distance).

Climbing up the southern end of Fan Hir, the sun was shining brightly but a breeze kept the temperature from being too much. But it was steep and I could feel myself warming up. This was what I was (perversely) hoping for as I could check that my idea of hydration would work. Using the bladder and hose system is great because you don’t have to stop to drink. The theory goes that you are more likely to drink more often in that case. But it’s harder to judge how much you’ve had to drink, and how much is left in the bladder.

I reached the top of the steep part of the climb. Although I was still ascending, the slope was gentler and I sped up a little. I was consciously trying to keep a slow pace to get used to the one I’d be using on the trek. It’s still the part of hiking I find most difficult.

Before long, I’d reached the crest of the ridge and I turned north to continue along Fan Hir. The views all around were fantastic. To the south was Craig Y Nos and Waun Fignen Felin. The latter was once the site of a large lake and much evidence that prehistoric hunter-gatherers stayed in the area has been found in the form of weapons and bones of their prey. Nearby is a stone row, the Saeth Maen, which may have been a marker for travellers in the area. It’s also the site of more modern remains; several military aircraft have crashed there or thereabouts.

To the east, the dramatic near vertical face of Fan Hir dropped to the Cerrig Duon valley and the course of the Tawe. To the west, the rest of the Brecon Beacons natioanl park stretched as far as the eye can see. It’s a beautiful part of the country.

I was concentrating on the view to the north. This was the path I was taking. Underfoot lots of broken stones made the going a little harder than usual. Ahead, the seemingly endless series of little summits were crested, only to find another one ahead. But before long, I could see Fan Brechieniog in the distance. The sun was getting hot now and I was glad I’d plastered on the sun cream. I’m using a small tube of factor 50 at the moment. I didn’t notice when I bought it, but it’s for kids. So it smells of banana. Every now and again, I’d get a whiff of banana in the wind as I moved along.

The short climb to Fan Brecheiniog was tough but over quickly. Then I walked along my favourite mountain to the very northern end, where I sat and stared out at the gorgeous countryside, while eating a Snickers.

Then it was time to turn around and head back. The view south, which dominated now, was of a more industrialised landscape. There were at least three sets of wind farms in view. I could see the building where I work. The sea was crammed in between the horizon and the sky and the lush green of farmland contrasted with the grey and brown of the upland moors and rocky tops. I was walking into the wind and sun now. My hat kept the sun at bay but the wind flapped the brim and one part kept folding down over my left eye. It was annoying and ruined my depth perception, but it didn’t cause any problems.

The drop back down to the river was steeper than I remembered and I found it hard going on the knees. The path was dry and dusty which made it slippery, too. I sought grass and natural steps in the rocks to try and stop myself falling, and I managed to stay upright the whole time. As I descended, the wind died down and it became very hot in the sun. At the river, the shade was welcome and I stopped several times just to enjoy the view. I spotted a movement in the water and saw a duck trying to paddle along. The water level was low so it couldn’t float and was content with waddling between pools and spots of deeper water.

Back at the car, it was boiling and I was glad to get the back pack off and to gulp down more water.

My second hike of the weekend was just over 7.5 miles and it took 4 hours. I climbed around 700m in that time.

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Those magnificent men

Two years ago today (well, two years and four days ago actually), I wrote my first blog, and 242 posts later I’m writing about it again. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean the blog will cycle around in a 242 post circle but it was about the Swansea Airshow, as is this one. Yesterday and today I was at the 2013 Swansea Airshow (now called the Wales National Airshow). And it was just as brilliant. The weather was perfect, the beach was packed with people and there was a great line up.

On Saturday I met up with friends I hadn’t seen in the real world for a few years. We converse in the virtual realm of Flickr and Facebook, but there’s nothing like a sunny day on the beach to renew old acquaintances.  We spent most of the afternoon watching the displays. The wing walkers always fascinate me and having recently been in a biplane seemed to make it a little more real. The Typhoon was back after missing out last time. It’s the loudest plane I’ve ever heard (and remember, I was brought up on RAF airbases). The sound thumped the chest and was enough to move internal organs.

But my favourite is (and always has been ) the Red Arrows. From the moment their master of ceremonies announced their arrival as the shot overhead until the bomb burst finale, they were exciting and spectacular and precise. The commentator explained that for some of the maneouvers, they were 8 feet apart flying at 400mph, and you could see the proximity.

The Battle of Britain Memorial flight finished the day off – possibly the only act that could follow the Red Arrows (and I don;t mean to do the other displays a disservice). The Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire all used the same engines and the sound alone was enough to make the experience special. To see these aircraft, nearing 70 years old, flying over the bay was special. During the war, the bay echoed to the Hurricanes of 317 Polish squadron, 504 squadron and 79 squadron. Spitfires of 312 (Czech) squadron replaced them. All were based at RAF Fairwood Common – now Swansea Airport. My mum remembered seeing a Spitfire roar up the valley behind Swansea College from her aunt’s house just below Cefn Coed and she was looking down on the plane and pilot. If you know the area, you’ll know the plane was very, very low for that to happen.

Today, I headed back down to the bay to catch the Red Arrows again (you might be getting a hint that I’m a fan) and the Battle of Britain flight. They were well worth watching a second time and the high tide meant that the planes flew closer to the shore this time.

I walked home in the hot sun. Although I normally dislike walking in the heat, I have to remember that the trek will start and end in the African sun so it’s probably a good idea to get some experience of it in advance. Although my foot hasn’t fully healed, it didn’t stop me making the 3 mile round trip both days.

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When the sun beats down…

There is only one thing for the discerning dog about town to do. Get his chauffeur to drive him to the country so that he can take a relaxing dip in cool, fresh river water. So that’s what I did.

Rufus here. Dave’s preening himself for the airshow later this afternoon. I think he’s trying to decide which camera to take. Not which would be best for catching sharp pictures of the aircraft, but which one will look best hanging around his neck. He’s muttering about focal lengths and crop factors. If it keeps him happy, I don’t care. I’ve left him too it.

He’s missed out on exercise recently, using some excuse about having a bad paw. Well, he only has two paws and if one is sore, it can hinder him. But I didn’t believe him so I turned up to make sure he got out last night and this morning. It’s hot here. Very hot. So neither of us slept well last night. I know because every time I pushed my nose into his hand, he tickled my chin. So I got him out of bed at 6am and by 7am we were on our way to the source of the River Tawe. It’s one of my favourite bathing spots and this morning as the sun rapidly warmed the day, it was bliss. I managed to get Dave to throw stones for me to chase – he likes to feel involved. I spent a lot of time swimming and for once Dave didn’t stop and take loads of photographs. So I didn’t have to hurry him along.

We walked along the river for a bit before stopping by a large pool. I swam, Dave rested his foot and we both enjoyed. Then Dave saw a big dragon fly and that was it. I couldn’t attract his attention and he was off, chasing after it and trying to take photos. I suspect from some of the words he used that he didn’t get any photos. It was funny to watch him completely distracted, though.

We watched soldiers marching along into the hills. They looked a bit like Dave when he has his back pack, but they were bigger than him and they had guns.

It soon got too warm and I urged Dave to go back to the car. He gets overheated so quickly and then he starts to smell. It’s not pleasant, and always difficult to bring up the subject without upsetting him.

I’m glad he was able to get out again, though.

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