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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Looking back

I’m well in to the final 16 weeks of the preparation for my Kilimanjaro trek. Please visit my Just Giving site and make a donation to Cancer Research UK, the charity I’m collecting for. So it’s serious now and little things like rain and wind get in my way. So this morning, after waiting for the wind and rain to stop, I set off for a walk around the estate. Before you conjure up images of stately homes and rolling parkland, I’m talking about the housing estate on which I live. And before you conjure up images of me strolling around, know that I was wearing a backpack weighing 9kg (20lbs in old money).

I decided to take the route I used to walk to school and when I thought about it, I realised that the last time I walked to school was 30 years ago this year. I’ve used this route before when training for the other treks and it always brings back memories. I walked this route for 8 years on and off, every day during term times except for a brief period when I used a subsidised bus service. When I got to the school, it looked familiar although closer inspection revealed a number of changes – the most obvious of which was the big blue perimeter security fence and, nearer the buildings, a second big blue security fence. It reminded me of a prison camp and also of the perceived threat to school kids these days. Judging by the in depth defences, the school could hold out for days against a determined siege. Certainly until home time, when the whole barrier system is rendered pointless when all the kids pass through the gates and out of it’s protective embrace.

From the school, I walked through another housing estate and down to the sea front. Walking on sand is easier on the joints but takes a little more energy as the sand gives as you push forward. Ideal for what I’m doing at the moment. I was dressed up for the inevitable downpour; grey clouds filled the sky and the wind was blowing them along quickly. But it was warm and apart from a  few spots of rain at the start, it remained dry throughout the walk.

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Weekend Training

As you may have noticed by the theme of the last few posts, I’ve stepped up my training for the trek. I have to increase the time I’m out and I have to walk with weights to prepare for carrying the back pack. Based on experience, I think my trekking back pack will weigh 5-6kg so I’m trying to regularly train with at least twice that weight, often more if I can. I feel that the heavier the load I can manage regularly, the better it will be on the day. In the hot weather we have at the moment, it’s easy to make that weight up with water.

Yesterday, Rufus and I went out to Whiteford for a stroll. As we were walking through Cwm Ivy, I spotted a signpost for a footpath we had never tried before. I thought it would be something different, and it offered us the opportunity to walk through woods for a large part of the distance which would mean cooler conditions. Even at 8.30 am the temperature was climbing and neither of us like the heat of midday.

The path through Cwm Ivy wood was undulating but shaded by trees to give a gentle, green light. It twisted and turned until it was hard to judge which direction we were heading, but every now and then I caught glimpses of the dunes and pine woods of Whiteford burrows. Eventually, we left the canopy of trees and emerged at the edge of the salt marshes where we turned left to walk along the sea wall towards the dunes. I decided to stick with the trees as much as possible, so we left the main path and headed inot the woods. There was a nice breeze between the trees and we ambled along enjoying the morning.

We popped out onto the beach at Whiteford Point. I was hoping the tide would be in for Rufus to have a paddle but it was a distant line. However, there was a large pool of seawater close in and almost as soon as I had registered it, Rufus was in it up to his knees. There followed a 30 minute splash and chase session which Rufus enjoyed so much that he even ignored a passing dog in favour of the next stone. I turned to leave; an act that was met with a frantic series of barks which reminded me that Rufus actually runs our walks and I just participate. His barks echoed off the trees but in doing so, they lost some of their bass frequencies so although a large Cocker Spaniel barked, a tiny Terrier answered back.

Eventually, I persuaded Rufus that we had to leave and he reluctantly agreed. We headed back into the woods and weaved our way between paths, tracks and dunes. We went back through Cwm Ivy wood but even here the heat was growing and the tress that sheltered us from the sun also blocked any cooling breeze. In the car, the air conditioning was on full and we both enjoyed the fridge-like temperatures on the way home.

Today, I was up a little later after a late finishing gig last night. Rufus was home and so I decided to take a stroll down to the beach and as far as I felt like going. I was still sleepy when I left the house the the mile down to the sea front was enough to wake me up. I walked along the beach as the tide went out. There was a cooling breeze coming in from the sea which made the walking more pleasant. I managed to reach Oystermouth before deciding to turn back. By the time I got closer to Swansea again, the beach was full of people.

Swansea beach is a lovely stretch of sand that is hindered only by the unpredictable weather and a line of mud just below the high tide mark. I have great memories from my childhood of going to ‘the sands’ as I called them. Whenever I visited my grandparents (which was every 2-3 years as we stayed with them while my dad was posted from RAF station to station and was arranging accommodation), we would always go to ‘the sands’. I remember going there one day and seeing JCBs filling trucks full of the sand. I was distraught as being only 6 I thought the beach would disappear. Later I found out the sand was transported to Blackpool, of all places.

A good weekend of training, but I have to up the walking time over the next few weeks.

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Frost and sand

Up late this morning, well for me anyway. I opened the bedroom curtains at 8am and outside was a beautiful autumn morning. So I decided to walk down to the beach before breakfast. One cup of coffee later, I was wrapped up against the cold and out through the door.

I haven’t done this walk for a while so it was nice to be off out with no particular goal other than to reach the sea and stretch my legs. Singleton Park was white with frost but the sun had started to warm things up and small patches were beginning to thaw. The trees carried golden leaves ready to scatter and were surrounded by more that had already fallen.

The tide was in when I reached the seafront so I waked along the sand occasionally having to step aside as a wave broke a little further up the beach. Dogs were splashing about in the water or chasing after balls and sticks; I wished I’d brought Rufus with me as he would have enjoyed.

I walked as afar as the old bridge, or more accurately, the piers of the old bridge as the metal span was removed and relocated further down the path because it was unsafe. I remember crossing that to go to the beach in years gone by, and using it to take photos up and down Oystermouth road when I first started taking photos of Swansea to document the changes.

Then it was time to head back and I walked through a now thoroughly defrosted park and home to breakfast.

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A Stroll in the Park

With the sudden onset of summer (only three months late) I decided to go for a stroll through Singleton Park and down to the bay. It’s about 1.5 miles from my house and in the early morning, it’s a pleasant walk.

When I was growing up, we’d often stay with my grandparents who use to live just down the road. The highlight of any visit was ‘going to the sands’, which is what I called Swansea Bay. I can still remember one horrendous day when we got to ‘the sands’ only to find that several JCBs were loading up the sand onto big lorries. I was devastated and convinced that the sand wouldn’t be there the next time I visited. The sand was being taken to Blackpool!

This morning I made my way through the park, past squirrels searching for the last stores before winter and dogs eager to get to the beach. Across the empty main road, I sat on a bench with the sun in my face and watched the waves gently lapping up against the shore. The tide was nearing its highest point; the sea was flat and calm.

I love watching the different people as they walk along the sea shore. Today, most people were walking dogs although there were a number of joggers as well. The style of jogging varies between the serious sports person, pacing themselves and the recreational jogger, barely moving faster than a medium paced walk. I have, in the past, overtaken ‘joggers’ with little more than a strolling pace. There are sprinters, those who only jog a few hundred yards and then turn back; others who treat it as a marathon and who are probably running the entire south coast of Wales judging by the sweat and puffing and panting. Few people just walk, like I was doing. I wonder what people watching me think?

I walked along the sand at the edge of the sea for a mile or so before taking another break to enjoy the atmosphere. By now the sea had come in as far as it was going to and over to my right I could see a sandbank on which were a number of birds, including a young heron. Herons have always proved elusive for me but I thought I’d try and get a photo of this one. I set about slowly approaching it. I lined up with a bush on the shore so I wouldn’t stand out against the sky. I walked slowly and diagonally towards it. Every so often I stopped to take a photo in case it decided to fly away. Of course, it did eventuall but I was pleased at how close I got.

The walk back was more strenuous as I pushed the pace and it was all uphill. According to my heart monitor, I burned up 440 calories, 11gm fat and my peak heart rate was 142 bpm.

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