More history on your doorstep

I went back to Mynydd Betws with Rufus this morning. It’s a nice place in good weather and he can roam free. I had another purpose to go there, though, and that was to have a look at some marks on the ground I had seen on a Google Earth image and which I had found out were the remains of anti invasion defences from World War 2.

This part of the mountain, about a mile south of the wind farm, doesn’t have a clear name on the map. But when you climb up off the road and reach the flat top, you can see how easy it would be to land some gliders there. Looking south, you can see Swansea and Port Talbot – both important ports during the war. Swansea, of course, was deemed important enough to spend three consecutive nights blitzing it during 1941, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the town centre.

Rather than permanently station troops in the hill, which would have been stretching limited resources, they dug a series of parallel ditch and mound structures in a grid. Any kind of aircraft trying to land there when the structures were fresh would have tipped over, or had it’s wheels or belly ripped open.

Today, all that remains is a series of low humps which would still make landing a plane very risky. They resemble the henge monuments of 4000 years ago in terms of appearance, except that these are in straight lines rather than circles.

Last year, I may have missed these when walking over them; they are so spread out that they seem unconnected. It’s only when you see the bigger picture – literally in this case – that they make sense.

Rufus, oblivious of the history around him, enjoyed a good walk in the countryside.

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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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Just a little bit further

Yesterday was the last decent day, weather-wise, that would fit in with my training plan. I intend to wind down in the last week, concentrating on gym/cardio/aerobic exercise in a controlled environment to minimise the risk of injury. So Rufus and I headed out to Fan Llia. I had an idea that we’d walk Fan Llia and Fan Dringarth and then drop down to the east side of the Ystradefllte reservoir to make our way back to the car.

At the stile, Rufus struggled a little to get over so I gave him a helping hand. I may have helped a little too much, or he may have slipped but the next thing I knew, he was going head over heels to land in the mud on the other side. I jumped over but by the time I’d got to him, he was up, shaking himself down and wagging his tail. I kept an eye on him but there were no limps or winces, and we climbed steadily through mist and wind to the cairn on Fan Llia. There was a little drizzle but also a little sunshine as the clouds blew rapidly across the mountain. By the time we’d reached Fan Dringarth, the cloud was lifting again and there were large patches of blue sky.

Much to Rufus’ surprise (as he knows our normal route north well) I turned west to head down to the Nant y Gasseg and Nant y Gwair streams which join to form the Afon  Dringarth which feeds the reservoir. He was confused for a moment, and then he spotted the river, and there was no stopping him. I had to watch where I was stepping because of half buried rocks but every time I looked up, there was a small black shape bounding towards the water. By the time I reached the river, Rufus was wading and waiting for me. I threw stones stones and a stick for him to chase and he was a happy dog.

This little valley, Cwm Dringarth, has signs of habitation going back hundreds of years if not further. I saw the remains of sheep folds and other rough drystone structures. There were obvious and not so obvious flattened platforms that once formed the base of dwellings for those farming in the valley. It must have been a bleak and hard life in the valley, although it;s likely that the climate was a little better and, of course, the reservoir wasn’t there and so access would have been much easier.

The going along the side of the valley was tough for me as I had to avoid the river itself and negotiate many little streams that had cut deep into the hillside. I seemed to be climbing up and down all the time, while Rufus used the riverbank and riverbed to make smooth progress. Walking on a slope was hard too; my feet were always at an angle and my left leg was slightly lower than my right. Between us, we managed to make our way along the valley, through mud and bog, until we reached the reservoir.

It was fenced off, which was very disappointing for Rufus who looked longingly at the water through the railings. But eventually, he realised a dip was not to be and carried on, only occasionally glancing across to see if there was a convenient gap in the fence. Streams coming down from the hills were in full spate after the rain and they had cut deep channels in the soft earth. Each had places where sheep had created crossings, but slipping and sliding down and back up again was hard going.

Eventually, we reached the dam at the head of the valley, and this was where in the past I’d crossed over to start the long climb back up to the cairn on Fan Llia. This time, the plan was to head on south, climbing more gradually as we went. By now, the blue skies we’d had for a while were beginning to cloud over again and with the prospect of more storms in the afternoon, we were at the right part of the route; nearly at the car.

False summits can be demoralising if you aren’t expecting them. I had an idea that the summit of the ridge ahead wasn’t the final one and I was right, so it wasn’t too disappointing. But as we got to it, the rain started. Light at first, it became heavier as we reached the real summit and started the last stretch down to the car park. Here the going was treacherous, with saturated ground beneath my feet running with water. I know from experience that this is slippery so I was very careful as I made my way down. Looking up, I saw Rufus disappearing into the reeds in the distance. I wasn’t worried but I wondered if he’s get lost and I’d have to call him to the stile. I decided to cross the fence early, at a point where some inconsiderate farmer has chained a gate shut. As I stepped onto the wooden platform leading to the gate, my feet went from under me on the slimy wood. I fell sideways to my left and managed to tear a fingernail off, bend another one back as I landed on my left hand. I lay on the wood and in slow motion, Rufus’ lead (an extending one, with a big plastic reel) flew around and hit my forehead. I may have sworn.

Giving up on the gate, I made my way down to the stile, where Rufus met me and proceeded to show me how crossing a stile should be done. Back home, we were both tired and when I checked the route, I found we’d walked 10km and climbed 400m, which was more than I had estimated. It was a good final workout for me, and judging by the near constant tail wagging during the walk, an enjoyable day for Rufus.

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Not walking

A day off training today. After walking in the Brecon Beacons on Thursday, I fancied going back with the camera and spending the morning taking some photos of the waterfalls and the snow covered mountains. I stopped on the way at a waterfall I had seen a couple of times whilst driving past in the car. A short but steep walk back up the hill and then an even shorter but steeper slip down the river’s edge got me to the perfect viewpoint, and I took some long exposure frames.

Waterfall

 

From there, it didn’t take long to get to the Storey Arms and I’m glad I wasn’t planning on climbing Pen y Fan as the car parks were full. Later, I saw that the popular route up to Corn Du was packed out with people.

Instead, I parked in a layby just down the road and went to one of my favourite waterfalls, a few hundred yards beyond. I was surprised to find the lowest part of the waterfall encased in scaffolding; on closer inspection, it seems that repairs were being made to the wall that separates the waterfall from the road. I guess someone must have clipped it recently.

While I was snapping away, the snow started and I glanced nervously around for any sign of thunder clouds. But it was just a light shower and I carried on once the sun came out again. This waterfall got me back into photography after I’d had enough in college. I don’t visit it often, but I try to get back now and again as it has an interesting pattern of falls.

Waterfall

I walked over to the Storey Arms and back down the old road to another waterfall I’d spotted from the previous one. It rained while I was there and for a moment, the black cloud that accompanied the rain had me looking and listening.The legacy of my Christmas Eve adventure will last a while, I think. But it was just rain and a short shower at that, so I got my photos and headed back to the car.

Waterfall Waterfall

I drove back to Pont ar Daf, where the old Brecon Road diverges from the line of the new one. The old bridge – ‘Pont’ – over the Taf (Daf) was rebuilt in 1941 according to the carved stone on it’s east wall. There is a line of anti tank blocks that blocks the ground either side of the old road.

Anti tank blocks

Anti tank blocks

In the 40’s, there would have been a moveable road block on the road too. This stop line was covered by two pill boxes near the start tot he path up to Pen y Fan. On a whim, I decided to explore the opposite side of the road, where I guessed there would be more defences. I expected to find an infantry trench overlooking the blocks and sure enough, around 150m up the slope to the west were the remains of a 10m slit trench.

Back to the car, and I drove down to Cwm Crew, where a photogenic tree catches the mid morning light. Then it was time to head home. I found that I was quite tired despite the lack of hill climbing and it was only when I started writing this that I realised I’d actually walked quite a way carrying a heavy back pack of camera equipment.

Photogenic tree at Cwm Crew

Fan Nedd

Early start this morning. If Rufus had had his way, we would have been out of the front door at 6am but I was feeling a little under the weather and welcomed the lie-in until 6.45. After breakfast, we set off to the foot of Fan Nedd. It’s a relatively small hill from the road but like several in the area, can be extended by using different routes up and around. Today we chose the short route.

I could see the mist covering the hill tops so I knew this was going to be damp. I wasn’t expecting the wind at the top, and the cold. I guess winters is not far off! We took it easy going up but Rufus soon tired of the slow pace and raced ahead. I trudged up the faint path as the visibility dropped and the wind picked up. One benefit of the mist is that you can’t see how far is left or how steep it is. I was surprised when the ground began to level off and looking up, I saw the cairn. Standing next to it was Rufus, making sure I was on my way.

We sheltered behind the cairn for a few minutes had had snacks, drinks and a couple of photos. Then it was off across the top of the hill to the true summit about 300m away. A trig point marks this and recently, Rufus has decided that cairns and trig points are really indicators that a treat is required. I’ve noticed how he rushes to them and then doubles back to make sure I’m walking as fast I he thinks I should.

We walked on a little further to another, smaller cairn (treat marker) before turning back for the car. The wind was blowing into my face now and I hadn’t realised how strong it was. And the fine drizzle I found easy to ignore on the way up now completed misted up my glasses. Nevertheless, I was easily able to identify the cairns and trig points by the big black Spaniel waiting patiently besides them.

The big test today, though, was the descent to the car. It’s short but steep, like the last mountain, and slippery underfoot. I started down a little apprehensive but soon got into the stride of it. Until I slipped and landed hard on my bad knee. But it was fine (and still is as I write). In fact the whole downhill bit was okay and added to my growing confidence in pushing my knee again.

It was far too soon to go home (according to Rufus) so after dropping the back pack off in the car, we walked down to Maen Llia, the standing stone at the head of the Llia valley, and the river beyond. Rufus urged me to follow him to the river by jogging back and forth along the path. I had stopped to take a few photos of the standing stone in the mist but I got the message and followed him down to the stream. Many stones later, we trudged back to the car, soaked by contentedly tired.

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Lookin’ good (by Rufus)

One tries one’s best. I have to look good for all the appearances I make in the media (mostly on here) so every now and then I visit my stylist. We discuss the latest look and what we can do to improve on it. I like to be a trend setter rather than a trend follower. Today, I made such a visit.

Dave was all excited at the prospect, even though he wouldn’t be there for the important stuff (and it goes without saying that I wouldn’t let him have a say in any styling issues – have you seen his hair?) He was good enough to drive me there, though. We stopped off at White Rock on the way so he could get a few minutes exercise. He wittered on about historic significance, industrial revolution and navigable waterways. Sometimes he can be a little boring but I’m polite and say nothing.

He dropped me off at the stylist and headed off do do some stuff. (He told me later that he had coffee, went shopping for bathroom tiles and food, then headed off to Scott’s Pit in Birchgrove, which is some sort of… thing, before picking me up again). Meanwhile, I decided on a sleek, modern look given that the weather has been so mild of late. It’s also quick to dry and now the rain has arrived, that’s as important as looking good.

The plan for tomorrow is to walk a proper mountain. If Dave’s knee doesn’t fall off and the weather isn’t too wet for him.

Dave has supplied the photos below, and the captions. I apologise.

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Play misty

The weather forecast was right. At 7am it was raining a fine, heavy drizzle. I know because Rufus had decided we should be out in it. Shortly afterwards, and somewhat damply, we had breakfast. I was tempted to head out then – spend some time getting thoroughly soaked and then spend the rest of the day drying off. But we decided to wait for a while and sure enough, the thick mist lifted a little until I could see the end of the garden.

The original plan was to head out to Whiteford but as we drove out to Gower, I wasn’t sure how long we’d actually be out. Rather than spend 45 minutes getting there, I thought it would be better to keep the travel time short so we could get a longer walk in. So we diverted to Cefn Bryn, avoiding the cyclists and the yellow jacketed people trying to direct traffic, and halved the time we were in the car.

On the ridge, the visibility was minimal and we headed off in the direction I hoped Arthur’s Stone would be. With no landmarks visible in any direction, it felt odd walking what was a very familiar path. It seemed that in no time we’d reached the burial chamber and we spent a few minutes exploring before turning back for the car. In no time we were back at the car park, and we cautiously crossed the road to head off along the ridge to the water reservoir above Three Cliffs.

Strange shapes loomed out of the mist, where the visibility had increased to about 10 yards. Mostly they were gorse bushes but occasionally they were sheep, horses and cows. Apart from the wind, it was eerily silent on the walk and this added to the spooky feeling of having no familiar landmarks to tell me how far we’d come. Even the small hill leading to the reservoir was indistinguishable without some means of seeing the lie of the land. Before we knew it, we were at the reservoir and the little summit of rocks about 100m further on.

We didn’t stay long – both of us being soaked through – and we made our way back to the car at a fair old pace. Once again we came across sheep, horses, a tiny foal (late in the year?) and more sheep. We also spotted two groups of manhole covers, painted yellow, blue and red, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Very surreal. We could hear the traffic on the road a long time before we saw it and I made sure Rufus was on the lead as I still didn’t know exactly where we were.

Back at the car, two damp boys were glad to be heading home for coffee and a treat for being a good boy and doing everything I asked. I was happy because my leg hadn’t fallen off despite walking at a fast pace for a reasonable distance. It all bodes well for another stab at Kilimanjaro on January.

This is today’s route.

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