Three summits

It was Saturday and the sky was clear. Rufus even made me go outside with him to show me how clear the stars were. It was his way of saying ‘I think we have to take advantage of this fine morning to stroll amongst the fresh air and open skies and talk of greater things, like treats and stone throwing’. I had to agree with him – the weather forecast was almost perfect and I didn’t know when we’d get another opportunity. So after breakfast, we set off for Fan Brecheiniog.

There was a band of golden sunlight on the ridge of Fan Hir as we drove parallel with it towards the parking area. I’d decided to stop further along the road so that we’d be higher up the side of Moel Feity when we started. It would mean a new route and we could conserve altitude by following the contours around. The plan was to get to Llyn y Fan Fawr, then up to the bwlch and on to Fan Hir for a lovely ridge walk facing the sun. If we had enough energy (ok, if I had enough energy – no question of the other half of the duo being able to manage it) then we’d head up to Fan Brecheiniog and bag a second summit.

It was cold, and the grass was crunchy under foot as we set off towards the mountains. The higher start meant we could look down on the Cerrig Duon valley and see the River Tawe as a silver strip in the sunlight. The path was drier, too, although we had to cross a number of streams as they tumbled down, trying to catch up with the Tawe. Some had cut deep beds in the soft ground and we undulated along for a while until we reached a major tributary of the Tawe. Then it was a steady uphill trudge through rapidly thawing marsh and mud. But fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and we made good time to the lake.

The water was right up to the shore and there was no chance of finding stones to throw for Rufus. The few I spotted were firmly frozen into the ground and even kicking them didn’t dislodge them. But Rufus was content with a drink, some snacks and a circumnavigation of the little promontory while I took photos. He can be considerate at times.

We made our way up the steep path on the side of the mountain. It was slippery with clear, glass-like ice. Snow on the shaded sides of the mountain had melted and run onto the stones, freezing again over night. I had to be careful where I stepped. Rufus made light work of it.

On the bwlch (a bwlch is a dip between two summits), the wind was cold and there was plenty of snow around. But the sun was warm and we turned left to climb the short distance up to Fan Hir and the ridge. Ice covered the path so we both walked on the grass, where frozen snow made for better grip. After a few minutes, we were on the flat ridge and the views were spectacular. The air was clear this morning and I could see all the way from Gareg Lwyd in the west to the Black Mountains in the east. Corn Du and Pen y Fan stood out as white coated peaks in the middle distance but as last week, they were topped with their own little clouds. It was comical, as there was no cloud anywhere else. It also reminded me of the first time I went up there and Pen y Fan was so well hidden in it’s own cloud that I didn’t realise it wasn’t there and assumed Corn Du was Pen y Fan! (You had to be there to realise how easy it was to make that mistake). Fan Hir’s peak is hard to spot. For some reason, when you’re on it, everything seems higher around you. It’s a trick of the landscape. Summit 1.

It was a beautiful walk and it was a shame when we reached the end of the ridge, where it begins to drop down to Tafarn y Garreg, and had to turn back. But both of us were fleeing good, so I decided we’d go on to Fan Brecheiniog next. As we neared the bwlch again, it was clear how steep the path up was. It’s the one bit of this walk I don’t look forward to, which is irrational as it’s about 5 minutes of the whole experience. But today, I know it would be bad because of the ice. Sure enough, the stones were covered in thick layers. But there were just edges and points of stone to give some grip. Coming down would be fun, but that was for later.

On the Fan Brecheiniog ridge, the ice was almost constant along the path by the edge, so I walked further in from the drop. I kept an eye on Rufus, who kept an eye on the edge, but he was emboldened by four paw drive and made a better job of it than me. At the cairn, the views north were fantastic and we stopped for a breather and just enjoyed the view. Rufus, I think, enjoyed the multitude of smells carried on the wind; this is a popular stopping point for walkers and inevitably, they eat here too! Summit 2.

We headed back, once again facing the sun, and it’s warmth was welcome. The stones down were treacherous but neither of us slipped this time, although Rufus raced over one flat stone covered in ice and his paws went in four directions. Typical for him, he recovered on the run and it barely stopped him. I would have gone bottom over breast.

At the lake, I found some small stones to throw and Rufus jumped to catch them. Tradition satisfied, we started off down the hill tot he car. But we were both still feeling energetic, so we detoured up the side of Moel Feity beyond the path we used earlier and climbed up the hill to the top. It’s not a steep hill, but there was no obvious path and we were walking over clumps of grass which made the going a little harder. There is the site of a WW2 aircraft crash on the top of Moel Feity but every time I’ve tried to find it in the past, I’ve failed. In the past, the weather has been foul when I’ve been on here, but today was [perfect, so I went in search of the little bits of wreckage still there.

Shortly after we reached the top (marked by a tiny cairn – summit 3) I spotted a white stone on the horizon. Sure enough, there was a small cairn there too and some remembrance poppies and a wreath. The wreath had been blown of the cairn and was only held in place because it had frozen to the ground. So I carefully placed it back on the cairn and secured it with two large stones.

On 24 August 1944, a US Navy Liberator (actually, a PB4Y version of the Liberator, 38753) crashed here while on a training exercise. The crew, Byrnes, Hobson, Manelski, Holt, Shipe and Keister all died in the crash. They so nearly cleared the top of the mountain. I spent a few minutes taking in the atmosphere and thinking about the crew. Fan Brecheiniog rose, snow covered, in the distance to the west. Rufus was great (as he always is when we visit crash sites) and kept away. Then we turned to head back to the car. But only a hundred yards or so further down the hill I spotted more red and on closer inspection I found a second cairn with, along side it, a small collection of wreckage. Again it was covered in remembrance poppies but the cairn had collapsed and the small bits of wreckage had been blown about. I spent some time collecting them back up and making the pile a little more secure. Then I built up the stone cairn so it stood above the grass. Finally, I rescued the little label with the crew details from a small ice covered pool and placed it on the wreckage pile. It was a small gesture but the best I could offer.

Then it was off down the hill and back to the car. We crossed bog and marsh, now fully thawed and waiting for us. Again there was no path and we made our way over grassy tufts, streams and a lot of loose limestone rocks. I had to be careful not to turn an ankle on them. At the car, it was warm and we were tired and we were glad of the opportunity to sit (or in Rufus’ case, lie) down.

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Life of Geek

When we first moved to Swansea, I started the local school half way through the 3rd year of juniors. These days that has a year number, probably year 5 or year 6 or year (x-b). I don’t know. I was 9-and-a-bit. Being the son of a serviceman, I was used to moving around and new places. I had also developed a reluctance to make really strong friendships, as they would always end after a year or two, when dad was posted to a new base. I’ve heard other with a similar background say the same thing.

So fitting in to the school didn’t pose a problem. I found I was better at English, reading and writing and slightly worse at maths and science. Different schools, different curricula, I suppose. It didn’t affect me much (except fractions – I was first exposed to them in Swansea. I didn’t understand them, despite the attentions of my teacher and my parents. Who needed fractions? two thirds of us, apparently.)

The one thing that I really looked forward to, though, was Friday afternoons when the teacher would read to us.  I arrived half way through ‘The Hobbit’. I didn’t know anything about the story or the author, but I really enjoyed the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves. My parents bought the book so that I could catch up with the first half of the story. I was a good reader, and loved books so it didn’t take long.

Fast forward to the late 70’s. Punk was in, flares were out, prog rock was no longer appreciated. I was scared to go into the Virgin record store in Swansea because it was dark and full of older boys dressed in the black uniform of punks. But I frequented the local library and read as much as I could. usually science fiction from the grown up section, as kids books didn’t capture my imagination. Then I discovered ‘The Lord of the Rings’. And it was by the same author as ‘The Hobbit’. Heaven!

The copy in the library was in three volumes. I read volume one, but volume two was out so I couldn’t go further. I waited ages for volume two to come in, and borrowed 2 and 3 at the same time to make sure I could finish the story. It took a long time – the language was more difficult than I’d come across before but it was worth taking the time to read it properly. I loved the world of Middle Earth and all the things that lived there. I eagerly looked for more fantasy books, but nothing came close to Tolkien. I discovered some of his other books – mainly unfinished stories and legends of Middle Earth which made his fictional world more real. But nothing compared to the Lord of the Rings. So I read it again. And again.

Fast forward to 2001. The movies were due out. I couldn’t wait and went to see them in the cinema as they were released. As I recall, it was around this time of year that each one came out. I drank them in, because unlike many adaptations of books, these actually matched my imagined world of Middle Earth. All the characters and races were just as I pictured them in 1979. Of course I got the extended collectors editions of the boxed DVD sets – why wouldn’t I?

Fast forward again – 2007. I’m in the lodge at Gorak Shep having just returned from climbing Kala Patthar – 5545m above sea level and with the perfect view of Everest. It’s cold, I’m tired and I’m reading ‘The Hobbit’. It was a welcome reminder of home and something that didn’t need a lot of concentration to enjoy.

Two years later I gave that copy of the book to my friend’s little boy for his first birthday – she’d asked that all her friends give him the book that meant the most to them in their childhood. For me there was no question about which book it would be.

One more fast forward. No more after this, I promise. It’s yesterday. I went to see ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’, the first part of the Hobbit trilogy by Peter Jackson. I was on my own – it’s the price one pays for geekdom. I wasn’t the only loner in the theatre. Buying the ticket, the person behind the counter glanced behind me to see if I really was alone, and almost asked if I was sure I only wanted one. There may have been the faint look of sadness in her eyes, or it may have been sympathy for my obvious sad, lonely existence.

I sat and watched the movie – nearly 3 hours of it. I was hooked from the opening music. It was great – no disappointment. Once again, my Middle Earth was there on screen. In places I felt it was dragging a bit, but at the same time, I was enjoying every second. I’m biased, of course, but it just felt familiar and.. right.

Shameless plug – if you go to my 1-a-day Flickr site you will see my local library. It’s role in my reading history means it deserves a place there.

It is resolved

Happy new year.

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions. If I make any, I tend to be just setting myself up for a fall. So here are some of the resolutions I shall not be making this year.

1. Give up chocolate. For good. Yeah, right. If there is no chocolate in the house, then it’s easy. But if there is, then it shall be eaten. I’ve eaten some today. And the emergency rations I take with me on walks is usually chocolate coated, so I can’t give it up or I might die, weakened by intense hunger, on some lonely mountain top.

2. Do more exercise. I’m a member of the works gym. I should go more often, not because it’s January 1st, but because I’m paying a monthly fee to use the facilities and I’m currently only using them once a week – which makes it an expensive gym. But more exercise will mean I can go for longer walks, up higher hills and mountains and be reasonably fit should I decide to undertake another trek.

3. Take more photos. Well, last year I don’t know how many photos I took, but I kept 12,548 of them, which probably means 16-18,000 taken. I’ve been sifting through them recently, and ones from previous years (66,997 in total) to identify the best. It started out as something to do when the rain was too heavy to venture out, but became a project in itself. I’m just finishing 2011 now and I’ll be starting on 2012 later this week. If there was any resolution here, it should be to increase the number of good photos I take – so far from the total, I’ve identified only around 600 I would put forward as portfolio candidates. A hit rate of less than 1%. Not good at all.

One thing I will be trying to do this year is uploading a photograph taken every day for the year. Risky, I know, because if I miss a day I may not continue (that’s how my mind works) but an interesting exercise that I’ve seen loads of times before. I used to take part in an occasional ‘1-a-day’ project but it would only last 30 days at a time. Lets see how long this one lasts. Check out my Flickr account for the photos.

One thing I won’t do is post a blog a day. That would be too much for me, and as it would rapidly degenerate into even worse drivel than it is now, it would be torture for you. But Flickr will publicise the photos on here.

4. Save money. I took a big hit last year with the car and the work on the house. So I have to try and make some of that back. On the other hand, I no longer have to hold back a chunk of cash in case the house starts to fall down. Free capital. I guess if there’s anything to aim for this year, it’s using the money wisely and getting a good return – whether it be in interest or value.

5. Improve. Actually, I don;t have a problem with something like this. By improve, I mean get better at the things that interest me. So that’s photography, music and hill walking. Practice makes perfect, they say. So that’s what I’ll do.

Whatever you decide, whether it’s a set of strict rules and guidelines, a loose ‘enjoy myself” or anything in between, I hope your new year brings you what you want.

Beware

If you mention the word ‘geothermal’, the carbon capture police create and publish a webpage that tracks your blog statistics. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that the page even decides whether you’re an activist or not and measures the ‘tone’ (mine is 0.45%). You will also see that it has linked me to two individuals, Leifur Ericsson and Hallgrimur Petersson. In turn, the site has created pages for both of them and links to the countries with which they are associated.

Leifur was the first European to reach North America, some 500 years before Columnbus. He immediately set about campaigning against carbon capture. Hallgrimur wrote anti-environmental poetry between 1614 and 1674 in Iceland.

With any luck, this post will have raised my ‘tone’ and made me into an activist.

Capital idea

I’ve had a short break in London. I used to live there, many years ago, while I went to college. I loved it then and I love it every time I go back. I wouldn’t want to live there now as the pace is far to hectic for me. But I like the break.

This time, my main reason for going there was to see the fantastic Ansel Adams exhibition at the Greenwich Maritime museum. I stayed in a hotel nearby and walked out to Greenwich pier every morning. A friend had recommended using the water bus to get to and from Central London, and that’s what I did. It was a great experience and a cheap way to sight see.

The Ansel Adams exhibition was well worth the visit alone. I’ve always liked his work and he has been an inspiration to my photography so to actually see his prints – mostly made by Adams himself – was an incredible experience for me. He emphasised quality and was reluctant for his images to be published in books as the printing process wasn’t up to his standards. In later years he relented, mainly because printing standards got higher. I have several portfolios of his work but the prints are the thing, more so with him. Visitors were asked to write what inspiration they had gained from the exhibition, and to place the card in a special display. My card read “to see rather than look, to seek quality over quantity and to take more time making my photographs”. Cheesy and pretentious – maybe. But that’s how I felt at the time.

I spent the rest of the morning at the Maritime museum and I was particularly taken by the display of the uniform Nelson was wearing when he was shot. It would have fitted me and I’m not the biggest person in the world. The bullet hole is in the left upper shoulder and the ball tore a wad of fabric from the coat and buried it in the wound. There were some chilling exhibits from the slave trade but they were partly redeemed by accounts of the Royal Navy capturing slave trader’s ship after Britain had outlawed slavery in the early 19th century.

Then it was off to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich park. I wanted to see the Meridian line and did so. But when I went into the observatory building, I was surprised to find that the original meridian line was some 4 yards to the west. It was altered when a new telescope was installed to measure the time. Time was calibrated by the passing of several particular stars across a set line (the meridian) and so when the new telescope was sited, the meridian line was redefined. Only in Britain!

The next day I set off for The Victoria and Albert museum and their photography exhibition from the Middle East. A completely different look and feel to the landscapes of Adams. These were full of emotion and contrasts between Western and Eastern culture. Although there was a theme of individuality and identity, there was also an underlying hint of wanting to imitate or emulate Westernisms.

Back at Greenwich, I toured the Cutty Sark. A tremendous effort has been put in to restore her, from here rotting state when she was saved in the 1920s to the intense work put in after the devastating fire in 2007. She is dedicated to all Merchant Seamen who made Britain what it is today, and particularly to those who died at sea. I was surprised at how few crew were needed to sail her – 29 to start with, dropping to 19 by the time when was nearing the end of her ‘tea clipper’ career. The radical (for its day) design of long and narrow reduced her cargo capacity but made her much faster. The crews quarters were small to help make up the lost space and she carried high value cargo whenever she could.

I spent my last morning in London wandering around the old haunts from when I was in college. The Regent Street campus had been updated (it was where the students always had an occupation protest every year because the heating had to be left on. I was a member of the rifle club and there was a 20m range in the basement). The Riding House Street building was unrecognisable – at least I didn’t remember it being like that. And the fantastic sandwich bar that we all used to frequent was gone. Around the corner, my hall of residence in Wells Street was exactly the same. and the back streets on the way to Goodge Street station were all familiar. The Dianetics place, where a few of us went for a session (and were afraid of being brainwashed, as we’d heard the stories) was also still there, though closed today.

Some great experiences, a lot of walking and some nice memories of nearly 30 years ago!

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What could have been

This blog entry should have been about a fantastic birthday present I had from Em – a flight in a Tiger Moth biplane over Gloucester. I’d booked the flight a few weeks ago and carefully, nervously watched the weather forecast as the day neared. It became clear that I’d picked the day quite well – on Tuesday and Thursday they were predicting torrential rain but Wednesday would be clear in the afternoon.

Of course, I hadn’t factored for the unexpected. It seems that with all the rain, Gloucester airport flooded! I spoke to the pilot before leaving Swansea (he sounded like an airline pilot with that clipped clear pronunciation) and  he confirmed that ‘it’s not really Tiger Moth weather’. He said the runway was flooded and no flights would be taking place that day. To say I was disappointed would be a major understatement. I can book again, so the present isn’t lost.

So we decided to head off to St Fagans instead. I like the museum of Welsh Life – as you’ve probably gathered from previous entries, I like all things historical but really enjoy being in amongst it over reading about it. So we spent the morning walking through the castle (really a stately home built on the ruins of a Norman castle and resembling in feel Dunster castle). Then we visited the 16th and 17th century cottages, collected from all over Wales and rebuilt here. The chapel was tiny and you could picture the minister in full flow, with the congregation hanging on every word.

After food, we drove back to Swansea and had a look around the Winter Wonderland – now renamed the Waterfront Wonderland or the Winter Waterland, or perhaps the Frontland Winterwater.  Anyway, all the favourites were there – the ice rink and a smaller rink for kids, the big wheel, our favourite roller-coaster. I didn’t see Santa’s grotto but that was probably a good thing after last year’s experience.

Then it was home to find a great swathe of scaffolding around the house. Not a surprise, though, as I’m having the house’s make-up replaced. You’ll probably read about that here sometime soon, if you’re unlucky.

All in all a busy day, and while not quite what I was expecting, enjoyable thanks to the company.

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W4923

Rufus and I set off this morning to visit the site of a WW2 bomber crash. We’ve been there a few times before but never on Remembrance Sunday. I’d been thinking about this for a while and when I saw that 11 November fell on a Sunday, and the weather wouldn’t be too bad, I decided to go. Rufus is always up for a walk so we were on.

After all the rain we’ve had, the ground was spongy and very wet but the sunshine and blue sky made up for it. I had to park the car on the side of the road as the Forestry Commission car park was full. We headed out across the thick mud and immediately came across a stile, which Rufus struggled to negotiate. After some words of encouragement, foolowed by a had of encouragement, he slipped and scrabbled over and was rewarded with a treat.

We made our way over rough common land, following the line of ancient drainage ditches that once made this land suitable for crops and up to Foel Darw. Then there was a steep drop before we reached Garn Las and the crash site.

It’s a bleak place even in the sunshine. Fan Brecheiniog looms in the distance and the land slopes gently upwards to its foothills. It was on the slopes in September 1943 that Lancaster W4923 crashed in bad weather during a training flight. The crew, Pilot Officers Duxbury, Johnson and Folkerson, Flight Sergeant Buckby and Sergeants Curan, Pratt, Holding and Wilson, were all killed on impact.

As I arrived I passed members of the Ammanford Walking Club, who had left a wreath of poppies at the memorial stone. It’s touching to know that people still remember and care enough to make the journey out to this remote spot (it took us about 90 minutes). There are always poppies, little wooden crosses and other messages there, despite the exposed position. I added my little wooden cross and stood for a few minutes trying to imagine what it must have been like to be flight crew during the war. I couldn’t, of course, but standing and looking out over Garn Las towards Trecastle and beyond was a sobering moment and it brought a lump to my throat. Even Rufus, who I’d put on the lead to stop him wandering off, stood still and uncomplaining next to me. I often attribute human characteristics to him to try and give you an impression of how he is but this time it really did seem as if he knew something was different about this place.

After a few more minutes, we headed off back towards the car. It was pleasant walking weather; not too hot or cold and with a nice breeze to cool off the furry participant (no, not me). Even so, Rufus decided some cooling of the paws was required and he made for the nearest stream.

When we climbed back up to the top of Foel Darw, I could see that Rufus had spotted something. Sure enough, there were horses running across the track in front of us, though some distance off so I wasn’t worried Rufus would chase the, But they had been spooked by a bunch of motorcyclists riding across the common. They didn’t seem to be following any tracks and were heading towards us so we made our way off the hill and down to the Forestry Commission plantation.

There was more river action as I threw stones for Rufus to dredge out again. Then, after I’d managed to completely cover my right boot in thick brown mud, two tired souls arrived back at the car.

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The Rainbow Holiday

I know, it’s a twee title, but if I’d called it ‘The Haunted Holiday’ or ‘The night of a thousand coughs’ it wouldn’t really sum it up.

We headed off to Dunster on the North Somerset coast for three nights of Halloween flavoured fun. We had booked tickets for the Dunster Castle ‘Ghost Walk’ after seeing it advertised when we were visiting in September. We stayed in a beautiful old house on a hill not far from St Georges church and we made sure we walked through the graveyard every evening to set the atmosphere up for our stay.

Talking to the landlord, it turned out that he had owned Flora’s Barn, one of our favourite holiday cottages, for 25 years and Flora, the horse that originally lived in the barn (before it was converted) was owned by his daughter. Such a coincidence! On out first night we ate in the Luttrell Arms, named after the family who owned Dunster Castle. It’s an old pub with plenty of character. There are several rooms, and we chose one heated by a huge Inglenook and open fire. The food took a while to come and I enjoyed a pint of local cider, Thatchers, which was to be a recurring theme for me. The manager for the night apologised for the delay in bringing us our food and offered us a free round. When it finally came, the meals were gorgeous.

Delicious cooked breakfasts started our mornings off nicely. The weather wasn’t the best and we saw the first of many rainbows from the window of our room. On the 31st and with no real plan in mind, we headed off east to have a look at Crowcombe church. The village is small and typically English and the church nestles beneath the Quantocks, Graham, our landlord, and his wife had explained that it lay at the end of the only road ro cross the Quantocks and had grown up around the potential trade that would generate. But it remained a poor village dominated by the local landowning family until quite recently. They would move tenants around within the village so they didn’t feel as if they owned the homes they rented. Some of the family also insisted on influencing how the villagers voted. It was almost as if we were hearing stories from some period drama.

We drove up onto the Quantocks before heading down to Nether Stowey to visit Coleridge’s cottage. Like every other time we’d been there, it was closed. But there was hope; it would be open later in the week. From there we headed back to Williton and, although neither of us wish to talk about it much, we visited the Bakelite museum there. It’s been a bit of a standing joke with us everytime we’ve stayed in the area. Down a narrow farm track, in a farmhouse outbuilding, there was an amazing collection of old domestic items from the last 100 years or so. Many of them were, indeed, made from Bakelite – the first plastic. But there were other things there and the one that stood out for me was an old dentist’s appliance – a metal stand with several arms coming out of it, each with a mechanically operated tool on the end. It was bizarre and clever and sinister, all at the same time. It reminded me of the torture ‘droid from the original Star Wars film.

Cleeve Abbey, out next stop, was a rather clinical building that would have benefited from some thought to dressing the rooms with period exhibits. Most of the rooms were empty and although they were labelled, it was hard to imagine how, for example, the Abbott’s bedchamber would really have looked. Even an artist’s impression on the wall would have helped. We wandered around the grounds, including the original refectory floor tiles under a giant marquee, before making our way to the nearby pub for a snackette (with chips, of course).

Our final destination of the day was Minehead and by now the weather was closing in. Some abortive attempts to fly a kite on the beach only succeeded in getting us wet. So we retreated to the B&B for a rest and to plan the evening. Neither of us were hungry so we headed off to a pub at the end of the village for a pint and some games of pool. I came second in two games but won the third. Watching over our every shot was Nelson, a large grey parrot who insisted on whistling a lot and occasionally shouting the world ‘w@nkers’ at random. During our last game the pool room had been invaded by a gaggle of local women who seemed to be keen to get us to move on. They were crowding the room and seemed very reluctant to get out of the way if we were playing a shot.

We made our way to Dunster Castle by 9pm and joined the others waiting for the ghost walk. Soon we were off and heading through the medieval gatehouse to the servants hall, where we went through an underground passage (originally for servants to move about without being seen) and had the first of a series of encounters with characters, noises, slamming doors and other eerie sounds and sights. The nightwatchman told us about footsteps with no one around to make them. A cavalier officer explained how he had died in the room we were in. We saw a maid looking for the lady of the house, a child being taken away to be punished and a couple of ghostly figures lit only by candles. Eventually, we survived and made our way past the dungeons, from which unearthly sounds could be heard, and into the stables. It was only then that we found out our guide was, in fact, a ghost herself!

On Thursday, we went west to Lynmouth and the cliff railway. The rivers were in full race and although the sun was shining, it was cold. We made our way slowly back along the coast, stopping in Porlock to have a look around the little church there. We parked up at the B&B and went for a look around Dunster. While Em went shopping, I walked down to Dunster beach to see what there was to see. All the way down the muddy lane, I was following a huge rainbow from a storm shower that was passing to the west. The sky was black, making the colours stand out even more.

Dunster beach was a key risk area for invasion during World War 2 and at one time there were a dozen or so pillboxes and other defensive structures built to command the long beach. Most have gone but in the car park was a pill box still wearing its camouflage of pebbles from the beach. It was originally disguised as a large pile of rocks and pebbles. Further inland were two more pillboxes, one in the middle of a field, the other, one of many along the stretch of the West Somerset Railway.

I headed back to rendezvous with Em and after watching a cheesy horror movie (well, it was a Halloween holiday) we headed out for food and a swift half. We ate at Cobblestones, a lovely restaurant on the main street of Dunster. The food was wonderful and the service excellent.

After breakfast and the inevitable rainbow, which seemed to act a s a backdrop to a large crow sitting on the neighbour’s fence, we climbed up to Conygar Tower, a folly built to overlook Dunster from the west by one of the Luttrells. We walked through the woods, risking life and limb as conkers dropped all around with loud thunks. We drove off towards Nether Stowey, driving along the coast and keeping Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands in sight in the Bristol Channel. Again, rainbows kept us company as we headed for Coleridge’s cottage, which was open. It was very atmospheric, having been set out as it would have been when he arrived in 1797. In contrast to Cleeve Abbey, the rooms had character and while many of the items on display hadn’t belonged to Coleridge, they were genuinely contemporary and helped to set the scene.

Then it was time to find the motorway to take us back to the 21st Century and home.

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The best laid plans of Rufus and Dave

Today was meant to be an opportunity to get out on the hills, to spend our first full day of the season in the mountains. The weather was looking good, we’d discussed a route (Rufus’ input was that it had to have running water available for him to swim in). Then I managed to get a niggly little cough at the beginning of the week. It bore a close resemblance to the one mentioned in this blog and I have my suspicions that it was given to me by the author.

Anyway, by Thursday my voice was going and on Friday, the constant coughing had worn me down. I had to pull out of two Insiderz gigs so they had enough time to find a replacement (even then, it was short notice). They’re playing in Neath as part of the Oxjam festival tonight and in The Strand on Sunday. Of course, there was no chance of a day on the hills.

This morning, I decided I needed to get some fresh air and Rufus concurred. So we headed off for a curtailed stroll along the top of Rhossili Down. We haven’t been this way for a while so it was a refreshing change from our usual routes. Apart from the initial climb, it’s easy going (which was important for me) but there’s enough height to give it a sense of open space that I like, too. Another thing about Rhossili Down is the range of history in such a short area.

In Rhossili village there are the remains of open field strip farming that was the medieval way of dividing land up to be farmed. On the way up to Rhossili Down there is a Royal Observer Corps bunker from the Cold War. On the top of Rhossili Down are several Bronze Age burial cairns. Below the ridge, facing the sea is a World War 2 radar station, used to detect shipping and low flying aircraft from 1942. On the opposite side of the ridge are two Neolithic burial sites, Sweyn’s Howes. That’s about 5000 years of history if you include the Millennium stone erected in 2000.

Typically for us, as soon as we got to the top of the hill, the rain started. It stopped again, waiting for us to get further from the car before coming back with more vigour. We headed back to the car, but then the rain stopped, so we went for a look at the Neolithic tombs.

Despite the cloud, there was enough sunshine to raise the spirits and the wind wasn’t cold. The fresh air was most welcome and I had a cough free couple of hours before we finally made it back to the car and home for coffee, 2nd breakfast and, for one of us, a chance to flop down on the sofa.

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More Holiday

As part of his holiday (but I’m not sure what his holiday is from), Rufus has been staying with me so that we can get out and about early. Over the last few days, we’ve been on mountains, on beaches and for long walks in between.

Fan Nedd is a favourite and has featured here before. It’s a short hill, less than a mile from car to top, but it has a number of extensions we can add, including a long one to Fan Gyhirych. This time we were content with walking along the ridge and past the trig point until the ground started to drop away again on the far side. In all, we managed about 2.7 miles. Compare that with the 42 miles a walker we met was doing for charity and it pales into insignificance but it was enough for us.

Cefn Bryn needs no introduction, and on Friday, we walked the whole length of the ridge until we were overlooking Three Cliffs and Penmaen on the coast. It was windy but not cold and the views from the top down to the sea were beautiful. It reminded me that I hadn’t been to Three Cliffs for ages. When I was in college, a bunch of friends and I would meet up during the summer holidays and head off to Penmaen and Tor Bay, just to to the right of Three Cliffs. We’d spend the day on the beach and every so often, one person would have to walk back up to the car park where a little shop sold ice cream and cold drinks. It was a hard slog up dunes before a long walk along a hot path to the shop. It’s still a  great memory, though.

On Saturday, we went down to Three Cliffs and Penmaen very early in the morning. Still we didn’t have it to ourselves. A sea fisherman was casting into the incoming tide. I couldn’t see if he was catching anything. Joggers passed us by and one or two local dog walkers shared the beach. Beneath Pennard Castle, we saw cows making their way down the dunes to the river. It was a warm morning and pleasant walking along the beach. But eventually, we had to make our way back up the dunes and that was hard going. At the top, I made a detour to visit the remains of an Iron Age fort on the headland overlooking the cliffs. All that remains now are earth banks with a gap between them, but they are still quite impressive and give an idea of what it must have looked like in the past. Much of the interior has eroded way so its not clear how big it would have been.

Beyond the fort is a chambered burial tomb that would have been there long before the walls and ditched of the defensive structure were built. But it might have influenced it’s placement; the area was clearly important to the early inhabitants of Gower. Now all that it left of the tomb is a massive collapsed capstone and the uprights that would have supported it. Two stones set at right angles to the line of the monument form an entrance portal and there are two more stones that seem to form a short passage outside the tomb.

Then it was back to the car and home for second breakfast.

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