The day after yesterday

Yesterday was the opening game of the 2015 Six Nations rugby tournament, with England beating Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. I watched the game on TV from my personal box, with a strong cup of tea by my side. I live life on the edge.

This morning, I took the early train to Cardiff as I wanted to visit the museum to see an exhibition on early photography. More of that later. The train was empty, despite being an Intercity service going to London. When I got to Cardiff, I found that it, too was quiet. The only people around seemed to be the people heading off to open up and run shops. It was clear that everyone else was indoors, recovering from the night before.

It was cold and grey in the capital, and after a reviving cup of coffee, I set off for Jessops, the photographic retailer. After they went bust a few years ago, the brand was sold and a few of the shops were reopened. Cardiff has such a store. I ended up having a chat with one of the salesmen there as it turned out he went to college in Swansea, where I was a technician in the photography department. We shared some stories and caught up with the whereabouts of some of the tutors. It was a breath of fresh air, and there was no sense of sales pitching at all. I always liked the staff in Jessops, and I’m glad the brand has been resurrected.

Then it was on to the museum and straight to the exhibition. A large proportion of the displayed photographs were from or by John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his sister, Mary. JDL was an early pioneer of photography in Britain and was a contemporary of Fox Talbot, to whom he was related by marriage. His earliest images date back to 1840. His mansion at Penllegare was the centre of his photographic endeavours, and the house and grounds feature often as subjects. If you go along to Penllegare Woods to day (and you should, it’s a great place to visit), you can see many of the places and subjects JDL photographed. The mansion, sadly, is gone and the beautiful ornamental gardens are over grown but volunteers are working to restore parts of the grounds to their former state.

Some of the images on display were from the 1850s and it was amazing to see people staring out from 164 years ago. There were familiar sights – Caswell and Three Cliffs Bay, Tenby, Swansea docks and, as mentioned, Penllegare woods.

In the early days of photography the film wasn’t sensitive enough to freeze any kind of motion, so there are photographs of sailing ships in Swansea docks where their movement on the water has blurred the masts and completely hidden the rigging. It meant that people sitting for portraits had to stay motionless for up to several minutes. Neck braces were used to help keep people still. Some of the pioneering work JDL was doing was developing more sensitive films, cutting the exposure time to seconds and making possible more natural looking poses

Other photographers were represented too, some amateur, some professional. The images ranged from studio portraits to reportage and historical records. Some of the equipment and cameras used by JDL and his contemporaries were on display too. The early cameras were crude wooden boxes that weren’t immediately identifiable as photographic tools.

I enjoyed the exhibition and the fascinating insight to the early days of photography it gave. I wish there had been more photographs on display, though.

Tor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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