Right to reply

I understand that elsewhere in this blog, Dave has written that I needed to have a rest after his pathetic attempt to climb Fan Hir? I have exercised my right to reply and here is the truth about it all.

We should never have started off on Thursday. The weather forecast clearly said it would rain around midday. We would have been fine if someone had managed to get up early enough, but no, Dave insisted on a lie-in despite my attempts to remind him we had a deadline to meet (I notice he didn’t mention that in his blog entry). By the time he’d faffed around and managed to get himself together, it was too late and we were running out of dry weather time. When he decided to turn around, I was still heading up towards the ridge and he had to call me several times before I came back. I love getting wet, as I demonstrated when we got to the river. In other words, Dave was the one that needed to turn back because he’s afraid of the rain.

Anyway, it turns out that he went off without me yesterday and found a great place for a walk. I should have been with him but he decided to leave me at home. Hmph! Well, I let him know how I felt by ignoring him and not sleeping on the bed. There!

He got the message because this morning, really early, we were up and off back to the place he found. And I have to admit it was quite a place. Of course, I had to be careful not to look too happy because he still has a lesson to learn about taking me with him, but it was hard not to wag my tail at all the new aromas and interesting sights everywhere. Of course, he waffled on a bit, explaining to me something about gunpowder, ruins, tramways and a mill. Yeah, whatever. When I saw the first squirrel (I knew they were around as I’d sniffed their trails out already) I showed him exactly how tired and aching I was by immediately chasing after it. It had a head start or it would have been mine. I chased or stalked several more before we left the tramway and went into the woods.

Dave likes this part of the world as there are lots of waterfalls for him to take photos of. It keeps him happy It’s fine for me too, as where there are waterfalls, there are rivers and stones to be thrown. Sure enough, we found a nice shallow bit of the river upstream of a weir (I know about these things, you know) and I could tell how guilty Dave felt by the way I didn’t have to bark to remind him to throw me stones. We carried on further up the valley on proper footpaths (I’d like to see a tram get over that kind of terrain) and once again I proved I could hack it. Tired, me? I had to keep looking back to see if Dave could keep up.

When we turned back, guess who made the decision? Yup! Mr Fitness decided we should go back to the car and once again, he had to call be back as I was all for going on. I chased several more squirrels, kept taking the lead, caught more stones and I still had the energy left to sneak into the female changing area near the car park (much to Dave’s embarrassment, although I knew there weren’t any people in there – you should have heard him trying to call me back!) Payback is such good fun.

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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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Something wickedly aromatic this way comes

I was woken early this morning by a wet nose on my hand, a reminder that there’s a new boss in town now. But when I looked out, there was a lovely mist in the air and I immediately thought of getting out to some woods to try and get photographs of trees in the mist. We’ve been going to the woods above the Upper Lliw reservoir for a while now and I knew with the right conditions I could get the photos I had envisaged.

Rufus managed to eat half his breakfast but I was faffing about so much that I only had a cup of coffee. I knew the mist would soon burn off and so i wanted to get going as quickly as possible. We set off and it didn’t take long to make the journey over the misty hills to the little valley in which the woods nestles. Of course, with my luck, the mist had lifted from that part of the world and so we entered a clear, sunlit plantation with the early morning rapidly warming.

The calls of buzzards echoed through the trees as we made our way along the track towards the reservoir. In the distance, I could hear seagulls calling from the reservoir dam. As I feared, there was no sign of any mist and we reached the shore of the reservoir with only a few speculative photographs taken. The water was still and the seagulls were sat on the wall of the dam. On the opposite hills I could see mist brushing the tops, and I realised that the cloud was coming down again, which would introduce the mist tot he woods.

Off we went, back along the path. This time Rufus took a diversion the continued along near the shore of the reservoir and I followed. A subtle haze filled the woods and I managed to get some photographs that I was happy with. I’m always happy when taking photos at my own pace in such beautiful surroundings and I didn’t really want to stop. But I was conscious that it was getting warmer and both Rufus and I aren’t great in the heat.

Walking back to the car, I caught a whiff of something deeply unpleasant. Rufus has a habit of rolling in unpleasant things and I kept an eye on him in case he dashed off to dive into this one. But he seemed to show no interest, which is very unusual. Then it dawned on me why; because the deeply unpleasant aroma was coming from Rufus. He had already rolled in it while my back was turned (or more likely, my eye was at the viewfinder). Rufus is the master of discovering impossibly awful things to roll in. I don’t know what this was but I tried my very best to keep upwind of him. At the car I tried to wipe the worst of it off but it made very little difference. Needless to say, the back windows were kept open and the air conditions was on full blast in an effort to remove the smell from the car.

 

We took a short detour to see the wind turbines but further up the mountain the mist was much thicker and I only managed to catch a glimpse of the base of one or two, plus the odd blade slowly spinning by. Then it was back to the car and a swift drive home to the shower. A curly and damp but sweet smelling Rufus is currently dozing on the sofa.

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The Seaside

Yesterday, Rufus and I went down to the seaside. We haven’t been to Whiteford for a while and the morning was nice and warm without being too hot, so it seemed like an ideal time to reacquaint ourselves. I used Whiteford a lot during the early days of my trek preparation, and I know Rufus loves the area, so it seemed like a good idea.

We walked through Cwm Ivy wood to get to the dune system. Walking through the wood reminded me of the walk through the rain forest at the start of the Kilimanjaro trek. In fact, I remember thinking the same thing during the trek and mentioned it in my journal. The 20 minutes or so we spent in the woods brought back lots of memories; the only thing missing was the sound of  Turacos calling in the tree tops.

Then, suddenly, we were through two gates and out onto the sea wall that marks the boundary between the salt marches of the Loughor Estuary and the pasture of Cwm Ivy. This had been damaged in the storms earlier this year and the path had only just been reopened. A large section of sea wall had been washed away where a stream passes beneath it; a wooden bridge had been built over the breach.

It didn’t take long to get to the dunes and I found that great parts of it had been fenced off (or in, depending on which side of the fence you were on). I think it was to control the sheep as there were fewer around that on our last visit. In the distance, I could hear the sea which meant the tide was coming in. We headed across the dunes to the beach and sure enough, there was the sea.

There followed a long session of throwing sticks and fetching sticks as we slowly made our way along the water’s edge towards Whiteford Point. The beach was ours; there wasn’t a soul around. In the far distance, on a sandbank, a flock of Oystercatchers flapped and fluttered. We got closer to them until Rufus managed to spook them and they took off in one mass, flying low over the sea to another sandbank.

Walking back through the dunes, I heard the sound of aircraft and spotted a group of five planes performing aerobatics over the Loughor Estuary. It looked as if they were practising and as I watched, they looped and spun and dived with a large cumulus cloud as a backdrop. It reminded me of a painting of a Spitfire against billowing clouds.

It was getting hot as we headed back to the car, so the shade of the wood was welcome for both Rufus and me. We got back to the car having walked 5 miles and spent 3 hours in the sunshine. There was much snoring in the house in the afternoon.

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Slick

Poor old Rufus. Yesterday, with the prospect of thunder and lightning and with the knowledge that I’d be home early, I left him indoors. If he’d been out and there had been a storm, I don’t know where he would have ended up and that would have worried me all morning. So he had the run of the house. He was also booked in for a hair cut in the afternoon, so I’d have to race home lunchtime and get him, drop him off at the stylist and pick him up again several hours later.

Well, there was no storm and when I got home, I was late. Rufus didn’t really know what was going on as I tried to explain to him while letting him have a run in the garden and making a fuss of him at the same time. Within 30 minutes, I’d got him in the car and dropped him off. Poor old Rufus.

But when I picked him up again, he was looking good. And he knew it! With his fur shaved back to a smooth and short length, he was no longer panting in the sunshine. We headed home, paused long enough to change out of my work clothes and into something more appropriate and we were off again to Broadpool, where Rufus enjoyed a run, jump, paddle, bound, run again and (of course) a dip in a muddy pool.

This morning we headed off to Mynydd Betws for a longer walk. I’ve been reluctant to take him on longer walks recently because of the heat but now his fur was shorter, and the day was cooler, off we went. I was interested in the clouds that were around this morning. I’ve started a project to take infra red photos of clouds and looking out of the window before we left, there were great billowing cumulus clouds everywhere. I was a little nervous, as thunder was forecast for the day but the walks I had in mind would be okay, with plenty of advanced warning of an approaching storm. And it would give me a chance to snap more clouds.

There is a wind farm on Mynydd Betws and I’ve mentioned the location before. It’s a great walk, though, and we started off in the woods to the north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. Only the sound of birds could be heard in the woods and it was very tranquil and not too hot. We walked amongst the trees for a while and then off to the side, where there is a convenient gasp in the fence that allows us to reach a small stream. Rufus was in it before I’d managed to duck under the fence. I stopped to take some photos and Rufus let me!

Next, we went back to the car through the woods once more. I turned to check on Rufus only to find him sporting a cool new wool scarf. I think he must have caught his collar on it, and it stuck but he showed no interest in removing it. Not knowing where it had been, I took it off. A few minutes later, I turned to find he had now managed to get more wool on his nose.

We drove off to the wind farm on top of Mynydd Betws and walked out to one of the turbines. The skies were magnificent and I used the Infra red camera to capture a lot of the cloud forms, which were changing and developing minute by minute. While I was looking around I noticed a trig point shining in the sun on the next hill over. With no firm plans to follow, I decided to walk over to it and Rufus was more than happy to follow. Of course, he got there before me and was waiting patiently as I arrived.

Looking back to the car, which seemed a long way off all of a sudden, I noticed a big black cloud making its way slowly towards us. At the very least we would be soaked if that decided to unleash its contents on it. A big sign near one of the turbines had casually warned not to approach the tower if there was lightning about. We decided to make our way back to the car. The cloud was moving quite slowly and I was still tempted to stop and take photos so it took a little while to reach the car. As we did so, I felt several large blobs of rain on my face.

Driving home,. we passed under and beyond the cloud, which spent a few minutes trying to soak us. But on the other side there was sunshine and no sign of the expected storms.

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Penllergare

I belong to a camera club in work. And this morning, we had arranged for a visit to Penllergare woods, complete with a guided tour around the formal gardens. I’ve been going to the woods for years, first with Rufus before major restoration work had begun, and lately in my quest for a photograph of the Kingfishers. I’ve been interested in the history of the site but today was an opportunity to get some specific information about the places I’d walked. As it turned out, I discovered some new places, too.

We set off from the car park, past the cafe and down to the upper lake via the terraces. These are large steps in the hillside leading down from Penllergare House, the home of the Dillwyn Llewelyns, that were lined with ornamental urns. The view down to the upper lake, slowly being cleared of decades of silt and vegetation, were striking. Our guide explained that when they started clearing away the undergrowth, paths steps and stone lining started appearing and it was a process of discovery to see how the gardens had been laid out. Much of the work is restoration rather than creation and the aim is to have the gardens looking very similar to how they would have in the mid 19th Century.

We gathered around the waterfall for a photo shoot and were shown the new bridge, constructed from stone cut and laid by the project’s stone mason. Holes have been left in the stonework for birds to nest in. A short walk along the river bank brought us back to the top of the terraces, and the bridal way that once led from Cadle to Penllergare House.

Dillwyn Llewelyn was a keen photographer right at the start of photography, and he was related to Fox Talbot. This means that there are many contemporary images of the house and gardens which has helped enormously during the restoration work. He was also an astronomer and the remains of his observatory, where the first photograph of the moon was taken, is being restored as part of the Penllergare project.

A lot more information about the Penllergare site and the trust can be found on their official website.

A (much too) brief stop at the cafe for coffee and an excellent, locally made scone ended the morning. I found the tour fascinating and discovered some new places to explore the next time I visit.

I still didn’t see any Kingfishers, though.

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Ilston

This morning, we set off early for Ilston. Rufus has been there once before when his real owner took him. Ilston woods and the little 13th Century church has been a part of my history for around 30 years. I haven’t been to the valley for several years so when I heard Rufus had been, it set an idea in my head ticking away like a little time bomb. With the weather unexpectedly clear this morning, the bomb went off.

I love the village of Ilston. I can remember years ago thinking I’d love to live there and when I parked the care carefully off the road, I still thought the same thing. It was the first country village I really got to know, and it has always been the measure by which I judge other villages. I love the spread in both appearance and spacing of the houses here.

We crossed the bridge and entered the churchyard. St Illtyd’s church dates from the 13th Century but there are records of a church at Ilston from 1119AD. The ‘new’ version may have been built around a monk’s cell. When I was in school, friends and I were making a horror movie around the village. It started off as a proper horror movie but as we realised our limitations, it became a spoof. We shot a lot of footage on super 8mm film, but never completed the film. We had loads of fun doing it, though. Later, when I was in college, I sued to go to the church to photograph it and I always remember printing a black and white photo taken with my (then) new Pentax K1000 and it’s 50mm lens. The print was pin sharp and showed up the detail in the stone work of the tower. I was really pleased with the [performance of the lens and I wish I had that lens now.

Every summer while I was away in London, my mates and I would meet up during the holidays. Gower was a regular venue and Ilston woods featured heavily. They say smell is one of the strongest triggers of memories and as I walked down there today, the smell of wild garlic took me back to the mid 1980s. There were areas that were familiar and places where nature or my failing memory had changed things.

In the mid 90’s I used to hang around with a different set of friends and we used to go wild camping a lot. We spent one memorable night in Ilston woods, near The Gower Inn, and eventually my route today took me through the area. Although I didn’t recognise exactly where we camped, the little bridge that in the night we thought was miles away from our camp site, but which in the morning proved to be a few tens of yards away, was immediately recognisable.

Nearby were the remains of the Old Trinity Well Chapel, the site of the first Baptist Chapel in Wales, founded by John Myles in 1649. Myles (or Miles, it’s not clear what the correct spelling is) was installed by the Parliamentarians as the Cromwellian Minister of Ilston. The previous incumbent ejected him and so Myles founded the Baptist chapel here. When the Baptist practices were ruled illegal in 1663, Myles and his parish left for America, where they founded the town of Swansea in Massachusetts.

At the car park to the Gower Inn, we stopped and I threw stones for Rufus. A flash of blue and orange passed by low over the water and before I could fumble for the camera, the Kingfisher had disappeared back towards Ilston. I contented myself with snapping a yellow wagtail and a robin.  The weather forecast had predicted heavy rain and the sun that lit our path on the way down had disappeared behind a dark cloud so it was time to turn back. We set off and followed the river back towards Ilston.

Now for the first time I noticed just how muddy the path was. It wasn’t possible to go more than a few yards without having to step on, in or through mud and water. It was slippery and made the going harder as I had to be careful not to over balance. I hadn’t noticed on the way down. Rufus made light work of the mud but even he slipped a few times.

We stopped so that Rufus could swim and catch stones and slowly made our way back. There was no rain, and the sun showed itself again a few times. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the Kingfisher again; not surprising as Rufus was crashing ahead for most of the time. Birds sang in the trees and as we made our way through the church yard, a squirrel chanced it’s luck and crossed the path in front of us., The first I knew was a mighty tug on the lead as Rufus made a bid to try and get it, but it scurried up a nearby tree trunk and left us standing, watching.

Back at the car, I let Rufus paddle his paws clean but when I got home, it was obvious from the muddy patch on the towels on the back seat that a shower was required. As I’m typing this, the leg of my jeans is drying from where Rufus was sleeping on it after his shower (it’s a form of revenge – I shower him, he soaks me) and he is finishing off the drying process on the sofa.

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Still in Clyne d too.

In a gap in the cloud in the morning we set off for Clyne woods again. I wasn’t sure when the rain was going to start, so we set off prepared to turn back at any time.

After yesterday’s deluge, the path was even more muddy than I had expected and while I spent time stepping between puddles, ducking under low branches and generally ensuring I didn’t slip off the path into the river, Rufus plodded on completely oblivious to my problems.

Instead of rain, though, the sun broke through the clouds and the leaves and brighten up the little valley. It seemed to stimulate the birds as well as me because their singing increased and I saw a lot more flying around and scouring the ground for grubs and other food. Two blackbirds let Rufus walk right up to them and he was a little surprised and didn’t know what to do. They flew off with Rufus watching but not chasing.

We came across a junction of paths; each one looked as muddy as the next. Next to one of the paths was a cutting into rock and at the end of this was a small cave. The cutting was clearly man made, it seemed as if the cave was too. It didn’t look as if it led anywhere but there was a lot of debris on the floor. Above it, we took a path the led eventually to the fields we were skirting. Not wishing to cut the walk short, we headed back down the the river and followed it around to the tunnel, where we rejoined the cycle path.

On the way back tot he car we were passed by several cyclists, none of whom seemed to have even the simplest bell to warn us that they were coming. With the wind and birds singing, its sometimes hard to hear a bike approaching, and although I had Rufus in the lead because of this, there is still the potential for an accident. Cyclists – get a bell and use it.

We were soon back at the car and still fairly dry. It was time to head home for second breakfast and second coffee.

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If you go down to the woods today…

…in theory, you would find a bunch of like minded souls on hands and knees pointing cameras at bluebells. That’s what I thought as I’d planned to meet up with some friends and colleagues from work to go hunting for photogenic bluebells. But, typical for me, I got the directions wrong and ended up in a completely different car park. With no phone signal to check where everyone was, I waited a few minutes after our rendezvous time and then headed off to where I thought the bluebells would be.

Merthyr Mawr car park is right next to Candleston Castle, a fortified manor house dating back to the 14th Century. It is in ruins now and is the home to ivy and other creepers. Not far from the castle, I came across a large area of bluebells and set about snapping away.

The danger with Bluebells is that they can end up looking pink or purple in a digital image because they reflect so much infra red light. So it pays to bracket exposure to try some slight under exposure. I added a polarising filter too, although this seemed to make little difference. As I was crouched down n the ground, I went to lean on a small branch only to notice a line of ants marching along it. A closer look revealed a veritable motorway system complete with streams of ant traffic moving in both directions. I went to fit a macro lens on the camera and saw that my camera bag was right in the middle of another ant highway. I looked around for a place to safely deposit the bag but everywhere was crawling with ants. I was reminded of every film where ants attack humans and I was waiting for the inevitable biting and tickling that would signal my being carried off to some underground nest.

But instead, I found a clear space for the bag and took some macro shots of ants carrying food back to the nest. I had to use the ring flash as the light levels were too low under the canopy of trees to allow a decent depth of field and shutter speed fast enough to freeze their movement. I was pleased with what I got.

I explored the woods for a while, sheltering from a couple of short but sharp showers under the trees. Then I slowly made my way back to the car, stopping once again to get some close ups of the bluebells, now looking their best in the sunshine.

Shortly after I left the car park, I got a couple of text messages telling me everyone else had arrived there.

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Windswept

I went for a stroll to Singleton Park this morning. Although this weekend had been planned as a break from training, I actually like walking and so I have been out and about. Yesterday was quite a challenging afternoon. Today was the calm after the storm (I’m hoping that will be a new phrase like ‘the calm before the storm’ – remember, you heard it here first).

So off down the road to the park with the intention of photographing masses of brown Autumnal leaves and a few colourful trees. But the recent winds seem to have cleared all the newly fallen leaves, or other photographers have gathered them up for still life shots. I was left with the half rotten, dark brown ones that are slowly turning into mulch. Not photogenic at all.

But the sun was out and there were some colourful trees and I was happy. It was a lovely morning – I love the early part of the day before most people are about. It feels as if it’s special – mine – and only a few get to see it like this.

I was using the infra red camera a lot this morning and that really brought out the trees against the dark sky. I tried taking comparison shots with the normal camera and I’ve posted a pair here out of interest. I took a completely new route away from the main path; it surprises me how big Singleton Park is and I’ve lived near it for years.

I walked as far as the beach. There were several joggers and dog walkers and the tide was on it’s way out. Yesterday, driving along Oystermouth Road, the sand was whipping up off the beach and creating mini sandstorms along the dual carriageway. Today there was barely a breeze.

Back in the park, I started noticing storm damage. One tree had been stripped of it’s branches and stood like a might telegraph pole. It had clearly been done as a safety precaution as the job was too neat. Then I spotted a tree that had snapped off midway up it’s trunk. The sharp spikes pointed skywards. Finally, I found my usual route back blocked by a lot of branches. I skirted around them to find a tree completely uprooted. It was quite sad to see this massive and old tree pushed over as it if had been a sapling. I pass this tree every time I walk through the park and I always marvel at how big and sturdy it looks. Not being an expert in tree things, it looks to me as if it could just be pushed back into place, with a bit of mulching, and left to get on with it. But it is huge and I guess to get a machine that could achieve that would be expensive. I expect it will be chopped up for firewood.

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