#2minutebeachclean

Check out #2minutebeachclean and #2MINUTELITTERPICK on Twitter. The premise is quite simple. Whenever you are out, take two minutes to pick up some litter. The aim is not to scour the area clean (although that would be good) but to pick up a few bits of litter to make a small difference. And let people know about it so that they can consider doing it too.

I first heard of the concept on the BBC Springwatch programme and it seemed quite straight forward. I started taking a small bin liner with me on my walks in Gower with Rufus. I’d wait until we were on our way back and pick up litter. I concentrate on recyclables as these tend to be the things that will last the longest in the landscape. I also make a point of picking up anything that might cause injury, such as broken glass, sharp edged metal and anything that wildlife could get tangled in.

Be sensible. I tend to leave anything that could be contaminated, such as tissues or any container with liquid in it. If I was doing a proper litter pick with all the right kit it would be different, but this is just helping out. Only pick up what you’re comfortable doing. Every little bit you remove makes a difference. We only have one planet, lets help keep it tidy.

Today, Rufus and I went down to Whiteford for a paddle. I made a point of taking a larger bin bag with me as I wanted to pick up a load of litter on the way back. A 30minutebeachclean. On the walk to the beach we were watched carefully by a small robin who was happy for both of us to walk close by and even posed for the camera. On the beach, I let Rufus off the lead and he went off in search of aromatic things to roll in while I snapped away at the Oystercatchers on the water’s edge.

As we walked along, the tide was coming in and the Oystercatchers were getting closer. Rufus is inquisitive and I knew he’s be off to see what they were up to. I pointed the camera at the birds and waited. Sure enough, as soon as he got close, they rose as one and I got some fine photos of Oystercatchers on the wing. We left them alone and headed inland to a point where the tide was closest to the dunes. Here I threw stones and sticks for Rufus to chase into the sea, not that he needed an excuse to paddle. I love watching him bounce around and splash in the water and although he’s not as quick as he used to be, he makes up for it by enthusiastically barking to encourage me to throw more sticks.

It was time to turn around and now was when I got my bin bag out and started to pick up other people’s litter. Very quickly, it was clear that I couldn’t manage to collect everything so I decided to prioritise plastic and my personal objects of hatred – plastic fishing line and net. Soon I had a bag full, including two beer bottles and a broken plastic spade. Unfortunately, the sharp edged plastic tore the bag and before I knew it, the bin bag had shredded. I had a dilemma. I was about 30 minutes from the car and there was no way I could carry all the rubbish back with me.

I don’t claim to be practically clever but I today had a moment of insight. Most of the rubbish was plastic fishing line and with a little re-arranging and with the aid of two of Rufus’ poo bags, I managed to truss up most of the rubbish into a package I could carry. Unfortunately, I had to leave the two beer bottles but they weren’t broken so it wasn’t a disaster. For the next half hour, I carefully carried the bundle of rubbish through the dunes and along the tree lined pathway to the car park, where there was a convenient bin to deposit it all in.

Neither of us were ready to go home so we took a little detour to Broadpool on the way back. I think the heron has taken a dislike to my blue car. When I used to park the red one next to the pool, it would hang about but as soon as it sees the blue one it’s off. We don’t chase the heron as it’s nervous enough. Instead, I watched swallows diving for insects, the Canada Geese taking a nap and the turtles still basking in the sun. I tried to get photos of the dragonflies but they were too quick for the camera to focus on.

Back home, a shower was on the cards for the one of us that was covered in salt and sand.

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High Tide

The tide on Whiteford beach is scary. One minute the water is so far away that I can barely make out the breakers, and the next they spray is covering my glasses with a thin coat of salt. I’ve watched it race towards the shore in a continuous roll, I’ve felt it snap at my heels as I’ve retreated from it and I’ve walked out to the lighthouse when it’s been at its lowest. The prospect of a higher than usual (I’d read it would be the highest for 18 years, which is a lunar cycle) Spring tide this morning eased the decision on where to take Rufus for his weekend walk.

We left the house in the dark and reached the car park near Cwm Ivy before the sun had come up. By the time we’d walked through the woods and onto the beach, a beautiful morning was shaping up. The sea was choppy and the tide was fully in. It was the highest I’ve ever seen there, with the waves undercutting of the dunes in places. We walked along a narrow strip of sand between dune and sea until the waves barred the way, when we climbed up onto the tops of the dunes and made our way across the headland to the opposite side.

Out of the wind it was warm as the sun rose, not like a February morning at all. Walking in sand is tiring but great exercise and we had plenty of that as we made our way to the tip of the headland. Once out of the shelter, the wind picked up again and it was time to don gloves and hat and do up the coat. Rufus, with his permanent fur coat was happy to have a cooling breeze again.

We’d spent less than an hour in the dunes but already the tide had receded significantly. The lighthouse was still surrounded by the sea and on its metal skeleton, cormorants perched, warming in the sun. On the beach, lapwings and sandpipers scurried to and fro with the incoming and outgoing waves. As we walked back along the beach, a huge flock of sandpipers flew low over the sea. There must have been more than 100 of them flying parallel to the shore.

There was a lot of rubbish on the high water mark; most of it seemed to be plastic and I wished I’d brought a bag to put it in. I grabbed a tangle of plastic fishing line, which I brought home to dispose of. I’ve seen first hand what that can do and it’s not pleasant. One of the items washed up was an old football. It seemed to be a decent one, with stitched panels, and there was no sign of damage. It was just a little deflated (well, you would be too if you’d been abandoned on the beach). I kicked it, Rufus chased it and there followed a new form of football; one in which use of the mouth was allowed. I tried explaining to Rufus the rules of the game, but he just ran off and dared me to get the ball off him. He carried the ball for quite a while – unusual for him – and only dropped it when lured by the tempting aroma of some long dead aquatic creature. So I brought it home and it’s now in the back garden.

By now, the tide had all but disappeared and where earlier we were hugging the sand dunes, now we were able to range across the sand. But somehow, we’d done more than 5 miles, so it was time to head back to the car. Wet paws collected much sand as we crossed the dunes again and soon we were on the long uphill drag to the car park. A deep puddle solved the sandy paws issue and we were both grateful to reach the car.

Snoring occurred in the car on the way home, but I would not betray our friendship by saying from whom the snoring came.

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Return of the sheep

A crisp and clear morning, the last day of the festive holiday and a hound that knows what he wants. All these meant only one thing; a morning on the hills.

This time last year (expect more of that phrase in the coming weeks) I was into the last phase of training for my trek. One of my favourite routes was up and over Moel Feity before dropping down to the source of the River Tawe. From there, I would climb back up to Llyn y Fan Fawr and on to Fan Brecheiniog. This morning I decided to take the same route, although we would stop short of Fan Brecheiniog itself.

We set off from the car and immediately, my boots were soaked. Yesterday’s rain was still lying on the ground in great puddles, small streams and marsh. We splashed our way around and up the side of Moel Feity, spiralling along sheep paths in the cold wind until we reached the flat top. The wind blew even stronger and colder but it was great to be on a familiar hilltop again.

We crossed westward to the memorial to the crashed US Navy Liberator and spent a few moments tidying up before heading on towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. The top of Moel Feity has a number of tracks, some made by quad bikes, some made by sheep. But we decided to make out own to avoid the worst of the water. But it was an impossible task, so eventually I just accepted that I’d get wet. Rufus loves the water anyway and it never bothers him. He criss crossed my path, checking out the scents and aromas.

We dropped off the hill and down to the young River Tawe, which was flowing healthily this morning. Then it was another climb up to the lake through even more boggy ground until we crested a small mound to find the clear blue water ahead. Rufus was off like a shot and headed straight to the spot we used to stop and rest at during the training last year. The lake was full after the rain and it was only just possible to sit on the rocks.

Little waves covered the surface of the water and as eddy’s of wind spun off the steep side of Fan Brecheiniog, they created moving patterns on the surface of the water. The sun shone on the lake and high above us I could hear the echo of two walkers shouting to each other as they traversed the ridge to Fan Foel.

We spent a short time taking in the view and enjoying the solitude before reluctantly leaving for the dry comfort of the car.

The route down was easier, but wetter, if that was possible. Every tuft of grass seemed to conceal a small pool. As we passed through patches of reeds, I could only tell where Rufus was by the splash of this paws in the water. We crossed the Tawe a little further down the hill and although it was only 18 inches or so wide, it was deep and flowing fast even here. On the opposite bank there were several paths visible in the distance on the side of Moel Fiety. I knew from experience that each contoured around the hill at different heights. But which one to take?

Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter as they all led to the general vicinity of the car. Of course, I picked the only one that faded out after a hundred yards and turned into a marsh. The last mile was splashed and squelched, although Rufus seemed to avoid the worst of it.

We popped over a small ridge to find several wild horses sheltering from the wind. Both Rufus, I and the horses were surprised and for a few moments  we stood and stared at each other. The horses remained calm, Rufus came back to me to see what I wanted him to do and we walked past them with little disturbance.

With the car in sight, we came across a small flock of sheep. Their winter coats made them look much larger than normal and they all looked up as one to see what we were. I put Rufus on the lead and we slowly walked past. When I turned to look at them again, they were all following us. It was an odd thing to see as sheep usually head in the opposite direction to us. But for about a minute, they were content to tag along, almost within touching distance. At any moment, I expected a lunge from them as they sought to steal Rufus’ treats.

But we managed to escape their evil clutches, and got to the car in one piece.

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Happy New Year

Happy new year everyone, I hope 2015 year brings you all the things you wish for and for some of you, the things you deserve!

2015 is a science fiction year. When I was a kid, I read any science fiction story I could lay my hands on and a lot of them talked about the 21st Century (Gerry Anderson’s company, the one that brought us the original and best Thunderbirds, was called 21st Century TV). We have now passed George Orwell’s 1984, we are about half way through Wells’ “Shape of Things to Come” and we’ve passed two of the Arthur C Clarke Space Odyssey novels. We have devices that fit in the hand and connect us with all the knowledge of the world (although you still have to know how to access it). The only thing we haven’t got right yet is the interface to that device.

Of course, we also have people who claim to be experts in making the most of this device and its ability to communicate with the world. The world has filled up with experts, gurus, leaders in their field, and there are so many fields. There are so many of them that 2015 is likely to become the year of the expert expert and the guru guru. Who knows where we’ll be by 2016, but a speaker at a recent conference I attended said that the people who claim to be experts are undermining the professions to which they associate themselves because no one can know everything in enough detail to make that claim.

This time last year I was talking about exercise and I was in the last few days of training for my climb of Kilimanjaro. On 26 January, I made it to the top of Kibo – 5895m – and what a fantastic experience that was. But since then I’ve let the training go a little and although I now have a Rufus to keep me active, it’s not quite the same. And since, for he second year running, I have not given up chocolate, I suspect there is more of me than this time last year, particularly around my middle.

My photography stats

I ‘only’ took 12720 photographs in 2014. That’s almost 4000 down on the year before. I suspect (I hope) it’s because I’ve been a little more discerning and taken my time over each picture rather than machine gunning the views. That said, I took 1775 images on the Kilimanjaro trip alone. But almost a third of those were RAW copies so they don’t count!

Apparently, the photos in my catalogue for this year have been taken on 22 different kinds of camera, although some of those will be other people’s and some are HDR or panoramic images processed on the PC and designated as some unknown camera. Once again, 30% of the images have been taken with one camera – a Nikon D7100 – and 67% of those were taken with the excellent Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Understandably, given the trek, January was my most productive month with 2236 photos taken. I must have taken it easy while recovering in February when I took only 321 images. Looking at them, it was a month of bad weather so I guess I have an excuse. Most of the photos  from February were of huge waves crashing in at Bracelet Bay.

I took 399 macro shots, mostly with a Tamron 90mm macro lens. I think most of those pictures were of spiders in the garden!

All the best for the next 365 days!

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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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Stormy Weather

I made a quick visit to Mumbles this evening, it being dry (I haven’t been out of the house much recently) and windy. I hoped to get some photos of the high seas at high tide and I wasn’t disappointed. The wind was blowing roughly form the south and as I drove along Swansea Bay, the waves looked tame. But they were sheltered by Mumbles Head, and as I got to the car park at Bracelet Bay, the car was buffeted and the windscreen covered in spray and foam.

I battled the wind to get to the beach and was rewarded by some of the biggest waves I’ve seen there in a long time. I stayed for about 30 minutes until high tide had passed, then struggled into the wind and back to the car. There were plenty of people lined up on the sea front, mobile phones raised. There were a lot of flashes as people wasted battery power trying to light up the breakers.

Nature is powerful when aroused. The thing that struck me once again was the way I could feel the impact of the waves through the ground, even standing 40m away from the beach.

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The wind is in the door

My great aunt, who ran a little sweet shop in a small Gower village until the (and her) early 80s, used to say ‘the wind is in the door’ in her peculiar Gower accent if there was a storm blowing. I think she would have been able to use that phrase today,

We weathered the previous storm (weathered – did you see what I did there?) partly because we had several days warning. This one sneaked in, hidden in the shadow of the big one and hit my part of South Wales harder. Following a tip from a fellow photographer, I headed off to Rest Bay to see what there was to see with the sea (I’m on wordsmithing form today – there’ll be rhymes sometime soon).

I wasn’t disappointed. I could see the rough breakers and the foam filling the air from the car park. I battled to force open the car door and struggled to make my way down to the beach against the wind, blowing directly in from the sea. It wasn’t cold, but the spray acted like rain and stung my face as it blew across the sand. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were grains of sand mixed up in it.

I walked along the coastline, heading east towards Porthcawl. The tide was coming in and although I was side on to the wind, I found it hard to make headway in the lengthy gusts. Porthcawl came into view and I could see massive waves striking the pier and crashing over the lighthouse at the end of it. I found a small pavilion to shelter behind and took a few minutes to watch and listen to the sea. There was a low, constant rumble and a higher pitched sound as the water crashed onto the rocks and pebbles. The wind added to the noise, whistling around corners and rattling anything that was not completely fixed down.

I left the shelter and was buffeted as I walked along the promenade, occasionally brought to a complete standstill by a particularly strong gust. Ahead, people lent against the wind. Coastguards stood watch on the pier as two people had tried to get on it earlier. I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that, given the ferocity of the wind and the sheer power of the waves. I took photos but I made a point of stepping back to watch and experience this powerful sea. All around, people were being blown about. As I left the pier the wind was at my back and I struggled not to go running into the middle of the road.

Huge waves were rolling in to the beach by the amusement park and bobbing about in the white water were a number of surfers braving the stormy seas. The sea was different here, though. With no rocks or walls to crash against, the waves rolled powerfully in to the beach. I didn’t see anyone manage to ride a wave while I was watching.

I turned to head back to the car and once again found myself leaning in to the wind as it tried, quite effectively, to prevent me from moving. The wind direction seemed to have change a little so that rather than coming in at 90 degrees to the path, it was now blowing slightly towards me. This meant that I was struggling to make any headway as the gusts were long and strong. Slowly I made my way up and back to the pavilion, where I took a few minutes to take some photos of the bay and the waves out to sea. Then it was off again into the wind.

I crossed the road, carefully as it meant letting the wind push me a bit, and walked as far from the beach as I could to avoid the foam. Nevertheless, I quickly became covered in it, so that I looked as if I’d been spat on by large people. Several times I was brought to a complete stop by a gust of wind, and I found the going quite hard. Great for my training, but not so good for getting back to the car before the next rain shower.

But eventually, the car park came in to view and after being blown away from the beach with no effort on my part, I finally reached the sanctuary of the car. It rocked and shook but it was dry and cosy.

I heard later that there were gusts of 89mph.

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Stormy Weather

Feeling a bit under the weather today (see, the weather theme already and only one sentence in to the blog). So I was glad of the extra hour in bed this morning. I was up in time to see the motor racing, but that was a bit tame and when a friend called to say the sea was pretty spectacular, I decided that fresh air was what was needed. It only took 20 minutes to drive down to Mumbles. It nearly took longer to get out of the car, as the wind was blowing in such a way that I couldn’t let go of the door handle for fear of the door blowing off completely.

But once I’d managed to get out and remain upright despite the gusts, the sight was indeed spectacular. On both sides of the headland the waves were queuing up to crash and dash against the rocks. Seagulls rode the gusts, wheeling and diving and probably not completely in control of their movements. Spray blew up from the frothy waves and in no time my glasses were coated with a thin film of salt. People dashed from cars, raised camera phones up and quickly snapped a couple of frames before retreating to the warm car interior.

I made my way to the shelter of a rocky outcrop and crouched down to take some photos. Then I made my way around to Bracelet Bay, where I spent about an hour watching and snapping the waves. A ship, the local dredger, was slowly making it’s way out into the bay and the waves were smashing up against it’s bow. The ship rocked back and forth on the rough, grey sea. Only once have I been on seas as rough as this and it wasn’t pleasant.

Finally, I watched as another photographer ventured close to the waves to get some pictures, before scampering back as the next wave broke. I’ve done it myself and it’s great fun. Back at the car, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realised why I should have worn a hat. My hair was windblown and with the salt in the air, it had set fast. In the photo, you can see the driver of the car next to me wondering what was going on.

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I must go down to the sea again…

I have a confession to make. I spent the morning looking for bathroom tiles. I’m sorry. I should have been out climbing mountains, racing cars or saving kittens. I don’t know what came over me. Promise you won’t think any less of me? Please?

But this afternoon, despite the driving rain and storms lashing … er, well some light drizzle, I headed back down to Mumbles to get some more photos of the beach and waves. I had nothing in mind, and in fact I was feeling decidedly uninspired as I walked up to Bracelet Bay. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather so I guess it was that. But as soon as I’d made my way down to the beach, I started to see picture opportunities and the camera therapy kicked in. I spent an enjoyable hour snapping away at anything that interested me. 

I’ve said before that photography is a means by which I find relaxation and it’s one of the ways I de-stress (not distress, which would be wrong).  Today was a classic example of how it can take over and lift my spirits. Not that I was particularly down. I just need a bit of a lift. Maybe it was because I couldn’t find the tiles I wanted… er… I mean couldn’t do the football-drinking-man things I wanted to do.

I was particularly fascinated by the waves breaking on the shore. I was using my ultra wide angle lens (10mm at the wide end) and getting the camera down close to the water. So close, in fact, that there were splashes of foam on the lens that I had to keep cleaning off. I managed to avoid getting it (and myself) soaked, though. You can see from the photos below that there was a lot of ‘oh, that looks good, I’ll snap that’ randomness going on. Sometimes that’s how it goes.

I have another confession to make. I’ll probably be out looking for tiles again tomorrow. Be kind in your judgement. 

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On the waterfront

Confused by the change to British Summer Time, Rufus dozed until 7am (which is 6am in GMT), a full 30 minutes longer than normal. I relished the extra minutes in bed. Coffee and scones (and a breakfast of chicken and vegetables followed by three small pieces of scone for Rufus) fortified us for the morning and off we went. We made a short diversion to Broadpool and then parked up at Cwm Ivy. It’s a short walk down to the beach and once there, we had the sweep of the bay to ourselves. Lapwings made their almost electronic whistles as we walked past, lifting and swooping to distract us from their nesting ground.

The sun was shining and the tide was in. The waves were lapping and every now and then a larger wave would push the water further up the beach. There are a few shelves on this beach and once the water rises above each one, it rushes in quite quickly up to the next. As we got on to the beach, the water rose above the final shelf and rolled in quickly, leaving little space between the water and the dunes.  We walked on pebbles for a while and had to creep in close to the dunes several times.

As we neared the point, the waves started getting much larger and crashing loudly onto the shore. At the point, the water boiled and raced this way and that. The easterly wind was blowing spray from the tops of the waves as they broke. In the distance, Whiteford lighthouse was surrounded by rough sea.

The guy we met at the point was wrapped up against the winter winds, and he was complaining about the bitter cold but when we rounded the tip of the dunes, it wasn’t that bad. The sun took the edge off the cold. We sat on top of the highest dune around and had a rest. Rufus had a chew and water and went off in search of new scents. I sat and enjoyed the morning, and rested my knee which was beginning to ache again. I watched a crowd of little wader bird as they scavenged along the waters edge. They chased the water as it went out and scurried out when the next wave came in. All the time, they were moving along the beach. It was quite comical to see them move back and forth with the waves.

We made our way back through the dunes. Almost immediately, we were sheltered from the wind and the dunes held the heat from the sun. It was lovely and warm as we walked back. We met horses, Rufus chased a rabbit until it hid in a bramble bush and I had to drag him away. It was soon forgotten and we carried on up and over and around and between the dunes. Then we were back at the little valley that leads up to the car park. Slowly, we plodded the last half mile and finally sank into the seats, tired but happy.

Today we walked about 8.5km in 2.5 hours.

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