First snow

Up at the crack of dawn this morning – which wasn’t hard as at the moment the sun rises around 8.20. But we were up before that and after a swift breakfast and a glance out of the window to see that all was well with the weather, we were off. With bad weather, I prefer to stay local so we don’t waste time travelling when we should be taking advantage of the dry conditions. Today, though, we headed north as the [prevailing weather was coming from the south. With the suggestion of heavy showers and possibility of thunder, we made our way towards Foel Fawr and Garreg Lwyd. No mountain today, but the hills surrounding the quarry would be ideal for some black and white photography I had in mind.

By the time we’d passed puffing cyclists on the long and winding hill climb of a road, I could see a light dusting of snow at our destination and the temperature gauge in the car was dropping towards the zero centigrade mark. Slush covered the road and for a few minutes I missed my Freelander. By the time we got to the car park, the sleet had started and we spent 10 minutes sitting out the snow shower, watching the black clouds roll over and blot out the last of the blue sky. But there were no rumbles of thunder and as the shower passed, we set off towards the quarry workings.

The ground was white underfoot and the snow thick enough to start to collect in Rufus’ paws. It balls on his pads if I’m not careful but I kept an eye on him and he was having no trouble as he sped off. I was taking my time and taking some photos and he was already bored. I wished I’d brought my walking gear rather than just the camera bag as the morning was turning into a lovely one despite the clouds around. But instead, I decided to use this as a reconnaissance trip for more photography, as there were several waterfalls and outcrops of rock that would make for good subjects in early morning light.

At one point, Rufus got so fed up with waiting for me that he sat between me and the waterfall I was taking pictures of and refused to move until he’d had a treat. So I packed the camera away and we walked on for a bit until the snow started again. It was light at first but got heavier and when I looked up, the tops of the hills had disappeared beneath a low cloud go snow. Not prepared for really bad weather, it was time to turn back. We squelched and squished our way back over bog and little streams until we reached the little car park and the shelter of the car.

I’ve always liked this location but I find it hard to make anything of it photographically. It really does benefit from unusual weather conditions; we’ve been here a number of times when there has been thick snow on the ground, and the lighting conditions make a huge difference. I’m looking forward to getting back there again.

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Two trig points

As my leave drew to a close, I wanted to get one hill bagging walk in and today, according to the weather forecast, would be the best day. Not too hot, clear, and a Friday, which would mean fewer people out. I like that. Unfortunately, my walking buddy wouldn’t be with me as he’s still recovering from his knee injury so I decided to go for a route that would be impractical for him anyway. Stiles and fences are always a problem for Rufus as his enthusiasm to clear them leads to jumps and falls and swear words from me. This route has two and in the past I’ve had to lift him over both. I wouldn’t take him on this route again, so it seemed an ideal choice.

I sat in the car for a few minutes to let the rain clear. I hate starting off in the rain although once I’m walking I’m not too bothered by it. The route I’d chosen this time started off by climbing Fan Bwlch Chwyth, which we’d completed twice before (see here). Its a short but steep slog but the views north are spectacular and today there was the ‘whump’ of distant artillery firing on the Sennybridge ranges. From the trig point at the top, Fan Gyhirych dominates the southern skyline. The path is obvious and also obvious today was how wet it was. The drainage isn’t good here, which has saved this land from becoming enclosed farmland but made this part of the walk a soggy, muddy ordeal.

The sun was quite hot but it kept disappearing behind clouds and when it did so, a cool breeze blew. Before long I was at the far end of a ruined drystone wall looking down on the forestry track that formed the next leg of the stroll. I hadn’t really considered the distance involved today but when I checked I had already done 2.5 miles. I felt good, surprising since I hadn’t done any serious walking for several weeks, and none with a full back pack for several months.

This is sheep country and the stiles I knew lay ahead were around a whole complex of fences, gates and pens used to gather and contain the sheep during shearing season. When I got to the pens I saw that there was only one stile now but it was a difficult one, with slippery steps and deep mud either side. I managed to avoid falling in the mud (as if I’d tell you any different!) and headed off along the track towards the mountain.

Fan Gyhirych was one of my training mountains for the Base Camp treks so although I’d approached it from a new angle, it was very familiar to me. I was now heading along the curved ridge line that makes it such a distinctive sight from the road. In the winter this north face keeps the snow long after it has melted elsewhere. By the time I got to the second trig point, I had done just over 4 miles and I was beginning to feel the ache in my feet. A few yards north is a cairn of stones and here I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the views of the Crai reservoir and Fan Brecheiniog to the west.

Then, with some grey clouds threatening to soak me, I set off back along the ridge and down to the track. Quickly it was obvious that the clouds weren’t going to bother me and they cleared off leaving the late morning warm and pleasant. I had decided to follow the track all the way back to the road to avoid the worst of the marsh and mud. As I dropped down to the track, I stopped to chat with a fellow walker. His little dog was on a lead made of a belt. “I forgot his lead” said the walker, and we exchanged route information.

The track made the going quicker and I completed the four miles back to the car quite quickly. Passing a large plantation of conifers, I heard the  cry of a buzzard as it wheeled lazily overhead. It was later joined by a second and they used a current of warm air to gain height over the trees. The last few hundred metres were the hardest as although it wasn’t a steep incline, it was uphill and the tarmac was unforgiving on my feet. It was bliss to finally sit down in the car.

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It’s all relative, really.

In between the showers today, we managed to get out to Broadpool for an hour’s walk but the whole time we were there, I was watching the dark clouds massing over Cefn Bryn, waiting to drench us. No sooner had we got back to the car than the heavens opened again; we were fortunate to miss getting soaked.

The rain continued steadily for the next few hours but a few minutes ago, I noticed the sun shining through the curtains and sure enough, there was blue sky above and the sun was quite warm. So out into the garden we went, eager to take advantage of any break in the rain. Rufus explored the garden, checking for intruders, and I grabbed my camera and went in search of things in the tiny world.

Bored with photography, Rufus left me to it and headed back to the sofa. I found two spiders remaking their webs, and started snapping away. It got me thinking though. My thoughts when I saw the rain this morning were around avoiding the inconvenience and discomfort of getting wet. The big garden spider I watched remaking it’s web was more concerned about getting it’s source of food set up again after it had been destroyed by the wind and rain.

The last photo I took was just after the spider got fed up of me snapping away and retreated under a leaf. I decided to leave it alone after that, to give it a chance to complete it’s housework before the next shower.

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Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 9: Frustration on the mountain

The plan for today was to climb up onto Fan Hir and walk along the ridge above the Cerrig Duon valley. As I’ve mentioned before, I love ridge walks as they give you a sense of space and freedom. Both Rufus and I were rested after Tuesday’s trek, so we were ready to go. The weather forecast said rain coming in around midday but we had a few hours before we were due to get wet.

We parked up and set off, walking under the trees along the river. I keep expecting to see kingfishers along this stretch of the Tawe, but I guess the combination of me and Rufus put paid tot hat. Instead, we threaded our way between two fields full of sheep, with drystone walls either side, and up onto the hillside. The first part of this route is very steep. The height gain is fast but over relatively quickly and that’s why I like this. You climb about 300m in around 30 minutes and then the slope slackens and the rest of the walk can be enjoyed at leisure. I used this route a lot during my training for the trek and much prefer this route to Fan Brechieniog.

We trudged up, taking a lot more than 30 minutes to get the ascent out of the way. All around, the hilltops normally visible each had caps of low cloud on them. Suddenly, we popped over the last steep bit and ahead lay the path up on to Fan Hir. But Fan Hir was under more low cloud and as we walked further, so I felt the first faint sensations of drizzle on my face. Over to the west, the clouds were coming in quite quickly. We marched on but it was clear that we were going to get wet very soon. So reluctantly, I decided to turn around. It was frustrating as we’d done the hard bit and I was looking forward to the reward.

As I gave Rufus some water and a snack, I heard a faint rumbling, not of thunder thank goodness, but a number of wild horses galloping along the track. As I watched, two started fighting while the others looked on as if fascinated. Sheep also looked up to watch the spectacle. We set off back down the track, negotiating the steep slope which was now becoming slippery with the rain. Under the tress we had some shelter, and I let Rufus have a paddle while I took some photos. We were watched by a sheep dog in the field next tot eh river. We’ve come across him before and he is very friendly. As Rufus and the sheepdog exchanged sniffs, I checked to see if the farmer was watching and then gave our new fried one of Rufus’ snacks. The sheepdog took it away, placed it on the ground and then started to roll around next to it.

Back home, Rufus had a quick shower to remove the smell of a dead sheep he’d found, and then dried himself off on my lap. Having completed the hard part of the walk, we were both tired and we both dozed on the sofa.

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Heavy rain with a chance of getting soaked

The weather forecast said rain and that’s my excuse for having a lie- in. I say lie-in, of course I was up at 5.30am at the request of the boss for a quick sprint out into the drizzle before we both went back for another hour or so of kip.

The plan for today was to get some shopping done and then some chores around the house while the weather was bad. But as is the way with Welsh climate, when I got up for breakfast, the sun was shining. Breakfast and shopping over, there was no sign of rain so we had a brief discussion and Rufus decided we’d better head off to the hills to take advantage of the sun. Of course, as we left the house, it started to rain again but it’s only water so we hopped in the car and set off.

We went back to the river. We were there on Wednesday evening and as we wandered along the river bank, we were buzzed by an RAF Typhoon. This afternoon, there was no activity as we walked along the riverbank up towards Fan Brecheiniog. I had no firm plans for where to go and I thought we’d just wander and see where our noses took us.

Rufus’ nose took him into a deep pool and at first he was happy swimming about. But there was a strong current under the surface and I could see he was being swept off course. There was no real risk of him being swept away as the water left the pool in quite a narrow and shallow waterfall. But he wasn’t happy so I called him over to the bank. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it to the shallow bit as the current was strong, so he tried to climb a steep part of the bank. Between us, we managed to get him out of the water; I dragged him up and on to me and he kicked out with his back legs. I was drenched! Rufus was happy.

We carried on and with the sun shining and a breeze keeping the temperature comfortable, we headed up the hill towards Llyn y Fan Fawr. After the last day’s rain, the going was extremely soggy but we finally made it to the shore. We haven’t been there for a while and it was nice to see it in the sunlight. We walked around the shore and while I threw stones for Rufus to chase and catch, he splashed about in the shallow water. The level of the lake was much lower than usual even with the heavy rain we had yesterday; I don’t think I’ve seen it that low.

By the time we’d made a complete circuit of the lake, the cloud was heading back over the mountain. As we set off to the car, the rain started; light at first but getting heavier as we went. The only good thing was that I had my back tot he direction of the wind, which was gusting quite strongly. I was resigned to getting a soaking. Rufus was already wet from his dips in the river and the lake so he’d didn’t see the problem. About half way down the hill, the rain stopped and the sun came out again.

Back home, we both sat back on the sofa and there was much snoring!

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Run to the Hills

After some shorter walks of late, it was time for Rufus and I to head off to the hills. Neither of us had done much recently; I’ve been choosing woods and commons for our strolls so I can get some photos of the local wildlife, so the bigger hills were out. Instead, I decided to head off the Lly y Fan Fawr, a favourite of Rufus’ and sufficiently challenging to make a nice return to proper walking. As Rufus is getting on a little (don’t tell him I said so), I keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not overdoing things but he’s always been an active and fit hound, and he enjoys the outdoors.

I was disheartened to find sheep everywhere when we parked up. Rufus isn’t interested n sheep unless they run. Sheep are only interested in running when they see us. As a result, I always have Rufus on the lead when we’re near enough that he might chase them. For the first half hour, he was on and off the lead as we encountered sheep hiding in dips, skulking by the river and popping up from behind boulders. But in between, we were able to get some quality stone catching and dredging done. I am clearly improving in my stone throwing skills as Rufus didn’t have to bark once.

As we followed the river up the hill, the sheep disappeared and I was able to let Rufus roam. This is where I wanted to check to see if he was okay and not getting tired. I needn’t have worried. While he isn’t as fast as he used to be, he still has the energy to range across the hillside, occasionally stopping to make sure I’m ok. In fact, I found myself running out of puff and Rufus was coming back to urge me on.

On the way up, I saw a pair of bright purple flowers on their own and standing out against the green of the moorland. Not being a flower expert, I couldn’t identify them but they looked vaguely orchid-like to me. I snapped away until Rufus came to hurry me along.

It was boggy underfoot. No surprise there after our recent rainfall, so I was very quickly soaked. Rufus isn’t bothered by the water so I decided not to be either. After several close shaves, where I nearly disappeared into the bog (well, maybe not quite) the lake appeared ahead and Rufus was off. Fan Brecheiniog was capped by a blanket of cloud, as was the far end of the lake.

We didn’t stay long as a cool breeze was blowing, and without the sun to warm us up it was getting a little cold. Rufus shot off and I let him choose the path going back down. We meandered down the hill, always heading towards the river. Such are Rufus’ priorities. I got even more soaked than I was already but we quickly reached the upper streams that feed into the Tawe. Then we followed the water down, past sheep and waterfalls, towards the car.

On the way back, I spotted an odd looking flower and leaf on the rocks by a waterfall. The leaves looked like little troughs with curled edges and the flower was tiny, blue and four petalled.  I took a few photos and once again, Rufus came along to see what the delay was.

After some more stone catching, I had to put Rufus on the lead to pass another small flock of sheep. These all had pink heads (no drugs, just dye to identify the owners) and it reminded me of a walk here a few years ago where I came across lines of sheep with pink, green or blue dye. They all stayed together in their respective colours, but moved in one long line, following a path across the hill.

Above us, a red kit circled and swooped, probably watching the lambs. In the distance across the road, I could see three more. We reached the car without incident, having walked three miles in just under two hours.

Back home, I managed to identify the two flowers. The purple one was an Irish Marsh Orchid and the little purple one was a Common Butterwort. The Butterwort is carnivorous and traps insects in the curled leaves with a stick coating.

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Out Out

I only popped out for milk, but somehow I found myself on the seafront near Swansea Marina watching the waves as the tide reached it’s highest point this morning. There wasn’t much of a wind and I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular but right on the promenade I could see and hear the waves pounding the sea wall. Sure enough, there were plumes of spray bursting high into the air.

I stood and watched for a while before getting the camera out. Not only did I want to make sure I experienced this properly but I also wanted to see what the waves were doing, so I wouldn’t be surprised by a big one and get soaked. Although there wasn’t a pattern I could find, I did notice that waves coming in at a certain angle created the massive spray plumes. I kept an eye out for those waves and waited.

There were others on the promenade walking dogs, jogging, riding bikes and just watching and snapping away, like me. One of the photos I had in mind was of some of those people getting soaked. However, I didn’t want to be a similar subject of someone else’s picture. Between photos, I kept a careful eye on the waves and what they were doing. High tide was around 9am and I didn’t notice any change one the tide was technically going out. In fact, the waves seemed to get stronger as I walked along the promenade towards the docks. I didn’t go far, finding a great vantage point that offered me some protection and a nice view back towards the Guildhall. Looking at the times on the photos, I see I was only there half an hour but it felt like a lot longer.

I headed off to get my milk but once again something went wrong and I found myself in Mumbles. Although the shelter of Bracelet Bay didn’t give rise to many waves, further along seemed to offer more opportunities and I took a stroll along the coastal path to Langland. Along the way I could hear and feel rather than see the waves hitting the cliffs. There was a deep boom at every impact, followed by a much higher pitched hiss as the water receded. At Langland Bay, large pebbles – fist sized of more – had been thrown on to the path and the forecourts of the cafe. As I watched, I saw similar sized pebbles being pushed up the slipway, grating and rattling as they went and occasionally hitting the metal handrail, causing it to ring.

The rain forecast for later this morning started a little early so I turned around and made for the car. It was amazing to hear and feel the thump of waves against rock as I hurried back to avoid the inevitable downpour.

I did manage to pick up milk, too.

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The fun starts here

A week off! Rufus is staying over and the intention for this week is to check my fitness before signing up for another go at Kilimanjaro. So that means a series of walks building up in distance and effort to test my knee.  During the week I hope to build up to a nice long walk up on to Fan Brecheiniog by Friday. The test will be the state of my knee after the week is up.  If it’s okay – I’ll be booking on to a trip taking place in January. If not – well, I don;t really want to think like that at the moment.

I picked Rufus up last night and we went straight out onto the hills above the River Tawe. It wasn’t too much of a hike but it was nice to get out in the fading sun. We ended up walking about 2 miles at a leisurely pace.

This morning, after a late breakfast, we drove over to Ystradfellte and the many waterfalls along the rivers there. I love the area and it’s been a part of my training for all the treks I’ve been on. Rufus loves the opportunity to get into water almost everywhere. I love the photo opportunities that the waterfalls give. Every time I’ve been here they are different. It’s always a challenge, not only to get tot eh waterfalls but also to try and find a new angle or approach. Today was no different.

The drizzle that started as we left the house turned into steady rain on the dual carriage way but it cleared to leave dreary grey skies as we parked at the start of the path to Scwd Clun Gwyn. We passed tow park rangers fixing a gate as we made our way tot he river and while I set the camera up for the first of many photos, Rufus explored the river bank. He didn’t start his normal habit of barking to get me to throw stones. I think because there were no stones to throw and he knew it.

We moved off to cross a bridge but the way was blocked by a kind of style. Rufus couldn’t squeeze under it (regardless of how hard he tried) so I lifted him over. He’s around 22kg in weight – heavier than a normal Cocker Spaniel because he is generally bigger than the average. Once over, he scampered across the bridge while I hauled myself after him. We walked up and along side the river, climbing the valley side to finally look down on Scwd Clun Gwyn from the opposite bank. Even this far away, I could hear and feel the power of the falls.

By now it had started raining again and so we sought shelter. A large tree provided this and we waited for around 15 minutes while the heavy shower passed over. In the end, bored by standing around, we set off anyway, resigned to getting soaked. But the rain stopped almost as soon as we left the shelter and by the time we’d squeezed along the narrow path high above the river, the rain had stopped completely.

Of course, it didn’t stay stopped and as we descended to the river bank again, the heavens opened for a short, sharp shower. Once we were soaked, it didn’t matter and my only concern was for the camera equipment. Eventually, we got to a spot where Rufus could take a proper dip and he spent a while swimming after sticks that I threw for him. I love watching him swim, specially when the water is clear enough to see his legs kicking against the current. The stick of choice was longer than him and he chose the most awkward way to carry it.

Finally, it was time to go home. At the bridge, I helped Rufus over (= picked up him and gently deposited him on the other side) He then turned to wait for the treat he normally gets when crossing a stile himself. I suggested he might want to give me a treat instead. There was no reply, and we made our way slowly back to the car, passing two lots of kids heading to the river dressed in heavy duty wet weather gear. The two park rangers were busy chopping down a tree as we walked past.

As I type this, safe and warm at home, there is a lot of snoring going on from the sofa, where Rufus is flat out on two towels, drying slowly as we both wait for dinner to cook.

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Dave and Rufus’ lads week day 8 – Fairwood and the shower

It’s the last day of our lads week today. I’m off to pick up Rufus’ owner from the airport in a few hours. So for this morning’s walk, we decided just to have a short leisurely stroll around Fairwood Common. We’ve done a lot this week (just under 60km, 1873m of ascent over just under 18 hours of walking) so we deserve a break. Of course, we’ve had lost of breaks in the house too – I’m not a slave driver.

So we wandered around Fairwood Common, taking in the flat, easy walking. I love exploring around the airfield as there is a lot of evidence of the WW2 fighter station which occupied a much bigger area than the airport does today. I would like to get permission to explore inside the fence too. I guess that will have to wait.

There’s also a lot of mud around. I’ve mentioned before that the airfield was built during WW2 on a bog and the land surrounding the airport retains it’s boggyness. There’s been lots of mud everywhere we’ve been over the last week. I’ve probably got two loads of washing to do once I get around to it. And that means Rufus is muddy to. He likes to finish a walk with a paddle whenever he can, so a lot of the mud is washed off. But there’s still enough to make a shower inevitable. And this morning, after our walk, shower time arrived.

Rufus knows about showers. He knows he has to have one and he knows it’s going to happen, But there is still a game to be played. It’s the slow chase game. I explained to him that he was going to have a shower and that he needed to go upstairs.

Rufus in my house

Reluctantly, he did so.

 

Rufus in my house

Then, instead of going in to the bathroom, he went onto his bed.

Rufus in my house

Finally, in the bathroom there was some reluctance to go into the shower.

Rufus in my house

But eventually he did.

Rufus in my house

He was quite dirty.

Dirt in the shower

Once the indignity of being washed is over, Rufus takes on the challenge of drying himself by transferring the water to me and everything else.

Rufus in my house

Then there’s the treat for being a good boy.

Rufus in my house Rufus in my house

Which is devoured in seconds.

Rufus in my house

 

And the game is over.

 

Drip

Rufus has been staying over for the last few days and I’ve been trying to get out with him every day. But the weather has conspired to keep us in. I’ve become quite adept at looking at the sky and spotting the early signs of a break in the rain. The only problem with this is that while it may be dry at my house, the places we like to go tend to attract the rain, and it lingers in the valleys and on the hill tops.

As a consequence, we’ve been drenched on several occasions recently. That’s not so bad, as it’s only water and we can dry off. But the experience isn’t so good and the photography is certainly limited.Yesterday, be got bored and went out before it had stopped raining. We headed up to the river – I thought that if we’re going to get wet we may as well do it in water. I took my DSLR but I also had a waterproof camera with me. Good job, as during the hour or so we wandered the riverbank, it stopped raining only once – for about 15 seconds. So most of the photos below were taken in the rain. I also tried it out in the river, and it didn’t seem to leak.

Once back in the car, the rain stopped and stayed stopped. Typical! So we headed off to Dinas Rock, a place I’d promised myself I’d visit, but which I’d never got round to. The last time I was here (which was the first time I was here) was with the Prince’s Trust, when I was filming a promotional video for them and the DVLA. I ended up spending most of the day in a wetsuit, gorge walking with the group while trying to keep the camera dry. It was a tremendous experience – scary, exciting and satisfying when i delivered the footage to the guys who edited it together.

Although it was dry, it was cold and my coat was dripping wet. So we only spent half an hour in the area, which wasn’t nearly enough. I’ll be back and I expect Rufus will be with me.

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