A walk in the wild wood

I let Rufus off the lead and stopped to listen. At first, other than his gentle snuffling as he explored the scents I could hear nothing. But as my senses adjusted to my surroundings I started to hear the subtle sounds of the woods. Off to my left there was a rustling as blackbirds foraged through the leaves. Above them, in the skeleton branches their smaller cousins called warnings as we made our way further into the trees. In the distance, a dog barked on a farm.

To my right a stream trickled and whispered over stones and fallen branches. In folklore, streams and waterfalls are supposed to be magical places where the fairies gather, and if you listen hard enough you can hear them calling softly. Listen the next time you’re near a small waterfall, and as long as there is no one else around, you’ll hear them too.

Although there was no wind, there was a lot of movement. Blackbirds taking off stirred the leaves around them into little splashes of yellow, while other leaves dropped to carpet the path in a bright orange or brown layer. Every now and then Rufus would pop out from behind a tree or bush before disappearing again as he found some new smell to investigate. We turned off the main path to walk alongside the stream. Above, the canopy of leaves got thicker as if autumn hadn’t quite made it here yet. Rustling in the branches led to showers of leaves either side of us as we moved; the squirrels were keeping pace with us but remaining out of sight.

Every now and then as we walked, a bright patch of yellow leaves still attached to their trees seemed to glow against the sky, defying the brown decay around them. Green moss coated the tree trunks and ivy climbed up and around where the moss allowed it. The sound of an aeroplane flying high above on its way to Heathrow battered its way into our little world which, until now, had been free of man-made intrusions other than us.

Beneath our feet, the mud thickened and spread out to block out path. So reluctantly, we turned about and made our way back through the trees and out onto a misty Fairwood Common.

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A walk in the woods

In the quest for the perfect misty woods photo every opportunity has to be taken advantage of. No matter how wet and muddy I’ll end up getting, it will be worth it. Or so Rufus told me this morning when I looked out of the window at the mist and drizzle and contemplated another day indoors. Of course Rufus didn’t actually say that to me. To imply that he can talk would be silly. No, he used his Jedi mind tricks to ensure that I knew that going out to Gelli Hir woods this morning was the right thing to do.

Gelli Hir is an ancient woodland, which means it is has been in existence since the 17th Century, probably longer. In the middle there is a pond which hosts ducks and dragonflies and boasts its own little hide. As you walk from south to north you pass through the oak and willow to one dominated by sycamore and beech. This place is one of my favourite woodland areas, with plenty of birdsong doing its best to drown out the occasional aeroplane from nearby Fairwood airport. In the spring, a carpet of bluebells fills the southern part of the wood. It’s always wet and muddy and all you have to worry about is how wet and muddy this time.

We set of in thick mist and the prospect of some lovely soft mist swirling around the old, twisted trees had me picturing what kind of photos I was aiming for. Too often I am guilty of not really visualising in advance and while sometimes I enjoy the spontaneity, I know I will get better results applying a bit of thought in advance. It’s one of the things I’m trying to get into the habit of doing.

We left the main path almost immediately and stepped into the mud and leafy mulch. It would be more accurate to describe the first 100 yards or so as marshland rather than path and we both splashed and squelched through, all the while getting wetter as water dripped from the leaves. And the atmospheric mist swirling around the trees? Nope! For some reason, there was next to no mist in the woods. We had dropped down slightly from the level of the moor when we left the main road and I hadn’t noticed. Rufus wasn’t worried and he enjoyed the myriad of new scents and aromas as he dashed back and forth, making sure he also sampled all of the mud.

In the distance, cows called to each other and it was eerie in the silent woods. For some reason, there were no birds singing and the mist helped to deaden any other sounds. Apart from the cows, all I could hear were out footsteps and the drips of water from the trees. Everything was a lush green with the recent rain, even in the dull grey light of an overcast morning. But still no mist.

We emerged from the woods back on to the main path and almost immediately reached the pond. A couple of moorhens were surprised to see us and disappeared with much flapping and splashing into the reeds. Two ducks remained calm and aloof and just kept an eye on us as we passed. A little further on, we climbed a small but steep hill and surprised a buzzard. Before I could even reach for my camera, it had spread its wings and flown off between the trees. Shortly afterwards, I started to hear birdsong again.

With little prospect of the beautiful misty woods I’d envisioned, we set off back to the car. Out of the woods, I grabbed a bag and we did a #2minutelitterpick along the road back to the main road. Looking back from the junction, the woods were shrouded in a thick mist. In around 10 minutes, I managed to remove plastic bottles, glass bottles and food wrappers discarded by the side of the road. Most of what I picked up was recyclable. Its a shame that people can’t be bothered to do a simple thing like take their rubbish home with them.

Back home, Rufus was so muddy that a shower was required and no amount of Jedi mid trickery prevented it from happening. We’d done more than two miles through the woods and so while Rufus dried out on the sofa (which involved a lot of snoring), I set off down the road to the local graveyard as I’d had a few ideas about capturing black and white images of the gravestones in the overgrown site.

When I was a kid, my gran lived opposite this graveyard and whenever we stayed with her, which was often, I’d sleep in the room overlooking the graves. It never bothered me and still doesn’t. I find graveyards fascinating; the inscriptions on the headstones are very much of their time and a lot can be read into the style of words and design. This graveyard has become very overgrown in recent months and while it’s a shame that some of the graves have all but disappeared beneath brambles and tall grass, it also makes for interesting photographs.

Many of the graves had collapsed completely, or were not far from doing so. A couple of the taller headstones were leaning so much that I was wary of going too close. Other graves were marked by simple wooden crosses that remained upright and betrayed their age through weathering. I always look for the distinctively simple military headstones and there were only two. One was from 1915, a ‘Serjeant’ Evans of 6th Btn, the Welsh Regiment. (I looked it up and found that the 6th Btn was sent to the Western Front in 1915). The other (Webb) was from 25 years later, in 1940. I couldn’t find out much about him other than the regiment was in the Western Desert at that time. He was 42 when he was killed, so he would have been 17 when Evans was killed and the chances are Webb would have served in WW1 too.

A grey day weather wise, and grey describes how I feel after having researched these two soldiers.

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Rufus and I tend to visit the same places when we go walking. I try to vary our routes as much as I can and I’m always on the lookout for new places to go. I like to make sure that Rufus is walking (ideally off the lead) for longer than we are in the car. It’s usually easy enough to manage.

Today we tried a new route. We’ve been to the Forestry Commission wood at Penllegare before but today we walked further into the forest alongside the railway line and then turned left to follow an almost invisible path between the trees as it climbed up and away from the rails. Before long we could hear the unmistakeable sound of waterfalls. Both Rufus’ and my ear twitched. Rufus loves the water and I love waterfalls so we were both happy when we suddenly came across a series of steps in the river that made for a picturesque cascade. It looked semi natural, as if someone had enhanced what was already there. I guess this bit of the woods was once part of the Penllegare estate before the artificial barriers of the railway and the motorway chopped the forest in two.

Not having expected to see anything worthy of more than a snapshot, I only had a point and shoot camera with me. It’s a great camera, but for scenes like this I prefer to take my time using a DSLR or similar, and a tripod. So I took some snapshots and made a mental note to return as soon as practical with something that would give me more control. Rufus, with no such considerations, paddled and splashed and waded like a pro, which of course he is.

We climbed up above the river and followed it’s little valley for a bit before leaving it behind and heading back into the trees. Now we were walking through a wild looking forest, following a hint of a path through mud, brambles and over fallen trees. Then we emerged onto a wide forestry track. The sun was out and despite a cool breeze, it was warm as we climbed the gentle slope along the track. We had the woods to ourselves as we ambled along and I let Rufus decide the route when we came to forks in the path. Finally, after another squelch along a narrow path, we came to a gate and although there were no signs forbidding entry, I decided it was time to head back to the car.

The journey back was a bit quicker and we stuck to the track when the turning into the woods came along. By now we were passing other dog walkers, joggers and would be joggers. We dropped back down into the car park and after some reluctance of Rufus’ part to get into the back, we set off for home and a well earned lunch.

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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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Dawn Chorus

I love the early morning, except when I have to go to work. At all other times, early morning, before people are fully awake, is the best time to take notice of your surroundings without the distractions of traffic and people. If you’re that way inclined, wildlife is more abundant. It’s the best time to photograph insects as they are still trying to warm up in the sun and so are quite sluggish. The dawn chorus welcomes in the day and when the weather is fine, you can’t beat this time of the day.

Today, Rufus and I went out to take advantage of the early morning sun. Off we headed to a relatively new location near Betws Mountain. Despite the sheep, I was able to find an area where I could let Rufus off the lead and we wander slowly through the trees towards the Upper Lliw Reservoir. All around, birds were singing but rather than a cacophony of sound, it was a gentle back drop to the trees, gently swaying in the breeze.

The sun was still low and casting an orange glow on the tree trunks. A curious lamb decided to take a closer look at Rufus (on the lead again) and me but got last minute nerves and bounded off back to its mother. In a small puddle, there were a lot of tadpoles well on their way to becoming frogs, and a number of waterboatmen floated on the surface of the water.

Through a gap in the trees, I spotted what looked like an old picnic table so on the way back we too a diversion through a rough avenue of trees and sure enough, there was a small clearing with three tables. The clearing had seen better days, it was overgrown and boggy in places and the tables were in need of some care too, but we spent a few minutes listening to the sounds of the woods and enjoying the sunshine. Rufus explored the edges of the clearing while I managed to get some snaps of a Mistle Thrush gathering grass for a nest.

Then we tried to find a path out of the clearing and managed to keep reasonably dry as we went back up the hill to the stile and the waiting car. You can’t beat a lovely early summer’s morning.

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A walk in the woods

Around 150 years ago, John Dillwyn Llewelyn created a vast landscaped garden at his home in Penllegare, to the west of Swansea. Over the years since his death, the land went to ruin and was forgotten. Now a dedicated bunch of volunteers are working hard to restore the gardens to their former glory.

I walk there a lot and have done for a number of years, so I’ve seen the changes as they’ve been made. Last year, I caught a brief glimpse of Kingfishers on the river and since then I’ve been popping down every now and again to see if I can catch a photo of them.

This morning, before much of the world had woken up, I was walking alongside the upper lake. The work done to clear this part of the garden is immense but I fear the downside is that where the Kingfishers used to catch insects on the river has now been exposed to everyone and his dog, and combined with the activity to clear the area has scared them off. Nevertheless, the walk is lovely and with no one else around, the sounds of a myriad of different birds is great to experience.

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Waterfalls again

You’ve been here before, with us. I had a few ideas for photographs in my head and Rufus had stayed with me so we could set off early. I wanted to go to Ystradfellte again but this time for the woods and autumnal leaves rather that the waterfalls. We set off in the grey mist and low cloud in the hope that the weather forecast would be right and it would clear. It certainly showed no signs of doing so. The further we went up the Neath Valley, the more the mist turned to rain. But by the time we’d climbed up on to the Ystradfellte hill and parked the car, the mist had lifted. Perfect woodland photography weather.

We made our way down to the first waterfall and I found plenty of colourful leaves to offset the grey of the stones and the bright white of the water crashing over rocks. While Rufus investigated the water, I took some long exposure shots of the waterfall with golden leafed trees in the background. Then we made our way along the river, across the bridges and up on to the hill behind it.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find the conditions I wanted but it was an enjoyable walk. The clouds were lifting completely and there was enough blue sky to raise the spirits – ‘enough to make a sailor’s shirt’ as my grandmother used to say. Rufus spotted a squirrel and was off, sprinting up a hill I could barely walk up. By the time I crested the top, he was bouncing around the base of a tree trunk, staring up into the branches. A squirrel was calmly making its way along the upper branches and Rufus was trying to figure out how to climb up. It was never going to happen.

On the way back, we had some quality time in the river and then it was off back to the car. Unfortunately, on the way Rufus was attacked by another dog. One minute they were sniffing each other quite nicely and the next it nipped him on the nose. Poor Rufus wasn’t sure what was going on and I quickly managed to grab him while four dogs ran around, barking and yapping. Rufus has such a soft nature that on the rare occasions that other dogs are aggressive, he is always taken by surprise. I had a few words with the owner, who was clearly not in control of the four dogs she had, but she was only interested in whether Rufus was alright. Somehow, I got the impression it was not for his welfare but to find out if I was going to make a big deal of it. I’d hate to think what would have happened if it had been a child that the dog had nipped.

Anyway, the most important thing was that Rufus was fine and there was no blood drawn. He recovered quite quickly and was back to his old self by the time we got back to the car. He got a nice treat when we got home, too!

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