Three summits

It was Saturday and the sky was clear. Rufus even made me go outside with him to show me how clear the stars were. It was his way of saying ‘I think we have to take advantage of this fine morning to stroll amongst the fresh air and open skies and talk of greater things, like treats and stone throwing’. I had to agree with him – the weather forecast was almost perfect and I didn’t know when we’d get another opportunity. So after breakfast, we set off for Fan Brecheiniog.

There was a band of golden sunlight on the ridge of Fan Hir as we drove parallel with it towards the parking area. I’d decided to stop further along the road so that we’d be higher up the side of Moel Feity when we started. It would mean a new route and we could conserve altitude by following the contours around. The plan was to get to Llyn y Fan Fawr, then up to the bwlch and on to Fan Hir for a lovely ridge walk facing the sun. If we had enough energy (ok, if I had enough energy – no question of the other half of the duo being able to manage it) then we’d head up to Fan Brecheiniog and bag a second summit.

It was cold, and the grass was crunchy under foot as we set off towards the mountains. The higher start meant we could look down on the Cerrig Duon valley and see the River Tawe as a silver strip in the sunlight. The path was drier, too, although we had to cross a number of streams as they tumbled down, trying to catch up with the Tawe. Some had cut deep beds in the soft ground and we undulated along for a while until we reached a major tributary of the Tawe. Then it was a steady uphill trudge through rapidly thawing marsh and mud. But fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and we made good time to the lake.

The water was right up to the shore and there was no chance of finding stones to throw for Rufus. The few I spotted were firmly frozen into the ground and even kicking them didn’t dislodge them. But Rufus was content with a drink, some snacks and a circumnavigation of the little promontory while I took photos. He can be considerate at times.

We made our way up the steep path on the side of the mountain. It was slippery with clear, glass-like ice. Snow on the shaded sides of the mountain had melted and run onto the stones, freezing again over night. I had to be careful where I stepped. Rufus made light work of it.

On the bwlch (a bwlch is a dip between two summits), the wind was cold and there was plenty of snow around. But the sun was warm and we turned left to climb the short distance up to Fan Hir and the ridge. Ice covered the path so we both walked on the grass, where frozen snow made for better grip. After a few minutes, we were on the flat ridge and the views were spectacular. The air was clear this morning and I could see all the way from Gareg Lwyd in the west to the Black Mountains in the east. Corn Du and Pen y Fan stood out as white coated peaks in the middle distance but as last week, they were topped with their own little clouds. It was comical, as there was no cloud anywhere else. It also reminded me of the first time I went up there and Pen y Fan was so well hidden in it’s own cloud that I didn’t realise it wasn’t there and assumed Corn Du was Pen y Fan! (You had to be there to realise how easy it was to make that mistake). Fan Hir’s peak is hard to spot. For some reason, when you’re on it, everything seems higher around you. It’s a trick of the landscape. Summit 1.

It was a beautiful walk and it was a shame when we reached the end of the ridge, where it begins to drop down to Tafarn y Garreg, and had to turn back. But both of us were fleeing good, so I decided we’d go on to Fan Brecheiniog next. As we neared the bwlch again, it was clear how steep the path up was. It’s the one bit of this walk I don’t look forward to, which is irrational as it’s about 5 minutes of the whole experience. But today, I know it would be bad because of the ice. Sure enough, the stones were covered in thick layers. But there were just edges and points of stone to give some grip. Coming down would be fun, but that was for later.

On the Fan Brecheiniog ridge, the ice was almost constant along the path by the edge, so I walked further in from the drop. I kept an eye on Rufus, who kept an eye on the edge, but he was emboldened by four paw drive and made a better job of it than me. At the cairn, the views north were fantastic and we stopped for a breather and just enjoyed the view. Rufus, I think, enjoyed the multitude of smells carried on the wind; this is a popular stopping point for walkers and inevitably, they eat here too! Summit 2.

We headed back, once again facing the sun, and it’s warmth was welcome. The stones down were treacherous but neither of us slipped this time, although Rufus raced over one flat stone covered in ice and his paws went in four directions. Typical for him, he recovered on the run and it barely stopped him. I would have gone bottom over breast.

At the lake, I found some small stones to throw and Rufus jumped to catch them. Tradition satisfied, we started off down the hill tot he car. But we were both still feeling energetic, so we detoured up the side of Moel Feity beyond the path we used earlier and climbed up the hill to the top. It’s not a steep hill, but there was no obvious path and we were walking over clumps of grass which made the going a little harder. There is the site of a WW2 aircraft crash on the top of Moel Feity but every time I’ve tried to find it in the past, I’ve failed. In the past, the weather has been foul when I’ve been on here, but today was [perfect, so I went in search of the little bits of wreckage still there.

Shortly after we reached the top (marked by a tiny cairn – summit 3) I spotted a white stone on the horizon. Sure enough, there was a small cairn there too and some remembrance poppies and a wreath. The wreath had been blown of the cairn and was only held in place because it had frozen to the ground. So I carefully placed it back on the cairn and secured it with two large stones.

On 24 August 1944, a US Navy Liberator (actually, a PB4Y version of the Liberator, 38753) crashed here while on a training exercise. The crew, Byrnes, Hobson, Manelski, Holt, Shipe and Keister all died in the crash. They so nearly cleared the top of the mountain. I spent a few minutes taking in the atmosphere and thinking about the crew. Fan Brecheiniog rose, snow covered, in the distance to the west. Rufus was great (as he always is when we visit crash sites) and kept away. Then we turned to head back to the car. But only a hundred yards or so further down the hill I spotted more red and on closer inspection I found a second cairn with, along side it, a small collection of wreckage. Again it was covered in remembrance poppies but the cairn had collapsed and the small bits of wreckage had been blown about. I spent some time collecting them back up and making the pile a little more secure. Then I built up the stone cairn so it stood above the grass. Finally, I rescued the little label with the crew details from a small ice covered pool and placed it on the wreckage pile. It was a small gesture but the best I could offer.

Then it was off down the hill and back to the car. We crossed bog and marsh, now fully thawed and waiting for us. Again there was no path and we made our way over grassy tufts, streams and a lot of loose limestone rocks. I had to be careful not to turn an ankle on them. At the car, it was warm and we were tired and we were glad of the opportunity to sit (or in Rufus’ case, lie) down.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

W4923

Rufus and I set off this morning to visit the site of a WW2 bomber crash. We’ve been there a few times before but never on Remembrance Sunday. I’d been thinking about this for a while and when I saw that 11 November fell on a Sunday, and the weather wouldn’t be too bad, I decided to go. Rufus is always up for a walk so we were on.

After all the rain we’ve had, the ground was spongy and very wet but the sunshine and blue sky made up for it. I had to park the car on the side of the road as the Forestry Commission car park was full. We headed out across the thick mud and immediately came across a stile, which Rufus struggled to negotiate. After some words of encouragement, foolowed by a had of encouragement, he slipped and scrabbled over and was rewarded with a treat.

We made our way over rough common land, following the line of ancient drainage ditches that once made this land suitable for crops and up to Foel Darw. Then there was a steep drop before we reached Garn Las and the crash site.

It’s a bleak place even in the sunshine. Fan Brecheiniog looms in the distance and the land slopes gently upwards to its foothills. It was on the slopes in September 1943 that Lancaster W4923 crashed in bad weather during a training flight. The crew, Pilot Officers Duxbury, Johnson and Folkerson, Flight Sergeant Buckby and Sergeants Curan, Pratt, Holding and Wilson, were all killed on impact.

As I arrived I passed members of the Ammanford Walking Club, who had left a wreath of poppies at the memorial stone. It’s touching to know that people still remember and care enough to make the journey out to this remote spot (it took us about 90 minutes). There are always poppies, little wooden crosses and other messages there, despite the exposed position. I added my little wooden cross and stood for a few minutes trying to imagine what it must have been like to be flight crew during the war. I couldn’t, of course, but standing and looking out over Garn Las towards Trecastle and beyond was a sobering moment and it brought a lump to my throat. Even Rufus, who I’d put on the lead to stop him wandering off, stood still and uncomplaining next to me. I often attribute human characteristics to him to try and give you an impression of how he is but this time it really did seem as if he knew something was different about this place.

After a few more minutes, we headed off back towards the car. It was pleasant walking weather; not too hot or cold and with a nice breeze to cool off the furry participant (no, not me). Even so, Rufus decided some cooling of the paws was required and he made for the nearest stream.

When we climbed back up to the top of Foel Darw, I could see that Rufus had spotted something. Sure enough, there were horses running across the track in front of us, though some distance off so I wasn’t worried Rufus would chase the, But they had been spooked by a bunch of motorcyclists riding across the common. They didn’t seem to be following any tracks and were heading towards us so we made our way off the hill and down to the Forestry Commission plantation.

There was more river action as I threw stones for Rufus to dredge out again. Then, after I’d managed to completely cover my right boot in thick brown mud, two tired souls arrived back at the car.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Rainbow Holiday

I know, it’s a twee title, but if I’d called it ‘The Haunted Holiday’ or ‘The night of a thousand coughs’ it wouldn’t really sum it up.

We headed off to Dunster on the North Somerset coast for three nights of Halloween flavoured fun. We had booked tickets for the Dunster Castle ‘Ghost Walk’ after seeing it advertised when we were visiting in September. We stayed in a beautiful old house on a hill not far from St Georges church and we made sure we walked through the graveyard every evening to set the atmosphere up for our stay.

Talking to the landlord, it turned out that he had owned Flora’s Barn, one of our favourite holiday cottages, for 25 years and Flora, the horse that originally lived in the barn (before it was converted) was owned by his daughter. Such a coincidence! On out first night we ate in the Luttrell Arms, named after the family who owned Dunster Castle. It’s an old pub with plenty of character. There are several rooms, and we chose one heated by a huge Inglenook and open fire. The food took a while to come and I enjoyed a pint of local cider, Thatchers, which was to be a recurring theme for me. The manager for the night apologised for the delay in bringing us our food and offered us a free round. When it finally came, the meals were gorgeous.

Delicious cooked breakfasts started our mornings off nicely. The weather wasn’t the best and we saw the first of many rainbows from the window of our room. On the 31st and with no real plan in mind, we headed off east to have a look at Crowcombe church. The village is small and typically English and the church nestles beneath the Quantocks, Graham, our landlord, and his wife had explained that it lay at the end of the only road ro cross the Quantocks and had grown up around the potential trade that would generate. But it remained a poor village dominated by the local landowning family until quite recently. They would move tenants around within the village so they didn’t feel as if they owned the homes they rented. Some of the family also insisted on influencing how the villagers voted. It was almost as if we were hearing stories from some period drama.

We drove up onto the Quantocks before heading down to Nether Stowey to visit Coleridge’s cottage. Like every other time we’d been there, it was closed. But there was hope; it would be open later in the week. From there we headed back to Williton and, although neither of us wish to talk about it much, we visited the Bakelite museum there. It’s been a bit of a standing joke with us everytime we’ve stayed in the area. Down a narrow farm track, in a farmhouse outbuilding, there was an amazing collection of old domestic items from the last 100 years or so. Many of them were, indeed, made from Bakelite – the first plastic. But there were other things there and the one that stood out for me was an old dentist’s appliance – a metal stand with several arms coming out of it, each with a mechanically operated tool on the end. It was bizarre and clever and sinister, all at the same time. It reminded me of the torture ‘droid from the original Star Wars film.

Cleeve Abbey, out next stop, was a rather clinical building that would have benefited from some thought to dressing the rooms with period exhibits. Most of the rooms were empty and although they were labelled, it was hard to imagine how, for example, the Abbott’s bedchamber would really have looked. Even an artist’s impression on the wall would have helped. We wandered around the grounds, including the original refectory floor tiles under a giant marquee, before making our way to the nearby pub for a snackette (with chips, of course).

Our final destination of the day was Minehead and by now the weather was closing in. Some abortive attempts to fly a kite on the beach only succeeded in getting us wet. So we retreated to the B&B for a rest and to plan the evening. Neither of us were hungry so we headed off to a pub at the end of the village for a pint and some games of pool. I came second in two games but won the third. Watching over our every shot was Nelson, a large grey parrot who insisted on whistling a lot and occasionally shouting the world ‘w@nkers’ at random. During our last game the pool room had been invaded by a gaggle of local women who seemed to be keen to get us to move on. They were crowding the room and seemed very reluctant to get out of the way if we were playing a shot.

We made our way to Dunster Castle by 9pm and joined the others waiting for the ghost walk. Soon we were off and heading through the medieval gatehouse to the servants hall, where we went through an underground passage (originally for servants to move about without being seen) and had the first of a series of encounters with characters, noises, slamming doors and other eerie sounds and sights. The nightwatchman told us about footsteps with no one around to make them. A cavalier officer explained how he had died in the room we were in. We saw a maid looking for the lady of the house, a child being taken away to be punished and a couple of ghostly figures lit only by candles. Eventually, we survived and made our way past the dungeons, from which unearthly sounds could be heard, and into the stables. It was only then that we found out our guide was, in fact, a ghost herself!

On Thursday, we went west to Lynmouth and the cliff railway. The rivers were in full race and although the sun was shining, it was cold. We made our way slowly back along the coast, stopping in Porlock to have a look around the little church there. We parked up at the B&B and went for a look around Dunster. While Em went shopping, I walked down to Dunster beach to see what there was to see. All the way down the muddy lane, I was following a huge rainbow from a storm shower that was passing to the west. The sky was black, making the colours stand out even more.

Dunster beach was a key risk area for invasion during World War 2 and at one time there were a dozen or so pillboxes and other defensive structures built to command the long beach. Most have gone but in the car park was a pill box still wearing its camouflage of pebbles from the beach. It was originally disguised as a large pile of rocks and pebbles. Further inland were two more pillboxes, one in the middle of a field, the other, one of many along the stretch of the West Somerset Railway.

I headed back to rendezvous with Em and after watching a cheesy horror movie (well, it was a Halloween holiday) we headed out for food and a swift half. We ate at Cobblestones, a lovely restaurant on the main street of Dunster. The food was wonderful and the service excellent.

After breakfast and the inevitable rainbow, which seemed to act a s a backdrop to a large crow sitting on the neighbour’s fence, we climbed up to Conygar Tower, a folly built to overlook Dunster from the west by one of the Luttrells. We walked through the woods, risking life and limb as conkers dropped all around with loud thunks. We drove off towards Nether Stowey, driving along the coast and keeping Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands in sight in the Bristol Channel. Again, rainbows kept us company as we headed for Coleridge’s cottage, which was open. It was very atmospheric, having been set out as it would have been when he arrived in 1797. In contrast to Cleeve Abbey, the rooms had character and while many of the items on display hadn’t belonged to Coleridge, they were genuinely contemporary and helped to set the scene.

Then it was time to find the motorway to take us back to the 21st Century and home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The best laid plans of Rufus and Dave

Today was meant to be an opportunity to get out on the hills, to spend our first full day of the season in the mountains. The weather was looking good, we’d discussed a route (Rufus’ input was that it had to have running water available for him to swim in). Then I managed to get a niggly little cough at the beginning of the week. It bore a close resemblance to the one mentioned in this blog and I have my suspicions that it was given to me by the author.

Anyway, by Thursday my voice was going and on Friday, the constant coughing had worn me down. I had to pull out of two Insiderz gigs so they had enough time to find a replacement (even then, it was short notice). They’re playing in Neath as part of the Oxjam festival tonight and in The Strand on Sunday. Of course, there was no chance of a day on the hills.

This morning, I decided I needed to get some fresh air and Rufus concurred. So we headed off for a curtailed stroll along the top of Rhossili Down. We haven’t been this way for a while so it was a refreshing change from our usual routes. Apart from the initial climb, it’s easy going (which was important for me) but there’s enough height to give it a sense of open space that I like, too. Another thing about Rhossili Down is the range of history in such a short area.

In Rhossili village there are the remains of open field strip farming that was the medieval way of dividing land up to be farmed. On the way up to Rhossili Down there is a Royal Observer Corps bunker from the Cold War. On the top of Rhossili Down are several Bronze Age burial cairns. Below the ridge, facing the sea is a World War 2 radar station, used to detect shipping and low flying aircraft from 1942. On the opposite side of the ridge are two Neolithic burial sites, Sweyn’s Howes. That’s about 5000 years of history if you include the Millennium stone erected in 2000.

Typically for us, as soon as we got to the top of the hill, the rain started. It stopped again, waiting for us to get further from the car before coming back with more vigour. We headed back to the car, but then the rain stopped, so we went for a look at the Neolithic tombs.

Despite the cloud, there was enough sunshine to raise the spirits and the wind wasn’t cold. The fresh air was most welcome and I had a cough free couple of hours before we finally made it back to the car and home for coffee, 2nd breakfast and, for one of us, a chance to flop down on the sofa.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.