Sunday, 18 June 2017

Henrhyd Waterfall

A few weeks ago I ended my Waterfall Country Walk at Sgwd yr Eira.  It features in the June edition of Country Walking and is described with appropriate enthusiasm:
    Here in a corner of the Brecon Beacons defined by tumbling water and deep gorges, is a virtually unique proposition in the United Kingdom: the chance to walk behind a waterfall.
Well, with the greatest respect to Country Walking, and the good folk of Ystradfellte and Pontneddfechan, there is an even better one... and it's only 7½ miles away.

This is Henrhyd Falls, the highest waterfall in the Brecon Beacons.  If you fancy a quick and fairly easy visit, there's a National Trust car park within easy reach, but you wouldn't really expect me to do this one the easy way, would you? Perish the thought!

Your intrepid adventurer parked in Ynyswen, crossed the Avon Tawe and walked up the secluded Nant Llech valley. The National Park Authority and local council have done a brilliant job in making this walk enjoyable for young and old, with several 'audio stops' along the way that describe the history and geology of the area. For me, the most interesting were childhood memories by someone who had grown up in the valley.

The audio stops near the Falls were unresponsive – their batteries presumably run down by much button-pushing. I would like to have shared the ones I heard with you, but the website link doesn't work. Perhaps, one day, someone will get everything working again.

OS map on my smartphone

Nant Llech

Behind Henrhyd Falls
From Henrhyd I climbed the steep path to the car park, then walked northwest, taking the footpath that starts by a radio mast (see map) and heads for Nant-y-ffin.
Open countryside between Henrhyd and Nant-y-ffin
Next, I followed a path high above the Avon Tawe and made my way back to Ynyswen, completing my 5½ mile walk.  The scenery on this return leg wasn't as spectacular as the earlier stretch, but still very pleasant.  And what, I wonder, do you make of this monster? I thought that it looked rather hungry, so crept past very quietly.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

No more pills

When I worked for English China Clays in Cornwall I was required to have a yearly medical check-up. The company nurse became concerned about my blood pressure and strongly advised me to lose weight. She gave me a diet sheet and over the following months I lost about a stone, and down came my blood pressure. Shortly afterwards, though, I was taken off radiological work and no longer needed the check-up... and my weight gradually returned to its old obese 'high'.

18 years ago my GP prescribed a blood pressure pill and statins, and the yearly medical check-ups resumed.  That's the way things stayed until last July, when I joined Slimming World. By Christmas I'd lost 2½ stone and achieved my target weight.

A few weeks ago I was called in to my Health Centre for another check-up. The results were impressive: blood pressure had dropped to 100:70 and blood cholesterol level had fallen 'through the floor' to 2.1. I immediately booked an appointment with my favourite GP and stopped taking the blood pressure pill.

Yesterday I turned up for this impromptu Meds Review.  Blood pressure had inevitably risen, but only to a healthy 120:80. "Your cholesterol level is probably too low," he explained, "so stop taking your statin as well. You no longer have hypertension... and I rarely have the privilege of saying that to anyone!"

As you may well imagine, I am thrilled. Eager to share my news, I sent a text message to my former Slimming World consultant.  Back came this reply:
    Oh Angie, that's fantastic news! Of course I remember you. You truly deserve your success. Am over the moon. All your doing! Take care. Debra xxx

So now I have an added incentive to keep my weight in check – maintaining that healthy blood pressure.

Oh, and now I'm off statins, I can eat grapefruit again. I had one for breakfast this morning and enjoyed every long-cherished mouthful.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Gloucester Tall Ships Festival

On Sunday afternoon I joined the crowds at Gloucester Docks for the Tall Ships Festival.. and was it busy! Each of the 5 tall ships had long queues of budding seafarers waiting to go aboard. I didn't join them. As an experienced Old Salt – I've plied with the King Harry Ferry many a time – I was content to wander slowly around the quayside, take photos and eat ice cream.

This fine-looking 'old' ship (above) is the Matthew, a replica of the original Matthew that John Cabot sailed across the Atlantic in 1497, discovering Newfoundland on the other side. I've been privileged to see her three times before; the first on the River Fal in Cornwall, when I think she was part of a film that was being made, and the second at her home port in Bristol. The third time was the day after the 2015 Tall Ships Festival, as the ships made their way home along the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. Now that really is the way to see them... and no crowds to battle through.

So what, you may be wondering, tempted this intrepid land-lubber to make a 40 mile round trip to see a ship that she'd seen three times before? Ukuleles — of course!

Photo from Danny Sparkes' post on Facebook.  Thanks!
This is Friends Ukenited, a gathering of players from clubs all around Gloucestershire. We never practice together; we just turn up, sing and play. That's our talented leader, Terry, at the front, wearing a yellow and orange shirt.

Oh and did we sing! For over an hour we entertained the crowds with songs old and new, including two of my favourites (because they've got special parts for the girls) – The Tide is High and Valerie. I'm there, strumming and singing away, right in the centre but mostly hidden behind a tall guy on the front row.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Waterfall Country

The south side of the Brecon Beacons National Park is famous for its waterfalls — so many that I decided to book into a b&b for a couple of nights and explore several of them properly.

My main objective was this 11½ mile walk from Pontneddfechan, which takes in 5 large waterfalls and numerous smaller ones. When I say 'large' I mean 'large by Brecon standards', of course. There are many larger elsewhere, but I think these very lovely indeed.

The walk also includes beautiful riverside paths beside the Avon Nedd and Avon Mellte, plus a little bit of the Avon Pyrddin and Avon Hepste. And as bonus, it had rained for much of the past week, so there was plenty of water in those rivers.

Rather than attempt a step-by-step account of the walk, I'll let the photos do most of the talking. So join me now for a leisurely 11½ mile amble. You'll need stout walking boots but you can leave your coat in the car.  The sun is destined to shine all day.

The first waterfall is a baby one on the Afon Pyrddin. My photo hardly does justice to the beauty of the place.  A little further upstream is the first of the named waterfalls, Sgwd Gwladus.

I'm intrigued by the glow I've developed in this photo.  Two possible explanations occur to me; it could be a Moses-like burst of holiness or damp on the camera lens.

Horseshoe Falls is the only one on the walk with an English name. All the others start with 'Sgwd' (pronounced scud) which, as you've doubtless guessed, means 'fall'.

I liked this one, Lower Sgwd Ddwli, a lot and spent a long time simply sitting on a log and drinking in the view. When I posted the photo below (featuring the aforementioned log) on Facebook a few days ago, several friends commented on how happy (and slim) I looked. Well I certainly was happy. Who wouldn't be?

It was now time to cross open countryside from the Avon Nedd to the Avon Mellte for a couple more waterfalls...

Sgwd Clun-gwyn

Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn
Finally my walk brought me to what is probably the best known of all these waterfalls, as one can easily walk behind the cascade — Sgwd yr Eira. I first came here many years ago, when our children were quite young. As you may imagine, we spend a long time running back and forth and getting drenched in the process. Happy memories!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Telephoto lens flop

I'm very impressed with Matilda Tertius, my new Sony smartphone camera. The picture quality is much better than anything I achieved with my little Fuji F31fd and compares very well indeed with my Canon SX500 bridge camera but only if I don't use the zoom facility. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Matilda doesn't have an optical zoom, so the more one zooms in on a subject, the poorer the picture quality becomes. Consequently, for my frequent countryside walks, I've been leaving the rather bulky Canon at home, snapping most photos with Matilda and taking along the Fuji, just in case it's needed.

One possible solution to my Two Camera problem would be a clip-on zoom lens. I had a look through Amazon's offerings but most were fixed magnification telephoto lenses. I particularly wanted a zoom lens, so that I could compose the shots properly. Just one seemed to fit the bill and it had some good reviews (4½ stars out of 5). Here's a typical comment:
I wasn't sure about this zooming lenses - now that I've tried it I can say it's great. It's really easy to build in your phone as it's just a clip. The zoom is great and it's ideal if you want to take pictures out in the nature. I will definitely bring it with me every time I go out for a hike...

Great! A fellow hiker likes it, so I placed my order, adding a few other odds and ends to get free postage.

What a disappointment! Despite its description, it was simply a fixed 12x magnification, variable focus telephoto lens. I conclude that its many review fans don't know the difference between a zoom lens and a telephoto.

However, having taken the trouble to get it, I decided to put it through its paces. Aligning it with Matilda's lens was fairly simple and once in position, the clip held it fairly firmly in place. At £15.50, I certainly wasn't expecting high quality results, but if there was some improvement on Matilda's digital zoom quality then it might be worth keeping.

I went down to Lydney Dock in search of a suitable subject, settling on the old lock keeper's house at the end of the Gloucester - Sharpness Canal, some 1½ miles away.

Here's the view, photographed using Matilda at normal magnification. Incidentally, I haven't photo-enhanced these, nor even corrected the lopsided horizon as I don't think any will make it into my photo collection. All I've done is to trim them in order to simplify comparison.

Now here's the zoomed-in view with the Canon bridge camera. Despite the somewhat misty conditions, it's nice and sharp and, importantly, everything is in focus.

And here it is with the Fuji.  Not quite as sharp but, to my mind, an acceptable result.

Finally, here is the result with the clip-on lens. I took some care to focus on the lock keeper's house, but see how blurred the leaning post is on the left and the notice board on the right. And see how distorted that yacht boom is.  No way was I going to keep this thing!

To Amazon's credit, there never is any problem in returning purchases to them. I gave my reason for returning as an inaccurate description – manifestly not a zoom lens – and was immediately sent a printable post-paid returns label. Two days later, and before the lens would have arrived at their warehouse, my account was credited in full. Other mail order companies could learn a lot from service like that.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Skirrid

Two weeks ago I blogged about hiking around Blorenge, near Abergavenny.  Whilst there, I cast a longing look at The Skirrid and promised myself that, next time I was in the area, I would climb it. My chance came yesterday, with the forecast of blue skies, bright sunshine and good visibility.

The Skirrid – or more accurately Skirrid Fawr ('Big Skirrid'; Welsh Ysgyryd Fawr) – has had a troubled history. Sgyryd means 'split' and refers to the jagged edge that you can see on the left of my first picture, and more clearly on this view from the slopes of The Blorenge. According to legend, the split occurred at the moment of Jesus' crucifixion, a belief doubtless inspired by Matthew's Gospel:

When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment... the earth shook and the rocks split.
(Matthew 27.50-51)

Alternatively, it's said that the devil was trying to lure the Archangel Michael into his evil ways. Unsurprisingly he failed and in anger stamped on the mountain, causing a massive landslide. Nasty bit of work, that devil creature! A third possibility is that it's the result of an Ice Age landslip.

Most people climb The Skirrid from the south – quite a gentle ascent once one has clambered through the woodland on the lower slopes. I decided, though, to take a path that skirts the western side of the mountain, then tackle the much steeper (but also much shorter) ascent from the north. From this path there were lovely views of Sugar Loaf Mountain and I also got to walk through that Ice Age split.

I won't pretend that my final assault on the summit was effortless. I did have to stop and draw breath a few times (and admire the view) but I'm obviously a lot fitter than I was when I climbed Pen y Fan last year. Shedding those 2½ stone really has made a difference.

Next came the long, gentle trek down the main path and back to the National Trust car park. Incidentally, the hill in the distance, slightly right of centre in this shot, is Ysgyryd Fach (The Litttle Skirrid). Well, where there was a Fawr, there had to be a Fach. The devil is said to have had a hand in that one's formation too, but I'm in no hurry to investigate.

Finally, I was determined to celebrate my conquest with a meal at The Skirrid Mountain Inn (where else?), which is purported to be  the oldest inn in Wales. According to their website, Shakespeare is said to have taken inspiration from the place and Owain Glyndwr may have rallied his men on this very site. Sadly, there's no proof but, compared to some of the other stories I heard on this day, I'd like it to be true.

Can you imagine Owen Glyndwr there now, mustering his troops beside the blazing fire before tucking into breaded mushrooms, a large plate of pork ribs, chips and a bottle of Merlot? Sometimes I feel that I have much in common with rebellious Welshmen.

Monday, 24 April 2017

The purple-headed mountain, the river running by...

A strong candidate for the purple-headed mountain of Cecil Alexander's famous hymn is Blorenge, near Abergavenny, which I photographed last summer from the Sugar Loaf Mountain car park. The 'river running by' would be the Usk.

I first climbed Blorenge during a holiday in 2009 – or rather, I strolled up it, as there are two car parks near the top. Now that we live less than an hour's drive from Abergavenny, the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons has become a popular destination, so last Monday S-- and I braved the bank holiday traffic and returned for a leisurely 6-mile walk around the hill, ending with a nice stiff climb up the western side.

The walk had a serious purpose. One of my trusty old walking boots recently fell apart, so I had to buy a new pair. Very nice they are, too – and a bargain at £40 from Scott's in Lydney – but far too pristine for a seasoned long-distance hiker like your humble blogger. I ask you, how's this girl going to get any 'cred' on the mountain and forest tracks, wearing shoes that look as if the hardest trek I've tackled is walking up the high street? Unfortunately for me, Blorenge isn't a great place for mud. It would have to be sought with diligence!

Keeper's pond looked a likely hunting ground, so I eschewed the nice smooth path on the right and took to the rough ground on the left, but without any great success. The pond once supplied water to a forge in the valley. You may just be able to make out the car park, in the middle distance, where we started the walk.

Our path skirted the hillside, with lovely views of the Usk Valley and Sugar Loaf on the other side, then descended to join the track of an old mineral tramway.

Soon into view came a sight to gladden Angie's heart – a tunnel!  I'm not sure why I find old railway and tramway tunnels so fascinating, since deep caves and potholes hold no appeal.  Perhaps it's the knowledge that there will always be daylight at the other end. They also evoke happy memories of our children running through them, making loud "puff puff" noises.

Yes, it was quite muddy down there!  

The next two photos show the view over Abergavenny, with Skirrid in the middle distance. I've included the second, from my holiday in 2009, as it was taken with my little Fuji camera, which I still have, though rarely use. After singing the praises of the camera on my new smartphone, I've begun to have second thoughts. The Fuji, with no modern technical wizardry and only a modest lens, has produced a lovely shot that needed no photo enhancement... all of which goes to show, I think, that lighting and composition are far more important. It's also good to have an optical zoom lens, especially when trying to film things on the opposite side of a wide valley.

A little further round the hillside is the tranquil Punchbowl Lake. From here it was up... up... up to the summit where, unfortunately, the mist came down, down, down and rather spoiled the view.  Never mind; it was a great walk and I will return.

Mission accomplished!