Snow Up North

As is now our annual custom we spent the final few days of December visiting family up in Leeds and ended up thoroughly enjoying ourselves in the process. Food was eaten (a lot), walks were had and most importantly I reigned supreme at Trivial Pursuit. The icing on the cake though has to be the couple of inches of fresh snow which greeted our wakening on the final Friday of 2017. A pristine white blanket which for once had almost managed to silence the background roar of this northern powerhouse, planes grounded thanks to blocked runways and commuters tucked up safely at home. To make the most of conditions we headed for the hills behind Horsforth where the landscape was simply spectacular.

P1130188 - December Snow in Leeds

P1130199 - December Snow in Leeds

At this point snow was still falling heavily and by god it was some of the best snow I've ever experienced. It managed to walk that fine line between too wet and too cold producing a perfect consistency for construction. We thought our resultant snowman pretty impressive, right up until we spotted the eight foot monsters that others had managed to erect that is. None though were as pleasing on the eye as the giant snowball that had been rolled for long enough that it only just fit beneath a football crossbar. There was sledging too, probably hundreds of people queuing up to take their turn down the by now well defined run on what is clearly a favoured hill. I though sought peace and quiet away from the crowds finding this Robin amongst the trees. It was too dull really but I'll never pass on an opportunity to try and photograph one of these typically seasonal birds.

P1130206 - December Snow in Leeds

By midday there was a perceptible drop in temperature resulting in the snow losing some of its earlier building brilliance but as we explored further the views continued to deliver.

P1130200 - December Snow in Leeds

P1130193 - December Snow in Leeds

P1130203 - December Snow in Leeds

It was only with the arrival of some weak winter sunshine that things began to change dramatically. Walking through nearby woodland we were surrounded by the sound of dripping water as trees shed their new-found coats before springing back to full height. A Great-spotted Woodpecker made its way noisily overhead whilst small flocks of Tits moved around us, out of sight in the failing light but bringing with them a little of the backing track which had for much of the day been silenced.

P1130209 - December Snow in Leeds

People often ask me why I love snow so much and I think days like this sum it up perfectly. When else does a natural event transform a landscape for such a brief and temporary period of time rendering the familiar at once less so? What else brings so many people into the great outdoors, many of whom perhaps would not have done so on any normal day? Snow of course, a fleeting visitor to this island nation but one which I welcome with open arms each and every time.

#Walk1000Miles - Challenge Complete

As December draws to a close it's time to revisit our #Walk1000Miles challenge. We took this on back at the start of the year as a way to encourage us to at least take a short walk after work each day, even when we really weren't in the mood. This is important as I know from past experience just what a power for good half an hour spent out in the fresh air can be, even if it's just pounding the streets of our local village after dark. Problems which minutes before seemed unsolvable suddenly become clear, worries drop away and everything seems that little bit brighter.

And that's exactly what we've been up to. In addition to our longer day walks, of which you can see numerous examples throughout my last twelve months of ramblings here, we've been out as often as possible during the week. A couple of miles here and there have all been slowly adding up to the point where I can now happily declare that we have successfully completed our challenge clocking up close to 1,100 miles as I'm writing this, even with a couple of days still to go. As a result we're undoubtedly fitter, hopefully a little more sane and have a great sense of accomplishment with which to round off the year.

Clearly we needed some kind of celebration to mark such an auspicious occasion so I took our progress tracker up into the Brecon Beacons earlier this week to bring a ceremonial close to proceedings.

P1130168 - #Walk1000Miles Completed

Of course the question now is, will we be taking on the challenge again for 2018? Definitely is the answer but for more details on our plans for 2018 you'll just have to wait until the New Year.

A Snowy Fan Frynych

P1130150 - Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad
I may have been prematurely pessimistic when writing last night that our chances of venturing out between now and New Year were slim. Another evening of torrential rain would have had that effect on anyone I'm sure. However, while we on the coastal margins of South Wales continued to dissolve events at higher altitudes were looking far more interesting with heavy snow forecast and the A470 already impassable by the time we turned in for the night. Fast forward to this morning and by some miracle we awoke to sun, yes actual sun, and that left us really with only one option. After a quick phone call to finally pay off my last instalment of student loan (a hopeless dream I'm sure for those under the new tuition fee regime) we were off, but not as you might expect to Pen y Fan.

Boxing Day Hawfinch

Firstly let me start with a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all readers and followers of this blog, the fact that anyone finds our little corner of the internet a continuing source of wonderment after almost ten years in the game. We spent yesterday doing all things traditional which meant opening presents, eating a huge roast dinner and watching the latest festive edition of Doctor Who in the vague hope that it wouldn't be another vacuous waste of everyone's involvement. On that last score I think things went down rather well though I may have been feeling generous having just returned from a bracing afternoon walk at Rhossili. Conditions there were dull and windy to put it mildly but we had great views of at least a thousand Common Scoter sheltering off the leeward side of the headland. Given more time and subject to a little less battering we may have been able to pick out something even more exciting from the gathered masses but with black storm clouds rapidly approaching in off the sea we decided to make a run for home.

All very well I hear you say but the title of this blog definitely indicated that a Hawfinch was in the offing and thus far I've seen no sign. Very true and with our garden feeders continuing to deliver I had hoped, rather optimistically it has to be said, that one might have dropped in for lunch by now. After all we've had just about everything else turn up this month including our latest arrivals, a small flock of Siskins, which flew in a couple of days ago and have been here ever since. No we were going to have to travel if we hoped to mop up any lingering birds from the recent influx and Margam looked like an ideal first destination. Regular reports have been coming in from the churchyard there throughout December but whilst flicking through Twitter last night I spotted a tweet that perhaps meant we should be searching a whole lot closer to home. Apparently a single Hawfinch had been spotted just down the road in Gorseinon, within walking distance in fact, feeding amongst trees between Penyrheol leisure centre and the road! Clearly this needed investigating further.

And that was how we came to be stood in a closed car park this afternoon beneath leaden skies and with a light drizzle just starting to fall. Temperatures had plummeted over night bringing a seasonal chill to proceedings, just what you need after half an hour of fruitless searching. In fact we were just heading back to the car when Emma spotted something in the top of a nearby tree, the very area from which earlier I'd heard an unfamiliar call that may or may not have been a Hawfinch (having never actually heard one before it was hard to be sure either way). Before I could get onto the bird however it took flight but I'd know that chunky build and white wing bar anywhere. We had an actual Hawfinch in the flesh, a lifer for Emma and technically myself as well if I discount vague memories of an encounter in Sandringham when I was much, much younger.

Of course everything had happened far too quickly for me to even get a record shot on camera so we spent the next hour or so walking around the nearby park trying to relocate it. Bullfinches, Magpies and even a Sparrowhawk were all seen but of our Hawfinch there was of course no further sign. Until that is we returned to where our original sighting had taken place only to find the Hawfinch once more feeding along the roadside and this time looking far more settled. Needless to say I was ready with the camera and enjoyed a good ten minutes or so with the bird despite truly atrocious lighting conditions.

P1130091 - Hawfinch

P1130096 - Hawfinch

Would you just look at that beak! What a stunner. 

Throughout our encounter I was treated to a whole raft of calls from the Hawfinch as well as feeding and preening behaviour and given the weather am pretty pleased to have managed any sharp images at all. Definitely a fine bird on which to round out the year as if the forecast is anything to go by we're not going to be getting out a whole lot between now and New Year.

Garden Brambling

The last weekend in November was significant for two very good reasons. Firstly it was cold, seriously cold, hopefully heralding the start of winter proper after a month of seeming indecision which saw weather conditions range from wet and mild to even wetter and milder. About time too as December is now in full flow and no matter what the doom mongers say I’m still hoping for some decent snowfall. Secondly we were out birding and walking for a significant proportion of that final Sunday, the first time that’s really happened since mid October and our week away on Mull (photos and words coming soon). The reason?  Life I guess sums it up best, a combination of finally finishing renovation work on our house (I’m ignoring the bathroom for now – varnished wood ceilings are still fashionable right?) and other ‘stuff’ which needed addressing. With that now dealt with however I’m looking forward to rounding out 2017 in style kicking off with a brand new garden visitor which graced us with its presence for a couple of days towards the end of October.

P1120902 - Garden Brambling

For those not familiar with this attractive little bird it is of course a Brambling, one of those autumn migrants which I see far too rarely.  In fact last year withdrawal symptoms got so great that we actually twitched a couple of individuals which had taken up residence in the Sea Buckthorn at Pembrey, a distinctly prickly venture which resulted in brief glimpses and only minimal blood loss. To have one turn up in our own back garden therefore was more than a stroke of luck, especially considering how tame this particular bird was. After twenty minutes or so of getting him used to my presence I was able to push my advantage and approach within a couple of foot for what easily rank as my best photos of this species to date. They may indeed be my only photos as despite being sure that I’ve got a couple of dodgy record shots hidden away somewhere I’ve yet to locate them. All the more reason to enjoy a few more from this current batch.

P1120897 - Garden Brambling

P1120881 - Garden Brambling

Sadly the Brambling has now moved on but unusual visitors have continued to drop in. Of these a Treecreeper was perhaps the most surprising especially given their rarity factor on patch, though Goldcrest and Great-spotted Woodpecker also rate quite highly. Such success inevitably has my mind wondering towards the recent Hawfinch invasion which has left a few lingering birds here in South Wales. Might one turn up on our feeders? Now that really would be something to write home about.

Anglesey Barracks - Dinorwic

P1120100 - Anglesey Barracks, Dinorwic
The summer already feels like a lifetime ago right now which provides me with the ideal excuse to cast our minds back once more to August bank holiday. Regular readers may recall that we spent most of it crawling over the remains of Dinorwic slate quarry near Llanberis, the world’s second largest such enterprise and a place which captivated me from the start. Abandoned inclines, winding houses, tramways and much more besides, evidence of an industry now very much on its last legs and for some almost entirely forgotten. At the time I remember remarking on how you could almost imagine the place as it was, packed with men and boys alike all working hard to dig deep into the vertical seam which lies just beneath the surface there. Reminders of those people though are scarce, restricted to occasional finds such as an old mess tray, pair of trousers or unknown names scratched into flaking mortar. There is however one location where it’s possible to get a lot closer to the human factors at work here and finding it was our main aim of a second day spent amongst the tips.

We started our venture in Padarn country park, home of the National Slate Museum and a host of restored artefacts including inclines, workshops and aerial ropeways. Climbing one of the former saw us gaining height rapidly through dense woodland only to emerge into daylight with stunning views stretching down across Llanberis.

P1120072 - Dinorwic

P1120076 - Dinorwic

Behind us the curving route of one of the old tramways encouraged us onwards, its bed awash with colour thanks to a thick blanket of Heather. The contrast between austere slate walls and sunlit vegetation was stark but it’s precisely because of this dichotomy that I love these places so much. If my camera battery hadn’t been running so low thanks to a weekend away from power then I’d probably have taken another deluge of images from this area alone.

P1120077 - Dinorwic

P1120078 - Dinorwic

P1120087 - Dinorwic

Following its route we were soon looking across to the main levels, their regimented uniformity broken by occasional gunpowder stores and other structures whose purpose was less clear. We continued climbing for a brief period passing the local Mountain Goat herd from the previous day before arriving at a wide step in the hillside which dropped off a precipice to the tips below. Here the ruins were distinctly more residential in style, small rows of cottages with what looked like yards and perhaps even pigsties attached to some. Most were in a state of disrepair however which is why we were so keen to find the Anglesey Barracks. This double row of cottages is so called because they once housed workers from the island of Anglesey who, unlike the local population, required lodgings during the week. The men typically left home on a Monday morning and went back the other way on Saturday afternoon, intervening time spent in these twenty two one bedroom houses built allegedly to house four men apiece. With no amenities and only a small fire for warmth life would have been harsh, particularly during winter, which undoubtedly led to the buildings ultimate condemnation as unfit for human habitation in 1948. On a warm summer’s day however that hardship doesn’t seem too great with dramatic views across to Snowdon and a delightful sun dappled path stretched between the rows.

P1120100 - Anglesey Barracks, Dinorwic

P1120094 - Anglesey Barracks, Dinorwic

P1120097 - Anglesey Barracks, Dinorwic

Even after all we’d seen, Dinorwic still had one last surprise in store. Our return route took us down a path measuring no more than a metre across, each side lined by a continuous head height slate wall behind which rested thousands of tonnes of slate waste on our right and a perilous drop to our left. As we zig-zagged our way downwards the feeling of being trapped increased but I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer audacity of what we were walking on. Generations of miners would have passed this way over the years, adding more slate to these tips which they’d then have to negotiate on the way back down. And that for me has always been the biggest conundrum of the slate industry. With a typical yield of one tonne useable to thirty tonnes waste there was a hell of a lot of material to manage and the structures used to do just that are almost, if not more impressive than the buildings to which the good slate went. Take this path as a fine example. Miles of wall, hundreds of steps and all to negotiate an obstacle which had been created by the quarry itself. Other examples include the huge retaining walls seen elsewhere at Dinorwic not to mention the continuous realignment of tramways, supporting infrastructure and even whole villages. That such efforts still left a profit show the sheer value of slate at the time, but also probably shortened the industry’s life by several years when the end ultimately came.
Related Posts with Thumbnails