Patchwork Challenge 4 - Spring?

Monday, March 25, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


You find me in a rather confused state this evening. The calendars all say it's Spring, the Daffodils are out and we even have the first Spring migrants landing on our shores, so why on earth did I have my face almost frozen off during a short walk on Saturday? More to the point why is the evening news full of eight foot snowdrifts and huge power outages? We seem to have missed the worst of it here in South Wales (with the exception of freezing temperatures) but even so this ranks as a fairly unusual March. Fortunately I've found myself otherwise engaged for much of the month so haven't been too disappointed with conditions (doing DIY does sometimes have its advantages) but now I'm raring to go again and am finding that the warm and pleasant weather of last Easter is but a distant memory. Boy am I glad that we chose not to go camping next weekend as planned!

Having an assortment of tools in hand has limited the number of outings that I've undertaken recently with just my local patch getting any real attention. As it turned out this has been pretty productive with the highlight being my first two Wheatears of the year on Saturday. They were both males in pristine condition and, though timid, did allow me to get good views as they fed in the only part of the valley that wasn't being blasted by an ice cold easterly. Through my watering eyes it was only the briefest glimpse of a disappearing white rump that had alerted me to their presence and those few seconds easily rank as my March birding highlight. Of course as every birder knows your first Wheatear of the year has to be photographed and shared, no matter its inevitable lack of quality. This is my contribution.

29398 - First Wheatear of 2013

While watching the Wheatears a fortuitous glance skywards saw me setting eyes on a flock of waders flying some distance away. On my patch these are like gold dust with the wader all-time list currently consisting of just a pair of Lapwing and one Snipe. These birds were clearly something different however and despite the gloom I am confident that they were Golden Plover. There were at least thirty birds in the group and it would be remiss of me not to include a poor photo of them to keep the Wheatear above company.

29399 - Golden Plover, Cwm Dulais

There have also been a couple of other notable 2013 ticks recently including the long awaited reappearance of my Yellowhammers. Admittedly I didn't actually see them but the sound of two calling birds below Gopa Hill were unmistakeable and almost made me forget the loss of feeling in my toes. Another vocal visitor came in the shape of several overflying Canada Geese, heard from the back garden but again sadly not seen. That was certainly not a problem for the Grey Heron I spotted at the start of the month, presumably on one of its routes between garden ponds.

29400 - Red Kite, Gopa Hill

All the regulars are still around including a record eight Greenfinch on the feeder last weekend, an ever increasing number of House Sparrows and the now familiar male Pied Wagtail. Buzzards and Ravens have been flying over the garden on an almost daily basis and it's been a delight to watch the Red Kites soaring through the valleys. The one above was taken on our last clear evening and was catching the late evening rays beautifully. Let's hope that blue sky returns soon.

44/68 (2013/2012)

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Pen y Fan Horseshoe Walk - Part 2

Thursday, March 07, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


The first entry covering my Pen y Fan horseshoe walk finished off at Fan y Big, and in a rather obvious choice that's exactly where we pick up from now. You find me walking south along Craig Cwmoergwm into an afternoon haze, thankful that the freezing wind has finally been left behind. In fact I'm starting to get concerned about sunburn having stupidly left both my hat and sun-cream in the car. Fortunately the sun wasn't quite strong enough for that but it certainly felt more like a summers day than the first weekend in March!

2936829353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
 Corn Du, Pen Y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big

With the famous peaks behind me there were still some very significant altitude changes coming up, the first of which took me almost straight down to intersect once more with the Roman road. There was no defined path here so I made my own route which offered stunning views back the way I'd come.

2936729353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

At the bottom I was surprised to find some very nice examples of Victorian architecture around both Neuadd reservoirs. The upper body of water has one of the most impressive dams I've seen whilst the lower had a stunning selection of abandoned buildings. Having been walking across such an open landscape their presence jarred somewhat yet offered a fascinating insight into times gone. Peering through one of the windows I could see plenty of old machinery still left in-situ, whilst the spillway itself could class as a work of art.

2937629353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

2938029353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

Behind the dam water levels were very low as the reservoir is now drained and no longer in use. Interestingly I joked to Emma that the whole place would be an awesome project to buy and restore, and have just found out that it is actually for sale. Given that the price is only available on asking though I think it would probably be way out of our price range.

2938229353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

Having crossed the dam I was now faced with the steepest climb of the walk; a near vertical ascent to regain most of the altitude lost since Pen y Fan. To make things that little bit more difficult my left leg decided now would be a good time to throw in a spot of cramp to liven up proceedings. Thankfully chocolate and a brief rest soon had me on my way again. Initially the going wasn't too bad but in the permanently shaded upper reaches I had to resort to all fours in order to traverse sheets of ice. Let me assure you that emerging at the top was probably the best feeling of the day.

2938429353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
The top of a very steep climb

The route from here back to Corn Du was now along Graig Fan Ddu and it afforded me great views over the route I'd already walked. Every climb revealed yet new vistas, all with an impressive sheer drop on one side. I must admit to going a bit snap happy with the camera though did somehow manage to miss a Sea King helicopter passing right overhead. By the time I'd extracted said camera it was way over towards Fan y Big. As far as I could see there was no rescue in progress, merely a training exercise.

2938929353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

2939029353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

More worrying was the plume of smoke that emerged late in the afternoon, a sure sign that the illegal fire setters are once more upon us. Of all the ills done to our wildlife this is the one that most irks me due to the indiscriminatory nature and vast areas of habitat that grass fires destroy. Only last week a large area behind Rhossili went up and I'm sure there's sadly much worse to come.

2939429353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Everything you see here I walked

Eventually I found myself back at Corn Du and made the final turn of what was easily the best days walking I've had in a very long time. The challenge combined with spectacular scenery and weather created an almost perfect day. At this rate I could find myself becoming addicted to hill walking and am already well on the way to planning my next adventure.

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Pen y Fan Horseshoe Walk - Part 1

Tuesday, March 05, 2013 Adam Tilt 5 Comments


If you're anything like me then you're probably wondering where on earth the last two months have gone. March is already flashing by and with reports of Wheatears and Sand Martins now turning up in the UK, things aren't going to slow down any time soon. On the one hand this is great as we finally wave goodbye to the drab winter months, whilst on the other it also reminds me that I am just three months away from taking part in the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge. As part of a four man team (plus one driver) we shall be climbing the peaks of Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan in the space of just fifteen hours with the aim of raising at least £1000 for Ty Hafan children's hospice. That's a distance of 20.35 miles and a climb of 9,397 ft! I consider myself to be pretty fit already but that's going to be one hell of an undertaking at both the longest and highest I have ever walked in a single day. As a result some serious training is needed and that's exactly what I got up to on Saturday. My chosen route was the so-called Pen y Fan horseshoe which at a comparatively modest 12 miles and 2,250ft was still going to test my mettle. I mapped the route below and under a clearing sky set out to discover just what I'd let myself in for.

 photo penyfanhorseshoefinal_zps1a9ac084.jpg

Anyone who has climbed Pen y Fan recently will know that due to its popularity you're rarely alone on the way up. For many this is no doubt perfectly fine but personally I can't help getting involved in pointless races with whoever is nearest. Can I keep ahead of this group? Can I catch and overtake the couple ahead? Utter madness and a guaranteed way to lose your rhythm and enjoyment. To avoid this I'd picked a more unusual route which looped out northwards from my start at Storey Arms. The only issue was that it was almost impossible to find. In the end I just cut across from the main path until eventually stumbling upon a grassy track. This was more like it and in no time at all I'd already reached my first 'peak' of the day, Y Gyrn.

29310 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

Pushing higher I soon came to Tommy Jones' obelisk sitting beneath the steep climb up to Corn Du. It marks the spot where in 1900 the body of five year old Tommy Jones was found and reads:

"This obelisk marks the spot where the body of Tommy Jones aged 5 was found. He lost his way between Cwm Llwch Farm and the Login on the night of August 4, 1900. After an anxious search of 29 days his remains were discovered Sept. Erected by voluntary subscriptions W Powell Price Mayor of Brecon 1901."

On such a cold day, overlooking the frozen pool below, it's not hard to imagine how such a young child could succumb to the conditions.

29318 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

29322 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Down to Tommy's Obolisk

The final climb up to Corn Du was as tough as I remembered but once there the views were fantastic.

29321 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
The climb up to Corn Du

29325 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Looking down from Corn Du

29327 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Across to Pen y Fan

A small drop and ascent to the neighbouring peak of Pen y Fan was dispatched with little effort, taking me to the highest point in South Wales. As usual the summit was a jovial affair with various groups having their photograph taken against the cairn and lunches being consumed, though the playing of a cricket match in full kit was definitely a new one on me. Apparently it was the start of a new season and this was their teams way of welcoming it in. And before you ask, yes, they did lose a ball over the edge!

29333 - Cricket on Pen y Fan!
Cricket on Pen y Fan

29334 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Summit views

29336 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Neuadd Reservoirs - I'd be heading there later

Normally this is the point at which I retrace my steps but in the name of charity I instead turned my attention to the ridge heading west. Stretched out before me were the peaks of Cribyn and Fan y Big, both featuring ascents that seemed even steeper than those already behind me. It was with some relief therefore that I found the climb up Cribyn a bit of a doddle, enjoying the beautiful scenery as I went.

29343 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
View back up to Pen y Fan

29341 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Cribyn!

29348 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Cribyn summit cairn with Pen y Fan and Corn Du

Another steep descent brought me to the old Roman road that cuts like a knife through the landscape from Brecon to Coed-y-Garreg. It's an absolute testament to the ingenuity and technical skill of our ancestors that the track has endured for as long as it has, and indeed looks to have many years of life left in it yet.

29353 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Roman road from Cribyn

29361 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
Roman road from Fan y Big

I'd be returning to walk some of its length later but for now another climb took me to the top of Fan y Big, home of the famous 'diving board'. This is a rock that juts out over an almost sheer drop and is the perfect photographic opportunity for those with a healthy life insurance policy. I unfortunately couldn't join them as being on my own, who'd have held the camera? Well that's my excuse anyway and I'm sticking to it.

29360 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe
The Diving Board

29363 - Pen y Fan Horseshoe

With four famous peaks behind me there was still well over half the distance to cover including one near vertical climb that I wasn't particularly looking forward to. That can wait until tomorrow however before this post becomes the longest in my bloggng history. All I'd ask is that if you fancy sponsoring our madcap team for the Welsh Three Peaks, please head to my JustGiving page and leave a donation. Any amount, no matter how small, will be gratefully received and will only serve to motivate Team Cheese even more. Thanks.

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