Welsh3Peaks Challenge - Part 2

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

We rejoin the tale of our Welsh three peaks adventure just beneath Craig Cau. The last few hours have already included broken tents, a sleepless night and the hard news that we would not be climbing Snowdon due to severe weather conditions at its summit. As a result you find us in combative mood as we begin to suspect that Cadair Idris may also be about to slip through our fingers......

Act 6: Rebellion
By now we were well into the clouds and with visibility dropping by the minute quickened our pace as we strove to learn of our fate. It didn't take long before we were able to pick out a worryingly large group of people at the summit of Craig Cau, a gathering that didn't look much like it was going anywhere soon. Sure enough we arrived to hear the fateful words "this is the top today and you can go no further". I should probably fill you in here on a discussion we'd had the previous evening where it was decided that should we be advised not to continue, we would fully obey. However it's all very well taking stands when you don't think the situation will actually arise but a whole different ball game when it does. As a result I straight away stated that I would be continuing to the peak, then quickly backed down as I realised that this was a team event and as a team we would decide what to do. The last thing I wanted was to put others at risk. Several moments of deliberation followed during which I stated my knowledge of the route ahead and my disagreement with the assessment of the weather. Having headed back down the mountain at this point previously for my own safety I could be confident that current conditions were a walk in the park. Sure visibility was down to ten meters but it was no worse than what we'd just walked through and we were more than adequately kitted out with the equipment and knowledge not to put ourselves in any danger. Decision made we informed the marshals that we would be going onwards and set off into the murk. 

Those first few steps are probably the heaviest I've taken as I felt the weight of responsibility resting on my shoulders, but wasn't this exactly what the day was supposed to be, a challenge? Fortunately my memories held firm, the path was found with ease and we were once again on our way. I can't imagine what the inexperienced half of our team were feeling as they had nothing but blind faith that we were heading in the right direction, so a fortuitous break in the clouds couldn't have come at a better time. In seconds the view before us opened up revealing our destination for the first time that day.

30088 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30089 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30093 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

The steep ascent up to Penygadair (Cadair's summit) seemed easier than last time I'd attempted it with a more well defined path now visible through the scree. It was still tough going though with the returning cloud cover paying havoc with my sense of distance. Less than half an hour later we spotted the summit cairn and reached it soon after. Being the only souls there was quite surreal as we took our photos and I made a suitable offering to the mountain.

30094 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30099 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

Act 7: Sun!
Conscious that our deviation from the event could be causing difficulties for its organisers we only spent a few minutes at the summit before heading back the way we'd come. Almost immediately the cloud started to break up again revealing yet more of our surroundings and even some sun.

30100 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30106 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30109 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30114 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

Once back at the location where we'd gone it alone I wasn't surprised to see that the marshals had already headed for base camp. A little put out perhaps as in theory they'd said we had as long as we liked, but not surprised. Remarkably it was still mid-morning at this point so we took the descent easy, conscious of protecting our legs for Pen y Fan. The best way to do that of course is to simply take more photographs as the day started to develop into a real scorcher. Was our nightmare camping trip really just a few hours ago?

30119 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30123 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30126 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

30127 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

Back at the car park we rejoined Emma and met with the head marshal who fortunately didn't seem to have any ill-feelings towards our maverick approach. We were however the last team off the mountain and now had a long drive to make it to the start of Pen y Fan in time.

Act 8: Pen y Fan
Covering large distances through mid Wales by car is never going to be quick, so it was almost two and a half hours later that we arrived at Storey Arms. The weather had once again deteriorated into low cloud and heavy, squally showers meaning that it was back into waterproofs and over to the checking-in point. Clearly our reputation had gone before us judging by the banter, so there and then Tim and I decided to really try and monster the climb ahead of us. We set off at a hell of a pace and made it to the top in personal best times, receiving a cheer from the summit marshals as we hove into view. I think that had more to do with the fact that they could finally head home rather than our achievement however.

30131 - Pen y Fan, Welsh3Peaks

30137 - Pen y Fan, Welsh3Peaks

30140 - Pen y Fan, Welsh3Peaks

The wind had now strengthened considerably but we decided to try and push our luck by requesting another diversion to take in Corn Ddu. Clearly our reputation had reached even here and we were politely turned down and effectively ushered off the mountain. All the way down we were surrounded by marshals which was a hilarious way to finish off a day that had been random at the best of times. All that haste though did result in us setting the best time of the day on Pen y Fan at one hour and thirty nine minutes. What a way to sign off for Team Cheese!

And so that's that. Six months of preparation, one incredible day and a huge sense of achievement. Sure we only managed two out of three peaks but we did those well within the allocated time and had more than enough legs left to be confident in our ability to have done Snowdon as well. That's not to say that there isn't still a nagging sense of disappointment in the back of my mind though and I will definitely give it another shot in the not too distant future. For now though I shall finish by offering my thanks to Emma, Mike, Jo and Tim. It was a real pleasure.

Welsh3Peaks Finish
Team Cheese


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Welsh3Peaks Challenge - Part 1

Monday, June 17, 2013 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

After all the training, purchasing and planning, last weekend finally heralded the day that Team Cheese would launch itself into the history books of Welsh mountain climbing. All that stood between us and immortality were the three peaks of Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan, not forgetting of course the unpredictable weather that is a British summer. Along the way there would be highs and lows (both literally and mentally) but with confidence levels riding higher than they really had any right to be, what could possibly go wrong? What follows is the tale of five intrepid adventurers, one Skoda and a weekend that will live long in our collective memories.

Act 1: Anticipation
If my fellow team members were anything like me they spent much of Thursday poring over the mountain weather forecasts willing them to change. From a heat wave the week before we were now faced with gale force winds, heavy rain and the prospect that my warm weather training had all been for nought (I should have guessed that would be the case really!). It was with a degree of surprise therefore that we were greeted with dry and sunny conditions come Friday. Surely the forecasters couldn't have got it that fundamentally wrong, could they? Whatever the reason we certainly weren't going to complain and as I picked up some last minute supplies (moisture wicking t-shirts are my new best friend) I began to think that this adventure wasn't going to be as hard as I'd thought it might be.

A couple of hours later and the team was all together for the very first time with Emma joining us as our driver for the day. Tents and bags were quickly squeezed into the car before we pointed it north and set off for the event registration at Betws y Coed. Along the way the weather gods continued to shine kindly on us giving a perfect excuse to break our journey in Aberystwyth. I'm sure that Tim and Mike weren't that interested in mine and Jo's university memories but it really is quite fascinating just how many of the houses there we've either lived in or been into. Anyway I digress so here is our first team photo, outside the public toilets. Don't say I never give you glamour on this blog!

P1060125 - Welsh3Peaks

Act 2: The Wind Blows
Five hours after leaving Swansea we were soon through the registration process and in possession of amongst other things free Pot Noodles and our team number (thirteen in case you were wondering). Sadly we had no means to generate hot water but that didn't bother us as there was surely no need of warming on such a nice day. Inevitably the minute we set off the heavens opened and we arrived at our campsite in torrential rain and with the wind gusting at ferocious speeds. Situated just beneath Pen y Pass we had little shelter from the elements and decided to pitch the tents in double quick time. Jo's pop-up effort amazed us all with its simplicity as we battled with flapping canvas, snagging poles and pegs that were pulling out of the soft ground just as soon as we had them hammered in. Despite this we soon had four tents standing proud, albeit briefly, as a huge gust of wind flattened half of mine. In hindsight I should have taken it down there and then but we were hopeful conditions would improve and so headed to the nearby pub to dry off.

Inside we found a real log fire and set about turning the place into a sauna as we slowly warmed up. The pools of water that gathered beneath each of our seats was testament to just how heavy the rain had been whilst the sound of wind roaring around the building was a sign of what was still to come. A hearty meal briefly eclipsed the horrors outside while we chatted to two marshals for our event who were about to head up Snowdon to see the night through in bivvy bags. Crazy was obviously my first thought but they were a great laugh so I wont hold that against them. They did however mention the possibility that if conditions continued to deteriorate they may be forced to close one or more of the peaks. This was a situation that had never occurred to us before and one that chilled my heart. Surely we weren't going to be thwarted at this late hour?

Act 3: Sleepless Night
In what seemed far too short a time our meals were eaten, drinks downed and we found ourselves heading back to the tents. The scene that greeted us was one of amusement at first as we caught Jo's tent literally about to make a break for freedom, closely followed by concern at the completely flattened front portion of my own accommodation. I quickly made the decision to take it down before further damage was caused, a wise decision as it turned out with the wind having already snapped two pole sections clean in half. Jo followed suit and we resigned ourselves to a night in the car. Initially it looked like Tim and Mike would stick the night out under canvas but as the wind continued to strengthen Tim also headed for cover and joined us in the car. That just left Mike out in the elements, a camping novice in his fifteen pound tent which somehow made it through the night unscathed. I'm not sure we'll ever live that down.

P1060128 - Welsh3Peaks

The one thing we did have in common though was less than an hours sleep which made for a very unwelcome 03:15 alarm clock to start our ascent of Snowdon at 04:00.

Act 4: Gutted
Despite my previous doubts four in the morning does actually exist and in the still dark sky we were pleased to see stars shining. What's more the wind that had rocked the car viciously all night had finally abated and it wasn't even raining. We were on.

P1060129 - Welsh3Peaks

Emma took the wheel for the first time and duly delivered us to the starting point at Pen y Pass where I jumped out full of energy and raring to go. Less than twenty seconds later I was back in the car, heading for Cadair Idris and feeling absolutely gutted. The mountain had been closed by our event marshals due to strong winds and more worryingly thunder and lightning at the summit. Less than a minute after starting we already knew that the full three peaks were out of the question and I can't deny that at that moment I was ready to jack it all in and head for home.

As we worked our way south the heavens opened once more and even the normally fascinating industrial landscape of Blaenau Ffestiniog couldn't lift my dark mood. There was still a huge question mark over Cadair being open which if true would really have been the end of our day. What would we say to all of our generous sponsors? More importantly how would I cope with the disappointment of missing out on a day that I'd been looking forward to for the best part of six months?

P1060132 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

A tense two hour wait in a midge infested field finally heralded the words that we'd been waiting for just after seven o'clock. The mountain was open and we would be going for the top!

Act 5: Cadair Ascent
Having climbed Cadair Idris several times previously I can safely say that it is one of my favourite climbs in Wales, as well as being one of the toughest. In no time at all though we were out of the steeply sloped wooded section and making our way towards the lake at a very good pace. Clearly the training walks had been of use after all. An occasional heavy shower kept things damp but once they'd died away the clouds started to open up giving some spectacular views across the surrounding scenery. Photographically the lighting was perfect and I did my best to capture the scene without slowing the group up. In truth I was glad for the occasional rest as like the rest of us the previous nights lack of sleep was starting to take effect.

P1060137 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060138 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060142 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060144 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060149 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

From Llyn Cau we started to climb steeply up towards Craig Cau, even managing occasional glimpses down to the glacial Talyllyn Lake. Now well into our stride the dark mood from earlier in the day had been lifted as I remembered just how much I love to be out walking. Even the aches from an uncomfortable nights sleep were soon forgotten as I took in the vistas before me. If I could I'd be out here every single day as there really is no better antidote to the stresses and strains of modern living.

P1060150 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060152 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060160 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060161 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060163 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

P1060164 - Cadair Idris, Welsh3Peaks

We were probably only ten minutes from the top of Craig Cau when we realised that teams were starting to head back down the path far more quickly than would be usual. No way could they have completed the hefty descent and climb up to the true peak in such a short amount of time. Surely we weren't going to be denied a second summit as well .......

To be continued


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Kenfig - Birds, Bugs and Castles

Tuesday, June 04, 2013 Adam Tilt 8 Comments

There are now just two weeks left until our epic conquest of Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan (eek!), which probably explains my choice of destination on Saturday. Thus far our team training walks have all been in relatively cool, and often very damp, conditions meaning that my hot weather conditioning probably isn't what it should be. Therefore a six or seven mile trudge through the sand dunes at Kenfig NNR under clear skies and a blazing sun sounded like just the ticket, plus I'd get to squeeze in some decent birding as well.

P1050005 - Willow Warbler, Kenfig NNR

Compared to my last visit a couple of weeks ago there were far fewer birds present on the walk down to the lake, although I did manage to find the majority of expected spring migrants. A singing male Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, calling Swifts and Swallows plus several Willow Warblers were all showing pretty well, especially the latter which included the individual above replete with an insect stuffed beak. What was new however were the fifty or so Starlings noisily feeding in the bordering fields. The majority looked to be from this years breeding season and they seemed intent on telling everyone within ear shot just how happy they were to be on the wing. Slightly less vocal were a flock of thirty Canada Geese including this pair with five goslings. Everybody say awwwwww.

P1050011 - Canada Goose, Kenfig NNR

P1050012 - Canada Goose, Kenfig NNR

The single Greylag Goose is also still present and doesn't seem to have shaken the notion that it too is a Canadian..

P1050009 - Greylag Goose, Kenfig NNR

At the north hide I could hear at least two Reed Warblers singing and enjoyed watching a Sedge Warbler hopping through the reeds at close quarters. Again numbers seemed lower here than earlier in the season but that may have been due to fewer singing or the thicker vegetation simply obscuring them from view. For the first time this year there were also several species of Damselfly on the wing though sadly my identification skills aren't quite up to telling you exactly which ones.

My next target was the ruins of twelfth century Kenfig Castle which I last visited two years ago. Finding it is not an easy task and my route through the dunes doubled back on itself more than once as I was forced to skirt small copses of trees and standing water. Eventually the half buried remains hove into view and I set about exploring what turned out to be a far more extensive complex than I'd previously realised. Much of that is likely down to the Bracken and Brambles having not yet engulfed large areas which allowed me to access the surprisingly well preserved inner structure. There I found tantalising glimpses of what the castle used to look like including a large window and arched ceiling.

P1050019 - Kenfig Castle

P1050029 - Kenfig Castle

Those of you in the UK may have seen Kenfig castle featured on the last series of Time Team which revealed the settlement that used to surround these fortifications as well as the hard life of its inhabitants. Occupied by the English they were almost continually under attack from the Welsh with the castle being sacked on at least six occasions in 1167, 1183, 1232, 1242 and between 1294 and 1295. It is perhaps ironic then that it was the dunes themselves which finally forced the invaders out as sand slowly engulfed both the village and castle. How I'd love for it all to be cleared away so that we could see what lies beneath.

Kenfig Castle

From ancient history I returned to the present day as my route followed the river Kenfig towards its terminus with the coast. Along the way there was plenty of opportunity to observe yet more Willow Warblers as well as a pair of Jays and a Grey Heron fishing in a neighbouring farm pond. Keeping it company were another four Canada Geese with a healthy brood of twelve goslings. The real treat of the day though belongs to two Spotted Flycatchers which I found flitting along the path ahead of me. Notoriously skittish one landed at not too great a distance for me to complete my "slightly too small spring migrant in a tree" collection. Very nice.

P1050040 - Spotted Flycatcher, Kenfig NNR

Down at the salt-marsh a trio of Grey Herons were flying overhead with a male Reed Bunting about the only other bird visible. Singing Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers were evident however plus at least one Cetti's Warbler. It was to the ground I should have really been looking though as I came within a couple of millimetres of squashing a large Grass Snake with my size tens. I only just caught sight of it from the corner of my eye before it was off like a shot into cover. Those things can really shift when they want to!

By now I was considerably more singed than a few hours earlier so it seemed like an ideal time to head back inland before the landscape of endless sand dunes drove me completely mad. On the way a single Lapwing was calling noisily and there seemed to have been a decent emergence of what I think were Small Blues. They were way too mobile to photograph but reminded me that I'd caught a Small Heath on camera earlier in the day.

P1050013 - Small Heath, Kenfig NNR

A pause for breath delivered a colourful Burnet moth caterpillar on the very post against which I was resting.

P1050047 - Burnet Moth Caterpillar, Kenfig NNR

When I finally got back to the car I wasn't as dead as expected which bodes well for our three peaks challenge. If the heat is at a similar level however I may need to make like a Camel as I only had just enough water to keep me going. That's all I need; more weight to carry!


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White Ermine (Spilosoma Lubricipeda)

Monday, June 03, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

A couple of hours running the moth trap last Saturday night delivered another new moth for the garden in the shape of this rather nice White Ermine.

P1110135 - White Ermine

Unlike my previous catches this individual was found a short distance away from the trap instead of actually in it. I'm beginning to think that my original plan to place baffles around the bulb is now a necessity if I'm to increase my nightly catches beyond single digits. A trip to B&Q may soon be on the cards .......


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Evening at Rhossili

Saturday, June 01, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

After being virtually cooked alive in the office yesterday I was in need of some fresh air and a walk along the cliffs from Rhossili seemed like the perfect prescription. What I hadn't expected was the massive increase in wind that had occurred throughout the day, strong enough to rock the car on its suspension when we arrived. Fortunately it was still relatively warm and after a quick picnic we made our way out to the head and found a sheltered spot to sit and watch the world go by.

P1050004 - Worms Head

Almost the very first birds to appear were a family of Dunnocks consisting of two parents and two continually begging youngsters. The latter soon disappeared into cover but the parents stayed around as they hunted for food and sang to defend their territory.

P1040977 - Dunnock, Rhossili

P1040974 - Dunnock, Rhossili

A preening Meadow Pipit and incredibly loud and vocally varied Song Thrush were up next before the familiar call of a Linnet pricked my ears. I tracked it down to a colourful male perched on one of the old stone walls. I'd like to say that I tried to be arty with the next photo by keeping the bird small in the frame, but in reality we all know my complete lack of success in getting close to this species and that it was just an attempt to get at least a record shot under my belt. Even so the red plumage is shown to great effect.

P1040976 - Linnet, Rhossili

Besides the smaller birds our position also gave us commanding views across the water towards Fall Bay and beyond. I'd been hoping that today would be the day that I finally saw my first Gannets of the year, a wish that was fulfilled only a few minutes later. Two adult birds came gliding in from our right and quickly wowed us with dives straight down into the sea, quickly followed by at least three more further out. That triggered a steady passage of Gannets for the next half an hour or so which were soon joined by hundreds of Manx Shearwaters heading west. The low sun caught their pale undersides perfectly as they veered from side to side giving that classic black and white flash that I've come to love over the years. If I could have been on the small yacht that was right in the middle of all this action then I think I may have died and gone to heaven. Still, at least the only Fulmar we saw was closer to us than them.

View from Rhossili Head

Leaving our oasis of calm we once again faced into the wind for the walk back up to Rhossili and the car. We chose to follow the wall closely and found another relatively sheltered spot that was again busy with birds. A couple of Linnets made their anticipated pre-emptive dash for cover while we enjoyed watching a male Wheatear hunting for food, but it was this Meadow Pipit that proved to be incredibly photogenic.

P1040990 - Meadow Pipit, Rhossili

I'd have been happy with that photo alone had it not been for a tame male Stonechat that then sat up in a nearby Gorse bush. As it chatted away I crept into position for some great views and got to add a few more classics to my burgeoning Stonechat collection. Of all the birds we see around Wales these are undoubtedly amongst my favourites.

P1040998 - Stonechat, Rhossili 

There was also an added bonus in the shape of two Chough near the old fort. One hovered directly above us as it attempted to head into the wind before turning and disappearing in seconds.

P1040973 - Chough, Rhossili

Despite all this activity there were still a couple of signs that tell of our delayed spring this year. The major one was that the House Martins don't seem to have returned to the Worms Head hotel yet and the other was the still limited growth of Bracken. The latter is to be applauded but it will be interesting to see if there are any longer lasting effects in the coming months.


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