Above and beyond Elan Valley

The last Sunday in October and – clocks adjusted – we made our way to Rhayader for a few autumn days. The extent of the rain – which had persisted well into the previous night – was apparent from the volume of water overflowing the rim of Caban-Coch dam. Earlier in the day we had been forced into a minor diversion around Leintwardine: the confluence of the rivers Clun and Teme lies just outside the village and the accumulation of water was threatening to overwhelm the historic stone bridge. Flood levels in the low-lying fields suggested that the caution was justified.

A path skirts Caban-Coch on its southern side; spurs from the same path zig-zag their way around Cnwch Wood – fairly quiet at this time of year, but alive with nesting flycatchers and redstarts during the months of spring and early summer. They’ll be somewhere much warmer by now.

Anyway, back to the path. Running slightly west of south it follows the eastern bank of the reservoir, dropping in places almost to the water’s edge when the level is, like today, high enough to overflow the dam. Soon an inlet is reached; the route swings around to the south east and begins to climb steadily, taking you above the remnants of Nant-y-Gro dam, which played a part in the preparations for the WW2 Dambusters raid.

The narrow path skirting the edge of Caban-Coch reservoir

The Garreg-ddu dam and road bridge – much less prominent than is usually the case

The track now begins to bear east, then north east; finally levelling out adjacent to a small area of coniferous woodland. At around 420 metres, this is the highest part of the walk and the views are mostly of the bleak, high moorland so characteristic of this part of mid-Wales. Frequently trackless, invariably arduous, there was a time when this was one of my ‘go to’ places when solitude was needed.

Scanning around with binoculars I managed to pick up the outline of one of the twin summit cairns of Drygarn Fawr – the highest point in the locality, a place as lonely and remote as just about any in Wales, a favourite lunch spot in times past. A few yards further on, a change of angle, and both cairns were visible; they date back to the bronze age and had been restored and maintained in good condition last time I was up there. That was some years ago now and, as is inevitable with so much still to see, it’s possible that there may not be a next time.

The distant summit cairns of Drygarn Fawr: many a good day, many a soaking…

The moorland extending to Drygarn Fawr and beyond – sometimes known as the Abergwesyn Commons – is owned by the National Trust and shares boundaries with the Elan Valley Trust and the RSPB reserve at Carngaffalt. All of which gives cause for optimism for the ongoing stewardship of the area.

The path eventually gives way to a short section of tarmac walking: a farm road at first, followed by a brief stint on a quiet, minor road  – unclassified as far as I can tell – bordered on both sides by the mature woodlands of the RSPB reserve. A gentle downhill return via these woods leads back towards Elan Village, crossing one the many small watercourses which feed into the Afon Elan.

A return to mid Wales

This is mostly a photo post: it was the second visit of the year to the Rhayader/Elan Valley area and, coincidentally, the walking was mostly defined by the heavy rains which had preceded our few days there. ‘Coincidentally’ because this had been exactly the case back in May; sustained spells of heavy rain – not exactly a rarity in mid Wales – can turn some of the hills into a quagmire, and a misery to walk.

However, there are compensations to be had from arriving in the aftermath of a good deluge…

The overflowing dam at Penygarreg reservoir – viewed from Penbont

As above, but from a little closer. Or possibly zoomed

The rain was just about over by the time we arrived, but there was still plenty of low cloud around and a heavy clinging dampness hanging in the air. This is Wales – come prepared!

The fire in the distance looked more appealing the closer we got. It turned out to be forestry workers on clearing duties, rather than wild campers

By mid afternoon, the combination of clearing skies and steadily lowering sun had lent an altogether different feel to the water and surrounding hillsides…

Better had been promised for the next day, and was duly delivered…

Inevitably, in this part of Wales, there would be red kite…

Looking for feeding opportunities among the boulders

And taking advantage of thermals, conspicuously absent on the previous day


The colours of autumn…

This was always intended to be mostly pictures, few words, but…

When you look out from an upstairs window and see firstly this…


Quickly followed by this…dscn1093

And then this…dscn1092

You do begin to wonder if you’re living in the real life version of Independence Day

Other than that, it’s been more about the familiar greens, browns and golds…






5 pictures above: Wyre Forest Country Park – early November 2016; the lower shot is of Dowles Brook and Knowles Mill, taken through the trees.



2 pictures above: Malvern Hills, looking west – added 19th November 2016

The sunset quickly lost its fire and faded as the sun dropped towards the horizon…




* None of these shots has been colour enhanced or ‘Photoshopped’ in any way, other than some slight cropping. They are exactly as the camera sensor recorded them; nature needs no help from me.


Autumn’s first real bite

Summer ends, inevitably. At some point the season becomes undeniably autumn.

The thing with summers, though – our summers –  is that, rather than storming out and slamming the door behind them, they have a tendency to slip quietly away. A whole September can pass, and then some of October, with the feeling that the end of summer still lingers, declining slowly, encroaching into autumn’s allotted time, delaying the changes which must inevitably come if nature’s work is to be accomplished – wind down; shutdown; restart…

And then, one day, it is unequivocally, unmistakably autumn. And here’s the odd bit – it already was, had been for a while but, just as summer exits quietly, autumn arrives without commotion; a seamless, understated handover.

This year, I hadn’t really noticed autumn until it was almost time to adjust the clocks. The combination of an extended dry spell and negligible winds had left the trees still holding a lot of leaf, even if the colours were changing. Losing that hour of daylight at the end of the day removed any lingering ambiguity.

Today, the message was reinforced by a wind more typical of midwinter – a biting, hostile, north-easterly. This was the day when an extra layer was added and never shed, even on the sustained uphill pulls; the day when we began the walk already wearing gloves – no need to “wait and see”. Today, I fished my Montane Prism out of the rucksack when we stopped for lunch, hunkered out of the wind in a sculpted hollow just about the size of a small sofa. When we set off again, the temptation was there to leave the jacket on but that would inevitably have involved stopping to discard it very soon afterwards.


The enduring pull of Shropshire


We return frequently to the Shropshire hills, and more to the Long Mynd than any other: 35 miles by road, a journey generally hassle-free, giving the feeling of proper hill country made accessible. The height might be unspectacular, but the complexity of the terrain and the propensity for ground-hugging mists, particularly in autumn, makes for some interesting outings. You can lose yourself in more ways than one.

45530185107941__405x720-argb_88881818675229The valleys (hollows), which cut into the hills, provide a variety of ways to reach the plateau; and indeed a variety of options for returning by a different route. “Plateau” shouldn’t be taken as meaning table-top flat; there’s plenty of undulation – some of it subtle, some less so. Many of the hollows carry a stream (although ‘brook’ seems to be favoured locally), often fed by springs, some of which are marked on the OS 1:25000 maps. Reduced to little more than a trickle at times, they can be difficult to cross at others – it is proper hill country!

For a time – an all too brief time each summer – there is the possibility of spotting a hobby, most likely in pursuit of a dragonfly; a still better chance of catching a fleeting glimpse of a merlin on the move. The merlins seem to have moved on, as indeed do the peregrines, although the latter were apparently sighted hunting over the hollows until a couple of weeks ago. The kestrel and buzzards seem to be ‘stayers’ though; and it’s no longer a surprise to spot a nonchalant, drifting kite. Not that raptors exactly have things all their own way: ravens go about their business without apparently feeling the need for a by your leave; ravens can probably take care of themselves.

Spotted for the first time last weekend, a respectably sized flock of golden plover – wheeling and diving over the moorland, dropping down into the heather, taking to the air again en-masse, endlessly repeating. They could be new arrivals – the UK population swells anything up to tenfold over the winter.

Winter will mean more layers: down jackets stuffed into the pack for rest stops; hats, gloves, thicker socks. All of those out-of-the-wind crannies will come in handy; just as long as we can remember where they are.

Pictures above: [Top]: Mist and watery sunshine – Long Mynd; [Above left]: Walkers descending into Light Spout Hollow, Long Mynd


Light spout waterfall, reduced to a trickle following an extended spell of dry weather


Detail from Routebuddy OSGB 217 – The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge (1:25000) – showing a number of springs feeding the brook in Ashes Hollow

From the vaults: Remember the days? (14/11/2012)

P1060137The days when we’d write about walks and walking? We were so much younger then; wild like the wind (that’s Cat Stevens, by the way, if it sounds familiar). What happened to us? What became of the people, we used to be? I’m now beginning to think it might be possible to construct an entire post from plagiarised song lyrics. Seriously, though; I’d almost lost sight of why I started this blog…

Outings of late seem to have been shoehorned into the gaps between extended passages of what is apparently known as life. Sustaining yourself via the misguided belief that things are going to get easier after next week seems to be part of the human condition. It’s a bloody good job those seismic shifts in times bygone folded up a few hills for us.

The whole of Sunday being already divided into a series of bite-sized time slots, it was Saturday or nothing for a quick blast around the local hills; not ideal – these days I am much more of a leisurely saunter than a quick blast disposition.

The forecast was for early mist and rain to clear quickly. For a while this looked to be erring on the side  of optimism but eventually the last of the cobwebs were dispersed and there was a rare clarity to the air; more akin to a crisp winter’s day than an autumn one after a damp start, with views to the ‘next’ layer of hills – the ones you don’t always get to see. Under the tree canopy things were different – a general dampness and a smell of fungus; earthy but not unpleasant.

By autumn standards it’s been relatively windless for a good few days now and there are many millions of leaves just waiting for that last nudge to send them tumbling to the woodland floor. Then it will all look different again.

We are keeping our eyes open for signs of diseased ash trees: they are relatively few in number on the local hills but are one of the more prolific varieties to be found along canal towpaths and riversides. Leaves either on the turn or already fallen makes spotting early signs all the more difficult.

From the vaults: Leaf fall (30/11/2009)

Leaf fall

Autumn is an ambiguous season. There’s an inevitable melancholy associated with the end of summer and shrinking of the daylight hours. But there are compensations too: that distinctive autumn light, the smells of garden bonfires and, perhaps best of all, the turn and fall of the leaves.

This year’s leaf fall was a protracted one here in the English midlands. As late summer gave way to an extended spell of mild
autumn weather, mixed woodlands were a riot of colour as the different varieties turned and gradually dropped to ground over a number of weeks. It was also helpful that wind speeds stayed unseasonably benign throughout much of that time, giving the trees an opportunity to shed their foliage at an unhurried pace.

All in all it was a spectacle which went a long way towards lifting the gloom surrounding the dying of the light. A clear, crisp, blue sky winter, with bone hard frosts and snow on the tops, would round the year off nicely.