Saturday, 14 August 2010

Geograph walk on August 12th 2010

This was a successful combination of Geograph collection, exploring a remote area that I didn't know and having a first-class walk into the bargain. My starting point was part way along the minor road from Rhandir-mwyn to Pumsaint, north of Llandovery and south of Llyn Brianne. An early start from home meant that I was walking by 10.00. and returned to the car by 15.30 having covered just over 10 miles. The weather was cloudy and showery, with a strong northwesterly blowing at exposed sites. The 10 Geographs that I took may be viewed at - search for my name or the 10 squares to see them: SN7048 SN7148 SN7049 SN6949 SN6950 SN6849 SN6848 SN6847 SN6947 and SN6648. I had seen on the Geograph website that these 10 squares still had no image submitted, and their location and proximity dictated the route of the walk.

I've not found a way to add a route map to this blog, but the Geograph website is flexible enough to see the area at Ordnance Survey 1:50000 scale.

When I hooked up again with my partner we had an interesting conversation about the gap between listening to a story told about a walk and being there to experience it. Blogging about walking can possibly convey some small part of the experience and this is partly why I have created this blog (it's also to build my skills and see what I feel about the process).

These are some of the rich experiences I had on the walk (psychogeography?):

There was a long walk into the heart of the wilderness along a dirt road that climbed high above a superb deep gorge cut by the headwaters of Afon Cothi, complete with a waterfall far below me. The road dropped precipitously at a point where I was passed by a 4x4 heading for Nantyrast; the occupants exchanged a glance with me but didn't stop to ask me where I was going (so I guessed my presence wasn't a problem to them). The next point was Garthynty, inhabited but with no one around except geese and chickens - with a strong smell. I later decided that the battered, untaxed and unplated Land Rover that was parked near the start of the dirt road belonged to the inhabitants of Garthynty and was used by them to negotiate the rugged passage to and from their home, after and before transferring to a car for road journeys. I took a Geograph of Nantyrast soon after entering SN7048; walking directly past it shortly afterwards there were all the signs of an active hill farm: sheep, cattle, horses, vehicles, farm equipment, outbuildings and barking dogs. When approaching the farm again later in the day I could see a small 'buggy' travelling back to the farm having attracted a crowd of sheep.

SN7148 was photographed by taking the second track branching off after Nantyrast. I discovered a pair of hidden miniature V-shaped valleys with a confluence.

I then cut straight across the rough grassland to the next ridge to the northwest. Emerging on the crest of the ridge I left shelter and was hit for the first time that day by the northwesterly wind; at the same point a Red Kite soared overhead, riding the wind on its huge wings. I pointed the camera due north for a Geograph of SN7049.

I returned to the track shortly before it ended (exactly where the map shows). There were a pair of quad bike ruts heading into the wilderness, so I stuck with them and headed west and then northwest into SN6949. Even with the ruts there were some big tussocks with deep wet depressions in between them to negotiate but the ground became smoother and drier towards the ridge of Bryn Ceiliogau. I took the Geograph looking NNE into some very remote upland.

Lan Fawr in SN6950 was the next objective and to reach it I had to cross another expanse of tussocks and boggy hollows. The weather closed in as I reached the summit and the murky view north was across very empty hills.

Turning south down the flank of Lan Fawr meant that I had no sight of Blaen Twrch farm, although I could see an abandoned quad bike on the hillside to the southwest. I took the Geograph for SN 6849 looking southwest towards an intake of improved pasture where there were more signs of human activity than I'd seen for over an hour. I decided to avoid the enclosed land and headed towards the distant plantation to the left, across a wide area of tussocky bog.

The bog proved the toughest of many crossed that day, and I developed a technique of stepping slowly and carefully from tussock to tussock, feeling out the deep voids between them with my walking poles. Eventually I reached drier ground and cut straight to the edge of the plantation, which I followed up to the point where a track emerged. This was the subject for the SN 6848 Geograph; a very lonely spot where I found dry shelter for my lunch stop. I was beginning to realise what a truly remote place I was in - rarely visited and therefore potentially dangerous if I were to injure myself. I carried on down the track into the plantation and was struck by how suddenly it became overgrown beyond a small quarry; the track became impassable to any vehicle, with gorse and young conifers growing through the chippings. I was keenly aware that if I got stuck here, there would be no passer-by to find me by chance or to hear my calls for help; I was glad that I'd left an outline of my walk with my partner. I found some bright red toadstools - not Fly Agarics but possibly a Russula of some kind - in the deep shade of the conifers. Just before the track disappeared completely I was able to get out into the open via a fire break on the left.

Crossing the headwaters of the Cothi was very tricky tussock-hopping to avoid deep boggy pits. I climbed the short steep slope of Cerrig Cyffion and Geographed square SN6847 from its summit. A short walk down the eastern flank of the peak opened up the view across SN6947 for another Geograph.

Much easier walking northeast along a deserted dirt track brought me to the highlight of the walk - the ruins of Blaen Cothi farm. This is a dramatic location surrounded by hills with no inhabited building to be seen. There was plenty of evidence of farming activity in the not too distant past, including a brick-built sheep dip. I was able to look through a window space of the crumbling farmhouse and see the chimney breast with fireplaces on two floors; the downstairs one still had a cast iron hook for a pot and the upstairs one held a small bedroom fireplace grate (see supplementary Geograph for square SN6948). I tried to picture winter nights for the hardy souls in that upstairs room, cuddled up in bed with a small fire burning; how long ago did the last fire burn here?

After a bit more bog to cross it was an easy walk back to the car, with some spectacular views of the Cothi gorge as I got closer. A pot of tea and cake was most welcome at the tea shop in Rhandir-mwyn. This was a wonderful walk in a little-visited area, during which I 'bagged' 10 Geographs.

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