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Let’s go down to the woods today

Thoughtful and educated management of the dreaded conifer plantation

National Trust Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire

It has been just over 4 years since we started our work at Pont-ar-Daf, the woodland at one of the busiest access points to Pen-y-Fan.  When we first arrived on site, it was a neglected and unmanaged commercial crop.  A study of the site carried out by our nature conservation team considered it to be of little value to nature, the highlights being a strip of old birch and oak wood running through it at the north end, a drainage ditch at the south end and a failed Scots Pine crop in the middle, each being quite significant for the species found in them.

DSC_0084 Work only just starting at the beginning of 2012

The wood has changed somewhat since then, rapidly at first with the discovery of a disease in the larch trees (Phytophthora ramorum) and more gradually as we have improved access around the woods to allow for future…

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Pen Allt Mawr & Pen Cerrig Calch circular walk Brecon Beacons

The Pens of Hywell the Good.

We have waited and waited for some proper mountains weather, all through the festive season I have ate like a king, of course purely to pack on the calories in anticipation of a good few months of walking, but to no avail its just be windy warm and wet and the weather has been shocking as well. So imagine my excitement when the forecast eventually started to shape up and social media was buzzing with weather forecasts, updates, opinions, guess work and general gossip about the pending Arctic plunge.

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Abbey and Craig Ddu

I have had this nice half day walk on my to do list as a video for a while. Its the start of the Grwyne Fecahn valley and kicks off the other half of my Black Mountains walking routes series. With the Hatterrall and Ffawdogg ridges already being filmed, which covers Llanthony, longtown and Capel Y ffin and is a great place to start if your new to walking in the area or my walking blogs.

If you have travelled from Brecon to Abergavenny you know this particular hill very well, as its the one the dominates the sky line to the east as you drop down the hair pin from Bwlch.  It accompanies you along the road as you pass the Glan Usk Estate and stands ominously above Crickhowell, with the famous Table top Mountain luring you up into the hills. We walked most of the side of the hill on the Beacons Way walk passing the commemorative plaque dedicated to the founding father of the Beacons Way route, John Sansom.  

Beacons

This also happens to be the first time the sheepdawg has been out in the snow only being 6 months old. If you want to find out a bit more about the sheepdawgs background have a look here our new mini series ” postcard from the hills

So grab your spikes your stove and join me for another mooch about in the hills.

As with all the Walking route series there is a G.P.S route to download that will work on smartphones, G.P.S devices and can be loaded into google earth.

Click to download free map
Click to download free map
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First Snow of the 2015-16 Season Pen Y Fan Circular

With a forecast looking as delectable as this what better place to be to welcome the first snow of the 2015-16 season than the highest summit in the Brecon Beacons.

first snow forecast And with it being so so early in the season its only the 21st November. The excitement was building right across social media with it also being on a weekend, it was fantastic I do so love the almost tribal buzz with people all across the country getting excited about the weather and the landscape.

Trying to fight off the 12 year boy in my head and keeping my photography head on I started to plan the images and video I was going to try and record. With an abundance of people being out on the hills and gale force winds the place was going to have a dramatic feel for sure, and being partly inspired by the work of John Noel I had a few potential images in my rattling about in my head as I tried in vain to sleep that night.

So join me once again for a mooch about in the hills.

I have put together a free GPS route download just click on the map below

pyf winter map

 

 

 

 

 

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Perseids Meteor Shower 2015

There are several seasonal events that I always try and be out in the hills for, the Solstices, the equinoxes and Lyrid and Perseids meteor showers. Weather always plays a part in these events and their potential but when it comes to meteor showers not only are clear skies an important element but the moon also comes into play with a new moon being the best phase to give dark skies ( something the Brecon Beacons has become very famous for ).

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The Perseids are dust and debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle that burn up in our atmosphere as we crash through it.  You may recognise the silhouette in the image as its my local go to spot ( Sugarloaf Mountain ) for things happening in the northern sky such as the Aurora. To get the best from these events I do tend to spend the whole night out in the hills and set up my gear to record a timelapse sequence.

The shower peaks on the night of the 12th but due to weather I was out on the night of the 11th and even though I do find these events fascinating and humbling I don`t think 2015 was the best shower I have seen but travelling though the universe at  8.5 miles/sec and expecting to collide with few grains of sand will always be a bit hit and miss so to speak but on to the next event and the autumnal Equinox.

Cotton Grass dusk

The Cotton Road

   Eriophorum ( cotton grass ) June

The bluebells have now all but gone over as spring gives way to summer but fear not we have one mass emergence of flowers still left to satisfy our botanical addiction. If you followed my diary we accompanied spring emerging deep in the valleys and erupting up the side of the Skirrid Mountain. Our next member of the spring orchestra occupies the highest, covers the largest and most wild places of our hills.

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With very little competition from other species especially bracken, cotton grass thrives in what otherwise looks like a barren savannah. However if you can time your visit for the first two weeks at the beginning of June the plains are elevated to an ethereal sight they become the birthplace of clouds, especially at dawn when the song of the Golden Plover and Skylark accompany the breeze.cotton grass,breconbeacons,brecon beacons,photography,locations

Eriophorum or cotton grass to us new romantics is in fact from the Cyperaceae ( sedge) family and not actually part of the Poaceae (grass ) family. This important nerdy fact gives us our most important clue in the search for cotton grass, sedges thrive in damp boggy and in the case of cotton grass acidic peat rich soil. These set of condition need to be relativity flat for water to collect and at an altitude where other plants especially bracken,nettles,balsam can not thrive.

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Cotton grass like the red grouse is holding onto what used to be Arctic tundra and its long term future under changing climatic conditions is uncertain but whilst its here its is definitely worth a visit, as with some dry warm weather to bouffant the seed heads the photographer is given a hypnotic subject to photograph. With the sun being low to the horizon at dusk and providing a sensuous back lighting, couple that with a long shutter speed and you will be lost in a wet sate of euphoria.

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So enjoy a round up of our favourite places across the Brecon Beacons to to see this fabulous flower in all its floaty fluffy glory

The Black Mountains ( Waun Fach )

I have put together a free downloadable smartphone map of my favourite walk in the Black Mountains to visit the cotton fields. It starts at Grwyne Fawr and leads up on to the moorland of Waun Fach. Being a lover of technology I have also put together a photosphere tour of the area just to prepare you for the journey

click to download map
click to download map

The cotton grass is not just found in the Black Mountains is can be discoverd right across the Brecon Beacons. I have asked the renowned Brecon Beacons photographers to contribute a few of their favourite locations for cotton grass with an eye to photographing this fab little plant.

 Central Beacons Ystradfellte

     Matt Botwood

IMG_0588-2
copyright 2015 Matt Botwood

click image for Google map location

 Matt writes
                       ”  The wild area of marshy grasslands at the source of the Afon Llia is the perfect environment for cotton grass. The area is also home to one of the most impressive standing stones in the Brecon Beacons, The 3.7m high Maen Llia. This provides an interesting focal point when photographing the flowers and some of the best patches of cotton grass are very close to the stone. My preference for the time of day to visit is morning – anything before 11am really. This allows a composition including the stone with one of the largest areas of grass in the foreground and optimum lighting conditions. Morning light from this angle illuminates the flower heads from the side or behind but leaves the stone dark making it stand out more in the landscape.The location is easily accessible from the road (just a hop over a stile) but is still surprisingly quiet during weekdays, and is also a great starting point for a stroll up to the summit of Fan Nedd. “
  Matt is currently engaged in a year long photographic essay of Maen Llia which can be found here

Western Beacons

Grant Hyatt 

In Grants words

         Llyn y Fan Fawr

Cotton-grass-Llyn-y-fan-fawr
copyright Grant Hyatt Photography 2015

click image for Google map location

   ” Llyn y Fan Fawr is without a doubt my favourite place in the Brecon Beacons, not because of the lakes beauty or of the summit of Fan Brycheiniog that towers above it – because of how remote this place feels and of how isolated and alone (but never lonely) you feel up here. The lake sits at a little over 600m above sea level, with the River Tawe emerging from hillside beneath. The walk up is a boggy with only a faintly trampled grassy path on which to follow and come up without Gaiters on and you are almost certainly going to end up with wet feet! Truth be told this is always a place I struggle to photograph and I have spent many hours here at all times of the day and well in to the night. I think the wintry early morning light is the most complimentary of conditions to spend photographing the lake and the surrounding hills. The suns first light reflecting off the snow covered slopes of Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog is pretty special indeed! ”

 

Carreg Cennen Castle

copyright Grant Hyatt Photography 2015
click image to view google maps

” Carreg Cennen Castle doesn’t need much of an introduction. Arguably one of Wales’ most dramatically placed castles and the scene for a considerable amount of Marriage Proposals I am told! There are 2 way-marked routes that take you around the base of the castle and to some of the lower neighbouring hills. Both are easily navigable and take you through farmers fields where sheep/cows graze, across streams and over small rocky outcrops. In my opinion some of the nicer walking and best views are offered up by a trail that takes you over some Bronze Age Burial Cairns called Tair Cairn Uchaf and Tair Cairn Isaf. On good days from this walk you can see right out west into the Towy Valley and is a great place to watch the effect that dawn’s light has on the Castle, the jagged cliffs below and the patchwork of farmers fields surrounding it. ”

Garreg Llwyd

Garreg Las
copyright Grant Hyatt Photography 2015

click image to view google map location

” This area is a great area to do a little easy walking and escape the crowds. Steep inclines you will not find here, nor will you find much that  resembles a path. But the going is easy and has great views over the Upper Swansea / Amman Valleys and on a clear day you can just about make out the Meridian Tower on Swansea’s Marina.  Garreg Llwyd (also known as Moel Garnach) is a peak in the Black Mountain Range on the Western Edges of the park. This area is best known for it’s industrial history, with Herberts Quarry on it’s Northern Slopes. The old Lime Kilns and deep quarried scars are visible for quite some distance and offer up a lower level walk with information points along the way giving you an insight in to how busy a workplace this once was. “

Landscape Photographers Diary

Brecon Beacons Landscape Photographers Diary……the end

With the 60th episode and the explosion of the bluebells our Diary project at last closes. I have tried to share with you guys a typical landscape photography season across the Black Mountains. We started off back in August knee deep in heather and hope, we watched the autumnal colour flare up and vanish in a puff of breeze. We fought blizzards and gale force winds explored cliffs and Darens, walked the high ridges of the llanthony valley and chased the Dragons Breath mist. We stuck our noses into the derelict farm houses and the long legacy of the People of the Black Mountains and sowed the seeds of potential collections of work and I promise we will get out on Llangors Lake in the old canoe very soon. You got introduced to and become to love Meg or ” Lurch ” and if the truth be know she was the star of the project as she faithfully accompanied me up in to the hills in some tasty weather.

It was all filmed on an iphoney 4s and is very rough and ready but I wanted the fast paced fly on the wall feel to the project. I do hope that it has inspired you to pay the area a visit and above all else grab your camera and head for the hills, please feel free to share your stories, adventures and photos of your time in the area on our social media or via email. I thank you all for your input, comments, shares, likes & favs it did keep the project alive.

 

 

 

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Brecon Beacons Landscape Photography Diary…Spring April Week 3

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The procession of the flowers and plants that emerge during spring has always fascinated and every year I go in search of them. I have been visiting this patch of woodland on the Skirrid Mountain for 25 years but still I get excited by the appearance of the flora. The building to the bluebell explosion takes me back to being a child and the opening my advent calendar, the feeling of excitement builds with each member of the woodland party that arrives.

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Brecon Beacons Landscape Photography Diary…Spring April Week 2

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      With life starting to show everywhere we again return to the Skirrid Mountain . The birdsong is building the wood anemones are in flower and our patch of wild daffodils are developing nicely but there are hints and flecks of blue starting to appear so a visit to my favourite spring tree in anticipation of the bluebell show to come and to enjoy the dusk chorus

 

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Brecon Beacons Landscape Photography Diary…Spring April Week 1

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We enter the final month of the Landscape Photographers Diary a project which we started back at the beginning of the season way back knee deep in heather last August. I honestly thought I would of only done a handful of vlog diary posts and it would of faded away but here we are close to 60 episodes and we have experience everything from hurricanes  blizzards and of course the now famous Dragons Breath not to mention some of the flora and fauna of the Black Mountains. I embark on the last month with mixed feelings, of joy that spring is at last here and with some sadness that with the opening of the leaves my season is coming to an end but before we all get teary eyed  lets loose our selves in the hedonistic aroma of spring which we will follow over the course of April building to the crescendo of the Blue Bells