Getting the Dingle Tingle

A beautiful walk with the dogs this morning up through Clyro Dingle, which is a short walk from the house. There are five of these steep sided secret places within a mile or two of the village. Each has been cut to the bedrock by water and each still carries water from the hills down into the River Wye.

Much as I love our dogs they do not make good companions when I’m trying to make photographs, so I have learned to leave the gear behind and just enjoy the walk and their company. I do take my iPhone, which comes in handy when I see something interesting and want to record it for a later visit – without the dogs. Such was the case this morning: two excited dogs, water and the time to explore further up stream than we have been before. Sam our Labrador loves water and tends to charge on ahead and disappear; but in a confined space like the dingles I can generally tell where he is by the noise, and if he finds something scary: pile of rocks, odd shaped stick, a shadow, he is always back very quickly. Millie our 14 year old Terrier is, by comparison, stoic. She doesn’t see the point of water except for refreshment. She is a very agile, fit, little dog who enjoys a walk and exploring new territory, but prefers dry land to water. Having to follow me this morning produced a look of silent suffering as we trudged, splashed and slipped our way up stream. Her thought bubble clearly saying “I love him but he is a complete idiot”.

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Millie has a habit of standing on anything small that you might be studying. I found what I thought was a Yellow Nettle and was kneeling to get a better view, when she comes trundling past and true to form tanked all across the poor plant, which was surprisingly robust considering it had just had 10 kilos of dog on it.

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These places are unique and so important for the preservation of species. Fortunately our dingles still seam to be clean: the water smells fresh and there is no evidence of farm slurry or poisoning by pesticide run-off. Places like this will only remain safe if those responsible for the headlands above behave responsibly. Fortunately a large area of the hills above is owned by the National Trust (God bless’em) so no risk there. All the surrounding farms grow sheep and most seem to favour permanent pasture over the questionable benefits of the annual ploughing and resowing with rye grass regime favoured by so many lowland farmers. So hopefully we will be exploring and enjoying these wonderful little oases of wildness for a long time to come.

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An algorithm that reads images poetically

“They smelled the strings,” said Manson and he said, “I’m going to have a beer.”

Sometime ago I came across the work of Ross Goodwin and his extraordinary WORD.CAMERA project. The extremely talented Mr Goodwin has developed a free web application which, when you capture or upload a photograph to it applies algorithms to determine the objects and concepts present in the image and then produces a text passage in response to what it has identified. It is very clever with obvious images of ‘things’ but when presented with more complex, less obvious, images ‘things’ can get really interesting. Take this image of sand and mud washed by a beach stream; the algorithm does very well when generating nouns to describe what is there but when it then attempts to write a short piece of prose poetry based on the image we move quickly into the sureal – or the world of William Gibson, I’m not sure which is odder.

WORD.CAMERA has, I think, considerable potential as a keyword generator, producing a much wider range of nouns than I would ever come up with – not all useful perhaps, but an interesting way to stimulate how I think about my images and much more fun than using a theasarus.

On a previous visit to WORD.CAMERA using a very different image it gave me the word ‘Woodsy’ which I treasure.

nature, outdoors, fabric, snow, no person, desktop, wear, pattern, mountain, geology, art, abstract, color, eruption, wave, rock, desert, texture, stone, volcano
A no person, a desktop, and a pattern.
“They smelled the strings,” said Manson and he said, “I’m going to have a beer.” “How do you know?” “Well, I can’t believe he was the sixty-new Commander.
A texture, a rock, and a nature, a predator’s meaning to the dark, Now the doctor is real lady and not blood in his hands.

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New Year’s Day on Twmpa

A clear, bright new year’s morning with little wind tempted a group of us up onto Twmpa, on the northern escarpment of the Black Mountains. We were rewarded by clear blue sky, crisp snow and, for a while, an empty mountain. I don’t usually take a camera if I’m walking with a group: there are too many distractions and there is never enough time to stop and ponder. But on this first day of the new year I decided to take a chance and I’m glad that I did.

A change of viewpoint

We walk our dogs on the Begwns, an area of moderately high grassland common that sits between the Black Mountains and the Wye Valley to the South and high moorland to the North. Some mornings when mist or rain obscures the view I do wonder why we are plodding across open grassland and bracken without any shelter from the howling winds or wandering about in thick mists trying to find: (a) the dogs and (b) the way off. But on every other morning we are treated to views like the one below.

Waun Fach from the Begwns

Looking across the Wye Valley to Mynydd Troed early this morning with the sun rising over Hay Bluff.

Most of the snow and ice has disappeared now from the southern hillsides of the Begwns but not on the little ponds and streams that appear in the autumn and are gone again by summer. Jill and I have started to visit them every morning to see how the ice has changed overnight and I thought that I would share a few of them here. There seems to be no end to the variations in the ice formations or the patterns made by the frozen plants.

Begwns Frozen Water Weed Begwns Frozen Water Weed and Bracken Ice Patterns in the Frozen reed Stumps Begwns Frozen Stream 4 Begwns Frozen Stream 3 Begwns Frozen Stream 2 Begwns Frozen Stream 1 Begwns Frozen Bracken

Finally one image of the Begwns as it was a week ago after the thaw had begun. No images of it under snow – there was nothing to see but snow.

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A wet Tuesday morning on Hay Bluff

It has been four and a half months since we moved to our new home in the Welsh Marches. I foolishly thought that once we had unpacked all the boxes and hung a few pictures on the walls that it would be back to normal and out of the door for a long walk with the camera. I had forgotten how long it can take to get a new home straight and an unfamiliar garden under control: four and a half months in our case.

By the time December arrived we had completed all of the urgent jobs and felt that the rest could wait until the new year, so it was time to get outdoors with the camera again. I’ve made several attempts in the last week to capture the clouds that have been sitting on top of the northern edge of the Black Mountains range. Last week a blizzard hid the tops and finally drove me off Hay Bluff, this week the weather has been kinder but is still very wet. Yesterday Hay Bluff was completely hidden by cloud but from about half way up the single track road that leads to the car park and the Gospel Path beyond it was possible to watch the clouds formations over Twmpa, or Lord Hereford’s Knob if you prefer, and what I think is Mynydd Bychan beyond. This was hand held into a howling gale and driving rain, so no opportunity for graduated filters, tripods and other luxuries.

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Afon Marteg

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This is one of several falls that bring the Marteg from high up in the Cambrian Mountains to its confluence with the mighty Wye. The falls are all situated in the beautiful setting of the Gilfach Nature Reserve – part of the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust. Gilfach is a traditional 410 acre hill farm – untouched since the 1960’s. It is locally unique because of its wide variety of habitats: high moorland to enclosed meadow; oak woodland to rocky upland river. The reserve is worth a visit at any time of year so I’ve included a link to their web site below.

http://www.rwtwales.org/index.php/radnorshire-wildlife-trust-reserves/gilfach.html

Sgwd yr Eira – the curtain waterfall

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A long easter weekend with friends in Wales and a stunning walk through the valley of the Mellte river in Brecon. At the point where the Afon Hepste, a tributary of the Mellte, leaps over a 50 foot cliff between high banks can be found the curtain waterfall of Sgwd yr Eira. The unusual feature of this fall is the narrow path that runs behind its thundering curtain of water and under the rock overhang that forms the lip of the fall.

I’ve read that the path was once used by sheep farmers which is, I think, a mark of how tough the people here have to be. The only way down to the river bed is by a long, steep decent on wooden steps – a recent addition – taking the track down before the steps were built would have been a dangerous venture. The approach from the river bed to the fall path is over loose, wet rock and the path itself is narrow and wet. The climb up the other side is also steep and narrow. Herding sheep this way would have been as tough as it gets.

In the Welsh ‘Eira’ means snow. Standing under the thundering falls your immediate attention is taken by the main force of water, no more than a metre away, as it crashes into the pool just below, but on either side where the force is less the water appears to fall more slowly and where the light catches the droplets you could be forgiven for thinking that it was in fact snowing.

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