This is the headwater of Craig Goch the highest upstream of the series of dams that contain the waters of the Elan and Claerwen rivers in what is known as the Elan Valley: a ‘y’ shaped from the valleys of the Elan and Claerwen rivers. The hills in the distance are part of the remote Mid Wales uplands, known in Welsh as the Elenydd; an area that extends virtually from the Brecon Beacons in the south to Snowdonia in the north. Both the River Severn and the River Wye have their sources within the Elenydd.
A gentle wind tickles the water surface, the only sound comes from the chittering of a family of Long Tailed Tits in a tree behind me, and the winter sun is slowly setting over the hills to the West. I’m standing on the edge of a human formed lake with the dam behind me – part of an enormous piece of Victorian engineering that has lost none of its functionality or spectacle today. The engineering was breath taking in its ambition and design. And yet. And yet: all I can feel is the enormity of the Elenydd spreading out around me and beyond my imagination. Nature has taken command of these vast reservoirs and made them its own.
As the land rises up from the valley of the Wye northwards from the Black Mountains; one modest step on its accent towards the high moorland tops is an elongated hump of bracken covered common land known as The Begwns. To the casual visitor it may appear to be a sheep infested, bracken covered, featureless piece of un-cultivated land suitable only for pony trekking and dog walking and therefore not worthy of any further investigation. A position that those of us who visit the Begwns every day with our dogs, or ponies, are happy to encourage; because you have to spend time with the Begwns to understand it richness and beauty. Groups of disgruntled tourists would only get in the way.
You have to get to know the Begwns over time to discover its qualities. The most obvious, if you walk up to its highest point, a dizzying 410 meters above sea level, to the circular dry stone wall that surrounds a plantation of conifers; is that you now have a panoramic view that takes in the Black Mountains in the south, the Brecon Beacons in the west, the high moors to the north that in turn lead, eventually, to the Cambrian Mountains and in the far distance to the east is England, or what used to be a bit more of Wales until it was stolen by William of Normandy.
One outstanding benefit of this elevated 360° platform is as a weather observatory. The Wye Valley with the Black Mountains behind can produce some spectacular temperature inversions, particularly in the autumn. Massive cloud fronts roll in over the Brecon Beacons and sit brooding over the Black Mountains sometimes for days. We have watched the rain fall in huge sweeps through the valley whilst the sun warms our backs from clear blue skies in the north east.
The Begwns acts as a huge sponge throughout the winter, absorbing massive amounts of water that percolates through its thin soil into the bed rock below. From here it emerges as spring fed ponds; winterbournes that may last for months or disappear within a few days; and the deep cut brooks and streams that manage to survive all year and have over centuries carved wide, deep, gullies that disappear into steep woodland dingles then on into the Afon Wye.
I will be posting more about the natural history of the Begwns and the dingles later. If you would like to see more photographs of my local area please visit my web site: haresonthehill.co.uk
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”.
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.
These places are unique and so important for the preservation of species. Fortunately our dingles still seem 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.
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.
Looping patterns of Ribbon Grass just off the track.
Looking west towards Pen y Fan and Corn Du.
An exposed peat bank concealed behind a wall of icicles.
I last posted here on 28th June 2015, just after we had moved to Wales.
The time since then has been well spent. We ripped out much of the ornamental elements of the garden – roses on sticks particularly; dug in loads of well rotted organic manure and this summer our garden has rewarded us not just with fruit and vegetables but more importantly a huge increase in biodiversity. When we first arrived there we’re very few birds in the garden and hardly any insects. Removing yew hedges and replacing them with espaliered apples and pears (old varieties) and letting the herbs grow in the lawns so that the nectar loving insects could feed has transformed the place.
The time has also been well spent with a camera and I plan to post on that subject much more in the future months. In the meantime if you are interested some of my landscape work can be seen on the new web site also called, not surprisingly: Hares on the Hill
I have been so busy with work and the new house that I have had little time to post here so I’ve decided to close this blog down. If you want to stay in touch please visit my nature photography site at haresonthehill.co.uk there is a blog page there where I will when time permits carry on. Thank you for all of the ‘likes’ and helpful comments. I wish you all well with your blogs.
A while ago I posted some images of the frozen ponds on the Begwns. I’d made the images because I had liked the way the dead bracken and grasses lay in the ice and several people who saw the images (not here) commented on how pleasing the composition were. I was busy building my photography site on Squarespace when I learned that the Saatchi Gallery in London had a big digital screen on the second floor of its building where the work of new and ‘up and coming’ artists is displayed in a continuous loop. I was aware that Saatchi was much more receptive to photography as an art form than many other galleries so I thought I would submit a couple of the Begwns images to see what would happen. Anyone can register and submit work for selection by the curating team: I have no knowledge of the criteria they use to select work and I wasn’t expecting any interest. To my surprise I got an email from them the other day advising me that they had selected one of my two images for inclusion. Thank you Maurice!