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
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.