For the last few years my wife Alison has compiled a calendar from my photography to give out as presents to our close family. Alison is both a Publisher and an author and she inspires me each year to get out there and photograph life around me – so this blog post is dedicated to my wife Alison .
Looking at the pictures in the calendar they have brought back some great memories of the last year.
We spent a day visiting our friend Molly from the Field Farm Project earlier this year where I spotted Henrietta the Hen (no idea if this is her name) wandering amongst the Daffodils.
Anther trip was to Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove (went twice in 2017). As the sea was so calm on the first trip I had to get really down low to get any sort of wave action in Lulworth Cove.
I took lots of wild flower pictures this year however I decided to see what the underside of a Snowdrop looked like – I was pleasantly surprised at the green stripes and the shear number of petals.
On a trip to Chesil Beach to meet my friends Fraser (Coastal Survival) and Dougie (an ex army buddy of mine) we spent time as a family building a Beach Henge. We came across one of these structures years ago on Chesil so decided to build our own.
This year I got myself a new phone – a Samsung S7 and I decided to test out its zoom abilities. The Stitchwort flower below was probably only a centimetre in diameter so you could say I was happy with the phone.
Throughout the year we take time to head out into the woods as a family. This shot was in our local woods at Pamber Forest – I must admit to emphasising the blues a bit but I did like the effect this had on the trees.
July found me in Ashdown Forest with the Sea Cadets. In between classes I found time to stalk a herd of wild ponies, Using my phone I managed to get this cracker of a skyline as the sun was setting.
August was holiday time and every couple of years we spend time in Brittany with our friend Rick. There are great beaches on the Breton coastline however we did find time to do a bit scrambling at Pénestin.
September is a busy time for me with the Cadets and although this picture was not taken in that month it does epitomise to me the adventures we have. I was working as a Mountain Leader Safety Officer with the Royal Marines Cadets on the Brecon Beacons earlier in the year doing a mountain night nav when I managed to snap this shot as the sun was setting. It was a long night on the mountains but everyone came off safely and had a great time.
My son Finlay is 9 years old now and had expressed interest in getting out into the hills a bit more. In October I took him along with me on a Gold DofE Expedition in the Peak District. Needless to say Finlay showed no fear of heights while exploring Kinder Scout.
My daughter Catherine has not expressed that same wish for roaming the hills however she is extremely happy roaming the woods. I loved the colours of this winter shot in our local woods near The Vyne National Trust property.
December is winter time and although I was wishing for snow in Southern England there was not much to be had. This shot was taken earlier in the year on the side of Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons. We were there to celebrate the Dining Out Weekend for our friends Perry and Graham.
This was a tough one for me but Alison decided on this shot of a Swan taking off from the River Thames. I was delivering a course at my friend John Kelly’s Sea Cadet Unit – TS Black Swan and decided to spend a half hour seeing what life was going on on the Thames – a good half hour I think.
Thanks Alison for taking the time to putting this Calendar together – without you I know it would never happen.
The expedition was organised by my friend Baz Lilley of the RMC and he wanted Adventure and Tactics – so that is what he got…………..
I was joined by my fellow Mountain Leaders from the London Area Sea Cadet Adventure Training team (LASCAT) Graham, Ben and Dan.
After a quick set up at Grawen campsite just north of Merthyr Tydfil a group of us set off to recce our first activity – Canyoning just south of the village of Ystradfellte in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.. The river was flowing perfectly for the event and we were set to go.
After a quick breakfast all the LASCAT team headed out to set up for the canyoning. The rest of the RMC staff took the cadets out on some navigation training while we set up.
We were soon set up and I found time to take a nap, take some pictures and have a brew 🙂
Baz had paid for a qualified local canyoneering expert to be in attendance so after a chat about what we would be doing it was time to get on with it. Everyone had a life preserver on and a helmet – no wet suits for us.
I led off the first team and after a few push ups in the shallows it was time to take the plunge – the water was a tad cold you could say 🙂
We went down a couple of slides, through the ‘Jacuzzi’ and crossed some larger pools.
The final section was the ‘Leap of Faith’ – this was a 20 foot jump into a plunge pool at the foot of a waterfall. I went first with my team following closely – a most exhilarating experience.
As soon as my team was out of the water the life preservers and the helmets were transferred to Dan’s team for them to do the run.
The day was warm so everyone was soon dry and warm again. A few of the guys shot some video of the canyoning and it makes for great viewing.
Once we got back to Grawen it was time to prepare for an evenings Tab – I mean Yomp for my Royal Marines friends 😉 (my beret is Maroon and not Green). The plan was to march through the evening to a new campsite with all the kit we would need for a night on the hills.
It was great walking over the hills as the sun set (great photography) but as soon as it had gone the cadets started on tactical patrolling techniques with the RMC staff.
We hoped to get to another campsite north of Pen Y Fan but the terrain and the heavy loads started to tell on folks so a sensible decision was made to call in the mini buses and get everyone back to camp.
It was a tough day as my pedometer showed nearly 30,000 steps – tough enough with all the kit we had been carrying.
The Sunday morning dawned as a fine day but not with the promise of it remaining that way. We hoped to have a morning navigating over Fan Nedd and an afternoon topping out on Pen Y Fan.
It was a cloudy start as we ascended towards Fan Nedd but as usual in Wales the weather really closed in. We decided to skirt round Fan Nedd and head straight to the Storey Arms to try for Pen Y Fan. The summit of Pen Y Fan could not be seen the wind was strengthening and the rain was coming in stronger. With a heavy heart (consoled by a large burger) we decided to keep low down and do some skills work instead.
We found a spot in the local woods to run some activities for the cadets. We set up four stances looking at rope work, emergency procedures, hammocks and trying out the Commando Crawl.
The lads tried out carrying a casualty over broken ground with a slippery bivi bag (harder than you think), tying different knots and had a go at the Commando Crawl – to different degrees of success 🙂
My stance was little bit more sedate on how to put up a tarp and a hammock (in a non tactical way) – it gave them food for though but the boss enjoyed the hammock seat when he came by.
There was a competition over all the stances and some sweetie treats for the winners. It may not have been as cool as topping out on Pen Y Fan (the mountain can wait for a kinder day) but everyone had a load of fun while they learnt some new skills.
The evening was spent around the fire with a Sods Opera (where the cadets perform little skits imitating the staff) as the main event.
It was an early start on the Monday and as some of the Cadets had a six hour journey ahead of them we set off home early.
I am hoping that the RMC manage to organise another of these weekends next year – it is a real test of stamina and skills for both the cadets and the staff.
The beginning of this year was the end of an era for the Adventure Training team in London Area Sea Cadets: our bosses Perry Symes and Graham Brockwell were standing down from their roles as Area Staff Officers after many years of hard work.
So to celebrate we headed off to the Brecon Beacons here in the UK for a ‘Dining Out Weekend‘.
It was a weekend of many parts – once we had settled into our bunkhouse at Gilfach Farm it was time for a ceremony of handing out certificates to those students who had recently passed their Basic Expedition Leadership Award.
Kev Lomas awarded Perry and Graham a cuddly neck teddy each to carry about for the weekend. Then it was off to the pub to get some dinner (a beer or two) and to plan for the next day.
After a good breakfast I had a wander outside and was greeted by a cracking view of Pen Y Fan in the distance. She had a light smattering of snow however the skies were clear.
We were soon off in the cars and mini bus heading for our start point at Cwm Gwdi car park (old soldiers may remember this camp). This spot allowed us easy access up onto Pen Y Fan without all the masses you will find on the route up from Storey Arms.
The majority of the group were outdoor instructors and all had worked with Perry and Graham in one way or another over the years . Today though the emphasis was on ‘doing your own thing’.
Alan and Dave Lewis went for a low level walk as Dave was carrying an injury while the rest of us set off up the Cefn Cwm Llwch track on the northern slopes of Pen Y Fan. The going was wet underfoot at first however we soon climbed above the snow line.
We snaked along the path, well spread out, enjoying the views and chatting as we went along. I decided to record my very first Live Facebook video on this part of the walk. The videos were not top quality because of the weak signal and wind noise but I enjoyed making them.
I spent most of my time scouting out good photography positions and ordering the lads to pose for me 🙂 Kept me happy and I think everyone liked that they could for once go at their own pace and do their own thing.
The final bit of the track up to the summit was quite icy but safe enough if you took your time. Once on the top it was like Piccadily Circus with all the folk coming up from the Storey Arms. We soon got the pictures taken and Ben found time for a few push ups before we set off.
It was at this point we broke up into three groups. The first set off at breakneck speed to ascend Cribyn and Fan Y Big. I bimbled along with the middle group but soon left them, ascending to the saddle below Cribyn. After a break on Cribyn I descended off the hill on its Northern slope down the Bryn Teg track where I met the third group being led off the hill by Jacques.
Soon the teams met up again and while Jacques sped off to pick up the minibus James produced a rugby ball from his bergen (there was not much else in it). I asked him why he had not produced it on top of Pen Y Fan and he said he forgot (would have been an excellent photo opportunity). Anyway the guys had a good half hour mucking about and doing the odd ‘Dab’ on the side of a bridge.
The Saturday evening was spent in the Red Lion pub in Llangorse enjoying a slap up meal. We were given the upper floor to use and it was probably a good move on the staff’s part – it got pretty noisy at times.
When I arrived though we were all downstairs in the bar and some of the guys were playing pool. They had been there a couple of hours to watch England play in the Six Nations rugby championship. I was standing at the bar when one of the locals approached. ‘Be careful,’ he advised me, nodding at my kilt, ‘There’s a bunch of rowdy English fans in the bar.’ I looked over his shoulder – then back at him – and said that it was OK, those rowdy English fans were my so-called mates 🙂 His face was a picture!
The evening was a great success with good food, plenty of wine, speeches, and a few war stories before retiring to the bar downstairs.
In the morning there may have been one or two fuzzy heads as we packed up and made our way to Dinas Rock located in the South of the Beacons. The plan was for some of the guys to do some Mountain Leader ropework on the rocks while the rest of us headed off to the waterfalls at Sgwd Yr Eira. In the end no one got there as we all kind of split up (after going the wrong way initially) and did our own thing.
I found a nice spot to sit in my hammock by the river while Jacques as usual dived in.
It was a fantastic weekend and it was great to be part of it. I think the pictures confirm that Perry and Graham had a great time. Below, pictured in between Perry and Graham, is Ben McDonald, the latest Mountain Leader to the team who has taken over Perry’s role as Sea Cadet Area Staff Officer (ASO) for Adventure Training in the London Area. Perry aims to stay on as the Assistant ASO for a year before stepping back totally.
Welcome back to Part 2 of my story on our expedition last October to the Brecon Beacons. Yesterday I published Part 1 in our Brecon Gold Story – Part 2 covers Day 3 and 4 of the expedition.
This was a day of mostly walking the valleys from Blaenglyn to Grawen campsite so was much easier to manage for us staff. We had a leisurely wait at the Storey Arms as the cadets walked up from the campsite and then onto the hills.
JK and Deano had gone on ahead to do the high level observation (and practice some micro nav) while Morgan and myself got dropped off further down the route.
The day was one of these usual DofE staff days – wait, wait and wait some more. Eventually the teams started to appear over the hills heading South. We soon lost them all in the woods along the reservoirs then it was a case of nipping through the back routes to keep an eye on them.
While we were waiting for the teams Morgan asked me how to make rope out of the grass around us (I have a habit of doing this since Perry McGee taught me this a year ago) so the time soon passed (I will be writing this How To….. soon),
We also had some younger cadets along for the trip – they were not doing the DofE but were along to learn about campcraft. They were being looked after by Donnah and Carol however they were joined on Day 3 by Dave. They had a wonderful day walking along the trail that is known as the ‘Along the Waterfalls’ route near Ystradfellte. As well as a location for excellent waterfall shots it is a great location for woodland navigation.
Dave did have a chat with me afterwards and the jist of the conversation was around never being asked to lead so many women again 😉
That night some of the cadets and staff put a fire together and re-lived the days events around the fire. It is not every trip to Wales that allows you this simple pleasure.
The final day was soon upon us and after a drop off at Dolygaer (north of Merthyr Tydfil) everyone was soon climbing high into the hills. The finish point was on the Dam at Talybont Reservoir.
Dave and myself headed off first to get up high to observe the teams and Jess and Carol took the younger cadets around the trail near the Tallybont reservoir. This meant we had good cover of the teams as they moved through the area.
The weather was spectacularly clear and I spent my time getting landscape and macro shots of everything around me. I think Dave had a less spectacular time as where he was the cloud cover was very low (that is the Welsh Mountains for you as we were less than a Kilometre from each other).
Finally everyone (I think Dave and myself were in last) reached the dam on the Tallybont Reservoir. There was time for one last picture and then some very tired but happy Gold adventurers set off on the journey home.
For the last two months my work has been pretty manic so my blogging and bushcraft has been severley curtailed. Time for catch up then on some of my autumnal activities. I have split the story of this expedition into two parts to make it easier to tell.
My last major trip of the year was with the Sea Cadets on a Gold DofE expedition to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales here in the UK.
I was joined by staff and cadets from both London and Southern Area Sea Cadets.
The staff were John Kelly (JK), Dave Lewis, Chris Bonfield, Alan Lewis, Carol O’Brien, Jess Edwards, Donnah Chandle and Morgan Hina.
All was wet when we got to Wales however we soon had the tents up (next to a field of pigs) and got to work getting ready for the next days walk.
Day 1 of the expedition was dominated by extremely low cloud cover however the teams set off in good spirit and were soon marching off into the mists.
Thankfully we had plenty of staff out on the hills to keep an eye on the DofE participants (made up of cadets and staff doing their Gold DofE). We met the participants a number of times during the day as visibility at times was down to about 100 metres.
Day 1 was from Blaenau to the campsite at Dan yr Ogof Caves. This was mostly moorland walking however their navigational skills were really tested here due to the poor visibility and sometimes uniform moorland terrain.
Some of the staff (Jess and Deano) were using the expedition to test their navigational skills in preparation for their Basic Expedition Leaders (BEL) assessment in November. Helping them along were JK and Chris Bonfield – JK and Chris were also acting as the Expedition Assessors.
I was working alongside Dave as Mountain Safety staff. Our job was to stay up high and keep a close eye on the DofE participants as they moved through the Beacons. Along the way I decided to keep an eye out for a splash of colour and I found it in the lichens.
This was from a drop off near the Cray Resevoir to a campsite at Blaenglyn. This was a day spent high in the hills and though the cloud cover was high the wind was strong.
I managed to get some better photography on Day 2 and so did Dave (he captured the shepherd marshalling his sheep along with his Collie taking it easy at the back).
I passed a very intense herd of cows watching my every move and wondered at the beauty of the dew on the grass and the wisps of mist floating along the tree tops.
I met the teams along the way as they went from hilltop to hill top. They were all in good spirits in the first half of the day and even found time to dry their tents out from the soaking they got from the night before.
One team developed a couple of injuries and so we directed them to a lower route to the north of the route shown below. All the teams though made it back to camp before it got dark.
I will post Part 2 of the post up tomorrow however here is a quick photo/video of the trip to finish today.
Mid May found me heading to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales with my good friends Gordon, Rick and Stu. We all have volunteered together with the homeless charity Crisis for nearly 20 years now and for a variety of reasons we are known as ‘The Grumpy Old Men’s Club’. We like to get away together once a year just to catch up and have a bit of fun (in our usual grumpy old way).
From The Gap we headed west around Cribyn and up onto Pen y Fan. There was little wind here and lots of cloud cover making excellent walking (I do not particularly like hillwalking in sunny conditions – must be a Scottish thing). We took our time but we were soon all at the top.
We did not hang around long and via Corn Du we headed South again by way of the ridge on Craig Gwaun Taf. This route has much less traffic on it and soon we were on our own again. The windswept peat banks made for a bit of fun along the way.
As we moved down Craig Gwaun Taf we could see clearly now the resevoir at Upper Neuadd. It looked as though someone had pulled the plug hole in it.
Further down the track near Twyn Mwyalchod (grid SO021176) we came across a Trig Point painted with a Welsh dragon and two little plaques dedicated to fallen soldiers from the Afghanistan war. Quite a moving site in such a beautiful location.
Our descent took us through a conifer plantation that had been felled a couple of years ago (there was significant re-growth). It was tricky going in places but we took our time and were soon by the Taf Fechan river (translates as the Little Taff).
We could not cross due to the high water level so we headed downriver to find a bridge near the road. By the road we came across an abandoned campsite that had been left in a poor condition. Everything had been bagged up but just left there. Also along the way we spotted that the billberries were coming through. Not ripe yet but definitely coming through.
Needless to say there was plenty of time to sit and relax or as usual to stroll around and take pictures.
As you can see the drive took us a little time but we were in no rush.
The spring flora was well displayed along the River Mellte. Wood anemones were in abundance ( top left below),’ the ferns were just unfurling, the cuckoo flowers (bottom left) were everywhere and I was especially happy to spot an area of water avens (bottom right) along the river bank.
The biggest and most spectacular falls on the walk are to be found at Sgwd yr Eira (Waterfall of the Snow) and it is safe to walk underneath the overflow. When you near the falls you have to descend some steep steps and it was when we were nearing here we started to hear some shouting.
The shouting turned out to be a local Kyokushin Karate club doing waterfall training. They have been doing this since 1980 and come down every year. For a while we watched them doing training under the spray of the waterfall and then one by one, as you can see below, they jumped into the river. This type of training is common in Japan, apparently.
Once we had finished here it was a slow climb out of the ravine and we headed back upstream to find some of the other waterfalls.
There are quite a number of waterfalls on the river and I normally come to Sgwd y Pannwr (Fullers Falls) to sit and have lunch. It has a lovely flat area of rock to sit on and you can paddle in some of the shallow areas. Today however there were a lot of outdoor groups canyoning and I got some fantastic pictures of the guys leaping off the side of the waterfall.
The last waterfall had a large group climbing down the side of it and when they got to the base of the falls, one by one they disappeared into it. We did not hang around to see them emerge, but as I heard nothing in the news all must have made it safely out 😉
We were soon back at the car park ready for the trip home.
This was a great weekend with the Grumpy Old Men’s club and I look forward to many more.
All of the pictures were taken inside the Brecon Beacons National Park mostly on the hillsides.
On the left below is Bog Asphodel a beautiful yellow flower that is now in decline. Historically farmers associated this plant with ailments to sheep such as brittle bones or foot rot. It was not the plant that caused the problems but the poor soil the sheep lived on. As farming practices change so does the soil and so the plant is now in decline.
At the top right you see Tormentil and this little plant is always ovelooked but once you become aware of it you see it all over the hills. This is an astringent little plant that was used to treat gum disease and colic. Another common name is bloodroot for the red dye it produces.
At the bottom right you can see Perforate St John’s Wort. I normally spot this plant low down slopes but I found this one in a gully quite high up where it had found some shelter. Herbalists use this plant to treat depression to this day however due to its perforated leaves (hold one up to the sun to see them) it was previously thought to be good for treating wounds and stopping bleeding.
I found Water Forget-Me-Not in a number of locations, sometimes on its own and sometimes in whole carpets but always around water in sheltered spots. Apart from being given to loved ones in the past so they would not feel forgotten this little plant was seen as cleanser of mucus so thought good for treating whooping cough and bronchitis.
A little point on naming plants is that when I am out and about especially with my younger students I do not always tell them the names of the plants. I get them to agree a random name for different plants and say out these names as they go along every time they spot one – for some reason the name Bob comes up time and again (must be a Blackadder thing). Once we are back at camp I then get them to ID Bob for its given name. This seems to make the plant names stick with them more. I got this idea many years ago from a fellow bushcrafter.
Another couple of plants of wet areas are the Sundew (top) and the Butterwort (below). Both plants exude sticky fluids to catch insects and have been used to treat rough skin to make it smoother (Butterwort) and also to treat sunburn (Sundew).
I came across a bank made up of shaped stones to support a small railway and saw that it was completely covered in Wild Strawberries. I have never seen so many Wild Strawberries in one place. The bank was facing the South West over open water so that must have had quite an influence on its growth.
Back out on the moorland the land was dominated by the Soft Rushes. As recently as the second world war the soft piths of these plants were used as candles.
I found the Water Mint in a tiny stream in amongst the Rushes. I did not identify it easily at first as it was not in flower but its smell and square stem gave it away. A great medicinal plant and I like it in my tea.
The Brambles (top) I spotted in mid July were just starting to ripen their Blackberries. Is it me or are the blackberries very early this year?
I spotted these Bilberries (bottom) while walking with the cadets where the sheep could not get easy access to so we had a bit of a feast.
Both these fruits make excellent puddings and jams.
The beautiful Meadowsweet was in full bloom in July and was growing abundantly in the low lying areas around the hills where it had plenty of light and water. This was one of the plants sacred to Druids and was a plant that Bayer used as one of the key ingredients when developing aspirin in the 19th century. It gives off a lovely aroma and was traditionally used in the home to cover up bad smells.
On the left you can see the Common Spotted Orchid. I came across this beautiful flower in the hills but on the steep grassy slope by a river where the soil was not too acidic. A common ingredient in love potions all over the world I am told.
At the top right is the tiny Wild Thyme, a plant I got confused with Self Heal for a long time. As a medicinal plant it was used as a sedative and was good for hangovers.
The Red Clover in the bottom right is a little flower spotted all the time by most people but at this time you can see that it has opened up slightly. This little fella I can remember as a kid providing me with a shot of nectar. It is also loved by farmers as a nitrogen rich fertiliser or as a feed for animals
I did not see a great deal of the Bell Heather (top left) as it does not like the soil to be to acidic so it can be an indicator of drier ground. Traditionally this plant has been used in the making of ropes and baskets due to its long fibrous stems.
The Marsh Thistle (bottom left) as you can see by the insect feeding on it is a good source of food for many different types of insects. The young shoots are quite tasty too.
On the right is the majestic Foxglove. I did not spot too many high up in the hills but found a few in some of the more protected gulleys. A poisonous plant but one I remember playing finger puppets with as a child. As I know it is poisonous now as a father I do not let my kids go anywhere near it.
The Meadow Crane’s Bill (top left) named after the fruiting body it grows that resembles a Cranes beak. This is another medicinal plant used historically for treating wounds and nowadays for treating diarrhoea and also as a gargle.
Bottom left is the tiny Self Heal. Another plant that is easily missed but was once seen as the woodmans friend and used to treat small cuts they got from their tools.
On the right is the tall and slender Great Burnet. I found this one in only one spot on my trip near a railway line and nearly walked past it. I like to nibble the young leaves. It’s other name is Burnip due to its ability to help treat burns.
On the left is the well known medicinal plant Yarrow. This tough plant was growing all over the lower slopes. Up high you still saw the odd one but hugging the earth very closely. I remember being on a Bushcraft course, having a cold and being given Yarrow tea laced with honey. That cold did not hang around as it normally would do with me.
I think the yellow flower on the right is a Hawkbit. These little yellow flowers are difficult to identify correctly if you do not look closely at the leaves. I forgot to do this but I think it is a Hawkbit. The genus of this plant is Leontodon which translates to Lions Tooth – referring to the squared of but toothed tips of the flower.
My last picture I included as I came across a lot of logging in the lower slopes of the hills. It is Larch I think and I really liked the contrast between the young green growth, the growing cones and the sharpness of the stump left by the loggers.
I really enjoyed spotting and photographing these plants (I had to climb down into some steep gullies) however please let me know if you think I have identified any of them incorrectly.
I was asked to attend in a safety role as a Mountain Leader but soon ended up doing safety and training as we had a shortage of instructors. The expedition was over five days and we had one team along for training and two other teams doing their assessed expeditions. All the participants were from the Sea and Royal Marine Cadets (including both cadets and younger staff in the teams). The participants were from London Area and Southern Area Sea Cadets.
I joined the expedition at the end of the first day at Dan yr Ogofcampsite. The staff and cadets under training were camping there but the assessed teams camped elsewhere remotely. I soon had my hammock stand set up and turned around to see my neighbours were some pigs. At least they were better company than the midgies.
My first morning was a bit of a damp affair but the bacon sandwiches soon made up for that. I was joined by my friends Alan and Dave Lewis, John Kelly, Chris Bonfield and met for the first time Paul Kelly. Paul also holds a Mountain Leader qualification which proved invaluable over the expedition.
I took a little bit of video after my first night in my recently modified hammock stand. I had a great sleep and it was nice to get away from the mossies.
I took out a team who were training for a future expedition. It was made up of Jess, Maisie, Rosie and Tara. Tara and Jess are also working towards theirLevel 2 Assisting Basic Leadershipaward with me so this trip proved great experience for them.
In the role of safety officer I normally like to get up very high in the hills to observe the assessed teams remotely. My team was dropped off atTyle Gawrat the foot ofFan Nedd. The day was blustery but at this point the visibility was clear. We were soon slowly picking our way up the side of Fan Nedd, discussing all the factors of good route selection on a steep slope.
The spirits of this team were high and they did not let the wind or the rain get them down at any time (which makes my job far easier).
After doing a fair bit of map work, where they had to continually identify where they were, we soon spotted the first of the assessed teams on the hills. Also whilewe were ascending Fan Nedd we were passed by many troops heavily laden down with heavy kit. They seemed to reach some point then turn around and run off down the hill. I said to the team that we would do the same and received an incredulous look from them – we did it anyway and it only took 15 minutes to descend half way down Fan Nedd to the minibuses.
Along the way we did a spot of foraging for bilberriesand did a fair bit of wild flower spotting. I will do a separate post on all the wildflowers we came across later.
The weather soon closed in but we were still able to navigate easily over very rough ground (with limited use of maps or compasses) and keep an eye on the other teams remotely; thankfully though when we were lower down the visibility was much clearer.
After ensuring that all the assessed teams had descended off the Beacons Way to Blaenglyn Farm campsite, I took my team to recce the steep slope at Craig Cerrig Gleisiadas this had been discussed as a possible point to ascend into the hills the next day. It soon became apparent that,thanks to the recent heavy rain, the steep grassy slopes would be too much of a challenge for the teams the next day. At least the team had a good time practising their route selection skills again as they descended this steep slope to the camp site.
Day two started and finished with excellent weather. The teams were bussed to a new start point just at Twyn Garreg – wen. This day was to be much lower down but the ground was very treacherous with tufty grass before descending into the woods then climbing up ontoCadair Fawr and then to Grawen
Dave and I spent the morning observing the teams and met them only a couple of times in the day. The training team also spent the day by themselves following the route. With so few landmarks on the open moorland the day was a good test of the teams’ navigation skills.
Along the way I came across this group of ponies with a number of foals grazing on the hillside. The teams did not all get to the summit of Cadair Fawr (due to a few minor aches and sprains) but did spend the whole day navigating as much of the route as possible.
The last day was spent navigating from Pont Sarn to Talybont dam. I found a spot halfway along the route to wait out the teams passing through at Buarth y Caerau. It was a long wait and I only saw two teams all day. The third team went slightly off track but got to the end on time anyway.
I spent my time watching wildlife (spooked a heron) and taking pictures of wild flowers.
All the teams reached the dam safely and on time. There was a few aches and pains (including the staff) but an over-riding sense of achievement amongst everyone.
After a good clean up it was time for one more picture and the long trip home.
I made a small video of the whole trip.
I hope that this is the start of many more Gold DofE expeditions in the Sea Cadet Corps and look forward to helping out on them in the future.