Pen-y-Fan

Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons is a place of outstanding beauty and at 2,907 feet is the highest peak in southern Wales.  It is famous for the gruelling “Fan Dance” stage of SAS selection which takes place here twice a year.

It seems strange, therefore, that there is a gentle path up to the summit that is perfectly suitable for a Sunday afternoon post-roast lunch stroll – I swear you could get a pushchair up it!

Given its ease of access, don’t expect to be the only person on the mountain, nor a tranquil and peaceful walk.  The world and his wife will almost certainly be joining you if you take this particular path up.  Once at the top, however, you forget the people and concentrate on the views.  The landscape below is laid out for you like a carpet.  It’s beautiful!

The vistas are amazing, at any angle you care to view them from.

A word of warning, however, for those wishing to get summit photos.  Photobombing is rife up there.

By the way, it’s only a short hop over to the adjoining peak, Cribyn, and well worth the effort.  And there are further peaks beyond if you really want to walk that roast lunch off.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Pen-y-Fan:  N 51° 53.042 W 003° 26.190
  • Cribyn:  N 51° 52.910 W 003° 25.175

Walk Statistics:

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Wales’ Four Waterfalls Walk

In the Vale of Neath, to the southern part of the Brecon Beacons National Park, lies the Four Waterfalls Walk.  This is short walk of only five miles or so which takes in, as the name implies, four waterfalls.

This is an area rich in geology, where sandstone meets mudstone and where rivers have eroded the landscape over many years.  As well as waterfalls there are large cave systems running deep underground.  We passed numerous entrances where rivers seemed to disappear, or where holes in rocks simply fell away into an abyss of nothingness.

The first waterfall on the walk is Sgwd Clun-gwyn, meaning “the fall of the white meadow”.  There are two tiers to it.

The flat rock ledge about a third of the way down allows you to get up close and personal.

At its bottom it roars into a narrow plunge pool.  You can walk right to its edge.

Walk on from Sgwd Clun-gwyn heading south, through the forest adjoining the Afon (River) Mellte, to where it is joined by the Afon Hepste.  A short way up the Hepste is another waterfall, the Sgwd-Yr-Eira, meaning “falls of snow”.

If you thought you could get up close and personal at Sgwd Clun-gwyn, well, you can get very intimate indeed with Sgwd-Yr-Eira.

Sgwd-Yr-Eira is an overhang waterfall, meaning you can get behind the curtain of water into the space behind…

…and then look at the waterfall from another viewpoint altogether.

Head back up the Mellte and you will soon reach Sgwd y Pannwr, meaning “fall of the fuller”.

The lip of the waterfall is so shallow that you can walk on it without really getting your feet wet, and the plunge pool below is deep enough to, well, plunge into.

There were several groups canyoning when we visited.  It looked like fun…

…but we weren’t really dressed for the occasion.  Don’t do it, Poppy!

Just to the north of Sgwd y Pannwr is the final of the four waterfalls, Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn, meaning “lower fall of the white meadow”.  This is another one you can clamber behind, but this time you need a little more than just waterproofs.

Four amazing waterfalls, all in a short walk.  Well worth a visit.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Sgwd Clun-gwyn:  N 51° 47.200 W 003° 33.625
  • Sgwd-Yr-Eira:  N 51° 46.690 W 003° 33.260
  • Sgwd y Pannwr:  N 51° 46.880 W 003° 33.770
  • Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn:  N 51° 47.025 W 003° 33.710

Walk Statistics:

 

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84b – Western Portland to Chesil Beach

The thing I remember most about the west coast of Portland is an arch.  It was fashioned from blocks the size of people, as if giants had been playing with Lego bricks.  Although most were placed in exact positions, there were a few stones that appeared to have been dropped in almost haphazardly.  This gave the impression that the arch was safe to walk through, but that something might just dislodge and flatten you in the process.

Just beyond this arch is the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve, an old abandoned quarry which is being reclaimed both by nature and local artists.  There were many sculptures to see, including some very ornately carved pieces.  The one I was particularly drawn to was not one of those that had carved an entire rock into something new.  Rather, it was a large rock that kept its natural form, but into which the artist had carved something that its size and shape had clearly suggested to them:

Having made a small detour through the quarry we got back to the coast.  And then, all of a sudden, the ground began to fall away from us and we were starting our descent back to Chesil Beach, its long and beckoning arm stretching away into the distance.

 I am going to repeat my introduction to Chesil Beach which I gave a few posts ago:

Chesil Beach is a natural tombolo, the exact origin of which is disputed to this day.  It is 18 miles long, running from Portland in the south to West Bay in the north.  It is a pebble beach; its pebbles are fist-sized at Portland and gradually get smaller and smaller, ending up pea-sized at West Bay.  It is said that if a local fisherman landed on Chesil Beach in thick fog then he could tell you exactly where he was just by looking at the size of the pebbles!

As the pebbles were at their largest at this end of Chesil Beach, they made for easy walking.

The further north you go, however, the smaller the pebbles become and the tougher the walking becomes.  Even walking to the car park a mile and a half in we noticed that the walking became slightly more difficult.

Although I would like to walk the entire stretch of Chesil Beach one day, it was the wrong time of year for us today.  Parts of it are both firing range and nature reserve (a strange combination when you think about it) and the entirety of the beach is only accessible at certain times of the year.  We were at the end of our walk today, and by the time we would be back we wouldn’t be able to walk the entire length.  The inland route, which runs broadly parallel, would be our only option at the start of our next walk.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Arch: N 50° 32.855 W 002° 27.002
  • Tout Quarry Sculpture Park:  N 50° 33.175 W 002° 26.770
  • Chesil Beach Car Park and Walk’s End:  N 50° 34.700 W 002° 28.150

Walk #84 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

 

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84a – Western Portland Part II

As we continued our way north along the western coast of Portland we reached Blacknor Observation Post.  Build in 1940-41 it has expansive views over Lyme Bay, a large tract of water stretching almost 50 miles from Portland to Devon.

I say the observation post has expansive views, but unfortunately part of its roof collapsed in 2014, meaning the views are rather less expansive today than originally intended.

Next to the observation post are two gun emplacements.  These actually predate the observation post, having been constructed in 1914 to protect a torpedo factory and Admiralty oil tanks which belonged to the Portland Naval Base.  Each was designed to hold a 15-pounder gun.  During World War II these were upgraded Lewis Anti Aircraft guns, and it is said that one of these shot down a Dornier DO 17 bomber on Chesil Beach.  The guns were eventually removed in 1954.

Sat above the observation post is Blacknor Fort itself, constructed in 1902.  On the night of 27 April 1944 the fort witnessed the Slapton Sands tragedy (click here for more information on this tragedy), when nine German E-Boats attacked US troops during a night exercise in Lyme Bay.  The fort’s gunners were ordered not to attack the E-Boats for fear of inflicting enemy casualties.  The E-Boats were therefore able to attack unopposed, resulting in the death of more than 700 US troops.

Blacknor Fort is today privately owned.  We only caught a glimpse of its outer walls as we passed by.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Blacknor Observation Post: N 50° 32.548 W 002° 27.302

Walk #84 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):

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83b – Western Portland Part I

The western side of Portland is the less favourable for walkers when compared to the eastern side.  There are no cliff paths down to the shoreline; no wild goats; no hidden coves or ruined churches.  The western side is a clifftop walk passing some bleak looking concrete buildings and, for the most part, not much else.

Whilst the western coastline of the island does not have the interest of the eastern side, it was here that we were lucky enough to see something that I had never seen before – a pair of hunting kestrels.  When I spotted them they were some distance away.  I fixed my zoom lens on my camera and took a number of pictures, but even the best was fuzzy and disappointing.

I felt sure that they would fly off before we got to them, but whilst they separated and started hunting from different spots both continued to move along the coastline in search of prey, allowing us to get close and observe.

They hovered on the air currents, allowing these to take them slowly down the coastline.  After a while they would fly back up the coast to their starting point and start the process again, ever alert for movement below which would signal prey.

Then, all of a sudden, one of them dived – almost too quickly for me to react.

It shot down to the scrub below, where it suddenly fanned its feathers out and hovered a few feet off the ground, clearly searching for whatever had made the sudden movement that had attracted it.

It suddenly veered towards a clump of plants which obviously offered more protection than the open grass.  It hovered again and then pounced into the thick of it.

Again, it was all so quick I hardly had time to react.  Had it caught anything?  I was unsure; it was shielded from view by the greenery.  It stayed there for a few moments and then flew out again, returning to the higher ground to begin its patrol once more.

Walk #83 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

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83a – Portland Bill Part II

At the tip of the promontory of Portland Bill is a famous lump of rock called Pulpit Rock.  It is not a natural feature, but was left in the 1870’s after a natural arch was cut away by quarrymen working here (can you imagine if they tried to do that today?  There’d be uproar!)

When the arch was cut away, Pulpit Rock was left intentionally as a quarrying relic, designed with religious connotations.  The large slab of rock at the front, leaning on the main stack, represents an open bible leaning on a pulpit.

It is a popular tourist attraction, and hand- and foot-holds have been cut into the bible to facilitate the short climb to the top.

The top is relatively flat and offers expansive views.

It’s quite a fun climb to do (clearly I was quite excited!) although in bad weather it is not advisable!

Pulpit Rock is also a popular spot for fishing – in 1998 a Ballan Wrasse weighing a UK-record-breaking 9 lb 1 oz was caught here.  Almost 20 years later the record still stands. And it was here that we also set a personal record, for it was at Pulpit Rock that we hit the 700-mile mark on our walk around the Coast of Britain.

We said goodbye to Portland Bill, leaving the tourists to head off towards the quiet western side of the island and back to Chesil Beach and to continue our journey.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Pulpit Rock: N 50° 30.855 W 002° 27.570

Walk #83 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):

 

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The Coastal Path in Scotland – The Falls of Shin

When you arrive, the mosaic gives it away.

Mosaic at the Falls of ShinThe Falls of Shin, in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, are a fantastic place to watch salmon trying to pass up river during the summer months.

About five miles north of the falls is Loch Shin, a large body of water some 16 miles long and covering an area of over 30 square miles.  The entirety of this loch discharges at a single point, at its southernmost extreme, into the River Shin.  In terms of water dispensed, it is said that the River Shin is the largest in Sutherland.  It drops some 300 feet during its short 7-mile journey to the Kyle of Sutherland estuary before it flows out to sea at the Dornoch Firth.

Most of the river’s descent is in the last mile or so.  At the Falls of Shin the river narrows to a few metres in width.  It is here where wild Atlantic salmon can be seen leaping out of the water as they try to fight their way upstream to the safety of the Loch and feeder rivers to spawn.

I wasn’t sure what we would see when we arrived here, so all I told my wife and children was that we were here to see a waterfall.  However, within seconds of our arrival there were the salmon, leaping to the very extent of their ability against a torrent of water which looked to slam them back down to their starting place.

img_3447The salmon in the picture above, I am sure, didn’t make it – it’s angle of attack seemed wrong.  However, within seconds another one leaped from the churning, seething waters to make its bid.  We watched as every few seconds salmon threw themselves upward, out of the resistance of the river into a split second of free air before diving back into the force of the waters.

Falls of Shin

It seemed impossible that any of the fish actually made the leap up the falls, but clearly they do.

The Falls of Shin

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • The Falls of Shin: N 57° 57.640 W 004° 24.430
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