Spring is in the air

It’s been a while since I’ve written here mainly because photography-wise the past few months haven’t been ideal. Maybe I’ve been unlucky but attractive light seems to have been a scarce commodity recently, and this alone has stopped me producing much that I’ve been happy with. The heavy snowfalls haven’t exactly helped, but in the last couple of weeks the longest winter I can remember has finally released the landscape from its icy clutches.

Some of my more successful recent images have come from north Powys. On a beautiful March morning at a sheepfold high above Cwm Eunant, I looked towards the snow-capped peaks of Aran Fawddwy and Aran Benllyn, and a few evenings back I returned to a spot above Lake Vyrnwy that I first visited over ten years ago.

Returning to these places a few years later, it surprises me how little I remember of them, the routes blurring into a sequence of vague memories and half forgotten details. A stile, a path through a wood, a stream crossing or maybe a hillside bathed in evening sunlight. Is that here or was that somewhere else? In his book Hell Of A Journey, Mike Cawthorne recounts the experience of mountaineer Doug Scott who claims to have no memory of the summit of Everest beyond the one photograph he took there.

Looking over Lake Vyrnwy on an evening more like the one I was hoping for the first time, my original image, shot on 35mm Fujichrome Velvia, suddenly seems like a lifetime ago. I now work digitally on equipment costing orders of magnitude more, and I’m more experienced technically and artistically. The intervening ten years has been an adventure, and on the way I think I’ve developed a stronger sense of the type of images I want to create. Although I love the Mid Wales landscape and I’m sure I’ll continue to photograph it, part of me feels restless and I’m starting to wonder whether it’s time to seek out some new challenges.

A favourite place

Take the Aberystwyth mountain road out of Rhayader for about half a mile until you reach a turning to the left, across a small bridge. Around a mile up this lane, you will find a place where two fields don’t quite meet. From here, a small path overgrown with brambles threads its way downwards, quickly disappearing out of sight. Hemmed in by hedges, it’s not a place for the claustrophobic and it’s a quagmire at the best of times. After the last 3 weeks, well, it’s a stream.

The path starts to open out as it crosses the valley floor, before rising upwards to a gate, then turning steeply up the slope to a small hanging valley and the interestingly named Craig y Diawl or “Devil’s Rock”. Following the stream up the hill for a short way you can find the farm of Lluest Pant y Llyn, now a ruin.

Lluest Pant y Llyn

There are very few trees on the Elenydd plateau and it seems that this small stand was planted to provide a bit of shelter from the prevailing wind. At this time of year anyone who lived up here would certainly have been glad of them.

I have something of a fascination with these trees and have spent the last year thinking about the best conditions in which to photograph them. I now think I know, and I’m quite looking forward to it.

Sunken lane

I first discovered this lane a few years back, ablaze in the evening sun, its verges of cow parsley and red campion in ragged pools of light. I was quite impressed with it and I’ve been back a few times since.

The left bank of the lane is actually part of Offa’s Dyke, and is mentioned in Jim Saunders‘ book Offa’s Dyke: A Journey in Words and Pictures—well worth a look for its excellent photography. The road itself is older and forms part of the Roman road up Long Mountain, eventually leading to the Roman ruins at Wroxeter where, in the nearby field, I landed in a hot air balloon around this time last year.

This time of year often marks something of an end to my photography. As summer approaches, the leaves turn darker and the light loses some of its attractive quality. As if this wasn’t enough, the uplands are plagued by midges, the roads choke with traffic, and holiday cottages become prohibitively expensive as the schools break up.

But I don’t want to think about any of that. In the meantime there is nothing better than this lane, fading in the flaxen light of a late spring evening. Bats hunt beneath the trees as I head back to the car, and a silence descends.


I have spent a couple of evenings at the coast recently, which is something I almost never do. Partly as a result of spending too many summers in Cornwall, the Cambrian coast doesn’t really do it for me. Having said that, I did find some promising locations that I’d like to come back to when the light is a bit better.

One thing I quickly found out is that it’s not until you take a camera into the dunes that you realise just how much the sand gets everywhere. Trying to change lenses was a mistake I won’t be making again, and my well-travelled tripod also seemed to take on a lot of sand, giving me another excuse to upgrade it.

Source of the Severn

I must admit, I’ve been quite enjoying what the media seem to have termed the “Big Freeze”, and this afternoon I decided to take a trip up the Severn Way to the source of the Severn.

From this small peaty pool, marked with a single wooden post, the river Severn begins a course of over 220 miles to the sea, losing just over 2000 feet in height on the way. Surprisingly, over half of this height has already been lost by the time it reaches the waterfall of Severn-Break-its-Neck or Hafren Torri Gwddf, just 4 miles downstream.

Despite having lived most of my life in the area, this is only my second time at the source of the Severn, the first being an ill-advised trip a couple of years back on a sweltering August morning. On that day I rather underestimated what I thought was just going to be a quick stroll and, struggling with heavy camera equipment, with nothing to drink, it half killed me. Not one of my best ideas.

I have none of those problems this time round. The temperature feels around freezing point and all I’m carrying this time is a mobile phone, complete with pretty accurate GPS—albeit not a substitute for my Magellan. I’m a bit ambivalent about these kind of things; the delicate device feels well out of its comfort zone up here, I certainly wouldn’t want to rely on it to come off a mountain. In any case, once you’ve run the battery down with the GPS you’d better hope you don’t need to make any emergency calls.

The wind up here is biting, and surprisingly strong, blowing billows of cloud across the peat bogs between the source of the Wye and the Severn. Once known as Fferllys, the land between the two rivers was believed to be home to the Tylwyth Teg or fairy folk, and the local ferns are supposed to bloom with a small blue flower on St John’s Eve. By collecting the flowers in a white cloth, the holder apparently becomes invisible, allowing them to enter their lover’s room undetected. Or, if they choose to stay in Fferllys, an elf will come along and purchase the flowers for gold.

All charmingly daft but, with the light fading fast, it’s time to head back through the darkening forest. With the infant River Severn as my companion, I’ve a few miles to do yet, and nearly a thousand feet to lose on the way back down to Severn-Break-its-Neck.