Aberedw Hill

The morning of what I would later consider the first real day of summer starts with a clap of thunder, not quite close enough for the fizz and crackle of the lightning but loud enough to rattle the windows. Within seconds, the house comes alive with the sound of rain.

By mid-afternoon, the weather is still making a nuisance of itself as I sit impatiently in the car, waiting for another heavy shower to pass.

A little while back, I stumbled across a Fay Godwin image from The Drovers Roads of Wales: an expansive view across the Wye valley from the bracken-clad slopes of Aberedw Hill. This morning, the map practically falls open there and so I find myself sat in the car a few miles outside of Builth Wells, wondering if I’ve wasted my time and whether the rain is set in for the afternoon. Eventually I decide it’s time to chance it.

The sun makes a reappearance as I pick my way up a green lane running in rivulets. The air is stifling and the trickling runnels flow between stones that still radiate the heat of hours in the sun, a hearthstone warmth despite the downpour. Further up, a track makes its way on to the open hillside, and with it comes a welcome breeze, driving rainstorms across the landscape, pools of light and shadow under the convecting cumulus.

The view starts to open out, a dramatic sweep of the Wye valley. To the south lies Pen y Fan and to the west I can make out the distinctive summit cairns of Drygarn Fawr, which I last visited on Boxing Day last year, in foul weather.

A few years ago, on an afternoon of Constable skies, I filled a watering can from the water butt. As I picked it up, the sloshing weight caught me by surprise and a sky that had seemed so weightless and ethereal took on a new reality. Expanding for miles above me—an impossible mass of water, suspended in air. And I felt small.

My daydream is interrupted by a distant rumble of thunder. The Drygarn cairns are no longer visible, obscured by a dark veil of rain that is now starting to cover the valley. The first big raindrops arrive as I get back to the car, and as the valley descends into gloom, I’m pleased to have got back without a soaking.

Vernal Equinox

As if a single day could lay claim to a transition so elusive, the vernal equinox traditionally marks the first day of spring. By any other measure, spring has been here for a while. I first sensed it on a morning in late February, long before there was any real warmth to the sun and still weeks until the first lambs would appear in the valley fields or frogspawn fill the ruts in the flooded moorland tracks. Within minutes the spring was banished again, washed away in the sleet showers, not to return for another week.

They say that on the equinox it is possible to balance an egg on its point—a seductive kind of nonsense that seems somehow appropriate at this time of year. My parents told me they went out walking yesterday and disturbed a fox out of a tree, the startled animal crashing incongruously out of the branches overhead.

Foxes may climb trees, or an egg balance on its point at other times. Even so, I’m amused and fascinated by the idea that for a brief moment, on that celestial balance point between the dark and light half of the year, there may almost be a place for the whimsical, outlandish or just plain daft.

The end of summer

Well, summer seems to have blasted past what with one thing and another. I’ve been pretty busy, seeing friends and family, and—after watching this tutorial—embarking on a surprisingly time consuming project to improve the keywording of my image catalogue. Hardly exciting, I know, but it needed to be done.

Photographically speaking, summer isn’t always very productive for me, and this year I’ve done very little in the way of serious photography since June. So the accompanying image here comes from a few years back.

I hiked across from the neighbouring valley to take this shot, looking over Nant y Dernol on a hot afternoon in mid August, and I think I timed it quite well with the bracken just starting to turn. Although that afternoon felt like the height of summer, the following evening was colder somehow, with a crystal clarity to the light. I knew then that autumn was on its way. It often surprises me just how quickly the seasons can change, particularly at this time of year when the nights start to draw in rapidly.

Some people hate the dark nights but I’ve never been bothered by them. Something I’ve learned as a landscape photographer, which was also reinforced to me above Nant y Dernol that afternoon, is to make the most of every time of year. The next change is always around the corner.

Lengthening days

Spring comes late in the Cambrian Mountains and the hawthorn in the lane has yet to show much sign of it. Nevertheless, sitting outside this morning, writing this, there’s a spring-like feel to the air that I’ve only really noticed in the last week.

A pair of ravens have been nesting down by the stream for the past couple of weeks, apparently turfing out some crows that had been starting to build there. This morning, I watched a grey squirrel in a territorial dispute with a woodpecker, eventually chasing him from the dead tree, so it looks like the squirrel is also rearing young.

The rooks are nesting on the green. I was told they used to nest there every year until the day someone took a 12-bore to one of them, at which point they scattered everywhere before settling in another tree across the main road. For a couple of hours they stayed there, making an enormous noise and giving an uncanny impression they were holding a meeting. A little while later they left for the churchyard, never to return to the green. That was many years ago and they seem to be back now.