Tuesday, November 30, 2010

One I'd like to forget....

Avert your eyes.....

OK just for the OBN photograph prompt here's a photo that perhaps shouldn't see the light of day;-

Taken last year in the caravan over at Llyn Brenig not long after a 9 mile hike (well more like 15 after taking a short cut!), and a rather large glass of whiskey. I think Clare just about caught my better side as I arose from slumber!! Oh and doesn't Lucy just get every where?



Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't be disappointed - avoid the rush.

I guess you could say that we have been fortunate here in North East Wales when comparing the recent snowfall at the end of last week with other parts of the country. As usual here in the U.K. the slightest smattering of the white stuff has produced the expected wailing, cursing of the gods and gnashing of teeth as areas become gridlocked by incompetence; both with the usual lack of preparedness by local authorities and by the usual huge amounts of ineptitude and stupidity shown by drivers who really should know better.

I tend to leave the roads alone at times like these, only venturing out when lady necessity dictates. So for the weekend I left the trails alone, knowing full well that with this thin layer of snow hoards of unprepared folk would be swarming to envelope the trails that I’m targeting in my labours  to become a tad less rotund. As I may have mentioned before there is nothing that I love more than walking alone on the trails, alone that is apart from ol’ stinky and the diversity of nature that envelopes you if you allow it too.  My good friend from across the pond Casey Harn summed up this feeling with two words when talking of this feeling in a mail to me the other day; - “Walking meditation”. The more I sat back and thought about it the more it seemed to fit with what I feel when I’m ‘out there’, that’s one of the reasons I think that a strong friendship is building between me and Casey, we feel the same way about the outdoors in so many ways, its just that Casey manages to capture the feelings with words far better than I.. Anyway enough of the back slapping, ‘cause that’s certainly what Casey is not about, and back to the narrative.

Now where was I, ah yes the multitude of once in a blue moon outdoor survivalists usually accompanied by an extremely overweight ‘hard’ dog on it’s once a year walk complete with studded collar, or if not these it’s the city guy with extended family thinking that walking on icy, snow smattered trails would be absolutely super (plays havoc with the loafers and pram wheels this white stuff). Ok maybe I’m just being a tad too grumpy about this, after all I’m no expert (remember my last walk?) when it becomes to being geared up and other folk have just as much right to the trails as I, just wish that they’d be a little more prepared and also take their picnic and food detritus home with them, it’s less heavy when you’ve ate/drank the contents – honest. And yes I don’t really like folk to much, I make friends slowly and carefully and I just cannot get use to all these Reebok clad wanderers greeting my passing with a cheery ‘hello’ and ‘is it far to the top?’(usual replies include ‘grunt’ and ‘oh not far, after all you’ve just left the car park’ and ‘can you pick up that wrapper you’ve just left on the floor’ and of course the ‘if I have to stop your dog from biting me again we are really going to have words’). Please don’t get the wrong impression of me, inside I’m just a cuddly teddy bear (ask Clare) it’s just that I’m not a people person.

Right now that little point has been cleared up you now know why I didn’t go a wandering this weekend and left it till this morning. This time I was a little more prepared than last, with ample layers, (onion springs to mind), neck snood, Berghaus wind stopper hat, water, re-waxed boots, bite to eat, mobile, Opinal locking knife, Leki walking pole and of course not forgetting Lucy.  Ah ‘how ol’ tight arse claims to be poor when showing such an abundance of kit?’ I hear your disgruntled mutterings. Well truth be told my still meager, yes meager, collection of gear is the result of presents, charity shop finds and e-bay with new stuff only bought in the sales. Take the Leki Makalu pole for instance; bought for a miserly £5.00 when an outdoor shop was closing down at the local retail park the other year (and then forgotten about for a while!). Once I adjusted the height and hardened the shock for my weight (no comments here please) I’ve found this to be an excellent piece of kit with definite positive results for the stress on my knees. So £5.00 for easier knees equals further miles able to be walked – result. And then there’s the Opinal; found on a walk last winter discarded besides a fire, just required tempering and sharpening – two nil to the fatty on the trails!

So with myself feeling amply prepared, we cruised to the hills with just a tad of Iron Maiden strumming the fun cruisers sound system.  Checking the temp readout upon landing the outdoor temperature was reading a positively balmy -5 degrees centigrade, bloody hell thought I, tis a tad sharp out there. Unperturbed we dismounted the cruiser and set forth, our breathes expelling clouds of what could be called steam of engine like proportions, each breath reaching to the bottom of my lungs searing all my shivering alveoli. Ah well the way to warmth is through activity and effort, so sally forth did we, at a good pace though not the mad dash of last week, prudence John boy, prudence. Evidence of the weekend’s multitudes was everywhere; the trials flattened by uncountable footprints (loafer treads included), dog tracks of various sizes (most deeper than what Lucy’s 66lb could produce!), sled tracks (oh great lets make the trail a cresta run), mountain bike tracks and the odd pram track (honest, I’m not making this up), and the usual wealth of discarded food wrappers and empty bottles oh and not forgetting the carefully bagged dog poo, thrown into the bushes, ho hum.

But these signs couldn’t dampen our mood (well just for a short while); the air was crisp and clear, the views spectacular and the silence? Well here’s a thing, usually when upon these trails there is always an underlying hum of natures song; the buzzards mewing call, the twittering of the tit marshes, blackbird’s shrill warning, the scamper of tree bound squirrels eluding Lucy’s mad dash, even the wind was still and silent. All that reached my ears was the crump, crump of my boots in the snow and Lucy’s ragged breath as she expended the weekends pent up energy. I’m not complaining (that’s a new one then) it kind of made the walk, er… special. Just standing there alone, silent and drinking in the view of natures beauty well only two words came to mind “Walking meditation”.

As we traipsed further the sign of other folk filtered down to just the odd set of walking boot tracks and ‘light weight’ hound prints. The snow had developed crystals making the snow resemble miniature forest ferns. Also in the ever dipping temperatures the snow retained its powdery texture, just a joy to walk through.

Lucy had no patience for my paltry photographic efforts today, going from disdain to a mad hurtling attempt to get my arse into gear and pick up the pace. She really does know how to raise a smile, makes you move and forget her age.


Lift off
Thrusters on
Touch down......Bugger

I hope that these few pictures below convey the mood, though they don’t really do this time out doors any justice what so ever.

We finally landed back in the cruiser, alone still apart from just this robin, the only other animal besides us seen upon the trails, now that’s what I call walking alone.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far, hope that you don’t mind my grumblings too much. Oh and the blue print? well it's bleedin' cold you know!


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Heads up

Probably my shortest post ever, just to give a heads up (if you have not found it already) to a young lady's blog "hunt like your hungry", don't give heads up often 'cause blogs are a personal choice but the latest post on this one just made me smile and warm inside, and that's something for this grumpy height challenged Welshman!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Walk with me...

I have come to realise that I have not really fulfilled too many ‘out there’ goals this year, blaming a host of reasons for my lack of fitness, stamina and strength. It was whilst crafting a mail to my friend across the pond, Casey, that it finally dawned upon this here dimwit that I had been making all manner of excuses for my woes, but that’s exactly what they were excuses. So switching to computer off, leaving Casey’s mail unfinished, it was time for a change of tact. I’ve noticed that within my last few posts I have drifted away from my usual thread, that is primarily rambling on about the walks that myself and ol’ stinky take together and sharing them and their seasonal changes with anyone who may care to read my simple musings. This was also partly prompted by a delightful post from Claire at "Are we nearly there yet?”. So without further ado, put on your walking boots, grab a coat and come along with myself and Lucy for a stroll if you’re so minded, that is if you can stand the stench of the odourfull bog monster!

My walking lately has been lacking in distance and any real sort of gradient, although it has taken me through some soulful and enchanting woodland. So it’s time to stretch those leg muscles and get the heart pumping a tad harder me thinks, it’s time we headed back to the hills. We start off early morning and as we load ourselves into the Fun Cruiser the cold, frost laden, air can be felt deep in our chests as we draw each breath. Lucy seems to feel the new sense of purpose, there’s no dawdling to sniff out who’s crossed her front garden in the night, no it’s straight into the back of the car with a shiver of anticipation coursing through her muscles. The journey to the lower car park at Moel Famau is swiftly over, no music this time, just the hum of the tyres on the road. We disembark; taking a moment to let the cold air wash over us, the crisp smell of this cold autumnal morning is something that I cannot describe with justice, just that it says that we’re back where we belong. The low autumn sun has not long risen and it won’t find the slopes on which a lot of our path is to take us at any part of the day at this time of year with its lowly trajectory.

We set off at a good pace, a little too good I’m to find out later on, and the gradient away from the car park is enough for us to forget about the chill air as our muscles warm to their task. Half way up the slope Lucy hesitates, looking back at me foe support. Sure enough there, in the gloomy distance, is something smack bang in the middle of the path. I call Lucy to my side as we ease our pace, trying to make out in the low light what’s there ahead. Without warning a bird launchers itself off the trail towards the canopy of the now bare larch branches, a raptor! Knowing my camera’s limitations (and my lack of skills) we’re still too far for a picture and I’m still puzzled as to what type of raptor it is. As we near its position it heads off up trail once more and alights again upon the path, tis strange goings on indeed. It’s smaller than a sparrow hawk and its behaviour is puzzling us. We slow the pace further still becoming more aware of where we are placing our foot steps, a gentle hand on Lucy’s neck keeping her alongside of me. Again it lifts itself, this time landing upon a power cable support. This time we’re close enough to see what has so far eluded our attempts at identification, a kestrel! A rare sight indeed up here, only the second one that I can ever recall seeing on these trails, it seems that this is a good omen for the walk ahead. Again he heads through the larches canopy, allowing us just one more distant picture before he slides off beyond our vision.

We pick up the pace once more, Lucy springing along, happy to be given her head once more. As we crest the first of the hill’s shoulders the path darkens, the sunlight only glimpsed through the occasional gap in the dark, looming pines that now dominate the trail. The crunch of frozen surface water under our feet is like a quiet gunshot going off in this crisp air. The only other noise is shrill cries of warning from flitting mobs of Blue Tit-Marshes as they urge us to move on, move on through their patch of hillside. But even here, in the gloom of these tall trees there are splashes of beauty and wonder to behold even if only on the smallest of scale.

Lucy is now in full flow, her bursts of energy belying her age as she blasts back and forth within the run off ditches along side the trail. I reach for the camera to capture her madness when an almighty racket stops us within our tracks; Lucy’s only gone and flushed a cock pheasant from the undergrowth. His alarms cries shatter the stillness of the morning as he heads at full pelt through the pines down the valley side with Lucy doing her best to give chase through the tangled undergrowth, her hind quarters overtaking her front in her excitement. Camera forgotten, I stand there, grinning like a fool, as she clambers back up through the mass of dying ferns and deadwood, a more than sheepish look upon her face. We walk for while longer on these darkened pathways, our pace not yet slacking with only the odd break in the tree line opening out to reveal some stunning views on these few miles covered.

As we turn westward the trees begin to give way to a barren landscape where the remains of once mighty trees now stand witness to our passing like so many bleached bones from ancient battles. As the vista opens out even further to our eyes the felling comes over me as we pause to drink in the views that we are nothing more than fleeting shadows upon this ageless world and that when we’re finally gone it’ll heal itself as if we’d never been.

The trail starts to even off now, the hills and slopes around use tempting us like sirens seeking to bring sailors of old to their grief. I’m tempted to turn towards them in my heart but head wins the day. I know that I’m not yet ready to climb the slopes yet, so with a slightly heavy heart I turn to follow our planned route dreaming of walks to come.

The sun on this expose ridge, our pace and to be honest my lack of preparedness is combining and are beginning to take their toll upon me. I thought that in the cool of the dawn that I’d little in the way of gear and provision, a basic mistake! I should have kitted up with more care and foresight for now I’m becoming overheated and my muscles are starting to feel the strain. Fortunately I had done one thing right, and that was to consider bail out routes if required. But if I’m honest I was thinking of Lucy and had not considered them necessary for myself. If fact Lucy was doing more than ok, she’d remembered water stops that she hadn’t seen for over twelve months and watching her cavort through them all thoughts of her age were dispelled.

Another mile and we come to the bail out path, swiftly heading downhill on a steep gradient it would soon bring us back into the shade and cool air that I need.

Once descended the path again became dark and where the sun would fail to reach here, leaving frozen surface water and frosted leaves crunching under our footsteps once more. My eyes are drawn to a frozen track meandering across our path, I wonder if any of you good readers would care to have a stab at identifying the culprit of this finger wide track shown in the bottom of these three photos, perhaps a small prize would be in order?

We draw ever nearer to the car park, my over heated body now back in kilter, my lesson learnt. the next time I'll be far better prepared, with my walking kit in order, perhaps a post about what I'm (should be) carrying would be order? As we approach the car Lucy hangs back, reluctant to leave the hills. I crouch down to her, rubbing her ears roughly. “We will be back soon my girl” I whisper to her, very soon……

I hope that you enjoyed our foreshortened stroll, maybe next time we'll get that bit further. Oh and that mail to Casey? done and dusted.

Best regards, your friend,


Friday, November 12, 2010


These three simple words set my heart pounding. These three simple words turn and twist my guts into knots far more complex than any intricate Celtic design. These three simple words build my hopes up to unbelievable expectation, and yet for so many times that hope and belief to be cast asunder, shattered once more upon the rocks of misfortune and the shores of missed opportunity.

These three simple words describe a beast that non believers think of as mythical and as extinct as the T-Rex, not I though. Non believers question as to whether such a beast ever roamed the world, not I though. Non believers are blinkered to the fact that the beast is once more stirring from its slumber after so many sightings that proved to be unfounded and the harbinger of so many false dawns, not I though.

Why do I believe in Y Ddraig Goch? For as a boy I saw the beast slay its enemies with an arrogance ease, born both of power and of consummate skill upon the fields of battle. Why do I believe in Y Ddraig Goch? For as a Welshman the beast’s blood courses through my own veins, filling me with a longing and heartfelt desire to see this beast cast his mighty, scorched shadow across the battlefields of this sphere once more.

And what is this beast, Y Ddraig Goch? I here yea cry a tremble of fear but also of longing tingeing your gasped question. What is this beast whose shadow I yearn for to spread his wings and burst forth from years of neglect and unfulfilled dreams?

You may well ask for the beast is nothing more and nothing less than a spirit that, for many a long year, has slumbered whilst other lesser beasts strive for Y Ddraig Goch’s mantle.  Ah beasts such as the Loins of England, the Roos of Australia, Pumas of Argentina, Boks of South Africa and the fearsome all black Kiwis of the isles of Zealand. But all these beasts now are glancing over their shoulders as a giant that has slumbered for far too long has raised his mighty head, tensed his muscles and began the shake clear from the chains cast about him by the politicians and short sightedness of governing bodies blinkered by glories past.

Last week he was ambushed by the Roos in his own back yard, his component parts not yet battle hardened, with some missing through injury or being wayward of spirit. Oh the heart was there, the heart of Jenkins, Jones and Rees beating mightily and smiting the Roos own pack at will. But Y Ddraig Goch had yet to ignite itself, had not yet remembered to breathe the fire that would banish foes and leave them reeling from epic encounters, licking their wounds with downcast eyes.

But this weekend the embers are set to burst forth once more, bathing the world of rugby in the flames of pure Welsh joy. Aye, for Byrne is back defending the line releasing the charismatic Hook once more to partner the war horse Shanklin in the centres, Philips is there to tease and pull the Boks hair at will whilst S. Jones will dictate the pace. There is new blood too; George North appears for the first time in the hallowed red jersey, a young lad from here the North of Wales, upon the wing with his six foot plus frame and sixteen stone seven pounds there to add weight and balance to little dancing Shane upon the other wing. The Boks come as world champions, tomorrow we test their claim to being the best, for tomorrow the Red Dragon is set to soar once more and burst my heart with pride.

Jenkins - The heart of the Dragon

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A change of scenery

A refreshing change of scene was to be had on the walk this morning. I decided that instead of heading off to the massive crops that are the managed pine woods where we normally stumble around in search of stagnant ditch water, we’d instead have a wander around the small circular walk through some ancient deciduous woodland at Coed y Felin managed just out side of Mold by the North Wales Wildlife Trust. The area had been introduced to me the other day by Irish Peter although we’d only stopped long enough to check out an old fashioned charcoal maker.

This time I wanted the freedom of just walking alone with the bog monster (does that sound right “alone with the….”?), exploring the area a little more in depth. So sated by copious amounts of strong tea and bacon butties we headed to the base of the Clwydian Range in the fun cruiser with the dulcet tones of Iron Maiden gently caressing our senses. Shortly after leaving the car park in what could only be described as bloody windy conditions, the trail split into two with which ever way chosen circling back to the start, the only decision to make then was up or down. Lucy taking the lead decided the only way was up to which I dutifully followed, hell why not? normally it’s me directing the walks but with the area being new to us I thought I’d leave navigation to Lucy’s canine senses and desires, you know the ones; mud, water, ditch, mud, squirrel, water, mud, stick, mud and oh I nearly forgot mud (did I mention water?).

Two things really struck me about the differences in this walk through mixed deciduous woodland and the uniform crops of managed pine forests that have been our chief haunt of late. Firstly as we entered the wood was the massive diversity of trees and sub plants, brought even more to life by the kaleidoscope of colours as the trees drain the chlorophyll from their leaves. Secondly was the smell, the smell of autumn has been there in the pine forests for a while now but compared to the glorious wall of odour that assaulted my nasal cavity in these woodlands it may as well have been non existent.

Another thought struck as we moved further into the woods and that was the very shape and forms of the larger trees. Walking through the pines they all seem pretty much uniform and a werewolf film director’s perfect set. But here the different types of trees twisted and arched forming all manner of wonderful forms as they competed for the light. The noise was somehow different as well, although close to the road that continues on to Denbigh the woods were more, well more wild in the sounds that reverberated through them. It was as if the trees and creatures were watching and whispering to each other as we stole by, not in a malevolent manner though, just in a slightly suspicious and cautious way. Don’t get me wrong I’m not one for flights of fancy but these woods were more alive, more primitive. Perhaps I’m not making sense here or conveying to well the feelings that washed over me when here, but there was a connection somehow, I’ll just be leaving it at that before you all go thinking the ‘fish is losing the plot.

We descended to the turn around point which was to carry us along the disused and now invisible Mold to Denbigh rail tracks. Lucy had other ideas and instead of left she had a yearning to go right following a narrower and less trodden path. Fine by me, the longer that I spent in these woods the happier my soul was. After just less than a mile this path spilled out onto a tarmac road which from a deep memory I recalled being the access road to a small quarry some years ago. There was a public right of way signed heading into the old quarry area, hey in for a penny… and in any case ol’ stinky was steaming on ahead. As we crested a rise a surprising but wonderful vista opened up before us. Instead of half expected disused quarry workings we were greeted by mankind doing the right thing for once. The area had been landscaped, quarry excavations were now young wildlife ponds, the planting of the surrounds had been done with imagination and compassion with wildlife clearly the main concern, I managed to identify a whole range of species including willow, oak, holly, dog rose, sweet chestnut, hazel, hawthorn and several others. It’s a place I’m looking forward to returning to over and over again to watch and perhaps record the wildlife that will surly be attracted to this embryo paradise sitting beneath the nearby, tree covered hillsides.

We eventually retraced our footsteps and finally arrived home wind burned, aching and content. I stoked my energy levels with chilli made the night before, replenished my tea levels and set to for an afternoon in the inner sanctuary that is the garage, oh not forgetting that I’d also had time to bottle up two litres of sloe gin and just over half a litre of sloe vodka whilst munching upon a handful of late sweet chestnuts finally dislodged by today's wind – roll on those frosty early morning walks in the spring! 

And as for Lucy this afternoon?

'nough said me thinks.

Your friend,