The Slow Goodbye
Updated: Apr 22, 2022
It feels as though an era is coming to an end. Our connection with Wales started on a wet and windy afternoon in early 1986. Mum had driven me from home in Wiltshire to Aberystwyth for a university interview. Aber was only ever a back-up option for both my (then future) wife and I, but ended up being the best thing that could have happened for us, not least of which because we would never have met otherwise. I left to come to Munich after my BSc., leaving Sharon to finish her PhD and complete the Welsh summits (in her 6 years in west Wales she climbed all of the 182 Welsh 2,000' peaks).
Our son will be graduating from the University of South Wales this summer after three years in which we've been reminded why we loved this country so much to start with. I'm sure it won't be the last time we visit Wales, but without having him there as an excuse to visit, I don't see us going back too many more times.
As I mentioned on Instagram recently, I think the word iconic has been overused of late, but there's no better way to describe how bluebells epitomise spring in the UK. We were a couple of weeks early this year for the main flowering period, but our Airbnb hosts in Taffs Well (thoroughly recommended btw., if you go, make sure you ask Rob for directions to the local restaurants) had a few 'bells growing in our 'private' garden. It would have been rude of me not to avail myself of the opportunity.
On Good Friday we headed to the Brecon Beacons to hit the Four Falls trail, a picturesque walk through woodland encompassing along the Hepste River, taking in a number of natural falls. When I first saw photos of the cascades, I thought they looked man-made and was surprised to discover that they were all completely natural rock formations, varying from arching concave walls to complex series of steps. The last falls on the trail when walking counter-clockwise is a curtain of water that you can walk behind.
The lower falls were a fun spot for lunch and watching people fall in. Not counting the canyoners we clocked up at least two, and not just little slips either.
If there's one person that I owe more to than anyone else, it's my long-suffering wife Sharon. Her support and partnership, her constant companionship on our mountain adventures, the freedom she gives me to pursue my passion, the way she believes in my vision for where I want to go with my photography has enabled me to do things that most family people would not be able to and is not taken for granted. I don't count myself a great man, but I fully endorse the old adage that 'behind every great man is an even greater woman'. We don't do a lot of people photos, but she definitely deserves a shout out.
We spent Saturday in downtown Cardiff, hunting for a graduation suit for the boy and catching up with my father who had driven up from Somerset for the day. I've never been a big city person, and after two years of lockdown, Cardiff felt strange. I don't think I'd miss it if I never had to be in a big town again, though Cardiff town centre is pleasant enough to bumble through. To make up for all the bustle, we decided to head up the Garth, the mountain overlooking Taffs Well and, as it happened, with great views over Cardiff.
After the sun had gone down the full moon started to rise over the Bristol Channel. Getting the balance right for this photo required a couple of different exposures, one for the moon, one for the lighter areas and one for the shadows. Unless the moon rises when it's still light, either it will be completely overexposed compared to the rest of the scene or the moon will be properly exposed and the ground will be so dark it's useless. You need to hone your skills in areas like this so that you can make the most of opportunities when they arise (or when you plan for them).
Easter Sunday saw us up before dawn for a sunrise service on the hill above Pontypridd. A great way to start the day. Otherwise the Sunday didn't have an awful lot to recommend itself. Walking along Gelliwastad Road my eye was caught by the flowers growing out of the wall. I only had my smartphone on me at the time, but they say the best camera is the one you have with you.
Easter Monday saw us heading back to the Beacons and up the Black Mountain. We walked up in the lee of the hill and wondered why people coming the other direction were fully decked out in wooly hats and gloves. Once we got to the top we found out. The west wind was blowing in fresh rain and not even the little bothy at the top gave us much shelter. Rain gear on, we had to decide whether to drop back down to the valley or carry on over to Picws Du and Waun Lefrith.
Knowing as I said at the outset that our days of regularly visiting Wales are coming to an end, we decided to plough on and hope that the weather forecast was right and that the clouds would clear through. Reaching the peak of Picws Du we could see patches of blue out to the west, but the lake of Fan Fach below us was still in the shade. Leaving the others to carry on round over Waun Lefrith I waited for the light. Sometimes the composition works but the light isn't right yet. I could see it coming and that it would be worth waiting for, but it wasn't there yet. After about quarter of an hour the gaps in the clouds were increasing, but passing by the cauldron left and right. Until the time was right. A fitting point to leave...