Friday, May 16, 2014

South Wales Day 3 - And the wind blows...

Another truly miserable start to the day, the wind was stronger than ever and the sky as grey as pewter, so I did what was right and correct in such circumstances; I had had a leisurely breakfast and watched a bit of morning television.

It didn’t take long for that distraction to wear thin, so I got my boots on and took a ride up to the Gawr Valley. This picturesque little vale is home to the River Garw, which runs the twelve miles from its source, Blaengarw, where I was ultimately heading to, to run into the River Ogmore, whose estuary I photographed next to on my first evening.

A view over the Blaengarw pine forest

The valley itself used to be part of the South Wales Coalfield and during the 19th and 20th centuries was full of both major pits and family owned shafts, in fact the industrial effects it produced caused the River Gawr to be given the nickname ‘Black River’.

The only thing blighting my view as I drove through the little, utilitarian villages, perched on the lip of valley, was the low gloom of the conditions, that lent the unflustered communities a hardness and solemnity that didn’t help lift my spirits.

But I did drive through a village called Pantygog so that was nice.

By the time I’d reached Blaengarw, and where the road ends, I was ready for a bit of a stroll. Realising I’d left my waterproof trousers behind, I zipped up my jacket and headed off and up into the Blaengarw pine forest.

Managed by the Foresty Commission, this stretch of land rises up from the village, and that day at least, into the clouds. I began the steady walk upwards along the gravel road, with thick stands of trees either side, the uneven ground beneath them covered in vegetation. Various shades of greens, reds and purples, their colour looking saturated in the dull ambience.

Before long I’d spotted a small track leading back down at an angle through the pine trees on my right, and it looked like it headed to the small, pretty brook that is the River Garw. I scrambled down over the slippery, shallow roots of the pines, picked my way over fallen branches, and was soon beside the river.

Looking along the river into the valley

It was flowing fast, its course tracking the writhing curves of the landscape, heading further down into the valley and out of sight. It was no more than a stream, and the idea that it had formed the valley around me, albeit over millennia, was one that took a bit of mulling over.

After following its course down through the landscape for a little while, and stopping at various points to admire the way nature had created this lovely spot, I eventually turned back and returned to the forest the way I had come. The surroundings were beautiful, but thanks to the lack of shelter down there, the intermittent rain and unrelenting gales made it a bit of a chore.

After re-joining the path, the clouds decided a quick deluge was in order, so I scampered over to a particularly dense gathering of trees to wait out the worst of it, while the descending clouds completely consumed the higher ground. It was to be the recurring theme for the next few hours.

A view of a forest trail as it enters the dense woodland.
It may look a bit forbidding, but as a shelter from the rain it was spot on.

After dodging the showers in an effort to stop my jeans getting soaked through, they were the only pair of trousers I’d brought with me to Wales, I began to near the summit of the track as it curved round the valley ridge. This area was sparser than the lower reaches, and looking up ahead of me, I could see the remaining pines leaning and twisting in the wind with such ferocity, I half expected them to be torn up and carried away at any moment.

Once at the top, amid the roaring commotion of the wind and the startling cracking sounds that had me scrutinising the nearest trees, should they suddenly take a dislike to my presence. I could see over the forest as it marched off into the distance, and as the rapidly moving mist coiled and twined among the rows of peaked tops, it created a mesmerising view.

I could have watched it for hours, there was something quite enthralling about the clouds
drifting through the trees 

After a while, and yet again as the rain descended with force, I started back down to the car as I was getting decidedly peckish, and in need of a sanctuary away from the persistent weather.

After drying out a bit I drove to Coity Castle, an impressive Norman ruin of a 12th century structure conveniently located just outside Bridgend. Usually these sorts of historical places are nothing less than interesting, but I was feeling particularly cold, tired and so sick of the wind, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm the place deserved.

A few views of the ruins that demanded more attention than I gave them.

I duly wandered around and took a few photos but my heart wasn’t really in it. Not long after I arrived, I took off to see what the coast had to offer.

I think the phrase is ‘more of the same’, with the emphasis on more. Sitting in my car, as it seemed to heave and convulse constantly in the jostling gales, and looking out onto the chaotic surf, disjointed plumes of foamy scrolls, bursting onto the sand. All while a distressed, comfortless sky, populated with sprinting clouds, who looked like they wanted to be someplace else, as they jettisoned volleys of rain, played overhead. I wondered whether I should just get on with it and venture out.

Needless to say, I didn’t.

Through the car windscreen. Unfortunately the last picture I took in Wales, never did get a nice sunset.
Looks like I'll have to go back!


  1. Hi Martyn, Great blogs once again!
    It's funny, i had a similar experience at well and truly sandblasted there, and rained on a plenty. Going to consult weather forecasts before i venture all that way next time :-)

    1. Weather forecasts are well and good Jim, but sometimes it just pays to be there. This was not one of those times! Have great weekend.