X marks the spot.

X marks the spot.

A recent comment from one of my followers (Lotelta) made me realise that I haven’t taken many photographs of the immediate surroundings of my home. I have always found that – sadly – I tend not to notice my surroundings once they become familiar. So spending so much time within walking distance this year gave me the opportunity to put that right. The main image shows the house (arrowed) from the north. However, viewing it from here gives a misleading impression of its location because it is actually on a narrow ridge – one of a series running east/west, each with steep drops into valleys to both south and north. What appears to be a grassy backdrop is in fact the next ridge to the south. The house is at about 200 metres (660ft) altitude. 

We had been looking for a new house in the Aberystwyth area for some time which gave us both private space to work in as well as communal rooms, but we were fairly flexible about the location. I think we first visited Brynonnen on the only still and sunny day that January, because the feeling of spaciousness and calm which we both (I think) experienced was lovely. I can only liken it to the feeling of reaching a hill-top after a stiff climb – without the climb! There is a massive downside to the location, of course, because we get wind from almost every direction, which can be particularly tiresome. As I frequently tell people – “we get a lot of weather up here”.

The Stewi valley north of Brynonnen

The house is situated in the ‘green desert’ of mid-Wales. This does not imply a lack of rain – far from it – but rather the barren nature of the grass monoculture surrounding us. Agriculture is devoted to one product – sheep meat – and with a few exceptions it is largely a manmade landscape. Most hedgerows – if they ever existed – have been replaced by wire fencing, there are large areas of forestry at slightly higher altitudes, and there is very little wildlife in or over the fields. The one saving grace of this particular valley is its oak woodland.  It is more wooded than most in north Ceredigion,  having escaped the fate of others locally, where historically woodland was felled to provide fuel for the many lead mines in the area and/or for pit props in the first world war.

The second picture is more or less a reverse of the first. It shows the most extensive area of woodland in the vicinity, although a visit in person shows how even-aged and spindly the individual trees are – a clear sign of clear-felling and then re-growth without thinning. This reduces its wildlife value somewhat but nevertheless the wood is a fabulous landscape feature.  

Dark green fritillary

There are some areas of rough grazing nearby and this provides more interest for the wildlife watcher. One such is a gorse-covered, south-facing slope just below the house. It was here that I was able to photograph a dark green fritillary in early June, having first seen one in the garden – a most unusual sighting!

Four pairs of red kites nested this year on the north-facing valley side below the house; the site of each nest can be seen in the top picture. I have written about them in a previous post, and if there is one thing I will remember the area for when I leave it will be the red kites. Barely a day passes without being able to hear their lovely whistling calls.

The spring of 2020 was warm and sunny. In most years by early June the Welsh landscape is more or less one shade of green. and the landscape photographer can more or less put their camera away. The second photograph (above), taken on June 5th, shows that the bracken and oak trees have reached that stage whereas the grassland, with its shorter roots, is suffering from a lack of moisture. There was talk of a drought.  At this point the weather changed and the remainder of June has been largely cool and changeable, with plenty of cloud and copious amounts of rainfall.  The landscape can now be summed up in one word – green. 

I’ve been lucky to be present during two exceptions to the monotony of the last few weeks. During the weather breakdown there were brilliant blue skies one afternoon and slow-moving thundery showers; ideal conditions for a rainbow, and I was able to photograph one from the field behind the house. 

The other occurred early one morning. I happened to glance out of the bathroom window while visiting the toilet and saw some wisps of low-level fog floating up the valley from the sea before dispersing. Hurriedly dressing and grabbing my gear, I spent half an hour on the ridge top before returning to bed. This picture is looking inland, down and across the valley to the south of the house. 

The Silo valley, south of Brynonnen

We get tremdous sunsets throughout the year but again, speaking as a photographer, there is no substitute for a good foreground at sunset. The following was one of the best sunsets I have ever seen, and the tiny tree on the skyline is a crucial part of the image, giving a sense of scale to its surroundings.

Winter sunset from the ridge.

So despite the fabulous location of the house, photographically speaking there is no substitute for good light, colourful vegetation, and/or interesting skies. And they don’t happen too often. 

 

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2 thoughts on “X marks the spot.

  1. I really enjoyed this, both commentary and pictures. This lockdown has been like the peacefulness during a national strike. An opportunity to look at daily life from an unfamiliar angle.

    1. Thanks very much Susan. I can honestly say that I enjoyed April and May very much. I was able to get out and about on foot and bike and there was no temptation to get in the van and drive off somewhere. This was, of course, a far cry from the experience of many people in hospitals and care homes all over the UK and elsewhere. I wonder what the new normal will be like?

      jerry

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