Rallying around.

The rally route near my home…..

Almost every day brings more news about the speed with which the climate is warming, whether it be forest fires in Siberia, the melting icecap in Greenland, or record high temperatures in Alaska – to name three recent examples. The suspicion is that the climate is changing much faster than was ever imagined. It seems that climate chaos will soon be with us.

Yet north Ceredigion will soon be the venue for a new car rally; possibly the most frivolous waste of fossil fuels that it is possible to imagine. The Rali Bae Ceredigion, due to take place in early September, will see 120 cars covering a total race length of 44 miles in four stages. Roads in the Bontgoch, Pendam/Ponterwyd, Ystumtuen and Nant-y-moch areas will be closed for the day. Cars will slowly proceed from stage to stage on public roads, another 44 miles.

As well as the carbon emissions from the competition cars themselves, those from an estimated 1500 marshals, officials and mechanics required on the day need to be added. On top of that will be the emissions involved from their journeys to north Ceredigion from their homes, PLUS an unknown (but probably considerable) number of spectators. Rally organisers claim that the use of shuttle buses to take spectators to vantage points on the rally route will “boost the event’s environmental credentials”. As if it had any!

No-one who has given their endorsement to this rally can possibly have considered its environmental impact. If they had it would have been a non-starter. The climate crisis is just too serious. And yet rally organisers hope that this rally will become an annual event, “developing and expanding” in future years..

Backers of the rally include Visit Wales, part of the Welsh Assembly Government, which has recently declared a Climate Emergency. Ben Lake MP (Plaid Cymru spokesman on the environment, among other things) is in favour, despite his party strongly supporting the Climate Emergency Declaration. “Without the commitment to action that such a Declaration necessitates, the statement is meaningless”, said Plaid Cymru in May.

Those who seem likely to gain the most financially from the rally include Ceredigion County Council – who narrowly failed to declare a Climate Emergency themselves earlier this year – and Aberystwyth University.

The University will be making a very tidy profit from hosting the rally. Rooms in its Halls of Residence will be rented out to drivers and officials. Space for parking, vehicle movements and servicing, office activity, presentation areas, and catering facilities will be made available. Among the areas commandeered will be the Arts Centre and one has to question how appropriate the use of the Arts Centre actually is. What possible artistic or cultural purpose does a car rally serve?

The University really needs to examine its conscience on the Climate Emergency. They still have investments in the fossil fuel industry, and rally organisers have been quite open about the University’s support – without it the rally just would not happen.

When we are all being urged to leave the car at home and use public transport to save carbon emissions, this new rally is close to being an obscenity. It should not be repeated.

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On Birdsong Avenue.

Birdsong Avenue, Prades, Pyrenees Orientales.

It has been a quiet time for me recently, photographically speaking. Following a number of disappointments –  this one, for example, but there have been others –  I am adapting to the idea of being semi-retired as a photographer. It has been a difficult process, but, looking on the bright side,  I can now enjoy things, places and events without having to take photographs of them. The postcards are still providing some useful income, and I still have a couple of projects I’d like to get off the ground, but the confidence I used to have is missing. In late April I went to north-eastern Spain and then south-western France for a holiday with Jane. Despite some excellent birding at the Aiguemolls de Empurda in Catalonia I took few photographs; only once did I really regret not having the camera to hand and that was when a little bittern appeared on the edge of a reedbed just in front of the hide, posed for a few seconds and then flew off. If only…….

After a week in Spain we moved on to the Tet valley about 25 miles inland of Perpignan in France. The local town was Prades, where we went for shopping, the farmers market and meals out.. On one visit while parking the car I happened to notice the street name – Avenue du Chants des Oiseaux : or Birdsong Avenue in English . How beautiful and how gently surreal! I took a snap with my phone and mulled it over for a day or two before returning with my full kit.  I took a series of exposures as cars went past, using long-ish shutter speeds to give a sense of movement, and a narrow aperture for depth of field – in this case the combination was 1/40th second at f14.

The image haunted me for several weeks after I returned to the UK. Do you need to know French to “get it”? How well does an environmental message come through? Or is it too obvious?  Whatever could I do with a picture like this? Then I was reminded of the Open Exhibition at the Penrallt Gallery and Bookshop in Machynlleth, the theme this year being “Language in the Landscape”. Perfect! The submission deadline had already passed but Geoff Young kindly allowed me to sneak it in at the last minute. I’ve recently been thinking that certain subjects are more suited to black-and-white, so I converted this before printing. As you can see I’ve also added the colour version to this post; does anyone have any thoughts on the colour vs b&w dilemma, one way or the other?


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You wait for years for an eagle re-introduction project to arrive….

Golden eaglet, Isle of Mull, 1981.

……. and then two come along at the same time!

A good friend and I have often discussed how good it would be to see golden eagles back in Wales. We have often thought that the area above Nant-y-moch reservoir, in the shadow of Pumlumon, would be one of the best sites in Wales for them. It is remote, quite mountainous and very little visited. One imagines there would be a fair few dead sheep to feed on too. In contrast, the number of walkers and climbers around the great crags and summits of north Wales and the Brecon Beacons are such that golden eagles would probably be unable to tolerate the disturbance. But when other conditions are favourable their nests can sometimes be at “walk-in” locations, as I discovered while doing a golden eagle survey on the Isle of Mull many years ago.  So quieter parts of Snowdonia, like the Arenig/Migneint and the Rhinogydd, might be suitable, despite a shortage of cliff or tree nesting sites.

A few months ago I became aware of the Eagle Re-introduction Wales project (ERW). It is based at Cardiff University, and has the backing of the Welsh Wildlife Trusts. It is currently undertaking some pre-feasibility studies to examine whether there would be a niche in Wales for either or both of the UK’s eagle species.  For most of its short life, the ERW project has been carrying out its activities very much ‘under the radar’. It expects that re-introducing eagles into Wales will be controversial and is building the case for it in a methodical and deliberate fashion. That all changed recently when a completely separate golden eagle re-introduction project made its TV debut on Countryfile Winter Diaries.

Presenting the proposal was Dr. Paul O’Donoghue, project leader for “Wilder Britain”. They plan to submit their application for a release licence to Natural Resources Wales in July. Dr O’Donoghue is quoted on the North Wales Live website (18th February) as saying –

If successful, project organisers hope to re-introduce 10 young Golden Eagles as soon as this autumn, though next year is more likely.”

The release will form the model for further releases elsewhere in Wales.  He is obviously very positive about their chances of success. The trouble is, any re-introduction project like this has to satisfy something like fifty-three guidelines set out by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). They just don’t happen overnight.

‘Wilder Britain’ is a Community Interest Company, based in St Asaph, with just one director – Dr. Paul O’Donoghue. It was set up on 25th August 2018, and until January 25th this year was known as  “Rewilding UK”.

As a result of some of his other recent initiatives, Paul O’Donoghue has become quite a controversial character. He is also ‘Chief Scientific Advisor’ to Wildcat Haven (directors Emily O’Donoghue and Douglas Wilson).  This is a fairly well-established project doing good work on wildcat conservation in Scotland; for example catching, neutering and re-releasing feral cats and wildcat/feral cat crosses so that they become unable to reproduce. It is also proposing to re-introduce wildcats from elsewhere in Europe into the Scottish Borders this year2019 . On the other side of the coin Wildcat Haven has also entered into an unpleasant war of words with the “official” wildcat conservation body Scottish Wildcat Action. Wildcat Haven has also sued for defamation a very well-respected Green Party Member of the Scottish Parliament. It is believed that the astonishing sum of £750,000 (+ interest) is involved. The court case is due to be heard later this year.

Then there’s the Lynx UK Trust. Its registered address is also in St. Asaph, and its directors are Paul O’Donoghue and Emily O’Donoghue. The Lynx UK Trust submitted an application to release wild lynx into the Kielder Forest (on the England / Scotland border) early in 2018, and it was turned down in December. The refusal was just about as damning as it could possibly have been. Natural England was concerned, among other things, about the project’s lack of financial security, its reliance on volunteers, its lack of liaison with land- owners and managers, the lack of an environmental impact assessment, and insufficient information on the methodology for “acquisition, release and monitoring of lynx”. They had failed to satisfy some of the most important IUCN guidelines. Despite this refusal the Lynx UK Trust now proposes to re-introduce Lynx at three locations in Scotland ………

It appears that ERW got wind of the Wilder Britain announcement and decided to take pre-emptive action. A press release from project leader Sophie Lee-Williams also dated February 18th appears on the BBC News website. In it she says –

“Wales is home to large expanses of potentially suitable eagle habitat but there are many questions we need to answer about the quality of habitat, and whether it can sustain eagles. The project is in the very early stages of development, and a reintroduction is not likely to happen for some time.”

The two projects couldn’t be more different in their approaches.

So what chance does Wilder Britain stand of getting a release permit this year for golden eagles in Snowdonia? My feeling is very little. So little ecological groundwork has been done. Also on their agenda for Wales is the re-introduction of mountain hares – a worthwhile project in itself but which could take years to undertake.   One of its aims is to provide prey for introduced eagles.  So why not work on this first? Perhaps the mountain hare isn’t sexy enough? While he may be very good at making headlines, in the cold light of day Paul O’Donoghue’s proposals seem to me to amount to little more than an elaborate wishlist. And with the track record he has quickly built up how can the authorities take him seriously?

I would also suggest that his sudden arrival is bad news for rewilding in Wales in general and for the ERW project in particular. It must be hoped that Dr O’Donoghue will soon return from whence he came.

Many thanks to Jonathan Stacey for advice and inspiration.

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Support a local photographer…..

As many of you will know, I have been publishing the Wild Wales/Cymru Wyllt range of postcards for over thirty years. Yes! People still do buy them! At an age when most sensible people would be putting their feet up, I might as well continue to fulfil that demand. Little by little I am reducing the level of stock that I hold and to this end my print run is shorter every year. So to counteract this trend, in 2019 I have published an extraordinary fifteen brand new designs – probably more in a single year than at any time in the past. It is thanks to the staff at Gomer Press that I am able to do this at an economical price, and with such exceptional quality. Images suitable for postcards may not require the greatest levels of creativity but they are still a challenge and they keep me on my toes.

So, enjoy these images – and when you go away this year, buy a few postcards at your destination and support a local photographer!

Dolgellau and Cadair Idris (M294)
Llyn Crafnant, near Trefriw (M295)
Aberdyfi from Ynyslas (M296)
Cadair Idris (M297)
Starlings at Aberystwyth (M298)
Llyn Gwynant and Yr Aran (M299)
Glandyfi, near Machynlleth (M300)
The Submerged Forest, Borth (M301)
Snowdon and Cnicht (M302)
The Dyfi estuary and Ynyslas from the hills above Aberdyfi (M303)
Old College, Aberystwyth (M304)
Vale of Rheidol Railway, near Devils Bridge (M305)
Tenby from Monkstone Point (P175)
Fishguard Harbour (P176)
Solva (P177)


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Kit talk. Far too much kit talk.

Great white egrets, Ham Wall.

As I have done so little photography in the last two months I hope you’ll forgive me if recount an incident from spring last year. In early May I paid a visit to Ham Wall in the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury. In a post describing a previous visit I called this magnificent RSPB reserve ‘Heron HQ UK’ : as an example of habitat creation on a large scale it just can’t be beat.

My first morning there saw me making an early start. It was humid, still, and scraps of fog hovered above the wetlands and reedbeds.  I wasted little time in making my way to the Tor View hide, joining another early-rising photographer. It can be good to chat to like-minded souls in bird hides and one can sometimes pick up useful info about what can be seen locally. But on this occasion it really was a bit too early for conversation and, besides, a surreal dawn was slowly developing into a stunning sunrise. But he just wanted to talk ….”Are you using Canon, then…..?” Even worse, he wanted to talk about kit. And did he! He proceeded to list his lenses: …the 600 f5.6, the 500 f4 and the 400 f2.8 (…..possibly…..). He carried on in this vein.

Meanwhile a pair of great white egrets were just becoming active in the mist nearby, offering a stunning spectacle to the photographer. But he just didn’t seem to notice. Fortunately a couple of other photographers arrived which took the pressure off me to respond! The sun began to break through the trees, spotlighting sections of the egrets’ brilliant white plumage. I couldn’t believe I was the only one pointing my camera in their direction.

Perhaps backlit birds don’t offer ideal subject matter for the traditional bird photographer. Whatever the reason, the others sat on the other side of the hide and chatted away. The sun rose, dispersing the mist and warming the landscape.  I was able to photograph a bittern in flight with the summit of Glastonbury Tor in the background, an image that really sums up Ham Wall for me.

And what of our friend with the car boot full of equipment? I hadn’t noticed him slip away but certainly noticed him return. This time he was pulling a four wheeled trolley loaded with gear. Someone had advised him that thieves were known to frequent the car park and he must have thought it better that he had it all with him.

I’m struggling, really, to conclude this post because the moral is surely so clear to see. There is more to photography than kit.

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Approaching the Landscape – Photography workshop, May 2019

I will be running a residential landscape photography workshop from May 9th – 12th at Trigonos, Nantlle, north Wales.

Trigonos is a really excellent venue. For many years it has run a programme of personal growth, yoga and mindfulness workshops, but is now extending the range of courses that it offers. There is a range of accomodation available, and the staff provide very good quality vegetarian food. There is a very relaxed atmosphere around the site. Trigonos is situated on the banks of Llyn Nantlle Uchaf,  just a few minutes walk to the western end of the lake, from where one of the classic views of Snowdon can be seen. Nantlle itself is one of the quietest villages in Snowdonia and I have had long conversations with passers by in the middle of the main street without fear of being mown down by vehicles!

As well as being in an excellent location for the photographer of “unspoilt” landscapes, Trigonos is also close to some extensive disused slate quarries, and I expect we will visit a range of locations  from the sublime to the derelict. In fact, one of the themes of the Workshop will be the relationship of one to the other. It should have something for everyone.

For further details please click here Approaching-the-Landscape 2019.

There will also be an extended, four-day workshop from October 20th – 24th.

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With Seasons Greetings

Fly agaric, near Betws-y-coed


I’d just like to wish all my readers a happy festive season – whatever their beliefs – and a successful year in 2019.

I have a couple of new projects to look forward to in the New Year, and I’ll talk about those in January.

Apologies for using the same photograph for a second time. Until recently I wasn’t aware how close the links were between the Fly Agaric and Christmas. But ” it seems quite possible that the traditional image of Father Christmas has its real origins in shamanistic rituals involying the red and white fly agaric toadstool”.

There’s plenty more about this on the internet, for example here, from which the above quote is taken.


Not soon coming to a bookshop near you……….

Not soon coming to a bookshop near you……avocets at Goldcliffe, Gwent

Earlier this year I wrote about a number of disappointments I had had as a photographer during the previous twelve months (see this post). At the time I wasn’t sure if I should be blogging about my failures but they are part and parcel of the life of the freelance and it felt like a reasonable response. Unfortunately there is more disappointment to recount.

Following the sudden rejection of In Search of Wild Wales by the publisher in January, Jon Gower and I discussed finding another outlet for it. After a while he suggested a little known specialist publisher from south Wales, who had put together a very high quality book on the Welsh artist John Selway.  Jon had provided the text. They were keen to go ahead with In Search of Wild Wales. Things were looking up! Jon sent the final version of his text through to me in the middle of October and I read it avidly. Most (about two-thirds) was intelligent, invigorating writing. He had written a beautiful essay – at my request – about avocets, to accompany the above photograph. But the remainder ………. hmmm…….. it just seemed rather flat, somehow, as if someone else had written it.

I think I had better just say at this point that several chapters of the book needed re-writing.  At first he agreed to do it over the winter, but then there was a second email. He had changed his mind overnight and despite profuse apologies, was now withdrawing from the project altogether. “Your very fine images”  he said, “should not be coupled to shoddy, lazy writing”.

Strangely enough I don’t feel angry. I just can’t get my head around it. I still wake up and think “Did that really happen?”

So that’s five publishers and three authors I’ve exhausted trying to get this book off the ground.  A very good friend assured me that I was good enough to write the text myself, or that he could write it for me, but working with a friend on anything can ruin a good relationship. There comes a time when you have to accept that something is just never going to happen.

As a photographer I believe that a book can be image-led but images do have their limitations, no matter how good they are. I’ve always felt that a good text can take a book way beyond the photographs that accompany it. To that end I’ve worked with different authors on five books but in almost every case it wasn’t the real collaboration that I had been hoping for. Ironically the most satisfying in that sense was Wales at Waters Edge  :  author –  Jon Gower!  With that one exception I’ve had a series of bad experiences with authors over the last decade. In some cases they seem to have such sense of superiority over the photographer that the latter is only worthy of illustrating their magnificent, all-knowing and world-shattering text.

One could argue that I should never have worked on this project without having a contract in place. However, there is no chance that the photographs could have been produced within the time frame of a normal book production schedule. Nature is seasonal for one thing. The photographer has to fit in with its rhythms. If you miss a subject one spring, for example, you just have to wait twelve months for another opportunity. And did I mention that I was a perfectionist?

There is no doubt that this has been the most difficult blog post I have ever written. I would love to recount exactly why Jon withdrew from the project, but I have taken the advice of others not to be too specific. In the meantime, I have dragged myself out of the hole that I found myself in and sent a new proposal to Gomer Press for consideration. If successful, it will use some of the images from the book which has finally now bitten the dust. Other than the publisher, no-one else will be involved.

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Putting the environment back into farming.

One result of Brexit is that the UK will be leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU’s farming support programme. This, it is argued, has been responsible for much of the loss of biodiversity that has been evident over the last thirty years. Going back a decade or more, the only objective of the CAP was to increase the quantity of food being produced in the EU. Headage payments meant that farmers were paid per beast, no matter how degraded their land became as a result.  Wine lakes, barley mountains…..you name it, the EU paid for it.  It led to rapid intensification of agriculture all over the EU. This crazy system was eventually revised but farmers are currently paid according to how much land they own, with no maximum payment. It is a bit of a racket for those already having the deepest pockets. Ironically, but typically, those systems with the least negative impact on the environment, like organic farming, which is generally relatively small-scale, currently receive no additional subsidy at all.

In most of Wales agriculture is uneconomic without the EU subsidies that farmers receive. The millions of sheep roaming the Welsh hills would soon disappear if subsidies were taken away, and what a good thing that would be – some might say! But it is not that simple, unfortunately, because traditional Welsh rural culture (including the language) is deeply rooted in upland farming communities. (For more on farming in the Welsh uplands, click here)

When he was appointed the UK Farming and Environment Minister Michael Gove surprised us all by immediately declaring that he was “a closet environmentalist”, and meeting representatives of the big wildlife organisations very soon after taking office. Since then he has famously come up with the mantra “Public Goods for Public Money” – the former, in this case, meaning environmental benefits. Put simply, after Brexit,  farmers will no longer be subsidised unless they put something back into the landscape. As farming and environment are devolved to the Welsh Assembly, the latter is now putting its own slant on UK national policy. It is currently consulting widely on how its own agricultural support system will work in the future in Wales.  A rather dull WAG document called “Brexit and Our Land” has been produced and we are being invited to respond to it.

Fortunately, the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and WWF have read it for us and produced standard documents that we can just sign and send, or that can be adapted to send a personal message to the Welsh government;  I used the RSPB version. When you click through to the correct page you are asked if you would like to personalise your response; if so there are three questions for you to answer. Once you have finished you can review the final document. To my surprise the points that I personally made were rather cleverly incorporated into a standard letter which made it look like I really knew what I was talking about!

It was widely accepted that Welsh farmers largely voted “leave” in the Brexit referendum. It was said that on June 24th 2016 the Welsh hills were metaphorically loud with the sound of firearms as farmers shot themselves in the foot. It only later seemed to became clear to them that the EU subsidies which they are reliant upon would cease once Britain left. I have very mixed feelings about Welsh farmers. It is true that they “follow the money”; in other words, if they are offered subsidies to produce sheep then that is what they will do. You can understand that. And I have no doubt that there are many who appreciate their surroundings and do what they can to maintain them in a wildlife-friendly condition.

But equally there are those to whom nature will always be “the enemy”, to be subdued, and if necessary destroyed, at every opportunity.  I met one last year while I was doing a bird survey, near my home in Ceredigion, perhaps the epitomy of rural Wales. Even I was shocked at what he had to say,  the gist of which was this:

“……there are far too many red kites around now……they should be shot…..”

How someone like that will adapt to his new circumstances it is difficult to imagine.

So, for those of you who live in Wales, you still have a chance to repond to the WAG consultation.

Stage 1 : Click here 

Stage 2 : Click on one of the logos at the bottom of the page

Stage 3 : Follow the instructions on the page you have selected.

There is plenty of information for you to digest if you wish to make a personal response as well.

But remember, the closing date for your response is October 30th.


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Photography on the fly.

Fly agaric, near Betws-y-coed

We’re well into autumn now and I recently decided I needed some photographs of that spectacular fungus, the fly agaric. I was up in north Wales for a couple of days, and a mixed forecast suggested I might get some sunny scenic landscape photography done; any cloudy conditions being more suitable for more intimate “autumn colours” and woodland scenes. Yes, I know I’m a traditionalist but at my age what do you expect!

By mid-morning on the first day it was starting to brighten up although a strong southerly wind was blowing. My first destination was a hilltop above Betws-y-coed, with the town deep in the valley below and the main peaks of Eryri in the background. But why not first spend an hour or so looking for fly agarics in the woodland leading to my destination? Two minutes later, right by the path, I had found my first! It was a perfect specimen, I thought, in my excitement, so I got the tripod out and began taking some ground level shots with my telephoto zoom. A passer-by told me that fly agarics were very common this year;  some images he showed me on his phone looked great, and I realised my own specimen was not actually that special – tall and broad, yes; but crimson in colour with flecks of white on the cap? No, not really. I had a look around.

Fly agarics are usually associated with birch trees (and sometimes pine or other species). The fungus has a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots of the tree which helps both species thrive. What I found on my short exploration amazed me. Over an area of perhaps a hundred metres by fifty, I found several dozen fly agarics. Most were already past their best, being flat-capped, or even bowl shaped, with the red colouration having already faded towards orange. But I found one particularly photogenic group among some birch trees and did a bit of “gardening” to expose them. One was already broken off at ground level so I decided to make a feature of it alongside several other complete ones. Things are rarely as simple as you hope for, though, in this case because the sun was now shining brightly, creating areas of high contrast on the woodland floor. Every so often a tiny wispy cloud passed in front of the sun but even this didn’t give me the even lighting I needed for this shot. I wandered around, found more fly agarics, did some tai chi, looked at the sky over and over again, waited and waited some more. Eventually I realised that a better image would also include the mushrooms’ habitat so I swapped to a wide angle, placing them in the foreground with birch trees and bracken taking up the rest of the frame. Contrast was still a problem so I tried two other techniques:

1)  Using a ND grad over the brightest part of the image (at the top), and

2)  Bracketing with the intention of combining two images in Lightroom at the processing stage.

To some extent both worked, but the image (above) was processed using the HDR control in Lightroom. I had to examine individual frames carefully and choose those with the least subject movement for combining: the wind was still strong.

Thirty-six hours later I was back, and within five minutes had found a tiny, perfect little specimen freshly emerged from its protective sheath, looking just like something you might find in a very upmarket cake shop (see above). And it really wasn’t a difficult shot to take; a little gardening to clear dead bracken stems and twigs, tripod, aperture priority, f5.6 for minimal depth of field, and ….success!

Llyn Crafnant

The intervening day was glorious – warm, sunny and cloud-free; perfect for pure enjoyment but not great for the landscape photographer. I spent the night in the van by Llyn Crafnant above Trefriw. I do love the length of these autumn nights. No problem getting a good night’s sleep and no rush to be up before dawn. It was perfectly calm for several hours in the morning and, having found a good spot by the lakeside, I took a long series of images of the head of the valley and its reflection as the sun rose. In the end it was the very last image I took that was my favourite, so perhaps I should have waited longer!

Beyond the head of the valley, completely invisible from within it, lay the great peaks of Eryri – the Carneddau, Tryfan, the Glyderau, Yr Wyddfa and its outliers, and finally Moel Siabod. It was half-an-hour’s walk to a point where they could all be seen. Or so I thought: it actually took something like an hour and by the time I got there the sun was really too high and the sky too blue for successful image-making. But it was a great walk and I will do it again another day. As for the hoped-for view above Betws-y-coed, cloud was covering the peaks on both of my visits. Oh, and I got drenched in a two-hour downpour in woodland near Dolgellau on the way home. Light rain showers, the Met Office forecast said……….

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