My journey starts in the Upper/Mid (I can't decide which) Towy Valley not far from the small village of Bethlehem (Carmarthen not the Middle East). The village is situated on the elevated South side of the valley between Llandeilo and Llangadog.
According to the Met Office it was going to be a cold, dark, dreary type of day - Well they got the first bit right.
Carmarthenshire is literally full of castles. In fact there is one every 200 yards (not true). Most are obvious in the landscape like the stunning Carreg Cennen, Dinefwr and Dryslwyn to name a few. These date back hundreds and hundreds of years but these are positively modern compared to the target of my visit. Garn Goch is a fort whose history can be traced back over 2500 years. It's modern name comes from the beautiful red coloured bracken that covers much of the hill in the winter. I hadn't been to it before but was keen to see the view from the top.
From the Breacon Beacons website "Garn Goch, a major Iron Age settlement site near the town of Llandeilo, nowadays feels quiet and remote. However approximately 2500 years ago this hilltop would have been a thriving centre, where people lived and worked, food was grown and goods were produced and were traded. Its large stone defences, a large rubble bank today, once stood as stone-faced ramparts 10m high and 5m thick, and would have offered protection from natural dangers such as wild wolves and against other humans during periods of warfare.
There were two hillforts on the site. A smaller fort, Y Gaer Fach, sat in the shadow of its much larger and impressive neighbour Y Gaer Fawr.
The smaller fort, Y Gaer Fach, encloses an area of around 1.5 hectares, survives in a ruinous state and appears to be incomplete, perhaps abandoned part way through a programme of rebuilding that was never completed. This fort is dwarfed in comparison with the nearby Y Gaer Fawr, with its enormous stone ramparts and at least six separate entrances. At around 11.2 hectares this is one of the largest hillforts in the whole of Wales." - http://www.breconbeacons.org/garn-goch
Once you've parked in the car park it's an easy 30 minute walk up gentle-ish slope up to the top. As I'm a such a prime athlete I only needed to stop three times - obviously to take in the beautiful view not to stave off the chance of a heart attack.
Now I apologies in advance if I have brought you here under false pretences to see and learn all about this accent site, but I only took a couple of pictures and the sun only made the briefest of appearances.
Above is the only half decent picture I took of one of the many standing stones on the site (click on image to enlarge). Don't get me wrong it is a beautiful site, and well worth the visit, but I will be back either for night photography or to capture the sunset…..and when it's warmer and the sun is out. For a far more sensible descriptions of Garn Goch's history and general information then I suggest that you take a look at Llandeilo.org
I was frozen and the sun had disappeared so time to move on……...
the A4069 Top gear country
Just after leaving Garn Goch I started on my way back home. That was until I noticed that further East the sun had broken through the cloud again. Photography has a huge element of luck, and you need to take all opportunities when they are presented to you. So off I went East, heading towards the winding A4069. I've probably mentioned it before, but this road is often used by Top Gear for filming. It's fantastic, the road is full of hairpins and sharp bends with some of the greatest views around.
When I reached the car park the sun shone on the valley below, but still an incredibly cold biting wind kept the temperatures down. I mostly sat in the car just spending time to take the view in trying to keep warm.
There is still a fair bit of snow on the ground as the photo suggests. But I eventually braved the the weather and went for a short walk. It's a place I need to go beyond the car park and take a walk around the various quarries dotted around the place.
Late morning now, time for me to head home - I'm frozen. Well, home via a few other favourite spots. There is a fantastic mountain road between Llandarog and Home. This time of year it's very icy as number of mountain streams that cross the road have long frozen over.
Trees of the Carmarthenshire Black Mountain
My last stop is on the hillside opposite Castle Carreg Cennen. This is a really special place for me. A rock covered mountain behind you, and a beautiful vista of the castle in front. There is a real feel to the place. The place where the modern world feels irrelevant. You sit on the rocks and stare onto the castle below - the same view that would be attackers would stood hundreds of years ago.
Only the river holds more of an appeal to me, but I still find myself just sitting and watching.
I apologise but I don't know what type of trees these are, but they are incredible. Twisted trunks and broken backs, holding onto the rock to resist the winds. If anyone knows what type of trees these are - please let me know.
This small mound has five trees almost symmetrically planted (above). I spent about fifteen minutes scrambling in the sheep dung on the floor but still can't get the angle right.
I spent another hour trying to take photos of the trees at tricky angles. I really like the first and the next few in this section. But I'll be back, again and again and again.
Carmarthenshire Mountain Ponies
Mountain ponies are a regular feature on the Hills and Mountains around Carmarthenshire. But sometimes its not all what it may seem. Horses are regularly being dumped on hills around Wales.
This is for a number of reasons - the general financial climate, horse meat restrictions etc.., but now more and more horse have been turned out on to the hills.
Sadly many of these horse aren't naturally equipped to survive in these at time harsh conditions - unlike the native mountain ponies. Huge pressure is being placed on councils and charities to support and care for these animals in the cold winter months, and unfortunately many of the horse do not survive or end up being destroyed.
I will probably cover this is another blog entry in greater detail. But seeing animals suffer in this way is upsetting. Although animals in the pictures below don't fall into this category and thrive in this area.
Just in case you are interested (probably not, but thank you for reading down this far. Or if you are just skim reading - still thank you) this is the camera and lenses that I used during this trip. I have no connection with either companies, but I buy all my stuff from either Carmarthen Cameras or WEX. Both superb shops. If you are in Wales, the shop in Carmarthen is well worth the visit for the friendly service and the wide range of stock (including loads of cool 2nd hand stuff).
Nikon D800E - although this has now been superseded by the fantastic D810, this camera remains my first choice when I'm out by taking pictures.
Nikon 24mm f1.4 - I'm simply in love with this lens. So sharp (although a bit less so at the lower f stops), I use this almost exclusively for landscape, way more than my 14-24mm f2.8, which is also amazing.
Billingham Bag - I own two Billingham bags. One doubles up as my work bag and the larger Billingham 335 Sage Fibrenyte and Tan Leather Camera Bag goes with me when I'm about with the camera. Not cheap, but absolutely quality and will last literally for decades.