Weekend in Wales

Recently I had a short trip into Wales indulging in landscape photography. And now I would like to share kind of an open diary/blog of the good times. The trip came about by being aware of a certain exhibition of that by Fay Godwin featuring her Drover's Road to Wales series plus some of her other well known supporting pictures to be on display. I find a side to Fay Godwin's photography background quite romantically appealing; a fairly bygone era of learning independently from trial and error using film, connecting deeply to the landscape and being a completely free spirit from trying to please or being subject to over influence of the now established online audience now locked in most photography enthusiast's lives.

Though time was running out, I had to find some free time for a few days from other commitments to view the exhibition before it closed on April 1st and the last weekend of April 1st was the one to be and the weather forecast was fair or rain/sun so the layout ahead was looking promising.

The closest obvious place from the south of England to stay in Wales would the Brecon Beacons national park. This unfamiliar territory for me seems a good idea as not only could I take landscape pictures of the area but I could use the exploration as a part scouting session for future trips being approximately three hours away from home.

The anticipation started brewing up.......Where do I stay? Where do I park? Where are the interesting viewpoints? How far will I walk? Do I avoid being too adventurous to prevent myself getting lost in the dark/poor weather in this unforgiving terrain that I'm not use to? If the British Army train in this wilderness, it must be fairly wild and remote!?

 

Day 1

Ready set, I'm on the road.....Breacon Beacons awaits but hold on I didn't have a good start, the first motorway I drove on M27 was completely closed ahead from an accident. 50 minutes later I was back on route heading for the M4 and another traffic alert......the M4 will be completely closed for the weekend, luckily I was leaving Friday and heading back on Monday, that was a close one!. Is this the everyday behind the scenes taste of a full time landscape/travel photographer lifestyle?

A bit overcast on the first day of arrival, but still useful to get out, scout the area and enjoy the outdoors. (iPhone picture)

A bit overcast on the first day of arrival, but still useful to get out, scout the area and enjoy the outdoors. (iPhone picture)

Eventually I arrived at the accommodation below with the national park to the north which left me the evening to explore. The weather was heavy but with well defined cloud, leaving me a little bemused with the most recent weather forecast of blue skies and sunshine....this is Wales weather. Though I wasn't too concerned being under a layer of thick cloud as I had no preconception of what I was going to photograph or even particularly where. The first area of exploration was the south east of the national park, not too far from where I was staying. I found a nice group of gnarly trees that had a nice misty backdrop thanks to a passing heavy shower, but as soon as I frantically adapted myself to the rainfall ....hood up, zip up, umbrella out and rain cover over bag the rain stopped and the opportunity went in a flash before I could take the camera out the bag. No time to worry the next opportunity is just around the corner in a forcibly optimistic tone.

 

Approaching dusk, I looked on the map and found another remote parking area further up the road and decided to have a quick investigation of its potential since I am a unfamiliar with the area before I headed back to base. On arrival the weather turned really nasty, a cold wind and driving side rain set in and it got really dark now with little light pollution but in the parking area there I saw a flaming light in the black void and a hot food van appeared to my vision selling fresh wood fired pizzas to presumably the local Welsh folk on a night like this. And on a wild night like this I needed one but queuing up exposed to the cold welsh elements did require some balancing and persevering, the right side of me got a right bashing from the wind and side rain. A moment of self reflection occurred amongst the jolly hardy Welsh folk.....landscape photographer check, hardy-put-up-with-anything-the-British-weather-drives-at-me landscape photographer..........ummmm room for improvement.

 

 

Day 2

Using the digital process I can take pictures whilst waiting for 'preconceptual light', a careless play or tapping into my deeper instinctive psyche? 

Using the digital process I can take pictures whilst waiting for 'preconceptual light', a careless play or tapping into my deeper instinctive psyche? 

The following morning I went back to the same area yesterday to view at sunrise. The forecast for the day was absolutely ideal for landscape photography....rain and sun all day long so I was fairly hopeful I would bag a shot or two with the interesting cloudscape and light brought on with typical April weather.  I wondered along the first footpath I could find not knowing where it lead to really or what views where to unfold. At this stage it can feel overwhelming and pressurised in a unfamiliar area, a long way from home looking hard to find a picture in vastly stunning beauty, have I chosen the right path of a possible hundred to lead me to the unique picture of a lifetime? Its probably best to ease up mindfully at this moment and enjoy the outdoor walking experience, surely that's more important, a souvenir picture is a bonus in my book. Though I have to admit navigating around my local tamed areas of Hampshire and Sussex makes for easy work where I can position myself through experience in a productive area regarding bagging a picture or two and if you take a wrong footing, the worst thing to happen there is to roll down a soft grass slope or maybe a 2 feet deep bog as I recall a few times wondering in the New Forest! 

I ventured further on and the path eventually merged and disappeared into the landscape (reminiscent to most walking experiences)  so I just carried on walking in a straight direction by the side of a hill (to keep a mental bearing of the route back) and I came across a blackthorn tree with a nice vista type back drop. At this stage there were nice definition in the cloudscapes but no light breaking through, I'm not really the one to wait in one spot for the light to appear for hours on end and was already getting itchy feet from waiting for about 20 minutes but eventually the light emerged and when that happened my mood elevated like a rocket excited that the light appeared harmoniously. 

 

 

As usual when the weather is good I stay out longer than anticipated and forget the time when soaking up the moment and after bagging a few shots here it was a race back to base for breakfast and a brief rest.

The next agenda for the day was to travel to Machynlleth, a 5 hour drive round trip to view Fay Godwin's prints on the very last day of the exhibition. I started having fresh doubts whether I should brave the fairly long drive or ignore the opportunity and conserve my energy locally for the early mornings and evenings ahead and embrace the terrain of the Brecon Brecon's plus on this day the forecast was good to be outdoors all day for taking pictures with the changing but constant rain and sun April forecast..... well my mood swan to 'let's just do it' since I'm not sure when the next Fay Godwin exhibition will be and the Brecon Beacons will still be here for a long time.  The sat nav planned the way making it a stress free route. Since I'm not use to seeing mountains risen from the land from the car window, the drive just got better and better and better together with stormy cloudscapes and playful fleeting light, the day is going to be a very good one. It came to a point where the views from the car became so delicious I had to stop and take pictures by the side of the road. I didn't know where I was or what mountain or valley I was looking at, I was just soaking up the glorious views on a Saturday afternoon. Here I am somewhere by the side of the road, just a few metres from the car taking daytime pictures with my telephoto lens and handheld having the time of my life. Forget the golden hour time slot and tripods- rules are really just for beginners, a good opportunity - is a good opportunity - is a good opportunity and I was in the moment.

Now I have time to retrace my locations, all these pictures are views of the Dovey Valley. 

 

 

The ground floor of the Fay Godwin exhibition with an introduction of some of her most famous pictures and upstairs (no photographing allowed) revealing tantalising new to me original prints of The Drover's Road of Wales  

The ground floor of the Fay Godwin exhibition with an introduction of some of her most famous pictures and upstairs (no photographing allowed) revealing tantalising new to me original prints of The Drover's Road of Wales  

Eventually arriving in Machynlleth I made a visit to the exhibition with a few hours to spare before the very last closing time. The ground floor contained a lot of interesting memorabilia of cameras and handwritten notes, even postcards to support the exhibition together with some of her most well known celebrated pictures. As I was viewing the signed prints I was wondering are these just one off prints, are they the only one in existence? I think this is the first time I have come face to face with a signed print that cannot be reproduced, as the artist is sadly no longer with us. It was a precious moment. 

 

Upstairs was the main theme The Drovers’ Roads of Wales. As I don't yet hold the accompanying out of print book the pictures before me here are fresh to my eyes. I have to admit I didn't visit the exhibition specifically for The Drovers’ Roads of Wales series it was just because it was one of my biggest admirations, Fay Godwin and I have never seen her prints before, only a few obtained books and articles was enough to make up my mind how great and integral she was. Well the prints blew my mind there were certainly some previously hidden to me masterpieces in the sequence black and white, impeccable yet evocative compositions with playful slivers of light and harmonious complimentary cloudscapes of the British landscape, well the Drovers road to be precise. I dearly hope I shall encounter her prints again in future exhibitions for now they are locked in my memory. 

 

Now it's time to head back to the Brecons. My initial plan was to arrive back in the Brecons before sunset for some possible localised landscape photography but since the trip up was so fruitful, now there was the possibility of taking my time and stopping a few times on the way back down if a view catches my attention.  And yes stopping by the roadside was inevitable with such promising weather and landscape combo....

I'm not sure where this was taken yet I will have to retrace back my route, as you can see the light and weather was dramatic.

I'm not sure where this was taken yet I will have to retrace back my route, as you can see the light and weather was dramatic.

 

 

Dylife Gorge  

Dylife Gorge  

Further along towards the Beacons, I passed Dylife Gorge and decided to stop here to soak up the views as the sun was going down. As I took some pictures I was thinking to myself is this location cliche? I had no idea, there were no tourists or walkers about, I didn't plan to pass here, my sat nav told me so.

Worrying about 'cliches' could be a waste of energy, especially if you don't follow a hidden desire for plagiarism, to my mind, body and spirit this place was new, fresh and invigorating. Cliches could be a lot of talk about nothing, the digital and online process generated it perhaps.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3

A behind the scenes view. As pretty as it may look, I didn't find any compositions on this brief outing, though the awesomely satisfying previous day held down any productivity frustrations. 

A behind the scenes view. As pretty as it may look, I didn't find any compositions on this brief outing, though the awesomely satisfying previous day held down any productivity frustrations. 

Another fairly early rise out for sunrise exploring locally before breakfast. I tried to keep it a fairly light work this morning as I had a long day ahead of me. Again the weather put on a show for me and here's a behind the scenes phone snap of soaking up the morning light and browsing for compositions in the morning light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The forecast for the rest of the day was a very fine and settled sunny day so I thought it would be a sensible idea to climb up the highest point in southern Britain, yes in the south we do have mountains too thanks to the Brecons and that mountain is Pen Y Fan. I thought this would be a good introduction to the Brecon mountain range as being a famous landmark the trails will be well trodden but more importantly well accessible, sounds like an easy task?

Well from my previous outings so far I did wonder where everybody was, there where hardly any passing walkers or tourists on my chosen routes but everybody seemed to be here congregating at the main starting point to Pen Y Fan,  not only was the car parks full there were hundreds of cars parked on either side of the road....being a fine warm sunny mid morning and the weekend I probably picked the most busy time so far of the year and I had no choice but to continue to drive towards the town of Brecon. I thought about taking an alternative quieter but much longer route up but as it was approaching lunchtime and as much as I would love to tackle a longer harder and quieter route up, time was getting on and shall leave that for another planned day. But being such a fine day I was still keen to go up Pen Y Fan and was hoping that being a Sunday all the day-trippers tackling it mid morning will be descending down late afternoon to head back home in readiness to their weekday routines.

So upon returning late afternoon I managed to find a car park space and yes as I started to walk up ninety per cent of all the foot traffic was walking back down and in a wary casual way......

Even though the mainstream route is popular for light walkers and family friendly I did find it tough going, thanks to my ill-prepared bag. Myself coming from an area of gentle lowland I am able to carry all my complete heavy gear without much fuss, but here I soon felt the heavy backpack pulling against my shoulders and straining calfs quite rapidly from climbing up on this warm spring day and my readiness started reevaluating in a mild panic way! Once reaching Bwlch Duwynt you can really start enjoying the views and have a breather. There were still a few hours before the golden hour so the light wasn't perfect for landscape photography but I was really enjoying the moment, the experience of mountain walking and the 360 degree views, that's what matters. I continued on towards Pen Y Fan and walking along the ridges before descending back down at sunset. After carrying my heavy load back down, a well earned beer and whiskey was on the cards for the evening.

 

 

Conclusion

Well what a great mini trip, jammed packed of walking and photography. I didn't know what to expect initially as I was still planning where to explore first thing in the morning of Day 1 but it all kind of fell into place. After making several previous trips to the Peak District for short landscape photography breaks, the Breacon Beacons was a nice change and somewhere I will definitely be visiting again for further exploration, as I only scratched the surface and is well within travelling distance with enough time and energy spare for photography on the same day. What made it special was the weather and helped inspire a fruitful amount of pictures. When making these short get-away trips I tend to book latest as possible so I can coincide it with favourable weather conditions plus an element of spontaneity is a refreshing contrast to the ever increasing urbarnised lifestyles opposed on us.

And on this occasion I made it to the last day of the Fay Godwin exhibition and that was well worth the miles to see. Walking into a room and coming face to face with original signed prints you have never seen before of enlighting pictures you have never seen before really struck a chord with me. Personally I think the depth and real appreciation of a real life print will always beat the value of convenience of the rapid fire nature of images in the online realm. 

With the landscape pictures I have taken on this trip, my current favourite session were not taken during the 'golden' hours nor on a tripod, nor from a challenging climb along a mountain ridge but during the day lunchtime in fact, by the side of a road with a telephoto lens and handheld. A landscape photograph is great when the creator is in the moment and it awakens the viewers emotions. And on its own, how it was made is not as important which reminds me of a famous quote I shall leave you with....

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them as an artist
— Pablo Picasso