|Winter 2010-11 part 2:
Embrace the Winter - crazy icicles, frozen Estuary and a stunning day
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comes hot-on-the-heels of the last update on December 20th, when I
discussed the interesting recent research on Arctic pressure-patterns
and their influence on early winter weather in NW Europe. This
generated howls of protest in some quarters, although nothing compared
to the stick that George Monbiot received for discussing the same thing
in his Guardian column - we co-researched the subject, drawing heavily
on papers published in the scientific literature and on comments from
other climate scientists. As I pointed out, it is new research and is
far from conclusive, but it is nevertheless very interesting, and my
take on it is to "watch this space". I find all aspects of science
fascinating and it is a pity - a sad reflection on our modern society,
that is paradoxically so heavily dependent on the products of
scientific progress - that discussions of science get bogged-down in
political shouting-matches so often.
Christmas has come and gone, and with it a weapons-grade cold
(infection, that is, as opposed to weather which was weapons-grade cold
already) that set
in on Christmas Eve and was accompanied by the need for some hasty
plumbing as mindbogglingly low temperatures caused a couple of my pipes
to freeze, a snuffly trip to Essex, lots of yummy food and just a few
beers, as the Arctic air finally got eroded away by Atlantic systems
nudging in from the west. The mild, moist air being advected in over
the deep-frozen ground resulted in a steady thaw and advection-fog -
lots of it - formed as the cold ground caused moisture in the milder
air to condense-out at low levels. The fog made the drive back from
Essex a matter of particularly intense concentration. With light winds
over the UK, it has persisted in many areas since: today is New Years'
Eve and 2011 looks set to start with another recharge of colder,
clearer air from the north, but nowhere near as intense as either the
November or December Arctic blasts. It should, however, sweep the clag
away with it.
This post is dedicated to the run-up to Christmas, which in my case was
postponed a few days due to the awful road conditions in Wales.
Although the roads were treacherously icy in places, local travel on
foot was a lot easier than it had been in the previous freeze when
sheet-ice covered all surfaces. Three days of clear weather and those
deep-blue skies typical of Arctic air produced a bonanza of
photographs: it was difficult to decide what to keep in and what to
leave out. I hope you like this selection.
On the 22nd, in bright sunshine, I wandered around town, gazing in awe
at the huge icicles sported by most buildings:
Although air temperatures were still below freezing, the warm sunshine
was at work on the icicles, with just one missing in the image below....
....but some buildings had shed most of their collection, as in the
image below. Others were in the process of disintegration, with
shoppers jumping out of the way here and there as the icy bombardment
rained down. I mused on the success-chances of setting up a hard-hat
stall on the Wednesday street-market....
That evening, I set out towards Y Wylfa, the viewpoint hill immediately
SW of Machynlleth, to catch the sunset. Getting onto the open hillside,
I was mobbed by hungry sheep, on the off-chance that I might have a
couple of hundredweight of silage in my pockets. They had dug away the
snow to get at the grass below - remember that next time you are
annoyed that your local supermarket has run out of white bread and only
has brown left. Inconvenience comes on more than one level!
Atop Y Wylfa, the late afternoon sun left the snow glowing both in the
foreground and along the Tarrenau ridge in the distance. A cold
Northeasterly breeze kept me on the move, stopping now and then to
shoot a few images....
The track up onto the ridge R of Tarrenhendre was clearly visible....
...as were the twin, Bronze-age cairns of Trum-Gelli at the western end
of the ridge. The urge to be up there, looking out over the valley and
the hills beyond, suggested itself to me, and in turn I suggested it to
a couple of mates in the pub that evening, as something worthy to do on
On the 23rd, I ventured out westwards for a look at the ice-floes being
reported from the Estuary. I had already excavated the jeep a few days
earlier as the image below shows - not a quick job either, with about a
foot of snow now covering everything!
After complaining a bit - slightly waxed diesel possibly - it fired up
and I drove carefully over to Gogarth, where I walked out over the
sandy mudflats. I had timed the trip to coincide with low tide and
sunset on the basis that I've shot images of ice-floes here in more
normal light conditions a couple of times before, so there was the
motivation to get some images in late-day light.
I arrived at the water's edge and stopped, to be greeted with almost
total silence. Not a breath of wind, just the occasional river-sounds
- slow-moving water, distant calls of geese and waders. It was as
if the place was sleeping, with only its breathing and pulse audible. I
had entered the deep sleep of Winter....
Ice littered the shore both east and west, with the mountains casting
their images onto the mirror-calm... had the familiar trees been
missing one could have been somewhere in Greenland....
mid-estuary sandbanks the floes lay scattered, like some lost and
Out in the West, the sun sank into the
Irish Sea and its warmth was lost to me. Night was gathering very
quickly now as the shadows merged in the woodlands above....
Leaving the Estuary to sleep, I headed back to the road, pausing to
take images of the Cambrian Coast railway from the footpath. The image
below has a cold feel to it and that was exactly how it felt: it was a
deep, penetrating cold that came at me from the stillness, suggesting a
stiff walk would be in order to get my system moving again. Aberdyfi
beach came to mind...
There, the scene was one of almost total desertion, with just a lone
dog-walker braving the cold, 10-15cm of snow on the sands and a vast
sky overhead emphasising the feeling of isolation and yet, at the same
time, deep, satisfying beauty.
This final shot was taken on the way home from above Frongoch Boatyard,
with snow-showers in the distance, over the Irish Sea, showing up as a
bank of cumulus-clouds.
December 24th dawned and with it the conspiracy I had set in motion two
nights before - an ascent of Tarrenhendre. Leaving Pennal, we traveled
up iced-over lanes and forestry-tracks deep in snow, before emerging
onto the open hillside, from where the route ahead was obvious:
Tarrenhendre is the mountain on the left and the way up follows the
In Machynlleth, the snow lay level and undrifted. Up here, it was
So far, so good: the snow was mostly less than knee-deep.....
But on reaching
the ridge, going became a lot harder. Here, drifting had concealed the
numerous tussocks and boggy holes that are a feature of these hills.
Nobody had been up here since the snow - these hills are a lot
less-frequented than the nearby Cadair Idris range - so that whoever
was out in front would have to break trail, too. The surface of the
snow consisted of wind-slab - a compact layer formed by the blasting
effect of the wind, both breaking-up and consolidating the snow in the
same cunning process, and leaving a surface that takes one's weight for
two steps then drops you halfway to your waist....
I wanted to get ahead to take shots of my friends climbing up, so I
thrashed my way uphill, stopping every so often to take images and to
give my protesting legs a bit of respite...
The style about a third of the way up gave the others another welcome
rest and a chance to identify bits of the landscape - "where is
Machynlleth, it must be somewhere over there".......
Tarrenhendre, by this route, taunts the climber repeatedly by offering
one false summit after another - just when you think you are there, you
top a rise and the hillside stretches on ahead and upward. In snow
conditions like this, the term "trying" is an understatement! Finally,
one by one we topped the last of these and the angle (but not the snow)
eased towards the small summit-cairn....
The reward for this toil was apparent to all: it is a superb viewpoint,
with the Lleyn Peninsula, Snowdonia and Cadair Idris visible to the
north, Cardigan Bay and its arc of coast sweeping away to the west and
southwest and, to the south and east, the vast empty wilderness of the
Cambrian Mountains. Here, I am looking at full telephoto, south-east to
Moel Fadian and Foel Esgair-y-llyn, both hills that have featured in
these pages before, with their magnificent north-facing escarpment.
Machynlleth lies hidden in a fold of the landscape in the foreground,
below the deciduous woods. To the right of them, and dwarfed by the
scale of the bigger hills, lies the top of Y Wylfa.
This was the westward view, out across wind-blasted snow along the
ridge towards Trum-Gelli, with Borth and the headland on the left and
Cardigan Bay out beyond. This is a fantastic ridge-walk in most
conditions although today it would have been hard-going - the best
conditions are when the ground is frozen hard (it is boggy in places)
but without a deep snow-cover - as I found last February when I did the
Meanwhile, looking directly down to the valley more than 600m below,
this is the railway bridge over the top end of the Dyfi Estuary at
Beyond Glandyfi, the wall-like massif of Plynlimon dominated the scene
On top, the wind was biting cold, adding its support to the seriously
sub-zero air temperatures. One does not linger too long in such
conditions. A swig of coffee, and we turned valleywards, a much easier
task as we now had a trail to follow - and it went downhill of course!
My friends took off in front this time - did someone mention "Pub"???
It's amazing how quickly a cold can come on - on the summit we had been
laughing and joking, but after an hour in the pub I had all but lost my
voice! Perhaps the cold/dry - hot/moist air contrast encouraged things.
However, this was far better timing than one occasion some 33 years ago
when one came on when I arrived at the summit of Blencathra in the Lake
District. That was one of those fluey colds that have a high
temperature and general feelings of utter lousiness associated with
them, on top of the usual sore throat stuff. The snow conditions, I
hazily recall, were similar to these, and the walk back to Keswick was
like something out of a prolonged very bad dream, with someone even
carrying my rucksack for me for the last few miles.
Days like that tend to get remembered for all the wrong reasons, but
Christmas Eve 2010 was memorable for all the right ones - superb
weather, a challenge accepted and won, and a great few hours out among
the hills with friends.
So, all that remains on this site for 2010 is to wish all my readers
the best for 2011, and to thank them for the continuing feedback, and I
hope that the site continues to give you as much enjoyment as I get
from taking the photographs of this lovely corner of our planet and its
ever-changing weather, and writing about them!
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