Carreg Cennen 2009
The long way from the car park to the castle.
This was to be the first time I used the new Canon 40D in a proper outdoor setting.
Many of its strengths very quickly became apparent; it focused so fast, never complained about the lighting,
and it was able to take pictures at such high speed.
But then that last strength was also a weakness; my weakness, which I must learn to curb.
It's just so addictive. Not once did I take a single photo. Not once.
I am quite used to taking a few shots of the same subject, adjusting focus, composure, or exposure in between.
But with the 40D I would take between three and ten shots of exactly the same thing, even without high speed drive -
I would just press the shutter again and again.
The shadow from a cloud would move perhaps a metre. A blade of grass would bend in the wind. My aim would change by 1° at most.
A cascade would get 2 extra drips.
At the end of it, I was left very frustrated with myself, having to repeatedly choose the best out of a selection of virtually identical pictures.
It's always nice to have the odd duplicate for an important shot, but this was for every single picture.
400 pictures were reduced to less than 70 that were kept, of which about 50 which were used (that is not counting the buzzard sequence).
But you know, I loved every second I held that camera, and it's been a long time since I felt like that. So addictiveness aside, I am happy.
Was it worth it? Of course! What a stupid question.
- Map of the Brecon Beacons National Park, showing the locations of the various mountains and ranges.
- Carreg Cennen sits on top of this craggy 260 metre hill at the Western edge of the Black Mountain, in the Brecon Beacons National Park. From the North side, it is all farmland. The walk starts at the car park off the left edge of the picture.
- Light on the edge of the hill.
- Light playing on the dramatic 100 metre cliff that makes the castle's location so impressive.
- For now, we head up through farmland on the other side of the Afon Cennen, where we were greeted by a glowing Welsh stereotype.
- Nant Llygad Llwchwr, cascading through Coed Cwm-ffinnant.
- One of the Nant Llygad Llwchwr feeders, with the final slopes of Tair Carn Isaf (460 metres) in the background.
To be born in Wales, not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but, with music in your blood and with poetry in your soul, is a privilege indeed. So from the Land of Song, we bring you; a singing sheep.
- Upper forest.
- The Afon Llwchwr passes through a small inland delta, and splits into two completely separete watersheds. To the right is the Nant Llygad Llwchwr, which joins the Afon Cennen and flows north into the Afon Tywi. To the left is the Afon Llwchwr, which turns south and is joined by several other rivers. The Afon Llwchwr (River Loughor) and Afon Tywi separetely enter tidal waters in the Bristol Channel.
- The V-notch weir at Llygad Llwchwr, used to measure the flow. Llygad Llwchwr is a major river cave system, draining half of the Black Mountain.
- The Llygad Llwchwr resurgences in the bottom right, and entrance eyehole in the top left. The cave has two distinct levels; a dry maze above, and a large river passage below. The river passes through several sumps, giving access to a total of around 1.6 km of cave.
- Remains of a lime kiln.
- A robin. This was the first point where I realised I had made a mistake; leaving the normal lens attached to the camera instead of the <=300 mm lens. By the time I had switched to it, it was too late. When you want high zoom, it's usually for something that will run or fly away very soon. When you want the normal lens, it's for landscapes. There is always time to change lens for a landscape. There is rarely time to change lenses for wildlife.
- The edge of wilderness.
- Carreg Dwfn (283 metres), the edge of the National Park.
- Tair Carn Isaf.
- The small valley containing Pâl y Cwrt - a cave whose name refers to the surrounding once-fenced enclosure (pâl meaning the same as the archaic English pale - basically a fencepost that forms the edge of an enclosure around a settlement); the enclosure of the courtyard. Depending on the dictionary, it could also mean Spade of the Courtyard, or even Puffin of the Court. Don't blame me for the ambiguity.
- The remains of pillow mounds - artificial rabbit warrens made from rocks covered with soil.
- With the loop largely complete, we get back to the views of the impressive cliff over the Afon Cennen, with Carreg Cennen on top of it. Clearly visible here is the unique passageway that extends around the cliff face from the right side of the castle.
- Coed y Castell.
- A load of.
- I'd missed a distant buzzard due to having the wrong lens on, and had decided to keep the good lens attached. When another buzzard took off from the forest, within two seconds I had the camera already set up, aimed, and taking pictures.
- On high speed burst setting, well over 100 pictures were taken as it circled. No complaints, I got to pick what I wanted, and it was interesting learning how to make sure the camera would focus quickly on the right object.
- Then a large crow appeared to fight off the buzzard. Despite being significantly more agile and dangerous, and being better fliers, the buzzard put up a short aerobatic fight, backflipping to aim towards the crow, before giving up and flying off. Guess it has more to do with whose territory is being defended.
- The slope back up to the castle gives some great views back over to the peaks at the far end of the Black Mountain. The closer ridge is Bannau Sir Gaer, with peaks Waun Lefrith (677 metres) and Picws Du (749 metres). The further ridge is Fan Brycheiniog (802 metres), the tallest in the Black Mountain.
- To the right of the main peaks is the hill with two summits, Carn Pen-y-clogau (521 metres) and Carn Pen-rhiw-ddu (532 metres).
- And to the right of that are Tair Carn Uchaf (482 metres) and Tair Carn Isaf.
- The castly from its most exposed side. Even from this direction, there is still a 30 metre climb to the castle itself, making it taller than most mottes. Despite this fact, it was conquered several times in its 800 or so year lifespan, and eventually destroyed by hired mercenaries after around 300 years, leaving it in its current state.
- A large fracture on the surface, suggesting a fault, and line of weakness below. It could be just a bunker for all I know.
- Remains of some outer buildings.
- Top of the passageway around the cliff.
- Main gate.
- The courtyard. Not much remains of the buildings here. Remember the door tucked down in the corner.
- Remains of a room.
- The castle foundations are built directly into the limestone bedrock.
- The door leads down steps to the start of the cliff passageway.
- The passageway.
- At its end, it drops into a 45 metre long natural cave. Exactly why is not known, since any attacking force that got into the passageway would have an easier route into the castle. It is suggested that maybe the the cave was tapped as a water source, though the only water source is very small, and could not sustain a castle. It could also have been to close off a weakness that could have been used to undermine the castle, but the cave does not head under the castle.
- The cave passage is very similar in style to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu.
- It is home to many herald moths, peppered moths, and spiders. Just beyond this was the first and only greater horseshoe bat I have ever seen. A lot like the lesser horseshoe, but about twice the size, and with the wings not quite so well folded around its head. Clearly this was a very bad place to have chosen, as the noise and lights from multiple visitors - most didn't even notice it, despite it being at adult head height - were obviously making it very uncomfortable and disturbed, scrunching itself up ready to fly off.
- Cave spider. Yummy.
- Descending passage.
- Looking back up the passage, showing that it actually has some stal, though it has been smeared by 800 years of visitors.
- Largely untouched stal in an undercut.
- Looking back along the final section of passage.
- Flowstone running down an aven at the end.
- The tiny pool and water source at the end, below the aven. Clearly not enough water for more than about one person.
- Small pit and soakaway at the end.
- And the final crawl to a dig face. Despite the odd perched location the cave would have had back then, it was a Neolithic dwelling (around 5000 years old), and four Neolithic skeletons were found there (I was unable to easily find any more information about exact ages, since virtually all reports say 'prehistoric' or 'stone age', and only one thing - a sign in the nearby farm that controls access to the site - said the word 'Neolithic').