The Welsh Landscape

CEREDIGION: THE LANDSCAPE

I suppose I consider myself first and foremost as a landscape photographer and at that one who specialises only in black and white. It was, after all, the landscape that first inspired me to buy a camera, in 1988 when 17 years old, and record the landscape around my home in Cwmystwyth.

I have always been a keen walker, disappearing all day long and exploring the marshy plains of the Cambrian Mountains, rarely seeing another soul all day long but occasionally, often too far away to acknowledge, a runner or fellow hill walker. Obviously we both went up there to find some solitude, why wend a path toward each other just for a polite greeting, why risk to lose the concentration of thought one experiences whilst walking such an empty and barren desert?

So I often went walking and exploring. I wandered rather than walked with purpose. I wandered without map and walked in the direction of what interested me. The Cambrian Mountains being as they are meant I generally went where I saw trees, or lakes, or ruined cottages or followed the cairns. I didn’t really take many photographs but always carried my camera. Even to this day I can barely find a single image that captures or that I am indeed content with, the beauty of these once oft ignored old hills. These days the Cambrian Mountains have more visitors and old routes are plagued by 4x4’s and motorbikes. On rough track they are nothing but a noisy nuisance but across, for example, ‘The Monk’s Trod’ from Strata Florida to Elan Valley they have caused such damage to the path that they nor walker can pass in the wetter months due to the road being churned up with deep water logged gullies.

Wind turbines are also leaving a large dirty footprint over Wales’ last true wild places. It is becoming increasing difficult not to see a line of the white foreign objects on the skyline. Personally I find them offensive and attempt to avoid the areas where they trespass.

The lower ground has naturally more to offer the landscape photographer. I have never sought to photograph those wide expanses and vistas but pursue the ‘object’ and then within that small defined area, the compositional elements. Once an ‘object’ or ‘subject matter’ has been found it is then a matter of finding the best possible viewpoint to display that object as a finished print. I seek only the composition and then, if fortune permits, maybe an atmosphere will also prevail.

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THE CAMBRIAN MOUNTAINS:


Here I am driving in my car, covering many forgiving miles, crossing the Cambrian Mountains. And once parked my car in a layby as close to a footpath as I can, I then and only then, put on my winter walking gear. I am completely sealed in waterproof clothing. With me, my map. Without my map I would be left to wander, as I did when I was 19 and first began to explore the Cambrian Mountains, without any definite destination except that which looked interesting on the horizon. I naturally would cross the rough ‘ffos’ grassland and head toward anything that looked like a dwelling, or a sheepfold or any evidence that I wasn’t the first to wander these hills (let along work them, season upon season, year after year). And it is these thoughts, as a young man of 19 that leads me today, somewhat humbled and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of times not-so-long-ago when these barren hills were truly ‘off-the-beaten-track’ and survived by farmers and shepherds; their wives, sweethearts and their children.

So here I am driving my car, in my winter waterproof gear, ready for a walk that may last, at most, 10 hours. I will wander these old hills, I will see some small stone ruins, I will drag my camera and tripod around with me, my body will become hot with sweat and chilled by the wind once I stop for a minute or two. I will enter boggy areas and have to backtrack and cut short shortcuts and realise that the sheep know the firmer albeit longer routes. I will be left to wonder why a well-made gully remains or indeed when a well-built dry-stone wall or shepherds dwelling remains in fantastic condition (even if it is hidden in a destructive Forestry Commission area).

If I’m honest with myself, I will experience a difficult day and once home I will feel a reward of hardship and that of strenuous exercise. But if I’m really honest with myself I will not have any idea what it was like to live in this place; 200, 100, 50 years ago, only a few miles from a layby on a forestry track and only a further twenty miles from the nearest village. I will go home that evening and write about my day and maybe, energy allowing, develop the negatives I’d taken. Once those negatives are printed I will ponder over the day spent, the single day spent in a whole lifetime, walking those boggy paths, in that constant drizzle, on that lonely hillside and seek some appreciative response to those who lived that way, day in, day out.

It could be said ‘I haven’t got a clue’ and I confess ‘I haven’t got a clue’. I am also English speaking. My language lacks the necessary linguistics’ to name the rocks, the pools, the hills that have been descriptively yet ambiguously named and then passed down from father to son, farmer to employee. I can confess though to finding some kind of happiness in these old hills.

For further information please read:
1. Good Men and True – E. Howells http://www.isds.org.uk/acatalog/Shepherd_Related_Craft_and_History.html
2. History of Pontrhydyfendigaid: www.hanesybont.co.uk
3. http://www.cambrian-mountains.co.uk/

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Below are some recent colour snap shots of the landscape primarily in Ceredigion. I have included colour to offer an opposing view to the black and white images in the galleries. Personally I believe the monochrome images stand head and shoulders over the colour work in every instance.



Road to Llethr, Llanddewi Brefi, Ceredigion 2012


Road to Llethr, Llanddewi Brefi, Ceredigion 2012


View from Ysbyty Cynfyn Mines, Parson's Bridge, Ceredigion 2011


View from Ysbyty Cynfyn Mines, Parson's Bridge, Ceredigion 2011


Cotton Grass in Mist, Teifi Pools, Ffair-Rhos, Ceredigion 2010


Dead Trees at Cefn Coch, Ceredigion 2010


Dead Trees at Cefn Coch, Ceredigion 2009


Dead Trees at Cefn Coch, Ceredigion 2010


Dead Trees at Cefn Coch, Ceredigion 2010


Dead Trees at Cefn Coch, Ceredigion 2010


Cwm Elan, Rhayader 2009


The Claerwen Reservoir, Powys/Ceredigion 2010


The Claerwen Reservoir, Powys/Ceredigion county border 2010


Monk's Trod, Ceredigion 2010


Trisant, Ceredigion 2010


Trisant, Ceredigion 2010


Hafod, Ceredigion 2009