Abandoning a Visit to Cwm Berwyn

I’ve got Sunday off work, and multiple forecasts say it’s going to be a day of sunshine. What has been bugging me for most of the week, is figuring out where I’m going to go. I still haven’t got the hang of planning ahead. Should I return to Brechfa Forest? Hit the coast in Pembrokeshire? I just can’t decide.

At 6 am on Sunday morning, half an hour after I’ve woken, I look at my Natural Resources Wales leaflet that a kind employee left under my windscreen wipers on my visit to Halfway Forest about a month ago. I spot Cwm Berwyn and am intrigued. It’s pretty understated on the map, but upon looking at OS maps and satellite imagery of the forest, I see it has a lake nestled amongst the trees. That’s it! That’s where I’m going today.

I want to have enough time to wander the forest and catch the lake in ‘golden hour’ so I figure I’ll set off on the hour’s drive just before noon. I make the journey up to mid-Wales and approaching Lampeter, I notice piles of slush on road. Thinking nothing more of it, I arrive in the quaint-looking town of Tregaron and take a single-lane road out of the village towards the forest. The approach to Cwm Berwyn is stunning. I was so fixated on viewing the actual forest on the maps this morning, I completely missed the contour lines surrounding it. I had no idea it would be this mountainous. I drive through the valley with mountains on my left and a mix of farmland and forestry on my right. Alas, I’m unable to enjoy the scenery to its fullest. I’m concentrating too much on the road, keeping an eye out for passing points should I need them, but then something else grabs my attention — shiny patches on the road ahead, but not the sort of shiny you get from standing water, no, this is slightly dulled. The road is covered in sheet ice. I nervously decide to press on.

Ice on the road approaching Cwm Berwyn

Ice on the road approaching Cwm Berwyn

The road isn’t completely covered in ice. I’m now playing a game of trying to position the car so as to get at least one of my front tyres over the dry spots whilst simultaneously trying not to collide with the hedgerows on either side. With ice on the uphill stretches, I speed up to gain momentum, and on feeling my wheels losing traction, immediately cut the throttle and coast along. On the downhill spots, I go slower and let gravity do most of the work. Considering I used to be an anxious driver, I feel I’ve come a long way.

I’m now about a mile and a half from the forest car park, but when I see that the road hugging the edge of the forest, heading uphill into the shade, is covered in more ice, I pull over. Temperatures aren’t likely to rise today, so I’m doubtful the ice will melt. What’s more, I have no way of telling whether after a three-hour walk around the forest, the road will get worse. I’m not driving a 4WD, I don’t have breakdown cover, and even if I did, mobile phone signal is non-existent out here. I make an executive decision to not trash my car, and decide to come again on a warmer day. I’m gutted. The excitement of exploring a new forest on a bright, sunny day has descended into crushing defeat. I make a considerably-more-than-three-point-turn, and return the way I came.

The options are head home and sulk or choose a secondary destination, and make the most of the fine weather. I choose the latter and realising that it’s not that far away, head to Caio Forest.

Having visited Caio Forest around 2 months ago, it’s familiar, yet in the afternoon light, it also feels different. I opt to follow the reverse of the Glyn Annel walk around the base of the forest this time, heading into the afternoon shade. I wander off the main track and into the deep, mossy parts of the forest. The low afternoon sun is only just penetrating the canopy, casting golden pools of light on the forest floor. It has a wonderful subtlety that I try to capture handheld without a tripod, mostly in vain due to the very low light. Forest photography is still pretty new to me and I’m still finding the best camera settings to use. I do manage to capture a detail shot of a moss-covered tree trunk. The shallow depth of field emphasises the ethereal quality of the forest this afternoon.

Moss in Caio Forest

Moss-covered trees in Caio Forest

Emerging from the deep forest after feeling I’d captured all I could, the rest of the Glyn Annel walk is photographically uneventful. Of course, I’m taking lots of snaps mainly for the record, but also satiating my love of trees and forests. I’ve got a vast collection of the tops of conifers against clear blue skies. Most of them aren’t portfolio-worthy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t derive any please from taking and viewing them. I find the fractal complexities of nature means that the same thing can be viewed hundreds of times, yet it still retains novelty.

Walking along the sun-drenched track on the western side it hits me that I really needed this today. My trips are generally photographically motivated and of course, I like to come away with some great shots wherever I go. But perhaps sometimes, I focus too much on that and forget just how rejuvenating a simple forest walk without the pressure of bagging a great shot can be.

Caio Forest on a sunny winter's afternoon

Caio Forest on a sunny winter’s afternoon

All in all, a challenging day. Another location recced for future shoots at least, and I’ve got to know Caio Forest a little better. I now know I need to ease off on exploring rural Wales if the temperatures at home are less than 5°c, and always have a ‘plan B’ to fall back on.

You can see more of my forest photography here.

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