Cennen Valley Sunrise (or lack thereof)

I’m up at 5.30am. It’s still dark outside and Storm Eleanor is still buffeting my bedroom windows. I check my news and article apps and read for a bit. Maybe heading out to photograph Carreg Cennen isn’t such a good idea this morning — after all, it’s pretty damn windy out. After a while, the wind appears to subside. I realise I’m probably procrastinating. I’m going to go, I’m going to do this!

I’m a little stressed when I leave the house. Whilst my pack is loaded with my Nikon DSLR and a selection of lenses, I can’t for the life of me find my Lumix compact camera. I know I had it the night before, but now it’s just gone. I keep looking but then admit defeat. I need to leave the house NOW, sunrise is approaching. The irritation at not being able to find my compact hasn’t exactly set me up for this morning’s excursion.

I’m using Google Maps for the first time to help me navigate the country roads and single-track lanes that lead up to a little B-road that overlooks Carreg Cennen Castle. At one point on the journey up there, I’m told to turn left. I think if I had been playing ‘DIRT 4’ my co-driver would have advised ‘acute left’. As I struggle to make the tight turn and deal with the extreme gradient that makes me feel like the car is going to flip over, I’m wondering if a rally-style sat nav would actually be a really good idea here in Wales. I turn back onto the road I was on, turn around, and make a much easier right turn.

Technically, I’m now on the very western tip of the Brecon Beacons, and making my way along narrow, winding roads, with clumps of long, yellowed grass catching in my full-beam headlights, and the silhouettes of the looming mountains against an ever lightening sky in the distance. At one point I splash through a puddle so big, it sends a cascade of water down my windscreen. I’m blind for a second as I simultaneously hit the brakes and hit my wipers to remove the deluge.

I rumble over a cattle grid that is signposted “Private cattle grid. Use at own risk”, and continue up into an area of grassy mounds and rocky outcrops dotted with hawthorn trees that I’ve come to call ‘Hawthorn Grove’. I carry on up the road for a little and roll onto the grassy spot I’ve parked on a few times before. However, I can’t say I’ve ever seen it this soggy. I’m reliving my anxieties about getting stuck, that I experienced a few weeks before in the snow at Herbert’s Quarry.

The wind up here this morning isn’t icy, but it’s powerful and damn cold. I trudge up to the top of one of the hills with my gear and look out over Carreg Cennen and the Cennen Valley below.

It looks very flat.

Very grey.

The tripod can’t withstand the wind. I’m not going to get any sharp shots with the camera shaking so much.

I’m not happy with the viewpoint either. I feel I need to get higher, but considering I’m standing with my back to the view in order to gain some respite from the pummelling wind, I decide, I’m not climbing until I see some promising light. I look to the east, straight into a thick, flat sheet of cloud behind the mountains. Trying to retain some positivity, I return to the car and warm myself with a coffee from the flask. If I just stay patient, the cloud cover will probably clear just in time.

I wait. Three Red Kites are performing aerobatics in the sky above me.

I wait some more. A silhouette and three white dots are moving along the hills behind the drystone wall in the distance — a dedicated dog-walker and what I’m guessing are three Border Collies are out on their morning jaunt.

I’m still waiting. The coffee is nearly gone, but the cloud cover isn’t. I’m rapidly coming to accept that this morning’s sincere effort to get up early, get out, and photograph in the sublime dawn light just isn’t going to happen. I hit the ignition, roll a few feet in reverse, and then I’m stuck.


I manage to creep forward in first-gear, then reverse a little more, I’m still a bit stuck, but I apply some more revs, decorating my passenger side in a nice shade of Brecon Beacons Brown in the process, and I’m off. On the journey back home, I can see the sky clearing to the south — the weather apps weren’t completely wrong, just wrong for my needs.

I try not to feel too disappointed about the futility of the trip, and remember “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”. I’ve learnt a few things this morning.

1) Prepare and pack as much as possible the night before — even down to the instant coffee granules in the flask.

2) Take advantage of bad weather — capture whitecaps on the coast, rather than try something inland.

3) Take the weather forecast with a pinch of salt.

4) Think about the location’s parking surfaces, and the wetness of the ground — if I’m parking on grass, don’t go after days of rain.

5) Let go of the failure, and appreciate I got up early and actually tried.

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