Cwm and see!

I can’t believe I ruined this website blog thing with a full post on a sandwich.

It’s not getting deleted though.  It’s staying cos the content – my thoughts – are totally valid and might be worth remembering in December 2019.  I tried a lot of sandwiches in the run up to Christmas, and Greggs was definitely the winner.

Anyway, I haven’t done of these in a while and I need to get the writing back on track, if only for another excuse to post more photos that I’m proud of.  These have already featured on instagram, and less so on Facebook, but now it’s time to share here too and give a bit more story.  That’s the thing with those other platforms is that it’s hard to get the story across.  Even if the story is boring, it’s still there to be shared, so I’m here to share.

As I often need to do, here’s the explanation of the blog title:

Cwm is pronounced like come, but spoken by a northerner calling his dog.  Coom, but not like boom.  The oo should be like cook rather than cool.  Cwm is the Welsh word for Valley, specifically a glacial valley.  Cwm Idwal (Idwal Valley) is the first place that I visited in Snowdonia (already mentioned this in a previous blog post that you can go and find) and over a year later I returned.  This time it was Autumn going in to Winter.  I wanted snow, but I didn’t get it.

This visit wasn’t quite as romantic as 2017’s trip, with the stay in the cottage.  This time “home” was a Premier Inn sharing a plot of land with KFC and Aldi.  There was a curry house a few doors along though, so ultimately that swung it.  Wifi was rubbish though.  Millennial nightmare.

We actually got there really early and the sun was still up so I grabbed the opportunity to get to the coast.  I’d seen photos of Point of Ayr lighthouse on Talacre beach but had never visited it.  Google maps (using my own data now, dammit) says that the beach was only 20 minutes away, so off we went.  Ever been to a beach in November?  One that tickles the Irish sea?  It’s windy.  Wasn’t too bad though.  The main thing about beaches in November is that no one else is daft enough to go there so you end up with images like this:

Point of Ayr Lighthouse, Talacre Beach

Point of Ayr Lighthouse, Talacre Beach

The sun was getting ready to set just off to the left of this shot, which is why we have that lovely soft light coming in.

I took another shot of this from the sand dunes, and it was picked up by Visit Wales’ instagram account, shared, and attracted over 30000 likes.  Unreal!

The next morning we got up way before the sun and headed down the North Wales Expressway towards Bangor, turning off to the A5.  We were hoping to get up to Cwm Idwal before sunrise to catch it rising and filling up the valley with light.  That didn’t really happen but it was a nice walk at least, and I got the drone out.  The cloud was quite low, it was a bit cold, there was a bit of rain, and the light was quite flat for some time.  We decided to walk a lap of the lake (Llyn Idwal) and just see what happens.  Along the way I spotted this waterfall and couldn’t resist it:


To get this sort of shot where the water has almost turned to milk, you need to slow your shutter speed down.  There are 2 key pieces of kit needed for this – a tripod and a filter.  You need a decent ND filter that makes the light work harder to get down the barrel of the lens.  I think for this I used a 6 stop ND filter by Hoya, which is kinda like wearing 6 pairs of sunglasses I guess.  Other than that, you just need to fiddle around with your camera settings to get the timings right.  I think this one must have been between 2 to 3 seconds long.

At this point we’re close to being halfway round the lake, and the weather is awful now.  Visibility doesn’t even stretch to the next path.  This is going to be a waste of time as far as photos go, but at least we’re out in the great outdoors.  Look at this poor lone tree, lost in the very odd green fog:


Getting closer down to the water, things improved a little and actually I think the tone of this one came out really nicely.  It’s a very calm and tranquil image:


Then this happened:

Pen Yr Ole Wen

Pen Yr Ole Wen reflecting in Llyn Idwal

The cloud just seemed to fall down in front of me to the Ogwen Valley and then roll across the nose of Pen Yr Ole Wen, seen above.  The water at Llyn Idwal was almost perfectly still and crystal clear giving amazing reflections, so it was time to run down to a decent spot in the water, set the tripod up and snap away quickly.  Moments like these usually come and go very quickly.

Turning back to face the Devil’s Kitchen, the cloud was still lingering and giving the place a really spooky feel.  I had to get a quick shot of what was behind me, and it wasn’t until I got home that I realised 2 other explorers had just snuck in to shot on the left.  It turned out to be the outdoor extraordinaires John and Hollie who saw the image on Instagram and identified themselves.  Small world!  Just look at that water though!


From here, there was only the slope back down to the car park left to navigate, and the area was filling up with people.  The world had woken up and were keen to explore.  I was keen to get a bacon and egg sandwich so took the A5 north to Bethesda to Fitzpatrick’s cafe.  That turned out be a great decision.

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Gogledd Cymru

Wondering what that title is about?  Phonetically, it’s “gog-lethh cum-ree”.  It’s Welsh for North Wales.

In 2017 I decided to celebrate turning 35 in style by spending a few nights in the most beautiful 17th Century Welsh cottage that you ever did plonk your eyes on.  Cross Keys is a Grade II listed building that sleeps 6 and was previously a late Georgian hostelry.  Now it’s an idyllic spot to get away from the big city lights and just chill in Welsh history.

This isn’t some subtle advertisement or sponsored post.  I was genuinely in love with the place as soon as we walked through the door.  The link is here if you fancy finding out for yourself.  Carol was a star, making sure that we had absolutely everything that we needed.  The only thing that Carol didn’t provide was our clothing and food.  We had to bring that ourselves.

Cross Keys cottage was, as you’ve already gathered in the first 2 paragraphs, a lovely base to have just south of the edge of Snowdonia National Park.  The plan of attack was to check out Bala, the local town, as well as Barmouth on the coast, Llangollen, Ruthin and to go deep in to the mountains.  Welsh weather doesn’t always allow your best laid plans to execute, but we did alright.

First up was Llyn Tegid, the local lake.  I like lakes.  Sometimes they are big, and sometimes they are small.  The very very small ones are usually called ponds or swimming pools.  Llyn Tegid is MASSIVE!

The weather forecast for morning #1 was looking average to alright, so I set the alarm early, way before the sun was ready to rise, ready for the whole house to wake up and join me at the lake with my camera.  Then I closed the front door alone, and made the 10 minute drive down to Llangower, alone.  On my own.  This either says that my friends and family hate me, or prefer the beds in the cottage to a cold morning at a lake.  Or both.

Llangower was a lovely little spot with its own mini train station right on the edge of the lake.  It also had its own jetty and this was where I got set up for some early morning long exposure work.  Unfortunately the sun wasn’t going to be making an appearance thanks to the clouds but the light actually helped me out a bit, to create this calm and tranquil image of the lake and the rolling hills in the distance.  The smoothness of the water was created by putting a 6 stop neutral density filter in front the lens and leaving the shutter open for a long time.  The filter is a bit like putting 6 pairs of dark sunglasses on your camera.  It takes a while for enough light to get through to create a decent image, and the water is passing by during that time, ending up looking like a sheet of ice.

Llyn Tegid - Bala

Llyn Tegid – Bala

After a bit of a wander and a few more shots at the lake and Llangower, I headed back up to Bala and then on to Llandderfel, where the others were still sleeping.

Llangower Railway Station

Llangower Railway Station

The next time the camera came out was when we hit the narrow, windy mountain road over to Pistyll Rhaeadr; Wales’ tallest waterfall.  When we first arrived at the cottage, Carol recommended visiting here, and it didn’t disappoint.  The initial drive over the mountains was incredible, but the final long lane up to the car park was quite a pain in August.  Worth it though:


Pistyll Rhaeadr

From there it was on to the A494 to Barmouth for a spot of grub, some souvenirs, some time in the amusement arcades and a stroll along the very beautiful and very windy beach:


Barmouth Beach


Barmouth Harbour


Barmouth Harbour

And then it was time to head home (the cottage felt like home by now) for curry.

Over the weekend we spent a nice amount of time in the towns and villages of Ruthin and Llangollen, and found 2 of the greatest shops in the whole world, in Bala – Stori and Aran Hufen.  Stori is a Welsh off license where you can buy local lagers and ciders poured from taps in to 1 litre plastic bottles to take home.  Aran Hufen creates and serves the smoothest, tastiest ice cream in the world.  If you’re in Swansea reading this, and there’s a good chance you are, please forget that Joe’s rubbish.  Verdi’s is fine, but nothing compares to Aran Hufen.

But what I really want to show you is the huge array of photographs that I took one evening as we ventured deeper in to Snowdonia National Park, along the A5 to Llyn Ogwen where we parked up and walked the Cwm Idwal route to Devil’s Kitchen.  The weather stayed dry for us on the walk, but the sun was a little shy and it was getting late in the day so I ended up with some pretty moody apertures.  The photos do the talking from this point onwards:

This wasn’t the most recent trip to North Wales for me.  The Snowdonia National Park was barely ventured in to and it looked like it needed more of an explore so I returned in November for an evening of astro photography, before catching sunrise over on Anglesey the next morning.  Those images will be saved for a future blog post so feel free to hit the follow button on here.  It should be in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

Thanks to Sarah, Oliver, Caroline, Josh and Nanny Mumtaz for coming along for this brilliant birthday break.