Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

Tucked away in the Brecon Beacons lies a waterway known as the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal that meanders along the contours of the Usk valley. The canal is navigable for 35 miles and provides some stunning vistas along the way. 

Prior to our little adventure on the Mon & Brec, I had tried to find out which parts of the canal might be the most photogenic, but I was unable to find any information that was useful to me from a photographic point of view, so this blog is my personal opinion of the locations on the Mon & Brec canal that I personally think were some of the best parts of our trip, together with the photography kit I took and used along the way.

We hired a 57-foot Narrow boat from Beacon Park Boats who have their base near Crickhowell. Crickhowell is roughly half way between the Brecon end of the canal and Pontypool end. We decided to head along Brecon stretch of the canal first as it offered locks, swing bridges and the Brynich Aquaduct.

By the time we had received our narrow boat induction and had loaded our kit on to Heron, our narrow boat, we had roughly two to three hours cruising time before we would need to moor up for the night and as this was our first narrow boat trip with a 57 foot boat, getting used to how it handled meant ensuring we headed for a suitable place to dock for the night.

On our second day we headed for Talybont On Usk passing through Ashford Tunnel and the series of Coombes locks which provide good photographic opportunities and some great vistas too. We moored up just before the last lock on our return journey as this was a great location for photographs.

Talybont On Usk has good mooring access with two water points to fill up your tank and there are various walks you can do from  Talybont On Usk. We decided to walk up to the reservoir via the old tram road (Bryn Oer) There are some spectacular views in the Talybont On Usk area even when it’s raining, which it did intermittently during our stay here, but photographically it’s a good location and serves as a great base for a day or two.

On Day three we decided to head for Brecon. Heading towards Pencelli, the canal feels like you are leaving the 21 century behind you, as you stop to wind up the swing bridges and pass through small stone arched bridges,  whilst navigating the tight turns and try to stay in the middle of the canal so that you have enough water to proceed. In my opinion the stretch of Canal from Pencelli to Bryinch Bridge provides some of the most interesting scenery along the canal and we stopped a few times to take pictures and have a cup of tea.

Some of the tree lined sections of the canal between Pencelli to Bryinch Bridge provide various good photography opportunities, but if you want to take images of anything moving in these locations, you will need to either increase your ISO, or use flash. I tend to favour using flash, so I took a Godox AD200, Fresnel head and bare bulb head, a high-performance silver reflector (it acts like a long throw reflector at a fraction of the size) A Manfrotto Nano Plus Stand and a Godox S2 bracket, together with some CTS and CTO gels. I used a 24mm-70mm lens which worked well for my needs. 

We moored in Brecon for the night and stocked up on a few items we needed at the local Morrisons and then retraced our journey  back towards Crickhowell, so that we could venture along the other section of canal towards Govilon where we planned to turn the boat around and then return the boat on our last day.

Personally, I did not find the stretch of canal from Crickhowell to Govilon as interesting as the first stretch to Brecon, but it is still pretty in places, it just seems to start to get more built up and does not seem as rural or have the same character as the upper stretch of the canal.

 Canal Photography Frustrations

One of the frustrations I encountered trying to photograph our canal journey was that the best morning light was from around 6.40am until about 7.40am. We were informed that for insurance purposes we could not use the boat to cruise until after 8am and not cruise in the dark, so taking any images of our narrow boat moving during these times was not possible.

Although I like to use flash in my photography, I do like to mix it with the ambient light. Some of the most photogenic tree lined parts of the canal restricted faster shutter speeds and without the use of flash or using a high ISO, the images would have been to dark, so it was all a balancing act light levels wise with moving subjects.

The Nano Stand Plus was a great piece of kit for a narrow boat as it packs down so well and combined with the Godox AD200 and the reflector I used. On reflection, I am really glad I took the above kit on the trip, the only frustration were finding suitable places to hop off and on the boat, together with  trying to dial things in as the narrowboat approached as the sun would then either blast through the trees onto the boat, or the clouds would decide to cover what little light there was, but these little frustrations provided some good learning opportunities too.

Landscape Photography Opportunities

Fran and I did three walks during our trip along the Brecon & Monmoth Canal and the best of these three was the walk up to the disused Llangatwg Quarries along the Chwar Mawr edge towards Coedcae Uchaf Farm back to the canal. The vistas on this walk are stunning and the steep walk up is worth the effort and reward you will find for landscape photography opportunities.

Salina Turda

Salina Turda

Hidden below the Transylvanian landscape in Turda sits a large underground wonderland with a brightly lit modern art theme park nestled 120 meters below the surface of the Earth inside one of the oldest salt mines in Europe.

Salina Turda is the largest salt mine museum in the world, and easily the most incredible. Salt extraction on the site’s surface started in antiquity, but the work expanded underground during the Roman occupation of Dacia. The salt was extracted manually using pickaxes, hammers, chisels, and steel wedges, by free people who were paid in florins, ale, and loaves of bread.

The mine was closed in 1932, but it was used again during World War II as a bomb shelter. After the war, the mine served several purposes, one of which was a warehouse for storing cheese. Regardless of its history, this salt mine is not just a huge museum, but an epic tourist attraction. It was even ranked by Business Insider as the most beautiful underground place in the world.

Today, Salina Turda has been transformed into an incredible underground theme park.When you visit, you’ll head down about 400-feet before reaching the submerged wonderland. Once inside, you’ll find an amphitheatre, a bowling alley, an underground lake with paddle and row boats, and even a Ferris wheel. You’ll also find a mini golf course and ping pong courts.

The stunning rugged caverns walls are like surreal paintings and the result of mining that carved out over three billion tons of salt. Salina Turda is open year-round. Costs vary based on your preferred package, but will typically be around 15 lei (about £3) for adults and is worth every penny, there’s nothing else like it in the world.

Faces Through Northern Vietnam

Faces Through Northern Vietnam

The human face is unique yet universal and ancient or modern, the human face has been expressive for over 4 million years.

The amazing variety of human faces is far greater than that of most other animals and is the result of evolutionary pressure to make each of us unique and easily recognizable.

Our human face happens to be one of the most powerful channels that we all use to communicate social and emotional states: everything from enjoyment, surprise, empathy, anger and curiosity.

Before I became interested in photography I was aware of the social and emotional communication faces display, but I generally took people’s faces for granted, Photography has made me more aware of people’s faces and one of the things I have discovered is that the look on someone’s face when they’re doing what they love is contagious and inspiring.  

The images below are of some of the people Fran & I came in to contact with whilst traveling through Northern Vietnam, these included the Black H’mong, Zay minorities, Flower Hmong, Black Dzao, Nung, Phu la and Tay, Many of these people speak other language dialects, so even if we did speak Vietnamese communication would have been difficult, but I think smiles are universal regardless of language barriers.

Adventures On Train Street Hanoi

Adventures On Train Street Hanoi

There’s a very unique place in Hanoi that attracts tourists but its opening times are governed by train times and if you are visiting Hanoi, it really is worth a look.

Hanoi railway winds through the city like many cities and towns, but when it reaches Train Street, the tracks and train pass within a few feet of open front doors to buildings and people’s homes.

Recently cafes have sprung up to cater for the thirsty selfie takers and the hungry traveller.  People live and work on these tracks, some now make a living selling their goods between train times, and when the train horn is heard, tables, chairs pets and children move out of the trains path before it thunders past.

What was once a street where it was cheap to live and mainly known by locals, has now become popular tourist hot spot to experience something that is unique and only found in Hanoi.

There are two sections of Train Street in Hanoi where you can watch the trains pass and have a surreal experience.

  • Lê Duẩn – this section is further out of town with just one cafe to view the passing train from. It’s between Lê Duẩn and Khâm Thin street. You can locate it in Google Maps as Ngo 224 Le Duan.
  • The Old Quarter section – this part of Train Street has cafes, a homestay and shops along the tracks. Enter Hanoi Street Traininto Google Maps and you’ll find two sections to explore either side of Tran Phu main road.

What are the times that the trains run along the tracks?

Through the Lê Duẩn section:

  • 3.30pm
  • 7.30pm.

It will be dark during the second passing so try for 3.30pm.

Through the Old Quarter section:

  • Weekdays: 6am and 7pm
  • Weekends: 9.15am, 11.35am, 3.20pm, 5.45pm, 6.40pm, 7.10pm.
  • After returning to the UK from Vietnam, I read that recently access to Train Street has been restricted to tourists, not sure if this is enforced 24 hours a day, but I doubt officials would be around that area at 6am in the morning?

Hanoi Scooter Haulage

Hanoi Scooter Haulage

What you can’t carry on the back of a motorcycle just isn’t worth carrying!

There are about 5 million motorcycles in Hanoi alone, with a population of about 7 million.  The sheer number of bikes on the roads is overwhelming, especially as a pedestrian – even the pavements are used to park the bikes otherwise they are charged for parking on the road.  Crossing the road is somewhat of an experience – You just need to go for it – just don’t step backwards – the bikes will determine whether they pass in front or behind you just don’t dither!

The bikes are used to transport just about everything – we saw so many obscure things loaded on the back of the bikes, fridges to trees, some we captured some we missed.

Families of four or five going about their business. Interestingly, if anyone is wearing a helmet it seems to be the parents and the kids ride without a helmet.  The legal age to ride a bike is 16 but on many occasion we saw younger kids in school uniforms riding to and from school.  Helmets are compulsory but not everyone seemed to abide by this and the police often turned a blind eye.

Then to the animals, hens; ducks; dogs; pigs; and even buffalo if the locals couldn’t afford the lorry to take it to market.

Paniers are definitely overrated and it seems all you really need is industrial sized sellotape or you can just hold on to it with your spare

Trip from the off Licence

In The Rain

An elevated view

Two Hundred Miles North West Of Hanoi – Mu Cang Chai

Two Hundred Miles North West Of Hanoi – Mu Cang Chai

Travel two hundred and nineteen miles north west of Hanoi and you will encounter stunning rice terraces that have been sculpted over centuries. Mu Cang Chai is a rural district of Yen Bai Province and a photographer’s paradise.

During the summer, the terraces bulge with ripening rice stems that blanket the hills in a vibrant green and by early autumn, the rice plants have turned a bewitching golden yellow, ready for the harvest. In wintertime, the lonely terraces fill with water, creating cascading rows of reflective infinity pools and then once spring arrives, the terraces are transformed into anthills of activity, as the farmers plant a new crop.

Mu Cang Chai is a six to eight-hour road journey from Hanoi with stretches of hazardous roads through infinite and primeval landscapes, grandiose ranges of mountains and in my opinion the most amazing landscapes of rice-terraced fields to be found in Vietnam. Unlike Sapa, the area of Mu Cang Chai and it’s mountain culture remains raw and untouched, although as the area becomes more popular, tourism will no doubt have an impact, I just hope a balance is found for everyone.

Hiking is by far the best way to see the beauty of the rice terraces and encounter local people, such as the Black H’mong, so unless you speak Vietnamese, hiring a guide will enable you to interact and learn about the culture and you will see some great locations that you may otherwise miss out on.

With the heat and humidity we encountered in September, keeping the photography gear light was a priority, lens wise I took a 24mm – 70mm f/2.8 and a 85mm f/1.4. I found the 85mm the best option as I could use it for portraits (especially in low light inside people’s houses) and the 85mm worked for a lot of the landscapes too. Despite having a good travel tripod, I decided to ditch the tripod to help save weight which enabled me to carry more liquid and some food which I shared with the locals.

On reflection did I get all of the images I envisaged? No, but I enjoyed the experiences which is what I think travel is all about. The weather and time were also out of my control, but I grabbed every opportunity I could photographically. If I were to return to Mu Cang Chai would I do anything differently? I think I would spend more time in the area, but I would still have little control of the weather.

Pin It on Pinterest