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. https://beaconparkboats.com 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.

The Value Of Commissioning A Photographer

The Value Of Commissioning A Photographer

There are roughly 7.5 billion people in the world and about 5 billion of them have a mobile phone. Roughly 4 billion people 80% of phones have a built-in camera. Estimates state that 14 trillion photos are taken annually (14,600,000,000,000) but why do some photographs really make an impression on us?

There are many distinguishing factors that make photographs stand out from those you see or take every day, but despite the marketing of phone and camera manufacture’s, a good camera does not make a good photographer, or produce a good image.

Whether you are a professional or amateur photographer, good photography equipment is costly. As a professional photographer, cameras and lenses are just the basics, there is also lighting equipment, tripods, backdrops, computer software, website costs and most importantly Public Liability Insurance and all of these costs require an income.

Professional photographers continually attend workshops and classes to master their abilities and learn new techniques and these have a cost and are often not cheap to attend and require dedicated time to attend.

Let’s return to that question “have you ever wondered why some photographs really make an impression on us”?

Personally, I think it relates to a combination these key factors

Experience

Skill

Knowledge

Lens choice

Lighting

Image editing

When you commission a photographer, you are investing in the value of these factors which all play a part in producing images that have an impression on the viewer.

We all have different tastes, but in summary photography is like wine, some excellent, some good and some not so good. There is an abundance of cheap wine that can be purchased, but do you value it for its quality or price? By commissioning a photographer, you are more likely to receive either excellent or good photographs, you are investing in them as photographers to create images that have value.

Sadly, there are some people who will screen grab photographers work, or complain about the price of an image and overlook the time involved in the process of creating the photograph. The cost of doing business as a photographer is like any other business, they need to generate a profit to survive, so if you value the images you see, show some appreciation for their time, effort and skill and invest in their work.

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?

Horses & Rewilding In Yorkshire

Horses & Rewilding In Yorkshire

The horse is one of the oldest animals known to man and just a few thousand years ago, wild ponies roamed across vast parts of the English landscape. Although there are no truly wild horses in England, there are small herds of roaming ponies that live in wild conditions in various protected areas, such as the New Forrest, Dartmoor and Exmoor.

How Are Horse helping with rewilding? Put simply, as the ponies graze, they help balance the ecostystem keeping heathland and wetlands free from to much plant growth, thus maintaining a healthy balance for these areas to thrive.

With the rewilding of Britain’s protected areas becomming more popular, wild horses are being reintroduced to where they once belonged, playing a part of the ecosystem.You might be surprised to learn that Yorkshire has a few locations where these horses have been reintroduced and if you are lucky you will see them.

Blacktoft Sands is a nature reserve in the East Riding of Yorkshire, is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which leases the site from Associated British Ports. The site is on the southern bank of the Ouse, opposite the village of Blacktoft, and is a wetland. The nearest post code to find Blacktoft Sands is DN14 8HR

Skipwith Common National Nature Reserve is one of the last remaining areas of northern lowland heath in England. The area covers 270 hectares of open heath, ponds, mire, fen and woodland.

The area of Skipwith has a long history dating back to the Bronze Age and during the second world war there was an airfield for bomber training (RAF Riccall)

RAF Riccall was decommissioned just after the war, but was used for storage by the RAF until 1960. Some of the base’s infrastructure can still be seen, such as the overgrown runways, together with aired shelters and other structures.

You can see evidance of the former RAF base at (Bomber Loops) which is marked on an information board in the car park. Bomber Loops makes an interesting circular loop walk.

From the information I have found, the Skipwith Ponies were introduced roughly ten years ago. Howerver, due to the terrain of Skipwith Common, you may not see the Skipwith Ponies, even if you visit a few times, it’s really just down to luck. When they do appear, they are often in little groups spread out over a wide area.

Skipwith Common is a beautiful location for a walk and has a wealth of photographic opportunities. The Common is roughly two miles north of Selby.

The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

Iceland has become one of the world’s most popular destinations, especially for photographers. Undoubtedly, the Northern Lights are one of the main reasons people visit Iceland, hoping to see the incredible and magical Aurora Borealis. Fran and I were lucky to see them for one night during our two-week tour, so we were very fortunate.

Iceland has a multitude of things to do and see, but the time of the year can determine what is and is not possible. Fran & I visited in the winter during Christmas and New Year, so because of the weather we did not get to see and experience everything we had planned to do. The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck and the Northern Lights made up for what we missed out on and I did not leave disappointed.

The weather is one aspect that is very difficult to plan for, but with hindsight I would not go in December or January, unless you just want to visit the main attractions.

As we like to get off the beaten path, we hired a 4×4 and driving was still challenging, mainly due to the wind and ice. Another challenge is places close down; perhaps this is because of the Christmas break? If you plan on visiting Iceland in December or January, plan well.

The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived. Later it turned out that the pilot had switched over to the wrong fuel tank. The remains are still on the sand close to the sea.

When Fran & I went in search of the DC plane, you could still drive from the main road to the location of the plane, so we did not hike in, but I can still remember the anticipation as we were looking for it and from the route we took, it seemed to just magically appear.

The scenery of the white abandoned DC plane on the black sand is surreal and a photographer’s paradise, you really won’t be disappointed.

As they now forbid all vehicles to drive to the location of the plane wreck, you will have to hike in and out. The walk from the main road to the plane I would estimate at roughly an one hour, so the round trip would probably take about two hours, so take something to drink.

There are no signs on the main road to point out where the plane is (unless there are now?) and the plane cannot be seen from the road.

Since our visit, there is a newly made car park on the side of the road that provides an identifiable clue and provides a safe place to park. The GPS coordinates are (63 27.546-19 21.887)

A Few Travel Tips

They design the roads in Iceland to allow it to blow the snow off of them; So pulling off the road in the winter is not a good idea for many reasons.

If you travel in the winter to off the beaten track places, make sure you have plenty of fuel, food, and warm clothing.

You can get live updates of where the snowploughs have been and the roads they are clearing, but conditions can change quickly.

If you are held up by the weather and need to take an alternative route, you may find that accommodation is not available when you arrive in a small town or village.

In relation to winter conditions, you might think about the snow? When conditions are not so good, the wind chill and ice are the most challenging and problematic things to deal with and will have a real impact on the distance you can travel and the time it will take.

Like most things in life, it’s all about common sense.

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