Monday, 6 June 2016

Mapping Mountains – Trimble Surveys – Pembrokeshire Islands

14.05.16  Ynys Fach (SM 822 327)

Ynys Fach (SM 822 327)

With the day proving so beautiful and with hills to tick it wasn’t a surprise when Rob suggested we have a wee look at Ynys Fach, which is a tidal island close to the small community of Porthgain on the northern Pembrokeshire coast.  Rob was quite laid back about the whole affair, with such comments as ‘just a look’, don’t know what it’s like’, ‘may give it a go, we’ll see’, I quite liked this attitude, a long way removed compared to some of the research I do pre-walk with a multitude of ten figure grid references bulging out of my note pad.

We met at Porthgain, I was first to arrive (that organisational part of me does seem to pre-dominate sometimes) and settled down in the late afternoon sun as my Trangia stove did its stuff and soon I had a steaming mug of tea in hand and lots of nibbles as accompaniment, within a few minutes Adrian, Ayako and Rob had arrived.


Following a slanting road uphill brought us to a public footpath sign which constitutes part of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, a keen breeze contrasted against the radiant blue as the sun blazed across the near sea.

Ayako, Adrian and Rob heading in to the field which gave access toward Ynys Fach

The path led over fields and was set back from the coastline, when this came in to view it was dramatic, with its crenelated rocks and gaping drops stretching northward where sea had lashed and met land.

Following the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path toward what proved to be an exciting descent route found by Rob

In front and below Ynys Fach came in to view, it looked impressive, sitting squat like with vertical rock sides taking up much of its south-western façade and with a flattened, and slightly slanted bluebell field capping part of its summit.  Its south side looked doable with steep grassy slopes leading to the comparative safely of its party heathered and mainly grassy summit plateaux.  However, although this southerly side was doable the descent to its pebbled connecting bwlch looked distinctly undoable as rock predominated, and much of it was steep and in some parts vertical, unless an approach could be found from its northern side it seemed our little late afternoon sojourn was going to be no more than a wee look, with all prospect of an ascent out of the question.

Ayako, Rob and Adrian on the path with Ynys Fach on the left of photo

The impressive south-westerly cliff of Ynys Fach with the bluebell field immediately above

We continued through the field toward the north to a point where we could look down and back at the island, again all approaches consisted of steep rock, it seemed our hopes of visiting Ynys Fach would have to wait for a future visit via RIB.  As we back-tracked toward being centrally opposite the island Rob clambered over the fence at the top of the adjacent cliff and ventured to its edge, he looked back toward us, and continued his downward descent, just as his head was about to disappear from view he called back that the onward route may be doable, I thought ‘feck alive, where the hell is he going’, after all it was about 40m straight down to the rocks and sea below and all possibilities of an approach had until now looked positively suicidal.

Rob just about to disappear from view - feck alive where the hell is he going!

As the Woodall disappeared from view Adrian, Ayako and yours truly proceeded to clamber over the fence and edge toward the grassy and slanting traverse that Rob had found, this led steeply down toward a slender crumbling rocky rib which was positioned about half way down the sheer side of the descent, this proved to be the crux, and Rob had already shimmied down and called back up that it was all right but was prone to be slightly loose in nature, Adrian soon followed taking the airborne route for his final landing on to the steep grassy ground below.  I shimmied down on my backside, conscious that to my right was oblivion, Ayako soon followed.

Ayako on the upper part of the crumbling rocky rib

Ayako nearing relative safety

The ground below the crumbling rocky rib was still steep, but the undergrowth gave purchase of a sort, and Rob headed downward to investigate.  Just before the last section there was more steep ground to negotiate, similar to a gully, and with Rob and Adrian’s assistance I shimmied down, this was the last obstacle and soon the four of us were standing on the pebbled beach.  Looking back up I had to smile, the descent had been exhilarating, an unknown quantity that Rob had found a way through and all rather nonchalantly. 

Rob exploring the continuation of our descent route

Ayako prepares to slither down the gully, with Rob directing from below

Our position was now rather stunning with early evening sun giving accentuated colour, the connecting land between the island and mainland consisted of a large pebbled bwlch with the sea relatively close on either side, and above on the mainland the prospect of retracing our rather exciting downward route.  Thankfully the vantage point of the pebbled beach gave us the view of an alternative ascent route back to the safety of the fields above, as steep, rough ground led up toward the upper edge, with no sign of any form of crumbling rocky rib having to be negotiated, it seemed we had done it, all looked well.

Ayako, Adrian and Rob on the pebbled beach looking back up to our descent route

Our descent route followed the grassy runnel to the left of the shadowed area, with the rocky rib above the top left corner of the grassy runnel - it was a fun way down

As Adrian, Ayako and Rob pottered around the bwlch I started the ascent, keeping directly under the south-west face where copious amounts of rock had fallen on to the ground below, Rob called up to be careful as one falling rock from above may prove an unwelcome addition for my head.

Looking down to the pebbled beach on the ascent of Ynys Fach

The whole hillside was ablaze with flowers, a delicious carpet of shadowed colour, all swaying in time and motion under the influence of the evening’s breeze.  It really was a wonderful place to find oneself in on such a beautiful time of the day.

The whole of the southern hiil side was ablaze with flowers

Beautiful and delicate

As I popped out on to the summit plateaux the sun came busting back in to life, Rob soon followed and headed toward what looked like the high point whilst logging on to the Hill Bagging website to quickly type up his ‘Log’ of our ascent.

As the four of us wandered around we assessed the lay of land and the general thought was that the high point was either in the vicinity of the heathery easterly part of the summit plateaux, or it was situated on the eastern end of the southerly part of this land, with the latter positioned on the edge of the steep ground leading through the flowers and down to the pebbled beach.  Two surveys were required.

A lot of the ground hereabouts proved rather spongy, but I chose a spot where the thick grass was directly growing from sandy earth and positioned the Trimble on it.  As it beeped its way to collecting 300 data points we all stood back and let it do its stuff.

Gathering data at the summit of Ynys Fach

The Trimble set-up position for the first of two data sets taken from the area of the summit

The second survey was amongst the heathery easterly part of the summit area, it was this point that looked the highest when we were looking across at the island from the mainland, but once amongst the heather it was obvious that the seemingly highest land was accentuated by the depth of heather, however there were a couple of places where the sandy earth sponged up out of the confines of heather.  It was only a few minutes after the first potential summit survey that the Trimble was gathering its second data set, and once its allotted five minutes of data were gathered I switched it off, packed it away and took the customary summit photos as Ayako threw her arms in the air in a celebratory salute.

Gathering data at the second position surveyed for the summit of Ynys Fach

The Trimble set-up position for the second of two data sets taken from the area of the summit

Adrian, Ayako and Rob in celebratory mood on the summit of Ynys Fach

All too soon it was time to leave; we headed down the steep slope, through the luxuriant bed of flowers and back on to the pebbled beach.  Once there I asked Rob to assess the bwlch from its easterly and then westerly vantage points, both close to the dappled water’s edge, he looked back up toward the hill to hill traverse and directed me toward the lowest point, this proved to be almost directly below the island’s south-westerly vertical cliff.

I positioned the Trimble on top of my rucksack, measured a 0.43m offset between its internal antenna and the point at which we had deemed to be the critical bwlch, and scampered away as it ebbed down to its 0.1m accuracy level before data should be logged.  In affect the Trimble was set-up in a walled canyon as the island shot up directly above it, whilst the steep slopes of the mainland were only a few more metres away, I didn’t give it much hope of attaining its required accuracy level, but miraculously it did, and I quickly pressed ‘Log’ and scampered away to allow it to collect its all-important bwlch data.

The Trimble set-up position at the critical bwlch of Ynys Fach

As the Trimble gathered its data Rob, Ayako and Adrian sat near to the steep slopes under the mainland, once five minutes of bwlch data were collected I switched the Trimble off, packed it away and joined them for our ascent back to the field and safe grounds above.

Gathering data at the critical bwlch of Ynys Fach

Our ascent back up the slope proved much easier than our descent route, the only drawback was the thorned undergrowth which ripped at my legs.  As we crested the upper part of the steep ground we clambered over the fence and Adrian raised his arms aloft celebrating another P30 in the proverbial bag.  However, with only a small uppermost 30m ring contour at its summit and as the island is a tidal island the bwlch data set for this hill would be all important.  Would Ynys Fach remain in the ranks of P30s?  Only time and processing the data would tell.

Making our way back to the relative safety of the field with Ayako and Adrian above the pebbled beach

Back at the field and another one bagged

It felt good to be back in the field on firm and safe ground, but it had been a wonderful experience scrambling downward and then plodding upward through masses of seldom disturbed flowers.  And those all too brief minutes on the summit were marvellous, looking back across to the mainland as the sun cast down, pure bliss!

Last view of Ynys Fach - a stunning tidal island

We retraced our inward route back to Porthgain and found the last available outdoor table at the Sloop, an invitingly good pub that proved to serve extremely good food.  It had been another excellent day, with lots of islands visited, and with the weather forecast for tomorrow giving more settled and sunny conditions I had my sights on a six hour visit to Ynys Dewi (Ramsey).

Outside the Sloop at Porthgain with Adrian, Ayako and Rob

Survey Result:

Ynys Fach

Summit Height:  30.8m (converted to OSGM15)

Summit Grid Reference:  SM 82209 32743

Bwlch Height:  1.2m (converted to OSGM15)

Bwlch Grid Reference:  SM 82180 32693

Dominance:  96.02% 

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