Brands Hatch & Wales etc

Red Kite in the Elan Valley.

It’s been a long weekend.

I took Friday as day at the motors (mixing business with pleasure) and with a bit early morning travel managed to get down to Brands Hatch for 9ish. I had been hoping to get to see more than just practice day, but as things happened, the weekend was already booked up (I will explain later) and so I was only able to stay for the one day before having to head back home.

In simple terms, a client’s son (Adam) competes in Formula Renault (think next is Formula 3, then GP2, then Formula 1) and he invited me to come down to watch the opening race of the season. It’s been a couple of years since the last time I got to watch (at Donington) and it’s something I really enjoy so was more than happy to get down there, especially as last weekend didn’t prove to be much of a break in the end.

Will also came down and we had the full day slinking around the pits, paddock and stands. It’s great to get full access to these places, and to get really up close with the kit, especially as I’d taken the SLR down. The weather conspired against us however, and most of the day it bucketed it down so I spent a lot of time collecting puddles in my camera bag. Despite this it was still bloody great, and although not an official race day, Adam’s results were good and looked promising for qualifying on the next day.

After making an epic journey back home, the next morning Deako turned up at 10am ready to get over to Wales. After the success of our photo trip to the lakes six months ago we’d decided to plan another, this time to the Elan Valley.

We were staying in Rhayader (a place which I’ve visited/walked/camped around several times before) and made it our base to get out into the valleys. Unfortunately the weather followed, and we spent a good few hours at the top of the incredibly full and impressive dams contending with pretty heavy conditions. It wasn’t good photography weather, but we managed to get a few locations in before the evening.

Thankfully Sunday was brighter and we traced the second, longer chain of dams and reservoirs. If you don’t really know about Elan and these structures, essentially if you live in or around Birmingham, the water you drink came from here. Most of the five or so dams were built between the last decade of the 19th century and the early 1950s, and they are really impressive bits of architecture. Several valleys were flooded to make way for the new reservoirs and one lake alone contains enough water at any one time to supply Brum for up to 15 days. Eerily, several villages and substantial large houses were submerged in the process, and they still sit at the bottom of these vast pools in which you cannot sail or swim. The scenery is stunning, and after the heavy rainfall, all of these structures were overflowing with run off. It’s a very impressive sight, especially from the base.

In the afternoon we had reached Devil’s Bridge, but as the weather had started to deteriorate again we took a trip to Aberystwyth where it cheered up and we met up with Damith (one of James’ old housemates from Loughborough). We took an unplanned trip to the beach and my first ever experience of home-cooked Sri-Lanken food (which was delicious and despite containing copious amounts of chilli, I managed without a problem).

This morning required some coordination as both mine and Deako’s phones were out of battery (mine unfortunately wasn’t just out of battery it transpires) but we eventually managed to organise getting to breakfast at the right time (our hotel rooms were in different buildings on different streets) and get all the way back out to Devil’s Bridge before we realised neither of us had handed our keys in at checkout.

Thankfully we had planned to return at lunchtime for one final photo opportunity in Rhayader, so after tackling the waterfalls and Jacob’s Ladder, we returned the hotel, handed in the keys and spent the last hour filling up our final memory cards with photos of red kites – a bird of prey that thrives in the Elan Valley and can be relied upon to arrive at the right time every day to feed in a field left with carcass scraps. The hardest thing to do is convert 200 shots made in quick succession into just three or four prize photos.

And so I’m back, with a really broken phone and a very long list of to-dos.

I was finally able to find out that Adam Christodoulou finished first and smashed the Brands Hatch lap record on Sunday in the opening race which is a great way to start the season.

This week is going to be full on.