Monday, 24 August 2015

Tour of Britain

It was an eventful trip. The night before we left home I got a text from the ferry company telling us that the boat we were on was cancelled. They had booked us onto the next one. This meant we would arrive in Holyhead after midnight and wouldn’t get to the farmhouse B & B in Snowdonia until much later. We rang to tell them; our hostess wasn’t impressed as she had to get up at 5 to do the milking.

We arrived to find the farmhouse lights on and knocked the front door. No reply. We knocked again. All was quiet. I tried the door, it was unlocked. They’d probably gone to bed and left it open for us, we reasoned. Creeping in, we found an upstairs bedroom with the door open. We collapsed and slept deeply till 9. Going down for breakfast, we got a challenge. ‘Where were you last night?’ Our hostess bridled, ‘I stayed up waiting for you.’ I explained what had happened. She looked daggers, then she smiled; she must have fallen asleep in the chair in the back parlour and hadn’t heard a thing.

It was a bright sunny day with clear blue skies. We did a hillwalk on the LLeyn peninsula to an extensive iron-age settlement on a hill-top. But unused to this weather, we got sunburnt. The next day we toured around North Wales visiting Portmeirion, The Great Orme, castles and gastropubs. Then we moved on to my cousin’s in Birmingham, enduring long motorway queues for a great foodie night out with Mike and Esther in the Chinese Quarter.

Next we went to Ross on Wye and the Forest of Dean, visiting Tewkesbury Abbey and its splendid vaulting on the way. After a lot of detective work we found the old cottage in which T’s grandfather had been born. It was built in the 1740’s and was just up the road from an old cider pub with an apple press in the yard. Then we went on to Stonehouse and walked along the Stroudwater canal past the old house, built in 1760, where I grew up.

Afterwards we drove to the New Forest to stay with my old schoolpal Phil. We went on some great walks: to Hurst Castle, where Charles the First was incarcerated prior to his trial, and in Rhinefield to see the magnificent tall trees. We also had a day out in Southampton by train, a shopping mecca where all the twinkling sheds that you normally have on the edge of town have been built on brownfield sites in the city centre. We finished off with a great meal at an upmarket restaurant in a country house near Brockenhurst – The Pig.

Our return journey began with a trip to Salisbury Cathedral, famous for its tall spire and copy of Magna Carta and Avebury for its fine circles of standing stones. We arrived in Bristol for my brother Allan’s 60th birthday do: a big family get-together in a local church hall with four generations present. A splendid occasion with plenty to eat and much cake, then we headed back to Allan and Christine’s for more. And the next day we all went out again for a big Sunday lunch. We also had plenty of walks with their hyper-active dog across the common.

The last leg of the journey was to drive back to North Wales to again stay in our first farmhouse. We arrived earlier, around 10, to find our hostess safely tucked up in bed. We let ourselves in to the same bedroom. The last day of the trip was again bright, cloudless and very sunny. We spent it on Anglesey at the beach near Aberffraw and at low tide walked out along the causeway to the small 12th Century church on the little island. There I was bitten on the hip by an Alsatian. We shouted at the owners, who mumbled sorry. T bathed my wound in antiseptic and in the kerfuffle the screen on her brand new mobile got broken. Nothing for it but to drive the short distance to the ferry, which took us smoothly to Dublin in just two hours. As we got back home I checked the milometer. We had travelled 1200 miles in 12 days and visited 14 different counties. It had been a very eventful tour; the sort of trip that leaves you ready for another holiday.

Sunday, 2 August 2015


My partner has a screensaver app on her smartphone which shows a forest that becomes populated by different animals. One day there is a woodpecker, the next a rabbit or a hedgehog. It makes her happy. I think it’s odd. I grew up in the country, whereas she’s a city girl. From childhood, I’ve regularly seen these animals in real life.

Living in an environment that is shared with wild native animals is not always easy. At present, from dusk to dawn, a plaintive whistling resounds from the trees at the bottom of my garden. It is a young long-eared owl that has fledged but hasn’t yet learnt to hunt for its own food. The young owl sits in a tree and whistles, so the parents know where to bring the mice or voles they catch. During the daytime the owls sit high up in the branches of a tall tree and rest. If you are lucky you may be able to spot them.

The old graveyard across the lane, a favourite haunt of owls and bats, is also home to a colony of badgers and several feral cats. The badgers are very wary and difficult to see, but if the wind is in the right direction you might catch them at dusk coming out of the sett. One evening I saw four of them scurrying across the lane.

Half a mile away is a foxes earth; T and I once saw a cub playing outside in the daytime. Late evening is a good time to see the adults, when they go out hunting. Recently, T and I spotted one in the barley-field beside the earth. The fox saw us first and bounded away through the green field, its red fur shining in the golden light of the setting sun. A powerful and strangely cinematic experience.

In the midst of this life is always death. A couple of days ago, when cycling, I came across a badly injured wild ferret. They are black, whereas the domesticated ones are sandy coloured. The ferret was lying beside the towpath not far from Scarva. I imagine it had been hit by a bike or attacked by a dog. On its last legs, it could hardly crawl. When I got home I rang the USPCA, but they don’t seem to be too interested in injured wild animals. It must have gone to meet its maker and given sustenance to a buzzard or raven.