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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

 

Poppit Sands 2_thumb[2][7]

On our last full day at the first campsite, we decided to visit Caws Cenarth Cheese, a dairy farm which has been producing award winning cheeses since 1987. This was when the introduction of quotas by the EU meant they had a surplus of milk to dispose of so they decided to upscale their cheese production to make use of it. The farmer’s wife had previously made it for the family’s use on her kitchen table. We had been passing their signs for days and so we set off up and down the tiny welsh lanes to find them.

The blurb in their leaflets promised an opportunity to watch the cheese being manufactured but unfortunately we arrived too late to see anything. They had a small museum exploring the history of cheese making in the area and displays about the process of making the different cheeses. My particular favourite was a video of cheeses being dipped in wax – it was strangely satisfying.

Across the yard from the ‘viewing area’ was a small shop. There was a tiny room with wooden  seats and a TV where we were invited to watch a video of a TV programme about the farm, which included a visit from Prince Charles. It was an actual VHS so not the best quality, and was really just repeating what we’d learned previously. I suspect it is a means to reduce the queues at the counter where we were invited to try a selection of their cheeses. They were all excellent and we came away with a selection, although I had to persuade Mr Stoatie to leave behind a huge piece of Stilton which had been marked down because the veining hadn’t spread evenly. It was a bargain but would have completely filled the van’s fridge!

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As a postscript to this story, we were discussing our selection of cheeses later and I expressed regret that I hadn’t brought a particular variety. Never mind I said, I’ll buy a truckle at a shop, they’re bound to sell it locally, and it doesn’t matter if it’s more expensive as it’s just the one. Imagine my reaction when I find it’s considerably cheaper! You’d think that buying at source would be better for your wallet, I must admit I felt a little cheated.

The lady in the cheese shop had recommended taking the dogs for a walk on Poppit Sands so we headed there next. After having paid quite a bit to park we headed for the beach, I was a little disappointed as it was heaving with folk, and rather flat and dreary, although an area of rocks did save it somewhat. Looking back I’m not sure why I had such a downer on it, maybe it was simply because it wasn’t Uig!

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The next day we packed up the van and set off to a campsite on the outskirts of St David’s. The drive was really pretty, we skirted round the Presili Hills and then drove along the coast. Preseli was on my to do list, but Mr Stoatie’s thigh just wasn’t up to it unfortunately.

The campsite was ideally located a ten minute walk from the town in one direction and the coast in the other. The campsite itself had seen better days and the toilet and washing up facilities were in dire need of refurbishment but the pitches were mown and the place was very tidy. We were kept amused by the antics of the resident robin who was so friendly he ended up perching on Mr Stoatie. We always keep a supply of bird feed in the van btw!

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I woke up in the night and had to get up and go out to star gaze because there above us was the Milky Way, hurrah! Nothing like it to lift the spirits.

Once we were up in the morning I proceeded to haul everything out of the fridge as we’d been experiencing a whiff of rotten eggs on and off during the night and I thought maybe something had gone off. When nothing was discovered decaying in there, I proceeded to remove the entire contents of the van in an effort to track it down. It wasn’t until I got to the cupboard at the back that the source of the smell was discovered. The leisure battery had shorted! Mr Stoatie disconnected it and we left everything out and the cupboards open until the stink dispersed.

In the afternoon we had a wander into St David’s for a mooch around and treated ourselves to fish and chips for dinner. Charlie kept us and a couple on a neighbouring bench amused, by sliding down the grassy slope above the Cathedral on his stomach over and over again. I think he was an otter in a previous life!

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St David's Cathedral loos_thumb[2]

The next night was pretty windy, we were planning on heading out to do some exploring in the morning, but when we came to put the lid down we discovered that one of the bolts had sheared off the hinge and it was impossible to close. Fortunately the bolts are pretty standard and we thought that the tiny old fashioned ironmongers in St David’s had saved the day by providing a replacement. However trying to fit it proved to be impossible, Mr Stoatie couldn’t reach the hinge easily as we had no ladders, and I couldn’t bring the roof down low enough for him to work either. It had to be held down at an angle which was about six inches above the reach of my extended arms. I ended up swinging off the handles like a gymnast on the rings and was in so much discomfort it was clearly not going to happen. It was also still blowing a gale which didn’t help. In the end we managed to get the lid closed by adjusting the direction of the van to streamline the roof with the wind. It still stood a little proud and we ended up gaffer taping it down. Oh the shame!

So we had no leisure battery, and a roof which would  have to stay down until repaired, possibly after the holiday, which probably wouldn’t have bothered us under normal circumstances but added to this was the fact that Mr Stoatie’s thigh had been progressively getting worse and worse over the course of the week. He was OK during the day providing there was limited walking with plenty of rest stops, but during the night when he relaxed he was in agony and had to constantly shift position. If you’ve ever shared a bed in a camper you’ll know that if one of you wants to turn over the other one has to too, which means that you never really get an unbroken nights sleep. This was ten times worse, (especially with the added moaning!) and both of us were beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. After a night to think it over we decided to pack up the next day and head for home, at least we’d have a week to recover before work. You’ll get an idea of how bad Mr Stoatie was when I tell you that I had to drive the ScoobyVan all the way back! It was a disappointing end to a long awaited holiday.

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Drefach Felindre

In early September we set off for our main camping trip of the year, two weeks in West Wales. Needless to say we’d been looking forward to this for months! About three days before the trip Mr Stoatie fell off his bike, literally. He didn’t get knocked off and he didn’t run into something, he just came to a junction, couldn’t get his foot out of the clip and fell over sideways. Unfortunately he caught his thigh between the frame and the floor and ended up with an interesting collection of bruises but he was feeling well enough to drive down to Ceridigion where we’d booked four nights at a campsite at Drefach Felindre.

The drive down, once we’d got off the motorway at Wrexham was really scenic, especially the road along the river valley into Aberystwyth. This was a very inviting route, popular with motorcyclists, which Mr Stoatie attacked with gusto despite the van not really responding with the aplomb of a rally car. I had visions of arriving at the campsite with one of Jane’s heads.

I was excited to see a couple of red kites on the way down, but as we drove past Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest we were amazed to see tens of kites circling over the visitor centre. Apparently they feed them once a day and it seems we’d passed by just at the right time! It was an absolutely incredible and uplifting sight.

We stayed at Pant Y Meillion (Hollow of Clover) campsite. This is a small Camping and Caravanning Club site on level ground, with a fantastic view over the surrounding countryside. The owners have a selection of shetland ponies, donkeys and pigs which were lovely. We had the site entirely to ourselves which was great and (disregarding our wild camping) was a first for us. There was a very new shower and washing up area, and, incredibly, fast and free wifi. The only drawback was the length of the grass, I spent the entire time in shorts and (damp) sandals because with the dew, and the little rain we had, jeans and boots would have been permanently wet through.

We set up the pop up tent to store most of the van contents which makes it much easier to pack up and go out for the day. When we bought the tent we had envisioned using it as an awning – putting it up with one entrance against the van, but experience has taught us that it’s really more trouble than it’s worth like that. The van door catches on the tent, there is an annoying gap between the van and the tent which lets in rain, there is the hassle of precision parking and the dogs jump in and out tangling their leads both on the tent and it’s contents. I also miss being able to  look at the view, so now we tend to pitch it to one side.

Charlie managed to find the only pile of fox poo on the field within an hour of arriving and had to be washed, which was a bit of a performance when you only have a washing up bowl. Needless to say he was watched very carefully after that!

We had a day in Camarthen but didn’t get the camera out, so I can’t show you any photos.  The next day we went to Castell Henllys which is a reconstruction of an Iron Age Hill Fort, with the buildings erected over original foundations. This was the location for the BBC series “Surviving the Iron Age” which was aired in 2001. This was memorable for me as the producers decided to include a Druid as they ‘’thought it was important to have a druid as they were fundamental to Iron Age societies.” They chose ‘a very nice 27-year-old called Chris Parks’ who is a member of OBOD! There is an interview with Chris on the According to Whim Blog here

Castell Henllys 1

Taking the sensory experience path along the river (rather than the road) up to the fort you pass this wonderful carving, and the spring, which is guarded by the figure below and various other skulls, faces and sculptures. There are a few clooties tied to the tree over the spring itself.

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The cookhouse was my favourite building, there was seating all round the fire and it was lovely to sit and watch the flames whilst getting gently smoked.

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There were two other round houses, a smaller family house and the larger great house. We walked into the great house to find a group of Iron Age ladies sat round the fire waiting for a school party to arrive. One was arranging car hire on a mobile phone which was a bit disorientating!

Castell Henllys 5

There were a couple of buildings that had been semi demolished and one of the guides said that the remaining ones were also at the end of their life and would be replaced soon too. I find it hard to believe that people would need to completely rebuild every twenty years or so, I think if you lived in them constantly you would do DIY as and when it was needed. I’m sure that the wattle and daub that look like it had dropped off a good few months ago would have been replaced and not left to get worse for instance.

Castell Henllys 6Castell Henllys 7

Although the buildings were a bit tired, Castell Henllys itself was really atmospheric, with a very strong sense of Spirit of Place.

On the way out we had a quick lunch in the cafe which I can recommend!

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Yesterday the Wildwood and our friends met up at Tegg’s Nose to participate in the latest Warrior’s Call anti-fracking event. This event, Voices on the Wind, called on pagan groups and solitaries to perform ritual and magical workings to prevent fracking and to provide blessings and healing to the land. We’ve previously worked with the elements of water, earth and fire, and this year it was the turn of air.

The brief was to gather at a high point with flags, banners and musical instruments of all descriptions and let our voices carry our message around the globe. I enjoyed writing a ritual which included calling in the Four Winds to the circle, in order to make sure our voices were well and truly borne to those who needed to hear them. Making the flag was another matter entirely, but I got there in the end (even if the kitchen counter got liberally coated in acrylic paint!) The design is the Warrior’s Call sigil.

We met up in the car park and the afternoon started well, with the sighting of a single buzzard, which was circling and making it’s distinctive mewing call. I also saw four cormorants flying one behind the other towards the west, I just love these intelligent, heraldic, prehistoric birds (bet you didn’t know that they can count!)

Tony knew of a quiet, sheltered hollow just below the Country Park and as we were unpacking all our bits and bobs we were surprised by Badger and Daisy from the Setantii Grove. The intrepid duo had driven down (at speed!) from the Nos Coryn/Way of the Buzzard event at Anglezarke Moor that morning to join us and had brought it’s banner and energy with them.

Tony Johnson - rainbow 2

After the Four Winds were called in to the circle we had 20-30 minutes of drumming, rattling and yelling to add our voices and intent to the wind – we managed to attract a small audience who were probably wondering what the heck we were doing!

The wind was blowing from the west, from behind the hill we were sheltering under and which the sun had dropped behind. The opposite side of the valley, to the east, with Macclesfield Forest and Shutlingsloe’s triangular peak in the distance, was bathed in sunshine and looked beautiful. Reminding us of all the other wonderful places on this sacred land of Albion that we were working to protect.

As we were drumming, an incredible and rare metrological phenomena was occurring in the west. Firstly the wind blew cirrus clouds in a glorious fan shape,  centering perfectly around the hill’s summit. Then the sun’s rays formed a halo which morphed into a small rainbow, whilst a second larger, brighter inverted rainbow formed over it. Tony managed to take these two photos – no filters, no effects just quick point and shoot, snaps.

Tony Johnson -  rainbow

We felt that we had received a blessing from the wind and that our work and that of all those who had contributed to the Warrior’s Call had been recognised and acknowledged by the Otherworld.

So an inspiring and magical ritual. Many thanks to all who attended, especially those completely new to Druid Ceremony who cheerfully agreed to tackle parts and did a brilliant job!

Special thanks to Tony Johnson for sharing the photographs, all rights remain with him!

To finish, here’s the poem that I included in the ritual:

 

It was the wind that gave them life

It is the wind that comes out of our mouths now

that gives us life

When this ceases to blow we die

In the skin at the tips of our fingers

We see the trail of the wind,

It shows us the wind blew

When our ancestors were created.

Navajo chant

And the poem I included in the booklet, which we spontaneously decided to speak together at the end:

Teach your children

what we have taught our children –

that the earth is our mother

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth

If men spit upon the ground,

they spit upon themselves.

This we know

The earth does not belong to us,

we belong to the earth

This we know

All things are connected

like the blood which unites one family

All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth

befalls the sons and daughters of the earth

We did not weave the web of life,

We are merely a strand in it

Whatever we do to the web,

we do to ourselves.

Chief Seattle

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Campsite

It’s disappointing that we’ve made it to (almost) the end of July and only managed two camping trips so far this year. Too much DIY and work are to blame. However on Saturday we did finally get away again for a few days and headed down to visit Mr Stoatie’s Nana in Royston.

We were looking forward to having a couple of dry days, as it’s been raining cats and dogs here in the Northwest for a few months now. Sure enough as soon as we crossed the Pennines the weather improved and it was lovely to sit outside the van, drinking something alcoholic, barefoot and in a t shirt! The site was one we hadn’t been to before – it was small, just ten pitches and was quite full. We had to stop on the camping field the first night and make do without power which was fine although the weather was getting hotter by the hour and I was rather worried about the milk spoiling, I need a regular supply of hot milky tea!

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The site was level grass pitches on the top of a chalky hill, set beside a field of oats. Most of the countryside around is arable, barely any livestock at all. The hill is the highest point in Cambridgeshire at over 450 feet. The view was fantastic, almost a full 180 degrees from the Southwest to the Northeast.  I was hoping that the skies would be dark enough to star gaze but unfortunately as well as having an almost full moon there was a lot of light pollution on the horizon, so no sight of the Milky Way for me!

One of Great Chishill’s claim to fame is an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. On 10 September 1983 Ben Palmer, a local farmer, and Owen North, the local baker, produced loaves from wheat in the field to bread on the board in 40 minutes 44 seconds. It seems fitting to mention it now that Lughanasdh is just round the corner!

The next day we had a few hours with Nana – not too long as she is in her mid nineties and easily tired – did a little food shopping, then retired to the site. Gosh it was hot! Fortunately our next pitch had EHU (electric hook up) so there were cold drinks. It also had a little more shade which made the heat a bit more bearable.

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On one of my trips to the loo I noticed a large hawk like bird on top of one of the farm buildings. I went back to the van to grab the camera and take a few pictures, fortunately I managed to find a post to balance it on so I could use the zoom. When we got back we were able to identify it as a juvenile Peregrine falcon. If you look closely you can see it has been ringed and also fitted with a radio transmitter. It is the first Peregrine I have been able to definitely identify so I was really happy. Such a beautiful bird.

Juvenile peregrine falcon

The following day I became a cycling widow, as Mr Stoatie took off on a training ride. He’s doing the Prudential 100 again this year, which is in two weeks time. It was ridiculously hot and humid, the dogs and I chased the shade round the van all day while he was gone. He was out for over eight hours in thirty degree heat -  rather him than me! I entertained myself reading books and consulting the tarot.

The morning we left I noticed three blobs appear in the wheat on the hill in the distance. I grabbed the binoculars and three deer came into view so I was happy again. We just don’t have wild deer here in our part of the Northwest, unless one gets out of the local National Trust estate, so it’s a treat to see them.

After having fried all the time we were away, we were quite happy to head back north and were looking forward to grey skies and cooler air. We scanned the horizon looking for clouds but instead were baked all the way back. I got sunburnt through the van window and all of us were fit for nothing when we finally staggered into the house, which was of course, hot and stuffy having been shut up for a few days. Tilly disappeared to the bottom of the garden and stayed there until it was time for bed!

 

medalThis year Mr Stoatie is riding the Prudential 100 to raise money for Kidney Research, which is a cause close to our hearts, as he was the recipient of a live donor transplant from his Dad nine years ago this month. I normally don’t post a lot of personal stuff, but if you would like to make a small donation we’d be very grateful, his just giving page is here.

Another way to help if you’re short of funds, would be to consider joining the Organ Donor Register

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Bernera 4

A single track road heads north west off the B road between Uig and Garynahine and leads to the island of Bernera. The island is separated from Lewis by a stretch of water with very strong currents. In 1953 following protests by the Islanders, the government built a bridge to link the two islands, using a newly developed form of pre stressed concrete. This used less steel reinforcing which was great given the post war difficulties.  Above is the view looking back across to Lewis.

Bostadh 2

We’d headed across to visit Bostadh Iron Age House, which is situated at the end of a valley on a small bay at the other end of the island . In 1993 storms exposed the sand dunes on the south side of the beach and revealed the remains of a rectangular Norse house, which had been built on top of an Iron Age village. Excavations of five of the houses revealed that they were of a type found in the Late Iron Age – the Pictish period – 400-800AD. The houses had double walls and were built into the earth, with entrances in the south. Each had a main circular room with a central stone lined hearth, and other small chambers leading off it.

After the excavation, the site was backfilled with sand to preserve it, but a replica house was built further to the North.

Bostadh 1

Apparently the style is known as ‘jelly baby’ house. Because there was no archaeological  evidence of how the roof was built, there was a certain amount of experimentation. In the end it was dictated by the shape and strength of the outer walls – the dividing wall between the two main chambers was found to be too weak to support any weight. It turned out to be a transition between the round houses of the Early Iron Age and the Blackhouses.

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There was a charge to enter, which I balked at a bit, but it turned out to be money well spent. You had to stand at the threshold for a while until your eyes got used to the dark and you had to remember to duck as you entered (I didn’t and smacked my head!) There was a fabulous lady inside to answer your questions and show you around. It was originally thatched with straw but has now been turfed. There’s been a bit of a discussion about whether there would have been enough straw or heather to have used thatch.

During the excavations several quern stones were discovered – thought to have been used to grind barley, along with fish bones, limpet, oyster, mussel and scallop shells; and the bones of cattle, sheep and red deer. The presence of red deer indicates that the area was wooded at one time

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Dunes over the backfilled houses, looking back up the valley. There was the remains of a blackhouse further up the valley by the stream.

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A couple of views of the beach, absolutely glorious. In fact the whole area was magical. I would have loved to have lived there!

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Just before the beach was another of those fantastic island graveyards enclosed in a stone wall overlooking the sea.

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On the way back we stopped off in the layby just before the bridge and headed up the hill to a group of standing stones. These are known locally as Tursachan, or Calanais VIII. They have a commanding position at the top of a cliff which is pretty unusual.

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These were a wonderful group of stones and have a great atmosphere. Before the bridge was built they must have been pretty remote. I loved the location looking up and down the straight and over to Lewis.

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Bernera 2

The hairy lichen growth on the stones shows how clean the air is on the Isles.

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Bernera 3

While we were sat amongst the stones we became aware of bird cries. Looking up we counted nine golden eagles soaring in the air. It really was a most amazing experience.

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They seemed to spiral lower and lower and eventually Mr Stoatie managed to get one decent shot with the zoom. If you look closely you can see that the bird is wearing a radio transmitter and that there’s another bird in the distance. It was absolutely fantastic, what a gift.

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A couple of the stones reminded me of people wrapped in cloaks looking out to the horizon. I wonder if that was deliberate?

Bernera 8

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Water Fowl

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April

A couple of weeks ago Stoatie Towers went up in the world when our ponds were transformed into Ornamental Lakes by the arrival of a pair of Mandarin Ducks. They didn’t stay long but I managed to get a couple of shots through the conservatory window – try and ignore the blurry glass!

The UK population of these ducks are all descended from birds which have either escaped or been released from collections. They’re native to China and it’s a sad fact that our wild mandarins actually outnumber those left in their natural habitat.

I can’t remember ever having seen these out of the water before and I was struck by how lean and elegant they are. They’re pretty fast flyers and set off at a rate of knots when they finally decided to leave.

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In February we’d had another unusual visitor on the ponds – a Moorhen. It stuck around for an hour or two and then took off.

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We also had the usual pair of Mallards, in March, but this year they only called in for a couple of days. I don’t think they’ve forgotten the dogs pinning the drake against the fence a few years ago. I managed to call them off and he flew off to join his partner, but there were feathers everywhere! The Heron has also been back after the frogs. Of course it chose just when they were beginning to spawn which meant they didn’t have much of a chance to escape and seemed to time it’s arrival for first thing in the morning, when we weren’t around to scare it off, poor froggies.

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An Away Day

crewe crem

Yesterday I was allowed out of the Office to attend a meeting, and had a day out at Crewe Cemetery. It’s only the fourth time I’ve been over and it was a chance to see the results of the new revamp. I think it’s an improvement on the original building but it’s pretty stark, it desperately needs some greenery to soften the edges.

The new stonework is a wonderful red sandstone which glitters in the sun. It has some black streaks through it, which provides a bit of interest, although it does remind me of tyre marks. The wall in the background left of centre has a Perspex roof along it’s length on the other side (you can just see the top of it) which is to provide shelter for the mourners. Unfortunately looks like a huge smoking area!

This is what it looked like before, courtesy of the Crewe and Nantwich Guardian:

We just had a few minutes to look around the interior between services and I couldn’t take a lot of pictures. Another reason I was a bit restrained was the fact that I was accompanying a photographer and had to keep getting out of his shots. Plus it was a bit embarrassing snapping away with my camera phone when he had the whole kit and caboodle!

My favourite part of the building were these stained glass windows which have benefited from the extra light now the old canopy has been removed.

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The sunlight was bouncing colour off the newly painted white walls – previously these had been an awful pale green.

stained glass 3

There were some religious windows closer to the nave of the chapel which were the same vibrant colours, but for me were spoiled by the subject matter. Crewe Crematorium still has it’s Christian altar under the window behind the catafalque which I find rather incongruous when most public places try hard to accommodate everyone by having no religious symbolism at all At our Crematorium we got rid of the rather dreary and depressing Christian oil paintings years ago, there’s no altar, and the rather small wooden cross can be shoved in a cupboard if necessary!

stained glass

These nature windows are just fantastic, wonderfully druidic!

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