South Stack

A quick 48hour trip to Anglesey last week to deal with some work things ended up being more frustrating than I thought. Sometimes life is like that no matter how carefully you plan but it’s still irritating. Normally heading to Anglesey is a happy thing for me even if it’s for work purposes rather than recreation, a change being as good as a rest. I think life got just so busy in recent weeks I lost the ability to stop and savour the good moments and my head got into a bit of a tangle and I felt quite sad and upset.

Life is short.

It’s something I appreciate more and more with each passing year and see the truth of this much quoted cliché in other’s lives as a flag that you really do have to make the best use of time. Sometimes people use this to justify selfish acts. I prefer to take this to mean how we work, how we act, how we behave to those around us. Not to be frivolous of time or resources and especially not with other’s love or feelings.

But I also think also means to take time to enjoy what we have and appreciate it in the everyday rather than going through life blinkered to that which is around us. Realising I’d temporarily lost sight of that whilst fretting about things that I couldn’t do anything about I decided to “seize the carp!” as I like to pun and went up to one of my favourite places to walk Marley for half an hour or so in the evening before the next meeting I had planned rather than just sit around waiting.

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South Stack is known both for its lighthouse and for its amazing seabird colonies. I’m no birder; I merely stand on the sidelines hoping to absorb new information with every encounter. Although I’ve visited South Stack since my earliest childhood, I’d never actually been inside Ellin’s Tower which the RSPB use as an educational resource and bird-watching hide for visitors. By the time I got there it was closed for the day but instead of heading for the lighthouse carpark and surrounding paths as I do normally I decided to walk along what the map showed as the lower path along the coastline.

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This was a mistake!! I hadn’t appreciated quite how close to the edge of the cliffs it was and for those with a head for heights this is fine as it’s actually quite safe. For someone like me who can make myself feel faint by looking at a photograph taken from a high viewpoint it was a Really Bad Idea. This is a normal coastal walk for most people. For those like me it’s a panicky adrenaline-fuelled torture of an over-active imagination and by the time I’d appreciated this it was better to carry on than turn back!

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Having a bouncy Labrador with a life motto of “act first, think later” on the end of a lead just added to the stress. Dogs are meant to be kept on the lead but I wouldn’t have trusted Marley not to absent-mindedly bounce over the edge in pursuit of a seagull anyway! I kept him very close whilst we were walking… err… crawling here.

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I couldn’t really appreciate the stunning beauty of this path because I was too busy reminding myself to breathe and kidding myself I was walking through a wood a very very long way away from a cliff… I did stop for a sit down for a minute though and took a couple of photos to appreciate later on when I was back on less worrying ground!

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The cliffs by the lighthouse were raucous with the sounds of the Guillemots and Razorbills, Herring Gulls and Black backed Gulls. Once I was back on terrain I felt comfortable with I felt it was a shame I couldn’t have got there earlier and gone inside the hide.

So the next morning although I was heading back home I decided to make another quick trip back specifically to go inside Ellin’s Tower.This was definitely not a mistake. Leaving Marley in the car this time and driving up I joined the tourists and students already gathered there. For dedicated and knowledgeable bird watchers this must be paradise. The RSPB staff were very kind and helpful in showing people like me how to spot different birds and explaining about their breeding habits. The webcam showed some Guillemots in close up getting ready to lay their egg on the cliff edge (“nesting” is a bit of a strong word to use for the haphazard parenting methods they use!) and we smiled as a curious Razorbill hoved into view and photobombed the webcam and unknowingly peered back at us!

This is the picture I took with my little compact camera I carry with me most times. I would have loved a long zoom and my DSLR though – I must remember to take it next time!

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People come to see puffins here too but actually there are not very many unlike on more remote islands mostly in Scotland (but including “Puffin Island” on the other side of Anglesey). The rats that steal their eggs from the burrows they lay in can still access puffin nests here on an island connected to the mainland. There are only a few breeding pairs here. The RSPB man I spoke to said they had spotted 6 puffins so far at South Stack this year – really not very many amongst the thousands of other birds. He’d seen one that morning on the sea and explained how a solitary puffin would hang out near a group of guillemots on the sea. After a bit he quietly said he’d seen it again quite far out and trained the telescope on it for me. This was so exciting as it was the first puffin I have ever seen … even if it was a very long way off and through a lens!

After a few minutes observing I asked an older lady if she would like to see it too rather than me hogging it. She was very excited too and got her husband so he could see too. Then the RSPB man spotted another puffin in a group much closer to us below the cliffs and trained the other telescope for this couple so they could both watch. I grabbed a pair of binoculars and found where he was talking about. I was very happy to have seen these colourful little birds even if they are much more accessible to humans in other areas in Scotland. They are sadly an endangered species and really need help to protect them or we risk losing them altogether along with so many other bird, animals and plants.

I didn’t see any Choughs which are well known visitors here. I was told if I walked along the cliff path I might see some but I politely declined that experience again… Apparently they are quite friendly and if you hang around any length of time you’ll probably see them. I ate my sandwiches but didn’t have enough time to stop any longer. I hope to see them next time I come back.

I approve of the picnic area seating though!

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I was really glad that I’d taken just a little time out of the trip home to come back, to see these birds and to learn a little more about them. I asked when they had arrived and was told just 48 hours earlier. So by seizing the moment I had been able to see something I might have missed later in the year. Instead of adding to the busyness it refreshed me and I felt better for it.

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Marley and I turned around from the tip of Wales and headed off back to the mainland and mountains of Snowdonia and the next stop I’d planned on the way home – Bodnant Gardens…

 

 

 

Sea Dog

Marley and I just had a quick 48 hour trip to Anglesey to sort out some building work. We always manage to squeeze in some other stuff too though and although the weather forecast was poor it turned out to be wrong – in our favour and we had glorious sunshine for most of the time.

Poor Marley missed out on the last two trips for different reasons so he hasn’t been to the sea for nine months. He does love it so and although he quite often goes on short trips with me when I’m going somewhere in the car – he just likes coming along for the ride – he sort of knew it was a extra-special trip just minutes after leaving home. As I turned right out of the village he did a small bounce on his pile of bedding on the back seat and did an excited small “wuff!” before settling down happily to sleep – he knows by now that the journey takes almost 3 hours.

We did stop for coffee halfway and stretched our legs.

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And then a bit further on from that we popped in to see some friends of mine and Marley got to play with their dog – I was a bit apprehensive about this as Marley is deeply suspicious of black and white dogs having been bitten a few times in recent months by collies but happily Drew is very relaxed and they had a nice playdate whilst I caught up with my friends over delicious soup!

On the way up I wanted to detour via a few places so we stopped in Beaumaris (or Biwmares in Welsh) and he nearly got his ears blown off when he put his paws up on the seawall! Marley’s ears lean somewhat to his Golden Retriever ancestry, they’re very silky and long and flop all over the place when a strong wind blows. I find this hilarious but Marley doesn’t care even if I sing “Do your ears hang low?” at him as they whirl madly around his head like a bouffant hairdo fresh from the salon…

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The scenery is no laughing matter though, for me I think this stretch of coast looking back off the island over the sea at Menai Straits towards the mountains of Snowdonia on the mainland of North Wales is so utterly and heart stoppingly beautiful it can make me cry with the sheer wonder of it. Normally I’m driving when I see this view from a different angle further west – it was great to stop and drink it in for a while.

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Marley gets slightly bored with me taking photos – he can only take so much before he vocalises his opinion on the matter so I put him back on his bed in the car for a few minutes where I knew he was safe. When I came back I found he’d commandeered my seat and that he can still convey his dim view of my need to stop and admire scenery and take photos – I think he was telling me if I didn’t get a wiggle on he’d drive off and leave me there!!

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We meandered back past Menai to pick up the A55 again, me stopping in each lay-by to get out and take photos closely followed by a German couple who were doing exactly the same! We exchanged sheepish grins as we met several times!! Marley groaned and went to sleep…

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I did stop in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwryndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch briefly – almost for less time than it takes to say the name! I got all overexcited by the word “weavers” (not realising it is basically Edinburgh Woollen Mill! I’m so ignorant!) which to mind suggested all kinds of Welsh textiles but I was bitterly disappointed by the mass produced very non-welsh, not-woven goods and shot out almost as quickly as I scooted in.

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As soon as we got to the end of our journey he was off out of the car and exploring sniffs and if you could see a dog’s worries roll off his shoulders it was then. The past couple of weeks he’s been one wired doggy because of all the lambs bleating in the fields around home – I’m constantly watching him because he has a strong chase instinct and he’s desperate to run and get the endorphin high so natural to predator animals such as utility breeds of dog. He’s been tormented and I worry more than usual. Both of us end up edgy and irritable with each other with the stress of it. But at the seaside he has space to run around on, kicking up sand, swimming till he’s tired and chasing seagulls is completely legal because they just take off when they get fed up with him.

Minutes after arriving and before we’d unloaded our bags (he has his own little overnight bag!) we went down onto the beach for a quick paddle after sharing the yummy fish and chips I’d bought from Enoch’s on the way past.

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Fishing for seaweed and stones – labrador-style.

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And finding all sorts of alien life forms abandoned on the sand … although apparently even on holiday you’re not allowed to roll in/eat things…

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The next day we had meetings and things to do but managed to fit in walks and swims around this too – in the afternoon we did a little bit of exploring by car on other parts of the island. I was quite tickled to find this mini island is called East Mouse. Marley couldn’t find the mouse I was yelping about, not even under the map I was holding…

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We stopped at different places to take photos (cue doggy sigh from the back seat) and even pulled up at the windmill I’d meant to visit but no dogs permitted (aw!!) and it was too warm to leave dogs in the car so this will wait for another day.

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Talking of maps, I got hopelessly lost navigating my way back via tiny lanes across the interior which I chose rather than retracing our steps back along the coast road – thanks to some eejit who’d removed the signs from the sign post at a crucial point. Luckily it was late on and the sun was low in the sky which made it easy to navigate by the direction of the sun and various landmarks such as recognisable mountains and between that and the aforementioned map I backed us out of the pickle we’d got into and got home without too much hassle and with a large ice cream. Who says women can’t read maps? Marley hastily said he said nothing of the sort… (and please can I share your ice cream?)

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I just had a few things to do on the second morning before we packed up for home so the walks were a bit shorter although we did a bit of beach combing / swimming.

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Marley has now discovered that chasing a seagull in water is always going to end in disappointment and also invented a new kind of retrieving. This involves swimming out to the stick I’ve thrown for him, fetching it, doggy paddling furiously further out into the bay and leaving it there bobbing helpless on the receding tide before swimming back to shore empty-mouthed. I spent some time carefully explaining the pitfalls of this kind of game (i.e. you run out of driftwood quite quickly) but he was unmoved by my logic and wasn’t going back in to get it. Apparently he thinks I can not only magic dog food out of cold boxes with lights inside each morning (always exciting, that trick!) but also magic new sticks out of the shoreline too. And anyway by then Stick was slowly drifting out of the North West Passage on its way to Ireland… I told him it was very lucky I wasn’t especially fond of that particular stick.

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Spring at the coast is just beautiful with flowers starting to appear everywhere on the headland, both those planted by humans and the prettier more delicate wild flowers more in keeping with the landscape. Lying on your tummy taking photos in the sunshine is sheer joy. Possibly only beaten by lying on your back waving your paws in the air.

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What are you laughing at?…

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Whaaaat!? Why you laughing at meeeee?!!!

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Hey!!! Stop laaaaaaaafing at me!! Wufff!!!

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We got to say goodbye to our friends next-door whom we almost missed seeing this trip. Marley’s special friends as he likes me to be aware. People who don’t laugh at him but lie on the floor just to tickle his ears, play with him and tell him he’s a lovely boy.

We had one last mad snorty, wuffy dash around on the golden sand as the tide was out and headed back off through the mountains of North Wales to home. We stopped briefly to watch crazy humans do crazy things in a slate quarry – Marley was very perplexed by the creatures whizzing overhead. And why, pray, would you go to the trouble of putting a leash and collar on if you can fly like that anyway?!

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We discovered that Spring is everywhere in Wales just now and that we’re so lucky to be able to live in such a beautiful and varied place.

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It might have been short and very busy – but it was a good trip. We both feel better for it. Marley sums it up pretty well here…

Wuff!!

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Of Kites and Kerry Hills

Come take a walk with me?

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Marley and I have a new favourite walk. It’s quite a long one so we don’t do this every day but we’ve walked it a couple of times a week since New Year – I’d walked and ridden parts of this before many times as part of it are country lanes around my home and sections are bridle path I rode when Cobweb was in her younger days before she retired. I’m wary of walking footpaths across my neighbours’ land however though. Even when there are public rights of way I’m very aware of the frustrations this can cause farmers and landowners. On the one hand it’s great that everyone can access beautiful countryside and get exercise and enjoyment out of our gorgeous land. And we should definitely encourage people to get out more and what better way of keeping healthy as well as learning to appreciate our natural resources.

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But many of my friends are farmers and although the majority of walkers and ramblers respect others and the countryside, there are always a few who spoil it for everyone. Some of my friends have had to deal with the consequences of walkers not shutting a gate, or shutting one that’s meant to be open.

In one case this caused weeks of extra work and expense and resulting in the deaths of sheep when a walker carelessly left several gates open on a footpath and my friend’s rams that were many fields away from his ewe lambs that were too young to be mated wandered over and did what sheep do and the resulting mayhem 5 months later completely messed up their lambing season, already a stressful and exhausting  time for sheep farmers, extending it by several weeks and costing money in unwanted vets bills for caesarians on some ewes and loss of animals for the ewes and lambs that didn’t survive. Other friends have a footpath running close to their house and it’s not unusual for walkers to take a short cut through their yard where their working sheepdogs run free and their children play. Most people are apologetic when they realise they are trespassing, but some are rude and belligerent when politely asked to return to the footpath – which doesn’t help matters.

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There is also the matter that farmers have to take care which animals they put in fields where there are rights of way to ensure that members of the public are not put in danger. So whilst it’s up to you to keep your dog under control and not stray from the path or annoy livestock, the farmer also has to ensure that aggressive animals are not kept in fields where they might attack people using those paths. If walkers chose to take short cuts, not only are they trespassing but they’re also potentially putting themselves at risk by entering fields where animals who are protecting their young or guarding their females might take exception to the presence of strangers or dogs.

Having said that, it’s really important that we learn to appreciate both sides and so that farmers can work the land they rely on to grow food for us all and that those who want to can still experience the wonder and beauty of the countryside. Unlike some other countries, we’re not free to roam wherever we want – and given the small size of our country and the way it is farmed that’s probably for the best for everyone’s sake. However there are many fantastic walks to be had on existing rights of way and I’m pleased that around here people are trying to encourage landowners to maintain them so we can all safely use them.

So given my respect towards my neighbours which means I tend to stick to roads, I’d never yet walked the middle section of this route, it’s a public bridle path but it runs right through the middle of the farmyard of some of my neighbours. However some of my friends and I walked it with our dogs on New Years Day to walk off some of our festivities from the night before (fortified with leftover sausage rolls, pork pies and blackberry gin!) and it’s just so uplifting and gorgeous I just can’t help going back again and again…

We live almost on the crest (bryn) of a hill which borders England and Wales. To the front of us is a sweeping valley which means our view stretches away out over the entire breadth of Wales to the mountains of Snowdonia and the gap across to the Cheshire plain and Northern England. The vista is vast and almost scary at times it’s so huge.You can see miles of weather sweeping up country;  often a prelude of a few minutes warning before it hits us. The valley behind us is by contrast quite small – carved by ice thousands of years ago it’s just a short hop to the crest of the Kerry Ridgeway behind which splits England to the East and Wales to the West in this part of the borders. Sometimes I’m envious of my friends who live on this side – their valley is short and cosy, they get more sun. But then again all I have to do is walk up our lane and I can share that too so perhaps we have the best of both worlds being “the folks who live on the hill”.

So after days of rain we snatched a few dry hours and headed off in this direction. The lane winds down steep hills (exciting when there’s black ice or fallen wet leaves around!!) lined with overhanding trees and twists and turns for a mile down into the valley itself. We turn into a No Through lane surrounded by wooded hills and pasture land grazed by sheep. There is something very special about this to a spinner – these are no ordinary sheep, they are Kerry Hills belonging to my neighbours.

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And the pastures that they graze on are the land the breed was developed from at the foot of the Kerry Ridgeway itself.

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Kerry Hill sheep are primarily a meat breed. They’re striking looking animals with their black markings. Until a decade ago they were on the RBST list of breeds at risk but they’re more popular now, especially with smallholders and in other parts of the world so they’re no longer considered a rare breed. My neighbours actually farm them commercially on their beautiful and immaculately kept land and in an environment where continental breeds of sheep have now dominated the landscape as a way of merely breaking even for farmers, it’s especially gratifying to see the sheep in the land for which they were bred. I had the same feeling seeing Herdwicks grazing the glorious steep fells in the Lake District. I’d never really “got” the widespread attraction of Herdwicks but when seen grazing in their home environment instead of a show pen it suddenly becomes apparent that they are the perfect animal in the perfect place. And it’s the same with these jolly little Kerry Hills.

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They just look “right” with the Kerry Ridgeway behind them!

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Nowhere looks wonderful in midwinter unless it’s snowy and frosty. Our own land is tired and grey and muddy; we and our animals are longing for spring now and the grass to grow and the ground to dry out. These softer more gentle pastures however are managed meticulously and even in January look beautiful in the winter sun. I had serious grass envy!!!

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There are some rather cute donkeys with their big horsey chum in the smallholding next door too. A couple of days ago they were right next to the road and came over to the gate for a cuddle and to touch noses with Marley who got on his hind legs to bump the very tall horse on his muzzle. The donkeys looked hopeful but I only had dog biscuits in my pocket …

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After this we Marley has to go on his lead, we’re about to go through the farmyard with its beautiful old brick buildings and cows bedded down on straw for the winter (it’s too wet in Wales for cows to live outside, they poach the clay ground and wreck the grazing). Obviously I wouldn’t take pictures of someone’s home, but really I do wish I could show you. It’s so beautifully tended it’s such a brilliant advert for how good farmers can be. Sometimes I see the brothers who farm here and wave at them; one is married to the sister of my next-door neighbour. I think he’s a bit surprised to see me walking through their farm every few days now but at least Marley has been on his best behaviour whilst on their land!

Once out of the yard we head through a gate (that opens and shuts beautifully! This is unusual…) into some rough land where they have hayracks and troughs down for the sheep. This tells me they’re either pregnant ewes being fed before lambing or fat lambs being fed overwinter before being sold in spring. Either way, I’m still on private ground where livestock are so Marley stays on his lead here too although he has quite strong feelings about this! Especially if he spots a sheep peeking out from behind a gorse bush or tree …

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He pulls at the lead here; he wants to go explore but it’s out of the question. It’s a shame because the other day I was watching a pair of Red Kites soaring above us and it’s very hard to get a photograph of that with one hand when you’ve got an impatient labrador jiggling around on a lead on the other.

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This was the best I could manage. I’m still quite pleased about it though, I’ve never managed to get any photo of Red Kites before. When we first moved here in the mid-90’s they weren’t around. I saw my first one here about 8 years ago and for several years it was still a matter of great excitement to spot one over the house but they soar so quickly on their huge wingspan that by the time you’ve run for a camera they’re far away. Once terribly rare, they’re one of Wales success stories and well known at the Red Kite feeding station. They’re now established here too in small numbers and I see them more often but it’s still something that makes me stop and smile. I was just lucky to snap this before the kite disappeared behind the hill and Marley dragged me off in the opposite direction in pursuit of Nice Sniffs.

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There’s this little stream winding though the woods and with all the rain it’s swelled and rushing with waterfalls. The air in here is fresh and bracing with the water spray’s negative ions and the damp sweet breath of the trees. I love this kind of place; it makes you feel 100% more alive. Marley seems to like snuffling a few extra deep breaths too!

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We twist up off the tracks now and up a steep muddy path between gorse bushes and shrubs. They’re already starting to come out although in the cold I can’t smell that wonderful warm scent of gorse – somewhere between coconut and bananas I think!

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I start to warm up on this hill climb; struggling with an over-eager Marley invariably means by the time we’ve reached these gorse bushes I’m stripping off layers and trying to wrap them around my waist without letting go of the lead!

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And then we leave this farm via a more rickety gate tied shut in time-honoured fashion with baler twine. Much more common and super-irritating to riders on horseback!!

I still tend to keep Marley on the lead here because he’s a bit unpredictable about his exploring and my training isn’t as effective as it might be (hence the pocket of dog biscuits!). But when he seems to be in a cooperative mood he gets to run free for a bit.

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You can’t see here but beneath those impatiently tapping labrador paws is running water; it’s been so wet this winter than even this forest path is like a thin stream. The first couple of times I walked this in my walking boots. Now I just wear wellies; the inconvenience of walking in them is offset by keeping my feet dry! It’s also a section that runs through a shoot. I think I’m safe on this path when I hear guns but then again sometimes I wonder …

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It’s not as pretty in this section of forest, it’s wilder and less tamed, sometimes even spooky, but I still love being in the trees.

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And there’s also native broadleaved woodland on the other side; it is managed by someone as evidenced by the tree guards.

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Finally we come out of the conifer section and to a clearing where they do clay pigeon shooting, the ground is littered with broken bright orange “pigeons” which seems a pity. Several forest tracks meet here – this is where I used to ride through on my pony years ago but on a different track going round the back of the hill. The piles of logs stacked here smell sweet in the summer sun, now they’re mossy and damp.

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We take the highest track out of the clearing; to me this seems like the last stretch although we’re more than half an hour away from home still.

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This week the snow was falling through the trees in this bit and it felt like Narnia …

The last section of woodland is planted with birch trees. I adore birches, especially Silver Birches – they’re one of the plants that remind me of my Granny who had some in their garden when I was a child. She was a really keen gardener and she loved her Silver Birches and would wash the trunks from time to time to keep them gleaming and white unlike these which are green and orange from growing in a damp woodland.

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The fallen birches sprout all sort of interesting fungi.

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Marley wouldn’t let me take any more photos of them though!! Woof! We’re nearly at the last gate and back into sheep country!

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Which means he’s back on the lead again as we top out of the woods and look back over the Ridgeway and the valley we’ve just climbed out of.

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The last bit also means we have to walk through someone’s yard although these farm buildings have been converted into beautiful holiday cottages. If I didn’t already live here I’d probably go on holiday in one of them! I did once house-and-dog sit in one of them though for my boss when his family rented one when he was building a new home.

And then it’s back down the drive to join the road again in our own wide valley looking North West to where in the far distance beyond these near hills you can see parts of Snowdonia when it’s a clear day (but not today!).

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It’s still 20 minutes trundling along the road to home but we walk it so often Marley and I do it without noticing, dreaming of hot cups of tea and a warm fire to snooze by…

It’s a long walk and a long blog post but I hope you enjoyed it. Not everyone is able to get out for a bracing country walk so perhaps this might make up for it a little.

Advent: December 13th

I saw this kestrel hovering over the coastal footpath a few months back. Even with the wind blowing off the sea helping to hold it still, it was amazing to watch how it could suspend itself in air as it scanned the herbage below. I couldn’t see much on my viewfinder of my point and shoot camera as it was so sunny and bright so I had to click in the general direction and hope for the best! Not a great photo but better than frames of empty clear blue sky!

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Advent: December 12th

This is a photo I took in November – the first snowfall of the year, however slight, always seems a bit ominous when it comes that early!

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The view is the valley behind where we live and the back drop is the Kerry Ridgeway – a 15mile ancient drovers path on the border of England and Wales. It’s popular with walkers and riders now as a beautiful and varied route with stunning views on a clear day as it’s quite a high path, all over 1,000ft above sea level. As with the vista from our house, you get panoramic views over large parts of mid-Wales that change with the seasons and weathers.

This area is of course also the homeland origins of the Kerry Hill sheep (not the sheep in the picture sadly!) They’re distinctive white sheep with black facial markings and the Kerry Ridgeway was the route to drive animals for sale from the hills of Wales to Shropshire markets and beyond.

Advent: December 8th

Sometimes when you go looking for one thing, you find another wonder as a bonus too. Keeping your eyes and ears open as you travel through each day gives so many opportunities to enrich our lives. There really aren’t enough lifetimes to explore it all!

Today’s image is of one such serendipitous find. On an 8 mile coastal walk I took to view some rock formations, I photographed a number of things that I hadn’t planned to see. The Common Blue butterfly from a few days ago was one of them. The Sea Arches themselves – Bwa Gwyn and Bwa Ddu – might have been the purpose of my expedition but the whole afternoon opened many “doors” into “paths” of interest I could go down and explore.

Anglesey is well known for the rich variety of its geology. It is perhaps the most varied and compact geopark in Europe and offers numerous opportunities for scientists, students and interested visitors to study hundreds of millions of years of mountain building earth formations. Even to ignorant observers such as myself, the sheer beauty of the colours and folds of the different kinds of rock that form the island’s tectonic base, pushed out of the sea by unfathomably immense forces before the dawn of time hold a wonder that asks us to pause and ponder.

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On the gloriously sunny windy day that I walked this stretch of coastal path, the sea glowed turquoise and the rocks in this cove shimmered as though a giant had painted cave art swatches of colour on them. It was impossible to capture the blues, greens, pinks, ochres and purplish greys on this rock face; this photo only shows a part of it.

These rocks are from the Cambrian era – formed maybe 500 million years ago. They’re quartzite, a metamorphic rock formed from quartz sandstone – a sedimentary rock. I remember learning about sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks when I was 8 years old from my very enthusiastic primary school teacher whose subject of special interest was geology. I found the Earth Sciences we studied in her class interesting enough then (including a school trip to Wenlock Edge to hunt for fossils!) but I had no idea that the things she was teaching us in our quiet landlocked classroom were there to be seen a couple of miles from the door of the holiday cottage we stayed in each summer of my childhood. It took a chance dog walk 28 years later to see such a stunning display of what she was so passionate about.

Now perhaps I am more drawn to their colour and form than the science behind how those things were made – nevertheless the two are inextricably linked and bound because one cannot exist without the other. I hope you enjoy their beauty too.

Advent: December 5th

I don’t know about you but I think I’m in need of something sunny and cheerful to look at today! If you’re in the UK you’ll understand what I’m talking about – yet another storm has come rampaging across Britain, especially in the Northern half of the British Isles. My thoughts are with those further up-country than me who are having to deal with flooding and high winds on a far greater scale than we are.

So the least I can do is dig out a sunny happy photograph for today’s Advent image.

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This is a male Common Blue butterfly I spent an awful lot of time chasing across the headlands in August. I spotted several of them feeding on nectar, tumbling about in the sea breeze like so many pieces of sun baked blue confetti and I was determined to get at least one picture of them. But as soon as I got my camera focused and steady they’d be up and off onto the next one.

Marley had to be on a lead around here because of grazing sheep so he got very grumpy being dragged about in random butterfly-lead zigzags by the lead looped over one wrist and his impatient jerking also didn’t help my image-taking skills! Every now and then I’d tire of taking blurry snaps of Sea Mayweed flowers sans the flittery butterflies and put my camera away only for another blue butterfly to zip into view and saucily taunt me with a flirt of its wings as it settled on another flower head just a wee bit further out of focus…

To Marley’s eternal relief I finally got a couple of pictures of some Sea Mayweed flowers actually with this butterfly perched on it and we called it a day before he bounced over the cliff edge out of sheer boredom. And then we went home for a swim in the cold clear sea followed by hot coffee (me) and biscuits (Marley).

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

If ever a month merited that memorable line, it’s been this November so far…

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One day last week when it seemed as though the whole of the UK apart from us were in gloom and fog we basked in brilliant sunshine on our hill top bryn until late afternoon. Suddenly the fog rolled up the fields in a matter of seconds and for half an hour the world turned into a gloriously eerie bright mist before sunset.

A world between the worlds.

I stopped my work and went out to play with light for a bit…

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The light was so painterly, so Turner-esque, I played with pushing the exposure to enhance it, shooting into the sun.

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And then couldn’t resist pushing it further for a different effect.

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In the thicker mist further down the fields, you can hear the animals grazing before you can see them. Munching indicated the general whereabouts of my sheep before they loomed out of the haze… although they’d long been aware of my approach and were waiting with pricked ears.

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The slow damp mild autumn has meant the fruit ripened slowly and to a good size and the lack of winds up until a couple of days ago meant it hung well on the trees, as had the leaves. I’ve been picking apples – they’re currently stacked up in my dyeing workroom holding up things waiting for me to juice them or store them for eating. Marley and I may have eaten quite a few whilst picking them too…

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I’ve not had any success with my pumpkins this year but I did buy a few of the tasty eating sort – not the bland, soggy giant orange jobs the supermarkets sell for Hallowe’en carving. The potimarron and other small squashes are the business when it comes to pumpkin soup.

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And the sloes are massive in the blackthorn hedges this year. I’ve still plenty of sloe gin from last year but they’re too good to waste and a friend wanted some too so Mum and I picked some today.

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With a little help from a certain small person of course…

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We’ve loved our woodland and forest walks this month. I wonder what the rest of November will bring…

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Wool and the Gang

Some people think I need to get out more; I know this because I hear it quite often (mostly in jest I hope!) and usually from friends and family who live in urban areas and can’t comprehend that in fact you can make more friends living in rural areas than you ever do in town.

But actually I quite like my own company, when you work on your own sometimes having your own space to think and see is vital to the creative process. Although creativity is born of collaboration with that which is outside of you and is sparked by many things, to develop it you do need time alone in your headspace as it were to make it real. Of course often people “retreat” when they need to create things or think things over, sometimes on organised courses and sometimes just to get away from the busyness of a normal week. So rural living is perfect for this kind of life.

You’re never really alone here though. My mum and I share the land we live on so we have each other’s company whenever we want as well as our own space. Living where we do we’re also surrounded by a close community of awesome people from a wide variety of backgrounds. We just don’t see each other that often because of the physical distance between our houses but that means when we do meet, either by accident or by design, we make an effort to stop and catch up, take time to share a cuppa and hear each other’s news. I think that means that you truly get to know each other and “community” becomes “family” in a wider sense.

And of course most of us have animals of one sort or another. How could you ever feel lonely when you have a dog that woos you with roses?

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(Well OK, it wasn’t quite like that; Marley was keen for his walk and found the dead flowers I’d put out to go on the compost to add weight to his request – and who can resist those pleading eyes?)

So earlier we set off out for a damp misty walk to take photos (me) and chase bunnies and sniff the hedges (Marley – just in case you were wondering). There is something gloriously satisfying about walking in the countryside on a murky day in scotch mist amid falling leaves… and then coming home to tea and toasted crumpets.

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But before I put the kettle on I headed down the field to check on some of my other “friends”. My sheep might not be the kind of animals you’d share your home with (although I’m sure they’d try given half the chance) but they are bursting with personality and loyalty just as much as a dog and as soon as they see me approaching they run over to get a fuss – they adore human company and I find this very endearing.

Mostly it’s because they are Gotlands or Gotland crosses – this Swedish breed have massive personalities anyway, are extremely docile and are used to close contact with humans. When you handle them a lot they become incredibly tame and bond well with their shepherd in a way some other sheep breeds do not. I don’t carry food on me; this is no cupboard love – they are genuinely curious about people and just like contact with them. So although if I take strangers to visit them they will hold back just like any other sheep, when I go down the field on my own, because I’m “mum” I get mobbed. I climbed up on the gate to show you. Like this…

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Sadly it doesn’t extend to when I need to do tasks like shearing, foot trimming and worming – then they are as wild and as dippy as any other sheep! But out in the field on equal terms it’s a good way to observe them as individuals and notice which ones need attention or if one of them is behaving out of character which might indicate they are ill.

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Some are much more friendly than others; below is Hetti my oldest and most favourite ewe. She will always be the first to come pegging over for attention – her position as matriarch is unrivalled and although she retired fairly early on because she was ill a couple of years after I got her and can no longer be bred from, I will never part with this darling cheeky sheep.

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My other foundation ewe Helen is also retired and although not quite as in-her-face as Hetti, is also usually at the front of whatever is going on. Both of them still produce beautiful quality fleece; not all sheep breeds produce poorer quality fleeces as they age and these fleeces are still lustrous, curly and strong especially as they no longer have to carry lambs which takes a lot out of them.

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I crossbred my sheep from fairly early on and it’s interesting each year seeing the fleece types as they change with age as well as their genetic make up. Sometimes I wish I had a massive farm with lots of help so I could keep experimenting with this because the possibilities are infinite. But as we have only a limited acreage and time and I can never ever get rid of any of my animals I’ve had to stop breeding them – you can’t keep everything!

Some of the different types and colours from the Gotland, Black Welsh Mountain, coloured Leicester Long wool and Black BlueFaced Leicester genes.

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This next photo demonstrates some of the variation in my sheep over the past few years. At the front is Jonathan, he is Charollais, BFl and Gotland. Behind him is Mutton Monster – the last of our Suffolk x Charollais meat sheep but will almost certainly never be eaten now he’s 8 years old!! Behind him is Rasta a pure BlueFaced Leicester (BFL) but of a black gene variant which meant she couldn’t be registered (but I love black biffles as I call them!). Behind her is her daughter Siwan who is also 50% Gotland and to the left of her also at the back is the large and woolly Elvis who combines Gotland, Black Welsh Mountain (BWM) genes with coloured Leicester Longwool. They all look vaguely cream-to-coffee coloured in the picture but underneath each fleece is a different shade of grey, brown or silver – only the meat sheep is creamy coloured. And each fleece has completely different characteristics in terms of length, fineness, lustre and crimp (the shape of the curl or wave in each fibre) and therefore the uses for each fibre and how you spin them. It gets rather addictive mixing up the different types…

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The different genes also affect their characters, the more Gotland they are the more likely they are to be friendly – but not always. These three – Edward, Alfie and Paris – are all rather shy and not very keen on being handled at all and they are all part or full Gotland. Same handling, same flock – different personalities. Anyone that thinks sheep are boring, dull or stupid hasn’t spent any time with them!

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These two are my unexpected lambs from last summer (2014) and because they lost their mum who died suddenly of a viral pneumonia when they were only 5 weeks old, they’ve remained quite small despite being over a year old now. Unfortunately they’re also quite wild although I put them with Hetti and Isabella for adoption in the hopes they would teach them to be friendly. The older ewes affability hasn’t rubbed off sadly. Although generally they stick fairly closely to Isabella still (who isn’t in this photo) and are 3/4 Gotland genetically, they don’t trust me like the others do. Perhaps in time they will. Again I find it interesting how different these twins are; one really favours the Gotland genes and the other more like her BWMx mum. I’m looking forward to shearing their adult fleeces next year.

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Of course, not all of our “gang” here are sheep – yesterday we had fun trying to scan Petunia the Large Black pig to see if she is in fact pregnant. I’ve never had to do this before – when I bred pigs regularly my sows and boar were very fertile and had piglets without any difficulty. Petunia hasn’t had babies for a few years and in pigs this means they can become infertile and it’s been a struggle to try and get her back “in pig”.

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Yesterday though I was able to borrow a scanner from the vets I work at and some farming/vet friends and I had a go at seeing if Petunia’s expanding girth line was due to the impending patter of tiny trotters or merely eating all the pies. I’d wanted to take some photos to show you but in the end we just had to concentrate on the job in hand. She didn’t want to stand still and took exception to the cold gel on her tummy so whilst my friend followed her around the loose box with the scanner probe, I trailed around after clutching tightly to the precious scanner unit itself and the extension cable. Despite the lack of cooperation we’re pretty certain we saw finally some foetal piglets bobbling around in her tummy as she grunted and scoffed pig nuts we’d put down to keep her still! Let’s hope so anyway!!

She could do with some piggy company again, mostly she keep escaping from her own field to join the ponies which doesn’t impress them very much. They tolerate her but aren’t entirely sure about her trough manners…

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And then I quickly looked in on our latest arrivals – these are quite literally the new kids on the block! Mum bought a couple of young female goats this week to keep BillyBoy company. His mother died early this year as she was very old and shortly after he went mysteriously lame and despite various treatments it’s as much a puzzle to my vet boss as it is to me. He manages quite well with his unusual walk and for most of the summer had Donald the outcast duck for company. It was really sweet to see them cuddled up together in the shed but Donald was taken by a fox a couple of weeks ago and Billy needed some new friends.

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Mum is still thinking up names for them – I quite like Baa Humbug and Kendal Mint-cake personally – so at the moment they are just “the kids”. They’re quite a bit smaller than Billy but they all get on well. Now, I wonder if they’ll grow much cashmere undercoat this winter…