Monthly Archives: July 2014

Happy Days are here again

Let’s start with the cute.  Firstly say hello to:

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This is Tina, or Valentina as the paperwork says.  She’s been nurtured back to health after being recovered as a stray, weighing less than a bag of sugar.  Apparently she’s the timid one, prefers to lie curled up in her blankets, but looking for attention and may happily step onto your shoulders.  Hmm, she’s the one exploring; the one you’re likely to find on top of a bookcase, behind the books even.

Then there’s the youngster; Tiggr he’s imaginatively titled.

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He too is on the road back to health, recovering from injuries.  And he’s desperate to get to the big outdoors; but he’s a vet to see first, one with a big needle.

They eventually came home, doing as cats do on the journey, so we’ll just leave it at that shall we.  They hadn’t met before so there was a bit of growling and hissing from the back of the car.  Then we let them out, in the kitchen.  They’ll find their own space, eat from the wrong bowls – both are on specific diets at the moment – but there’s likely to be a communal trough.

We’ve had to install a litter tray too, for Jakie used the fields, and the garden.  It looks smells as a litter tray should, so all well so far.

But in all the excitement there was a void, and still I expected to find a black & white pelt crossing the garden, those big eyes waiting at the door.  Joy and sadness.  For we’d never been able to say our farewells; he’d simply gone, and not yet joined the growing pet cemetery across the policies.

We followed them from room to room, nudged them from places we’d rather they didn’t claim, and wondered where they’d settle for the night.

It was a long night.  There was a phone call.  Just as posters were being put up where Jake had gone walkabout, a passer-by had mentioned that there was a picture of the same cat in the local shop.

Jake’s Back!

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He’d been wandering into a garden of an evening and a kindly couple had been putting out scraps, so he returned each night.  They had the foresight to put up a picture.  He came back that night, also doing what cats do in cars on the way, and just a few hours after the youngsters were introduced to his home, Jake came in, wondering what was going on, looking none the worse for his weeks of wandering.

So there was a bit of growling and spitting, especially between the two former toms.  But no one’s moving, and now it’s catty chaos.  Just to add to it the stray joined the welcome home party, from the outside window ledge, and there was more hissing through the glass, the girlies this time.

So now there are three and who knows how that will pan out.  Food is rationed, for The Urchins, extra mouths to feed.  And we’re all delighted.

Our grateful thanks firstly to the marvellous staff at the SSPCA at Bothwell Bridge.  We couldn’t choose, so took both, knowing we could cope with two as we hope in the past.  Tina and Tiggr have settled well, and found a new friend.  And what can I say about that couple in East Kilbride.  Well words fail me.  Jake’s out hunting just now, back where he belongs.  Thanks all.  We can cope with three.  No lunch today kids, OK?

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Settling In

Returning from holidays is always tough.  But as we journeyed north we listened on the radio to the growing buzz from the Commonwealth Games – there was no cricket on that day.  There is no doubt that Glasgow is thriving under the media attention.  Personally I do my best to avoid the city most of the time; too much in the way of bus fumes, parking issues, people and so on.  But I suspect that The Urchins may be treated to some city time later this week, before the Games finish, just to experience what all the fuss is about.

Anyway, homecoming.  It was a said time indeed.  There was carnage in the chicken run to deal with, the fox having called on our last night away.  Two survived, and wander happily if somewhat lonesome.  We have to try to remember that these birds knew no life other than a tiny cage until a few weeks ago.  But it is a great shame that being rescued from the battery cage brought only a short period of freedom for three of them.  The Law of Sod meant that we were away from home at the wrong time.

Within an hour of returning home there was a plaintive mewling outside the window.  As one we looked out, expectant, hopeful.  But it was only the stray, welcoming us back.  As yet I expect to see, through the French doors, a plea from a pair of amber eyes; a black & white head cocked to one side.  Let me in.  But our cat has not returned.  Each day I expect to see him squeeze his over-generous belly through the sheep fence and trot in from the field, perhaps with a mouse held tightly in his jaw.

He’s been with us for 14 years, since a kitten, and knows only the quiet and relatively traffic-free roads of the countryside.  Having been boarded out with a friend during our absence he went for a wander and didn’t return, not yet anyway.  I guess we’ve all seen, or read, The Incredible Journey, and hope doesn’t totally disappear.  But to get back here he’d have to find his way over a dozen miles or so of open country, and several very busy roads.  Posters are going up; he is ‘chipped’; but the likelihood is he’s fallen victim on a road somewhere.  Sadness descends; Urchins occasionally walk the policies calling his name; but they know.  He won’t be back.  Maybe someone’s taken him in.

And life goes on.  There’s some good stuff to read; some of it uplifting, others depressing.  On the Games, and leaving aside the fantastic sport, here’s Derek Bateman, putting some pride back where once there was deprivation, and looking to the future.

I’m minded that the teams competing, this Commonwealth we have, are largely all nations that once were shackled to London, and now are able to manage their own affairs.

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Try to remember that when you get worked up at the way the BBC seem to have hi-jacked the coverage.  The event is put on by Glasgow, and by Scotland, with no financial support from Westminster; not a penny.  It is a Scottish event, but the local broadcaster resources seem to have been side-lined, for reasons beyond my ken.

Ah the BBC.  While we’re on that subject here’s the latest stooshie over massaged figures,

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highlighted firstly on Wings, then followed up with some hard facts.

Rev Stu also highlighted a real horror tale, an old soldier, dead with an empty stomach, £3.44 on the table and a pile of CVs.  Benefits cut.  Couldn’t afford to run the fridge to chill his insulin.  That could be happening in a street near you.  That is why Scotland will vote Yes.  Read it and weep.  And read too a heartfelt and more detailed summary of that tragedy from Munguin.

And on a brighter note, there is activity around the house, for two new cats will take up residence imminently.  It’s not that we don’t miss Jakie, but the mice will be out to play before long.  And life has to go on, expect for that poor man in Stevenage.

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In Pictures

at Conway Castle

Through the Arched Window

 

from the Great Orme

The castle at Conway

 

Looking down at Llanberis

Looking down at Llanberis

 

Do you know your stalactites from your stalagmites?

Sygum copper mine

 

Home of Cadwaladers

Criccieth

and that bridge

Looking Back, to Abermaw

 

and goodbye from North Wales

Hi

 

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Reflections

A precipice of slate shimmered as the mirrored surface rippled, circling out to every corner after the stone broke the surface.  Deep in the reflection was the pinnacle, stretching far above.  And far below lay who knows what.  Sixty feet deep said the board, diving club only.  Just one of the hidden crannies around the slate museum.  It seems a long time ago.  The copper mine too, for it is hard to remember that wet morning, those dripping caverns.

For two weeks are all but gone; time to reflect, to pack up the memories with the rest of the detritus that has to fit into the car.  Dalgellau, there was another hidden gem, found by accident.  Sure we parked the car by the stone circle and had taken the first path out of town.  But we were late back, after a second trip, facing arrival back at Base Camp as night was beginning to hide the peaks and ridges of the horizon, the colours leached away after another day in the sun.

So instead of taking the high road we found a parking place, and some pizza, chips too.  And that was when we began to look around, to wander streets not built for motorised transport.  If I’d come across Dalgellau on a Tuscan hilltop, with carafes of Chianti Classico on every table, it would not have been out of place.  But instead it was in the heart of  Welsh hill country, and pretty good it looked there too.

We had indeed returned to Barmouth, by bike, on that track.  Having spent most of the day we might be allowed now to use the other name, for I like Abermaw.  That maw lies as the estuary of the Afon Mawddach runs beneath the viaduct and mingles with the salted water.  Like its women, apparently, are the rivers of Wales, being short and turbulent, exceedingly beautiful, especially in their youth.  Two otters drifted as the current met the rising tide that day, taking to the far bank, several miles up river.  But we didn’t manage to get to the other side of Cadair Idris, to the waters of the Afon Dyfi, just to make sure.  And that’s a pity.

For I’d like to have called in to Machynlleth, which we’ve passed through before, or indeed stopped at Mold as we’ve done before.  I never did find a pint of Brains Black, but if I’d made those stops I reckon one or two kind folk could have pointed me in the right direction.  We did get to Angelsey, and as I lay on a beach, expiring in the sun, I read, in Marine Quarterly, that the word yacht, a strange word yacht, comes from the Dutch, jaghte.  And I thought of another from those magic days in that library, and wished I’d been better organised.

Przewalskis horses, there was another of those moments, and instantly I was 500 miles to the north, and The Prodigal, with Wolfie.  But they don’t have snow leopards in the highlands, as they do at Colwyn Bay, or chimps with those views from the top of their pole out to sea – there will be some shots to back up these claims, soon.  The only other attraction at the Bay, at least until the waterfront works are done and that old pier made safe, was the Bay Bookshop, which is a common theme in these parts.  Beaumaris drew me in, as did Barmouth.  I only managed one at Colwyn Bay, but really every town should have a secondhand bookshop, which is why packing the car may be just that bit harder.

The beaches had their moments too.  Just outside Moefle I watched as hebridean islands materialised above, long chain, occasionally linked, deep sea lochs, and my mind wandered as The Urchins played at the distant water’s edge whilst wisps of cloud drifted slowly, shape-changing.  Just offshore a lighthouse stood erect on an isle, looking strangely bereft of the usual white coat.  Back at Abermaw it was a scene from Ice Cold in Alex, that long trudge across endless sands, frazzled.  But it was at Dinas Dinnle that we found the best swimming, just enough slope to create some small waves in the calm, enough for the pebbles to call out as they turned.  Lie back and float, oh it’s hard work watching Boy Urchin practise his butterfly, then he too mastered the art of the float, spread-eagled.

The final away day was the choice of The Urchins, both in agreement, after nagging incessantly for a visit to one of those woodland parks with activities, in, ahem, Bethel.  So they built dens, shot arrows, pedalled karts and had hair braided, well one or other did.  There was a rollercoaster and mama went too, a river ride and a barefoot walk.  There may have been ice cream.  Take a book, urged the guide book.  Who am I to disagree?

Aside from the trams and trains and the easy way to gain height, we walked too, on the Miners’ Track from Mallorys, finding a spot on the mountain off that well-beaten path, and views down below, and far beyond, and up to that ragged edge, and the peak where there will ever be a queue like Lenin’s tomb, or Lourdes; once round and out.

Barmouth won again, the ice cream competition this time.  Knickerbockers’, pistachio, beat the rest, and we tried hard, we really did, sampling here, there and most places, sometime back again just to make sure.  It’s tough you know, keeping your cool when the mercury rises high.

Base Camp may not have had the atmosphere of our usual continental sites, or any atmosphere at all at times, though it did have an indoor pool, with variable rules.  But outside on the hills and on the beaches, on the bike trails and in the book shops, we could have been anywhere.  For alien languages were all around, and smiles too, and if the Dyfi lives up to the Mawddach, whoever met the women to match the rivers was absolutely right.

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They come in pairs

Beaches and pianists; first one then the other.

Two days, vastly different in the little planning that went into them, yet both end up with beaches and pianists.

Latterly it was Ibrahim Abdullah driving us home with a forceful beat.  On the previous evening it had been the gentle rhythms of Ahmad Jamal, accompanying us through the high hedges of the Llyn peninsula.  The day had started very wet and we headed indoors; or at least not open to the skies.  For between us and the rain rose 850ft of rock.  Synug Copper Mine closed more than a century ago.  Lately some of the caverns that contained rich mineral veins have been opened up, and we can learn of the working conditions that were endured back then – typically a six day, ten hours each, working week, in cramped and dripping darkness.

Synug is quite an experience, surpassing the trip down the lead mines at Leadhills and even the tin mines of Cornwall.  And I was reminded very much of Cornwall as we took the steep, winding roads back to base across the Llyn, even though the roads were a bit wider than the Cornish versions.  Setting out across the Llyn was unscripted.  For no reason at all we ended up at the much-vaunted beach resort of Abersoch.  There is no doubt it has a fabulous beach, long and horseshoe sands, lined with yachts and looked over by layers of beach huts. They came many and varied; from the corrugated iron outside privy of the slate museum, to the concrete bin house, and to the upper layers, with windaes and deckchairs.  But it was a resort that seemed strangely lacking.

In atmosphere, or at least the type usually associated with sand havens.  Sure the beer gardens were thronged; parking hard to find; beach access obscure.  The most contented man we saw sat alone in his wood-panelled porch rammed full of memorabilia, alone with his memories; and his hubble-bubble.  He may have arrived in the 60s, and had yet to find the reason or the road out.  Whatever was brewing on his coals provided peace, man

But where were the children, the sand-castles, the fun?

Well we found them, and more, at another beach, another day.  And what a beach that was; we may well return.  Our time on the sands, resting against the marram and sea-buckthorn coated dunes, was short.  The buckthorn was just turning to purple, pale shades of grey-blue and green, sharp jagged points.  We saw the same on the way home, mirrored in the hillsides as the valleys disappeared endlessly into the distance.  In the foreground were wooded, green slopes, and at the furthest mere silhouettes, shades and ridges, buckthorn again, in colour and in form.

It was a bike ride that had taken us there; a brilliant ride, for it was flat, and it was scenic, alive, busy.  The Mawddach Trail follows the line of a railway that ran for 100 years until 1965, that man Beeching again.  It ends with a stunning 900yd viaduct across the estuary and into Barmouth, where the river empties into Cardigan Bay, 10 miles down the track from our start by the stone circle on the boundary of the cricket club in Dolgellau.  It was old country, and the trail took us down the river, through salt marshes and reed beds, peat bogs and coastal fens; and it did so under a canopy of mixed woodland as the sun mottled the way.  Silver birches stood tall, and oak and alder stretched over to link limbs where once the steam burst through.

A return visit is a must, if only to spend more time seeking the elusive otters on one of the most concentrated breeding grounds of Europe, or following the red legs and pointed bills of wading and dipping birds, listening; or with head bobbing up and down following the red rump of the redstart flitting along the hedges.&nbsp.

But at Barmouth we rested, and we picnicked from the paniers, cold juice, eggy pie, and the remnants of the christmas cake, Angelsey ice cream.  And then the walk, the prom, the sand where The Urchins played in the shallows and the sun.  Then back over that bridge, on the trail again, as swan necks emerged deep in the reeds, and cows squelched knee deep in the mud that hosts the grasses of the estuary.

A brief stop found us at what was once a signal box, and now hosts the RSPB in their efforts to look after what is a SSSI.  From the boardwalk aside the current railway line over the bridge – the 90p toll for walkers and cyclists ended a year ago – to the water skiers down below, to the canoes being paddled up stream there is always something happening.  The end of the trail came too soon, Boy Urchin leading the charge, rising from his saddle, spraying mud from the rare puddles to the old git trying in vain to catch up.  Next time there will be long stops, rests, and binoculars.

And there will be a next time, for it is a stonking little trail, much more to it than getting to the other end.  And again we have The Sleepy Sparrow to thank for pointing us in the direction.  If you want any information about North Wales, on cycling, or birds or hosts of tiny details just head over there, and enjoy.  We have. Don’t forget the pianist.

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Dinner with No Voters or “What I wanted to say before the Pudding hit the fan”

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Dinner with No Voters or "What I wanted to say before the Pudding hit the fan".

Ah yes, away from the holiday fun the world goes on. Two months from today Scotland awakes to whatever we have chosen for our future, for better or for for worse. The above article, featured on both Bella and Wings where the readers’ comments are also worth spending time over, gives food for thought in the time that remains.

Meanwhile, from home, word comes through that the fat cat has absented himself from his lodgings, smoked out perhaps, or his deaf ear not quite barricade enough. I picture on an adventures of his own, ten miles or so across open country, through timber harvesting, cavorting with deer an buzzard, dodging tractors; or perhaps learning that he couldn’t sunbathe on the middle o the road he way he does at home, when sent to town while we went out to play.

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Summit an’ nuthin’

Broadsword calling Danny Boy; Broadsword calling Danny Boy.

The high peaks were calling; the weather holding fine.  From Base Camp we set off, with only one goal in mind.  Extra layers for the higher ground, warnings of strong winds up top.  There was plenty of fluid, as well as camera and lenses, binoculars too.  So the sherpa brought up the rear.  But oh those old knees.  It has been many a long year since the Big Buachaille could be ticked off on a hot summer’s day; who knows how long since the ridge of Goat Fell was just another walk.  And Ben Lomond?  Decades since.

We gained height, and then more.  The high pass through the hills became a matchbox motorway.  And views opened up that you wouldn’t think existed; endless views down steep valleys, in every direction, peppered with lochans, or more probably llyns in these parts.  Sheep and boulders; big bare lumps of rock, occasionally a tree.

And on the path, at intervals, were black bags, filled with boulders, brought in by chopper.  Footpath maintenance was clearly an ongoing and major issue. We soon found out why.

Higher we headed, and higher still.  And in time the summit.  But what was this?  A visitor centre, cafe and loos, viewpoints; and steps winding up to the cairn; proper steps, made to measure.  There was not a thing hewn from the mountain, no old drove roads to follow from the past, no steps worn down with eons of climbing boots.  But above all, indeed above and all around, our race to the summit had been matched, and beaten, by the only cloud of the day.

So we rested as the mists swirled, and teased.  A glimpse of greenery below quickly became silver bouncing back through the lens.  So putting the camera away we tried the binoculars, deep as were in eagle country.  Eagles, as much chance as a ray of sunshine such was our luck.  But there was birdlife, at almost 1,100 m and who knows how far inland.  There were gulls, feasting on the easy pickings as sandwiches were unpacked, and snacks from the cafe taken al fresco, in sheltered spots behind walls out of the wind, where the clouds didn’t quite reach.

Two lads arrived at the summit, mountain bikes on heaving shoulders. They looked too exhausted for the fearsome descent the thought of which had hauled them on. I can think of other ways to deal with a mid-life crisis. Halfway down the mountain another bike was heading up, pedalled not carried. Still at least he’d have the sun on his face as those mists of the summit were sure to come with us. Sorcery perhaps, those mocking mists.

It was a bit like my recollections of Lomond’s Ben; a good long walk.  I’m sure the last time I reached the end of that trail the visibility was pitiful as well.  And it was busy up top.  On Snowdon there seemed to be about twenty folk for every single one that was walking on Llandudno pier.  But we don’t mind that.  What really irked was on the route down, glancing back, and seeing the peak bathed in sunshine, as it had been every minute of the day before we arrived; and is was for every minute after we left.

And those old knees, strained and stressed, stiff, needing oiled.  They really should give a bit more legroom on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

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