In the land of height barriers

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We went into North Wales in our motorvan one day last week when the sun shone and temps got up to an unseasonable-for-February 16 or 17c.  We were aiming for a walk on a beach, but as we’d never been to the town of Holywell – home of St. Winefride’s well and the pilgrimage shrine to this early martyr – we stopped there first. We were very disappointed.

Signs saying that Holywell is The Lourdes of Wales  had greeted us and  we wanted to see the holy well, but access is nigh on impossible if you’re in a motorvan. There’s a small car park (with maybe 12 max parking slots) opposite the church & well, but it has a height barrier. Height barriers are the bane of the motorhomer’s life – it’s impossible to get in and they are usually erected to keep out travellers.

There was nowhere else to park. We went back into the town, found another very small car park we could get into (no height barrier), decided not to walk along the busy major through road to the church and explored the town instead. Disappointing, dead and depressing. Shut up shops, cheapo pound shops, 2 betting shops, a couple of cafes. It was dreary, crummy, downtrodden. The people didn’t too happy either. How sad. Holywell, according to info boards in the main street, appears to originally have been a thriving market town. Not any more.

Surprised that a town calling itself the Lourdes of Wales hadn’t provided better parking for the visitors it hoped to attract, we went on to find the nearby Greenfield Valley Heritage Park which claims to be worth a visit. It boasts 5 ponds, water birds, wooded walks etc. Guess what? More height barriers.

We drove on, aiming for the Point of Ayr RSPB reserve, passing more car parks with height barriers along the way. Turning off towards Point of Ayr we were soon engulfed in a horrible pong. A farmer was muck spreading in an adjacent field and it wasn’t nice. We carried on a bit and as the pong receded,  another nastier, more evil smell emerged. It was from the chemical works at Point of Ayr. No way were we going to go anywhere near that, it was vile.

Feeling sorry for any birds who were breathing it in we turned round and headed towards Prestatyn. Looking for somewhere to park near the beach, or with a sea view, we were foiled yet again by another series of height barriers on car parks, and decided that this neck of North Wales must have had some pretty bad experiences with travellers taking over their car parks to have gone so heavily down the height barrier route.

We pressed on, still looking for somewhere to stop and have lunch, preferably with a sea view. Rhyl, not the most enticing of seaside towns, loomed close by, but we hit the jackpot without having to go into the town. On the outskirts there was a stretch of seafront prom, with a large grass verge, and unrestricted parking. So we had lunch in our van, in the sun, overlooking the beach and sea and then took our dog for a very long walk on the sands, enjoying distant views of the Snowdonia mountains.

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Pink

It’s Valentine’s Day. Spring is in the air. The sun is starting to share some of it’s warmth. Buds are looking plump. Birds are getting active.

A day to show and share some good will.

 

 

 

Snowy avian activity

Snow. Quietness reigns. Manchester airport is closed. Choir rehearsal is cancelled because of bad weather. A bit of a disappointment as it’s Queen week (“come along in moustaches and curly wigs for a bit of fun to rehearse Don’t Stop Me Now“). My Freddie Merury outfit lies dormant. Out come the binoculars and camera.

We don’t often get much snow here so it’s a bit of an event. I hear on the weather forecast that the Cheshire Gap and North Wales are affected. The garden, nearby woods and field look like fairyland. The dog – now one year old – explores his whitened environment and with snowy muzzle, eventually comes back into the house to find the nearest radiator.

Meanwhile I’m scanning higher levels, following the avian antics of a gang of goldfinches as they fly from treetops to garden feeders. A lone buzzard suddenly swoops down on to the field, scattering snow from the branch it’s perched on; I wonder what small mammal it’s spotted. A shy female bullfinch lurks in the hedge then takes off the very second I reach for my camera. Likewise the three siskins who pause together on the topmost branches of the bare apple tree. I wish for an extra pair of hands so I can hold binoculars and camera at the same time.

The same happens when I see a reed bunting perched on a snow-laden conifer in next door’s garden. But the pair of magpies on a distant treetop stay still, only coming to visit after some food has been put out by husband, clearing paths and making sure there’s fresh, unfrozen water in the bird bath.

The blackbirds are busy at ground level, pigeons descend from their treetop roosts to see what’s going on, the nuthatch commandeers one feeder and the blue, great and coal tits get active on the other. The robin, ever-present, puts in an appearance. The garden looks like a belated Christmas card.

The last time I saw Paris

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Photo by Barry Hopewell

I’ve not been to Paris for a while, and some of my visits there have been in winter when it can be excruciatingly cold, but if it’s dry, bright and sunny, it’s nigh on perfect. It’s preferable to being there in the heat of summer, when it can be unpleasantly sticky and heaving with tourists.

I came across this shot of Notre Dame taken several years ago. Tinged with wintry sunshine, it is seen through a tangle of bare branches. The bookseller’s stalls – always worth a browse – were open for business, but it wasn’t a day to loiter too long before finding a warm cafe and some chocolat chaud.

Clouded Yellow

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Today the weather has been wonderful. More like summer than mid-October, and rather unnatural at that because it’s never this warm (21c in north west UK) at this time of year – more like damp or grey or even a touch of frost.

Looks like this could be will be the last warm stuff for a while, so here’s a late summer Clouded Yellow I saw in the Dordogne last month.

A reminder of sunshine.

Houston: after Hurricane Harvey and the floods

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In late August/early September 2017 I lived at second hand through the extensive flooding which engulfed much of the city of Houston, but I did so from the safety of Europe.

With family living in Houston I was glued to news bulletins and live streaming on the local Houston TV channels. I stayed in touch by phone and text and I shared their anxiety of not knowing if they would have to leave their home. They had packed ready to evacuate; they were in my mind much of the time. When Hurricane Harvey barrelled through Texas, flattening the quaint and friendly seaside town of Rockport, then brought heavy rains which swamped much of Houston, I was on holiday in Belgium and France.

It was a strange holiday, fraught with worry. There was nothing useful I could do except support them from afar. Now six months on, I’m in Houston visiting them and seeing what Harvey left in its wake for myself. Continue reading

Bitter chill

Gerry snowy pic

Large areas of the UK are shiveringly stuck in the grip of icy weather after heavy snowfall.

Baby, it’s cold outside! Bad weather always dominates the UK headlines because it really does gives us something dramatic to talk about. The current cold snap is particularly welcome as we move towards the end of 2017, a year dominated by the ridiculous ongoing Brexit saga.

Better than a daily soap opera, with so many twists and turns, so many red herrings and – for heaven’s sake – so little time to sort the whole sorry shebang out, it’s refreshing to have a temporary distraction and change of subject.

This cold snap reminded me of the opening lines of a poem I studied for A Level English many years ago – The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats.

It reads like a lyrical weather forecast:

St. Agnes’ Eve – Ah! bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;

The hare limp’d trembling trough the frozen grass,

And silent was the flock in woolly fold.