Thursday, 27 January 2011

Journey Down South

We planned to leave the casa at 9am but then the chatty tree frog (sat. nav) refusedWales Trip D2h   21-01-2011 11-10-51 to talk. We were seriously thinking of driving over to Halfords to replace her when she started talking. I bet the thought of being replaced for a newer model woke her up. It was 9.30am when we hit the road. Traffic wasn’t too bad.   But the temperature kept on dipping.

It was -3C when we drove through frozen Shropshire. The view was impressive. The sun was low and bright in the sky, and the hoarse frost glistened on the trees and shrubs. It was like entering the scene from the Chronicles of Narnia. We stopped at a lay-by and took photographs of the incredible views in the freezing cold. It was worth it.

The temperatures started climbing as we drove into the Welsh borders. A quick wee J stop at Newtown before we continued our journey. Look at these gorgeous views over the valleys. What a pity there wasn’t any place that we could stop and take better photographs. I took this while Babe was driving. I really missed theseWales Trip D2h   21-01-2011 12-26-33 rolling and rugged contours of the Welsh countryside. 

We stopped at Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre for a quick lunch and off course, to get some shots of the Red kites. There were a few to be seen but they were high up in the sky. I guess we had missed their feeding time. But there were plenty of Siskins and chaffinches about keeping us occupied. They were so busy feeding on the pine cones that they just ignored our cameras. We ate our sandwiches watching their antics. Their noisy chirpings and acrobatics were a joy to watch.Wales Trip D50  21-01-2011 13-52-27

I wished we could drive into Aberystwyth sea-front cos I would love to dip my feet in the sea. But Babe wanted to check into the Travel Lodge before it got dark. We passed our old playground, Llanon, where we lived in a very tiny stone cottage with a fireplace for 7 fantastic years. Lots and loads of memories came whizzing past. We stopped at the top of the hill where we could see the stunning view of Cardigan Bay and Llanon. And oh what a view it was. 

I’m glad we stopped here. We saw at least a dozen Red Kites soaring over the hills and valleys. They had spread far and wide. As we were on a hill, we could see their eyes gazing down in calm curiosity as they flew reconnaissance flights over us. What a magnificent graceful bird of prey. Scavenging was always their wayWales Trip D300s  21-01-2011 13-53-87 of life and that was why they fared well in this sheep country. There will always be carcass especially now in winter and at lambing time in spring. We even spotted a few lambs gambolling about in the nearby field. Isn’t it a bit early for them to be born? Winter wasn’t over yet.

At first we thought of driving through the Preseli’s, the highest point in Pembrokeshire. But the road was getting icier and it was going to be very slippery so we took the much safer route through Narberth. We reached the Travel Lodge safe and sound at about 4.30pm. After checking in, stowing away our stuff and having a hot drink, we decided to pop over and say hi to Babe’s Mum. Since we’ve been sitting for the past 6 hours, we decided to stretch our legs and walked to her pad which was only a few blocks away.

We had to make a pit stop at Pembroke harbour to check-out the mudflats. The usual sea-gullsPembroke Dock D50  21-01-2011 16-32-16 and terns were out and about, making themselves heard, before settling for the night. A pied wagtail kept on darting around us, presumably checking us out. Suddenly we spotted a beautiful Little Egret feeding on the mud-banks. What a lovely surprise. Unfortunately it was very dark at this time. The hedges and trees nearby were full of tree sparrows roosting for the night. As we continued walking, Babe spotted this strange looking bird. At first we thought it was a blackbird but then Babe saw the white crescent mark on the breast. It was a Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus), our first sighting of one. Another lovely surprise.

We spent about an hour at Mum’s casa. She wasn’t feeling well and what’s happening at the moment doesn’t help either. She introduced us to her 2 gorgeous kittens, Angel and Precious. They were so adorable and very affectionate. I bet they kept Mum busy. Fran, who was still on the train from Ipswich, will be staying with her for Pembroke Dock D300s  22-01-2011 09-13-33the weekend.

After saying goodnight, we browsed in Asda for coffee creamer and bottled water. Then straight back to the hotel for dinner. We were just too tired to check out the night-life. We played a few board games on the I-Pad. Babe had an early night while I finished reading Steig Larsson’s ‘The Girl who kicked the hornet’s nest’, the final instalment of the crime trilogy. I was completely enthralled by the whole series, the tense and the apocalyptic conclusion, not what I expected. I just couldn’t wait for the film to be out on DVD.

The next morning we got up early, again to check-out natives at the harbour.  It must have been a very cold night cos the car was caked with frost. As we walked towards the harbour, we spotted a few Redwings feeding on the frozen ground. The tide had risen so there was nothing much except for this lone stone pipit trying to catch the morning sun. A few Shelducks were spotted on the water. Then a slow walk towardsPembroke D2h  22-01-2011 11-36-59 the pier

We walked back to the hotel for a quick shower and breakfast. We checked out early and drove to the imposing 12th century Pembroke Castle and parked the car there. We walked around the medieval town walls and millpond, and from the opposite bank of the river, we viewed the castle in all its splendour, surrounded by this peaceful stretch of water. I spotted a few Little Grebes enjoying a morning swim and as we continued walking, a lone Redshank and heron were having breakfast by the mudbanks. There were quite a lot of people taking advantage of the lovely day. A Mistle thrush was seen darting in and out of the bushes, hunting for food.

At about 11.45am, we walked through this gate towards the Haven Church where Trish’sPembroke D50  22-01-2011 11-47-44 memorial was carried out. We were given a small bag filled with a pebble engraved with a robin, Trish’s favourite bird, a bookmark of her favourite hymn and a heart-shaped coloured paper where guests were asked to write their thoughts and memories which were later collected and kept in a scrap-book for the children. What a thoughtful, sweet gesture. The church was nearly full and we sat, with the rest of the family members.

The memorial went for an hour. Hymns sung, prayers said, testimonials from friends,  families and colleagues read out. A video presentation charting Trish’s very short life was beamed on a screen accompanied by a lovely ballad, Everything by Tim Hughes. Not a dry eye in the church. Good-bye to my beautiful sister-in-law…We met, hugged and chatted with Phil and the 4 children and other members of Babe’s family. We didn’t stay long because we still had a long drive home.

There was silence in the car. We decided to take the scenic drive home via Fishguard to settle our minds. The views of the rugged coastline did the trick.We stopped at Lower Fishguard harbour to stretch our legs. Lower Fishguard D300s  22-01-2011 14-24-10 I just love this quirky little place. Out of nowhere, a little gem can be found. I spotted a Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) feeding among the seaweed-covered rocks. I was mesmerised watching it flicking sand and weed over its shoulder as it hunt for food.  Babe  spotted a few more through his powerful lens.

Finally, we arrived at Aberystwyth. First a quick stop at Morisson to use the facilities and then a bit of food shopping. We drove towards the South pier where we’d a late lunch and watched a beautiful sun set. Babe spotted a flock of starlings circling the pier and whoosh disappeared under it. Huh…they were roosting. And then we saw another huge flock, and then another and another…We quickly drove to the pier and there were hundreds of people already there with cameras, video recorders and camera phones. We managed to get a parking space and I quickly dashed towards the pier. My oh my…there were thousands and they were still coming in. The noise was unbearable and off course you need to put your hood up. These birds can literally cover you with s—t!!!

What a pity they didn’t do any aerial displays or murmurations . A “murmuration” of starlings, as this phenomenon was known, must be one of the most magical, yet underrated, wildlife spectacles on display in winter. Perhaps it was too cold. I took a few shots but it was already too dark.  Aberystwyth D50  22-01-2011 16-49-53 I find it strange that their Welsh name was adern y eira or snow bird. I guess because  they were regarded as winter migrants. We decided to come back in a few weeks time armed with a video camera. I could not wait!!!

We continued our drive home but had to do a 20 mile detour because the road from Welshpool to Shrewsbury was closed for roadwork. Grr…It was quite disheartening cos we were already very tired, it was dark and we’d to drive through places where we’d never been before. It was going to be a loong night. About 45 minutes later, we got on the road that we were familiar with. I closed my eyes and Babe woke me up when we were near the Corley Services. Wow, I’d slept for nearly an hour.

We arrived safe and sound at about 8.30pm. It had been a very long day. We quickly unpacked our bags. I made soup and had pasties for an easy dinner. I’d a quick wash, did the Ishaq prayers thanking Allah for the safe journey and then ZZZZ while Babe downloaded more than 1k photographs!!! Good night, sleep tight; don't let the bed bugs bite!

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