One week in England 15/07/13 - 21/07/13


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July 27th 2013
Published: July 28th 2013
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Millie the TripodMillie the TripodMillie the Tripod

she's my cousin's dog but Nan adopted her... then assisted in the loss of her leg.
Respite

So my long anticipated week off work rolled around, don't get me wrong I enjoy my job but sometimes you just got to have a rest. God knows my body needed it, the week before I had suffered a 5-day migraine. Which, as you can imagine, was about as pleasant as having your teeth pulled with a rusty pair of pliers and no anaesthetic.

Gemma and I had a busy week ahead. Now normally I'd say holidaying in your own country isn't TravelBlog worthy. However it was an awesome week.

(South-)Westward Ho!

I hadn't seen my Nan for nearly two years, and she has recently had major surgery. Given she was mostly recovered we thought we'd grace her with our presence. We didn't want to stay too long so planned to stay Monday to Thursday, and besides we were busy everyday.

The journey from the midlands to near Plymouth in Devon was mostly uneventful except for a minor crash metres in front of us outside of Bristol.

The weather was glorious and promised to stay like that all week. When we arrived Nan (who is 82) rushed around making a fuss and making sure
Bigbury-on-SeaBigbury-on-SeaBigbury-on-Sea

It was about 30 D/C on the beach... the water was a different matter all together
we were fed and watered. If there is one thing I miss about my regular childhood holidays in Devon it was my Nan's roast dinners. She didn't disappoint.

Suitably stuffed we caught up on all things family before heading off to bed.

The following morning Nan's fussing continued over breakfast, so we ate like Kings before heading out for the day.

Bigbury-on-Sea

As a child we always went to Bigbury, or Challaborough. I love Bigbury. One of my favourite childhood memories is wading out for hundreds of metres with my Brother, Dan, at low tide. Right alongside Burgh Island. I've always enjoyed the water. I feel at home in it, even when most would feel out of their depth I just enjoy the experience. This has been quite dicey in the past, as a toddler i floated away in Loch-Lomand, I have a great deal of respect for the dangers of water, but equally I don't let these fears govern my life.

Anyway, Bigbury is fantastic and just as I remembered it. Burgh Island rising out of the water just off the coastline. At high-tide a giant Tractor run's trips back and forth over a
We're on a boat... We're on a boat... We're on a boat...

is it getting old yet?
sand-bar that submerges with the tide.

We set up camp in a decent spot behind some rocks and sorted ourselves out. I was eager to get back in the sea. The sun was already beating down and the cool water was inviting. I waded in, all gung-ho thinking I'd be fine. The water was freezing. But never one to lose face I waded deeper. Gemma was less inclined to push on out to sea and stood thigh-deep bouncing around trying to get some feeling back in her feet.

When I acclimatised I went for a swim, there was a boat that had dropped anchor about 200 metres off-shore near a rocky section the Gul's use at high-tide to squawk at the world. I decided to swim for the boat. 15 minutes later I'm still splashing around feeling like progress has evaded me, if I stood on the bottom I could still reach an outstretched hand above the waterline, and I thought I was a strong swimmer. Anyway sometime later I made it to the back of the boat. Suitably smug with myself I turned to wave to Gemma who was probably not giving a hoot somewhere on the beach and sank below the surface. I was certain I'd swum out against the tide oh how woefully wrong I was. I began my swim back, and made the snap decision that drowning was a better (if not more relaxed) approach to this venture. But not one to quit in the face of adversity I pushed on. Sometime later that day I managed to put my feet on the sand with my head just above water and slowly walked the rest of the way in. Even later in the day I emerged from the water. Now for those of you who have seen Casino Royale with Daniel Craig... well imagine the scene where he appears from the water, remember how studdly and buff he looked? Yeah I looked nothing like that. Half-knackered on the verge of dehydration in the midday sun having just fought tooth and nail against the tide i emerged, bloated and gasping for air. Yeah I'm a real sex-icon...

Burgh Island

After lunch and Ice-creams we put the stuff back at the car and headed over the causeway to Burgh Island, of Poirot fame (watch the opening credits). I nipped back to the car to
Sand Tiger SharkSand Tiger SharkSand Tiger Shark

good for aquariums as they look really vicious but are actually very shy and mild mannered.
grab my bag and found a fiver near the car. SCORE! That sorted out the Cider on the Island.

We were going to walk to the highest point on the Island to look out over the South of the Island, but it was too hot/too steep so we headed back to the car.

Slapton-Ley

Slapton is another place I loved as a kid, now for the geeky bit it's a unique area as on one side of the road is the sea and the other side is a freshwater lake which is now a nature reserve.

I wanted to go and see the tank that's near the beach.

We then went to the Start Bay Inn which came recommended by my Nan, she declined our invite in favour of a salad as, in true tradition of my family, she can't bear to throw food away. The food at this pub is awesome, I ordered a large fish and chips (which was essentially a medium as they did a jumbo...) All the sea food is freshly bought in that day by local fisherman and it is prepared upon order. A large constitutes about a foot of fish at the thickest about an inch and a half. Since I managed to sink a 48 ounce steak with chips and salad the year before I was looking for a suitable challenge food wise. It was fairly simple and in hindsight I should have probably had the Jumbo, you know for added man points.

We're on a boat!! (for like the 3rd time!)

Plymouth, now I don't really remember much of this city, and I can't say much about it as we went straight down to the Barbican, got aboad the Cawsands Ferry and took the half hour journey over to Cornwall for the morning. I enjoyed the freezing temperatures of the water and Gemma decided to stay ashore... surrounded by posh kids who's parents had obviously never set them boundaries. Cawsands is a beautiful little fishing village just inside Cornwall. We spent the morning there enjoying the weather, the water and the sights. Oh and a pasty, When in Rome...

Plymouth is home to quite an impressive aquarium and when we returned we paid it a visit, even getting to see volunteers enter the giant viewing tank to clean and feed the fish. It turns
Vettel's Red BullVettel's Red BullVettel's Red Bull

Vettel put in the fastest lap of the weekend while we were there
out, qualified Scuba-divers (such as myself) can volunteer to do this, according to the staff anyway. I'm still trying to get Gemma to do her course so we can go to Sharm and swim with Oceanic-Whitetips. (The shark blamed for the death of a German pensioner a few years ago).

That night we enjoyed a Chinese with Nan who refused to let us pay for it and insisted on footing half the bill. She was even irritated when I gave her her change, you gotta love her.

Ivybridge

The following morning, before we drove back home Nan showed us around her town of Ivybridge. I hadn't been into Ivybridge for getting on for 12 years. Nan showed us all the sights, including the open air swimming pool, which is shut for maintenance. She then had a back and forth with the receptionist about how bad the swimming pool is these days as no one in Ivybridge wants to visit. I was dying inside at her apparent lack of social grace. She's always been like that, it's one of her many endearing features. We then ran into Nan's mate Pam who remembered me from when I was a
Matt and BanditMatt and BanditMatt and Bandit

Gemma and Oscar in the background
kid running around trying to impress her husband Roy (who's since passed away) and generally trying to muscle in on whatever he was up to. She told me that she'll always remember those days and be fond of the memories. I felt terrible, I had no recollection of it, but Nan was confident it happened and she's of sound mind.

We parted ways shortly after and made our way back home. Promising we'd return in a year or so, I aim to keep that promise. I forgot how much I love Devon and being by the sea.

Silverstone

So we had returned from Devon on the Thursday. Nan wanted us to stay until the Friday but Dan, my brother, had purchased tickets for him and I to go to the Silverstone young drivers test. I used to be an avid F1 fan. As a teenager Dan and I would have weekend rivalries as he was a Mercedes-Maclaren fan supporting Mika Hakkinen and I supported Michael Schumacher who drove for Ferrari.

I'd never seen an F1 car scream by at full tilt as the race weekends are ridiculously expensive. Dan however managed to get tickets for £15
Estelle and IEstelle and IEstelle and I

she loved me by the end of the day...
each!

As well as the Young Drivers Test there were some big names there this weekend testing the newly delivered Pirelli tyres after the issues that plagued the race before.

We had free reign on a good 3rd of the track and entrance to all the grandstands and spent most of the day at Silverstone. The Force-India and Marussia cars put in so many laps it was like seeing two F1 races back to back in terms of laps completed. Dannie and Gemma didn't attend but I rang Gemma so she could hear the Ferrari scream down the old pit straight at 200 MPH into the right hand corner.

I definitely need to get to a proper race one year... maybe when I'm a multi-gonzillionaire.

Estelle

On the Saturday my friend and colleague Matt came over. For some time now I had really wanted to try a Falconry taster session and had picked up a good deal on Wowcher. Matt was game and so was Gemma. I couldn't wait to see Matt's reaction as he jumps at his own shadow, so having a live animal on his arm would be a treat, especially if it
Gemma and OscarGemma and OscarGemma and Oscar

Oscar is a girl?!
started flapping in his face!

The centre is just north of the town of Oakham and Rutland Water nature reserve. Rutland is a unique area of England being that following a successful translocation program they now are the only place in England you can see Ospreys. Which are one of the most charismatic and magnificent birds of prey, they hunt by dive bombing for fish which is their sole food item. I've been up regularly this year to see the Ospreys as they are in their most successful birds with 5 breeding pairs rearing 14 chicks. From what I can gather this is around half the total UK population of Ospreys all in one location!

We arrived at the Rutland Falconry and Owl Centre and handed our vouchers in. Near the entrance are 3 Northern Inuit husky dogs. Those things were huge, sadly photographs was not allowed but trust me you can see how they are directly descended from Wolves.

We were given a briefing on the birds, bird first aid and the like. Luckily today was the only cloudy and cooler day of the week dropping down to the lower 20s, heat is a problem for the birds as they overheat very quickly and immediate first aid is to spray them with water.

Following the briefing we were then asked what type of bird we would like a Hawk or an Owl. The Falcons were too excitable today and the staff were reluctant to bring them out. A staff member appeared with a large Hawk and then addressed myself and the two other blokes who wanted a hawk "who's good with angry women?", I pointed to Gemma and said "she's from the north". There was a collective "ooooh!" from everyone else as I was showed how to hold the leather straps correctly and then introduced to Estelle.

Gemma and Matt both opted for Owls. Matt had a Mackinder Eagle Owl called Bandit and Gemma had a Little Owl called Oscar (who was female). Estelle, the female Harris Hawk stood perched on my left hand. I could feel her talons tightening against the tough leather gauntlet, her head cocked to one side and her eye staring me up and down. She was sizing me up. "She'll squawk and flap and assert her authority, you'll just have to let her" was the advice I received in
Gemma with OscarGemma with OscarGemma with Oscar

having fun....
a light hearted manner. I was shown to a table with the other two men and their Harris Hawks, Harry and Hur (Hur's brother being Ben). I took a seat next to them and gingerly lowered my arm to rest on the table. Estelle shuffled around on my hand staring at me. Here came my first mistake, my right leg was cramping as I hadn't sat down properly so I tried to move. Estelle didn't like this, all of her feathers puffed up doubling her size then her wings exploded out from her side and she tried to jump into the air squawking and flapping at me, feathers slapping me on the nose. She calmed and then began the game of every few minutes her doing this until she calmed and realised that she was in charge and I was merely her subordinate.

We were told to talk to our birds, as a bond is important. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU TALK TO A BIRD ABOUT?! I mean I have a hard enough time addressing people I don't know let alone an animal that was looking at me as if I was a meal. so I opted for talking
Matt and HurMatt and HurMatt and Hur

Matt's expression is priceless
to the guys opposite me and placing Estelle and my hand between us so she thought I was talking to her.

After the whole group looked suitably foolish and the late-comer arrived we went on our "Hawk-Walk". We followed a woodland trail up through the woods towards the flying field. Both staff who were leading the group both told me that Estelle hated them and had, on more than one occasion, drawn blood. So there I was, in the woods with a bird that hated everyone. Wunderbar!

Estelle calmed significantly on the walk. her wings held out at an angle to catch the breeze and cool her down. All the while her head was jerking around catching site of potential prey items and on one or two occasions she tried to fly free to chase something. No such luck, I had a firm grip. We got to the flying field and sat at more tables, for which I was thankful you don't realise how painful holding your arm out at an angle with a large hawk on your fist.

We were then talked through each and every bird. Gemma's Little Owl Oscar was the only bird at the centre to be born in the wild. She came into captivity when someone felling trees chopped down the tree she was nesting in as a chick and out she rolled onto terra firma, she has been at the centre ever since. Another interesting story was the Lanner that the late-comer had. The only falcon out that day, who was quite lively on the hawk-walk, jumping off his hand repeatedly to the floor. The centre were called out by a lady who kept getting attacked by a bird while in her garden. The Lanner looks similar to a Peregrine Falcon but with more striking features on the head. The Lanner is not native to Britain and the leather ankle tags were a give away that she was owned by a private falconer. Adverts were displayed nationwide for someone to claim the Lanner but no one did, shortly after the centre noticed a white spot on the right eye of the Lanner. This has since developed into a cataract and she is blind on the left side. the centre believes the owner turned her loose when they realised she was no good, which was a crying shame really. She was a
Vulcan XH558 VTTSVulcan XH558 VTTSVulcan XH558 VTTS

with bomb doors open
beautiful bird.

While sat down being talked through our birds a Buzzard flew over and began hunting in the field adjacent. Estelle went crazy squawking and trying to fly off at the Buzzard but I put a stop to that. We were also shown how to touch the birds correctly, but I elected to admire Estelle from arms length.

The staff also gave a history of the centre from it's beginnings to the conservation work they do and the proposed future breeding program for the AMUR LEOPARDS they keep on site in the woods. The Leopards (one of the rarest animals on earth) are kept in the woods but can only be viewed by the public 6 times a year due to restrictions on the licencing to keep the big cats.

We then took the birds back to the centre and then returned to the flying field for demonstrations with Harry (The Harris Hawk) following the first demonstration Harry wasn't playing ball and sat atop a Hawthorn. When he came down Harry was swapped for Hur who was a much better public performer. Doing all sorts of tricks for us such as low passes over our heads and flying through a foot wide gap between two people and 4 people deep.

After this we went and looked around the rest of the centre that was available to us. Seeing many of the birds they have on display, including 3 impressive looking Vultures and a giant Eagle. Not bad for £16 each!

RIAT

Last year I went to an Air Display in Gloucestershire. The Royal International Air Tattoo. It's the biggest in the world and we had tickets for this year on the Sunday. There's nothing better than the noise made by an F-16 as it makes a low pass at Mach 0.95. Gemma, Dan, Dannie and I all shipped off to RAF Fairford for the day. The day started off cloudy enough but following the Vulcan of VTTS XH558 and the PBY5a Catalyna the cloud was burned off by the sun and the temperature soared up to the high 20s. I got shafted for two ice creams but we spent an awesome day enjoying aircraft from all over the world displaying. The highlights for me being the Vulcan and the Lancaster of the BBMF, the Apache Longbow display, the Red Arrows, a Polish MiG29 and the Red Bulls B-25 Mitchel and Vought F-4 Corsair.

Yep, nothing better than jet noise ripping your ear drums apart to end the best week off work in ages!



If you are after any information on any of the things I did in my week off here are their websites:


• The Cawsands Ferry http://www.cawsandferry.co.uk/
• Plymouth Aquarium http://www.national-aquarium.co.uk/
• Ivybridge http://www.ivybridge.gov.uk/
• Rutland Falconry and Owl Centre http://www.rutland-falconry.com/
• Rutland Ospreys http://www.ospreys.org.uk/
• RIAT Air Display http://www.airtattoo.com/airshow


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29th July 2013

What a great read!
I really enjoyed reading this--lots of details and lots of laughs! It sounds like you had an excellent holiday.
29th July 2013

Hey cheers, glad you liked it. The weather was phenomenal for my week off. Definitely the best week in England in a long time!

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