GLORIOUS WALES


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July 5th 2021
Published: July 6th 2021
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TO0 MUCH HOMETIME AND THEN FREEDOM IN GLORIOUS WALES … …



It has been nearly a year since I last wrote up and published a travelblog but of course Covid has kept Paul and I firmly close to home for these long, long months, as indeed it has for everyone all around the world. Who would have thought that this dreadful pandemic would last this long - such a sad time - the world sure does weep.



The UK is hopefully now looking forward to some stability and at last we have been able to plan a journey away from home although we still feel as though we should remain near to our home patch. So we have been able to reinvent a trip we had planned for 2019 - two years ago now! Lockdown has at least given us plenty of spare time and I have taken the opportunity to undertake several ‘on line’ photography courses as well as getting out locally to see the amazing array of flora and fauna on our home patch and put into practice some newly acquired skills.



I should mention here that I would like to say a big thank you to Duade Paten, a bird photographer based in Victoria, Australia who I have followed on U-tube. He has been an inspiration and a great help with me getting to grips with some new camera equipment as well as honing my photography skills. I joined the local Hampshire Ornithology Society (HOS) which was also helpful with learning so much more about the birds on our doorstep. I have met some really talented photographers whilst out watching wildlife at local reserves which has added to my knowledge - a particularly thank you to Sue Morris from Andover, a true professional and now a great friend too - loved viewing the Peregrines at Winchester and Andover with you not to mention the wet days at Lakeside Country Park near Southampton capturing the colourful Grebes and Greylags. It was truly amazing to see one pair of Greylag Geese with fifteen 'greylings' an amazing number when they usually average about six and then we spotted another with ten ... ... ...



It has been delightful to watch winter vanish, spring arrive and summer blossom in our local nature reserves. I have been following a pair of Sparrowhawks all through the spring into summer. The pair took forever carefully building their nest, breaking off branches from nearby trees, one by one and swooning overhead to lay them on their nest. It was so easy to see them at first as the trees were still bare but gradually as Spring progressed and the leaves started to grow the nest was brilliantly camouflaged, which was great as not everyone cares about these amazing birds. It was easy to photograph them from the public path with a long lens so one did not have to stray on to the reserve land and disturb them. Just below the Sparrowhawks nest there was a nest of Long-tailed tits carefully woven into the banks of the river Itchen and nearby deep in the trunk of a rotten tree trunk was a nest of Great tits - so much new life arriving quickly and taking advantage of what nature had supplied. I loved watching a pair of Mute Swans raise five little cygnets which were so cute riding on their mothers back. Winnall Moors is such a busy little nature reserve and surprisingly it is only a few yards away from the bustling city of Winchester, definitely worth a stroll if you are in the area. I have had several photos published locally and also got a commendation for a photograph of a mother swan and her little cygnets hitching a ride on her back.



In my last blog I reported on a pair of Peregrines that had nested in a gulley on top of Winchester Cathedral, aptly named Winnie (female) and Chester (male). They had nested at this site for a few years and successfully raised five chicks in 2020. This year they had been raising three chicks but sadly Chester, this rare bird of prey died leaving behind a young group of three chicks which had hatched in March. However Winnie was strong and she was more than capable of raising the chicks on her own and she did so.



However within days of the death of Chester a young male Peregrine, born on St Mary’s Church in Andover (18 miles away) in 2019 started to pay her visits. At first he was rebuffed and seen off by Winnie and her chicks but he persevered sitting on Winchester College nearby and after a while he was allowed to join the family and hopefully will father his own chicks next year. Winnie is quite a catch for a young male Peregrine, with a highly attractive nesting location … …. So nature moves things on but Chester will not be forgotten as since he paired up with Winnie in 2011, he has fathered 25 chicks to the flying stage, 15 of these at Winchester Cathedral. He has ensured that his species has spread far and wide, so although the news was very sad, he had more than replaced himself on the planet, and had helped his species recover from the days when Peregrines were extremely rare in UK which was not that long ago. Only around half of Peregrines live for more than a year, but once they have acquired the many skills they need to survive they can live for at least twenty years or more.



WALES



So we have come to Wales and the two main reasons for our visit was to hike the coastal path and visit off shore islands including Skomer Island to see the Atlantic Puffins known as ‘sea parrots’ and other seabirds - you can never get enough of birds … … We chose Pembrokeshire which has 600 miles of public footpaths and bridleways, so walking is an ideal way to discover the scenery and wildlife in the area.



We rebooked a little cottage on a headland with spectacular sea views as well as being right on the coastal path that we had earmarked in 2019 and luckily the kind host had forwarded the same dates for us. Not surprisingly most of the UK’s holiday destinations being swamped with bookings this year so we were glad that we had somewhere to go … …



It was a long journey from Winchester to Cardigan Bay, Pembrokeshire but we broke it up with a visit to my sister in Biddestone who we had not seen for ages before crossing the Severn Bridge and arriving in Wales - the land of my fathers … …



Nearing out destination our host had given instructions and these in the end did prove to be quite simple but the last little bit was up a steep extremely narrow lane watching for a wooden gate with a sign to Rocket House - we were so glad we did not meet anyone coming the other way as there was not many passing places. The house was lovely but best of all was the glorious views out over Cardigan Bay and down to Poppit Sands far below us.



ROCKET HOUSE



We really enjoyed our seven night stay at Rocket House perched on a clifftop overlooking Poppit Sands in West Wales with far reaching views over Cardigan Bay. The property was situated right on the coastal path, just outside our door, in an area of outstanding coastal scenery within the Pembrokeshire National Park.



We enjoyed fabulous hikes along the cliff tops, coves, bays and beaches. Poppit Sands at the bottom of the lane had a wonderful sandy beach and is where where the River Teifi reaches the sea and Cemaes Head was a couple of miles along the cliff top where we saw so many birds in this small Nature Reserve.



The cottage we stayed in, ‘Rocket’ as it is referred to locally, has a little bit of living history. For hundreds of years, ships were lost to the breakers on Cardigan Bay. It was noted that on 23 August 1704 ‘the John Ann’ was wrecked near Cardigan fetching a cargo of oranges and lemons from Lisbon’. In 1827 the RNLI helped providing a lifeboat for Cardigan, but in a remarkable twist of fate, it was wrecked en route! Thankfully in the early 19th Century a clever Cornishman by the name of Henry Trengrouse invented the Rocket Lifesaving Apparatus. Coastguards used rockets to fire lines to stranded vessels, which were then used to winch crew to safety, saving countless lives.



Rocket House was used to store these rockets, lines and other equipment, whilst the spectacular views towards Cardigan Island were important then as a coastal lookout. Coastguards lived in the property until it was sold at auction to our hosts in 2017. The two elderly gents (Elwyn and Hywel) who lived in the house until their later years were known for miles around for their shoreline treasures hunting and apparently stored over 100,000 coins in jars around the property - we didn’t find any … ….



On our first morning the sky was grey but we headed off up the coastal path which passed right by Rocket House. A little way into our walk and we met a local farmer who directed us around his farm adjoining the headland and out on to the clifftop where we saw lots of different birds and there were fantastic views.



The lanes and coastal path itself were covered in wild foxgloves, I have never seen them so tall - reaching way over our heads - it was just so peaceful and relaxing to walk and take in the sea air after so long being confined to home territory.



We hiked all around Cemaes Head, some parts of which were a little bit too near the edge for me … … .. but Paul insisted I carry on … and then we looped back inland spotting more birds and wild flowers on the way. The tracks inland were harder to find as they were not used much but we did manage to find our way home .. … tramping through the tall grasses.



We really enjoyed the hike up to Cemaes Head, so did it several times but I did not return to the precarious section again. Sadly the sea mist seemed to linger around most of the time but when the sun came out the views were awesome. Apparently the highest sea cliffs in the park are between Cemaes Head and Pen-yr-Afr, where there is dramatic folding and contorting of the rocks, the effects of powerful earth movements over millions of years, revealing the structure and strata of the earths crust.



This walk though is ideal for seeing sea-birds, particularly gulls such as the greater black-backed gull, Fulmars, Cormorants, and Guillemots all nest on the cliffs through spring and early summer. We saw many smaller birds too including Jackdaw, Ravens, Buzzards, Kestrels, Stonechat, Whitethroat, Pipits, Skylarks and the rosy Linnet. We were delighted one day to spot three Chough (rare crows with vivid red beaks and legs that perform spectacular aerobatics). Thrift and spring squill are prevalent on the slopes and heather, bell heather, bracken and gorse cover the heathlands. There were not many butterflies although we did see several Speckled Wood and Meadow Browns. I have taken up photographing butterflies recently and was amazed to learn that the UK only has 59 species of butterflies – 57 resident species of butterflies and two regular migrants – the Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow, however there are over 2500 moths - I had thought it would be more equal!



Out on this glorious huge bay bottlenose dolphins can sometimes be seen and seals breed on the beach from August to October but sadly we did not spot any on our hikes. There are spectacular views over Cardigan Bay but we did not get to see Snowdonia as the head was usually covered in a sea mist.



One day we walked down to a secluded bay and we were the only people we saw that day but it was a long climb back up to the top of the cliff - exhilarating some might say … …. Archaeologists studying aerial photographs of the coast here have discovered a large ‘V'-shaped fish trap in the sea. Some 280 yards long, and comprising a wall 3 feet wide, it now lies totally submerged (under some 12 feet of water), even at low tide. Estimated to be some 1,000 years old, in those days it would have appeared at low tide, acting as a shallow rock pool, trapping fish behind the walls as the tide flowed out. In those days the sea level was much lower and the entrance to the Teifi Estuary was nearer the Poppit side.Further research into the fish-trap, the rocks of which are now covered in worms, algae and sea anemones, and only protrude by some 12 inches above the sea-bed, is currently being undertaken by Pembrokeshire College and the Dyfed Archaeological Trust - its amazing what we are still finding interesting facts about long ago events.



Walking along the narrow lanes outside Rocket House, which is actually part of the Welsh coastal path, as the cliffs here were so close we often met friendly locals - one day whilst chatting to a farmer who lived at the end of the track we asked what the protocol was when your vehicle met another vehicle coming up the other way. He replied that the locals usually backed up, as most visitor’s cars did not have any reversing gears … … … …. we were to witness this reverse action many many times … …



We often walked downhill to Poppit Sands ( a cute name) - which had a nice large stretch of sandy beach. There was a RNLI lifeboat station and shop on the beach as well as a cafe and pub, and we did enjoy a meal there making a change from catering for ourselves - you do need a treat now and again ... .... The River Teifi flowed out to the sea here and there was a delightful walk along the river but of course we then had to hike back up the steep lane to Rocket House. Gin and tonics overlooking the bay went down really well as we put our feet up after the uphill climb - praying that we did not meet a vehicle as you had to clamber up the steep bank so that they could pass you by.



The rest of the time we spent at Rocket House we hiked the many trails around the house, most were uphill so we got plenty of exercise, we are quite fit but the tracks around our home in Winchester are all on the flat - it makes a huge difference on steep inclines and we are not getting any younger ! We noticed how well marked the Welsh trails are which helped immensely as many of the ones we hiked were not often used and completely overgrown - but we did not get lost once - well nearly once …





RED KITES



One day we decided to head north for about an hour and half to visit Bwlch Nant yr Arian, only nine nine miles west of Aberystwyth to see the spectacle of feeding the local Red Kites. The red kite is an unmistakable bird of prey with its reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail - like a kite of course.



This dramatic valley has commanding views of Cardigan Bay and the Cambrian Mountains and is well-known for its long established tradition of the daily feeding of red kites - Wales’s National Bird of Prey. Bwlch Nant yr Arian became a feeding station in 1999 as part of a programme to protect the small number of birds in the area then. It seems to have worked as now numbers of this magnificent bird have greatly increased as indeed they have elsewhere in the UK - nowadays we often get them over our home in Winchester, a few years ago we would not have seen one.



In 2019 the welsh red kite population was thought to be about 2500 breeding pairs - I think we saw a good proportion of these soaring above us - lighting the skies with a warm red glow ... The feeding happens once a day at 3pm in Summer and 2pm in winter, we sat having a snack of coffee and welsh cakes and at 2pm they started to appear in great numbers - how do they know the time one asks! They swoop down to pick up a piece of meat with their talons and eat it on the wing it was astonishing to watch. Most of the birds here are local, coming to feed from within a 10 mile radius but they do also get some from outside the area too.



We had such an awesome day at Bwlch Nant yr Arian and as well as watching the kites swoop into feed we also hiked several of the trails around the area including the Ridgetop Trail and spotted many more smaller birds as well - the scenery on its own is definitely worth a visit here.



WELSH WILDLIFE CENTRE AND AN OLD FRIEND



We spent a wonderful day visiting an old friend who we knew from our military days who lived nearby. We had not seen Brenda Frizell for 30 plus years, but as she lived only 30 minutes from our holiday home we were delighted to be able to catch up with her - although finding her home proved quite difficult as she lived in the deep welsh countryside that even our Satnav could not find and phone connections kept breaking when we tried to get directions ... .... But we persevered and did find her own the end and enjoyed a morning catching up … … …



On our way back to our accommodation we visited the Welsh Wildlife Reserve, situated on the floor of a wide pre-glacial channel left by the former course of the Teifi River and now occupied by the River Piliau, which meanders through the marshes in a narrow but deceptively deep cut.



A huge range of habitats were supported here and we were hoping to see more unique wildlife as the site had many different habitats including; open pastures, wooded hedgerows, freshwater marsh with open pools, reed beds as well as tidal mudbanks and forests. We were surprised to see a couple of Water Buffalo as we drove into the visitor centre (not nature to this area) but they were used to graze the reserve all year round. The massive reed beds were full of Sedge & Reed Warblers, you could hear them singing but they quickly hid in the tall reeds and were really hard to photograph. I was lucky as I had been able to photograph these in our local reserve in Winchester recently. We were also hoping to spot Kingfishers and a couple we met on the river had just spotted one flying down river but although we waiting around for ages it sadly did not show for us … … …. maybe next time.



ROCKET HOUSE



Our last weekend soon arrived and the weather was not that great but we did managed to get out on a couple of hikes and enjoyed our last days in our little cottage overlooking Cardigan Bay - hopefully we will return one day and maybe get some brighter consistent weather.





However even with the poorer weather we really enjoyed our stay at Rocket, particularly viewing the Red Kites at Bwlch Nant yr Arian and the variety of birds on the coastal paths but it was time to move further south to find the Atlantic Puffins which we had really come to see .. .. .. .



As we could not book into our next destination until after four, and it was only a relatively short journey we planned several side excursions as we made our way south, including a visit to St Davids as we have not been there since the 1970s - see you there … … …


Additional photos below
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15th July 2021
Rocket House

Andover
Love your blog on Wales and bird photos. It's nice to follow other people who are also from Hampshire and with an Andover connection ☺️
18th July 2021
Rocket House

Andover
Thank you Alan glad you enjoyed it - we love Hampshire and also the Andover Peregrines too - a lovely area to live ... ...
16th July 2021

Glorious Wales
Wales is glorious indeed! And your photos are indeed equally glorious! I love all the close up shots of the birds and flowers. Great to hear you were able to do a photography course during lockdown, and then put it into practice on some local travels. Pembrokeshire looks a very beautiful part of the country 😊
18th July 2021

Glorious Wales
Thanks Alex - had such a brilliant time or the more with our lack of travel these days. Its a beautiful part of the country you just have to hope for good weather ...
17th July 2021
Just love a Robin

Lovely
..... Nice shot.
18th July 2021
Just love a Robin

Just a Robin
Thanks Dave and Merry - they are such an iconic bird - love the way he is standing on one foot.
17th July 2021
Mute Swans

Adorable
Cute and cuddly.
18th July 2021
Mute Swans

Hitching a Ride
Love this time of year when all the youngster come out to join the world ...

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