Monday, 29 August 2011

The fox and the owl

Purple scats are all around. Ripe damsons weighing down the branches into easy reach of hungry fox. I set up a ‘trail camera’ on the trunk of one of the damsons. In this short clip you can see the fox being spooked by an onlooking owl.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Beached at Portmeirion

Launching from the slippery mud of Borth y Gest we paddled in a wide arc around the receding sandbanks on the corner to Portmeirion. Probably following in the wake of ferrymen from before the Cob (1811) and Pont Briwet (1860). Upstream, with Ynys Giftan on our right and Portmeirion to the left, but where had the Dwyryd gone? It looked as though we could have walked the whole way across without wetting our feet.

Setting off 2 hours and 45 minutes before high tide (based on 8.6m high water at Liverpool) was a good hour too early. We bobbed in the shallows being slowly nudged up the estuary. Had we missed a channel? A couple of times we dragged our kayaks, leaving furrows in the soft sand, to intercept newly formed channels. Fish were wriggling in the shadows, their backs breaking the water – were they sea bass?

Eventually we paddled beneath the grade II listed Briwet which will be converted to pedestrian use when the new £20m road and rail bridge is built. Construction starts this autumn (2011) and will cause motorists to detour 8 miles via Maentwrog for 12 to 18 months.

Salt marsh sheep graze the retreating shoreline. To our left the Gwaith Powdwr nature reserve with the settling shed looking down on us. Reconstructed after an explosion in 1988 in which two people were killed.  A little further on to Tyddyn Isaf, the largest of the slate quays, completed in 1828 at a cost of £289. At either end are 2 magazines for storing incoming black powder.

By now it was high tide at Borth y Gest with perfect paddling conditions up the river, smooth and mirror like. More slate quays and up the S bend scenically crafted by the Oakeleys to improve the view from Plas Tan y Bwlch. Towards the mouth of the Llenerch, which flows down from the lake at Trawsfynydd, paddling suddenly got harder as we battled the surge of water released to generate electricity.

Himalayan Balsam and  Japanese Knotweed galore. Is this going to be with us forever? Occasional jumping fish. Dragonfly. Family of young ducks. Squadron of swallows above. Couple of ponies. By the time Maentwrog church came into view the tide was definitely not helping us with the last couple of hundred metres  a hard paddle over shallow fast flowing waters until a bit exhausted we pulled out the kayaks at the bridge.

 11.7 miles, 4 hours and 24 minutes after setting off from Borth y Gest. Next time we’ll probably go downstream on a spring tide.     

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Victoria Plum Fox

Young bracken can be slashed or strimmed but the trunks of mature plants are too tough. By mid August they’re falling over and lying at odd angles. This is when an alpine scythe comes into good effect. Swinging from right to left in a slow hoola hoop motion, slicing through a dozen plants at a time and pulling them to the side.  It takes about 10 minutes to work up a sweat and within an hour I’ve not got a care in the world.

My target this year is the acre or so of open ground at the edge of the Maentwrog Nature Reserve that backs onto our vegetable garden. It has an expansive but short lived spell of bluebell brilliance until it gets swamped by lime green bracken. Last year’s experiment to clear a small patch proved worthwhile, this year I’m going for the lot (with the blessing of the warden).

Surveying my work in progress from the bedroom window I spotted a fox as it came out of the trees and started to cross the mown patch to the garden. A quick call from my mobile to the landline downstairs to alert the rest of the family. We all watched as it climbed onto and walked along the stone wall then disappeared into the clump of damson trees.  That explained the purple scat at the corner of the garden.

After a few minutes of damsons it picked up a windfall Victoria plum before exiting stage right. Upside down livestock fencing is no barrier at all, not even a wriggle as it nimbly passed through.

In case you can't remember, this is what the bluebells look like in May.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Dawn chorus or flypast

What luxury, all those birds chirping for joy or breakfast. If I’m woken by them it’s as good as a lie in. Now it’s mid August so they start much later and have quietened down.

Baby lambs bleating for their mums in the middle of the night were a pain a couple of months ago but they’re more savvy and independent these days.

This last couple of pre-dawns it’s been air turbulence and the flutter of beating wings as a bat flies back and fore, inches above my pillow. Maybe it’s a juvenile, most bats being born around midsummer’s day, taking a wrong turn back to the roost. Great to know the wildlife is about, just so long as it doesn’t try to get under the duvet. 

Cheeeeeese arrives in Snowdonia!

The secret package arrived by stealth, on Tuesday as promised, the same day that the 5 galvanised bins at the bottom of the drive get emptied. Wimpish driver, no sense of adventure, bung it into a bin rather than risk the hairpins of our drive.

By good fortune the bin men made it first and by even better fortune the 2 days between delivery and discovery were cool with inches of windswept rain moderating the bin temperature.  

As if that was not enough good luck, the discovery coincided with the change in shift that marks the start of my week of catering. I returned from Porthmadog with a week’s worth of main courses but scant provision for afters.

Stir fry followed by cheesebard (poetic licence) – what luxury. There were 4 new-to-us cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy: Berkswell (Cotswolds from sheep’s milk and formed in kitchen colanders), Coolea (from the mountains west of Cork.), Keen’s Cheddar (Somerset of course) and Sparkenhoe Red Leicester (from south west Leicestershire).

We love them all. More subtle than our local Black Bomber (Snowdonia Cheese Company) but rich in flavour and even better when not preceded by soy sauce.  A good selection. Thank you Lucy and Simon, you’ve raised our horizons.

I had a look on Neal’s website and note the comments about distribution: The mature cheese is sent out to our own shops or in our own vans through London or by trucks all over the world. But our job doesn’t stop there. A carefully selected and perfectly ripened cheese can suffer in transit or at its destination so we do our best to keep in contact with customers to ensure all is well.

For the record I can confirm that 48 hours of August weather in the bottom of a bin in Snowdonia had no detrimental effect whatsoever. Also, the packaging made great kindling  for our wood fired cooker. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Boris Bikes, Spencer Ivy & Electric Wales

Returning from a rare excursion to the south of London I left the train at Vauxhall. Instead of catching the tube to Euston I walked past MI6 headquarters to the cycle rank beside the river - a line of about 30 identical bikes with a vending machine at the end. 

In went my Visa card and, after pressing buttons to select options, out came a ticket with a 5 digit code.  I typed the code into the docking bay for one of the bikes and, after a strong yank on the handlebars, it was time to tuck my trouser leg into my sock and start pedalling.

Along the wide terrace of the south side of the river, beneath Lambeth Bridge, past signs which said ‘considerate cyclists welcome’, then across Westminster Bridge onto The Embankment. Left up Northumberland Avenue, through Admiralty Arch and into The Mall. What joy!

I stopped at a stand where a firm called Spencer Ivy were offering test rides of their electric bicycles. Lightweight and with a range of 50 miles between charges they were impressive but at £1,800 I had to say ‘I’ll think about it’. They’d certainly make Snowdonia an easier touring option.

The company has a partnership with a cycle tour operator in the Brecon Beacons called Drover Holidays promoting Electric Wales – cycling holidays with added power’.

Onwards into Green Park until I noticed the no cycling signs and pushed my way out to Hyde Park and resumed pedal power to Speakers Corner. Through the West End, left at Centrepoint and northwards to Euston. 

What a brilliant way to travel especially on the dry and sunny Sunday that it was. My 2 hour adventure had cost £7. The bikes are emblazoned with ‘Barclays’ but everyone calls them Boris’s Bikes (as in Johnson) which is a bit unfair as it was in fact Ken Livingstone’s idea.

Maybe we should get a rack of electric bikes for guests to cycle back to Campbell’s Cottage after visiting the pub.