A Walk Looking for the Unusual in the Usual – Ballachurry June 18, 2019

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Chris Packham’s (@ChrisGPackham) talk on Wednesday evening about ‘connectivity’ was very thought-provoking; he told his story through photographs, simultaneously giving tips on how to take more interesting snaps, showing how just one speck of the wrong colour or a bird falling asleep at the wrong time can destroy a photograph (in his opinion); I now know about bokeh and how to achieve out of focus effects by using sunlight, drops of dew, reflections, or creating artificial backgrounds, though if you don’t mind I won’t follow his example and go and sit in an old-fashioned sewage plant in Gambia or lie up to my arms in sxxx!. Never one for boringness, he encouraged us to be amateur photographers and look for the unusual in the usual, an idea I have taken to heart. I only have a small camera but let’s see what I can do.

He told a story of deforestation and its effects on society through the eyes of a child who became an adult, whose former life of oneness with the environment was forever taken away by the profiteering lure of palm oil. He explained how we are all connected to one another, whether we like it or not and however distant /remote /alien some lives are to ours, telling us that we are all reliant not just on one another but on each and every uninteresting bug and beetle that we share out planet with, not just those animals glamourised for advertising purposes. He encouraged everyone to speak up to protect our world, so that one voice becomes an audible and persistent din in government heads all over the world.

I was inspired, and I was expecting this next blog to be entitled “A Walk Around My Garden”, finding out what really exists under the soil and within that curling leaf or flower head. Instead, I took a walk yesterday afternoon to Ballachurry Nature Reserve to try and take some shots of nature from a different angle. As usual, I was bitten by various little friends who like my blood (what’s new?) but it did make me think what is the essence of this particular nature reserve and could I appreciate it in a different way.  I continued then up to Mount Gawne nursery and on to Croit Y Caley, where there is a sign saying to take care as ‘cats cross the road’. I strode toward Kentraugh House in order to visit the other nature reserve which was heavily overgrown – I could barely get in there –  and continue my quest of taking more absorbing photographs.  Content with my stack of photos, I walked towards Shore Road, and I could hear wasps or bees in the Kentraugh estate but however much I jumped up and down I could not see over the wall. Reaching the coast road, I enjoyed a happy moment or two watching the rabbits on the low cliff and as I descended to the Shore Hotel, I spent even more happy moments watching a black headed gull hovering over the edge of the waves and dipping suddenly and sporadically to get a small fish that had been driven in by the tide. It did this several times, moving along the coast in regular fashion, virtually following alongside me. I then walked round to Port St Mary and back to Four Roads, hoping that the threatening rain would stay away until I reached home. I went across the fields back to Port Erin, a total distance of 7 miles.

I have attached a few of the photos, trying to pick out some of the most interesting for you to enjoy. Some are ordinary and some are my attempt at the less ordinary, with a limited degree of success – but we all have to start somewhere. Some are out of focus, but I like these as much as the in-focus ones!

I hope the next blog will be a good, long walk. I have in mind to walk from Port Erin to Peel over the coastal footpath, a distance of about 14 miles with a lot of ascent and descent. This will take a bit of planning but look out for this one – it will be good!!

 

 

Secrets of the Isle of Man – 7th July 2019

We are so blessed. The sun has been shining, the bees are buzzing and the butterflies are flitting all around. The countryside and gardens alike have been full of colour, though some flowers are looking slightly jaded by the lack of rain – yes, really, a lack of rain. The painted lady butterflies are looking decidely ‘washed out’, especially compared with the same species on Crete, but the fritillaries that I saw today as I wandered lonely as a cloud around Bradda Head made up for their drabness by wearing bright orange and standing out against the foliage.

I was on my way to start my tour of the Secret Gardens of Port Erin. Not quite so many to visit this year, one or two near Bradda Head and a couple at the opposite end of the bay on St Mary’s Road, with the main cluster being in the centre of Port Erin. I enjoyed some more than others, perhaps the most memorable ones being the garden with the most wonderful view of the bay, and by contrast, the garden brim full of roses and every inch clearly tended with love.  I got lots of ideas and tips, such as growing climbing beans in the greenhouse, learnt when to set seeds and when were the best months for growth on the Isle of Man.

This afternoon, I had another walk with Friends of Manx National Heritage to look at the Round Mounds being excavated in another ‘secret ‘location. We were invited to take photographs for personal use but not for sharing, presumably to avoid looters!! However, as I drove home it was quite obvious where the dig is, as there was a great mound of earth and a digger clearly atop one of the mounds. Nonetheless I shall not share photos but just tell you about it.

The island contains over 160 round mounds, an amazing number given the smallness of the island. This tour began with a short walk uphill to where we could see three mounds in close proximity to each other, two covered with earth and grass, and the third beyond was more disturbed – it being a hive of activity, with people in ditches, people scraping earth, others with theodolites, and everyone getting excited at their discoveries. This is an ongoing excavation, now in its third year, and finds are constantly emerging from the Bronze Age site from about 4000 years ago. It has mostly lain undisturbed for all this time. There are human burials here, about 5 discovered so far, not necessarily complete, and various cremated bone fragments which were found strewn along the top of the mound. There are circular pits which contained urns of various sizes containing the bodies. One body was found in a crouching position with the head facing north and the body east (if I remember correctly).  No beads, no jewellery, nothing fancy. The archaeologists have found many shards of flint, axe-heads, sharpening stones and just today while we were visiting they unearthed the most ancient bread board you can imagine; this was a piece of stone that was used for cutting/ slicing / pounding and the marks were still visible on the stone. The flint is something of an anomaly. Whereas all the stone found within the trenches is local e.g. slate & quartz, there is no flint on the island, so this indicates that this was imported or picked up off the beach. It is still early days in this excavation and why it is here in this particular location is unknown, or why it is there at all. It was pointed out that the sea was not necessarily the barrier to travel that we often think it is, and sea travel was often easier than travelling over land, and of course, Scotland and Ireland can be clearly seen from this location. The Isle of Man would have been a good stopping off point for many a weary traveller or businessman.  The archaeologists are confident that they will get funding next year to continue their quest and to find some answers to all of the unknowns.

If you are interested in this project you can find out more here: https://roundmounds.wordpress.com/about-the-project/

So, secrets and flowers over, once Wimbledon is over I shall be back to my normal 5-12 mile walks, and I aim to do some new ones during July and August, so watch this space.

A Walk on the Wildflower Side – Saturday 29th June 2019; Niarbyl

As I drove over the hills to Niarbyl I was engulfed in the wonderfully cosy mist of Mananan’s cloak, as you can see in the feature photo. By the time we started our walk  ten minutes later this had most dissipated. Such are the joys of island living.

Some walks are long; some walks are short; and other walks like this are very short with interest. My next post will be a similar walk ‘with interest’ as it is our Flower Festival this week and Port Erin Secret Gardens this coming weekend.

I have joined a group called Manxwildflowers.com led by the very knowledgeable Simon Smart. This was my first outing with them. We parked at Niarbyl and the total distance we walked was to White Beach and back, just a stone’s throw along the cliff, but what wonderful flowers and natural features we saw along the way.  So first of all, to set the scene. Here is Niarbyl and its wonderful coastline:

We hadn’t even left the car park before Simon introduced us to the Common Toadflax, common in the Uk but not so common here on the Isle of Man.

Common Toadflax
Common Toadflax

Not far away, we came across hybrid orchids looking proudly out over the sea. It is that time of year and the meadows are ablaze with various shades of pink and purple orchids, not least at the Curraghs in the north of the island.

In all, I took 23 photographs of different wild flowers and made notes on many others. I will not bore you by showing you every single one individually, but just pick out those I found interesting and put the rest in a slideshow at the bottom.

The Wild Carrot has a distinguishing feature in its green bract  beneath its white canopy and the sea radish that you will see everywhere on the island does taste of radish. The seedheads were delicious. I would have never known these were edible. And all around the island the thyme is flowering. Today I saw lots and lots of painted lady butterflies lurking around the thyme at the Sound.

And here is the beautiful purple bindweed which was lying close to the shore by the waterfall on White Beach, and  just a little further on was the ubiquitous Pennywort, which is not the most exciting plant to look at but you will see it growing out of rocks and walls everywhere at this time of year. I didn’t take photographs of stonecrop this time, but it is plentiful right now and is stunning to see en masse.

Common Bindweed
Common Bindweed
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Pennywort

So to end, here is a slideshow of the best of the rest:

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1000 ‘views’ – Celebrated on the Coast Path; 24th June

Today my blog reached a milestone of 1000 views and to celebrate I thought I should take a short walk on the newly opened coast path from Port Erin to the Sound and show you some of the scenery that has been out of bounds for some months. It was difficult to see why the path had been closed since the winter. The only repairs that were obvious was the creation of some new stone steps behind the biological marine station and possibly one new gate.

There were flowers  along the full length of the coast path, thrift, sea campion, lots and lots of wonderful stonecrop, the odd scilla thinking it is still spring, purple and yellow vetch, tormentil,  bird’s foot trefoil, scabious, thyme, oxalis, speedwell, herb robert, willowherb, the last three only on the kerbside not on the cliffs.. and many more. The heather is just starting to emerge and the cliffs (and the Calf of Man) will be cloaked in purple in a few weeks’ time.

As usual, I wandered slightly off the recognised path from time to time, and I enjoyed playing about in our own limestone mini, very mini canyon. There do look to have been some rockfalls at various points along the cliffs over the winter, but nothing of any significance. Early on along the path, as I ventured close to the cliff to take a photo, I incurred the wrath of sea gulls who squawked and had a collective yell at me from various heights and distances, presumably because there were nests nearby. I heard the ever present choughs, long before I saw them. It was all delightful. As I looked back towards Bradda, Manannan’s cloak was doing a pretty good interpretation of Trump’s comb-over (see photo). That was all I could think about for the next 10 minutes!!

The views at the Sound were breathtaking. The current was moving forcibly through the channel between the main land and Kitterland, the tiny island where seals reside. Beyond Kitterland is the Calf of Man, which you can visit by boat from either Port St Mary or Port Erin. There is a bird observatory that is maintained by wardens and volunteers living in fairly basic accommodation – so if you fancy a different kind of a holiday, you can stay overnight if you like.

This stretch of coastline is short. From leaving home to arriving at the Sound is a mere 3 miles and 2.5 miles back via road and today a very, very overgrown path that comes out near the back of my house. As I walked up the road, I engaged in conversation with three different sets of cows – why they always find me so interesting I don’t know. In one field there were several calves and they looked so cute.

I have included a variety of photos in this selection, so that you can see the variation in the terrain. The ascent is 440ft in total to the Sound, and surprisingly the ascent on the inland path home was 464ft . When you leave Port Erin, it is an easy path, if uphill. You have to descend to a spot that I call ‘windy gap’ as once you have clambered over the stream (not difficult) the wind can race across the small saddle between two hills. From there it is an undulating path, but until you seriously hit the limestone, the path is easy. It then becomes uneven and a bit rocky for a short distance, before levelling out into grassland.

You can get a bus back from the Sound, but be prepared for a wait. If you have lots of energy you can continue along the coast for another 3 miles to Port St Mary. That is a gorgeous stretch of coastline, with masses of flowering heather in August.

 

A snapshot of northern Crete – June 2019

In the words of Frank Sinatra “It’s nice to go trav’ling but its so much nicer, yes it’s so much nicer to come home”.

I was on a belated holiday in Crete with Titan, having had to cancel my planned journey to hopefully see the northern lights in February due to having to have what now appears to be an unnecessary operation.

I was looking forward to a rest after an exhausting six months or so. I knew it would be hot, but I was not expecting it to be so hot, or having to walk 1/4 mile to and from breakfast / reception several times a day and climb numerous steps. Yes, I know, I could have used the lifts, but you know me!  I was staying at the Royal Aldemar Mare at Hernosissos. It is a huge complex, with umpteen swimming pools, public and private; several restaurants where you can gorge yourself to death on the sumptuous foods. I particularly enjoyed the Greek salads, but there was a huge variety of hot and cold foods, some traditional Greek, others catering for a wide range of nationalities. The hotel is a marble palace and has a very attractive entrance. The bedrooms are ample, and we were greeted with a full welcoming basket of fruit, water and wine. So, all good.

The holiday was a mix of excursions and rest, and there was plenty of free time. Our guide, Maria, was a fount of information, and we learned a lot about the history and mythology of the region. We visited a nunnery on the way to the Dikti caves, Unfortunately, as with many of these tourist attractions, people are buzzing around everywhere and it is hard to get photos without tourists in them! The view from the nunnery was outstanding, although it was quite hazy the day we were there.

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Oldest part of the nunnery
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Nunnery Church
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Courtyard of Nunnery
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Nunnery museum
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View from nunnery

Just beyond the nunnery in the Lasithi plateau at Psychros is Zeus’s cave (Dikti) complete with numerous stalactites and stalagmites, and the mythological story of how Zeus ate his children to stop them overpowering his authority (the Greek equivalent of the Roman Saturn). This was quite a climb up a steady path in the soaring heat, which proved too much for many. This was followed by the descent into the cave below down and up 200 easy but occasionally slippery and wet steps, but in truth this was easier than the initial climb up to the entrance of the cave.

Heraklion, the capital of the island, is quite a nice place. The quaint and narrow streets are fun to walk around and there are a few interesting things to see. On my day off I walked the Venetian Walls of Heraklion, saw the Bello fountain, a 13th Century Byzantine church now converted to accommodation, the interesting St Matthew’s church and various statues; perhaps my favourite place there was the Venetian Fortress which has recently been renovated and now houses a fine museum, containing enormous  canons and canon balls amongst other things. I also visited the Natural History museum with the aim of finding out more about the geology of the island, only they were more interested in life size dinosaurs and earthquakes. There was a section of live animals, mostly snakes, lizards and frogs too.

The photos above show the city walls of Heraklion and the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, who was born in Heraklion in 1885. He wrote Zorba the Greek and more infamously also wrote the Last Temptation of Christ, which describes Jesus as having conflicts between his religious duties and desire for human life and love. This caused his downfall and excommunication and he was not able to be buried in a cemetery inside the city walls; instead his grave lies in the Tower of Martinengo on the walls themselves and bears a wooden cross. The inscription reads: I hope for nothing; I fear for nothing; I am free”.

In the photo top right, you can see that the walls have an inner sanctum. I don’t know the original purpose of these, but this one has been transformed into an outdoor theatre. Another photo appear to show spiky seed heads of a flower on a stalk. This is far from what it actually is, which is many white garden snails glued to the flower stem. I found these all over the vegetation on the top of the walls along with the ubiquitous painted lady butterflies.

One of the most interesting ancient monuments I have ever visited was the Minoan Palace of Knossos just outside Heraklion. This was far larger than I was expecting and has been extensively excavated and is very well maintained. Our tour guide was simply outstanding on this trip and her enthusiasm gripped us all. Being informed of the history really helped to bring this alive. The area was first occupied in 7000BC but the Minoans developed this site much later than this in the Bronze age around 2000BC before it was abandoned somewhere between 1300 and 1100 BC. It has been described as Europe’s oldest city.

One of the main archaeologists who uncovered most of the finds was Arthur Evans in the early 20th century. The photos above show the original courtyard; the round stone supported the tree trunks that formed the pillars of the Minoan palace – these of course, have decayed. There is a lot of rebuilding and renovation but it does not detract from its appeal. Some of the stone pots on display were massive, easily 5 ft tall. Imagine the skills needed to create these pots and the power required to move them. They have handles top and bottom through which rope was strung to enable them to be rolled, though I suspect they were placed on carts to get them to their original  and final destinations. The Palace was highly decorated with frescos; the original frescos are in the Archaelogical Museum in Herklion (well worth a visit). It is also the site for the tale of the labyrinth and Theseus of minotaur fame.

We also visited the very pretty Chania on the north western edge of Crete, but this was so so busy and hot I couldn’t bear it. We started walking through an indoor market – need I say more?

I walked around the Turkish section and the Venetian section but was not overly enamoured by this town, though on reflection I did see some nice sights. On balance I preferred Rethymnon about an hour away from Chania. This was quieter with less of an ego than Chania 🙂 Here they have upgraded the traditional donkey ride to horse and cart. We were lucky to be invited to see how filo pastry is made, apparently the best in Greece.

And finally, Spinalonga, a former leper colony now made famous by Victoria Hislops’ novel “The Island”. It does in fact have a longer history than this, due to its strategic location guarding the entrance to the bay of Elounda. I suspect most of us enjoyed this  because of the very refreshing boat ride on a small private boat, with the light wind gusting around us providing relief from the incessant heat 🙂 It was heaving with people and this tiny island could barely cope with the influx of visitors. The photo lower left shows the building where the lepers lived.

The images below are mostly of Agios Nikolaus. The two with mountains as their backdrop are Elounda. The lake is at Agios Nikolaus; it was previously separated from the sea, but it has now been made into a small marina mostly for the local fisherman to leave their boats in safety. This was a small and calm town closer to Heraklion than Elounda.  On the edge of the harbour and located within a huge car park (!) is the bronze sculpture of the bull with Europa on his back. The sculpture designed by Nikos Koundouros and created by Nikos and Pantelis Sotiriades, tells the story of how Zeus, in love with the princess he called Europa, changed into a white bull; she jumped onto his back playfully but he whisked her away to Crete despite her tears 😦 .  They are said to have landed at Matala on the southern coast (where there are sandstone caves, the entrances now lifted high by the rising earth), where the bull became human form, resulting in 3 children with Europa called Minos, Rhadamantus and Sarpida.

Elounda it is a very expensive area, not surprising given how beautiful the area is.

Back at the hotel, it has its own private beach, and it was wonderful to sit out there in the dying sun with the waves lapping against the sandy gravelly beach. There are sandy beaches further down, but it is not a wide expanse of beach,  but enough to dip your toes into if you want to, or swim if you like that sort of thing. I met some lovely people and the other guests at my hotel made me very welcome. Even so, I am glad to be back to the peacefulness and cool airs of the lovely Ellan Vannin, my home.

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The many faces of Port Erin bay – TT fortnight 2019

Over the last week or so, I have paid many visits to our glorious shoreline, some days when the tide is way way out and other days when the water laps against my toes on the edge of the beach.

I have visited places I have never been; little paths that go nowhere, or because the tide is so low right now, I have entered caves I have never entered and encountered strange natural sea creatures and vegetation I have never seen before, and wondered at the folding of the rock strata, noticing intrusions that I have never noticed before. I even trespassed into the old swimming pool to get a glance at what looked like a cave from a distance.

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And here are some strange things on the beach either side of the ordinary shags:

These are short walks, of no more than 3 miles from my doorstep, and anyone who lives in Port Erin or Port St Mary can have the same experiences every day. Here are a few more ‘hidden’ views around the bay, places I hadn’t visited before but have passed by on many an occasion:

And I just like the moody photos below, and the view of Bradda Head at high tide with the few remaining steps for the fishermen to fish from.

I have compiled a video showing the changing faces of Port Erin over this week. The sands have been just beautiful, even more so now that they are empty of visitors. The rocks at the furthest breakwater seem to have broken down more as the photo showing them was at very low tide. At the other end close to the now weary Cosy Nook, either the sand has swallowed up a lot of rocks that used to lie at this end of this end of the beach or they have been washed away by some dramatic wave. I was particularly drawn to the take the photo of the pink boat on the beach belonging to 7th wave.

There will be no blogs for a while now as I go on holiday shortly…

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