A frosty morning

You know how it is. You open the bedroom curtains, not expecting much beyond a rain-spattered windowpane and hey presto, it’s all happening!

This particular morning, when blissfully I was not expected into work until 10.30am, there was a widespread and deepening shepherds’ warning. The sky was entirely suffused with pink.

I flung on some clothes, boots, a fleece and ran – there was no time to waste, sunrise happens fast – out of the house with the camera. It was about 7.45 and this was the beginning of what photographers call The Golden Hour. The light was just the most beautiful I have ever seen it in England.  Scotland has the best of the light, with the gloaming going on until the late evening or even the early morning in the very north of Scotland.

Everything was covered by a double frost. In the wood, where the badgers are happily showing lots of signs of activity, their earthworm unearthings were frozen solid.

I wandered, snapped, adjusted settings, snapped some more and generally trudged about marvelling at the light conditions and how lucky I was to be out in it, rather than behind an office window.  A 50mm lens has its limitations but it was fun to be limited.

Pre-sunrise

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When walking is better than cycling…

I will almost always prefer to cycle but there’s a lot to be said for walking.

Only by walking do you stumble across interesting bits and pieces hidden away.

I’m not talking about the likes of the beautiful piece of Roman villa paving hidden under a bit of tarpaulin in the middle of Spoonley Woods near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire.

I’m referring to something we stumbled across today, an object of mystery and much conjecture, which was hidden away in a wooded valley in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The mud, much as yesterday was thick, glossy and even redder than the environs near Cinderford and after sliding through much of it, found ourselves in beech and poplar woodland with the path running alongside a rushing stream.

The rushing stream had formed a series of decorative pools where the water collected before spilling over the next sill. Capability Brown himself couldn’t possibly have made it any prettier.

The water was crystal clear and the sills seemed to be composed of creamy pale lumpy stone. They continued on and on down the slope as if constructed for an elaborate rock garden feature.

Tree roots stretching across the stream under the water appeared to have become stone.  It looked for all the world like a rough, pale honey-coloured concrete but these weren’t man-made. We had stumbled across the Travertine Dams of the Slade Brook, a geological feature unique in the British Isles – 60 separate travertine dams constructed by nature over 700 metres of the brook.

Not sure I can explain the science, but the stream originates from a powerful spring of lime-rich water which emerges from carboniferous limestone.

As it runs over obstructions in the stream bed, it deposits travertine, a crumbly kind of limestone similar to the stone Michaelangelo used to construct the ribs of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  The pools are filled with fine calcareous mud.

Every second of every day, the brook is actively forming travertine, or tufa. I gather it’s sort of similar to the way stalagmites and stalactites are formed.  The brook is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because it’s so special. The fact that the hydrology of the surrounding area hasn’t changed has ensured its survival so far.

The proper science of it is here 

In other news, I saw interesting new sheep – breed as yet unknown – tripped over a thick bramble and fell into the mud, dropped my camera lens cap into one of the travertine dams (recovered it with a stick) and was bemoaning my OS map’s limited area when one of my pals pointed out it continued on the other side. Cue sniggering and total loss of credibility. Mind you, the Most Amused One made three navigational errors later so I reckon we’re evens.

Approaching St Briavels again after 5 or 7 miles (there were meanderings, mistakes and short cuts so no-one was sure at the end) we met three roadie cyclists – two guys and a woman who were a bit lost.

That’s the thing with all the latest phones and online maps – they only work as long as you have a signal. We gave them directions to Brockweir and had an excellent chat – they too had watched the Tour de France in Yorkshire last year and the Tour of Britain west country stages – before we all went on our way.

They were a bit envious to hear that we were five minutes from a Sunday roast at the George in St Briavels. Justified, as it turned out – the roast was probably the best pub roast I’ve had in years. Tender meat, loads of veggies and really good gravy.  We’ll be heading back to St Briavels very soon with boots or bikes. Yet to be decided.

The Travertine Dams…

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Mystery sheep anyone?  Merino?

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Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Science, Watery things | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A busy day in the Forest of Dean

Busiest day in the Forest of Dean of 2015, according to the lady in the Round Tuit at Mallards Pike as she handed me a hot bacon roll and a polystyrene cup of tea.

There were about ten people visible in total, I suppose but hey, maybe she’d been rushed off her feet earlier and anyway,  it’s all relative isn’t it?

That magic low winter sun was already sinking when we got there at 2.30pm lighting everything up in glorious russet.  The reds of the Forest soil, the stones and the dried bracken all worked in perfect harmony.

There was thin mud, thick mud, shallow mud, deep mud, mud with stones and mud with timber. Mud has to be tackled at speed. He who hesitates is…whoooaaaa… in the gloop. But it’s sometimes interesting to find out what’s underneath it all. Hopefully not a huge hole. :-)

Earlier, a couple of technical problems had threatened to sabotage my plans.

I had new Crud Catchers for the mountain bike. I attached the one on the down tube no problem – a couple of rubber bands were provided. The one for the rear was more of a puzzle. It had an attachment which was supposed to fix around the seatpost but no way of unscrewing the screw. There was just a weird-shaped hole. No screwdriver or Allen key fitted so I had to leave it and send a message to Mr Crud asking him why he made it so tricky to fit his catcher.

My back tyre was a bit squishy and even Joe Blow couldn’t seem to get much air in there. As I disconnected the nozzle, the Shraeder valve was hissing a bit.  There was no time to faff about changing the inner tube so I screwed the dust cap on extra-firmly and hoped for the best.

Consequently,  I got my rear end covered in mud and my rear tyre was a bit soft but otherwise it was lovely to be back out in the Forest. Oh and I wore the wrong gloves – the high-vis Jazz Hands gloves weren’t warm enough. Also, I didn’t wear enough under my jacket because the windchill penetrated more than expected and I could have done with a scarf around my mouth to protect against the cold but otherwise everything was hunky dory, honestly!

Tonking down the trail towards Mallards Pike we saw men running with tree trunks on their shoulders. That’s a first.  They were in the exact same spot where we once saw a segway expedition in full swing – only they weren’t (mercifully) swinging. They were standing bolt upright and looking catatonic in quite at 1960’s bad sci-fi film kind of way. Bizarre.

The log relay looked much less worrying. But there’s usually something going on in the Forest. Last time there was a sled dog meet right in the middle of the woodland and the time before that, a marathon race.

As I was munching my bacon roll – I noticed the wild boar burgers on the menu too late – Mrs Round Tuit said she was looking forward to February 14th.

Expecting a Valentine?

“No, it’s the Wyedean Rally. We do well that day – busiest day of the whole year!”

I remembered the cloud of blue exhaust fumes which hung over the central Forest and the deafening noise of cars tearing up the tracks. I’ll be giving that one a miss.

Arrived home as the sun was setting with just enough time before dark to blast all the mud off the bike with the garden hose and take it into the kitchen for the dry and lube. It’s still there now, leaning against the pew, sparkly clean again. It’s quite lovely.

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Posted in Countryside, Watery things, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Do they sell Hair Shirts in M and S ?

Back on Monday (I haven’t had time to write since then) it was Blue Monday. Reportedly, this is the day of the year when people are at their lowest ebb.

They have the credit card bills to pay from Christmas, it’s the middle of a month of the worst weather with precious little sun and pay-day is still a couple of weeks off.

I don’t usually take any notice of that rubbish, but actually Monday DID seem different.

On the front line (reception desk of a GP surgery) my colleagues reported a big rise in the number of people who were pre-irritated before they even picked up the phone to make the call.

They were already spoiling for an argument, already geared up to counter what they have pre-conceived might be a battle.

It’s easy to defuse this kind of attitude very quickly by unfailing politeness and helpfulness. Who can continue to be irritated if the person you’ve rung sounds pleasant, is considerate and moreover is giving you what you want? They usually want access to a doctor or nurse, but sometimes, you just can’t give them what they want…

“My tooth’s agony and I can’t eat anything. Can I see a doctor today please?”

“Er, you need a dentist for that.”

“I can’t go to the dentist. There are no appointments for two weeks and I need to be seen TODAY!”

Er..

So Monday everyone did seem more irascible and a rad more unreasonable than usual, which was bad news because some people’s default mode is Blunt Verging on Rude and others are merely totally devoid of Charm. They have no idea that a doctor is addressed as “Doctor” rather than “The Fat One Upstairs” or “The One With The Foreign Accent” and they have no conception of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or any other manners.

But hey, as I’m typing this I feel like I’m throwing stones in a glasshouse.  I have to confess that although I’m pretty civilised around people (apart from idiots who run red traffic lights)  I too fall short of the mark on occasion.

Last Saturday morning, I was half way through breakfast and a warm and delicious slight of brown buttered toast and marm when the doorbell rang.

Hurrying to answer it, in case it was a postman bearing an Amazon parcel, I found two strangers there – a bloke and a boy who was aged about 14.

“Good morning. Who do you think controls the world?” the boy started off…

I groaned. Outwardly.

“Sorry.  Not interested” I snapped and closed the door to return to breakfast.

It was only later, while out for a ride on my bike that I thought about the two people at the door and considered how bloody rude I’d been.

I remembered how I’d dismissed them in a peremptory fashion with not a shred of consideration and certainly no charm whatsoever.

Is it ok to be polite to everyone *except* Mormons or Jehovahs’ Witnesses or whatever they were?

No. I didn’t think so.  It was right out of order set no example to set to the young boy who was asking the ridiculous question that blew my patience.

Anyone know if they do Hair Shirts in M&S?

Oh well, this blog will have to do for now. I can take it off tomorrow…

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Geological drawers

Am I the only one who has geological drawers?

I don’t mean weighed down with rocks, maybe a chunk of gneiss, a spiky bit of rose quartz or a flaky slice of slate complete with fossil fern.

What I mean is the sort of drawer which has probably been full for several years, nay, decades and only the surface has been occasionally disturbed or perhaps not at all.

I haven’t compared notes with people about drawer maintenance so I have no idea whether this is something common to everyone or not.

It would be unthinkable for an upwardly mobile sort of cove who moves to a new continent, new country, new job every so often. Stuff really wouldn’t stand a chance of accumulating in a meaningful way.

Such people have got their school photos at home, their teenage photos stored with a friend in another country, their favourite books donated to friends in another part of the world completely.

You can probably guess that my mobility hasn’t been so much upward as upward for a bit, then went into “having a family” stasis before taking a leap sideways and then bunny-hopping into a rewarding but poory remunerated, dead-end job.

So, while having my Big Fat Sort-out of 2015, it was revealed that stuff has accumulated. Drawers which have been untouched for, yes, nearly a decade or (cough) more, have been explored.

Accumulations are one of the downsides of not moving house. It gathers until it might be described by some as a hoard – rather a harsh term, I feel, unless it describes a collection of bronze, silver or gold, in which case it’s quite exciting.

The astonishing thing is that these archives, as I like to call them, are laid down with perfect chronology.

One such drawer had leaflets and memorabilia from a holiday in Skiathos on top of it. That was nine years ago and they rendered it officially Full, so nothing further was stored there.

My bedside table drawer was similar, apart from being regularly disturbed around the edges with ephemera such as 14 pens, 2 Vick sniffers and escaped Olbas pastilles.

Delving beneath the surface was like peeling back layers of time. There were a few programmes from notable plays, performances, places…a leaflet from the Forest of Dean cycle trail when it was first opened (20 yrs ago at least) then a cycle race number or two from son #2’s racing days but even deeper was the good stuff I would never have remembered if I hadn’t squirrelled it away.

An embroidered bookmark made when son #1 was at primary school, some hand-drawn drinks mats, a local panto programme featuring son #2, a newspaper cutting when son #2 and a pal had their own late evening programme on community radio.

There were also some rather lovely greetings cards, complete with drawings. The earliest items were the junior school diaries the boys were made to write. The Glawster/Forest-a-Dean twang was revealed with the spellings  “breakfarst” and “arfter” but it was the creative spelling of ‘Neighbours’ that really made me laugh.

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So, after a bit of a tip-toe down memory lane, I was ready to start a moderate, carefully considered amount of chucking out.

Out went the magazine and newspaper cuttings featuring wonderful exercises never tried, make-up tips never performed, recommendations for perfume and miracle unguents never bought. The Duffer’s Guide to Racing went too. My betting days are over. I will never need to know how much a Monkey is compared to a String of Ponies but, naturally, I kept the irreplaceable charming, sentimental memory-inducing treasure.

I’ve caused massive disturbance to the geological strata of me drawers but I’ve retained the best bits.  I had to. The Janh hoard is way more precious than the Staffordshire hoard – to me anyway.

 

A further diary entry plus illustration.

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Posted in Art, Current Affairs, Cycling, Fiction, Literature | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Given the bird

You don’t know until you try, they say.

Truest thing ever – especially when it comes to bird photography.

Things were quite busy at Christmas and the Canon camera didn’t make an appearance what with the battery charger being buried under a heap in my study. All festive photos and bits of vid were taken with the HTC M8 mobile, which did an excellent job.

Today it was refreshing to have the opportunity to get familiar with the Canon again. There was a smattering of sunshine this morning, fresh birdfood on the table so it seemed a good time to snap some birds.

The tripod and a nice long lens were bound to be a win-win combo weren’t they?

They would have been but I didn’t count on Fat Lily taking an interest in the proceedings. She watched from the kitchen pew as I fixed everything up, got focussed and attached the remote shutter release.

She swiped a mischievous paw at the cable a couple of times to let me know that we could have a *much* better time playing with the cable rather than my intended project.

But I was set on the task. It was like Piccadilly Circus out there on the birdtable.  Blue tits, great tits, a couple of blackbirds and a robin were all taking their fill while goldfinches darted to and fro from the plum tree to the niger tube.

I concealed myself behind the jungly collection of orchids on my kitchen windowsill, (I knew they’d come in handy for something, one day) remote shutter release in hand, door almost closed (quite chilly outside), poised and ready to shoot as they say in proper photographic circles.

Lily exited via the catflap.

Next thing I knew, there was a furry flash across the lawn – and another and another. Lily was dashing skittishly from one side of the lawn to the other like a little bolt of furry lightning.

I’d never seen her doing widths of the lawn before. She wasn’t after any birds. She was pouncing spasmodically on dead leaves. She doesn’t usually bother with that stuff.

There was the slight possibility that she was performing in the hope of making an appearance on You Tube but actually no, this was pure unadulterated sabotage!

Naturally, all the birds scarpered and I had a perfect view of abandoned bird table and feeders.

She continued to caper about until the environment was completely devoid of birds and birdsong and swaggered back into the warmth of the kitchen, looking smug.

I managed to get a few shots of a couple of solitary visitors to the table and the hanging things but frankly, they were a bit rubbish because I’d vastly under-estimated the shutter speed you need for bird photography.

I’ve given myself a “Could do better” for today but I’ve learned some lessons including just how effectively a small tabby cat could give me the bird!

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IMG_5350This is why my shutter speed needs to be a *lot* faster!  :-)

Posted in Art, Birds, Cats, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Year!

The year 2015 arrived amid twiglets, cheesy footballs, copious amounts of excellent champagne and a jaw-droppingly spectacular display of fireworks on the telly.

After a nice sleep, it was off to Wales for a Big Breakfast with son #1 and then an airy tramp around the edge of the salt marshes of North Gower and through the pines and the dune of Whiteford Burrows to Whiteford Sands.

It’s a while since we’ve been to North Gower. It’s the wilder poor relation with less pretty beaches than the extremely popular South Gower but it’s wilder, and in a way, more rewarding.  You can’t park a car near a beach so the fact that you have to walk guarantees that the beaches are quieter.

The weather forecast was grim. Medium rain in the morning, heavy rain in the afternoon – and windy.  The reality was dry gloom with dingy-grey clouds moving threatening overhead but sparing us any downpours.

A 30mph wind (slight gale, really) sent long, sinuous sand creatures racing up the beach and brushed the undulating soft dune grasses.  The colour was turned down but it was beautiful nevertheless.

We met maybe eight other people out walking – most of them with dogs capering, slightly crazed by the wind and freedom.  We wished each other ‘Happy New Year’  I like it that strangers still talk to each other in Wales, although to be fair, some of the accents were English.

We ran up and down the dunes like kids, not having any actual kids with us. I took photos and gazed out into the grey towards Burry Port, Pembrey.  The light wasn’t good but it was very very good to be standing on a high dune overlooking one big curving, deserted beach and then tramp into the wind as it tore at our coats.

It was a very good start.

Oh, by the way, I’ve got the WordPress ‘How You Did in 2014′ thing, which isn’t very impressive. There were huge chunks of time, apparently, when I didn’t blog at all then in November I blogged every single day. I’m patchy, to say the least!

So I think the subtext of the report is “Could do better.”  I shall resolve to write more here this year. That’s the first resolution done. I haven’t thought of any others yet. It may take some time.

While I think about that I’d like to wish anyone reading this a Happy and Healthy 2015.

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Gower ponies grazing on the commons

Gower ponies grazing on the commons

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Posted in Coast, Countryside, Seaside | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments