Chirk Aqueduct and Tunnel

A short 2 night break in our campervan saw us in Chirk, just over the border of Wales and not far from Wrexham. The campsite is surrounded by trees, is adjacent to the grounds of the National Trust Chirk Castle estate, and a short and pleasant woodland walk from the Chirk Aqueduct.

The aqueduct spans the valley between Wales and England, with green fields, grazing sheep and the RivP1080886er Ceiriog way below. It carries the Llangollen canal with the railway line, supported on arches, beside it. A stroll across the towpath, taking in the scenery and any passing canal boats along the way,  takes you into England.

Keep walking and you’ll reach a canalside pub; turn back and you’ll re-enter Wales, and on the other side of the aqueduct there is the Chirk Tunnel, it’s dark mouth waiting to swallow the narrowboats into its murky depths.

The tow path continues into the tunnel. It’s possible to walk its 420 metres/460 yards length, but a torch is required along with a fair bit of care as the path is narrow. There is a rail but in these days of social distancing it would be a bit daft to try it. And there is supposed to be a ghost somewhere in there too…..

No, we didn’t do it but we have done walked it with children, and most recently with granddaughter who surprised herself with her bravery. It’s not actually that scary as the tunnel is straight so the end is always in view. Boats have to pace themselves and have a light on while they’re chugging through, so there is sometimes a queue waiting to go enter.

And then, when they emerge from the tunnel on the Welsh side, passengers might catch the enticing aroma of chocolate, drifting from the chocolate factory, hidden behind the trees and on the edge of the town.

The Dee Estuary

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On  recent visit to the Wirral, staying there for a couple of nights in our campervan, we enjoyed walking on the Dee Estuary beaches. Tide out, plenty of space for our dog to run, sniff and explore, and a few birds about too, it was all very pleasant. Across the water from the Wirral side are lower Welsh hills and small towns, such a Flint.

The estuary leaves the boats moored there high and dry, then buoyed up again as the tide comes in. Low tide reveals rocks, mud, pools and the remains of maybe piers? Maybe breakwaters? Maybe the back bone of a buried dinosaur?

The sound of oystercatchers peep-peeping is unmistakable, but I need binoculars to find them as they potter about feeding on the beach. The warbling cry of a nearby curlew draws my attention as it obligingly stands still for a photo.

 

RSPB Deeside is located further up along the coast on the English side, and it’s a good place for birds, as is Parkgate, with its grassy, silted up seashore, promenade and ice cream parlours. Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers, Short-eared owls, Merlins and Kestrels can be seen here, but patience is required, especially in winter months when it can get very cold taking part in one of the regular Raptor Watch events.

P1080832At the mouth of the estuary is Hilbre Island, which you can get to across the sands at low tide. A tide table is essential for this activity!  Further round the coast on the English side, is Liverpool, and nearby is Crosby Beach with the cast iron bodies of artist Antony Gormley forever looking out to sea, continually being covered then revealed by the rising and ebbing tides.

It’s always ourselves we find in the sea

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Last week I went away to the coast for  a couple of nights and returned recharged and refreshed after weeks of lockdown. There were small, simple pleasures, like walking on beaches and seeing seabirds. I wonder, do we appreciate what we already have? Why do we want more when we already have more than enough, if only we take time to enjoy it.

This poem came to mind as I was looking through the photos I took:

 

maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were:

and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as the world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

e.e.cummings

Masks

Masks have probably always provoked strong reactions because they hide, conceal and mystify. I’m thinking here of masked balls, the elaborate masks worn at the Carnival of Venice, the Guy Fawkes masks worn by protesters, and the masked faces of highwaymen in times gone by.

Dressing up 3 FroebelI created quite a stir many years ago when, at a fancy dress celebratory party at the end of an astrological psychology workshop. I went dressed as my interpretation of the planet Uranus and wore a full face mask. It wasn’t the costume that disturbed and intrigued people, it was the mask. People who knew me well didn’t recognise me and kept asking/guessing who I was. In astrological terms, Uranus is the planetary energy associated with change, upheaval, revolution, “ah-ha” moments, scientific knowledge and advance, and technology. Very relevant for the times we’re living in, and something I wrote about a while back. See here.

Who would have thought, back in March 2020, that masks would have become such a touchy, high profile subject. They’re a political hot potato right now, some people hating them and saying they will not wear them while others just get on with it and put them on, knowing that it’s the very least they can do to help bring this virus under control. I fall into the latter category.

The British government continue with their lack of clear messages to the public and the wearing of masks is a case in point. Announcing that from 24th July everyone is required to wear masks in shops, there still seem to be some cabinet ministers who don’t quite get this. Not especially surprising as a 10 day gap has been allowed between the date of the announcement and 24th July. Wondering why? Me too. Why not just a couple of days to allow people time to get themselves mask-organised? Why the delay?

Way ahead of this many people, myself included, wouldn’t – and still won’t for some time to come – go inside anywhere without a mask since the science says airborne particles of virus in breath droplets stand a far better chance of finding somewhere to adhere to in an enclosed space. It makes sense to wear a mask to protect yourself for this reason as well as to protect others if you are an asymptomatic carrier and don’t know if you’ve had the virus, or if you carry the virus.

It’s all down to being responsible to ourselves and to each other. OK, so people do look a bit strange wearing them, but we’ll get used to it. I’m fascinated by how they remind me of nose bags worn by horses and have a giggle at the thought of what could be munched behind them as people walk along.

As we’re not going to be able to show our facial expressions so well, we might be able to get away with poking out tongues at people we don’t like and getting away with it (no I’m not seriously suggesting that, it’s just a naughty bit of me coming out there). We’ll have to learn how to use our eyes more – smile with them and let the corners crinkle up a bit. We may need plenty of smiles to help us get through this.

Way back in March, when we were still in Houston visiting our family and realised we had to get a flight back home fast as the airlines were closing down, we tried out the masks we had with us ahead of leaving for the airport. If we look a bit terrified in picture 1 it’s because were were and we didn’t know what we were getting in to.

A few months down the line in picture 2 we put them on to go through the visitor centre and into the open air Wetlands Centre at Martin Mere. Not so much fear here about wearing them, just common sense and acceptance of the reality of our lifestyle and how the the world is now, as a vaccine is sought.

This is no time for anyone to drop their guard and relax. So please wear the damn things and do your bit.

Beaks and bills

On a recent visit to Martin Mere Wetlands Centre I noticed how many colourful and spectacularly shaped beaks and bills there were on the birds there.

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There is no difference in the meaning of beak or bill, although a sharp hooked end – like those of an eagle for example – might be referred to more often as a beak.

Having taken several photos of beaks and bills, here are a few, which I think/hope I’ve correctly ID’d. Comments are my personal responses and are not very ornithological! You’ll probably be able to work out which is which in the slideshow.

1) Spoonbill – weird and wonderful  – a build in spoon to dig around and find food with

2) Cape Barren Goose – pleasing colour combination of grey and yellow

3) Common Merganser – small pointy beak and stunning punky head

4) Black Swan – dramatic; I remember seeing my first one in Tasmania

5) Flamingo – wow! a large beak like a shovel

6) Red Crested pochard – intense combination of rich colours