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Friday, 13 December 2013

The South West: Moors & Tors

Since my last post, Autumn has been and pretty much gone.

The cemetery 

I've had a spontaneous trip to Norfolk, where the sun set over the dunes at Holkham at low tide. The wind picked up waves of dried sand, and whipped them across the beach. It was the same trip that the wind and rain completely trashed the tent, bending the poles and pinning the outer sheets over the top of us as we attempted to sleep.


And! An incredible treat, where a few of the team from Whipsnade Zoo got to meet four beautiful wolves at the Anglian Wolf Society.


Now, winter has slowly gripped the country. Bitter winds numb the bloodflow to the tips of the fingers. Occasional storms have battered the land. And a trip to Cornwall ensued.

Sam joined me as we spent a few days in Cornwall, exploring the moors and my favourite coastline on the planet. Not that I have seen much, or enough, of Earths coasts! Our first walk was to Rame Head. A rugged headland that juts out into the channel, with views of Plymouth and the Mewstone to the East, Whitsand Bay to the West and 180 degrees of what appears endless sea to the South.

Rame Head

Here, Dartmoor ponies grazed the moorland, as kestrels hovered along the cliff edges. Their heads motionless as their wings beat furiously and their rudder-like tail controlled them in the wind. After an unsuccessful dive, the kestrel perched on a nearby telegraph pole. A small, beautifully intricate bird of prey.


A small herd of fallow deer at the base of the cliffs froze. For a moment motionless, their ears pricked up, faces stared directly at us. The moment passed. White bums flashed as the deer skipped through the wind worn vegetation.
Fallows in the distance!

The next day we ventured out across Bodmin moor, an area packed with old mines, railways and ruins, topped off with stunning panoramic views from the tops of the granite exposed tors.

View from the top! A great place to eat lunch (and drop it all over the floor)

We climbed to the top of Kilmar Tor. After we had watched many hail storms pass in the distance, our fortune faded as the sinister grey clouds were swept above us. Hail showered to the ground, springing off of the bare rock faces and stinging the face.

Climbing a tor on Bodmin moor

We were not alone in enjoying this beautiful moorland, as mischievous cows, disguised as orcas, grazed their day away.


And of course, what is a trip to Devon and Cornwall without a walk along the raw and rugged wildlife rich coastline?

The sun sets over the Mewstone, Wembury
I apologise for the  severe delays in any form of blog. A new venture has begun, as I have decided to take on the challenge of making wildlife films. I have started a blog here: Riverbank Movies.

The plan is to create lots of mini-episodes featuring exciting wildlife that people can enjoy easily, or with not too much effort and little expense, and show them how to connect and enjoy with it. I would love to reach people that are not already wildlife savvy and aware, and inspire them to become so. Which will probably mean I will have to pester people with 'please share' messages. I apologise in advance. That is two apologies in as many paragraphs...

Anyway, I have been filming with the Shark Trust in Devon, in touch with Hunstanton Sealife Centre, and am already making some good contacts and have got enough material to fully complete a short episode about grey seals. So keep your eyes peeled! I am on facebooktwitter and youtube now as well! Any ideas, tips, advice - please feel free to share ! 

Thank ya'll for reading!! Much appreciated.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Scotland, Part II: Forest, Whiskey and a Salmon

It has taken me a long while to get around to part two of this amazing trip. I am working on a few other projects at the moment, which means the blogs may be slightly less frequent. This blog begins with a photo of a poppy, in honour of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day.

Woodland and Edradour

The sound of birdsong woke me at around six in the morning. The melodic and flutey tones of the blackbird and the chirpy song of the robin, backed by the sweet sound of tits calling as they made their way through the branches. I opened my window to the damp and cool forest air and let it drift into my room. It was time for an early morning walk up the mountainside into the pine forest that surrounds our camp.

Boulder in the Forest

Droplets of drizzle precariously clung to the sharp, needle-like leaves of the pine trees. Fungi burst through the undergrowth and the rotting remains of wood, as they attempt to spread their spores across the forest. 

A floor of fungi

The forest felt peaceful. I caught a glimpse of two red deer hinds as they momentarily froze upon discovering Sky and myself clambering our way through the forest. They soon dashed off through the clearing far quicker than I could ever follow.

Back for an early lunch, before heading off to a distillery. In fact, potentially the worlds smallest legal whiskey distillery - Edradour. For an afternoon of learning and drinking. We are in Scotland after all...

Barrels of whiskey!

Prepare for some number-crunching statistics!

Amazingly, Edradour make in one year what Glenfiddich make in just three days. Despite this, Edradour still use 6,000 litres of water per day. If these stats are correct, and my math holds out, after a quick calculation, Glenfiddich would use around 730,000 litres of water a day. This is equivalent to 266,450,000 litres of water every year. I will repeat that; that is over two hundred and sixty six million litres of water. A year. For whiskey. That is enough water to make over 100,000 kg of rice a year. And that is just Glenfiddich. It really does make you wonder about the state of the world we live in. Of course, they did not elaborate on their use of water resources in quite so much detail on the tour.

Tummel Valley

We had a slow start to the next day. And planned to climb the nearest peak from our camp. We got ready and steadily made our way up through the mixed broadleaf woodland, fungi littering every corner of the damp forest floor.

Early autumnal woodland

We decided to go off the beaten track in an attempt to make it to the peak. In doing so, we were rewarded with incredible views of what felt like a prehistoric forest, and squelched through clearings glistening with soggy mosses, small oozing streams, rich green grasses tipped with golden brown blades and the pink and purple flowers of the heather. A fair few of what looked to be fox moth caterpillars, fed among the heather.

How I imagine the Jurassic period to have looked (maybe with less regiment to the trees)

Fox moth caterpillar (?)

Fungi even grew from the branches of trees. Incredible

 Sky at the highest point this side of the valley

 As a result of our venture into unexplored and unpaved lands, we were inundated with a small parasite - the tic. I first felt an itching sensation just under my belly button. And sure enough, upon inspection, a small black body sat with its head buried into my skin and its legs waving in the air. The dogs were riddled with them too. A couple of quick phone calls to good friends Dr. Ripley and Timmy P (thanks guys!), gave me the confidence to handle the situation. Funny enough, the tic decided to make its own way out of my stomach and started crawling around, so I removed it and carried on with the walk. As far as I am aware, that is the first time I have ever been parasitised.


Before heading home, we visited Pitlochry. And we had our first red squirrel sighting of the entire trip, as the little rodent sat by the side of the road collecting food. Where the loch has been dammed, they have built a fish ladder, enabling the salmon to make their way up and around the dam. A brilliant idea and one I was intrigued by. Over 1,000 salmon had been through the ladder that year, and we were lucky enough to see one half way up the ladder in the  viewing window. Beautiful fish. 

River Tummel

Terrible salmon photo! 

Any river good for fish, is going to be good for fishing predators. A heron sat on the opposite side of the River Tummel, watching the river as it flowed past. 

Heron on the rocks

The journey home was a long one. In terms of wildlife, I did not manage to see any of the Scottish big five properly, but I had an incredible time, and got to enjoy a taste of this beautifully vast landscape. I will end the blog of the trip with my personal favourite photo. It is of Sky, half way up Ben Nevis. Looking down in the hope of spotting sheep...

Halfway up, looking down

I mentioned at the start of this post about some new projects I am working on.  I have decided to take a new direction into territory that I have no proper experience in whatsoever. All will be revealed soon for those that are interested! 

One final photo: A shy hedgehog feeding in the garden behind the old empty plant pots, as it attempts to fatten itself up for the hibernation ahead...


Thank ya'll for taking time out of your lives to read the blog, or simply look at the photos. 

Until next time! 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Scotland: The Lakes, Tummel Valley and Ben Nevis

Scotland. A place I had never been, a place I had only ever dreamed. From the otters of the coast, to the red deer of the highlands. The golden eagles of Skye and the successfully reintroduced white-tailed sea eagles. Not to mention red squirrels. Everybody loves these cheeky rusty-red rodents. Scotland is also probably the last remaining vast wilderness of the UK. With only four days to explore, one would do well to see all of Scotlands big 5, and with a day dedicated to climbing Ben Nevis, I was expecting to only get a taste of what this country has to offer.

The Lakes

Keswick bound in the early hours of the morning. Skeins of geese, deceits of lapwing and small starling murmurations entertain from the window I gaze from. Four hours of driving, and soon we are surrounded by the burned oranges and browns of the moors that scatter the sides of the whispy cloud topped mountains. Rugged and sharp peaked. Speckled with sheep. A particular favourite of Sky's. Which meant keeping her on the lead, or at least attached to Buddy or Bella...

Swimming Race; Buddy vs Sky
Our first ascent was Catbells, after a walk around Derwent Water.

Boat on Derwent
The clouds were slowly shifting across the sky, turning the shafts of sun light across the valleys below. We stood and watched as buzzard soared below. House martins still flittered over the side of the fells, soon to be making their journeys to unknown parts of Africa for the winter.

View from Catbells

Overlooking Keswick

We got back into Keswick for dusk, perfect timing for a game stew and a few cumberland ales. And then, to bed. By the riverside, where the water ran across the stoney riverbed, providing the perfect soundtrack for a good night sleep.

Gull on the rocks

Despite the window being open all night, and the fact my legs did not really fit into my bed sheets exposing my feet, my ankles felt unusually warm as I woke. The warmth soon became a desire to itch, and on closer inspection, twelve mosquito bites peppered my skin. Leaving after breakfast, we sat and watched gulls as they chased each other, stealing a dying brown oak leaf from one and other.

The chase!

Before the long journey ahead to Pitlochry, we took a stroll to Friars Crag. The perfect viewing point across Derwent Water. Couples romantically rowed across the lake in wooden boats, surrounded by the still of the water, the freshness of the valley air, and overlooked by the fells that surround the water.

House on the Water

View from Friars Crag


Upon crossing the Scottish border, the first thing I noticed were the turbines built across the vast rolling hills, harnessing the winds energy.

A road through Scotland

Signs featured images of capercaillie, eagles and red squirrels on the forest edges. The thought of these animals excited me. Although, I held no expectations of what I would see and where. A lone hooded crow scavenged on the strip of grass separating the traffic. As we drove along Loch Tummel to our campsite at Tummel Bridge, the sun set at its Western tip. Low, the sun's light cast shadows across the length of the Loch, the singed yellow-orange of ferns glowed amongst the deep green pine forests.

I took a late-night stroll to the bridge over the river flowing to the Loch. The air dead calm, the absence of light heightened my hearing; tawny owls called from the tree tops. I sat on the bridge, listening to the water rushing below, the stars bright before the moon began to rise above the pine. A beautifully peaceful evening.

Tummel River and the night sky

Ben Nevis

We got up before the sun had risen, and began the long drive to Fort William through the glorious wild landscape. As the sun broke above the horizon, the mist lifted from the valleys, blown up mountain sides by the winds. Clouds hugged the peaks. Soon, we would join the clouds at the top.

Clouds in the valleys

Loch Linnhe, Fort William

I have never sweated so much. The terrain was not difficult, just the air thick and the sun intense for September. My clothes became sodden, salt dripped from my nose and my large eyebrows failed me as my sweat stung my eyes.

Glen Nevis
Buzzards and a pair of ravens circled across from the mountainside. Anyone that stopped to take a closer look at the rock laden landscape, would appreciate that the grey stone is splashed with vibrantly coloured lichens of purple, red, lime-green, yellow, black and turquoise.

Halfway up Ben Nevis

Before we reached the peak, mountain rescue had to air lift someone who had a heart attack, but was successfully resuscitated by some passing mountaineers. Snow still lingered in the odd crevice. The wind had a refreshing bite, which soon dried my clothes allowing me to layer up. A small flock of what I believed to be snow bunting, flew out from the mist, over our heads and disappeared back into the mist.


Only now do I really appreciate having been stood at the highest point of Britain. I have had more enjoyable walks as the views were obscured by cloud, and the wildlife pretty thin pickings. But it is an achievement none the less.

A rare moment of clarity on the peak

I hope you have enjoyed reading part one, part two should be on its way a lot more quickly than this one, and will include fungi, fells and a mention of my brief encounter with a parasite. Here is Sky shaking off in Derwent Water... Thank ya'll for reading!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Stop Langford Wind Farm? Give it a rest!

There is nothing like a good, long walk to clear the mind and raise the spirits. Ellie and Sky joined me for a stroll up to Langford water tower, via the brand new wind farm currently in the process of being constructed. I apologise for the lack of focus on wildlife in this blog, but this is an environmental subject that is close to home, and with the extreme fuss made over the wind farm, with numerous 'Stop Langford Wind Farm' posters littering our streets, it got me thinking.


Clearly, all of the evidence is in favour of the wind turbines being built. Enough energy will be produced to power over 11,000 homes, preventing the release of between 18,000 and 43,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. It is a direction the world needs to take.

Turbine in the field
They also produce near to no noise, leaving the visual impact as the only impact that the people of Langford are so strongly opposed to. Which infuriates me for a number of reasons.


Firstly, I personally like their appearance. But then that is personal preference and I can accept that some people may disagree. Some people like pugs, I think they are ugly. But, I wonder why people go to the extent of putting up posters and threatening to move homes because wind turbines are being added to an already polluted and fragmented landscape. I find it difficult to understand that they can put up with all of these, but can not bear the sight of a clean looking wind turbine, a symbol of greener energy and a more sustainable future.

Dissecting our landscape with wires

Telegraph poles and cables run across our vast expanses of green rolling countryside. But then we need these to enable tele-communication and transport electricity. They provide a benefit to us, and we accept them as necessary. 

Light pollution and the turbine

I have never heard anyone who lives in Langford complain about the ridiculously bright lights of the larger town of Biggleswade and the A1. The lights are necessary to enable us to see clearly at night. Yet they are a form of pollution. These street lamps and shop windows violate the light produced by stars that has traveled for millions of years to reach the Earth, they pollute our skyline with reds and yellows. But we accept them around here, because they are part of modern society. 

Buzzard in the Sun (m)
During the walk, I stop and listen to the sound of the skylark, rising high above our fields. Beautiful. My soul is immediately lifted by its upbeat and cheery sound. I am alerted to the buzzard soaring high above by its mewing call, as it circles around the sun. But, if I stop and listen to everything, I hear the not-so-distant hum of cars, lorries, motorbikes and vans on the A1. A constantly subtle barrage of noise that ruins the peace of our countryside. People are only deaf to the noise because of its constancy. Stop and listen. When was the last time you heard total, natural silence, coupled only with the very sound of nature?

A1 ugly

And then the electricity pylons. Only an architect could like an electricity pylon. They are attractive in their lines and symmetry, but are essentially huge metal towers with horrendously long cables running between them. Disgusting.

East Coast rattler

And what is this? A roaring, rattling lump of metal, fueled by electricity tearing through the countryside, no more than 50 metres from peoples homes in Langford. Stop the trains? No, because the trains serve them a direct purpose. They can make do with the trains because the trains get them from Biggleswade to London and back for about £20.

Langford behind the turbines

But these wind turbines are disgusting. The scourge of our landscape. I will consider selling my life-long family home because every time I look out across the farmers fields that have replaced our ancient woodland, every time I look over the high-speed rattling and roaring railway, through the telephone wires and electricity cables running across the land, I see a few large, tall, rather amazingly designed wind turbines harnessing the energy of the wind for electricity. These hideous constructions are built on our doorstep, as the human race attempts to fight the battle against depleting reserves of non-renewable fuel sources so that we can have the railway we want, the lights on at night, and boil the kettle to sit down and watch Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend with a nice cup of tea.

Give me a break. Stop being so selfish, and start opening your mind to the long-term future of our planet. Maybe it is a generation problem, and it is simply those that do not like change, those that accept the negative changes that have already occurred, and think that any more changes to 'their' landscape should not happen. This wind farm is a positive change for sustainability and the environment. They have to go somewhere, and that somewhere may change the view you wake up to in the morning.

Talking of which, I thoroughly look forward to sitting down with a nice cup of tea, and popping a bit of Strictly on the box.

And to make up for the lack of wildlife, here is a photo from my moths at night project I have been working on.

Capturing the flight of moths at night

Thank you for reading ya'll !