Seventy at Seventy

Life Begins at 70


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[38] I was Born for This

[38] I was Born for This – A Blog about France

At least, it’s a blog about the tiny bit of France that we visited on a short cruise. We went to Rouen then to Le Havre and from Le Havre I took a short coach trip to visit Deauville and Honfleur.

Joan of Arc

I will start with a brief introduction to one of the most famous heroines of France. You will find out why a bit later.

Joan of Arc did not come from a place called Arc. She was born in Domrémy in the northeast of France. In French she is always known as Jeanne d’Arc. She was Jeanne, spelt in medieval times as Jehanne, and her father’s surname was D’Arc. In the English language her first name has been always been Joan since the fifteenth century because that was the only English equivalent for the feminine form of John during her lifetime.

The surname of Arc is a translation of d’Arc, which itself is a nineteenth-century French approximation of her father’s name. Apostrophes were never used in Fifteenth Century French surnames, which sometimes leads to confusion between place names and other names that begin with the letter D. Based on Latin records, which do reflect a difference, her father’s name was more likely to have been Darc. Spelling was also phonetic and original records produce his surname in at least nine different forms, such as Dars, Day, Darx, Dare, Tarc, Tart or Dart. [Perhaps she was related to another hero – from Pride and Prejudice!] She also has the common nickname la Pucelle d’Orléans (“the Maid of Orléans”).

I won’t say much about her life. As a young peasant girl, she had visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine speaking to her. She left home; supported King Charles VII against the English in the Hundred Years War; was apparently important in the ending of the siege of Orléans (hence the nickname) but was captured by the English. After a trial she was burned at the stake in 1431 at the age of about nineteen. It was not until the Twentieth Century that the Roman Catholic Church finally made her a saint.

While Our Lady of the Assumption, the Virgin Mary is the patron saint of France, Joan of Arc is one of the nine secondary patron saints of France, along with Saint Denis, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Louis, Saint Michael, Saint Rémi, Saint Petronilla, Saint Radegund and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

Rouen

Rouen is a city on the River Seine in the north of France. It is the capital of Normandy, formerly one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe. It was founded by the Gaulish tribe of Veliocasses, who named the settlement Ratumacos. The Romans called it Rotomagus, the second city of Gallia Lugdunensis, after Lugdunum (Lyon). In the Fifth Century it became the seat of a bishopric and later a capital of Merovingian Neustria.

During the Hundred Years’ War, in 1419, Rouen with a population of 70,000 surrendered to Henry V of England, who annexed Normandy once again to the Plantagenet domains. It became the capital city of English power in occupied France. When the Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster bought Joan of Arc her liberty from the Duke of Burgundy who had been keeping her in jail since May 1430, she was sent to be tried in the city during Christmas 1430. After a long trial by a church court, she was sentenced to be burned at the stake. The sentence was carried out on 30 May 1431 in the city. Note this date as we visited on 30 May 2017.

For our very short visit we were deposited by the shuttle bus near the old city and started with Rouen Cathedral (Cathédrale primatiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de Rouen.) the see of the Archbishop of Rouen, Primate of Normandy. Our visit was quite late in the evening when the cathedral was shut but even from the outside it was impressive, starting with its pointed spire currently being restored.

With no real aim in mind we followed the narrow street from the cathedral towards the market square. The buildings still had a mediaeval look to them and we passed under an arch bearing large ornate clock faces.

We came to an insignificant church and tucked behind it was an unassuming statue of a young girl.

There was a large cross and a little garden area.

We had just come to see an old French city and it was strange to discover this monument almost by chance.

And we realised that we were there on the anniversary of the day Joan of Arc was burned. 586 years later we had the opportunity to reflect how much the World has changed since then – and how much it hasn’t.

At Sea

I will say very little about our cruise. Here are just a few pictures of our Ship, Magellan – outside the ship; the Bridge room where we spent several hours playing cards; and part of the long corridor leading to our cabin.

It was a short cruise and we had just come from Antwerp. The Seine was very wide as we made our slow progress over several hours passing under some impressive bridges to Rouen and after our visit we made the return journey through the night.

The first bridge, nearest to the estuary was the Pont de Normandie a cable-stayed road bridge that links Le Havre to Honfleur. Its total length is 2,143.21 metres – 856 metres between the two piers. It is a motorway toll bridge, but there is a footpath as well as a narrow cycle lane in each direction allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross the bridge free of charge. The bridge was constructed from 1988 to 1995. At that time the bridge was both the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, and had the record for the longest distance between piers for any cable-stayed bridge. This what it looked like as we passed underneath.

It was only a day later when I took the coach from Le Havre. To get to Deauville and Honfleur we had to cross the same bridge.

Le Havre

Our second port of call in France was Le Havre, an urban French commune and city in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of northwestern France, situated on the right bank of the estuary of the river Seine. Modern Le Havre retains its maritime traditions. Its port is the second largest in France, after that of Marseille, for total traffic, and the largest French container port. The name Le Havre means “the harbour” or “the port”. The city and port were founded by the King Francis I of France in 1517. Celebrations were starting for the six hundred year anniversary.

The city was largely destroyed (by the Allies) during the Second World War, and rebuilt according to the plans of the architect Auguste Perret between 1945 and 1964. Only the town hall and the Church of Saint Joseph were personally designed by Auguste Perret. UNESCO listed the city of Le Havre in 2005 as a World Heritage Site. The architecture of the area is characterized by the use of precast concrete using a system of a modular frame.

We didn’t venture into Le Havre but here is the view from the ship.

Deauville

Deauville is a commune in Normandy just beyond Honfleur. With its race course, harbour, international film festival, marinas, conference centre, villas, Grand Casino and sumptuous hotels, it is regarded as the “queen of the Norman beaches” and one of the most prestigious seaside resorts in all of France. It is the closest seaside resort to Paris, and has long been home to French high society’s seaside houses and is often referred to as the Parisian Riviera. Since the Nineteenth Century, the town of Deauville has been a fashionable holiday resort for the international upper class and the wealthy. In France, it is known perhaps above all for its role in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

We were dropped by the coach by the very expensive Normandy Hotel and the Casino and walked to the famous boardwalk with the row of beach huts, each bearing the name of one of its famous Hollywood visitors. I walked out over the beach and briefly visited the harbour and marina area.

Honfleur

Honfleur is a commune in the Calvados department on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine across from Le Havre and very close to the exit of the Pont de Normandie. It is especially known for its old, beautiful picturesque port, characterized by its houses with slate-covered frontages, painted many times by artists, including in particular Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind, forming the école de Honfleur, which contributed to the appearance of the Impressionist movement.

From the Eleventh Century it was variously named Hunefleth, Hunefloth, Honneflo, Honflue and Honnefleu, up to the Eighteenth Century. It was traditional pronunciation with the h strongly expirated as in ‘loch’.

The marker -fleur, formerly -fleu which is widespread in Normandy means ‘stream, or river running into the sea’ and was still in use in the Thirteenth Century. It is probably cognate with the English ending -fleet seen in place-names. The element Hon- seems to come from an Anglo-Saxon personal name Huna or the Norse Húni.

[The port of Honfleur is le port de Honfleur, not le port d’Honfleur. Those interested in linguistics will note that Le Havre and Honfleur both use the rather uncommon ‘aspirated H’ (“h” aspiré) an initial silent letter that represents a hiatus and prevents the normal contraction and liaison processes. It does not represent aspiration but derives from the voiceless glottal fricative [h] of Old French and Middle French, now remaining only in some words in Belgian dialects.]

We started our visit to Honfleur with a walking tour through the mediaeval streets and an excellent guide.

Saint-Catherine’s Church

The church, dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, is the largest church made out of wood in France. The first nave, the oldest part of the building, dates from the second half of the Fifteenth Century right after the Hundred Years War. It was built on the model of a market hall, using naval construction techniques, which gives the impression of an upside-down ship’s hull. Then the bell tower was built a good distance away, so that parishioners would not be burnt in case of a fire. In the Sixteenth Century, a second nave was added. This second part was rather rounder, and did not look like a ship’s hull. The famous “Axe masters” of the naval yards of the city created the building without using any saws, just like their Norman ancestors.

The beams used to create the pillars of the nave and the side walls are of unequal length, because there were not anymore any oak trees long enough to construct them. Also, some have a footing of stone, some of greater or lesser height, and some have no footing.

Here are outside views of the twin naves from the front and the campanile and two inside views.

The classical organ comes from the parish St. Vincent of Rouen. It is situated at the back of the church and the seats can be reversed by flipping the backs!

I had a little time to see the port, which is still used for fishing.

Quebec

There is a small municipality in Quebec called Honfleur, founded in 1904. It is similar to Honfleur in France, from where many sailors came from during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries to North America.

There was a plaque on an arch of the Lieutenancy building at the port of Honfleur commemorating some of these early settlers.

Much of the information in this blog is taken unashamedly from Wikipedia. The pictures are, of course, all my own.

I will end with the source of my title. As Joan of Arc was leaving Vaucouleurs to begin her mission to save France she was asked by a woman: “How can you make such a journey when on all sides are soldiers?” to which Joan responded: “I do not fear the soldiers, for my road is made open to me; and if the soldiers come, I have God, my Lord, who will know how to clear the route that leads to the Dauphin. It was for this that I was born!” The original in French is: “Je n’ai pas peur des soldats, car ma route m’a été ouverte, et si les soldats viennent, j’ai Dieu, mon Seigneur, qui saura comment libérer la route qui mène à Sieur le Dauphin. C’est pour cela que je fus nais.” It is often quoted as just:

“I am not afraid, for God is with me. I was born for this!”

 


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[39] Lijepa Naša Domovino

[39] Lijepa Naša Domovino – a Pictorial Blog about Croatia

As I am sure you all know Lijepa Naša Domovino is both the title and the opening line of the Croatian National Anthem. It starts:

Lijepa naša domovino; Oj junačka zemljo mila;

Stare slave djedovino; Da bi vazda sretna bila! …

The English translation is:

Our beautiful homeland; O so fearless and gracious;

Our fathers’ ancient glory; May you be blessed forever …

This is one of three blogs about Croatia. It will be mostly pictures in a fairly random order and it’s really about some time we spent there in May. Most pictures are from an area of a few square miles around our hotel including the town of Rovinj [Rovigno] and the Golden Cape Forest Park to the South. Some may come from the wider area of Istria [Istra]; the towns of Pula [Pola], Koper [Capodistria] (in Slovenia) and Trieste (in Italy) and the island of Brijuni [Brioni].

It’s an area with a complicated history and towns all have Italian names. You can see more about the area in [47] Istria and [18] Croatian Wildlife has an introduction to the Forest Park and many pictures of the animal life.

Our Hotel

I will start with some pictures of the Hotel Eden, our home for two weeks. It was not the high season but I was up for an early trip to get shots of it empty!

The outside area was generally fairly empty.

Some views from our balcony.

Some Buildings

Not far from our hotel is the town of Rovinj, dominated by the tall tower of it church on a hilltop.

It used to be an island town and the little circle of the old town projects into the sea.

Here is the arch to the old town, shown from both sides.

It’s a steep climb up to the Church of Saint Euphemia.

The houses within the old city look largely unchanged.

We couldn’t get near to this chimney in Rovinj but I think it’s from an old factory that may have something to do with tobacco.

The last buildings shown here are an old house in the Forest Park, the castle at Miramar, near Trieste, and a bell tower in the town of Koper in Slovenia.

Clocks

Here are some pictures that might have appeared in [66] Clocks.

The first clock tower was prominent at the centre of Rovinj. Others include pictures from Koper and Trieste.

The last one is a large sundial on the side of a building.

Diversion

This really was a diversion. Until recently you could walk from the hotel along the sea edge to Rovinj. It was a pleasant scenic walk. Now if you try it you come to a fenced-off area with cranes and building works as another nearby hotel is being re-built. The new building will include a new marina so there is no way along by the sea. The diversion is quite a steep climb of a hill taking you almost back to the hotel where you started.

The quick way is out of the front of the hotel where Rovinj is still a short walk away. It’s just not quite so pretty.

The Forest Park

We often walked in the Park. Here is one entrance and the walk down by a high stone wall.

Further on is another entrance and the roads inside are well managed.

The last picture above shows a walk along by the sea. Below is I think what we might call a folly.

There are nest-boxes for birds and others for bats!

There were also the remains of extensive Venetian quarries.

Plant Life

Most of the trees of the Forest Park and elsewhere were pine trees, sometimes almost horizontal as they leaned over the sea. Olive trees were also common.

This olive tree at Brijuni is over a thousand years old.

The pine cones are a colourful orange as they emerge.

Rock Rose (Cistus) was common but there were other wild flowers.

Markets

Here are some of the goods on sale at the local market and in the shops.

The Tower

For my last pictures of Rovinj here are some from the climb up the tower and some views from the top. The stairs were narrow, wooden and old with large gaps between them.

Pula Amphitheatre

Wikipedia says it is known locally as the Arena but we all called it the Coliseum because of its similarity with the one in Rome.

There must have been a way inside but I just walked round the outside.

Don’t forget the other two – [47] Istria and [18] Croatian Wildlife.

 


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[31] A Walk in the Park

[31] A Walk in the Park – A Blog about Pittville Park

This is mostly about my local park which has served as a local birdwatching patch and now helps me with my searches for insects, flowers and blog pictures. But we start a little south of the actual park with some history.

Pittville Gates

A little to the north of Cheltenham town centre you come to a magnificent arch over equally magnificent gates. They have recently been restored (2012-16) by the Friends of Pittville.

The sign over the arch proclaims it as the entrance to Pittville Park but it actually the entrance to something even grander. Just inside the gates are two notices. One describes the gates and the other is about the Pittville Estate.

The Pittville Estate

Joseph Pitt (1759-1842), a local lawyer who prospered from property speculation, wanted to create a large estate of houses and gardens to the North of Cheltenham with its own Pump Room – a new spa town to rival Cheltenham. The gates would have been the entrance to this estate.

The estate was only ever partly completed. The housing development is relatively small but a little further north we will come to Pittville Park and the impressive Pittville Pump Room opened in 1830. It’s all now included in the expanded town of Cheltenham.

Pittville Park

As part of his new estate the area of Pittville Park to the East of Evesham Road with its ornamental lake was formed about the same time as the Pump Room by damming the stream called Wyman’s Brook. Originally it was enclosed by railings for the private use of residents and subscribers to spa facilities. It was formally opened to the public in 1894 just after its purchase by Cheltenham Borough Council.

There are several informative notices in the park and we will come back later to the useful map on this one.

The area of the Park to the West of Evesham Road, not included in Pitt’s original plans, is called the Marle Hill Annexe on its notice. It has a Boating Lake, formerly known as Capper’s Fish Pond. I hardly ever see boats on the lake. The Boathouse opens in summer providing ice-creams and other refreshments.

(While some of my information comes from these signs, I have also turned, as always, to Wikipedia.)

A Walk Round the Park

I will take you on a route round the park and point out areas of interest. I have several routes that I use but they are all similar to the route I will use here. Here is a map from the park notice on which I have numbered some locations to guide you round. (My pictures come from two or three visits so the weather and vegetation may appear to change suddenly.)

To the Boating Lake

I won’t start anywhere near Pittville Gates. North of the Park, just off Albermarle Gate there is a rough car park marked [1], which I use when I drive to the Park. It’s one of the few places around Cheltenham where I can park free.

Not far from here is one of my favourite trees, this tall redwood.

From our starting point it’s a short walk downhill to the lake. This large grassy area is used for ‘Pitch and Putt’ golf in the summer. Here is one of the greens almost ready for its flag.

We come to a path by the lake marked [2] on my map. Note the chair and the bridge.

I stand behind the chair turn a little right and photograph a group of six young trees.

Then I go to the middle of the bridge and photograph the view of the lake and its surrounding landscape.

My plan is to do a blog showing you how these two pictures change through the year.

Here is the path continuing along the northern edge of the lake.

A little further on the lake widens. Here are two views showing how it changes with the seasons and the weather.

The Far West

I will come back to the lake but we have to cross Tommy Taylors Lane to an extension of the Park, a wilder area normally not frequented by park visitors – just dog-walkers! On the map we go from [3] to [4].

Sometimes I start here when I have walked to the Park. I follow the edged of this section clockwise, starting with the trees at the edge by the Prince of Wales stadium.

At the far end we come to a corner [5] with a wild area nearby.

From here the short walk along the far edge is ideal for summer visiting birds.

This area of land that we are circling used to be an extension of the mini-golf but it hasn’t been plain grass for a few years. It’s now left as longer grass with wild flowers.

As we come round back to the road the back gardens of houses provide the habitat for sparrows and other garden birds.

Albermarle Gate

After crossing back at [6] I don’t always do the next short section along the edge by the street known as Albermarle Gate.

There is some more rough grass with wild flowers and an expanse of grass that includes the mini-golf area.

There is another impressive tree followed by a development of houses jutting into the park.

Some of these houses share a small open area by the park with another one of my favourite trees at [7].

Just beyond this is the car park [1] where we started.

Wyman’s Brook Outlet

I need to say something here about Leonhard Euler, who in 1735 famously considered the mathematical problem known as the Seven Bridges of Königsberg. The city of Königsberg in Prussia (now Kaliningrad in an enclave of Russia) was set on the Pregel River, and had two large islands connected to each other and the mainland by seven bridges. The problem was to decide whether it was possible to follow a path that crosses each bridge exactly once and returns to the starting point.

Well the answer that it is impossible. Going round my circuit of Pittville Park is similar. Wherever we start and stop there is some duplication. So we move instantly from the car park [1] to the end of the lake [3] where we have already been.

On this lake you may find swans, ducks and other waterfowl but when I went round there was this Magpie.

Here is the lake as seen from near the end.

Water leaves the lake here down a little waterfall to the reconstituted Wyman’s Brook on its way out of the park. It soon disappears underground for a while. This is the best place to spot Grey Wagtail.

I used to do a regular bird census and would routinely count twenty or more Mallards here at the end. But numbers have now dropped and it’s common to find none here.

This may be a bit repetitive but around [8] on the map is another of my favourite trees leaning over the lake.

Here is a squirrel by the lake before we come to the section by the island.

South of the Boating Lake

The path continues and near the point marked [9] there are several tall trees.

We pass the other side of the bridge which we saw earlier.

This metal pedestrian bridge, joining the north and south banks of the Lower Lake, was opened in February 2012, replacing earlier wooden bridges which had been damaged beyond repair. The bridge is decorated with metal sculptures based on drawings made by local schoolchildren and artists.

A little further on we see the Boathouse opposite and then a murky looking almost stagnant pool.

It can’t be that bad as there are often birds here, sometimes Great Crested Grebe. I saw a Coot here recently settled on its newly assembled nest.

Just before the Evesham Road is another area of trees – sometimes with Green Woodpecker or Jays.

East Lake and Pump Room

It’s best to go under the road through a dismal underpass to the part that Pitt included in his original designs. This section is dominated by its lake with stone bridges at each end. Here is the first bridge [10] and the view from it.

We walk past a quaint little building reminiscent of the Boathouse. (Public Conveniences!)

There is a large Children’s Play Area, recently rebuilt and enlarged, and an open grassy area leading to the Pump Room [11].

I will say more about this building when I look at Cheltenham. I stop at the edge of the lake with this building behind me. Usually there are lots of Mallard, Moorhen, gulls and pigeons here.

We are nearly done. At the far end [12] is the other bridge.

You can look back over the lake.

The other side of the bridge is a nasty looking area of stagnant water and a much smaller bridge over the incoming Wyman’s Brook. This is rumoured to be the best place to see a Kingfisher but I have only ever seen one once – for about two seconds.

Towards Town

Continuing round there is a short section with an enclosed area of trees to the right, then a final view of the lake before heading south towards town.

This open tree-lined section would have been the way from those splendid gates when the park was enclosed.

Half way down at [13] our last numbered point on the map is another little building, the Central Cross Café.

I have never been tempted to stop here but I am a bit of a coffee snob. Over a small road past the cafe is an old building, used as an ARP (Air Raid Precaution) Centre from 1942-46. It now serves as a location for Scouts. (I want to call them Boy Scouts but the sign is clear – boys and girls welcome.)

Another bit of tree-lined grass brings us to the end of the park, still a few hundred metres from those gates!

As for my blog about Slimbridge I have so far only taken pictures in the wintry half of the year. In the spring and summer we will see more flowers, more leaves on the trees, more birds and more insects.

Even in winter I get my exercise by walking to the park and round it.

 

 

 

 


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[32] Make the Boy Interested …

[32] Make the Boy Interested – a Blog about Slimbridge

I have been slow to do blogs about places because I can’t show them yet in their summer glory. But even in winter there is so much to Slimbridge, which I visit about twice a month, not only for its birds.

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Of course I don’t mean the village of Slimbridge. I go through the village, over the Gloucester to Sharpness Canal to the headquarters of the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust (WWT) overlooking the Severn estuary.

For this year and this blog I am also photographing its views, its buildings, its signs, its plants and flowers and its insects. But I can save a lot of these pictures for other blog posts. Here I will give an introduction and then just show my usual walk round the site – maybe leaving enticing hints about what else is there to be seen.

Peter Scott

You can read a bit about Scott of the Antarctic and the WWT in [48] Statues, where you will see two statues now at Slimbridge.

Peter Markham Scott, whose godfather was JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was only two when his father died. In his last letter home Captain Robert Falcon Scott advised his wife to “make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games.”

Peter grew up to be more than a naturalist. He took up ice-skating and sailing and won a bronze medal for sailing at the Berlin Olympics of 1936. He was an excellent painter although I think most of his water colour pictures seemed to involve ducks. I remember him from his television appearances – yes, about ducks.

WWT and Slimbridge

The Severn Wildfowl Trust was founded by Peter Scott at Slimbridge in the same month that I was born. (Come on, it’s an easy calculation. You know my birthday.)

It may be apocryphal but someone once told me about Peter Scott seeking to set up the original site at Slimbridge. When he was asked, “I suppose you want me to give you the land for nothing?” it is said that he answered, “No, I want you to spend a million pounds on developing it and then give it to me for nothing!”

There are now several other sites through the United Kingdom in the expanded and renamed WWT. Slimbridge continues to act as the headquarters of the organisation.

I see the WWT sites as fulfilling three major functions.

(i)            They protect and conserve waterfowl, primarily by preserving wetland habitats. There have been major successes with birds such as the Nene (Hawaiian Goose) and Common Crane. They now also try to preserve other wildlife forms, not just birds.

(ii)           They keep examples of waterfowl on their sites for the public to see in the same way as zoos.

(iii)          To some extent they manage the land outside the public areas (although they don’t actually own the land around Slimbridge.) As well as encouraging waterfowl and wetland wildlife they also provide hides on the site for members to use when observing the external wildlife.

Sadly they also have to do other things as fundraising activities so that they can keep going. Slimbridge is expensive to visit but it’s much cheaper if you are a member. They have activities to encourage families and children to visit. I sort of accept that this pays for the other activities, which they couldn’t do without an income.

Before we take a walk round the site here is a map.

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I will take you round my usual route.

Entrance and the Main Building

Slimbridge is the headquarters of the WWT and many staff work there so we start from a large car park often full. A ramp over a pond takes us to the entrance.

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There is a large Visitor Centre, which I normally go straight through, stopping just to check the latest bird sightings.

The Peng Observatory and Rushy Pen

First on my list of stops is always the Peng Observatory. It’s the largest, warmest and most comfortable of the hides, overlooking the Rushy Pen with its two large lakes. From here you may see any of the waterfowl, especially visiting winter Bewick’s Swans and Pintail. It’s also good for Coot, Moorhen, Lapwing and other waders and Grey Wagtail. I also like it for Jackdaw often seen just by the windows.

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dscn7586The walk between the Peng and another small hide overlooking the Rushy Pen goes through a garden area that is good in summer for butterflies and other insects.

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Martin Smith

A short walk takes us on a bridge over a pond – the only place I have ever seen water vole.

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From the Martin Smith Hide there are view over a large expanse of land with a small lake and running streams. This is often good for Crane, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk.

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Willow Hide and Robbie Garnett

We go through a little tunnel and along a path to the next hides.

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To the left is the Willow Hide, newest and smallest of the hides, close to a number of bird feeders that are well stocked in winter. Look here for Great and Blue Tits, other small passerines and maybe Water Rail if you are lucky.

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To the right the Robbie Garnett is a long hide with its own lake and the wide expanse of land we met at the Martin Smith.

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Knott

If we carry along the same path we come to another pair of hides. To the left we have the Knott Hide overlooking another small lake.

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Perhaps the most important part of this view is the expanse of reeds behind the lake, often frequented in summer by Reed Warblers or Sedge Warblers. Some people can tell the difference between these birds from their songs but I am not one of those people.

Stephen Kirk

The Stephen Kirk Hide give another view over the lake we saw from the Robbie Garnett.

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As for all of these views what you see changes every week. The lakes and the field behind them may have thousands of waterfowl and waders, especially in winter.

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Holden and Beyond

For serious birders the walk so far has been towards the Holden Tower, a large two-storey hide providing views over extensive fields and the Severn estuary.

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The picture does not show much wildlife. (I didn’t pick the best day for my walk round.) But on a good day there might be tens of thousands of birds here – waterfowl, waders and gulls. You really need a telescope to pick them out.

To the right you also get a higher view of the expanse of wetlands you have seen already on the way here.

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There is a path beyond the Holden, marked on the map as a Summer Walkway. This gives access as far as the Severn estuary – but the path is closed in the winter to protect the thousands of visiting swans, geese and ducks.

Pond Zone

We retrace our steps almost as far as the Rushy Pen but turn right to pass the Pond Zone.

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It would be cynical to describe this as a feature designed to attract families and funds but the pond-dipping activity is definitely aimed at children. To be fair, it is a wider aspect of wetland conservation and children come in groups from school for educational visits to Slimbridge. I may get some insect pictures from here in the summer.

Decoy

We move on past a former garden area currently under reconstruction to the Duck Decoy.

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I mention the Decoy Hide for completeness but it overlooks a lake never known for showing any significant birds. This hide has plastic glass windows that cannot be opened, always too dirty for good photography.

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There is an actual ‘Decoy’ to the right, a complicated structure with the ability to funnel ducks to a small opening for capture. I have never seen it used!

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South Lake

Next you walk through the main display area of the site, past Welly Boot Land (See later) through another little area that in summer produces flowers attracting butterflies.

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The South Lake Hide is a large solidly built hide, almost as comfortable as the Peng.

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It actually overlooks two carefully designed lakes separated by a strip of land usually occupied by gulls and other birds.

To the left is a lake for waterfowl, often with many Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck and others.

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Apart from the waterfowl and gulls you just about guarantee Cormorant here. There is generally a pair of Great Crested Grebe that may be difficult to spot and in summer visiting Common Tern nest on this lake.

To the right is a shallower lake, good for waders such as Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Redshank.

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Welly Boots

We come back past Welly Boot Land again.

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This is an excellent play area for children in the hot days of summer. Not unsurprisingly it closes in winter.

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Coffee Time

That’s the first part of my usual way round Slimbridge. It’s time to head back to the Visitor Centre passed the shop to the newly refurbished Café and Restaurant.

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I am reserving my judgement on the restaurant because it is so new and I liked the old café. The new one doesn’t have the same ambience. But it does serve excellent food and drink. With my first coffee I either have a bacon sandwich for my breakfast or a nice home-made cake. (I come back later, generally for lunch.)

Through the Grounds

Then I’m off for my second trip round. It’s a longer walk but without so many visits. It’s another circular walk. (Sometimes I revisit the South Lake as it’s on the way, either outwards or inwards.) I go next through the main grounds where there are ducks and geese from around the World. I don’t stop to look at them.

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Now that I am blogging I do look for plants, insects and all sorts of potential photographs and there is an expansive area of pampas grass.

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Canoe and Play

After going through the main grounds we come to a children’s play area and another visitor attraction, the Canoe Safari.

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There is a boardwalk out into the canoe safari lake, sometimes worth a look for birds. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone on a canoe.

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Zeiss

There is another café by the play area but let’s keep going. Turn left through the woods.

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This is the area where you will find the statue of a little boy almost hidden. It is also the location of a rookery at tree-top level. Perhaps this is one reason why we see the occasional Rook around the site after the duck food.

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We come to the Zeiss Hide, another two-storey hide where we need a telescope to see distant waterfowl and waders.

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It’s not normally this empty and birders there will point out the rarities. They will generally let you have a quick look through their telescopes as well.

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As well as the distant views of a small river (and the even more distant Severn) there are reed beds nearby where you can see Reed Warblers in summer and, if you are very lucky and very patient, perhaps a Bittern in the winter.

The view from the left of the hide may also be the place for the Bittern.

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For the Bittern you may want to try the view from the lower storey.

Kingfishers and Dragonflies

Next on our itinerary is a walk down the South Finger, a delightful tree-lined path that takes us away from the main site.

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We pass two ponds where dragonflies can be found in summer.

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If you come at the right time of year newly emerged dragonflies sit and pose on the wooden railings.

At the end of the South Finger we come to the Kingfisher Hide with its view over a carefully managed river bank.

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It’s not guaranteed but in most years Kingfishers breed here and the hide gives excellent views – if you have the patience to wait. There may be visits every half hour or so with fish to feed the chicks.

If you look closely you will see seven or eight holes in the bank side as potential sites for this summer. I think the WWT staff have helped a bit. Expecting seven mating pairs is a bit optimistic.

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Flamingoes

On the way back through the site I usually visit the new Flamingo Hide.

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There were no flamingos for my wintry visit but they are usually there in the summer. I go to look for the occasional Rook or gull after flamingo food!

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We go a bit further on the optional extra loop to the main route round – to the Hogarth Hide.

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There isn’t often much new to see here as it overlooks the South Lake again.

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Sometimes it’s good for close views of Teal.

The Tower

This blog is getting too long so I will leave out the trip back to the Visitor Centre. But we must go up the Sloane Tower. I always use the stairs.

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From the top we have excellent views of the surrounding countryside.

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With a bit of help identifying distant sights.

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The Way Out

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If you come out through the shop you get a different view of things. I couldn’t resist putting in this picture of the lake and ramp where we started.

And I can’t leave without sneaking in some more bird pictures.

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I will, of course, do two or three blog posts about birds!