Parc du Marquenterre – Our Summer Abroad part 4

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A bird reserve. One of only two in France apparently (according to the Rough Guide). By the Baie de Somme. When we arrived the tide was on it’s way in and we could see, at the far end of the reserve, a distant cloud of back and white consisting of cormorants and spoonbills.

There was a lot to see and even S managed the 6km circuit of the reserve reasonably cheerfully, after some initial squabbles over our one pair of binoculars.

White Storks

We were fascinated by the storks by the entrance to the park. One pair were clacking their beaks at each other and also throwing their heads backwards along their backs.

Drinking stork

In flight the birds are spectacular because of their sheer size.

Flying crane

Living by the sea, I often see cormorants and I love to watch them fishing in the Kent estuary, but I don’t recall seeing facial plumage quite like this before:

Cormorant

Egrets too have become a fairly common sight at home in the last few years, but I have always struggled to get close enough to get candid pictures.

Scratching egret

Butterflies were plentiful too, particularly speckled woods, but few would land to pose for a photo.

Red admiral

I was excited by this fellow…

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….which I think is a holly blue and therefore not something I see regularly.

One of the impressive things about the park was the huge crowds of birds assembled there.

Oystercatchers

This is one tiny corner of a large sandy island which thronged with oystercatchers and …

Avocets

…avocets.

When something spooked the oystercatchers in another part of the reserve we had another demonstration of the size of the population here…

Cloud of oystercatchers

Although, again this is merely a fraction of the total flock which was airborne.

A small green-blue lizard skittered across the sandy path in front of A and I. B was understandably jealous, but then he found a large…

Grasshopper

…grasshopper, which when spooked would hop but then fly a few yards on apparently blue wings.

We also spotted this sandy toad by the path…

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When we finally reached the area where the cormorants and spoonbills where gathered, the tide had turned and there were fewer birds present then there had been. But they were still legion.

Cormorants and spoonbills

And the fishy smell was almost overpowering.

Egret

Another egret.

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Parc du Marquenterre – Our Summer Abroad part 4

Montreuil-sur-Mer – Our Summer Abroad part 3

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After our get together in the Vosges we headed north for a week in the village of Preures in the Pas de Calais. The fortified town of Montreuil-sur-Mer is nearby and provided us with a very pleasant day out.

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It’s possible to walk around the battlements either on or below the walls. We generally stuck to the wall itself…

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There’s quite a drop off the walls and it’s hard to imagine anything similar in the UK without seeing a fence and a plethora of ‘danger of death’ warning signs.

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You might notice the lack of ‘mer’ – the sea has retreated considerably since the place was named, but the Canche flows past on it’s way to Le Touquet.

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We choose the day of our visit judicially – there was a festival of painters. All over town there were artists, some painting, some selling there art, many doing both. There was also some sort of competition being judged in one of the towns squares.

We sat outside the creperie on the picturesque, cobbled, rue de clape en bas and played Uno whilst we waited for our pancakes and ice-creams. We had a pretty full day without even doing a tour of the citadel – the oldest part of the fortifications.

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We were parked by this grand old church, which I think is Saint-Saulve abbey church, so we naturally finished our visit by poking our heads inside.

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Later in the week we had a half-day in Boulogne, which also has a walled city at its heart. We did a complete circuit of the wall there – but it’s not anything like as extensive as the wall at Montreuil.

Montreuil-sur-Mer – Our Summer Abroad part 3

The Vosges – Our Summer Abroad part 2

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We rented a large old farmhouse from the local baker. Their loaves with lardons and cheese in were delicious. As were the greengages and mirabelles. Early in the week it rained a fair bit. The kids were happy playing together in the house – in fact, by the end of the week my nephew had decided that henceforth we should all live there together. The trees were full of jays and woodpeckers. We watched roe deer and buzzards from our windows.

Fungi

The shady areas under the trees were home to large, colourful and varied fungi.

Fly agaric

In the sunshine there were myriad flowers…

Wild pansy

And butterflies….

Silver-washed fritillary? Wild pansies

Many of them unfamiliar…

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…but stunning.

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I suppose the views were hardly dramatic, but the walking was very pleasant.

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..with plenty to see…

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I’ve been to the Vosges once before and I’d like to go back again – preferably to walk one of the Grand Randonnees that pass this way.

The Vosges – Our Summer Abroad part 2

Our Summer Abroad – Travelling Down

Dover Beach

Dover is a pretty splendid place in the sunshine. The castle, the cliffs and the surrounding downs all look worthy of further exploration.

Bock casemate

The Bock casemate – part of Luxembourg’s fortifications – proved to be a good place to explore in some less desirable weather. I remember enjoying the tunnels and passages here when I visited many, many years ago, that time on the way to my first visit to Switzerland. Since then even more passages have been opened to the public.

Our Summer Abroad – Travelling Down

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls II

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One morning I cycled down to the natural harbour of Porth Ysgaden and walked along the coast to Porth Gwylan, another, larger, natural harbour. Between the two, this rocky inlet, unnamed on the OS map, was home to many cormorants with two obvious, large and untidy nests and birds dotted about the cliffs.

Cormorants 

Cormorant

Six spot burnet moth

Six-spot burnet moth.

Porth Gwylan

Porth Gwylan

You can perhaps see a small speck in the water almost in the centre of the photo. It’s a grey seal. Sometimes one or two other seals would surface for a while, but this one stayed almost stationary, snout pointing upwards, apparently asleep. I went down to the shingle beach to get a closer view.

Grey seal

And even momentarily attracted the attention of the sleepy seal.

Grey seal 2

But not for long. I watched the seal for quite some time before heading back to the campsite.

Rock samphire

“This is rock samphire isn’t it?” TBH asked.

“I’m not sure. It could be.”

She tasted it. “Yes, it is. You try it.”

So I did, reluctantly. It was foul – tasted like soap.

“It’s foul – my bit tastes like soap!” I said, between all the spitting and retching.

“Yep – so did mine.”

Unopened centaury

I made a special trip to photograph these tiny flowers, which I had seen several times on my way down to the beach, only to find that in the early-morning shade they weren’t open. I got them again later:

Centaury

I’m pretty certain that it’s centaury, but I’m not sure which one.

Nearby another small pink flower…

Restharrow

…restharrow.

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I think that this is a centaury again, growing much taller on the rocks where the sheep can’t get to crop it short. Judging by the rosette of narrow basal leaves it would say that it is seaside centaury, which I suppose makes sense.

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls II

Caernarvon Castle

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When a rainy day finally did come along, TBH and I discovered that we were both thinking the same thing – “Great, we can go to Caernarvon Castle”. So we did. With a gaggle of friends. It didn’t rain much in the end.

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It’s a terrific castle. Many spiral staircases were climbed, passageways explored and battlements defended. (Some of the staircases go the ‘wrong’ way we noticed – so that a defender backing up the stairs would have their left-hand, not their right, on the outside – I wonder why?)

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Several desperate characters, armed and armoured, were in residence.

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Duels were fought.

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Swash was buckled.

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Caernarvon Castle

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls I

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Our days in North Wales sound found a regular rhythm – late to rise, leisurely breakfast, a few hours on the beach, back for lunch, return to the beach late afternoon, late tea, late to bed. This seemed to work quite well and the kids slept in OK, but once the sun gets on the canvas I inevitably wake and want to be up and about. So I added my own quiet prelude to each day – a solitary stroll along the coastal path and the lanes. We had bikes with us and sometimes I used my bike to extend the range of my short excursions.

The first of these walks began with blue sky overhead and mist all around. Mist bedecked webs glittered all along the fence. I assumed that the mist would soon burn off, but instead it would clear only to roll in again, the view appearing and disappearing with the whims of the mist.

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One of the delights of these walks was the abundance of bird life, mainly sea-birds and ‘lbj’s. I’m not very confident with identifying either. Is this, for example, a juvenile greenfinch as the sturdy beak suggests (but where’s the greeny-yellow wing bar?) or a female house sparrow? (but if so why is such a gregarious bird all alone?).

There’s certain wildlife I’ve come to associate with our trips to the Llyn Peninsula. One is the choughs which we saw on the grassy ‘cliffs’ when we were on the beach. Another is the labyrinth spider Agelena labyrinthica. We’d seen webs, but not spiders, on the gorse bushes on the lower slopes of Carn Fadryn, now I found many more webs on the gorse bushes on the cliff-top.

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I have an idea that this rather round bodied spider is the female and a more skinny body…

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…might belong to a male. But I don’t know why I think that.

The mist flagged up the extent to which the gorse was blanketed with gossamer…

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…with orb webs as well as the labyrinth type…

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Incidentally, the mini-Fuji in the background is Carn Fadryn.

At the end of the peninsula Yr Eifl and its neighbours stood out above the mist…

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…but was soon curtained off again.

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Meadow Brown

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Another lbj…

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…a sedge warbler?

My friend J, (the Adopted Yorkshirewoman) a gardener, had asked me about the abundant purple flowers in the hedgerows, or actually more often in the ditches. “Purple-loosestrife” I confidently told her.

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But I wanted to be sure that I was telling her right, so I took photos of leaves and stem for identification purposes and discovered that the stem is square sectioned and hairy with a red rib on each corner…

Purple-loosestrife stem

..which pleased me at least.

I’ve subsequently discovered that…

Close examination of the flowers shows that although those of any one plant are the same, they may differ from plant to plant. Different plants may have any one of three sorts of flower, which vary in the position of their male and female parts (stamens and stigmas). The stigma may project beyond the sepal tube, it may be level with the tips of the sepals, or it may be hidden inside. Each of the two whorls of stamens also vary in position. A bee feeding on nectar of one sort of flower will receive a dusting of pollen on two parts of its tongue from the two whorls of stamens. This pollen will be in the right positions to be brushed onto the stigmas of the two other sorts of flower when the bee visits them. This arrangement makes sure that the flowers of one plant are fertilised only by pollen from another of the same species, ensuring the vigour of the species.

..which is also rather wonderful.

This bird….

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…led me a merry dance, hopping about at the back of one of the local broad humped ‘hedges’.

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A whitethroat?

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..and his mate?

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Dry dock!

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Another lbj. This one surely is a sparrow, which must make the first a greenfinch?

Another plant the AYW asked about was this small blue flower, sometimes forming quite dense clumps and providing lots of colours in the hedges. I couldn’t put name to it at the time, but after some fairly torturous research I’m now confident that it’s sheep’s-bit.

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It’s common in the South of England and Wales apparently which is perhaps why, resident in the red and white rose counties, the AYW and I are not familiar with it.

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Another gatekeeper.

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Red admiral.

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Bindweed.

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I think that this little corker might be a cinquefoil, but I far from confident, and if it is I don’t know which.

I thought that I might dispense with all of my early morning strolls from Towyn Farm in one post but clearly I had forgotten just how absorbing that first walk was.

Towyn Farm – Early Morning Strolls I

Carn Fadryn…of Course

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Keen followers of this blog will have been aware that my posts about our trip to Towyn Farm this year could not yet be complete, since every visit inevitably includes a walk up Carn Fadryn. This year was no different. Once again we chose a splendidly sunny afternoon and as usual had the hill to ourselves. It sits in splendid isolation and gives terrific views of the peninsula and to the hills and coast of Snowdonia.

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The kids all romped to the top at great speed. I was distracted, as ever, by various interesting bits and bobs: a lizard skittered across the path in front of me, a huge orange moth also eluded my camera. I did manage to catch this…

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…gatekeeper, a butterfly which we don’t see at home in Lancashire

On the summit we were royally entertained by two painted ladies…

Painted Lady

..butterflies that is, of course. Summer visitors like ourselves. I’d recently been reading (in ‘The Butterfly Isles’) about their remarkable migration north from the mountains of Morocco. A new generation goes from egg to butterfly in just one month, and then they are on the move again. Two of their close cousins, red admirals, were flying with them, or perhaps I should say sparring with them. It was hard to tell which was the aggressor but I believe I’m right in saying that painted ladies are very pugnacious. Certainly one of the red admirals was extremely tatty with great rents in its wings.

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This moth was up and about near to the summit too. I think that it’s a ‘northern spinach’, which is found on heaths and moors and feeds on bilberry which was abundant hereabouts. I have no idea why it’s called a ‘spinach’. As to the ‘northern’ part of its moniker, looking at the distribution map it lives everywhere but the south-east – which seems to be the BBC’s definition of ‘the north’.

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We tried a little aviation of our own, using a pocket kite I often carry, with surprisingly poor results given how windy it was – perhaps there was just too much turbulence. We had to settle for sunbathing, admiring the view, snacking on bilberries and trying to ignore the precarious situations our boys got themselves into clambering on the rocks. Oh – and on the trig pillar:

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The boys and our pal E. ‘I climbed up all on my own Dad.’

Carn Fadryn…of Course

Nantlle Ridge

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Three Dad’s with a day off and all of Snowdonia to choose from. Well…we promised we’d be back for lunch so a shortish walk on the western edge of the hills seemed sensible. Fortunately the Shandy Sherpa was a man with a plan – a way to make a circular walk out of part of the Nantlle ridge. I’d never walked any of the ridge before, so was very excited by the prospect.

Navelwort

I was slightly less excited, however, when we climbed out of the car, parked just above Rhyd Ddu, and I saw how steep the initial climb was going to be. Distractions abounded in the hedgerow fortunately – like this navelwort or wall penny-cress. As we set off, on a good path, across the edge of a moss which borders Llyn y Gader, a bird of prey flew over, about the size of a buzzard, but it seemed to me much paler than a buzzard, or at least unusually pale for a buzzard. We saw it again, or another very similar bird, much later as we were dropping down from the hills towards forestry. It was hovering over the hillside, then flew, on raised wings like a buzzard does, over the trees before landing and perching in one of the trees. I took lots of photos, none of them are very clear or definitive, but they show a fairly long rounded and barred tail, long narrow primaries (not like a buzzards ‘fingers’) and I think that it was a female or juvenile hen harrier – which would explain why I didn’t know what it was at the time, since I haven’t knowingly seen one before.

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Llyn y Gader and Yr Aran

Snowdon 

Snowdon

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The Adopted Yorkshireman and The Shandy Sherpa. Moel Hebog behind.

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Mynydd Mawr.

The view of Anglesea beyond Mynydd Mawr was excellent but the photo doesn’t really capture it. In fact the views in every direction were fabulous. The fact that both of my companions seem to have an uncanny ability to reel-off the names of distant hills seen from any hill-top anywhere certainly helps. Away from the Lakes I’m pretty useless. I’m not so gullible as to think that they are always right (especially as they will correct themselves as the day goes on and new vistas open up) but at least they can express an opinion. The air was clear and we could pick out hills on Ireland.

We drove beneath that pale brown square on the slopes of Mynydd Mawr later and improbably a tractor with huge wide chunky-tyred wheels was dragging a plough or a harrow or something of that ilk down the very steep slope. It looked worryingly like more forestry might be being planted here.

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The Nantlle Ridge.

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Mynydd Drws-y-coed

Although I haven’t been this way before I knew that the Nantlle Ridge has a reputation as a fine walk and it is a very well deserved reputation. After the broad summit of Y Garn, Mynydd Drws-y-coed was, for me, the highlight. There was nice easy scrambling to be had, if desired, and some dramatic situations of the ‘ethical line’ was pursued (see top of post).

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English stonecrop.

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Looking back to Y Garn.

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This moth was clinging to the soil between to rocks on the path. I can’t find anything quite like it in my field guide.

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Trum y Ddysgl

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 Snowdon (again).

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Approaching the top of Mynydd Drws-y-coed.

Lengthy stops are always a feature of any walk with the SS and the AYM. This walk was no exception. We’d lunched (an early one – perhaps brunch) on Y Garn. On Mynydd Drws-y-coed the boys tried to put names to all of the hills in the Rhinogs, I lay down and enjoyed the sunshine.

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 Looking back at Mynydd Drws-y-coed.

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 Carnedd goch and Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd – we left these for another day.

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 Another view of Y-Garn and Mynydd Drws-y-coed.

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 Picking bilberries on the descent.

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 Juicy fruit.

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The stream which flows down Cwm Marchnad – not named on the OS map – might make an interesting alternative approach.

Nantlle Ridge

Porth Towyn

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Just back from our annual camping trip with friends at Towyn Farm near the village of Tudweiliog on the Lleyn Peninsula. I did do some walking whilst we were away, but the centre of our world for most of the week were the wonderful beaches of Porth Towyn.

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We did all of the things you might expect: played cricket and tennis; filled buckets with water, sand, pebbles, shells, shore crabs, fish or shrimps; dug holes, built castles and fortifications and then waited for the tide to destroy them; we barbecued salmon and toasted marshmallows.

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And then there was the sea: we paddled, swam, body-boarded and body-surfed, messed about in boats, jumped waves and even found time for a little snorkelling.

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The rock-pooling was particularly fine. As well as the bucket full of shore crabs, we caught blennies, five-bearded rocklings, father lashers and one rock goby, none of which, sadly, I have photos of because I’m a bit wary about taking my camera to the beach. (Most of these photos were taken with TBH’s camera.)

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It transpires that B has a real talent for spotting and catching rock-pool life.

I’ve snorkelled here before, and was surprised by how many fish I saw, but this time, if anything, surpassed that previous occasion. I saw many fish of a many shapes and sizes: shoals of tiny sprats and many larger fish, which, no-fisherman, I couldn’t put names too. A bit of lazy research (i.e. online)  leads me to believe that perhaps I saw a single black bream (although a relatively small example thereof) , and perhaps the largest fish I saw, long and pale, was pollock – although I only saw it briefly before it shot away. The most numerous fish were brown and yellow striped fish which were in and out amongst the seaweed and didn’t seem too concerned with my presence – I think that these were ballan wrasse.

The kids were keen for me to snorkel in a large and deep rock pool and as the tide came back into it I did. I felt like I was being bitten – like insect bites – whilst I was in there and I emerged with numerous tiny see-through slug like creatures clinging to me and blood flowing from a couple of places on my back – any ideas what theses mini-vamps might be?

The adult in the photos above is fellow-blogger and long-time partner in crime the Shandy Sherpa who will no doubt post his own version of events at some points.

Porth Towyn