It remained hot. The kids, well A and B anyway, were joining friends for swims in the Bay at high tide. I’ve always regarded such behaviour as a sure sign of insanity, as the sea is not all that inviting here, being full of silt and murky brown and almost certainly full of unsavoury pollutants too, but finally I cracked and TBH and I cycled down to a spot near Jenny Brown’s Point a couple of times for a dip.
And……it was very pleasant. Hopefully, we’ll get the right weather and do it again next summer.
And then we went for our annual, marvellous, camping trip with old friends to Towyn Farm on the Llyn Peninsula. I remember that I did a lot of snorkelling in the first part of the week. The water was a lot colder than it had been in the Bay, but it was clear and there was lots to see as ever. Later in the week, the winds picked up and we switched to body surfing. Lots of games of Kubb and Molkky too. Beach cricket, frisbee throwing. All the usual fun.
Lots of walking happened too, but with B still suffering with his knee we generally opted to stay at the campsite/beach and keep him company, the only exception being the obligatory ascent of ‘Birthday Hill’ or Caryn Fadryn.
I apparently took no photos at all, apart from the rather poor one above of some of the Naughty Nine on Carn Fadryn’s summit.
Inexplicable. I did take lots of pictures in the garden after we returned home though! So here’s one of those:
Edit – TBH to the rescue – I did take more photos at Towyn, but using TBH’s phone – I think mine had no charge. So here’s a selection of photos, some of which I took and some of which are TBH’s work:
Obviously the travel restrictions over the last two years have been a pain in the neck, but if I’m allowed to go to Wales for a week every summer, I reckon I can get by; with a little help from my friends anyway.
All good things come to an end, and eventually we had to move on from the Dordogne. Fortunately, we were only moving on to the Tarn Gorge, just as we did on our previous trip. This time, as you can see, Andy had booked plots with a direct view of the river, which was rather magnificent.
Sitting around the campsite chilling out is surely a key ingredient of any camping trip and I certainly did a lot of that on this trip. I got through a lot of reading material. I didn’t use our hammocks, but the rest of the family all loved them and there was often keen competition to secure a berth, since we only had two between us.
Regular swims in the river were also key. I’d bought a full-face mask with integrated snorkel from Aldi before the trip and it might just be the best eighteen quid I ever spent. The fish here were plentiful, varied and absolutely fascinating. I only wish I had photos to share.
The Dangerous Brothers, including Andy, an honorary DB, (ODB ?), spent much of their time climbing the cliffs to find ridiculously high spots from which to launch themselves, sometimes with a large inflatable shark in tow, which they christened DB Aquatic. I don’t have any photos of them jumping (I preferred not to watch), but there’s some slo-mo footage of their antics on Andy’s blog here.
By contrast with our last visit, I don’t seem to have taken many photos around the campsite, which is odd because the views are amazing. The cliffs up the valley were lit at night (B was convinced it was the sunset, bless him) and although they looked huge from below, we realised, later in the week when we went up to the rim of the gorge to watch the sunset, that they were actually only a tiny portion of the entire valley side.
I suppose wasps are always a feature of camping in the summer. This trip was no exception, but this year we had the added joy of regular visits from hornets. I can’t decide if these two photos show hornets or not. I’m not sure they’re big enough – certainly, when they were buzzing around our tent they seemed much bigger than this – about the size of Jack Russel at least.
On the drive between the two campsites, at an Aire, we even spotted a Hornet’s nest, a football sized paper sphere hidden away in amongst some brambles.
We did quite a bit of walking whilst we were in the Tarn Gorge, so lots more wildlife and scenery photos to come, and I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but when we were travelling back to the UK we witnessed a rather sobering event, when French customs officers found a man stashed away in a fellow holiday-maker’s Trailer Tent. I assume that the contents of the trailer had been jettisoned to make room for the man – presumably an asylum seeker trying to get to the UK. Frankly, it was all pretty alarming. We’d never been out of sight of our own trailers, and hadn’t stopped near the port, so when they were searched we didn’t have any stow-aways.
When we finally got back, after two solid days of driving and an overnight ferry, we did find one unscheduled passenger though, a shield bug…
I don’t know if this is a species found in the UK or not, but it did demonstrate how easily you could inadvertently import a non-native species. I don’t think we’d brought any hornets back with us, fortunately.
Conspicuous by their absence from my last post – I know, my last epistle was quite some time ago, suffice to say that online teaching is, despite what the gutter press seem to think, pretty all-consuming and involves spending most of the day stuck in front of a screen, so blogging has dropped out of favour as a spare-time activity – anyway, as I was saying, notably missing – notable, that is, to long-suffering followers at least – notably missing from my account of our trip to the Dordogne last summer were the plethora of wildlife photos which usually occupy around nine tenths of most of my posts. Fear not, that’s because I’ve saved them all up for one gargantuan holiday-snap snore-fest, with no people or views at all! (You can’t say you weren’t warned.)
This first photo neatly epitomises one of my favourite things about our trips to France – the sheer abundance and variety of the flora and fauna, well – particularly the insects.
Although there’s a lot of photos here – some might say too many – it’s a tiny sample of the many I took. Whilst my family and friends were floating down the river on rubber rings, or reading their books, or swinging through the trees doing their best Tarzan impressions, I wandered around the local woods and fields, camera in hand. Sorting through the vast assortment of resulting shots, choosing some favourites, and then trying, with varying degrees of success, to identify some of the more exotic species has been a highly enjoyable but fairly lengthy process. Not that I’ve restricted myself to the more exotic species here, I’m almost as happy to be photographing things which are very common at home…
I generally consider my memory to be atrocious, but weirdly, I’m confident that I can remember where each of these photos were taken. This Horse Mint, for example, grows behind the wall which runs alongside the road into the village. Whereas this thistle..
…was growing in a field next to the river, upstream of the campsite, a particularly happy hunting ground.
Every trip seems to bring something new. I didn’t know, for example, that there was such a thing as a Pale Clouded Yellow.
Ordinary, bog-standard Clouded Yellows sometimes appear in Britain as migrants. I saw one near Arnside once, a couple of miles from home, which really confused me at the time, because I knew what it was, but really didn’t expect to see it flying in a field in Cumbria, having only previously spotted them in France.
I don’t think that Cleopatra’s occur in the UK, I’ve certainly never seen them before.
They proved to be quite elusive, so I was quite chuffed to catch this one on my phone, although, with its wings closed, it looks very like a common-or-garden Brimstone. When they open their wings however….
…they’re quite different.
We were a few days later into the summer this trip. It’s amazing what a difference those few days made. Some butterflies have a brief lifespan in their adult phase. On our last trip we saw quite a few Swallowtails and Scarce Swallowtails, as well as numerous Silver-washed Fritillaries. Not this time.
But I did see lots of fritillaries. At the time, I was convinced that there were two different species, but looking at the photos now, it seems to me that they are probably all Knapweed Fritillaries.
I usually saw them in pairs, and often with one of the pair raising the back of its abdomen in what I took to be part of some sort of wooing process.
This little chap was compensation for a long and fruitless chase of a much larger butterfly, which may or may not have been my first, and so far only, sighting of a Camberwell Beauty.
I’d already had an uncommonly good summer for spotting and photographing Common Blues around home, and they were abundant again both in the Dordogne and then, after we moved on, in the Tarn Gorge. Somehow their blue seemed even more vivid in the French sunshine.
If anything, grasshoppers were even more abundant, more elusive, more variable and more difficult to identify than the butterflies.
Some of the larger ones have very striking red or blue wings, sadly only visible in flight.
There are thousands of species of Assassin Bug apparently, of which this may be one.
My first thought was that this was a Carder Bee, but it has no pollen baskets, so now I’m wondering if it’s even a bumblebee at all. I’ve concluded that, not very confident at identifying bees on my home patch, I shan’t even attempt to do so with these French bees.
I will say that this isn’t a bee, but something imitating a bee’s markings. I’m not sure whether it’s a bee-fly or a hoverfly, although I’m inclined to the latter.
I saw a few of these large and strikingly ugly black and orange flies.
As with the bees, I saw a number of wasps, or wasp like creatures, which don’t seem to be in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’ guide. There were some very thin waisted black and orange bugs which I think were ichneumon wasps of some kind. But I’m not sure whether the black and white creature below, sharing a flower with a burnet moth, is a wasp or a sawfly…
…with a fritillary. And something similar, but yellow and black…
Last time I took lots of photos of damselflies, dragonflies and demoiselles. Not so much this time, although the demoiselles were still present in large numbers by the river. Here’s a solitary damselfly…
And what I thought was an unusually hairy, stunted and unglamorous dragonfly…
…but which I’m now pretty sure is a species of Robber Fly. Having said all those uncharitable things, I should say I’m actually quite chuffed to have spotted this, if only because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. That short, stout proboscis is for piercing prey and injecting venom. And the stiff hairs on its face, visible here, are called the mystax, from the Greek mystakos, also the origin of our ‘moustache’, via Latin, Italian and French. Which is the kind of trivia I find very satisfying.
All of which brings me to the last section of my insect photos, the moths.
One of the wildlife highlights of our last trip had been the almost daily sightings of Hummingbird Hawkmoths, This time, the Meadow Clary which they seemed to favour had mostly finished flowering and to begin with I saw far fewer. Then, after my pursuit of the suspected Camberwell Beauty, I wandered into a part of the campsite I hadn’t previously ventured into. Having said there would be no views, here it is…
It was unmown, full of wildflowers and a haven for butterflies. And in one corner, there was lots of Meadow Clary still in bloom, and loads of Hummingbird Hawkmoths too..
I have to confess that I was fascinated by them.
An example, I believe, of convergent evolution, Hummingbird Hawkmoths have evolved in a similar way to hummingbirds in order to occupy a similar ecological niche. Like hummingbirds, they use very rapid wingbeats to hover close to species of tubular flowers and use their long tongues to reach the otherwise inaccessible nectar.
I guess they must land and rest sometimes? But those legs don’t look particularly practical.
Whilst the insects sometimes left me bewildered, the flora is even more diverse and confusing. I think I would have to move to France, massively improve by rusty schoolboy French, buy a comprehensive local field guide, live in the Dordogne for a decade or two, and then I might muster the same semi-confident familiarity that I’ve grasped with the plants around home.
A couple of very distinctive species did stand out however…
This one, it turns out, is no more at home in the region than me, being native to North America.
I was struck by the way the seedpods form in the nodes, where the stems branched, which seems unusual.
Don’t be fooled by the presence of the word ‘apple’ in its name, because apparently the whole plant is poisonous.
They were growing in amongst the sunflowers and where the height of the sunflowers had forced them, they had grown to around two metres high.
Although I think this is Field Eryngo, I actually saw it, not in the fields, but growing in clearings in the woods. It looks like a thistle but is actually related to our own Sea Holly.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what this plant is, with its striking red stems, tiny white flowers and colourful berries.
It was growing by the cycle path at the edge of the village, and I suppose might have been introduced.
These four photos are all, I think, of the same lizard, which was basking on the wall one morning when I walked past on the way to the bakery and still in the same spot when I came back.
This last is on the wall of the Chateau we visited, so definitely a different lizard!
And finally, this toad had apparently been our lodger and was revealed as such only when we took the tent down in preparation to move on the Tarn Gorge.
Long-suffering readers of this blog may remember that in 2018 we holidayed in the Dordogne and Tarn valleys in France with some old friends. This summer, we repeated the trip. Once again, the whole thing was meticulously planned and booked by The Shandy Sherpa, whose attention to detail is staggering. For example: scoping all of the Aires on the drive down, in advance, using Google Maps to see whether they had large enough parking spaces for cars towing trailer-tents. As they say, the devil is in the detail, and Andy’s careful planning ensured that the whole trip went smoothly in potentially trying circumstances. Awesome.
This trip is a very laidback affair with certain key elements – a morning walk to the bakers; plenty of reading; meals together, often revolving around a barbecue; games of Kubb and Mölkky, usually continuing when darkness made accurate throwing next to impossible; lots of swimming, canoeing and floating down the river on inflatable rings; and short, steep walks up to the limestone cliffs above the campsite.
TBF had a potentially nasty fall in one of the caves, but, sensibly, used Little S to break her fall. Fortunately, neither were hurt badly, just somewhat shaken.
We’d brought three different hammocks with us, which all got a lot of use. They all belong to TBH, presents I’ve bought her over the years. Why does she need three? Because that way, there’s at least a chance that the kids will leave her in peace in one of them, whilst they argue over the remaining two. We probably need another one!
Upstream of the campsite, there’s an excellent swimming hole; downstream there’s a bridge over another deep spot – perfect for jumping in. Trips, with or without inflatables, between either of those pools and the one by the campsite were a significant feature of the trip. Of course, we could and did do the whole trip from the upstream pool to the downstream bridge, but the Céou is surprisingly cold, so that trip was a bit long for comfort.
GR64, one of the amazing network of long-distance paths in France, passes close to the campsite. On a couple of occasions when the others were floating downstream, I took off for an out and back wander along the route. It was pleasant woodland walking, with occasional tantalising views of the Dordogne valley…
We did occasionally stray a little further afield, including a trip out to this magnificent castle. It had drawbridges, towers, winding staircases, caves below, lizards on the walls and even a bat hanging from the ceiling in one of the rooms.
I didn’t see the montgolfières as often this trip as I did last time, but I did frequently hear them flying overhead early in the mornings whilst I was still tucked up in bed. This photo shows the beginning of an afternoon flight which was very dramatic since the balloons flew very low and continually flirted with a collision with a tree, without ever quite hitting one.
The summer holidays arrived and, unfortunately, Wales was still closed to visitors so we couldn’t make our usual pilgrimage to the Llyn Peninsula. Happily, TBF came to our rescue and booked us all places on Sytche Campsite on the outskirts of Much Wenlock in Shropshire.
We arrived late on the Saturday night, having missed the bad weather which the others had endured. After that the sun shone and we took the opportunity to laze around the campsite and play Mölky and a never-ending game of Kubb, which had to be abandoned from time to time to make time for inconvenient things like eating and sleeping. TJS, a physicist, seems to have adopted a probabilistic, Quantum Mechanics philosophy of playing in which there is no skill involved and Schrödinger’s block only gets knocked over if the thrower of the stick is ‘lucky’. I shall just say that some players seem to be a lot luckier than others.
Before we set off, I’d looked at an OS map of the area and noticed, with some alarm, the many contour lines sweeping across the campsite. In the event, the field had been very cleverly terraced so that the pitches were level despite the slope. We were at the top, with a pleasant view.
In between the terraces the steep banks had been sown with wildflowers and were busy with butterflies, bees and other insects, so I was in my element.
After so long confined to barracks, it was great to see our old friends again, catch-up and chill-out. We managed a couple of excursions too, of which more to follow.
After the sad demise of Toots Hibbert I wanted to post a Maytals song. But which one? ‘Funky Kingston’ is one of my favourite songs, in any genre, so that would be the obvious choice. But then ‘Pressure Drop’, ’54-46′, ‘Monkey Man’, ‘Time Tough’, so many to choose. And then there’s their great covers, of which ‘Country Roads’ is my favourite. In the end, I’ve plumped for this…
…because I’ve recently been listening to Chaka Demus and Pliers brilliant 1993 album ‘Tease Me’ which has some brilliant covers including this…
Our annual Bank Holiday camping trip to Nether Wasdale. This year it was a bit brass monkeys. Actually, it’s often very cold. And it wasn’t as cold as the forecasters had predicted. And we didn’t have the tent-destroying gales that we’ve experienced more than once in the past. And it mostly stayed dry. And the company was excellent, as ever. And the Herdwick burgers sold in the campsite shop and made from their own lamb from the farm were delicious, even if I did burn them somewhat on the barbecue.
A was once again involved in DofE practice and then wanted to stay at home because of forthcoming exams. TBH volunteered to stay at home to look after A (You might almost conclude that TBH doesn’t like camping when its chilly!). So it was just me and the DBs from our clan. Fortunately, we had lots of old friends to meet at the campsite to keep us company.
On the first day of our stay, we decided to repeat the route we walked last year, climbing Lingmell by the path alongside Piers Gill. I didn’t take so many pictures this time around. I didn’t even capture group shots at all of our many rest stops…
…of which I think this was the first.
…was probably about the fourth.
We stopped again on the top, obviously…
…but it was snowing at the time, so not the warmest spot. Easter weekend – river swimming; Spring Bank Holiday weekend – snow. Of course – that’s British weather for you: predictably unpredictable.
Wastwater and the Irish Sea, plus snow showers heading our way.
Scafell Pike and Scafell and approximately a million hikers.
Looking down Lingmell’s shattered cliffs towards Piers Gill.
Little S couldn’t resist this pinnacle. My heart was in my mouth when he nonchalantly scampered up and down, but, of course, he was fine.
Lingmell, Piers Gill and one of Piers Gill’s tributaries, seen from the Corridor Route.
Great Gable, Green Gable and Uncle Fester.
Great Gable really dominates the view for much of this walk. Our friend J pointed out to me last year that you can pick out Napes Needle relatively easily from the Corridor Route. Through the magic of my camera’s zoom, here it is…
You can see three people in front of the Needle and, perhaps by clicking on the image to see a larger version on flickr, you can also see that two others are ‘threading the Needle’, a well known scramble which I’ve never done, and am not likely to do now, I don’t think.
Looking towards Wasdale Head.
Great Gable and Little S.
This spring seems to have been a bumper one for spotting hairy caterpillars. This rather attractive specimen maybe destined to become a moth called The Drinker, because of the caterpillar’s penchant for supping dew. Then again, I could easily be wrong about that.
Great Gable yet again. It’s become slightly irksome that I’ve revisited almost every peak in the area in recent years apart from Gable, and its neighbour…
On the Sunday, we chose to repeat a route which, in a number of variations, we’ve walked many times before – a circuit taking in Irton Pike, the village of Santon Bridge and a wander back along the valley of the River Irt.
I took even less photos than I had the day before.
We had a leisurely stop on the summit of Irton Pike – I may even have dozed off for a while.
Looking toward Wasdale Head from Irton Pike.
Eskdale and Harter Fell from Irton Pike.
On the final day we needed to pack-up, faff about and mull over what we should do once we’d finished faffing about. The DBs had heard Andy’s tales of whopping great plates of waffles and ice-cream from the cafe in Seascale, so a visit there was very high on their agenda. Eventually, they were persuaded that we could manage that, but still also fit in an ascent of Buckbarrow, another favourite outing from our Wasdale trips.
Scafell Pike, Scafell, Wastwater and the Screes from Buckbarrow.
The Isle of Man is out there somewhere.
The 2019 crew, having the obligatory brew/lunch stop.
And finally, if you were wondering about the awkward title: I manoeuvred “three nights” into the title, so that I could cram Three Dog Night into the post…
This, I hope, is Sainte-Enimie*, a small village upriver from our campsite which we drove to in an absolute downpour. (*I’m relying on Andy to correct me if I’m wrong.)
It was a fetching little place, very charming, and I took lots of photographs, which, in the gloomy conditions, was probably a little optimistic on my part.
When we returned to the campsite, it was to find that, if anything, the weather had been even worse there, with hail as well as rain, and that the cloudburst had left everything liberally spattered with mud, and our event shelter looking like a fully-furnished paddling pool. A few days later, when we were leaving for the long haul home, this area of France had terrible floods, so I suppose we were lucky really.
After our week in the Dordogne, we drove to the Tarn Gorge for another week’s camping, this time at Camping La Blaquiere. Even more so than at Camping Maisonneuve, we spent a great deal of our time on and around the campsite, particularly swimming in, or jumping into, the Tarn.
This is limestone country, like the area around the Dordogne, but very different scenery; the Tarn cuts deeply into the Cévennes and the steep sides of the gorge are girt with crags and huge towers.
…is the stretch of the river where we did most of our swimming. It was deep, crystal-clear, fast-flowing and absolutely full of a wide variety of fish: I took to wearing goggles whenever I swam, so that I could dive below the surface to observe them.
…is the only photo of the camping site I took. It shows the small cafe, where we ate twice, memorably watching a three-piece band segue from The Ram-Jam Band’s ‘Black Betty’ into the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, an unusual combination. As the light faded whilst we ate, I watched Alpine Swifts, which are larger than those we see at home, hurtling along beside the cliffs across the river.
I was endlessly fascinated by the way light changed with the time of day and the weather. This photo…
…was taken relatively early in the morning. Just right of centre, you can see a rock formation poking above the horizon….
The kids decided that it was a man and a woman. Later in the week we travelled past the campsite in a bus and I’m pretty sure that the driver pointed out the same rocks and said that one was Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. Presumably the other is one of his wives, or many mistresses.
Later in the week we had several afternoons which brought dark clouds, rumbles of thunder and sometimes rain.
Which really added to the drama of the views…
This stretch of the river…
…is just downstream from the campsite. It was favourite with the Dangerous Brothers because the rocks on which I was standing to take the photograph had several spots from which to leap into the river, some of them really quite high up. That’s two of the DBs talking on the far bank: DB Senior, our B, and ODB – Old Dangerous Brother, or Andy, who is an honorary member of the team. I think he was quite chuffed to have somebody with him who shared his appetite for reckless self-enganderment. I know our boys certainly enjoyed it. Little S climbed to the highest jumping point numerous times, but in the end, on our final day, it was B who actually jumped.
The photographs were taken from the far side of…
…’le champignon’, the mushroom rock, another landmark which the bus driver identified.
Morning walks for bread only went as far as the campsite reception; the villages up and down the valley from the campsite were both a little too far away for a morning croissant and baguette walk.
This is La Malène…
Which was upriver.
And which has a bridge over the Tarn, handy for taking photos…
The village in the other direction was Les Vignes, where we did most of our grocery shopping. It was almost as picturesque as La Malène, but I don’t seem to have taken many photographs, preferring instead to concentrate on being fleeced by a consummate salesman who lured me in with a complimentary glass of peach wine and samples of his wares, before ruining me financially by selling me some of what was surely the World’s most expensive salami. It did taste good though.
So – you’re on a peninsula in the extreme north-west of Wales, where do you go from there? Southern France of course! I’m glossing over the epic journey, the overnight camp in Kent, the ineptitude of Eurotunnel and the one a.m. arrival at Camping Maisonneuve. Suffice to say, it was a very long way.
The campsite was Andy’s find (as was all the planning for the trip*), and what a good find it was. Situated near the village of Castelnaud-la-Chappelle, on the banks of the River Céou, a tributary of the Dordogne, it had a heated swimming pool, but we were all much more taken with the pool in the river itself. And with the diving platform by that pool…
I have lots of photos of various members** of the party jumping in, but I’ve used one of B because he particularly loved jumping, bombing or somersaulting into the water, something he seemed content to do all day long.
The water was surprisingly cold, much colder, we discovered, than the nearby Dordogne, but even Little S, who suffers particularly in cold water, all skin and bone as he is, coped well with it, probably because it was so warm out of the water. So warm, in fact, that even TBH and our friend J got in on the action. Well, I say ‘action’…
The heated pool, and the wooded slopes of the Céou valley.
Our pitch. This must have been early on, it got much more untidy than this: knowing that it probably wasn’t going to rain made it very tempting to leave stuff lying around outside. It did rain overnight, once, during the week that we were there, but otherwise the weather was superb.
I have lots of photographs from our two weeks in France, well over a thousand (don’t worry, I won’t post them all), so I’ve decided, I think, to stick, on the whole, to short(ish) posts, with just a few photos in each.
*Planning and organising stuff is another one of his strong suits and this trip was researched and planned impeccably. All went very smoothly, despite our best efforts to misread, misinterpret or otherwise not follow his careful instructions. Cheers Andy!
**Of the seventeen who put in an appearance in Wales, twelve continued to France. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll see some familiar faces in the posts which follow. Unlike our annual gathering in Wales, this is not a long-standing tradition, but a new venture, although, if you go back far enough, some of us us have made summer trips down to the Alps together before, long before any of the kids were born.