Across the Sands to Piel Island

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Sheep Island with Piel Island behind.

Onward and upward, to September and the 2015 Heritage Open Days. There are always lots of interesting events on that weekend across the UK; if you aren’t already aware of the event, then I would recommend that you get acquainted with what’s on offer in your area in 2016.

We chose to join a guided walk organised by the rather wonderful Morecambe Bay Partnership.

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The event will include a guided walk across the sands from Walney Island to Piel Island, led by expert guide John Murphy who will be accompanied by eminent local archaeologist Rachel Newman. 

On Piel Island, Rachel Newman will provide an in-depth tour of the castle ruins, whilst informing visitors about the archaeological investigations undertaken during the 1980’s and hearing about challenges of excavating on a island.

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It was reassuring to have an expert guide on hand. I’ve wandered a little on Morecambe Bay over the years, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like the area close to Piel Island, where the sands disconcertingly wobbled and squirmed like a jelly. The beach was raised in long ridges and furrows, not dissimilar to the medieval field patterns which surrounded the village in which I grew up. You might expect the tops of the ridges to be the driest and safest ground on which to walk, but on the contrary, they often seemed to be the most unstable and conspicuously colloidal: betwixt and between, neither sea nor strand but a treacherous hybrid of the two.

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Roa Island.

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Once on Piel we were treated to an unexpected bonus: the landlord and landlady of ‘The Ship’ are traditionally King and Queen of the island, and today they were knighting two worthy subjects.

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A curious ceremony involving some dressing-up, a short speech, the conventional dubbing with a sword…

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…and then a booze shower:

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As we began our tour of Piel Castle, S and I were distracted by the seals visible, if somewhat distantly, on the beach at the southern tip of Walney Island. I tried to use the zoom on my camera to get S a clearer view of the seals, and was surprised by how clearly Blackpool Tower could be seen in the background.

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Since then, these seals have hit the news..

Seals have used the protected South Walney beaches to haul out and rest for decades. The colony found here are usually older bulls no longer able to control a harem on breeding beaches and sexually immature younger males and females.

But now the reserve could be becoming a breeding colony. Pup one was born almost three weeks ago, then pup two was discovered on Sunday when it was believed to be a day old.

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I really enjoyed the guided tour, but it’s a while ago so I shan’t attempt to regurgitate any of the details. In fact , the principal impression I took away is that surprisingly little is known about the castle, because it so infrequently appears in written records.

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Regular readers will know that I love a good ruin. Tight winding staircases, a dingy dungeon, or lofty battlements all enhance the romance and I was hoping that we might have special permission to access the battlements, but sadly we didn’t. Maybe next September?

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One reason I may not remember too much detail from the castle tour is that little S, once he’d satisfied his curiosity about the seals, discovered that he desperately needed to discuss his feet, one of which was uncomfortable. It transpired that he had managed to pick-up odd wellingtons: to be fair, they looked the same, but were different sizes. Consequently, he returned across the sands barefoot…

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All in all, stunning day out, which was rounded off with an unscheduled fish and chip supper in Ulverston, where, unbeknownst to us – at least before we arrived to find roads closed and streets thronged with people –  the Lantern Festival was in full-swing – all very spectacular (I didn’t take any photos sadly).

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Some links:

Heritage Open Days

Morecambe Bay Partnership

The Ship Inn

Piel Castle

Walney Island Grey Seal Colony

Ulverston Lantern Festival

John Murphy is a former mayor of Barrow, and seemed to have inexhaustible funds of jokes, anecdotes, nature lore, local history, patience and good humour. I gathered that he regularly runs guided walks in and around Walney, and would have liked to include a link, but I can’t find anything on the internet which doesn’t relate to walks which have already happened. Probably worth googling next summer if you are interested.

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Across the Sands to Piel Island

Sweepstake Spoils: Skegness Seal Sanctuary

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Laurence Sterne, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, conveys his narrator’s grief following the death of the clergyman Yorick with an entirely black page. It’s tempting today to post something similar, to reflect my black mood after last night’s calamity. Instead, I shall take a deep breath and attempt to attain the inner peace seemingly enjoyed by this seal pup, one of several that we saw at the Skegness Seal Sanctuary.

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The other raffle prize my parents came away with, not from their bowling club, as I erroneously reported yesterday, but from a patient’s association raffle at their local surgery – even better! – I can see the headlines now in the Daily Hate: “Pensioner’s Prescribed Horse-Riding on NHS”, what with the hacks at the Hate Mail not letting the truth stand in the way of propaganda, anyway, the other raffle prize my parents won, was a family ticket to said sanctuary.

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The seals are the main attraction, especially this show-off which was effortlessly lapping one of the pools whilst upside down, but the charity which run the sanctuary have turned it into a very small zoo – presumably to bring in more visitors and hence fund their seal rescues – approaching 700 seals, both common and grey, have been treated and returned to the wild since the sanctuary opened in 1966. There are meerkats and penguins, owls, a small but quite impressive aquarium, lizards too, but best of all, in my opinion, a hothouse with colourful birds and lots of large and bright butterflies…

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This one had just emerged from its chrysalis…..

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There. I feel much calmer already. Now…

Om mani padme hum

Om mani padme hum

Sweepstake Spoils: Skegness Seal Sanctuary

Blakeney Point Boat Trip

The North Norfolk Coast Path

I’ve been at this blogging malarkey for quite some time now, and though I get frustrated sometimes when it seems that I’ll never catch up with myself, I must enjoy it, or I wouldn’t still be at it, six and a half years and six hundred and seventy posts down the line. I’ve written before about the benefits of keeping a record and of being aware that you intend to do so. Then there’s the Social Media side of things, although I’m only too aware that I often fall down badly on that front. There have been a few freebies along the way too – bits of gear, a few books and, most notably, a trip to Jersey. But here’s a new and totally unexpected development: an old school friend tracked me down via this blog and invited me to a reunion of our A-level maths class.

A mallow - common mallow? 

A mallow. Common mallow, possibly.

The weekend get-together took place in Norwich at the beginning of July. Norwich is a bit of a long way from just about anywhere, but it’s a particularly long way from Silverdale. Having abandoned my original, deranged plan of driving down on the Friday evening (it’s a good job I did, the M62 was shut at Junction 25 and I spent an hour or two queuing through Huddersfield), I arranged to meet the others on the coast on the Saturday Morning. I’d left my half-way stopover in Blyth, just off the A1, very early, and arrived with some time to spare and so had a little wander along the North Norfolk Coast Path.

Woolly thistle 

Very nice it was too, despite the grim weather. I’ve subsequently done a bit of lazy internet research and I have to say, this looks like a very attractive path. This section, at Morston, was resplendent with unfamiliar flowers.

Woolly thistle flower 

I think that this (and the photo above) is woolly thistle.

The others arrived in plenty of time for the boat trip we’d booked. Boats go out from Morston Creek and round to Blakeney Point.

Blakeney Point

Here we are on the boat…..

On the boat 

…well, not me, I was taking the photo. Needless to say, they haven’t changed in the thirty years since we left school. Well not much. None of us live in Leicestershire anymore, but I’m not sure what that tells us. Although it’s certainly not thirty years since we last met, it could easily be twenty, at least for me, and so we had a lot of catching-up to do. But what’s germane to this blog is the boat trip itself:

Black skies over Morston Creek 

Morston Creek

Sandwich Terns 

The beaches, and the skies above them, were busy with terns. These are sandwich terns, and juveniles (note the black beaks and legs and the tufted hairdos).

Sandwich Terns II 

And again. All of the photos were taken from a moving boat, which didn’t help with the quality. That’s my excuse anyway. The out-of-focus bird in the air had a fish in its beak.

Common Terns 

I think that these are common terns, with yellow beaks and legs.

Common terns and little terns? 

The two smaller birds here are little terns. You can’t see it without zooming in, but the little tern has a distinguishing black eye-stripe which is the telling detail.

Common Seals

The other highlight was the seals.

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Common seals pup in the summer, so the opinion offered was that the seals on the beach were common seals, and the seals in the water would be grey seals, which give birth in the winter. I’m not sure it was that simple however.

Seal II 

And, whilst it’s meant to be easy to tell the difference, I’m not confident, so I shan’t venture an opinion.

Seals on the beach 

We had a bit of a walk on the spit of land which forms the point, visiting the old coastguard station….

The old lifeboat station Blakeney Point 

There were also a couple of old lifeboats moored in the channel. I was intrigued by the fact that they apparently had a wooden shed constructed on the deck.

Old lifeboat 

Not sure if that’s part of the original design or a more recent attempt to emulate the Skylark.

 

After the excellent boat trip we drove a little down the coast to Cley.

Cley Windmill 

Unfortunately, the windmill was closed. Fortunately, the pub wasn’t.

Nice George and the Dragon Window - oh and DP supping a beer 

Long-suffering readers will now that I’m quite partial to a stained-glass window. Especially if it depicts St. George dispensing with the poor old dragon. Not sure why D is looking so guilty and/or furtive about his beer.

D and J

I shan’t attempt to summarise the remainder of the weekend, except to say that it was thoroughly enjoyable.

I will however, mention the campsite where I stayed, at Whitlingham Broad. It’s a cracker. Quiet, well-organised, cheap. If you need or want to stay in Norwich I can heartily recommend it. (Yes, everybody else stayed in hotels, but I like camping. And I’m a  skinflint)

Blakeney Point Boat Trip

Donna Nook Grey Seal Colony

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Two years ago during an October half-term visit to my parents, we went to Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire coast to see the Grey Seal colony there. It was early in the season and there were relatively few seals there and only one new-born pup. This year we were visiting on the first weekend in November and though the beach was not yet at it’s busiest, there were many more seals and lots of pups.

On this side of the Atlantic the pups are born in the autumn. The gestation period must be close to a year, because the bulls are here not to assist with rearing the young, but in order to mate with the cows.

The bulls are huge (up to 3.3m and 310 kg apparently) and often have scarring around their necks.

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Presumably from injuries picked up at this time of year during sparring with rival bulls.

In this photo of the same bull…

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…you can see the distinctive nose which gives rise to the Latin name Halichoerus grypus, meaning “hooked-nosed sea pig”. Not exactly pulchritudinous and I now suspect that the rather more handsome seals I photographed off the Welsh coast this summer were probably common seals rather than grey seals. (It seems that the common seal’s dog like snout is the distinguishing feature)

Lying around seemed to be the order of the day, but even so, there always seemed to be something happening somewhere on the beach. We saw bulls chasing across the beach to fight. The seals can move surprisingly quickly when they want to. You can see here that this cow…

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..is lifting herself up to shuffle forward.

This pup has something on it’s mind…

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Mummmmmm…”

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Goo onnnn.”

The cow moved away. But only to reposition herself so that…

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The pups seemed to delight in having a bit of a roll around…

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This cow and her pup….

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…climbed up into the dunes towards us.

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We could see afterbirth in several places on the beach which seemed to have drawn in numerous black-backed gulls. I suspect if we’d stayed long enough we may well have seen a pup being born and I would have happily stayed for several hours, but there was a very bitter wind blowing off the sea and the kids had enjoyed seeing the seals but now wanted to be away to Cleethorpes for some fish and chips.

Donna Nook Grey Seal Colony

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.

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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…

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…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