MarySmith’sPlace #Giant pylons will ruin iconic landscape

Please help Mary and the other campaigners, by sending an email of protest to the address shown in her post. You don’t have to live in Scotland to appreciate the scenery, or to want to visit as a tourist. Let’s try to stop another unnecessary blight on the landscape that makes bigger profits for electricity suppliers!

Mary Smith's Place

From time to time on this blog I have shared some of the glorious countryside we have here in Dumfries & Galloway in South West Scotland.

Unfortunately, a huge area of this is now at risk of being ruined by Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) which has put a planning application in to the Scottish Government to erect 118 giant pylons (up to 39 metres tall) from Glenlee, near New Galloway to Tongland in the south near Kirkcudbright.

Stroan Loch, courtesy PhilMcMenemy

The route goes over or close to iconic Galloway countryside including, the Queens Way (the road from New Galloway to Newton Stewart), Raiders Road, Stroan Loch and the Otter Pool. Laurieston Forest and the Kenick Burn will also be impacted, along with an avenue of beech trees by the burn’s picnic area. The route also goes over the C13 road from Laurieston to Gatehouse of Fleet, a road…

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The Egret and the Heron.

Four hours ago, I posted about how the rain had stopped me doing all the planned outdoor jobs today. Awful weather does not allow me to stop one regular outdoor pursuit of course, as Ollie must have his walk, come rain or shine. So at 2 pm, we set off.

Despite the gusty wind, and rain that was increasing in intensity, it wasn’t really cold. I wore a light jacket over my T-shirt, shorts, and some leather trainers. For protection, I used my trusty windproof umbrella, as we walked into an afternoon that would have not been out of place in late November. As I suspected, the Meadows were almost empty of other people. One fellow dog-walker was also braving the elements, but he was wearing waterproofs of the type usually seen on a trawler captain, and he set off home after twenty minutes. That left just me and Ollie, trudging around in the wet.

My trainers had been overwhelmed in less that half an hour, and were completely sodden. Despite having the umbrella, most of me was soaked anyway, as the rain was coming in at an angle, driven with force by the gusts. At least my head and neck stayed dry, and I was able to see. Ollie headed off into the river, looking for ducks to annoy. But despite being the traditional ‘good weather for ducks’, there were none to be seen. They had also had enough, and were off somewhere, sensibly staying out of the deluge. Rabbits were also notable by their absence, probably staying warm and cosy in their burrows. Half way along from the Fakenham Road bridge, I spotted the long-absent egret. I had wondered where this regular resident of Beetley Meadows had been, and some of us had discussed the absence of the bird only recently. We concluded that the arrival of holidaying children had disturbed the routine, and the bird had left for a quieter spot.

The snow-white water bird was standing on the edge of the riverbank, gazing intently into the water, no doubt awaiting the arrival of a fish of a suitable size for lunch. But it hadn’t reckoned with a bored dog. In the absence of any ducks, Ollie decided that an egret would do just as well, and plunged into the water, heading for it. There was never a chance that he would get close, let alone catch it, so I stood and watched. The bird took off at a leisurely pace, and landed in the branches of a tree on the other side, in Hoe Rough. Under the same tree, the small summer herd of resident cows stared blankly across at us, munching away at the grasses, unconcerned about the rainwater cascading down their flanks.

I called Ollie back onto the path, in the hope of leaving the bird in peace. We eventually got round to the bend in the river, where the scene couldn’t have been more different from yesterday. Where there had been families having picnics, and groups of excited children playing in the water, there was nothing, just us bedraggled pair. Then I noticed that we did have company. The large grey heron, that had recently returned and then soon disappeared again, was back in its spot. Standing as still as stone, it looked more like a garden ornament than a real bird. Also transfixed on the flowing water below, it had not appeared to notice our arrival. Or perhaps it was unconcerned by our presence. As it didn’t move, Ollie appeared not to see it. He ran around sniffing, and looked up at me, wondering what I was looking at, I surmised. The heron then moved slightly, just one leg, perhaps preparing to catch a fish. But it was enough for Ollie to suddenly be aware of the large bird nearby, and off he raced, to check out the new playmate. With a mighty flap of its enormous wings, the heron was up and gone, soon a good half-mile distant, leaving Ollie frustrated, as usual.

We had been out for over ninety minutes. The rain was coming down harder than ever, and the sky was dark enough to suggest the arrival of evening, despite the early hour. I had reached my limit of endurance for today, and headed home. My clothes are drying in the bathroom, the shoes abandoned in the covered entrance at the side, and the umbrella upended in the shed, to drip-dry. Summer, who needs it?

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part two)

Nairobi did not really live up to expectations. Despite a couple of interesting buildings, it was predominantly modern, and not very attractive. The outskirts of the city were surrounded by unregulated slums, and the few attempts at modern architecture were overshadowed by the reality of life for most of those living there. (I should state that this was a long time ago, and I am not commenting about Nairobi as it is today) The tourist shops were uninspiring and over-priced. Furthermore, the staff in the shops were either indifferent Africans, or very pushy Asians. As predicted by the cabbie, we were approached many times, with a friendly hail of ‘Jambo’, and asked to change currency, sell our camera, or be guided around the sights. We managed to brush everyone off with politeness, and never once felt actually threatened.

We were lucky enough to spot an unusual restaurant. They served local meats, such as ostrich, impala, and even crocodile. The menu said that these animals were farmed, so that saved whatever conscience we felt about eating such things. We made a reservation for that evening, and felt cheered up by brighter weather, and temperatures approaching the low 70s. After coffee and a snack in a clean cafe, (the coffee is excellent, Kenya Blue Mountain) we headed back to the hotel by taxi. I would like to add that there are some museums and other places to visit in Nairobi, but for reasons forgotten by me now, we decided not to visit them. Our overall feeling was that we were there mainly to see the animals, so we were not unduly concerned that the capital was something of a disappointment.

The restaurant exceeded our anticipation. We ate on an outside terrace, with views over the city. (I wish I could remember the name of the place!) I started off with smoked Impala, a bit like Braesola, and delicious, followed by steaks of Ostrich, some rice and local vegetables. The meat was very tasty, and they had a good wine list, as well as local beers. There was also a sweet trolley, with delicious pastries, and familiar desserts. We went there and back in a taxi, and on arrival back at the hotel, declared it to be a memorable repast. The next morning, we had arranged a trip to Nairobi National Park, so we were suitably excited.

After breakfast, we were collected by a minibus, and taken to the park. There were only four other passengers, so we all enjoyed a window seat. The vehicle had an elevating roof, so when we saw something of interest, we could look over the lip, into the open air. Our driver would also be our guide, and he assured us that he knew the best places to spot the wildlife. The park is less than seven miles from the city centre, and is very large. Despite its proximity to Nairobi, it felt isolated, and suitably exciting. The first encounter was with a herd of Giraffe. Used to seeing them in zoos in the UK, we were totally unprepared for seeing them en masse. Perhaps sixty animals were feeding on the tree branches very close to the vehicle. Nearby, we could see baboons running around, and wart-hogs too; very endearing pig-like animals. It was hard to contain our excitement at seeing so many wild animals so quickly. As well as Zebra, we also saw Wildebeest, Secretary Birds, and Vultures. Later on, we saw Buffalo, Eland, and Hyena, which were much larger than I had imagined. The driver took us to a ‘secluded’ spot. It seemed that everyone else knew about that spot though, as there were lots of other vehicles parked there. We saw a small family of Lions, mostly females, with two cubs, and a large male. All this just a few yards from the minibus. It was quite something. Our trip over, the driver returned us to the hotel, and waited for a tip. We gave him a good one, he had done a good job that day. The next day, we were going on an overnight trip to The Ark, in the Aberdare Mountains. We couldn’t wait.

The Ark is a purpose-built viewing area with accommodation, similar to the more famous Treetops. It is quite a distance from Nairobi, about 80 miles north, in the Aberdare mountains, another National Park. We had booked the trip before arriving, so it was already paid for. The plan was to arrive in the afternoon, check in, and get a seat on the viewing area. This balcony overlooks a large watering-hole. Salt blocks are laid out, to attract the animals, but they arrive mostly after dark. We had a very nice room; though basic, it had all we would want. Meals were provided, and we quickly ate, before getting to the viewing area. It had been raining all day, so the staff told us that there might not be that many animals as a result. Despite our disappointment at this news, we resolved to stay up, on the chance that we might see something. We could go to our rooms, and be awakened by an alarm, when animals appeared. Instead, we chose to sit on the verandah, in comfy chairs, with blankets to cover us. The feeding areas were well-lit, and staff supplied hot soup, or hot chocolate, on request. It was chilly and wet, not at all what we had expected.

After dark, the first arrivals were small Cerval Cats. They are omnivorous mammals, and we were advised to keep our hands away from them. They scurried over the balcony, seeking any scraps or snacks we had left. They were obviously well-used to people, and not bothered by our presence at all. We later saw large numbers of Wart Hogs, coming to the water to drink, but little else,for most of the night. When we were on the verge of giving up, the staff alerted us to be vigilant. They had seen Elephants, and they soon arrived, to lick the salt put out. It was amazing to see them in such numbers. Perhaps a hundred or more, jostling for the salt-licks. There were lots of tiny babies, juveniles, and large male tuskers too. Their arrival made our night, and made it all worthwhile. We were glad to have made the effort, and not too concerned, as we would soon be going somewhere where we could be guaranteed to see many more animals. After a good breakfast, we left tired but happy. It was an experience we would never forget.

After a day’s rest in Nairobi, we had a planned trip to the Amboseli National Park. This is in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, close to the border with Tanzania. It is about 200 miles from Nairobi, so a long trip of more than five hours by road, livened by a brief stop at the Great Rift Valley. This had also been planned in advance, and would be a two night stay at the Kilimanjaro Safari Lodge, with all trips and meals included, returning during the evening of the third day. The bus picked us up after breakfast, and we set off in good weather, hoping it was a taste of things to come.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part One)

After the early death of my then mother in law, my ex-wife was left some money in her will. It was a generous, if not life-changing amount, and she decided to spend it on a holiday. As it was enough to be able to choose somewhere sufficiently exotic, we could examine the possibilities of travel further afield. The short list was soon drawn up. India, Egypt, South America, and Kenya were all at the top. I was quite keen to visit the USA at the time, and to explore the battlefields of the Civil War. However, it was my wife’s legacy, and only right that she should make the final decision. She settled on Africa, and a trip to see wildlife in Kenya. It would be a two-centre holiday, with time spent in Nairobi, before moving on to the coast at Mombasa. Some excursions would be arranged beforehand, and others chosen after arrival. We would have to visit during the summer, as my wife was a lecturer, so had over six weeks off at that time. We settled on mid-July, and made the booking. We were going to fly to Nairobi (via Rome), and stay in a nice hotel on the edge of the city. We included an overnight stay at The Ark, a purpose-built hotel and animal viewing area, similar to the more famous ‘Treetops’. After eight days in this region, we would fly on to Mombasa, to enjoy the coastal area, and warmer weather found there. It was all arranged, and we began to get quite excited about our forthcoming safari adventure.

We lived in Wimbledon at the time, and our next-door neighbours were from a Kenyan Asian background. Their brother still lived in Mombasa, where he owned a large car dealership. We were very friendly with them, so naturally chatted to them about the holiday, and they were happy to give us some tips and pointers. Back then, Kenya was not a very democratic country. Daniel Arap Moi had declared himself president for life, and the currency was not traded; so the Kenyan Shillings were only available in the home country, at rates inflated for tourists. Our London neighbours devised a plan, where we would be able to get much better rates, and help their family into the bargain. On our arrival in Nairobi, we would be met by a business acquaintance. He would come to our hotel, and give us a substantial sum of Kenyan money. For the sake of appearances, we would change up some of our travellers cheques at the hotel too, so that we had a receipt for a transaction. On our return to the UK, we would give our neighbours the amount of money agreed. In this way, their brother was able to get some money out of Kenya, and have some savings over in England. It was illegal in Kenya, but the UK government were not at all interested. So, we agreed to help out, knowing that it would make our holiday very cheap in terms of spending money once we were there.

The flight was long and tiring, mainly because of a long delay on the ground in Rome, waiting for the time when dozens of noisy and excited Italian passengers were to board the aircraft. As we were flying due south, there was no time delay to deal with, and we arrived as expected, in the mid-afternoon. Although we had booked with a large company, our trip was mainly as independent travellers, with a guide arranged for some trips, and the services of a representative on call, if we needed them. We were met by a driver at Nairobi airport, and we were the only passengers in a small mini-coach. The hotel was modern and comfortable, with the city in sight some distance off. The reception advised us that it was dangerous to walk into the centre, and recommended that we take a taxi at all times. We changed up some travellers cheques, booked a table in the restaurant of the hotel for later that night, and retired to our room for a nap, as we were both very tired after the journey. We were woken about two hours later by the telephone. The reception said that someone was there, asking for us. He had thought this to be most unusual, and asked if he should be allowed up. I asked them to show him to our room, and as I suspected, he was the ‘money-man’, a salesman from the local branch of the car dealership. He introduced himself, and handed over a small zip bag. Once he was sure that we were satisfied, he said his farewells, and left. He was visibly uncomfortable, and seemed unhappy doing this task. We counted the bagful of cash, and were surprised to find just over £1,000 worth of Kenyan money. We had been asked to give £200 for this in sterling, once back in England. This meant that we had a rate of five to one, instead of less than one to one exchanged by the hotel. We were cash-rich, for the first time in our lives. The meal in the hotel that evening was surprisingly good, and compensated for the overcast weather; hardly the blazing African sun we had anticipated. It was to turn out to be indicative of many very good meals during the whole holiday. Kenya remains as one of the few places that I have visited, where I never once got an upset stomach, despite eating in a wide variety of places, including open-air restaurants, and small cafes. Flush with our new wad of cash, we paid for the meal immediately, and even left a generous tip.

The next morning, we decided to take in the sights of Nairobi. As advised, we took a taxi, as there were always plenty waiting outside the hotel. The reception also told us the approximate cost, as the meter was either not switched on, or unreliable. The driver first told me not to lean my arm on the open window. He said that if he had to stop, there was a good chance that someone would steal my watch, by ripping it off my wrist. He also told us to keep our camera slung at the front where we could see it, and suggested that my wife sling her bag around her body. On the short journey into the city, he drove straight through the first red traffic light, causing us some alarm. Realising our concern, he said that he would not stop at any lights or stop signs, in case someone came out of the bushes to rob us. We had only been in the country a short time, and we were becoming very worried by all these warnings. When he dropped us at the main shopping street, he went on to say that we should not offer large denomination notes, or produce any wallets. He said that we should carry small amounts in our pockets, and never accept the offer of tour guides, or go off with anyone who wanted to show us something. As we got out of the cab, we were wondering what we had let ourselves in for.

A Country Sunday

Today was a bright and sunny day in Beetley. A clear night, resulting in a sharp frost, and a seasonal drop in temperature. I decided to take Ollie for a walk earlier than usual, to make the most of the excellent light. The ground was harder than usual, except for those areas still muddy and waterlogged, as a result of the recent light flooding from the nearby river. Ollie discovered ice for the first time. Crisp, caramel-thin sheets on standing water. He was unsure, and waited for me to break through in my wellingtons, before charging on.

He has got to chase a lot of wildlife lately. Rabbits, most days, and yesterday, a large grey heron, flushed from a riverbank perch in the reeds. Today, he was interested in the robins, which seemed to be everywhere, small red chests like knitted pullovers. They come close to the paths, and are unafraid of walkers, so potentially good for Ollie to chase. He means no harm of course, he just believes that everything wants to play with him, and loves a chase as much as he does.

Later, we were joined by familiar dogs, and their walkers. These dogs form a regular group, that Ollie seems to regard as his ‘gang’. There is Buddy, the tiny terrier, ball-mad, and obsessed with retrieving. Toby, a Jack Russel, also keen to chase anything, preferably balls, or sticks. Bracken and Barley, two spaniels who have no interest whatsoever in Ollie and his antics, though he seems unaware of their dislike for him. Then Giggsy arrived, a black Labrador, who will run and tumble with Ollie, so he was finally content.

The high river levels of recent weeks have now subsided, and the meadows are once again a pleasant place to walk. With the grasses flattened, and the whole area bathed in wonderful light, dogs chasing around happily, it is easy to stay out longer than intended. Before I had realised, I was out for almost three hours, and getting cold, as the sun had begun to set. Time to walk home, get back into the warm, and think about cooking the duck, for dinner later this evening.

No shops, no pubs, no need to use the car. Good exercise, fresh air, and a happy dog. A pretty good Sunday.

The Beetley Ferret

Ferret

This morning, Julie and I were sleeping in, after a late night . At 8.45am, We were awakened by the sound of the doorbell. This may not sound like a big deal, but this is Beetley. There are no Jehovah Witnesses visiting on a regular basis, and we were not expecting a parcel, so the doorbell is always a surprise. I donned my dressing gown, and went to the front door.

There was a neighbour, from the ‘back’ (Spinney Close), accompanied by his grand daughter. I recognised him from a brief meeting, whilst walking Ollie in the nearby meadows. His opening line was, “Have you lost a ferret?”. Now in my former flat in London, this would have been answered with a guffaw, so I had to remember that I was now in Norfolk. ” We have just seen a ferret in our garden, heading your way. It was this big”, he continued, opening his arms in the way of a boastful angler, indicating a size approximating to a slender fox. “You will have to be careful that it doesn’t attack your dog”, he warned, adding that he remembered Ollie from the encounter in the meadows.

I assured him that I had not seen a ferret, did not own one, and knew of nobody nearby who did. He left, with advice to keep my dog in, in case the said mammalian carnivore should appear on my patio. His bemused grand daughter was texting on her mobile phone throughout, no doubt updating her Facebook status as ‘hunting a ferret’. I went back inside, and told Julie what the excitement was about. We decided to get up and prepare for the day ahead. As I was enjoying my morning drink, the doorbell sounded again. After hearing a commotion, and loud Norfolk accents nearby, we guessed it concerned the ferret.

Julie answered this time, and there was another neighbour, also from Spinney Close, warning us of the roving ferret. This neighbour also recognised Ollie from the meadow, where he had enjoyed a play with her dog, Winston. When Julie told her that the other man had previously warned us, she made her apologies, and left. We later heard loud conversations, and quite a few people out and about (for a Monday), presumably in search of the hapless ferret. To the best of our knowledge, it was never seen again, so presumably made good its escape. (See below, for an update)

This led us to reflect on how different life is in Norfolk. Less than a year ago, in Camden, we could well have had a Police helicopter hovering a hundred feet above our flat, searching for an escaped gunman, or there might have been a door to door inquiry, following a fatal stabbing two hundred yards from our front door. Since living in Beetley, nothing has happened. The incident of the ferret has been the biggest cause of animation among our neighbours, and caused us to receive our only unsolicited callers, in seven months.
It makes me feel glad to have moved here.

Here is an update to the above post. The ferret has appeared! When I was out walking Ollie the next day, Julie spotted the big beige-coloured animal lurking around the back of our leylandii hedge. She went outside to take a photo of it, and it ran towards her. Scared it might bite her, she retreated inside the house, and the ferret went into the shed to investigate. When she had seen it leave the shed sometime later, Julie locked it, and stayed inside the house until I returned.

So there really was a Beetley ferret, and it turned out to be an escaped pet.