Thursday, 9 December 2010

Postcard 79: Puffins on the Yorkshire Coast

Checking out the best nesting site ...
Those of you who visit my blogs will know that I can never resist the opportunity of posting a Puffin! I took this photograph (the one below is an enlarged detail of it) at Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire coast two Easters ago. It never ceases to amaze me that Puffins, who nest in sandy burrows on the island of Skomer off Pembrokeshire (almost my neck of the woods), choose these exposed ledges of limestone when they fly into these more northerly nesting sites.

Gannet and Puffin: share and share alike
My Puffin poem, 'A Chink in the Sky', based on my observations of the Bempton Puffins, has just appeared in the first Writelink competition anthology, 'A Pocket Full of Spring Fever', which is now on sale here.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Postcard 7: Aberglasney, The Garden Lost in Time

Strange Seasonal Mix

Autumn Colours

November at Aberglasney, the garden lost in time
and home of the poet, John Dyer,
Carmarthenshire, Wales, UK

'Hear the thrush, while all is still,
Within the groves of Grongar Hill'
John Dyer (d.1757)

Back in June 2009 (what a long time ago!), I decided to post occasional seasonal pictures of Aberglasney, the Garden lost in time, once home to the poet John Dyer. Dyer was the subject of one of Wordsworth's Sonnets. You can take a look at those first seasonal photos here. My photos for Spring 2010 are here.

I was in the gardens again last weekend, and thought it was about time I caught 'Autumn' on camera before the gales blew the leaves off the trees. We knew we might see some early Daffodils in bud, as they were there in November last year. Sure enough we were not disappointed. There were also some Primroses.

I see I try to take the following shots for my 'Seasonal Spotlight':

  • The House at Aberglasney (partly open to the public, often with exhibitions)
  • The view from Aberglasney to Grongar Hill (the view from my favourite seat)
  • The Upper Walled Garden (with Celtic design flowerbeds)
  • The stream in Pigeon House Wood
  • The Cloister Garden
  • The stream in Bishop Rudd's Walk
I'm afraid I failed to take a photograph of the stream in Pigeon House Wood this time. My back was turned as I was intrigued by the new bit of garden - and the fenced-off garden path!

By the time we reached The Cloister Garden, it was virtually closing time (4pm in the winter season), so we hurried on to the exit. I will post an old photo of the stalactites.  

So these are my Autumn 2010 photos (with the exception of the stalactites):

The House at Aberglasney (partly open to the public, often with exhibitions)

The view from Aberglasney to Grongar Hill (the view from my favourite seat)

The Upper Walled Garden (with Celtic design flowerbeds)

The new garden: the stream in Pigeon House Wood is behind us, i.e. this side of the rope
The Cloister Garden: stalactites in the Cloister

The stream in Bishop Rudd's Walk

Invertebrate Life
  •  Back in the summer, Aberglasney was a riot of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. They were a joy to behold. You can see photos by clicking here to visit my Wild and Wonderful blog.
Pond Life
  • We have seen newts and an eel here (but not at this time of year): my photo of an eel at Aberglasney is here)
Bird Life: on previous occasions we have noticed these birds ...
Garden Plants
  • Old fashioned rose (the summer scent has gone, of course, but the top photo shows the hips)
Wild flowers - seen last summer
... and finally, happy memories of those lazy, hazy days ...
For Aberglasney's literary links (Wordsworth, Gillian Clarke...), you may like to click here. I hope you have enjoyed your virtual visit to this wonderful garden.

* * *

Postscript: for any who follow this blog and have been wondering where I have been, the answer is probably over at one of my other blogs. I may not post every day, but I enjoy 'mixing and matching' ...
Do pop over to these and take a look ...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Postcard 77: Thank you for voting!

Mother and Pup

I have just heard that my poem, 'The Wishing Woman of Seal Bay' (a Lilibonelle) has been awarded First Prize in the Writelink 'Grape and Grain' Poetry Competition. 

The judge was Jenny Moore, (Winner of the Divine Poetry Competition 2006, runner-up in Mslexia Poetry Competition 2007, Winner of Best Devon Poem in 2009 Plough Prize). 

Thank you to all who voted or left comments.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Postcard 76: Save my Seal (please)!

Mother and Pup, photographed near St Davids a year ago
This is the last call for any kind person to cast a vote for my seal poem (a Lilibonelle) about the Pembrokeshire coast. My poem has been submitted to the Writelink Grape and Grain Poetry Contest.

You can cast a vote here (and you will find other contending poems by following the link below my poem - 'show all poems'. You may prefer to vote for these instead - or as well). 

The polls close on 30 September, so the clock is ticking!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Postcard 76: Not quite Moby Dick...

Heading back to Greenwich on The Thames Clipper
from the O2
(May 2010)

It was only yesterday that I was blogging about my early visits as a baby and toddler to the squirrels in Greenwich Park. I have been back to Greenwich many times, and feel a strong connection with the area. I love to take the Thames Clipper from the London Eye, and approach Greenwich by water. You get a good view of the Naval College, the Maritime Museum and the Park, with its Meridian. Sadly the Cutty Sark is not on show at present, but restoration work is underway. However, the current headline story relating to Greenwich concerns not a small grey mammal but a Leviathan-sized skeleton.

Drawing out of Greenwich
on the Thames Clipper

The Moby Dick-like tale relates to Bay Wharf in Greenwich and the recent finding by archaeologists, working for Pre-Construct Archaeology Limited, of a colossal North Atlantic Right Whale from north Atlantic waters, probably in the areas between Spitzbergen and Greenland. I am grateful to the History Blog for alerting me to the sad, sad story of this 200 year old headless corpse of a creature that died at some point between the age of 50 and 100. The remaining skeleton weighs in at 60 tons and is a mere 52 (Imperial) feet long. It seems to have fallen foul of whalers and their harpoons. Whales were prized in the 17th and 18th centuries for their oil, and the word 'right' in the name indicates that whales of this species provided quality oil for lamps, soap-making and industry. Whale bone was used for corsets.

Can a sad story like this have any kind of happy ending? Please note, I have NO wish to endorse the killing of whales. Those who follow my blogs will know the immense pleasure I get from watching creatures like Basking Sharks in their natural habitats. However, this sad mammal is already well and truly dead. DNA tests on its skeleton will help scientists in their quest for knowledge about the genetic diversity of this particular Right Whale. It will also help to fuel our understanding of the negative impact of whaling in terms of the future survival or otherwise of a particular species. Perhaps the discovery of 'Moby' will challenge us all to reconsider the part we can play in protecting creatures at risk.

The London Eye,
where we caught the Thames Clipper

'Like the creature in Herman Melville's novel,
it was a giant whale of great age.'

David Keys,
The Independent

Monday, 6 September 2010

Postcard 75: Tantallon and Bass Rock

I had a 'double surprise' package last Friday. It contained the latest editions from Indigo Dreams Publishing of their magazines, Reach Poetry (issue 144) and The Dawntreader (issue 012).

Each publication contains one of my poems. 'Isabella Tiger Moth greets the Woolly Bear Caterpillar' appears in 'Reach Poetry' (editors Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling), and 'Tantallon' features in 'The Dawntreader' (editors Dawn Bauling and Ronnie Goodyer).

I have been keen to spot furry caterpillars this last year. I don't think I have actually seen a Woolly Bear. I wonder if others of you always used to look out for what we called Furry Mollies? It seems these creatures are affectionately known as Hairy Mollies. You can see my furry caterpillar page here on my nature blog, Wild and Wonderful.

looking out to Bass Rock

My Tantallon poem is about the view of the Gannets (short video-clip here) on Bass Rock from Tantallon Castle in Scotland. You can read about my visit to the castle in a previous post, here.

You can read about the history of the castle here. The staff of Historic Scotland do a great job in caring for the ruined castle site. It is sadly ironic in these days of decay to find the following quotation
on the Undiscovered Scotland site. The words were written to Henry VIII by an English Ambassador in November 1543:

"Temptallon is of such strength as I nede not feare the malice of myne enymeys..."

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this exposed spot. I wonder if you have been following Neil Oliver's (recent) second BBC series on 'A History of Scotland'.

Don't forget to let me know what you call the caterpillars! And do take a look t Crafty Green Poet's North Berwick post ... serendipity?

Friday, 20 August 2010

Postcard 74: I.M. - Edwin Morgan

Castle Urquhart on Loch Ness

What lies beneath these ripples on the loch?

I am grateful to Professor David Morley and to the Weaver of Grass for alerting me to the fact that the fine Scottish poet, Edwin Morgan, died on 19 August 2010.

You can read about the poet's life here. He was a remarkable man, with a gift not only for writing but also for teaching and translating. You can read an alliterative tribute from Carol Ann Duffy here.

We all have our favourite poems, some of which seem to fit certain seasons and situations. As I thought about Edwin Morgan, my mind flitted back to happy Scottish holidays - and to Loch Ness, in particular, which I had enjoyed seeing on the television programme, 'Coast', earlier this week.

It is not surprising therefore that I have chosen to link through to Morgan's evocative piece, 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song', which you can hear in the poet's own voice on The Poetry Archive site here. It may not be the poet's 'best' poem (whatever that may mean), but it certainly highlights his dexterity with language and, in my opinion, something of our poetic and indeed human fascination with things that are perhaps 'beyond our ken'.

P.S. I had just completed this post when I noticed that a tribute from Crafty Green Poet aka Juliet Wilson had popped up in my feed. Do take a look here.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Postcard 73: All at Sea ...

Puffins again!

A year ago I much enjoyed reading Sea Room, a book about the Shiant Islands by Adam Nicolson, who inherited the small archipelago from his father. Those who follow my blog posts will not be surprised to learn that the Puffins were among the star members of the cast for me - all 240 000 of them. It came as something of a shock, though, to read that some of these Amber Conservation Status birds ended up - and not so long ago - as food for humans.

Last month, we spent a happy afternoon at the Museum of Island Life at Kilmuir on Skye [above]. This fabulous museum is situated between Flora MacDonald's grave and the cool waters of the Minch.*

The visibility was quite good on the day of our visit: we watched a Golden Eagle hovering above us in the distance, and noticed some very strange landforms out at sea.

We looked at our map and discovered that these islands, a mere 12 miles from our shore, were indeed the Shiant Islands.

Above: the stone in the foreground is on Skye.
The Shiants are in the middle distance.
Harris lies beyond.

Above: close-up of the Shiant Island rock structure,
with steep column-like cliffs.

The islands consist of columns of Dolerite, and geologically are more akin to Staffa [of Fingal's Cave] than to the plethora of rock types found on Skye. They are home to huge colonies of Black Rats.

It may only be early August, but already the trees are turning here in South Wales, and there are signs of autumn. I have just read the update on the Skomer Island blog, informing us that following the fledging of this year's Pufflings, members of the Puffin colony have already left their island off the coast of Pembrokeshire for their winter voyage. You can read about them here. I find it incredible to think of these birds travelling so far north ... and then south again!

* On a previous visit we witnessed a scene of the purest light we have ever seen. It may not have been the aurora borealis, but it was the next best thing.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Postcard 72: The Seventh Quarry (& The Women of Linear B)

The Archive Room [where Linear B tablets were found], Palace of Nestor, son of Neleus at sandy Pylos
[Top two photographs copyright David Gill]

Looking out over sandy Pylos

July 2010: my poem,
'The Women of Linear B'
[ref. 15/2005] has just been published in 'The Seventh Quarry' [p.11, issue 12, Summer 2010, editor Peter Thabit Jones].

I have loved the adventurous tales of the Homeric hero Odysseus since childhood, so it is hardly surprising that I went on to take my degree in Classical Studies
[at Newcastle upon Tyne]. It is perhaps not surprising either that I went on to marry a Mediterranean Archaeologist!

I have always been fascinated by the Homeric epithets [and here]: rosy-fingered Dawn and wine-dark Sea come immediately to mind. You may also be familiar with grey-eyed Athena or crafty Odysseus.

Many have heard of Penelope, wife of Odysseus, and her battle with the suitors while her husband was away at the war. The Olympian goddesses play their part in the Homeric epic, along with females of supernatural powers like Circe - and the alluring Sirens, whose songs drove sailors onto the rocks.

Such is the stuff of mythology and epic, but I wanted to look behind what we know as timeless literature (though it actually began as oral poetry, delivered in ring cycles by bards), to see what tasks were being undertaken by the real women - many of them slaves - who lived through most uncertain times.

Linear B tablets, deciphered by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, provide some clues for the role of those women who beavered away behind the scenes in the area of sandy Pylos, in the western Peloponnese. This was the starting point for my poem.

A Linear B tablet, listing religious offerings of olive oil.
This one is in the British Museum.
This one was not from the mainland:
it was found at Knossos on Crete by Sir Arthur Evans,
and is Minoan [LMII].

N.B. If you would like to take out a subscription
to The Seventh Quarry poetry magazine, details can be found here.

Websites of interest:

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Postcard 71: Myddfai

We passed waterfalls and rills up the Swansea Valley

This is Usk Reservoir...

... with ponies.

The approach to Myddfai,
with the Church of St Michael's

Pulmonaria in Myddfai,
otherwise known as Lungwort

The village of Myddfai lies somewhat tucked away in the Brecon Beacons. The story goes that a farmer's son saw a young lady rise from the lake known as Llyn y fan fach. She had golden hair, which she proceeded to comb. The couple fell in love and had three sons. The lady returned to the lake, but not before she handed over the knowledge of her medicinal cures to her first born son, who became the first Physician of Myddfai.

The Guardian for 1 June 2010 reports that plans are afoot to start a new herbal remedy outlet in the village, with a cafe, and craft area in which a potter and quilter will work.

Myddfai was famous for its natural medicines and plant potions in Medieval times.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Postcard 70: St Govan's Chapel

Guillemot colony at Stack Rocks
near St Govan's
on the Castlemartin Range, Pembrokeshire

St Govan's Chapel
tucked in its rocky cleft
(click to enlarge)

Stack Rocks
near the Green Bridge,
Castlemartin Range
(click to enlarge and spot the Guillemot colony)

We spent the Bank Holiday in fine sunshine on the Pembrokeshire cliffs, here at St Govan's Chapel. It is a favourite haunt. Some people believe that it is the final resting place of Sir Gawain.

We failed to spot any seals today, but the flowers - including the Green Winged Orchids - were a delight. There were scores of bees and butterflies.

Some years back I took part in a Disability Arts Cymru project, which resulted in the publication of an anthology called Hidden Dragons | Gwir a Grymus (edited by Allan Sutherland and Elin ap Hywel, Parthian Books).

My poem, 'St Govan's Chapel' features in the book. It was later selected for inclusion in an Arts Council Wales report (Moving Beyond: an Arts & Disability Strategy for Wales p.7), which is online. You can follow my link through to read it here.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Postcard 69: 'Unthinkable Skies' by Juliet Wilson

Do visit my Coastcard blog here
to read my interview with Juliet Wilson,
author of the sparkling new poetry collection,

'Unthinkable Skies'.

'Unthinkable Skies' (2010)
by Juliet Wilson (aka 'Crafty Green Poet')

The collection is available from
Calder Wood Press

28pp, £4.50 plus p&p - UK £1, Europe £1.50, Rest of the World £2
ISBN: 978-1-902629-28-5

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Postcard 68: Hull, Larkin and a Plague of Toads!

This should be a Toad,
but it's actually a Frog that hopped on to our back doorstep!

Gateway to Hull, The Humber Bridge

2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Larkin. It was good to read in the latest edition of The Times Higher Education Supplement that back in 2001 Larkin's 'long-term partner Monica Jones' bequeathed a collection of Larkin memorabilia - including the poet's duffel coat and NHS glasses - to the University of Hull, where the poet served as librarian from 1955 until the time of his death in 1985.

Larkin wrote two poems about toads, and a 'ceramic frog-shaped money box' was included in the selection of personal items. Toads and frogs have fascinated human beings for centuries: I remember being captivated by the 'brekekekex' frog chorus (see also here) in the comedy by Aristophanes, when I was at school.

During the Larkin25 Festival, a commemorative statue will be unveiled at Paragon Station. The festival will run for 25 weeks, during which time the town will be invaded by a plague of fibreglass toads, presumably of similar construction to King Bladud's drove of psychedelic pigs in Bath (and here), which I much enjoyed seeing on my way to and from the hospital!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Postcard 67: Through the Wardrobe to Narnia!

The reflection in this lamp post
(in the Cathedral Close at St Davids, adjacent to the Thirty-Nine Steps*)
reminds me of Lucy's meeting with Mr Tumnus in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.

Those who read this blog will know that my postcards are usually about places I have enjoyed visiting on my literary quests. This postcard is a bit different. I have just read two excellent posts by Rosie of Leaves 'n Bloom about her trip on the C.S. Lewis trail. I feel sure that you will enjoy these posts as much as I have. The embedded YouTube video gives an excellent overview in Part II.
The wardrobe that inspired Lewis is on display in the Wade Center in Wheaton College, USA. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of my all time favourite books. You will remember Mr Tumnus the faun, with his 'strange but pleasant little face' and his cloven hooves. Later on, of course, he is turned into a stone statue by the White Witch. But can Aslan the lion come to the rescue...?

* These steps are known locally, as the 'Thirty-Nine Articles', after the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571 given in English and Latin, the assent of which is still required of clergy in the Church of England. They form the "authorised standard of doctrine". The steps are not named after the John Buchan thriller!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Postcard 66: Loch Coruisk, Skye

Travel ~ to make journeys of curiosity

One of several definitions for the word
in Johnson's Dictionary, 1755

These seals live on Loch Scavaig and guard the entrance to Loch Coruisk.
The loch has been described as a cauldron of water
in the heart of the Cuillin mountains.

This is the view of the Cuillin from Elgol.

And this is the approach to Loch Coruisk.

Here are the seals again.

Back at Elgol, where the journey ends...
...or begins

A strange thing happened to me today. I began to read 'A Mermaid's Tale' by Wendy Webb - and lo and behold, there was a poem, 'Loch Coruisk' about me. It was also about my husband, David. What a surprise.

Thank you, Wendy!
It is not often I am lost for words.

Wendy had reminded me earlier in the week that I had sent her a postcard from this wonderful spot last September.