A night in Valencia

Sunday 30 April and Monday 1 May 2017 – Valencia, Spain.

Today is NLD day. For those not in the know, this is the North London Derby; a football match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur that occurs twice each season and a rivalry that has been going since 1913 when The Arsenal moved from south London to the north. No forgiveness given by the Spurs fans. 

El is a long term and ’passionate’ Spurs fan and I have supported The Arsenal since I was a nipper. We watch a lot of football in our house, but the NLD is not a game we watch together.

Before leaving London we had booked a room in the Excelsior Hotel in Valencia for tonight, the plan was to find a pub in town, break house rules and watch the game together then enjoy an evening in this lovely city. This morning we decided it was best to stick with house rules and not watch the game. Just in case. It was a stunner of a day, so no point in ruining it with sporting results!

We caught the Metro from Lliria into Valencia, I have done this journey a couple of times and am familiar with getting from the train into the centre of the old town where the hotel was located. One of the main streets near the hotel was closed to traffic when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. I was not sure why, it is the May Day holiday on Monday, and I thought there must be something happening then, but the road was open again on Monday morning. We did find a small parade late in the afternoon, though I am not convinced it was for that. The more roads closed the better in my book!

It was a glorious day today, so we dumped our bag in the hotel room and headed straight out for a walk.

We decided to walk to the Science and Arts Centre; though we had visited last February, it is a lovely stroll down an old river bed; with a pond below one of the ancient entry points in to the city.

I really like this walk, it is shaded and cool, and today the light was playing in the wind blown trees, there were loads of people, but it a big wide area and it was never too crowded, just nicely busy.

The ultra modern sci-fi buildings that make up the Science and Arts Centre are just stunning. Last week’s episode of Dr Who was filmed here. I am going to come back here on my own one evening and spend some time taking photos. I could wander all day, though it was very warm and bright.

We arrived back in the centre of town just as the NLD finished, we had managed to avoid the game and checking progress on our phones. Sadly Arsenal lost, a result I was expecting. At least one of us was happy! It was time to find a bar for a celebratory/commiseratory glass of wine.

On the road up from our hotel we came across this parade forming outside the church of Saint Martin. There were a lot of kids and adults dressed in traditional clothing. Though I am still not sure what the parade was about.

We found an open air bar in the Place de Lope de Vega and decided to sit and relax for a while over a glass of Rose. We were not sitting long when the parade came through the square, we had front row seats!

As the parade passed, unseen by us, one of the paraders set off a of string of very loud fire crackers on the far side of the small square, at the back of Santa Catalina church. It gave us (and most other people) one hell of a fright! I went to investigate afterwards and saw this little sculpture embedded in the stone work on the church. Very cool.

Finishing our glasses we set off again, this time to find somewhere to eat. Lunch, at the science museum had been a disappointment, we had had such good food in LLiria so we didn’t want touristy downtown Valencia to let us down. It was much busier out than I thought it would be; it was still quite early by Spanish standards, but it was a nice evening to stroll and we were not in any rush and we did find a place and did really enjoy the food.

I love the small winding alleys and streets in this section of Valencia, and that it is all a little dishevelled. I could easily live in this town. If I spoke Spanish or the Valencian variation. Bodega de la Sarieta was a nice spot to people watch and the food was great.

With very full bellies; the food was too good :), we sauntered around the cathedral area for a short while before waddling back to the hotel for the night.

There was even a little bit of street art to keep my urban soul happy.

I didn’t have a brilliant sleep, the very small room was either too warm with the air con off, or too noisy with the air con on, I suspect the full belly didn’t help much either… We were in no particular rush on Monday morning, we did have a room with a balcony, though there was no great view or anything; it was still nice to be outside relative peace in the city.

I loved the stairwell in our hotel!

After a late breakfast we were back on the train to Lliria. The mission to watch the NLD in a bar, a complete, yet welcome failure.

I really like the centre of Valencia, it is small, very touristy, very friendly, attractive and fun. One of my favourite cities.

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Walks and wine in Spain.

Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 April 2017 – Lliria, Valencia, Spain.

Two days after getting back from our trip to Cornwall we were off to Spain for a few days with friend Paul and Paula. We have stayed with Paul and Paula at their holiday house in Xelardo, which is an ‘urbanisation’ on the outskirts of Lliria, itself on the outskirts of Valencia. We were really looking forward to the trip, though not to the getting up at 4:00am to go to Stansted Airport bit. Some sacrifices had to be made!

We arrived late morning, and were greeted by a gentle shower of rain. The forecast for the next couple of days is not brilliant, but it does get better over time and is really good on Tuesday – the day we leave. The shower did not last long and was clear by the time we left the super market with a very full trolley and arrived at Casa la Adams.

We had no real plans for the time away, except El and I had booked a room on Sunday in a central Valencia hotel, so after unpacking and eating lunch we decided to take a late afternoon walk through the orange groves to the nearby village of Marines. I took a few photos, but don’t seem to have any of the orange groves. I have a lot of derelict buildings under moody cloudy skies….

And one not so derelict building, where I enjoyed the contrasts of colours and lines.

I really enjoyed the walk, it was down a very rough dirt road, we were passed by a couple of cars, but it was mainly quiet apart from the barking of very aggressive dogs, fortunately from behind high fences and gates. We stopped for a drink in a small cafe/bar in Marines, before having a brief look around the square.

One of the things I like about this part of Spain is that the flora is a mix of things we see in the UK, like daisies, lavender, gorse and thistle and things you expect to see in the desert like cacti.

Friday was another quiet day, I cannot remember what we did in the morning, but in the afternoon we drove to another small and nearby village; Olocau, where we took a walk up to Puntal dels Llops, or Wolf Point. A small hill on the edge of the Sierra Calderonas. On the top of the hill lie the ruins of an Iberian fort which was built in the 4th century BC and destroyed during the Second Punic Wars of the 2nd century BC. A walk up a hill, in the country, to visit an ancient ruin. There is not much that makes me happier. I was not let down!

It was a great short walk, like yesterday the fauna was quite interesting, totally different to the UK, very Spartan, and I really liked the contrast between the red soil and varieties of greens and yellows in the trees and shrubs.

I have also never seen this in a fur before, this was quite a common site on the walk, though this was the largest bushy outgrowth I saw, quite remarkable.

The walk to the top took about 40 minutes, and was well worth it, the ruins are quite cool and there is plenty of signage around the place, with a mix of Spanish and English writing. 

The fort was a place of refuge from invaders or troublemakers passing through the nearby villages, and was not a major permanent settlement.

I got a bit sidetracked on the walk back down, I had sort of planned in my head when we went away that I would not spend lots of time faffing with photos, I would take a couple here and there and not hold people up, but I did get a bit a carried away here. Visually it is a stunning location, with plenty of colour and interesting lines and layers.

Being spring the broom was in full and glorious flower and I just loved that yellow, and took rather too many photos of it and its contrasting neighbours.

Paul had booked us into a wine tasting late on Saturday morning at the Vera De Estanas winery about an hour away by car near Utiel. I enjoyed the drive in the country, though did have a brief moment of car sickness after spending time gawping at the news on my phone. Lesson learnt.

I am sure the tour was really interesting, sadly it was all in Spanish and I have none at all. It was also a bit wet outside so I was glad I had my coat..

Here are some barrels that contained wine,

some dusty wine bottles, that contained wine,

and some people that also now contain wine. Though not a lot as Paula was driving.

I really liked the building and the grounds, and I am sure I would have enjoyed the tour more if I could have understood any of it. The tile floor was lovely!

Actually the wine was pretty good too, especially their premium red at a whole 10pounds a bottle…

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On the good ship Bessie Ellen.

Monday 24 April 2017 – Cornwall.

John, a good friend of ours, had his 60th birthday at the end of last year, with winter not being the best time of year to have a nautical party, the celebration was not held until this weekend. John and his wife Deborah organised, and paid for a group of us to go to Fowey in Cornwall and then spend two nights on board the gaff rigged ketch, the Bessie Ellen. Wow !

We left London early on Friday morning, 13 of us in a rented van. Over the past month we have all been watching the weather forecast and it had been looking decidedly average for most of the month, taking a turn for the better the week before we left. It was going to be cold, but not wet. Our first stop was a Little Chef, I have always wanted to stop at one of the (in)famous road side cafes but have never been brave enough. This one on the A303 is a Little Chef with a difference, it featured in a 2008 TV series when celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal revamped the menu and the decor. Though Little Chef have dropped his menu now. The food was fine, the coffee was a bit meh though.

We arrived in Fowey mid-afternoon and were soon heading out on the charming water taxi (“DON’T STAND ON THE SEATS” !!!!) to our home for the next two nights, The Bessie Ellen. We were welcomed on board by owner and skipper Nicki and her small crew.

The majority of us were sleeping in the main cabin, which had 12 small bunks along the sides, they were quite snug. I was very glad I had remembered to bring ear-plugs with me, 12 people in their fifties were likely to form an informal middle of the night snoring chorus.

Once we had dumped our gear below decks and had a welcome cup of coffee and some cake we were split into three groups and, in my group’s case, literally shown the ropes. My group were shown how to raise the mizzen sail – the sail at the back of the boat. There are no fancy rope pullers here, only human power. The Bessie Ellen was built in 1904 to ferry clay over to Holland, and other freight around coastal UK and Europe. Originally she was not built for comfort, and there have only been a small amount of luxury added since! One of the other groups were taught about map reading and navigation, and El’s group were shown how to raise, and lower, the foresail and the three jibs, the small sails the front.

Once the sails we were up, we were on our way out of Fowey and into the channel. Magic !

There was not a lot of wind, enough to get a little bit of wind in the sails, but we were also using the motor to keep forward momentum. The group who were taught about navigation before we left were given the task to sail us to our first destination.

As we approached Charlestown, our destination for the night, it was all hands to the decks to drop and tie up the sails.

We were offered the opportunity to go ashore for an hour or so, and all took the chance to go for a short walk, and to sit in the sun and sup on a couple of pints in one of the many bars in this small village with its gorgeous tiny walled harbour.

Dinner was prepared for us by Pete the Chef. We guests were involved in working the ship, but the kitchen and cleanup duties were all cared for by the crew. We got to drink wine and beer and chat about the day while the work was all being done in the tiny kitchen. It was a really nice meal as was the evening drinks and chat!

After a ‘varied’ night’s sleep El and were up on deck reasonably early to watch a very nice but not spectacular sunrise, though there were some great clouds for me to photograph.

After breakfast it was all hands on deck with mops and swabs to clean the decks, sadly I arrived to late and missed out on this chore.

Very soon it was back to the sails again, and we were off for another sail/motor along the Cornish coast towards the west.

It was a gentle trip, the sea was dead flat calm so there was a lot of chat and a lot of gazing towards the land.

We stopped off the coast at Portscatho; where we all disembarked for a long afternoon walk over to St Mawes, where we will be picked up again for some afternoon sailing – hopefully with more wind. 

It was a really nice walk, back on my beloved South West Coast Path to Towan Beach, where there was a small discussion at a signpost, before we headed inland and off the path.

We found a lovely little tea truck on the way, which we pretty much took over.

We walked inland to the estuary, though a lovely forested section of track toward St Anthony, where we caught a very expensive small ferry over to St Mawes. There just happened to be a very nice pub here, so it would have been rude to not stop for a drink.

Soon enough we were back on the boat, and with a decent breeze we were sail up and for the first time on the journey the motor was off and we moving fully under sail. It was lovely. Almost peaceful; just the creak of rope, or rope on wood, the sails crackling in the wind and the rush of the sea on the hull. There is not much like it!

Soon enough we in the Helford River, our home for the night. Lobster was served on the deck as a pre-dinner snack, and with a glass of bubbly at hand and good friends it was perfect.

The sunset was pretty decent as well !

Sunday morning was glorious, very very sunny, with a lovely crisp blue sky, it was also quite cold! After breakfast we were sail up again and off out of the Helford River, sadly to sail back to Fowey. Once out of the river I was given charge of the tiller, we were under sail , but the wind was really not doing us any favours so we were back on the motor as well. I quite enjoyed myself though !

There was quite a swell on the sea and some of the crew were feeling it a bit. Nicki, our skipper decided to give us a short break in the lovely hamlet of Polkerris. unsurprisingly there was a pub there as well, so yeah it would have been rude not to.

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A pint of lager in the sun, in a pub almost on the beach. Nothing wrong with that at all. There was nothing wrong with lunch back on the boat either!

Another hour of motoring against the wind saw us back in Fowey late in the afternoon, our sailing trip was sadly over. We had a great time on the boat, memories I will cherish, I love this bit of England and seeing it from the sea for the first time just added to the magic.

We had dinner in Fowey, and a fairly early night. I think we were all pretty tired from sleeping in a single room on the boat. Having our own rooms in a hotel, and the chance for a hot shower (there was one of the boat!) meant some very solid sleep. After breakfast on Monday we had an hour to look around Fowey before we had to jump back into the van for the drive back to London. I really liked the bits of Fowey I saw. There is a castle, which we discovered was private (boo) and some nice old fishing cottages. The village felt good, and having nice weather certainly helped…

Far too soon we were all piling into the van for the six or so hour drive back home, I had a stint of driving for a couple of hours, mainly on the motorway. The van is easy to drive, it doesn’t feel that big, and it handled well. The only issue was it was restricted to 62 MPH, which is kind weird when you are accelerating and then all of a sudden you are not accelerating any more, and over taking was a slow process!

I had some really good news about a couple of jobs I had applied for while I was away, one of which I was really excited about it. More news on that another day…

It was an amazing weekend away, and I feel lucky to be welcomed into such a great group of people.

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The bluebells of Danbury

Sunday 16 April 2017 – Danbury, Essex.

It has been a while since I last posted, as usual it is because I haven’t really done much of interest. Though there are a few activities coming up that I know I will be taking a camera along to, so expect more posts soon. I really do not want to let this blog languish if I can avoid it.

It is coming up to bluebell season in the UK, the best time is usually the end of April / beginning of May, but I am away for the weekends around that time. With winter being pretty dry and warm I was hoping for some early blooms and took a drive out in to rural Essex to have a look see.

A FaceBook associate had posted some photos of bluebells near Danbury so rather than visit the usual spot in Wanstead Park I took a chance and took the 30 minute drive. Plus it was good to get the car out of the city for a while.

The drive out was pretty good; once I got out of the city and in to some country roads it was window down and music up. I love English country lanes. I was looking for the forest I had been told about when I came across a small strip of trees between the road and a golf course that had a nice display of bluebells. I pulled the car over and jumped the barbed wire fence for a quick look. It was worth it.

I love the little skull, I am guessing it is from a young fox.

When I arrived at the forest I was told about I met a couple of people walking dogs, asking them about the bluebells I learnt about Blakes Wood, a ten minute drive away and supposedly spectacular. I took a walk around this small forest and found another nice little field of bluebells under the trees.

One of my aims for this trip was to try and take some pictures that were different to the usual broad sweep of the bluebell field that I have done in the past, I was going to try some close ups and some good old fashioned panned blurry shots.

The forest was edged on one side by a rape field, it is such a wonderfully colourful time of year in Britain, I was hoping to find some bluebells rubbing up against the rape, but that was not to be. No clash of colours this time round.

I found Blakes Wood pretty easily, I was told it would be really busy and they were right, the small car park was full and there were cars up and down the narrow road. I squeezed my car into a small spot and headed off for an explore.

It is quite a big site, a number of people had maps, but I had none and was a bit blind. I wandered off down a path that looked likely, but in the end it wasn’t. At the end I looped back up a different path that was sort of heading back to where I started and soon came across a field of devastation. All the trees had been cut down and dropped on to a field of bluebells, truck tyres had dug them or quashed them flat. I was pretty gutted, thinking this was it. What looked to have been a large section of bluebells flatted by foresters. There were not many left standing.

I took another path back in what I hoped was the direction of the car park and came across a sort of Essexian bluebell nirvana. I took a lot of pictures, including some wavy blurry shots, ‘intentional camera movement’ (ICM) as it is now called. It was called impressionist photography when I was last doing 8 or 9 years ago. I am trying to let loose the inner Monet here.

The same field with the camera on a tripod!

The area is quite large, so there are quite a few angles and views to make images from. Given the number of people in the forest this area was very empty and I only saw one other photographer while I was there. Must be too late in the day for the real pros 🙂

I really enjoyed Blakes Wood, and will definitely go back there next year for bluebell season, now I know it is there I will aim to get up for dawn and get some better light, and if possible some magical glowing mist as well. Clichéd I know. I guess I could always make my mist with a bit of vertical panning.

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Birmingham.

Saturday 18 March 2017 – Birmingham.

I have had a nasty head cold/virus thing for the past three or four weeks. It has not been bad enough to really lay me out, but it has been bad enough that over that period I had to take a couple of days off work. As a contractor on a day rate with no sick leave, that means no pay; so it was a pretty bad cold. It has also meant that El and I have not done a heck of a lot since the start of the year. It being winter hibernation time has not helped either.

The UK’s biggest photography show is at the NEC in Birmingham this weekend. As El had plans for both Friday night and Saturday morning that did not include me I decided I would go to Birmingham to have a look. I am trying to work out what to do with my photography at the moment, I know I want to do more of it; I am just not sure what that more is. Much as I would love to get a new camera, I wasn’t going to look at equipment, I was going with the hope of finding new inspiration.

I worked from home Friday morning and had booked a seat on the 14:13 train from Euston. It was a pretty good journey and I arrived in Birmingham late in the afternoon, just as the drizzle started! I had booked a hotel that was close to the station and headed straight there; after checking the direction on the map on my phone.

I crossed through Holloway Circus and stopped to take a photo of the Asian influenced statue in the middle, with two lovely English tower blocks in the background. My hotel was just on the other side of the circus. So far I was not overly impressed with Birmingham central, though it was living up to my expectations. The station was very modern, and there was a fairly new mall opposite it, but the walk to my hotel was a little ‘gritty’. Perhaps late afternoon on a rainy St Patrick’s Day is not the best time to visit an urban centre for the first time? The sky seemed to reflect the colour of the buildings below it.

When I got to the check-in desk at the hotel I discovered that at some point between checking the map on my phone and arriving I had lost my glasses. Naturally this was one trip away from home when I had not bought a spare. Sh*t! I checked in and headed back the way I came, but as expected, I found nothing. I bought a ‘cheap’ pair from Boots – I need to be able to read things or I will go bonkers. I have never lost a pair of glasses before, and it was a slightly disconcerting feeling. I can see to get around well enough, but I cannot read a thing without them.

It was still drizzling when I left Boots, so I went back to the hotel, and did not leave again until the morning when I left for a walk before heading out to the NEC centre for the opening of the Photography Show at 11:00. I didn’t really have a plan for walking around, though I wanted to see the building at the back of the shopping centre, ‘The Bullring’ building. A new and very futuristic looking construction.  

It is a stunning piece of modern architecture and being right next to the church Saint Martin in the Bullring, it makes for a great old and new contrast.

I knew there must be some street art in the city, I had vague recollections of hearing some paint jams here, so was pleasantly surprised to walk past a Dan Kitchener hoarding nearby.

I had been walking toward what looked like some interesting old/derelict buildings and accidentally stumbled upon a major street art area.

Every street I walked down had art or graff on walls. Big pieces, some by artists I was very familiar with and some not so much, there was like a trail of art of leading me towards something, though I had no idea what. The chimney on this building was what originally led me here, there was a great view back up the street to The Bullring as well.

I was quite intrigued by this building as well, it turned out to be part of a college, in this section of the city there are not many tall buildings, so this one really stood out, I loved the water? tower. I am also a sucker for red brick and government issue green paint.

Following the trail onwards, I passed an Amara,

And something I liked by an unknown artist,

I crossed over a small canal, reminiscent of the canal we saw in York, tightly canyon-ed by the buildings on either side, and much narrower than the canal system in North London.

All of a sudden I found the pot of gold at the end of the street art trail, a couple of big car parks with walls covered in art works.

I recognised a Louis Masai, but not much else. There were a lot of other pieces around.

I think I stumbled into Birmingham’s answer to London’s Shoreditch. It is an area in need of gentle gentrification, more of a tidy than a complete make-over. There are a lot of neglected small factory, warehouse and office buildings, spaces that would make for great studio and gallery places. Though we know what happens when gentrification comes along, and it is not all good news. This little square had been gentrified and was very cool, and if I had seen it yesterday I would have been tempted to come down here last night for a meal and a drink.

I walked past a record fair. I was very very tempted to go in….  I also like the idea that a city is a work of art, and I think this area of the city has achieved that to a degree.

However, I was on a mission to go the Photography Show, so I left the street art and record fair behind and headed to the station to take the train from central Birmingham to the NEC centre, about 10 miles away. My feelings about Birmingham have been turned around and I really enjoyed my walk.

The train was absolutely rammed, with lots of (mostly) young people in costume. Arriving at the NEC I discovered that Comic Con was being held there as well as the Photography Show; and a couple of smaller expos as well. The place is huge. As was the photo expo, much bigger than I expected.

I really enjoyed the expo. I will definitely go back next year, but will plan to go with someone else, preferably someone interested in photography! Though I was not planning on spending time looking at the gear  I would liked to have looked at the cameras and the other technology, discussing pros and cons of the different systems and innovations. It was interesting to look around anyway, plus I wanted to avoid the temptation of holding a Canon 5d Mk4 in my hands!

I wasn’t there for the tech though, I wanted to check out some of the talks. As I said at the start I need some inspiration, I am stuck in a bit of a photographic rut at the moment, hence the lack of blogs and photography. I have some ideas, but need a bit of a kick in the butt to get going.

I attended a talk in the Canon tent by the photographer Jeff Ascough, about how he developed his style and it was really informative and very helpful. I left with good ideas, some thoughts on direction, and a validation of some of my thinking.

I left soon after the talk and headed back to home. I felt good about the trip.

All the photos were taken on my phone, I did take the G16, but did not use it in the end. I am really impressed with the IQ of the Samsung S7.

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Back on the bike !

Sunday 22 January 2017 – London.

A rather belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and welcome to my first post of 2017.

It has been a very long time since I have been on my mountain bike, November 2015 was the last time I rode in the UK. I had a quick and awful pedal on my last trip to New Zealand and have only ridden the commuter bike once or twice since 2015. I have been meaning to get out more, honest.

I am going to stick to my usual excuse, no point in making up another one now. I have been really busy since I returned from my trip. I was unexpectedly straight back in to work and have been working ever since. As my contract finished before I left for India I was not expecting to be working so soon on my return, but I have been back at the same place on a sort of week-by-week basis.

I have also started to look for a full time permanent job, back to working five days a week. It is time to replenish a much hammered savings account. Much as I have loved working four day weeks, I have not saved any penny in over a year and have churned through the money I saved when I was working a full five days. I have been taking job applications semi-seriously this time, I have fired off quick responses to a couple of agencies but most applications have taken considerable time to complete. Fingers crossed one of those applications will prove that all the work has been worth it.

The other reason I have not ridden is I have been lazy, very lazy…

Last weekend as I was walking home from the laundrette I saw a mud covered mountain biker waiting at the lights near the end of my street. He looked like he had had a lot fun and I was quite jealous. I decided that I would do something about it. Mid-week and out of the blue I had a message from someone I have ridden with before asking me if I wanted to take a slow pedal around the forest. Perfect timing!

Fortunately all my bike needed was some air in the tires and a bit of chain lube, a quick spin around the block yesterday morning to make it all worked and I was ready to ride.

What I wasn’t really ready for was riding in -1 degrees. It was cold when I got outside! It was however a glorious sunny day, there was no wind and once we got going I sort of warmed up a bit.

There was a lot of frost on the ground and on the roofs of the parked cars as I pedalled up to the meeting point on Beacontree Ave. I was first to arrive and with a couple of minutes to wait took the first photo of the day. Frosty grasses in a road side tub.

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With little exercise in the last 12 months I knew it was going to be a slow and hard ride, I was lucky that my riding buddy today, Tom, was not in for a fast ride either. I told him that I would be wanting to take some photos on the way. This was not just an excuse for multiple breaks. It was stunning out there this morning! Our first stop was only a few minutes in, this could be a long ride.

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The ground was incredibly hard, I have never ridden on frozen mud before, mud that crunches under tyres or does not yield when ridden on, the puddles were mostly iced over and very few were broken under our wheels. Our next stop was at Highams Park Lake, which appeared to be completely frozen. I know shooting into the sun is a photography no-no, but meh, I have been breaking photography rules for years. Flareage!

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I loved these leaves trapped under the thin ice on the lake.

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It was a bit of a slog up Pole Hill, my legs were starting to feel it and we had only been going for 30 or 40 minutes. While we rested I went for a quick explore, looking for some frost laden leaves.

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There is a great view over towards the Shard and down to Canary Wharf on a fine day, but there was a little mist around so we just had to make do with the view down over Chingford.

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The ride down Pole Hill through the trees next to the golf course is one of a very small number of tracks that actually go down hill in the forest. So naturally it is one of my favourite trails in the park. There is also a great piece of single track on the other side of the road, with solid ground under-wheel, rather than the usual mud it was even better than usual. Though we did come across a really nice fern grove. So I had to stop…

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I loved the way the frost made the surface of the leaves so white and fragile.

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I didn’t take any more photos. Too tired and I needed to concentrate on the riding. We rode up to the tea hut at High Beach, which is a regular stopping point for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. 2 pounds 10 for both. Wonderful, no wonder it is so popular with riders and walkers.

The ride back towards home starts off well with some really nice and mostly downhill single track, but as we leave the forest proper and meander through some smaller, but still forested parks it turns into a bit of a slog. At least today it was not muddy!

All up we were out for about three hours. It was damn good to be out and about on the bike again!

One week later. I went for another ride again today. There was no ice, but lots of mud and it was so much harder.

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Burj Khalifa–The tallest building in the world.

Tuesday 06 December 2016 – Dubai.

I was planning on writing this post the day after I finished writing the last one, which in itself was written a couple of weeks after I returned to London. Too busy with Christmas; with any luck I will have this all done and dusted by the new year. Not that I have anything much else to say, new year, new start and all that.

My flight from Dubai to London was not until 2:50 am tomorrow. I had already paid for one night in the hotel I did not use much as I arrived early on Sunday morning, so I did not want to pay for a second part night. This meant I had to check out today, though, thankfully not until 12:00.

When I originally decided to stop in Dubai on the way home from New Zealand I was thinking about a trip into the Arabian desert. I have been in deserts before and the emptiness is something I am fascinated by. Before I went out yesterday I spent some time on the internet searching for tours that looked interesting, but did not find anything that appealed. Lots of companies do 4-wheel drive trips from the city, but all mixed in with sand boarding, quad biking and shopping opportunities. Maybe they are fun with a group of friends, but not something I would do on my own. I was more interested in a more educational type trip, but could not really find anything that did not have terrible reviews. So I binned the idea, though I still had a very long day to fill….

I came up with a loose plan that had me lounging in the hotel until just before chucking out time at 12:00. I left my pack in the hotel and headed out into a very warm day before ducking down into the cooler metro for a ride into the centre of the finance district. Most of which was along one strip of road, narrow but high. Very high compared to London!

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I foolishly decided to walk to Jumeirah Mosque, the main mosque in Dubai and then on to the ‘nearby’ Jumeirah Beach. Of course nothing is nearby in Dubai, I should have realised this yesterday. I was better prepared today, plenty of water and sun blocked up before I left. What I didn’t have was a hat, and it was scorching in the sun. There was plenty of that as there was very little shade on my walk.

Not far off the main strip there is a large section of land that has been cleared and I guess there will be a lot of building going on here over the next few years.

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As I got further away from the city it was clear that that empty strip probably contained the houses of workers and inner city poor and that those communities had been bulldozed in the name of progress. It was not long before I was walking through the older and more run down part of town.

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I did pass this really nice mosque next to the Iranian hospital. One of the frustrations with walking around Dubai is the roads are really big. Great if you are a driver, less if you are a walker. I suspect there are not too many walkers here, a bit like Queensland in Australia, lots of land for roads and it is too damn hot to walk anyway. Sometimes it was difficult to find somewhere to actually cross roads and I had to make a few dashes here and there to make like a chicken and get to the other side.

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I eventually found the Jumeirah Mosque and was pretty let down with how un-spectacular it was, I must admit to expecting a bit more. It is still a nice building, just not very glossy and shiny.

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The city of Dubai is quite narrow and runs along a massive stretch of beach. My next stop was Jumeirah Public Beach, just around the corner from the mosque. I was planning on getting to the beach, stopping for lunch and a cool drink and then walking along the sand for a while before getting a bus or a cab to the Burj Al Arab tower.  I did pass this, sadly closed, shop selling traditional Emerati food.

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I walked for ages, it was early afternoon and very hot, I was starting to feel my face melting in the sun. There just seemed to be no access to the beach. I finally came across some building works,

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eventually finding a sign that advised the beach has been closed since October 2014. I am guessing they will not be calling it a public beach once all the apartments have been built on it. I was a bit annoyed. My experience had in no way been enhanced.

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I walked back out to the main road, and after a few minutes walking finally managed to flag down a cab and gratefully flopped into the back seat and out of the sun. I asked the cab driver to take me to the Burj Al Arab tower, which turned out to be a hotel that had no access to the public. I thought there was a viewing area from the hotel, but was obviously very mis-informed. I was equally annoyed with that too! I walked up from the hotel to a public access section of the beach so I could take the all important and overly clichéd photo of the hotel. It is a great looking building.

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As I was standing on the beach an open topped tour bus pulled in and disgorged a load of tourists. I decided that as I still had 12 hours to kill to my flight I may as well jump on the bus and just cruise around the city for a while, it was cool, moving, had free water and was going to all the places I wanted to go. I should have done it when I left the hotel, would have saved me a cab and a long walk. Oh well, that will teach me for being a tour snob!

The next stop on the bus was The Palm Jumeirah. I am not sure how to describe this place. You need to see if from the air, or on a map to appreciate it. It is a massive man made complex of apartments, hotels and streets built into the sea and from above it looks like a palm tree. It is quite amazing. At the end is the ‘Atlantis’ hotel. Quite spectacular.

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Everything is big in Dubai. With that much money and space and cheap labour there is not much point in building small. As I mentioned above, all the main roads are huge, and the billboards are just as big.

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This was all a prelude to my next stop, the Dubai Mall (biggest in Dubai). Towering above it; and everything else, the tallest building in the world; Burj Khalifa. It is massive, and that first glimpse from the bus was pretty amazing.

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My first stop was the mall, I need some food and more importantly something to drink, guzzling water all day was starting to get a bit dull. The mall is huge, full of shops I will never venture in to, and a number I would not be allowed past security as I do not look wealthy enough. It even has a full size aquarium inside.

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The food hall alone was almost the size of a floor of my local Westfield mall. I wandered around looking for something interesting to eat. I wanted to eat middle eastern, but discovered they had Burger Fuel; I am sure they are a New Zealand chain, and my son spent a couple of years working on the fit-out of Burger Fuels around Auckland. I had to go and try one. Burger, fries and shake. Perfect. The view from my seat was of the ice skating rink, all malls in the desert should have one….

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Sated from my late lunch I went in search of the entrance to the world’s tallest building. It was surprisingly difficult to find from the outside. Though looking was interesting enough.

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I eventually headed back inside the mall and found the entrance in there. I won’t say how much it cost me to enter, but it was by far the most expensive tourist thing I have ever done. And I mean ever. It was worth it though.

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148 floors up!

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The view was amazing, everything was utterly dwarfed, the buildings that seemed so tall from ground level were barely ant sized from up here. It so high that perspective was completely out of whack.

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I was up there just on sun-set, hoping for something spectacular, but it was all rather disappointing in the end.

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The towers on the right hand side of the next photo are the same as the ones in the one below it. I spent quite a time up the tower, just walking round looking out of the windows, though as the sun-set came on it started to get rather crowded so I got back in the lift and headed back down to the mall, out the other side and back on to my bus. I still had 6 hours to kill.

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Luckily it was rush hour in Dubai, which mean a really looooooooooong journey to the next destination. We drove slowly around the Burj Khalifa and I managed to get a few hand held night shots taken.

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We then went on a slow tour of Dubai’s traffic jams for a couple of hours.

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By the time I got back to where I started my day I was thoroughly bored and sick of the constant traffic fumes. I decided to get off and see if I could find a bar in one of the big hotels, (thanks Google). I stopped in for a well deserved, but ludicrously expensive, pint in a pretty horrible hotel bar. I didn’t stay long.

I took the metro back to my hotel, where I managed to get a shower and a complete change of clothes in the hotel gym changing rooms. What a relief that was, I felt pretty gross after a day in the heat and then the humid smog of the evening tour bus ride.

I made final use of the metro day pass and took the train to the airport. I was three hours early, so managed to get a snack and a couple of glasses of wine before boarding and the seven and a half boring hours back to London. It was not a bad flight, I had three seats to myself so managed to sprawl for most of the journey.

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It was 33 degrees in Dubai, 2 in London when I landed just before 8 am. Welcome home!!

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A little bit of Dubai

Sunday 04 December 2016 – Dubai.

I have considered stopping in Dubai on previous trips back to New Zealand, but have never done so. Last time I came back from New Zealand I suffered really badly from jet lag, so decided that now was the time to break my trip up and spend a couple of days looking around. This seemed like a great idea when I booked my tickets, but I must admit to having second thoughts as the time approached. The more I investigated the more I found that there is not a huge amount of things that actually interest me in Dubai, plus by the end of my time in Auckland I was just looking forward to getting home again. However, it was all booked and paid for so I may as well make the most of it!

I arrived in Dubai at the end of an almost 20 hour trip from Auckland, with a brief, but still too long, stop over in Melbourne on the way. I remember hating Melbourne airport last time and it was no different this time. Note to self. Go via Sydney next time you fly Emirates.

I arrived in Dubai just before 7:00 am. I had decided to book a hotel for the previous night so I could crash before going out for an explore. I never sleep on planes, and after being awake for over 36 hours I was pretty tired once checked in. So I made use of the bed I had paid the previous night for and dozed for a couple of hours.

Dubai is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, it is a Muslim country and is semi-strict. There are a few bars in the city, all in hotels and the dress is supposed to be conservative. I wore long trousers and shoes on my walks, though regretted that immensely, a lot of other tourists wore shorts, and I wished I had to. Naturally there are a lot of mosques in Dubai, including one right outside my hotel room. After having spent a reasonable amount of holiday time over the years in Muslim countries I find the early morning call to prayer quite soothing, so didn’t mind hearing it as dawn broke, not that I was sleeping anyway.

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Dubai is not an old place, something I didn’t really expect. I had made an assumption that as the middle east has a very ancient and well documented history that this would have spread to the Arabian Peninsula, but it didn’t really. Until the discovery of oil this area was populated by nomads so no ancient ruins are to be found here. There are some old places in some of the nearby states, but the oldest ruin in Dubai is the fort and that is only a couple of hundred years old. I was a bit disappointed to discover that in some basic research before I left London.

After a hotel breakfast I spent a couple of hours poring over the city map and using the internet to come up with a bit of a plan for the two days I have to fill. Today I was going to explore The Creek area and then walk to another hotel for late afternoon too watch football on the TV and drink a cold beer. My hotel is dry and does not have football on the telly either. There are a few sports bars around the city, so I chose one that was near enough to The Creek area to walk to. Though, I did grossly miscalculate distances, something that I regret more tomorrow. I also gave my sun screen to my son, another mistake once I felt myself getting burnt under the 30+ sun and clear blue sky. It took me a while to find a replaceent, and I was a bit red and sweaty when I did. I think most of it ended up in my eyes.

The metro in Dubai is fairly limited in where it goes, but it is otherwise excellent, I had chosen my hotel on the edge of town, partly due to price, but mainly due to it being a five minute walk to a metro station.

I took the Metro my first stop, the Saruq Alhadid Museum. It was pretty interesting, I think I was the only one there. I mainly went as it is in the supposed historical area, though there as mentioned above there is not a huge amount of history here, and the buildings are all renovated, it was interesting enough; plus it was air conditioned which was wonderful.

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After the museum I walked along the Creek as much as I could, past water taxis that take you over to the souks (markets) on the other side. I had planned on exploring the souks, but reading about them and seeing photos, they just looked to be just general shopping areas rather than old style markets, so I didn’t bother going in the end.

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I did pass through this small souk between the creek and the fort, I love the fact this had a shop named ‘Jaipur Trading’, selling lots of things from India.

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I was hoping to see some magnificent mosques here, this is an incredibly wealthy country, so I was surprised to find that most of the mosques are not that magnificent! I did find a couple, including this one near the fort. There are a lot of flags flying and hanging from buildings as yesterday was the anniversary of the founding of Dubai.

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The fort is the oldest building in Dubai, built around 1800, and has been extensively renovated, it was surprisingly small, especially when compared to the monster forts I saw in India. It also houses the Dubai museum and is worth a visit.

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From the fort I walked to the Al Bastakiya area, another historic section of Dubai.

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I really enjoyed walking around this small section of the city, low rise buildings, designed to capture the wind and shade and make for a cooler place to walk. The towers are wind towers, designed to grab the breeze and funnel it down into the buildings. I have not seen these before and thought they were quite cool.

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There was even a bit of street art !

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I found a really good art gallery/cafe where I stopped for an ice coffee and a rest, and a break from the heat. It was quite a hip/cool place, not something I expected to find in Dubai. I bought something from the house as well. Very unlike me!

I thoroughly enjoyed walking around here, as the sun dropped there was some quite good shadows to play with. I have been having major issues with the Canon 5d today. I am hoping it just needs a clean, but it was struggling to focus on anything and I was having to manual focus a bit. This is not fun when the eyes are not as good as they used to be. Stupidly, this was the first time since I left home that I did not have the little G16 camera in my bag as well. I have been hoping  for an excuse to finally upgrade my 10 year old DSLR, but cannot really afford a new one right now! This was the most photogenic mosque I found in Dubai.

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I love alleys!

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It is late afternoon and I had been out for about four hours now, wandering around in the very dry heat so decided to stop for the day and walk towards the hotel that had a sports bar. It was quite a lot further than I thought, taking a sweltering 30 minutes to walk there. I passed what must be the only incomplete/failed building project I saw in Dubai. There is a massive amount of construction going on, and the buildings in the financial centre are massive. But not as tall as the Burj Khalifa; the tallest building in the world, which I visit tomorrow….

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The football was a bit dull, Bournemouth v Liverpool, it was 0-2 to Liverpool at half time and didn’t really pick up at the start of the second half. I didn’t realise until I got inside that you can smoke in bars in Dubai, it was not a particularly pleasant place, so after a couple of beers and some really nice spring rolls I left. By the time I got back to my hotel there had been four more goals scored in what must have been a cracking end to the second half – and then Bournemouth scored late to see the game off with a 4-3 win.

I spent the rest of the evening in my room, it was cool, quiet. And smoke free!

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We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity.

Saturday 3 December 2016 – Auckland, New Zealand.

I have been back in London for six days now, and am suffering immensely from jet-lag induced tiredness. I have been struggling to find the motivation to knock this post off, and am doing so just as a sense of completeness. I was anticipating not having any work until the new year, but am starting again on Monday, at least in a temporary capacity. I am still looking for something more long term. I will miss having the days off to get more self organised and motivated for 2017 – but it is so good to have some money coming in!

I arrived in Auckland on 21st November, had a day in Auckland before heading off down to Nelson, at the top of the south island, to see my sister’s family and stay with friends for two nights. My son, Aiden came with me on the trip and it was really good to spend a couple of days with him. I wrote about that trip a couple of posts ago.

I had no plan for my time in Auckland, stay with mum and just hang out. Maybe catch up with a few of the friends I did not see when El and I were here earlier in the year. I deliberately did not hire a car this time, which meant I was more ‘home’ bound than I would have been if I was more mobile. Mum does have pretty good access to public transport, which was also a factor in that decision.

After that big walk I did up Ben Nevis on Thursday I was a little concerned about going mountain bike riding on Saturday morning. I have not been on my bike since November 2015, so this was going to hurt. Hurt it did… I was so unfit, my riding buddies destroyed me! We went riding at my old stamping ground of Woodhill Forest, except it is totally different now. All the trails I rode, including the ones I made have been logged and there is nothing left. A new area of the forest has opened up and the trails there were really good. The trail builders have done a brilliant job. It was just a shame I was not up to it, slow riding up and slow riding down… I need to get fit again!

I went back to my friends place that night for dinner and a catch up with other friends, we went to the local supermarket for wine and beer and I was amazed at the huge range of pinot gris available in New Zealand. Heavenly ! We do not get much of it in England, all Italian pinot grigio, not to my taste. I am a New Zealand wine snob.

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Over the next few days I made quite a few trips into the city, sharing the journey between bus and train. I had family Christmas shopping to do plus I was keen to visit Auckland Art Gallery and the museum.

I love the art gallery, and visit every time I go to Auckland, there is always a change to the main NZ gallery and the special exhibitions are worth checking out. One of my favourite spaces in Auckland.

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This piece certainly has resonance in this weird, politically messed up year.

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I was really lucky with the weather while I was in Auckland, there was a little rain, but not on any of the days I was out, from the gallery I walked up to K’Rd and bought myself three albums from the Flying Out record shop; another thing I do whenever I come here. It was then on to the museum and the New Zealand music exhibition. I was not happy having to pay $25 to get into the museum, I am used to museums being mainly free, and that price is really expensive.

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Though the music exhibition was really good, documenting some of the bands I loved, and still love. It was great to see Martin Phillips’ from The Chills Leather Jacket, which was left to him when their drummer tragically died far too young from leukaemia, as well as the infamous 4-track owned by Chris Knox that recorded so many of those brilliant early Flying Nun records.

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I am not a huge fan of Auckland, it is a fairly dull city; the beaches and coastal parks being a massive exception, though unusually apart from the trip to Murwai I made with mum I did not get out to the sea at all. 

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I do love the central Britomart train station though!

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The rest of the time was spent catching up with family and friends. Drinking and eating were a feature of the rest of the trip, I had some excellent dinners, lunches, coffees, beer and wine and left the country a few pounds heavier than when I arrived, and I was only there for ten days!

It was fabulous to catch up with my grandson Mason, he is two and a half now and a real character, loves his Duplo, cars, trucks and anything else with wheels.

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It was a good trip, lovely to spend a few days with mum, great to see friends and family, but by the end I was looking forward to going home. My mum, son, grandson and me. Four generations in one room.

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Muriwai Gannet Colony

Wednesday 30 November 2016 – Muriwai Beach, Auckland, New Zealand.

Muriwai Beach is about a 50 minute drive from central Auckland, on a good traffic day… It is one of my favourite places in Auckland and I have been taking photographs here for many years. It became even more special to me, and to my family when we scattered dad’s ashes over the cliff tops after he passed suddenly in November 2007.

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I generally go there when I come to New Zealand, and mum and I went up for a visit this morning.

It was high tide for a change, from memory the last few times I have been the tide has been quite a way out. So it was nice to see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks.

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Mum and I have a pretty regular wee walk we do when we visit, up the steps from the beach to the cliff top where we left dad, then over to the various gannet colony viewing platforms and then back down the path near the road. This morning was no exception.

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The gannet colony on the cliff tops is now a very popular tourist attraction, gaining more and more visitors each year. We were lucky it was very quiet today. It is also getting busier and busier with more gannets coming each year, primarily due to successful breading. It was not that long ago when the number of breeding pairs numbered under a hundred. There are now well over 1000 birds nesting here. It is not yet peak gannet season, so the numbers are down a bit, though the nesting area has really spread along the cliffs since I was last here.

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There were quite a few birds sitting on nests. The gannets only lay one egg at a time and the parents share responsibility for sitting on the egg, you can just see one under the front bird.

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I was quite surprised to see that there were some chicks here as well. They start off bald, but soon turn in to white balls of fluff,

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Before their full colours come on, and they spread their wings and fly.

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It is a very cool place.

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See you next time dad. xx

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