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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Morfe Dinlle, Malltraeth Marshes, Valley Wetlands and South Stack Nature Reserves - 27 and 28th of March.

Friday 27th March.

Breakfast early with a lady. Angela who was on her way back from Swansea to Liverpool. She talked about a school in The Gambia that she supports with her husband, wullingkamma nursery.

After breakfast it was out into the sunshine and a long day spent cycling to the next almost inaccessible RSPB reserve west of Caernarvon, Morfe Dinlle.
The road taken went past the entrance to Portmerion. No time to visit this time, the focus on this year's Biking Birder is birds. “This birder gloriously vindicates the rights of the birder to bird and the assembly rises to you, Sir!" To quote The Prisoner . . almost.
Through Porthmadoc and up yet another long, steep section, I eventually found a superb old railway line, now a cycle track. This took me down to where a turn off took me through a few small lanes down to the edge of the reserve. Not many birds to see over the saltmarsh area, I took a footpath along the eastern edge to get a better view. The best birds I suppose were a few little egrets but it looked good for breeding lapwing, if they can keep the aerial predators away.
Next I went around the bay to a hide overlooking it to have some lunch.

Why do some idiots vandalise hides? Sad individuals with sad little lives, this hide had had part of its information boards smashed.

Quickly through Caernarvon, no time for a castle visit and along the cycle path to the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits. Not sure if I was really allowed to cycle on the road, an older gentleman on an old sit up and beg bike suddenly went past me as I photographed the view.

To Llanfairpwyl . . . . . . . well you know the rest and can say it in perfect Welsh can't you? Have a look at the photo or click on the youtube link and try it out.

Catchy little tune. I'll be singing it later on the bike. Watch out for the last few notes. Deep breath required.
Cream tea with sarnies, scone with jam and cream, another cup cake and a coffee for a fiver. Great.
Next I cycled along the A5 until reaching the cycle path that went along the large dyke bisecting the large RSPB reserve at Malltraeth Marshes. More little egrets, a few ducks, water rail and a cettis was my birding reward for a long day cycling.

Saturday 28th Marsh

A night in the tent again with strong wind and heavy rain to keep me inside for a while in the morning, the rain faded and I packed up in a north westerly gale and started the cycle to the next RSPB reserve. The going was a lot tougher than yesterday with the wind in my face or from my side for most of the day. It took some time to get to Valley Wetlands and any birds had the good sense to hunker down and stay out of the gale.
Onwards, I went past a hotel a few miles before and thinking it would be daft to carry on the struggle against the wind with a fully laden bike I called in.
To South Stack with a lighter bike, I didn't quite fly there but it was a lot easier. As I pushed the empty bike up the steep raod towards South Stack I saw an injured chough in a field with a few jackdaws. It had an injured right leg and was hobbling around the field probing for leatherjackets I presume.
The sun had come out too and after meeting people at the visitor's centre and after having seen a couple more chough at the bird feeder outside the cafe window, I went down to the Elgin Tower and met Dave, the RSPB greeter. He was a smashing bloke and a keen birder. He said he'd been told I would be arriving soon by a young girl named Mary a few days before. Thanks Mary!
Seawatching from the comfort of an armchair, and after seeing a close male peregrine through an RSPB telescope, I soon found a couple more year ticks to add to the chough. They were a few razorbills sitting on the sea and 7 passing manx shearwaters, 6 heading south and one who wanted to be different heading north. Good on him. Year list now on 168.
Back at the visitor'scentre the RSPB staff allowed me a photograph of them. It's always wonderful to meet people who such enthusiasts for nature.
With the wind behind me, it was a quick ride down to the breakwater and there 3 black guillemots were reasonably close. Bird number 169.
Now there are a few RSPB reserves that I can;t get to and therefore I have to be happy if I can see them from any vantage point. These are the remote islands such as Grassholm off Pembrokeshire seen a few weeks back. Today I could only see The Skerries RSPB reserve from over the waves from the breakwater and the day finished with a 4 RSPB reserve day.
Also a 4 year tick day, Spring will soon make that become after an almost becalmed March. Bring it on.

Now please have a look at my Facebook page -

Also if you could please make a small donation to any of the charities that I am supporting then please click on the links to the right. I know I put this onto the end of every blog posting but I really get a boost from every donation. The RSPB, The WWT, Asthma UK and Chaskawasi-Manu. I would be so grateful if you could make a donation however small. Thanks.

All the very best everyone. Love to you all xx

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Machynlleth to Maentwrog. 24th to 27th March. Barn owls!

Tuesday 24th March.
The journey back to Machynlleth to collect the bike, panniers and carry on towards Lake Vyrnwy was uneventful and surprisingly comfortable on the Virgin train with fewer people on it than the day before. Goodbye to Josh at Wolverhampton and onto Shrewsbury, eventually reaching Machynlleth at 3.00pm. I collected the bike, loaded up and had a pleasant cycle ride towards Lake Vyrnwy. In fact it was lovely despite a quick shower that had me sheltering from the hail in an old sheep barn. Now there were two barn owl boxes inside with a lot of pellets but no way was I going to disturb the occupants despite needing them for the year list.
It seemed like the whole route was uphill but with a light breeze behind me I breezed my way up.
I was determined to get to Lake Vyrnwy and so as darkness fell I continued onto a B road. It was beautiful with the stars bright and a crescent Moon to the west. Beneath this was a very bright planet which one I don't know. Orion was to the east of the Moon and all were occasionally covered as yet more showers passed.
Indeed another shower had me sheltering this time in a car port.
As I pushed the bike after the shower up yet another hill a barn owl went past like a huge white moth in the cycle's lights. A year tick, 165 and a reward for not disturbing those nest boxes earlier.
Another barn owl came off a post as I passed it later on.

Wednesday 25th March
Awoke to birds, lots of them. Nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers, titmice and chaffinches. Really pleased with the photos of a coal tit.
A walk around the RSPB reserve's trail gave misty views of the huge lake and then walking to the dam the sun came over a hill and bathed the area in sunlight. A female goosander was swimming and diving for fish in the pool at its base.
After meeting all the RSPB staff at the RSPB shop and after having taken a photograph of them all, I cycled along the western edge of the lake, hearing siskins and goldcrests along the way.
Then it was the big push to reach the moorland top. Last time in 2010 I had had wheatear and ring ouzels up here. None were around on this too early date.
The hill down towards Dinas was terrifying yet exhilarating when i'd survived it. The thought of what would I do if the brake cable snapped whilst descending such a steep hill came to mind.
The day was beautiful and the scenery marvellous. I reached Dinas and met a woman from Castlecroft, Wolverhampton as I enjoyed a hot chocolate at a pub.
Next, after a couple of miles towards Dolgellau, was another huge push up another long steep hill. Snow topped some of the hills around it and the sun was starting to disappear behind the biggest.
Down the other side was fast and smooth, like skiing I thought at the time.
Into Dolgellau itself, I searched out the church but no hawfinches were there, unlike back in 2010 where I had ticked them off for the year.
Finding the cycle track along the estuary, I crossed via the wooden toll bridge to get to Coed Garth Gell RSPB reserve and walked it's steep tracks for an hour or so after hiding the bike and stuff behind a large hedge. An oak woodland on the northern side of the valley, the reserve gave wonderful views over the estuary towards the snow-capped mountains to the south, Cader Idris I think.
Back over the bridge and further along the cycle path, with a couple of miles to go before getting to Barmouth I decided to camp at a picnic spot right by the estuary.
It was a beautiful calm evening with a few waders and a couple of little egrets for company. Gorgeous.

Thursday 26th March
What a night! 2.00am, the tent felt like it was going to be ripped from the ground. The trees sounded as if they were going to fall and crush me any minute and the noise of the heavy rain on the tent was adding to the cacophony.
Sleep was sporadic due to the noise and the rain didn't stop until about 9 o'clock.
Decamped and dry, I cycled to the next RSPB reserve, Coes Arthog Bog. A lot of management work had been very recently done here as a large area had been cleared and ditches improved to increase the water level. It'll be good to come back in a couple of years to see how it matures. I love to see management work and see how interactive the RSPB are with their reserves.
A grey wagtail was searching amongst the dug up earth.
Over the bridge, again wooden, this time alongside the railway line, I reached Barmouth and the wind was now very strong and in my face. Coming from the north, or just west of that, the wind was going to make things tough.
After breakfast at a cafe on the harbour front at Barmouth, I continued north towards Harlech and stopped to look over an ancient burial chamber behind a Primary school that I had seen when I last passed this way.
The views along the Llyn Peninsula and around Cardigan Bay were splendid and Harlech Castle and beach beyond added the the scenic qualities of the route.

Portmerion, location of my favourite TV programme ever, The Prisoner (I will not be pushed, stamped, filed, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own!), could be seen distantly from the road and I reached a part where there were was a traffic light control due to road works.
As I progressed along the lane that was open, I noticed I had a van following me closely but not overtaking. Feeling a little nervous by this, I stopped and asked the 2 lads in the van what was up. “We have to follow you.” came the reply.
They were part of the road works crew and they had to convoy people through the section. They did just that and I should have asked them what speed I was doing as I seemed to race through to the end.
After another section of roadworks with yet another convoy system, I came upon an area very dear to me, Maentwrog. Here, 40 years ago this summer, I had stayed here at Plas Tan y Bwlch with fellow students on a Biology Field week. Together a very dear friend, still is after all this time, Mike 'Roy' Rogers, had climbed the high oak covered hill to reach the top despite being swarmed by clegs (horseflies). I remember how we put bracken fronds down our backs poking out by our heads to try and keep them off us. At the top we'd found a huge double pipe system with a stairway between that we'd walked down. Here was the hill. There were the pipes. Great days.
As I came into the village, I came upon the WW1 memorial and photographing it noticed a hotel the other side of the road. After cycling into the wind all day and after such a night camping, I decided to stay there.
A great room and fabulous vegetarian food. A wonderful bath and a superb relaxing evening. Thanks.

Now please have a look at my Facebook page -

Also if you could please make a small donation to any of the charities that I am supporting then please click on the links to the right. I know I put this onto the end of every blog posting but I really get a boost from every donation. The RSPB, The WWT, Asthma UK and Chaskawasi-Manu. I would be so grateful if you could make a donation however small. Thanks.

All the very best everyone. Love to you all xx

Saturday, 28 March 2015

An Eclipse, A Lesser Spot and The Who. An Eclectic Mix of Days.

Friday 20th March

A solar eclipse, 90% so would be good one drew me out of the B and B before breakfast when it had just started. Three students had welding glass and passed it over for me to view the chunk missing on the right side of the Sun. After breakfast around 50 people, mostly students were on the cliff side awaiting the moment of maximum coverage at 9.30am. My front tyre was flat so I pushed everything along to the seafront end and thinking that the repair could wait, used binoculars to get an image of the eclipse on a white fence post. Quite a pronounced crescent, I next took photographs using my bridge camera set at its darkest setting. Even at maximum the Sun was still very bright but the photographs showed its brilliance and the shape of the eclipse to the left.

Some students had no protection at all. Others were using just a sheet of paper! More sensible ones had welders goggles and one person had a steel colander which created fabulous images of the eclipse, a superb arrangement of crescent suns in a patterned circle.
Eclipse waning away from the maximum, everyone started to disperse and I started on repairing the puncture. Only I couldn't find a puncture. I took the front wheel off and took the inner tube out. I pumped it up. No puncture. Next problem was, once I had deflated it again and placed it back in the tyre I couldn't get my pump to work.
Leaving the bike at the B and B, I took the wheel to a nearby cycle shop and found out that the pump had broken and that there was indeed nothing wrong with the inner tube. Strange how it was flat as I came out for the eclipse. Poltergeist!
Pumped up and raring to get to the next RSPB reserve, I cycled the 12 miles or so to Ynys Hir.
Say goodbye to the bearded Biking Birder
Now this is one of my absolute favourite RSPB reserves. It is large with a wide range of diverse habitats from oak woodland to wet grasslands, views over the Dyfi Estuary and reedbeds. Leaving the bike safely hidden in one of the RSPB garages there, I walked around to the spot where a lesser spotted woodpecker had been seen 3 times during the week. I sat beside a tree and hoped. 2 hours later there had been a number of treecreepers, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers but no lesser.

Chatting with three birders, including the rare nowadays birding reserve warden, Russell was fascinating as birding chat always is to me. Russell and the lady opposite who's name I can't recall were talking about their forthcoming trip to Belarus birding. Great time of year to go.
With it starting to get dark, I had one last go at seeing the lesser spot, not seen and retired for the night.

Saturday 21st March

Up at 5.00am in order to be back at the lesser spot spot, I got there and almost immediately heard it drumming weakly. Quickly putting the bike and stuff against the gate I ran to where I could here the drumming coming from and soon found the little bird on the top most branch of an oak tree to the right of the path's crossroad. Brilliant. I punched the air and tried to get photographs. This proved impossible as the bird was at the back of a mass of twigs and branches and the camera would not focus on it. Still I was watching it and onto the list it can go. Bird number 164 and a very special one as I missed this bird completely in 2010.
The bird flew off over in the direction of the empty RSPB house and so I settled down in my armchair like spot against the tree again hoping it would return so that I could get some photos of it. Now this may sound daft but I feel guilty if I don't get a photograph of each bird I see. If you remember I missed photographing the ferruginous duck at Blashford Lakes as I chose to text all my friends to tell them I'd got it first. Now there are only three that I haven't photographed out of the 164 on my list so I'm not doing bad on that front.
As I sat against my tree, a visiting birder arrived and I told him of the lesser spot. Now I had met this gentleman before back in 2010. His name was harry Pepper and he had shown me my first manx shearwaters when I was cycling along the seafront by Aberystwyth Castle.
Together we went down to the Saltings hide to watch a huge tide cover the grasslands next to the estuary. Listing the birds I wrote down red-breasted mergansers and goosanders, little egrets and bar-tailed godwits along with the commoner birds. The tide came in all the way to the grass covered dyke and pushed the waders onto a stone wall and a small area of grass on a raised hummock. It was a superb hour or so watching as everything was covered by the fast incoming tide.

As the tide receded, we went up to a small hill to get an elevated look over the area. 8 little egrets were on an island to one of the pools overlooked by the hides but there was only 3 close raptors; one buzzard and two red kites. More distantly we could see a few more red kites over a distant hill with a conifer plantation on it.

Saying goodbye to Harry after taking a photo of him, I spent the rest of the day exploring every footpath on the reserve. A broadwalk over a habitat creation project area was gorgeous. The area was a conifer plantation with an understory of rhododendrons. Now it's a raised peat bog in its early days but already showing sphagnum and rush development.
Down to Breakwater Hide with the hope of seeing the reported bean goose. I couldn't find the flock of white-fronted geese that it was associating with. The flock had either gone or had moved further down the saltings to a position out of view from the hide. There was also a heat haze to make distant viewing impossible.
No problem, I should catch up with a bean goose or two later in the year. The lesser spotted woodpecker had been the better bird to get.
Butterflies and bumblebees in the warmth of a perfect Spring afternoon. Spring, the first day of, I spent an hour shaving my winter plumage, my beard off. I left the trimmings on a picnic bench for the local birds to use for nest material, Later in the day people enjoying taking the rise out of my two tone appearance; a sun-tanned upper face, a white lower.
Peacock and comma butterflies, a few bumblebees that I will have to put names to later, I ended my walk on 59 bird species, the best number so far this year for a day list.
Leaving the reserve I went north along the A road, beautiful views over the river were soon stopped by a high stone wall preventing one from seeing any more.

I called in to the Osprey viewpoint place on the Dyfi River and saw that the video screens and shop was undamaged after an appalling attack by mindless vandals last week. Apparently they smashed up some computer equipment and stole about £12.
A cycle ride to Machynlleth followed, just a few miles of mostly cycle path.

Sunday 22nd March.

A day of completing an article for a magazine which will hopefully be published and a fabulous surprise when a family of good friends turned up.
The article is about Green Birding around a part of Morecambe Bay. It contains maps, route and expected species. My first attempt at such and I hope it is alright and useful. I would love more people to take up the 'sport' of Green Birding. Doing a day list by cycling has its proponents, such as Chris Mills and Nick Moran who in 2011 did a Big Green Day around Norfolk. Unbelievably they saw 144 birds that day. Incredible achievement and must be a record.
Have a read of the article about their amazing day on Birdguides.
Sue Rowe on the same day, a Green Birding Big Day event coordinated by an American, took on the carbon twitching Lee Evans in their home area and . . . drew. To me these two achievements epitomise what Green Birding is all about from the Big Green Day perspective.
As for doing a Big Green Year, well the tactics are different; very different indeed to a carbon Big Year. My plan is to include all sites where I can pick up the regular birds that one would expect to see during a Big Year around the UK. As I travel I hope to pick up each regions rarities present as I pass. Then certain counties and islands need to be visited when they are their peak for getting those 40 plus national rarities that I need to beat the British record. Hence my itinerary includes the month of May in East Anglia where I will also pick up the regulars I missed back in 2010 due to being too far north for them. These include hobby (!), nightingale and turtle dove, Montagu's harrier and stone curlew. Then the Autumn is spent on the Northern Isles; August is for the Orkneys with both September and October on Shetland.              
When cycling to an itinerary its hard to turn back for any long distance when you hear of a bird that appears at a location you left a couple of days before. At the moment I am averaging 27 miles a day cycling with a fully loaded bike. To go back just 20 miles would therefore take a day out of the itinerary. Mind you I am sure that some birds will turn up which will have me peddling like the clappers to get to.
On the other hand the 'carrots' texted to me by great friends act as an incentive to put in those extra miles. The next 'carrots' are the surf scoters off North Wales. The snow bunting and lapland bunting on the Great Orme are less of a pull as they will be seen later in the year, most likely at easier to see them locations.
Enough of all that. I just wish others would take up the challenge and have a go. You don't have to include the visiting of every RSPB and WWT reserve. I do because I think they are both superb charities that do much to protect and enhance our natural history that deserve my support in whatever I can do.
Now to be truthful a thought has recently come into my mind that if I don't reach the magic figure of 300 then I'll turn around and do it all over again with a different route and itinerary, not visiting the reserves but going for reasonably close together rarities as well as for the regulars. It's something I think about as I cycle along, when I'm not singing that is. I do want to reach 300.
My list now is 164. I figure that there are just under 100 regulars that I will get over the rest of the year and that leaved around 40 rarities to beat 300. Listing the possible rarities that I could get, with a lot of luck, makes me realise how difficult this is going to be but I have got to have a go. “Failure is not an option!”
Back to the afternoon, I received a text from Tim and Mary, father and daughter birders from Upton Warren. They with other family members had spent Saturday on Anglesey and they asked whether I was still at Machynlleth. Then around 2 o'clock a phone call with Tim saying he could hear my phone ringing from my bedroom window. There he was standing outside the hotel!

A wonderful afternoon was spent catching up on Upton Warren news, Tim and Mary's birding and interests and activities of the other family members, daughter with Man U supporting fiancé and wife.
Like when The Birding Clams, my dear close friends from Wolverhampton came down to Dungeness to see me and do a spot of birding, this was a very special afternoon for me. Having friends is a wonderful thing in life and I am so lucky to have such good ones. Thanks to you all.

Monday 23rd March

Up early but this time to have a carbon day. Taking the 8 o'clock train to Wolverhampton to meet my son and then carry on to London to meet my daughter, Rebecca had to be done because Roger Daltrey, the 71 year old lead singer of The Who had had a sore throat back in December and the three tickets I had for the postponed concert were valid for today's concert at the O2 Arena.
We clocked in at Earl's Court Youth Hostel, walked to the London Natural Museum for a sandwich, cake and drink and joined the queue to look around the dinosaur section of the museum. Superb.
A long underground train journey to North Greenwich and there was the incredible Dome, massive and modern.
Once inside we found our seats high up at the back and awaited the 8.30pm start.
Casually the old men walked onto the stage, introduced themselves and were into I can't Explain, a song they first sang 50 years ago. Roger's voice was still strong and Pete's playing still brutal. I wanted it louder and that may be the reason why, for the first time ever at a Ooo concert, I sat and banged my knees to the music instead of leaping about at the back; my more usual concert activity. I sang every lyric and noted when Roger went wrong, which he occasionally did. It didn't matter. It was fabulous. No encore, they'd played everything.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Is it really so long since I updated the blog? Sorry, I have been either so tired by the end of the day due to the hills or I've been so busy in the evening doing research for an article that may be published in Birdwatch magazine. So let's catch up.

Monday 16th March

Lampeter to Gwenfrydd Dinas RSPB reserve was a day of long upward bike pushes and time spent navigating the maze of small, narrow country lanes. Actually I pushed the bike up higher than Snowden by 10 feet. (As of the 23rd of March I have ascended hills totalling more than Everest this month alone! 33,240 feet up). All these statistics are available on my Facebook page and I have been keeping a tally on a spreadsheet. Now I knew Wales was going to be a challenge but I'm only half way.
Now I am sure there is a conspiracy of some sort going on in Wales. Everyone I meet seems to be from Essex! The girl at Cardiff Youth Hostel, the lads out for a lad's weekend, Essex. A couple in St David's, Essex. Today I had a long chat with an excitedly pompous but delightful young man, Dan from Essex but now living on a small holding with his parents. Dan had a passion for Sci-fi movies and spent the half an hour it took me to push the bike up a particularly long hill come upon almost immediately on leaving Lampeter.
There had been an interesting WW2 pillbox next to the river, opposite a supermarket that I photographed before the push. I have sent photographs of it to Paul Hayesmore, the WW2 pillbox expert I met back in early January in North Kent. Why just one pillbox and here in the middle of Wales as well?
Dan talked about films some of which I knew, like The Thing and others I didn't which I have forgotten the names of. Dan wouldn't let me get a word in edgeways, quite a feat really.
Goodbye was at the summit, a special memory place for me as I had camped in a field here one very frosty night back on the 2010 cycle run. The view from up here was and is tremendous.
Cycling on, I came to a small village and needed to check that I was on the right road. A young lady from, guess where, Essex with long dreadlocks and orange scarves was curious and friendly and ensured me that the left and right was the correct way. There was a small rectangle of tarmac adjacent to an empty old Primary school building, was for sale at £40,000. Who'd want it?
It was lovely cycling these small lanes as there was almost no traffic. In fact only a small number of white vans and a few cars all day disturbed my otherwise all over the road cycling. This meant that I could enjoy the views of the superb high hills and the sound of birds without the drone of traffic.
There were a lot of ups and downs but I didn't care. I was a beautiful day and I had all day to get to where I was going.
One particularly steep section was tough on the hands, so much so that I stopped in a pull off area by a bridleway through a plantation of spruce trees. Here a very tame robin almost came onto my hand for a bit of a hot cross bun. There was also a good number of siskins in the treetops together with 4 lesser redpolls; the first of the year.
Onward, the next stop was to ask the way at a road junction and ask for some water. Dave answered the door and surprisingly wasn't from Essex. Mind you he wasn't Welsh either and he and his wife had moved here over 20 years ago. His house is up for sale and he is hoping to move back to England to be closer to his children.
Further on I went past some attractive looking cottages which used to be the RSPB offices for the area. Now holiday homes I think the area is still managed at least by the RSPB. It would be fascinating to see a complete list of all of the land they manage. I always think that I have a complete list of reserves but it's amazing how many surprising additions I come across to the spreadsheet of reserves sent to me by Sandy HQ. I wonder if even they have a complete map of all their areas?
Eventually I reached Gwenfrydd Dinas RSPB reserve with an hour or so of light and a light drizzle falling. The access to the reserve from the car park was blocked due to maintenance work on the broad-walk. There was a couple of marsh tits that kept coming down to a bird table though and both a grey wagtail and a dipper were by the stream nearby.

Tuesday 17th March

Early morning walk into the reserve was as beautiful as I remembered from last time. This time though I am here a month before the date I was back in 2010. No migrants in yet, so no pied flycatchers and wood warblers to add to the list. A great spotted woodpecker was drumming and a couple of red kites were drifting over. Yesterday I had seen 22 of these fabulous raptors.
Now the reserve is famous because of a cave where the Welsh Robin Hood, Twm Sian     Cati or to use his real name, Thomas Jones, used to hide from his enemies and the law. He actually did exist and eventually married a rich man's daughter and lived a wealthy man to a ripe old age, after being pardoned for his youthful misdemeanour's.
Leaving the reserve the day was once again spent mostly cycling in order to get to Rhayader. This time though most of the cycling was along a very busy A road through Llandrindod Wells where I had lunch in a lovely cafe and Newbridge . Here the road went over the River Wye and I photographed and filmed both a grey wagtail and a male goosander.
Choosing to take a small country lane again just north of here, it took me a circuitous route to Carngafallt RSPB reserve. It was so beautiful that I thought it would be great to camp here. I found a spot away from the lane and rested against a tree to admire the view. I fell asleep and awoke sometime later with rain splattering my face. I ended up in a pub's accommodation in Rhayader.

Wednesday 18th March

A day to relax really and much needed after the last few days of cycling and hills. A day of watching red kites at one of the feeding stations set up for the birds, Gigrin Farm. This was after spending the morning in Rhayader library researching the Birdwatch article.

Thursday 19th March

Off early back in the direction of Carngafallt RSPB reserve, taking the cycle path there. A sunny day with a light northerly meant that the first part of the Elan Valley was sheltered and cycling along the flat, if a little stony cycle path around the first of the large reservoirs was delightful. Siskins in the trees, the occasional chipping crossbill and 3 peregrines chasing over over a dam; there was plenty to enjoy, not least the beautiful views.
Around the corner from the start of the second reservoir I came across a lady carrying binoculars and hence met Socha and her husband Brian. They were sheep farmers with land around this area and were using 3 dogs to bring in a small flock of sheep for vaccination. Really lovely to chat to, we exchanged Twitter details and took photographs. I found out later that they'd won an award as Best Sheep Farmers in Wales recently.
Onwards around each reservoir until lunchtime at the 12 miles mark. Now this was a very significant mark for my family. Back when I was a young teenager and Mum and Dad had a Post Office with newsagent and groceries, we all as a family used to go for a day's picnic at this very spot. No chance of texting them to say where I was as no mobile signal but I took photos to share later. There was the stream where we used to swim. There were the hills we used to walk up. There was the small mountain road going over moorlands after a steep hill to the east and stretching to the horizon along a U-shaped valley to the west.
After lunch I took the western route, a picturesque road which eventually left the Elan Valley through a narrow passageway between tall hills. The descent for the next 3 or 4 miles from here was exhilerating and with no traffic, perfectly safe. Then it was a long grind up again to get over some hills to reach devil's Bridge. No time to look at the three bridges there, one atop the other, oldest at the bottom. Instead I cycled down the A road to Aberystwyth and found accommodation on the seafront there.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Llanelli to Lampeter, 4 days of mostly cycling.

12th March 2015
A day cycling In reasonable if somewhat misty drizzle turned into one of very heavy rainfall as the distance was covered. The change happened as I enjoyed a large hot chocolate at Tesco's in Carmarthen. From Llanelli to there I had taken the coast road around to Kilkenny and from there the hills had started before getting to Carmarthen.
Back in 2010 I had had 2 punctures along this stretch and I remember what a beautiful day it was with lots of sunshine and no wind. I also remember photographing a mass of jet trails over a number of electricity pylons. They were to be the last jet trails seen for a couple of weeks because of the Icelandic volcano stopping air travel.
From Camarthen the road was mostly dual carriageway with great smooth tarmac. You tend to notice the quality of tarmac a lot when one;s cycling especially when heavy laden. It's not just the pot holes one notices but the texture; the use of pebbles or not etc. I have always intended to make a Dulux paint style chart of tarmacs around the country. Names such as Cornish crumble, Devon dirt, Shetland smoothie come to mind and maybe I'll complete the task with appropriate photographs one day.
The rain got heavier and my waterproof coat wasn't! It got heavier. The lads got heavier as they absorbed the water.
Eventually I thought enough was enough and around 8 miles west of Haverfordwest I stopped at a B and B with an advertising board outside stating vacancies. No room at the inn, I went to the next in the village. No answer, I went to the next. Here I met the lovely Mari. This B and B wasn't open but I could come in out of the wet as she phoned around for me. I stood on her doormat and dripped as she phoned and I stroked the 3 dogs. Mari phoned Ian Heaps! He was one of my heroes from the days when my main passion was match fishing in the Midlands. Ian was a many times World fishing champion and had a fishing complex not far away. No answer. Shame I would have loved to have met him.
A hotel back along the road a couple of miles had a room. How much could I afford? Two miles of back in the rain later and after many thanks to Mari I arrived at the very plush Plas Hyfryd hotel in Narberth. Leaving the bike in the foyer to drip dry I was shown to my room. In my soaked state and with clothes suitable for the cycle trip but not for a hotel of such standing I entered my suite. Yes suite. It had a lounge, a bedroom and a bathroom with a bath. After divesting my wet through clothes and washing them in the bath, I realised that I wouldn't be able to go to Dinner. I hadn't a thing to wear.
One last thing to mention but the most important thing about the day was the 60th wedding anniversary of my Mum and Dad. Stupidly I had thought it was their 59th anniversary and was about to phone congratulations on that when I realised that I would be 59 this year. Oops!

Happy Anniversary Mum and Dad. Enjoy the day and the telegram from the Queen.

Friday the 13th!

Into Haverfordwest on a dry, windy day with sunshine, I spent an hour in Nationwide finalising my moving of my Lloyd's account to them. As it was Red Nose Day, I shared a bag of red noses that I just happened to have with me.
Then it was to a fishing tackle shop to buy a better coat.
Next it was the cycle to St David's, Britain's smallest city, with fabulous views of the coastline cliffs and beach as I descended the steep hill to Newgale.
At St David's I found a small hotel and enjoyed watching the sunset over Ramsey Island from my top storey window.
Sometimes not a lot happens on a cycling day.

March 14th
To St Justinians in the morning via St David's cathedral, I met two lady cyclists, one of whom said “we saw you yesterday,” as I was overtaking them. Sian and Ella, mother and daughter, I cycled with them to their caravan park – farm on the coast nearby. They told me of their own cycling adventures including cycling to London. Dad came out to chat as I tightened up my brakes for and aft and drank a coffee. Fabulous people, as one meets so often. They had around 60 green caravans on a lovely site overlooking the sea.
To the quay and lifeboat station at St Justinians to get as close as I could to the unopen RSPB reserve of Ramsey island. A boat company in St David's had advertsied that they were open all year and I had hoped to at least go around the island. They didn't even have any boats in the water until April the 1st, more fool me. So two RSPB reserves will have to be added to the list as seen instead of stood upon; Grassholm and Ramsey.
No auks tazzing around in the Sound was a surprise, just a couple of gannets and a few black-headed gulls. A large new lifeboat house was being built here and the old one is going to be taken to a museum in Cardiff, I was told.
Back to the hotel to collect the panniers and it was off on another afternoon of long cycling, this time into a head wind from the north east. Crafty how the wind keeps changing direction to be in my face, I must be getting paranoid about it! Doesn't stop me singing as I'm going though.
At Fishguard I stopped for a light lunch and gave Harry, a Mr Happy cuddly toy to a little girl enjoying a meal with her Mum and Dad. Well I have to get the bike lighter.
As darkness fell I stopped at a B and B and asked whether a room was available and at what price. I cycled on.
I came to a hotel and went in. The England rugby game was on a large screen TV and a group of Welsh supporters were watching it supporting Scotland. They were a great family group of three with a 3 year old grand-daughter who came over and hugged my legs! The landlord then told me that it wasn't a hotel anymore he just didn't want to change the name of the establishment. I cycled on.
In Newport I came upon a B and B, The Globe and the price was great, as was the owner Pat and before she left for a rendezvous with the local vicar for the evening she told me her life story and family history. Upstairs in my room there was a pile of Birds magazine, the magazine from the RSPB before it changed its name to Nature's Home. There was the issue with a page about me! May 2011 page 87. I photographed it and put it onto facebook.
Alone in the house, I bathed and relaxed and soon fell asleep.

15th March

Mother's Day and my sister Donna's birthday, I texted both but with no signal it wasn;t to get to both until later. A lovely different breakfast of Manuka honey and toast, Greek yogurt and fruits, cereal and coffee was enjoyed with more conversation with Pat.
Off for the long ride to get to Lampeter, the day was taken up with steep hills to push up followed by thrilling speedy descents. Over 37 miles with an elevation of over the height of Snowdon; 3570 feet up hills over the day.

I took lunch beside the river by the waterfalls at Cenarth, a beautiful spot famous for the small coracles, strangely shaped little boats.

Reaching Lampeter as the sun went down I fund a hotel at the fantastic price of £25. Pembrokeshire now gone, I am looking forward to being able to do some birding again as every one of the last few days has involved getting as far as I can through Wales to catch up the 4 days I am behind MY schedule. I am actually a month ahead of where I was when cycling all of this back in 2010 but I am going to be going a lot further this time.

Now please have a look at my facebook page -

Also if you could please make a small donation to any of the charities that I am supporting then please click on the links to the right. I know I put this onto the end of every blog posting but I really get a boost from every donation. The RSPB, The WWT, Asthma UK and Chaskawasi-Manu. I would be so grateful if you could make a donation however small. Thanks.

All the very best everyone. Love to you all xx