Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Birdwatchers for a Day: Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales


The drive down was long, instead of three hours it took five. Note to self: don't travel on bank holiday weekends before half term (school holidays).  We got to our B&B at 5:30 pm and were welcomed with tea and fresh Welsh cakes. These are like flattened scones and when served warm are soft and sweet and just delicious. We were anxious to get and see the coast so took a walk on the coastal path which where we were was not really on the coast and not as much a path as a road down to the river. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Dinner in Milford Haven at the Harbormaster on the marina. It was just an average meal in an and industrial coastal city. After dinner we drove out to Marloes, where we would take the boat in morning. It was very remote and took much longer than we expected. When we got there after 9pm, it was pretty quiet except for some divers and people working on a boat in the little haven. The boat was pulled all the way up and the men were looking at the hull. No big deal. We heard the next day that this boat had hit a rock while touring Skomer Island, took in lots of water and started listing.  A may day call went out and 48 passengers had to be rescued!!! It made the national news!

The next day our hostess fixed us the most fabulous breakfast Welsh mountain smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on an English muffin, spelt bread, fruit and yogurt. Perfection.
We asked about going to Skomer Island and she recommended that we go and queue as soon as possible. They starts selling tickets at 8:30. We joined the queue at 8:45. Only a limited number of people are permitted on the island at one time and there are usually three boats over in the morning and three back in the afternoon. Having not gone out the previous 4 days, it was particularly busy, so they doubled that. Fortunately, we got two tickets on the last boat at noon after waiting in line for almost 2 hours. Many left with out tickets so we felt lucky. We had a while before we left so we took a walk along the coast which was just beautiful.  

Time went by quickly and soon we were on the boat. The boat is small, only 48 passengers, two crew. We had a 15 minute ride to Skomer Island. 

As we approached the island, we could see hundreds of birds (puffins,) in the water and on the cliff. cameras were whipped out and we all started snapping away.The crew mentioned that the BBC was filming, probably for a spring wildlife series. 

After disembarking and walking up a difficult rocky stairway we met the volunteer wardens who explained the rules of the island. The most important rule was that visitors were to stay on the paths so as not to interrupt the nesting, burrowing birds.  They gave a brief overview of what we would see and where we would see it and let us go. The wardens said there are 4 miles of trails on Skomer and we were determined to walk them all. 

The island is big enough that we often had the trail to ourselves. everything is well marked and we had a guidebook which also helped us identify the birds we saw, useful for us not being avid bird watchers! 
We almost sat on a nest of seagull eggs when we looking for a place to picnic.


There was one area where crowds did gather and that was called The Wick. This is a horseshoe shaped cliff where the puffins nest. They build burrows in the ground. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of them here, all around your feet and flying off the cliff. Many people came just to visit this one spot.

We spent a while there then continued walking the rest of the island.  The path led us around the coast to an area with several rock islands. This is we're we saw seals swimming and sunning themselves in the rocks. They are such graceful swimmers.

Moving on we made our way to the fields of blue bells and red campions. Normally woodland plants, they have acclimated to the island conditions and there were acres of them.

We had a beautiful boat ride back to Marloe and went into Little Haven for a meal. Seafood is very fresh here in this part of Wales so we both enjoyed the local fish specials.
Home again to some fresh welsh cakes!
It is amazing how quickly the weather changes, and we woke the next morning to gale force winds and rain.
Our plan to continue walking had to be changed.
What else can we do? How about a visit to the only whiskey distillery in Wales!! Sounded good to us! We packed up and drove to through the Black Mountains to Penderyn where the distillery is located, took the terrific tour and some samples to try when we are safely at home.

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Rain, cold, wind. Not ideal weather conditions for an outdoor flower show.  But the Chelsea Glower show is so amazing that it impressed us nonetheless.

As many of you know I have been to the Philadelphia Flower Show and have always loved it. Well the Chelsea Show is easily twice, maybe three times the size. Much of the show is outdoors in the Ranelagh Gardens which makes stunning backdrop for the event. We were grateful for the canopy provided by the enormous trees!

My neighbor Debbie and I had tickets for the afternoon session. We took a bus from Charlton Kings to Victoria, had a light lunch at the Nightingale Cafe  in Victoria before boarding a shuttle to the show. It all went like clockwork, only  the showers continued to get heavier.

Crowds were certainly not going to let a little rain (frequent downpours) keep them from this annual spectacle.  Many exhibits were so crowded that we had to wait to get a good look. But when we did finally see the show gardens, we were handsomely rewarded and understood why it took so long to view them. So much to see,  hundreds of floral varieties, water features, and sculptures.
There were 4 categories of  gardens, all with a different theme. The Generation Gardens evoked the shows rich history. Fresh Gardens brought the latest creative innovations to Chelsea. Small space was the focus of the Artisan Gardens.  Show Gardens were designed by the top gardeners in the UK, a gold in this category is highly coveted!  Find a list of all the award winners here.

The flower of the centenary was this violet blue geranium.

Inside the the massive flower pavilion were displays organized by growers of a specific flower type (lilly's glads, hyacinths, tulips, roses, peonies) others were by organizations ( Alpine Flower Association). Many newly bred varieties were being shown off here. The fragrance was often overpowering!

After the show, we caught the shuttle back to Victoria and had a nice dinner and a well deserved glass of red wine before we climbed the bus for our trip home.

Here are some of the highlights.......Enjoy!

Windows Through Time embraces new and traditional garden features. There was modern sculpure and a wrought iron gate.

In the Artisan Garden category a Japanese Alcove Garden, one of my favorites.

Arthritus Research Garden-winner of the People Choice Award

East Village- based on the Olympic Village

East Village

Sewing the Seeds of Change-Designed as a family garden, this had flowers, vegetables and herbs.

Forget-me-not Garden Inspired by Prince Harry's charity in Sentabale in South Africa.

As Nature Intended Garden promotes the use of natural materials.

Mediation Garden was clever. It had mirrors that reflected meditation in the rear of a tunnel. Hard to see in the photo, but very cool close up.


Granny's bonnet

Alpines in the pavilion

Gorgeous heucheras!

New lilies bred in the last year.
Alium display had flowers of all sizes.
Debbie among the aliums.

Thailand Tourist garden

Begonias and foxgloves of every shade .
Insect homes featured in many gardens.

More alpines.

Great garden sculptures were featured in many gardens.