Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Urban Nature

I spent the afternoon with a friend who recently moved from my street to her new home near Oakwood here in Leeds.

We went to the wonderful Wellington pub on Wetherby Road for their carvery meal (£3.25 has to be the best deal in the area) and it was just as well that we were happy with soda drinks as, due to yesterdays record breaking rainfall, their cellar had been flooded and no draught alcohol was available.

It was almost the pub with no beer, immortalised in a popular song I remember from my youth.

Afterwards we went back to her place for tea and chat and I was entranced by the bird feeder she had on her main living room window. It was a basic plastic contraption like a large square letter C and it fastened to the glass with suckers so that the bottom of the C was the feeding tray, the back was a see through panel and the top was a 'roof' to protect the food from gentle rain.

With me so far ? Good.

Well with this setup, I was able to sit in the comfort of the living room and watch up close as birds and squirrels came to partake of the food on offer. The presence of the window seemed to give them enough confidence to remain feeding even when I'd get quite close to the window but the birds, being much more skittish, never hung around very long.

There was a little rose bush just in front of the feeder and many birds would rest there before making the short flight across to the feeder tray.

This was a good thing as it was almost impossible to get a decent shot of a bird once it was in the tray as the whole contraption was quite small and the suckers and the plastic frame tended to spoil the view.

This was my first attempt at getting a bird before it moved across to feed. I have to say 'bird' as I've no idea what it's called.

As anyone who has read my posts will know, I'm useless at naming birds, flowers and just about anything in nature but that doesn't stop me liking to photograph them. This fella didn't hang around and was off a second after I took this shot.

The birds would give way at the table to the squirrels and the real fun was in watching how these cunning creatures would make their way to the food.

The feeder was on a window about 5 feet off the ground with no window ledge to use as a staging point. That left 2 options - to jump across from the rose bush or to jump up from the ground. The squirrel in this photo was deciding if the food on offer was worth taking option 1.

The jump across would've been a real act of faith as there was no knowing if the tray would hold their weight. No squirrel was willing to make that leap while I was there and so I was treated to squirrel heads bobbing up and down at the base of the window as they worked out how much effort was needed to leap further up to the feeder. It reminded me of that game at fun fairs where you have to smack the heads of some creatures (moles usually) as they pop up at random from various holes.

The commonest method they settled on was to leap up from the ground and somehow grip onto the upright window frame just across from the feeder and then, stretching across with one front leg, would make a successful, if not very elegant, transition to the feeder.

This provided great amusement as we'd be sitting chatting and suddenly a squirrel would appear noisily on the window frame as if fired from a cannon. Then there would be a great scraping of claws on glass and uPVC as it tried to get a grip on the frame and usually this was followed by a slow slide back down like in a scene from the Road Runner cartoon when the hapless (not so) Wile E. Coyote would splat into a canyon cliff face.

This 2nd squirrel photo shows it still thinking about making the leap across from the rose bush but this time I've moved position to get it head on. I never did get a photo of one hitting the window as it was all over so fast - a blur of fur and flailing claws.

Once the squirrels had eaten their fill, they left and the birds returned. Again I've no idea what this fella was called but he looked cute as he puffed out his little colourful chest. Bless.

It was all very enchanting. I posted some photos of a wire ball shaped bird feeder at my brother's house in Wales some weeks ago but this one was even better as it brought the 'customers' so much closer.

I plan to return and set up the camera on a little desk top tripod I have and connect it to my laptop. Using the remote capture software that came with it, I can take photos using the laptop to operate the shutter and hopefully get better photos of the skittish birds as I'll be much further away from the window.

I don't think I'll ever get any exciting species (Leeds isn't known as a migration staging post for any exotics birds) but I'd settle for a sharp image of a common tit.

Stop sniggering back there.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I Do Like Mondays

Yesterday I popped down to Nottingham to visit with a dear old friend of more than 30 years. As usual we reminisced. Seems to be in the air.

The last few posts have shown me to be in a reflective mood and as today is my birthday, the mood continues. Mind you, given the atrocious weather today, it's not a bad idea to be wallowing in nostalgia. It rained heavily for 18 hours and still may return before tomorrow.

Well it's the first day of Wimbledon, so what can we expect !

I like watching tennis. Ok I like watching most sports even though I don't play any on a regular basis. I've never been a Sporty Spice and having been a glasses wearer since my early teens, I was a bit of a non starter when it came to school contact games. I wouldn't have minded soccer but my school insisted we play Gaelic Football and Hurling and given that both involved plenty of 'contact' and very little 'sport' I hated them both. Hurling can be especially hazardous as it combines a hard ball, a stick/bat called 'a hurl' ' to scoop this ball up and smack it to another team member or towards the goal and 15 opposition players trying their damnest to stop you doing both. Take this quote from the rules of hurling...........

Side to side shouldering is allowed although body-checking or shoulder-charging is illegal. No protective padding is worn by players, and although a plastic protective helmet with faceguard is recommended, this is not mandatory for players over 21.

Protective helmets !! No such mamby pamby safety gear in my day. The only protection we had were our skulls and young, still developing bones, were regularly bashed and generally subjected to all sorts of legal and illegal strikes. Of course we'd all been hardened by the legal and illegal moves made on us by the priests/teachers but that's another story. Your honour.

We also had handball. Now that's not the game most people think of when the name is mentioned and for all I know, it was unique to our school ! We had 3 or 4 handball courts which looked a bit like outdoor roofless squash courts. Like squash you hit the small ball at the serving wall in front of you and assuming it was above a service line on this wall, the ball was in play and could be smacked back to the wall making use of any of the other walls on the way.

The HUGE difference between it and squash was that no racket was involved - you used the palm of your hand to propel the ball and yes, it could really hurt. You could always spot good players who played a lot as they were the ones with hands like baseball mitts/wicket keeper gloves and you tried to avoid shaking hands with them.

But it was a (mostly) non contact sport so was on my short list of games I liked to play.

When I left school, I never saw or even heard of it again. Maybe I made it up. I made up a lot of things at school. I was a kid. It was my job. As Mark Twain said, I never let schooling interfere with my education.

In later life I took up golf. Another game where you hit a small ball. I've never played often enough to get very good at it but I still like it. Most of the time it may be a good walk spoiled (supposedly Mr. Twain again) but if nothing else, I get the walk as a bonus.

But back to today. Do I feel older ? Hell yes. The golf swing causes me to ache the next day. A long walk causes me to ache the next day. Eating an Indian or Chinese meal makes me ache the next day.

I'm going to skip tomorrow and go straight to Wednesday.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Remember Nostalgia

I've always been interested in the charts...the music charts that is.

At school in the early 60's I'd listen to the new weekly singles chart with all the giddy excitement that a pre-teen could acceptably muster as a Catholic in an all boy's boarding school without needing to go to confession the next day.

Rivalries were common, of course, and we all had our favourite groups or soloists who we would defend to the hilt - even if their current release would've made Stock, Aitken and Waterman blush. The main split was between those who bought Beatles records and those who favoured The Stones.

I didn't like either and it says everything about my lifetime musical tastes that my first bought single was "Mirror, Mirror" by Pinkerton's Assorted Colours. Hey it's not often you get to hear an electric auto harp on a song ! You could keep your Beatles and Stones.

That started me along the exciting, flower powered, substance sniffing, hotel room trashing, rock and roll world of......middle of the road music ! I graduated to heavies like Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, Rolf Harris and Peter Sarstedt with a dangerous dash of locals like Val Doonican and The Bachelors thrown in for good measure. Heady days indeed.

Like every teen in the UK, I'd watch Top Of The Pops and from my viewing point in 60's N. Ireland, the glamour of the show was a million miles away on another planet. Planet London in fact but it might as well have been Planet Mars.

Over the decades we aged together and I watched and listened to fashion fads and musical styles come and go. Through it all, even though I may not have liked much of the music, I felt that by watching the show and keeping an active interest in the weekly charts, I was somehow still 'with it' and 'hip' even though my use of both those phrases clearly showed I wasn't either and that, in fact, I'd long since lost touch with musical reality.

Throughout the 80's and 90's I was able to name most of the songs played on Radio 1 and could even name many of the DJ's. Still I'd check the charts and although the names were becoming more and more bizarre to me, I stuck with it and could hold my own in music related conversations.

My own tastes were still very much down the middle of that same road with artistes like Elton John, ELO, Queen, Moody Blues, Rod Stewart, Celine Dion, Madonna (early years only) and Picketywitch.

Ok, maybe not the last one.

As we moved into the new century, I found it harder and harder to enjoy, or even understand , much of the music in the charts and regressed more and more to the decade I knew most about and 'felt 'comfortable in......the 60's. Thank God for Oldies radio stations and then, with the combination of the internet and mp3 downloads, I was able to collect every single I ever wanted from that decade..........even that one by Pinkerton's Assorted Colours. The circle was complete.

These days I admit I've lost the plot completely, so to speak. It started long before TOTP's came to an historic end but even that event seemed to mirror my capitulation to modern musical tastes. I read the singles and album charts now and again but don't know 99% of the artists. I want my groups to have names starting with 'The'. It also seems to me that there are no solo artistes anymore as evidenced by the proliferation of the abbreviation 'ft' (as with the current number one "Umbrella" by Rihanna ft Jay-Z). What's that all about, as Peter Kay would say ? It's a whole new world and one that mystifies me now.

In conversations with younger people I might say I like the Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs even if I'm not too sure if the first are some sort of ice bound simian primates and the other are a little known tribe of lederhosen wearing Germanic Indians. I just cannot admit to being musically backward.

But I am. I'm a musical dinosaur, liking my music over easy and expecting my groups to have a lead singer, a couple of guitarists and a drummer.

And so imagine my surprise when I looked at the current album charts and saw that 7 of the Top 10 were what I'd classify as 'oldies but goldies'. The top 3 were The Travelling Wilburys, Bon Jovi and The Police. No.5 was Genesis, No.6 was Hank Marvin (what's the betting he'll be emailing Cliff, packing his bags in some Perth suburb and jetting back to become the darling of the chat show circuit), No.9 was The Who and closing out the Top 10 wass Paul (Bus Pass) McCartney.

Can you imagine the combined age of that lot !! Cream rises to the top and all that.

For a while I had thoughts of a new lease of musical life. I might have started looking at the charts again on a regular basis. I might have tuned in to MTV or VH1 now and then. Who knows, I might even have moved back to Radio 1 and abandoned Terry, Ken, Steve and Chris for a while.

Had the musical world come round to my way of thinking ?

Had the great British paying public risen up as one and decided to give the oldies another chance ?

Sadly no. The charts simply reflect the fact that today is 17th June. Father's Day. Nuff said.

I'm off to play "Mirror, Mirror", have a good old wallow and be there with Terry in the morning.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Combining Habits

My previous post opened up long forgotten personal memories of childhood and relatives - and for me, the two didn't often provide happy memories.

I was an incredibly shy and introverted kid and all my life, I have never felt comfortable in a group of people.

Part of my problem grew from having very outgoing, extrovert and confident relatives - at least on my mum's side. We didn't spend much time with those on dad's side and even he enjoyed the in-laws more than his own family members.

As I mentioned in that post, mum was one of 12 and that meant 6 aunts and 5 uncles and half were in farming in some way or another. Two of the aunts and 2 of the uncles moved to England either before I was born or not long after. This still left plenty and when I was around them, I felt intimidated by their confidence.

I did have favourites and even though I never saw much of her, I loved my Aunt Louisa. There were 2 good reasons for not seeing her a lot. First she was one of the aunts who lived in England and second, she was a Mother Superior in a closed order convent !! Basically nuns there were not allowed to leave the premises.

Before I left for a life in England myself, the Vatican changed the rules (oh now what a surprise) and the nuns could leave from time time to time if they wanted. Aunt Louisa, or Sister Perpetua, to give her 'religious' name, would visit maybe once or twice a year and was so different from my other aunts that I loved her from the first time I met her.

She was a Whoopi Goldberg meets Julie Andrews sort of nun. Very funny, didn't seem particularly zealous at all and was a hoot to be around. She lit up a room with her presence and personality - although as we always associated with Catholics, her appearance was guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser on so many levels !

One event stands out vividly in my mind and again it's from the days when summers were long and hot and I never wanted them to end. It was hay bailing time and this WAS hard work back then. My uncle had invested a fortune in a new combine harvester which pooped out the classic
boxed bales of hay and not the huge wheel types that we see these days. They may have been smaller but they were still a challenge for a puny teenager to haul up onto a trailer to take back from the field to the farm.

But it was still fun. The craic was great and although I rarely contributed to any of it, I started my lifelong fascination with listening to people. When you are shy, there isn't a lot else to do !!

Mid afternoon, Aunt Louisa hovered out (I always thought when women became nuns, they traded in their shoes for some hover mechanism as it seemed to me that they glided everywhere on a sort of celestial cushion of air) to bring us some lemonade in true 'cotton picking' style. As usual she was taking some friendly banter from her family members for not 'mucking in' and helping with the hay bailing and, with that wicked glint in her eye that I loved to bits, she said she'd help out by driving the harvester.

No one was more surprised than her when her oldest brother and the owner of the harvester said....ok then, up you go !!!

I took this photo. It's slightly faded due to age and, being taken several decades before digital photography came about, has had to be scanned to get it up here.

It's one of my favourite photos as it completely sums her up in my mind. It's a 'caption photo' if ever I saw one and my effort was made in the title of this post.

It makes me smile to see it now as it immediately takes me back to those carefree sunny summer days when I didn't have to be constantly worried about being bullied at school for my shyness, my looks and the fact that I came from a small rural village.

I was out in the fresh air, out in the fields and on this particular occasion, out with a wonderful aunt who made me feel that I WAS special. She listened to me, gave me advice and generally was there for me and I was all the better for knowing her. Her smile and laughter lit up a room and lit up the heart of a small timid boy who needed such a light in his life then.

That light went out suddenly, and much too soon, on 19th October 1980 and I often wonder what part she'd have played in my life if she'd been around longer.

As it is, she probably left an indelible impression on many people in her 'professional' life as you can't become a Mother Superior without doing so. But for me she was always Aunt Louisa and I will never forget what she meant to me.

The phrase about a picture being worth a thousand words has never been so true.

Just Call Me Harry.

Many decades ago, when we all lived in a sepia world, I would often spend my summer holidays on a relatives farm in N. Ireland. I had many relatives on my mother's side alone as she was one of twelve (my grandparents were THAT Catholic) and many of these relatives had farms.

It's strange how, when we look back on the summer holidays of our childhood, they all seem to be filled with long hot days and the occasional slightly damp night. Ahhhh the joys of puberty.

Now when I say holidays, I don't mean I sat around on the grand farmhouse patio, sipping lemonade from a tall glass while the paid help milked the cows or gathered in the crops or worried the sheep.

I was put to work and it wasn't easy, I can tell you. Well I just have.

Never mind some la-di-da big girls blouse prison. They should've sent Paris Hilton to a working farm for 16 hours or how ever long she's going to end up spending away from mommy and daddy and a toilet seat that isn't encrusted with the number two's of LA's not so finest.
That would've sorted her out in no time and given her a much different personal fragrance to boot.

Anyway, down on the farm, one particular day will live with me forever and, in classic style, the scars will also be with me forever. Well one scar at least.

I've no idea what age I was on the day in question, but lets say I was.....12. That would make sense as I'd have been old enough to have been home from boarding school (oooh get him !!) and yet still young enough to have felt I was indestructible. By days end, so did everyone else.

I loved to ride on the tractor. Hell I loved to DRIVE the tractor and on a farm, a 12 year old could do that now and then when uncle was being generous and aunty wasn't looking. On this day we were cutting up the soil in a field and so the tractor was pulling a piece of machinery I called a disc but I think was really called a harrow.

Here is a picture of one I found on t'internet so will probably get sued for pinching it. First offence, gov'ner.

The one we were pulling wasn't hinged in the middle like this one is, but was one long line of razor sharp disks which, when dragged over the soil, would carve it up and so let air get down into it. Actually our harrow had 2 rows of discs, to be sure, to be sure. There endeth my knowledge of the contraption and it's uses.

I said I sometimes worked on the farm. Never said I knew much about it.

Now even the non farmers among you may have noticed that not many tractors are set up for passengers. Well not back in sepia day at least. Farming is mainly a solitary career and as well as being short on cigarette lighters, pine air freshener 'trees' and furry dice, tractors have only one seat. Muggins was happily perched on a cushion fashioned out of a couple of jackets and wedged between the one seat and the huge right side wheel arch....on top of the axle really.

Normally this would have been a fairly secure location as the wheel arch provided good support for my right hand and I could grab some part of the seat with my left hand. Given the noise of a tractor at full revs, few words could be exchanged between uncle and myself which was fine as nothing needed to be said anyway. I was enjoying being out in the fresh air (built in air conditioning came as standard) and was bouncing along in a world of my own.

The next thing I knew, I was being fussed over in the farmhouse by some frantic relatives and feeling that I was having the worst hangover in history - if I'd known what that felt like at 12.

It appears my uncle suddenly sensed he truly was alone and when he looked to his right, I wasn't there. With no real evidence to go on, theories abounded within the family from.................

- the jackets shifted under me and I slid backwards off the tractor.

- I glanced back to look at the birds trailing us and slid backwards off the tractor.

- we hit a slight bump in the field and I slid backwards off the tractor.

- I was depressed by the onset of puberty and flung myself backwards off the tractor.

The one thing in common was..........I'd left the tractor in a backwards direction and this meant I had to have been run over by the twin rows of the harrow. I have no memory of the incident at all and as it was such a long time ago, I have little memory of what happened after it. I do remember lots of raised, slightly stressed voices and a bit of crying - although that was probably coming from me.

My only injury was a cut on the side of my forehead which, being a head wound, bled a lot. I don't know if I got stitches or if I even was taken to a doctors or a hospital - farms, by their nature, aren't close to hospitals or even towns for that matter.

So why do I not remember more details ? Well for years afterwards, the story of my miraculous survival was recalled at every family gathering and believe me, there were plenty of them. Every time it was mentioned, some seemingly small detail was either missed out or exaggerated and after a while, it was being said that "he was blown 10 feet into the air off a speeding tractor don't ye know, and fell under the spinning discs of some hellish agricultural behemoth and then his uncle, in a panic, reversed over the poor lad a few times for good measure. Another pint for me, Shemus".

The one constant in all this was that a blessed miracle had taken place. You can always trust good Catholics to put a positive spin on everything and I was talked about in whispered tones as some sort of early Jose Mourinho (ok an obscure reference, I know). The reason for this miracle was down to my wearing a cloth scapular around my neck and this was always worked into the story.

Oh don't get me going on scapulars. They seem to be the religious equivalent of Nectar Points and like a lot of articles and practices in the Catholic Church, can get you a reduced 'sentence' if and when you end up in Purgatory. Strange.......Paris Hilton just flashed into my mind again.

Go to the site and read about them if you want and find out about the bizarre world I grew up in. My theory is that the scapular got caught on some moving part of the tractor and that is what caused me to be violently pulled backwards off my snug and cozy jacket seat in the first place.

In any case, I've carried the scar ever since - I once tried to leave it on the top of a sightseeing bus in Paris but it found it's way back to me.

It's a sort of lightning bolt scar and it flares up every so often. Not so much miraculous as........magic.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Snail's Pace

This is a first, I think.

The first time I've created a post based on a single photograph.

I was getting ready for bed about 2am this morning and suddenly realised I'd not left my bin out for collection. Now the wagon tends to drive by any time around 10am and I'm never in a fit state for anything at that time so I try to leave it out the night before.

So dressed only in my flapping dressing gown, I wheeled my bin to the end of the driveway and as I stood back, something caused me to look down and I saw a snail moving along the pavement.

Now this probably happens all the time but I've never actually seen it before.......well not one as large as this one anyway. It was huge and the shell looked almost pretty in the moonlight. Ok remember I WAS tired....not drunk.....but tired.

I went inside and got my camera and was faced with a tricky situation; it was too dark for the auto focus to work and when I set the lens to manual, I couldn't see enough to do it myself either.

So I took a series of photos at different settings and hoped for the best. What this must've looked like to anyone glancing out their bedroom windows will thankfully never be known. I was flashing in more ways than I really wanted to but as it was 2am, I felt sure my antics would go unnoticed by any sleepless neighbours.

Here is the result.............................

Not the most exciting post ever........but then it's been a bit of a slow day ! Sorry.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Wales - Day 7

Thursday, my last full day in Wales and I spent most of it in a castle.

It's like that there......castles everywhere. Castles to spare.

I left Aberangell and headed north on the A470 to Dolgellau. In fact I stayed on the A470 all the way up to the north coast as my destination was Conwy. But I needed personal fuel for the trip and went back to the same cafe in Dolgellau that I'd been to on Monday.

It was one of those occasions when what I wanted to say, didn't come out right. I just meant that when I'd left the cafe on Monday, it never entered my mind that I'd be back in Dolgellau wanting breakfast again given my touring plans. What came out of my mouth was "hello, I ate here on Monday and I never thought I'd be back here again".

Opps. Even though I tried to talk my way out of it, I'm sure the cook was told to add something 'extra' to my breakfast. My egg did seem a bit more runny than last time !!

Afterwards, my drive north took me the other way up the steep Bwlch Oerddwrs pass that I'd been on the previous day and I was pleased to see that my fence post 'flower' was still in place. It's needs it's own webcam so I can keep an eye on it. See to it, someone.

At noon I approached Conwy on the north Welsh coast and once again I found a castle that was not only impressive but was totally visible from the main road.

With no town map to hand, I just drove on over this bridge and as I went past the castle, the road split two ways. One clearly went into the town centre and the other, the one to the left and the one I took, went under a part of the castle walls and immediately became so narrow that vehicles had to take turns to pass through the stone arch.

Even large cars risked losing their wing mirrors but my little Clio was fine.

Once through the arch, I noticed a bowling green on the left which was in the shadows of the castle and there was a small road next to it where several cars were already parked. There were no signs that you had to pay to park on this road and so I found a spot and once settled, I couldn't believe the view out the passenger window.

This was the photo I took from inside the car and I'd have been happy enough to have driven off at that point as I'd no intention of going up into the castle anyway.

I'm not a great one for going into castles as mostly there is not much left to see and we ARE sort of blessed with loads of them in this country so I've seen my fair share.

I set off to walk back up to the split in the road and go into the town. After only a few yards I heard a noise and looked to my right and saw there was a train passing along the side of the castle. How clever of them to build a castle so close to a railway line as this must have been so handy when the royals fancied a trip down south. A nice relaxing start to a Crusades trip maybe. Always good to get to The Holy Land all refreshed and ready for a good scrap.

Seriously though, it was cool to see this mix of old and new. It was a first for me, that's for sure.
The structures added for the railway line weren't totally in balance with the castle walls but only 600 years of weathering can do that.

I walked on up the road back through the arch - having to time it so a car wasn't passing through as there wasn't room for us both.

Just before taking the fork into town , I went down to the harbour. On the way, I passed this building that I initially thought was a pub.

It turned out to be a place for finding out about family crests and coats of armour and all that good stuff. The huge SALE sign kinda spoiled the view in this photo but come on, how often do you see a full suit of armour outside of a museum ? I'll photoshop the SALE sign out later.

There wasn't a great deal to see along the waterfront - apart from great views looking back up at the castle. I walked out over the road bridge that I'd come in on as I wanted to check out a foot bridge that led to the castle.

When I found that it didn't lead into the castle and that the 'jobs worth' toll collector wouldn't even left me stand on it to take a photo without crossing his palm with silver, I left him to it.

I got back to the fork and headed down the narrow road to town. Even without the wall and the castle, Conwy was a neat little place with clean streets and not too much in the way of tourist tat. As with every town I'd been to in Wales, there were no obvious fast food outlets at all and they were the better for it.

I did sucomb to an ice cream, however, as the sun was out and it was getting quite warm - and I'd walked a fair distance already. I picked soft scoop which the purists would moan about but which I always prefer over other types. They did have rum and raisin flavour and I WAS tempted but stuck to my original choice and walked around the streets happy with my decision.

As seems the way with most castle towns, Conway had steep streets going off in all directions and with it being a walled town, every so often a street would have an arch crossing it - although not many as narrow as this one.

Again only one vehicle could pass through it at a time and this was the perfect urban speed control solution.

Who needs those awful 'sleeping policemen' or speed cameras when all you need is a narrow archway. Brilliant.

Ice cream devoured and wanting a change of scenery, I went back up to the castle and had a look at the displays and information brochures inside the entrance complex. I suddenly decided to pay and go inside the castle as it looked quite complete as opposed to an outer shell with little or nothing still remaining inside.

There are plenty of web sites with better photographs of Conwy Castle than I was able to get but I'll include a few here - I took about 50 as, after all, I WAS there and it was incredibly picturesque.

It was built by Edward 1, King of England, between 1283 and 1287 and as work only went on during March to October each year ( labourers were a lazy bunch and had a good union even back then ), that was amazingly fast by any standards. It has 8 towers and the 4 which look back into Wales, so to speak, have extra towers added to the top of the already tall ones as you can see in this photo. I don't know the reason for this design feature - maybe the lookouts needed more height when keeping a watchful eye out for tourists....sorry, fearsome warriors........approaching from the land side.

All were accessible and I climbed every one even though there were over 100 winding steps to their open tops. The views were spectacular and it was fun to see heads and bodies popping up on the tops of ajacient towers.

I think most people, and there weren't many of them this day, were satisfied with getting to the top of just one tower as after all, they were pretty much all the same. Muggins, on the other hand, spurred on by having actually handed over pension money and feeling the need to photograph everything from every possible angle, went up the lot. If it was above ground level, I was up it.

I did make myself useful by taking photos of other tourists. When I see couples taking photos of each other or trying to set up their tiny digital cameras without a tripod to get them both in the picture, I always offer to take the photo for them.

I have much more success doing this when I actually have my own camera gear with me as then they don't think I'm an opportunist thief who would more likely run off with their camera than take a photo of them with it.

If only they knew that age and health prevent me from running anywhere these days. I guess I could cunningly stroll away with their precious camera but I'm sure even a couple with crutches and a walker could catch me within a few seconds.

Not that I would do so anyway. But hypothetically speaking..................

Located on the coast, the castle was a haven for birds, mostly seagulls. They were everywhere

but not in numbers sufficient to be a concern. I never had to worry about being dumped on from a great height when I WAS at a great height.

This much smaller bird was posing on a part of the ruins near me so I snapped it.

No idea, so don't ask. Not an albatross or a bald eagle but I'm out of ideas after that.

When I'd had my fill of the 4 taller towers on the landward (is there such a word ??) end of the castle, I moved along the battlements to look at the views over the town. This is the view of that same street I walked along earlier and you can see the narrow arch which forms part of the town wall.

You'll have to enlarge it of course.

By now I almost had the place to myself - and as I was up on one of the most complete medieval castles in the country, I was thrilled to not have to share it with anyone else.

I'd paid good money after all and wasn't used to sharing.

But I was aware that a certain wi-fi router was due to be delivered to my brother's house today and I needed to be back if it had arrived.

For once I blessed the invention of the cell phone and just for the hell of it, and to test out the bypass stitches once again, I climbed up to the top of a tower and did an ET. I have to admit that I was more than slightly thrilled to be told the router was not being delivered until the next day ( so much for all the promises, pain of death and so on ) and so I was free to stay longer and drive back at my leisure. Well we had a table booked at The Brigands Inn for 7:45 but it was only 2pm by this time.

I took one last shot from the far end of the battlements looking down on the A470, on the left, that I'd come in on.

The foot path or bridge to the right of the A470 is the one I'd wanted to go along earlier but was told it didn't lead into the castle.

Looking down on it, I'm puzzled where it DOES lead to in that case. I think I was told a porky.

After well over an hour I'd had enough and left the castle. I went back through the narrow road arch to get back to the car and was delighted to see that several games of bowls were taking place on the green between my car and the castle.

Crown green bowls or just bowls is another of the activities I used to associate with pre death experiences. Past life images flashing before your eyes, tax man knocking at the door, doctor telling you everything will be fine........... and playing bowls. All classic signs that you're on the way out.

But since buying a place in Florida and, ok getting on in years myself, I've had a rethink about such games. I love the bocce games we play in Florida and now quite fancy having a go at this more popular grass variant sometime.

I can't imagine many more scenic locations for playing bowls.

I drove around Conwy to see more of the town and the walls and then as time was getting on, I decided to go back to Aberangell.

Rather than head back down the A470 again, I checked the map and took the B5106 to Betws-y-coed as it ran parallel to the A470 so wouldn't take any longer but looked like it would give better views of the River Conwy.

It was a delightful little road and did offer wonderful views across the fields to the river.

I stopped at one point as there was a small pull off area and took this photo to remind me of the scene.

Then I drove on to Betws-y-coed and when I reached the junction with the A5 and saw a sign for the Swallow Falls, I took a slight detour as I'd heard they were well worth a visit.

I've since read that they are, quote "spectacular, among the 5 most visited tourist sites in Wales". Well that's an almost criminal statement and does Wales a great disservice. I wouldn't even class it among the 5 best tourist sites in that part of the junction with the A5.

I slid a pound coin into a slot, went through the turnstile and walked a few paces to see these Swallow Falls. There are 2 viewing areas and the lower one is apt to get you covered in a light spray from the falls. Neither show anything worth paying £1 for, in my opinion. Yes I took photos, many photos. Hey I'd paid £1 and wanted some memory of the occasion.........even if it was just to remind me that not all guide books and online sites are truthful.

I won't bore anyone with any of the photos I took as, really, they aren't worth your time. I've seen better, much better......even in mid Wales.

So I got back to Aberangell in time to change and shower ( or shower and change............ ) and head off with bro and sis-in-law for a lovely meal to thank them for putting up with me for the previous week.

My time in mid Wales had been a complete revelation. I'd been several times before but never to tour like this. Either it's been cold, wet and miserable or I'd not been in the right mood or all of those - but I never had particularly good thoughts about the country. That's all changed forever and thanks to whatever fading memory cells I still have, plus over 600 photos and about 30 mins of video (and this blog), I hope I can 'revisit' it often without leaving the house.

Of course it's only a 3 hour drive to Aberangell, so I might just go back before long and I strongly encourage YOU to get there too.

Just beware of police speed traps near Corris. And lots of sheep poop, and cow pats, and bird droppings, and.......................

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