Happy New Year to all – and welcome to my first post of 2019! I’m really excited about the year ahead and about sharing some of my adventures with you as we travel around the sun one more time. I’m quite new to blogging myself and have been inspired by some great writers who I have found over the past year or so; I look forward to following my favourite blogs again this year and to making some new discoveries.
And so it begins. January arrived, dry and bright. I carried on with the ruthless clear-out I started after Christmas, and I even got out into the garden for a bit of a tidy up in preparation for the start of the new growing season. Spending time in the sunshine always makes me feel good, no matter what the time of year.
Today was reasonably mild and the sky a joyous blue, so I decided to make my first seaside outing of 2019.
Formby is a coastal town between Liverpool and Southport in the north-west of England. Its abundance of very rich and celebrity residents (including premiership football players) and luxury properties has resulted in the dubious nicknames Califormbia and Formby Hills. The chances of me recognising (or even having heard of!) a reality TV ‘star’, a current ‘soap’ actor, or a football player are roughly equal to the chances of one of them recognising me. I was really hoping to see some of Formby’s other famous locals, the indigenous red squirrels whose abode is the large area of National Trust pine woodland which stretches out along the Formby coast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Temperatures had dropped overnight and the ground frost sparkled in the sunshine. Sections of felled fir trees had been left on the path.
There are two approaches to Formby beach: the first which is shorter and probably more popular involves a very energetic scramble over a range of steep sand dunes; the second – which I opted for – took me on a longer, beautiful meander through the dunes along a sandy path. The azure sky and the landscape reminded me of long ago Aegean holidays.
Several benches along the walk have been dedicated to the memory of people who loved to spend time here. What a lovely way to be brought to mind each time a loved one or stranger sits for a while to admire the vista.
On top of the dunes, sand mountaineers looked out to sea.
Squawking magpies kept their own lookout from the trees tops.
And apparently it’s never too cold for an ice cream.
The National Trust has laid a long board walk to make the beach accessible for prams, wheelchairs and folks like me who don’t climb dunes.
The entire path from the Lifeboat Road car park down to the beach is navigable for wheels and bad knees. Here, I made some new friends in their stunning hand-knitted jackets.
The board walk ended and the wide beach came into view. The tide was out and the firm sand was perfect for walking. whether on two legs or four.
One of my new colourfully-clad friends insisted we had a long game of throw and fetch the stick. Fortunately, he did all the running!
With my playmate called away to rejoin his family pack, the steps of the lifeboat station served as a convenient bench for me to sit for a while and enjoy my first beach visit of the year… hopefully, the first of many.
The final few days before Christmas can become quite fraught as folks pile into the shops to buy those last-minute presents and to make sure provisions are in store for seemingly hundreds of unexpected but potential visitors.
I don’t much like grocery shopping, preferring instead to ‘click’ my selections into my basket and await delivery in the comfort of home, but having been defeated earlier in the week by a particularly potent (but fortunately short-lived) winter bug (and not being able to secure an online delivery slot) I had to face the trolley gauntlet on Friday. It looked like the shortest day was going to become a very long one. Drawing on every bit of festive cheer I could muster, I patiently navigated the obstacle course of spatially unaware (or unconcerned) fellow shoppers, and reached the check out as quickly as I could.
When a friend called to ask if I’d like to go for a walk, my first thoughts were that I didn’t want to leave the house again that day. After a few moments’ reflection I phoned her back. If I wrapped up properly, a drive off the beaten track, some fresh air and appreciation of nature would be a good way to end the shortest day of the year.
These pigeons were also having a quiet moment as we rounded the path in their direction.
The sudden beating of wings in flight was the only sound apart from our footsteps on the squelchy leaves.
Creatures watched from their posts in the undergrowth: traditional Christmas card scenes and flashes of exotic colour.
The year continues to be relatively mild, and there was no ice cover on the pond. Water dwellers looked peaceful both above and below the surface.
This is a time to reflect on another year now passed, and a time to look forward as the days lengthen and we move away from the dark and towards the light. What adventures will there be for us in 2019? For now, I’m happy to stay cosy inside.
Winter has arrived. It’s still mild for December, and this afternoon offered some intervals of sunshine betwixt the cloud and drizzle. I decided to get into my little garden to have a tidy up and plant the last few daffodil bulbs.
It may be too late for these, but fingers crossed. All will be revealed – or not – in early spring.
I wasn’t alone, as Paddy and Cleo decided they would join me.
Almost everything is dying back or lying dormant, falling in with the primal rhythms of nature. The last of the roses fade. The buds that remain will not open now.
Autumn was warm and long, and October brought us ladybirds in abundance. A few are still around.
The vivid colours of autumn leaves: russets, reds and golds are resplendent.
The garden is a peaceful place in winter as all slows down. It’s a time to meditate on what has been and what may come in the year ahead.
To some, the seasons are the same. Stoically, they observe the passing of time in silence. They’ve seen many comings and goings.
There is still plenty life and vibrancy in the garden. Delicate winter jasmine blooms as the temperatures drop.
Leaves on the path don’t spoil some folks’ journeys. Even at snail’s pace they’ll get there in the end.
All that glitters may not be gold but a touch of winter sparkle is always welcome.
The evergreens carry on regardless.
The hours of daylight are decreasing as we head towards the shortest day. Setting off to work as the sun rises and returning home in darkness, it can sometimes feel like winter days pass me by. The weekends still offer the chance to see the beauty to be found at this time of year, literally on my own doorstep.
Today is National Black Cats Day in the UK. The event is a Cats Protection initiative which was started in 2011 to promote the gorgeousness of black cats, and raise awareness of how they often lose out to their more colourful relations in finding homes and being loved. I think it’s marvellous that our ebony felines have a day dedicated to them, not least because three of my own five kitties are black and beautiful.
Paddy, Pearl and Jasper had their 7th birthday in August but I still think of them as my kittens. Their mother, Cleopatra, had moved herself into my home just a few weeks before they were born, with no small amount of encouragement from my son who had taken a shine to her and had (unknown to me) been providing treats and petting whenever she turned up in our garden. Cleo had been a neighbour’s cat but the kind-hearted lady had a lot of animals and not enough space or resources, and I guess that this precocious and savvy little tabby had been at the bottom of the pecking order.
After initially seeming offended that Cleo was spending so much time at my home, her former owner suddenly decided the cat had chosen us, so we should have her. Looking back, I think she’d twigged that some fur babies were on the way – not that I’m complaining.
Not being a seasoned cat midwife, it took a few weeks for it to become obvious to me that Cleo was pregnant – actually, about 3 weeks before the birth. I was very apprehensive about the arrival of the kittens, caring for them and later finding them good homes. I had no intention of keeping them, as my life was busy and I felt my house was too small for so many cats.
It seemed fortunate that many family members, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends and work colleagues past and present were keen to become parents to the expected fur babies. I would not have let them go to anybody I didn’t know personally, and the question was, who would I have to disappoint? People had seen photos of the beautiful Cleo on Facebook or had met her in person and couldn’t wait to see her look-alike kittens.
August 1st is Lammas Day and, quite aptly, Cleo was delivered of a healthy harvest of 4 babies: three boys and one girl. Only one little boy was a tabby like her. The other three kittens were black. Mother and babies were doing well in the ‘nursery’ and I quickly became a cat baby bore. Very fortuitously, it was the summer holidays and I still had a few weeks off work in which to keep an eye on them. I didn’t bestow names on my charges, as they were not going to be mine to keep.
People were cooing and complimenting the photos, especially admiring the little male tabby. It was obvious that everybody liked him best and wanted to take him home when the time came. A few people even said they would take one of the others as well – as a companion – if they could have him. I was a bit sad about the lesser interest in the black kittens, but alarm bells hadn’t started to ring.
Just eight days after the birth, two of the babies developed Cat Flu. It came on very suddenly, overnight. Both were rushed to the vet for treatment; one survived and one did not. We lost the little tabby.
After that, I noticed a clear wane in interest in the other three cuties from previously very eager prospective adopters.
People still admired the photos, but almost all of those firm offers of homes became ‘maybes’: changes in circumstances; possible trips to Australia; previously undetected allergies; clauses in tenancy agreements which forbade pets; concerns about traffic…. One person was quite honest and said that she just had a “penchant” for tabbies and another now thought she was too old to take on kittens which might outlive her, but then offered to take Cleo, their tabby mother, less than a year old herself.
By the time they were 8 or 9 weeks old, there were no suitable homes in place for my three kittens. I could have re-homed them had I been less fussy, but as the weeks passed I had started to feel very protective of them and had become very selective: I turned down a nice lady who lived on the 12th floor of a tower block (who I know would have spoilt a fur baby rotten) for fear of it escaping and falling over the balcony; I said no to someone who lived alone, worked long hours, and only wanted the very sociable and playful female kitten, even though she was quite attached to one of her brothers ( they don’t get along at all now!).
Cats Protection, who I’d contacted for advice, had even offered to collect them at 12 weeks. The lady had explained that, very sadly, many people just weren’t interested in black cats, even kittens. It took them longer on average to find homes for ebony beauties who came into their care, as people preferred more colourful patterned cats. I read up on this and found that the same applied at all re-homing centres. In the USA, some shelters even euthanised black cats virtually as soon as they arrived, as they knew from experience that nobody would choose them.
Incredibly in the 21st century, my extensive reading informed me that occult connotations still lingered, along with superstitions associating black cats with bad luck, further adding to the ‘bad press’. Another unbelievable (but true) and probably the most feeble reason to me is that (in the age of social media), black cats are apparently not photogenic enough.
I became deeply offended on behalf of my kittens that they were deemed less desirable because of their colour. It’s true to say that my former good opinion of some people has never quite recovered since that time when I became aware of shallowness which I would never have suspected. That being said, my disappointment has been tempered by the realisation that I wouldn’t have the cats now had others been less fickle back then.
I made a decision: we named all three kittens and decided they would be staying with us, forever. There are quarrels and personality clashes, as each cat is very individual, but they are all a daily source of delight and entertainment; all affectionate and loving, at least to me, if not always to each other.
I have counted my blessings so many times, thankful that offers of homes which might not have turned out well did not in the end come through.
I hope that Black Cat Day helps raise the profile of dark beauties and helps people to see them for what they are: beautiful and magical. If you or somebody you know is considering welcoming a cat into your life and want to be on trend, according to Cats Protection: ‘Black is the new black.’ One thing’s for sure – you won’t be disappointed in your choice.
Brockholes ‘unreserved’ nature reserve is just outside Preston, Lancashire. It is owned by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside and was developed on the site of a former quarry. I decided that a gorgeous warm Saturday afternoon was the perfect time to connect with the natural world.
As I don’t drive, the places I visit generally must be accessible by public transport. There is no bus service to the reserve, but I alighted at the nearest stop outside the Tickled Trout Hotel on the banks of the River Ribble. From there it’s a 1.3 mile walk along the Preston Guild Wheel recreational pathway which is popular with walkers and cyclists. I strolled at a leisurely pace, enjoying the sunshine and admiring a small herd of sleepy cattle.
From the entrance to the reserve I would estimate it’s at least another half mile to the visitor village which is where site maps can be picked up.
The Brockholes website informed me that hundreds of different species of wildlife had become established there including otters, brown hares, deer, kingfishers, herons, osprey, Lancashire’s first sighting of a Pallid Harrier and many rare species of birds depending on the time of year. I readily admit I am no bird expert – far from it – and didn’t have any particular expectations, though I would have loved to have seen a bird of prey. I was also hoping for an encounter with some deer and otters.
On first entering the reserve I passed a ‘no dogs’ sign, there for obvious reasons. Within five minutes, I passed two couples coming away from the direction of the reserve – yes, with dogs! Signs inform that there is CCTV around the reserve, and shortly after I came across a staff member on patrol, so hopefully the Brockholes mammals are kept safe from ignorant people.
The ‘village’ is of an innovative eco design and floats on a central lake surrounded by reed beds. There is a venue for corporate events and conferences, and people even choose Brockholes for their nuptual celebrations, saying ‘I do’ in the woodland, on the banks of the River Ribble or in a dedicated wedding room. The whole reserve, but especially the central village, is very popular with families.
The vegetation on both sides of the track was literally buzzing with insect life, an abundance of dragon flies sparkling blue against the wild grasses.
Butterflies flitted between the wildflowers, most of them too quickly for me to get any clear shots. A Meadow Brown was almost perfectly camouflaged.
Some wildflowers like the germander speedwell have been purposely cultivated whilst others like the tufted vetch and meadow vetchling commonly occur by roadsides and in wildflower meadows.
Once in the ‘village’ I headed for the visitor centre to pick up a map and then went for a look around.
Peering over the side of a pond I spotted the shapes of unidentifiable fish of various sizes gliding between cobbles and under the wooden walkway. A particularly loud girl of about 12 was sulkily protesting that the fish were swimming away out of view….go figure!
A stroll around the accessible side of the lake revealed little beneath the surface except decorative pond ornaments and lily pads, much to the disappointment of the parents and toddlers scanning the depths.
Therein is the paradox: to bring in the money to look after wildlife, the Trust must attract visitors who splash their cash but whose noise and frenetic activity ultimately frightens away the wildlife. Catering solely or mainly for serious birdwatchers would not get enough visitors in, hence the ice cream parlour and huge restaurant along with children’s playground and educational centre where lots of little ones were busy with colouring books and crayons. I had mixed feelings about this: it’s brilliant that children are developing an awareness of the natural world, yet I felt that many of those visitors were there solely for an ice cream or lunch in a lovely setting with free admission. The wildlife seemed incidental.
The reserve covers 250 acres but I stayed quite close to the main paths. I spotted a lookout so went inside expecting a few twitchers with binoculars trained on the lake.
I discovered instead a two-year-old running wild and banging on the glass to the amusement of his parents and another dad pushing a pram back and forth trying to soothe a screaming baby. Back outside then….
I spent a couple of pleasant hours at Brockholes and saw swans and wildfowl which I photographed from a distance as I was walking back towards the entrance.
I know from other people’s accounts that it is possible to see rare bird species on the reserve, and such a sight must be thrilling, though most unlikely on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June.