Archive | April 2016

Exploring Exmoor Zoo

While my daughter and fiancée were staying with us last week, we took a trip to Exmoor zoo, which is less than 30 minutes drive from us. My daughter has kindly allowed me to use the photos she took.

It is a pleasant little zoo, on a sloping site with a central lake, landscaped with plenty of bamboos and other exotic looking plants. They have all the usual crowd-pleasers such as meerkats…








Giant tortoises…








They have a good collection of different species of storks and cranes…




as well as lots of smaller stuff such as parrots, and this rather smart blacksmith plover, who had the most adorable little chicks.




They do have some unusual animals that I have not seen before, including these Papua New Guinea Singing Dogs




There were plenty of cute monkeys and marmosets, and lemurs like this ring-tailed lemur




Cats seem to be a speciality, with cheetahs, fluffy sand cats, caracals, fishing cats, and their most advertised animal, the black panthers.




Like most zoos these days, they emphasize the part they play in conservation, and are part of may rare breed breeding programs. There was information to read, even if some of it was a few years out of date…

They hold some talks every day, and there is a list of feeding times, mainly in the morning, none of which we went to.

An enjoyable afternoon, with plenty to do on another visit.



Cute fluffy babies, and other animals

One of my favourite Lundy activities is mammal watching. Yes, I also birdwatch, and there can be some excellent birds on Lundy, but I can do that anywhere. Lundy offers opportunities for mammal watching that are not normally available. Seals, for example, are easily seen either in the water, or hauled out. On our walk to the north end, see  my blog, we saw several snoozing happily on a flat rock. We were also lucky enough to see a porpoise fairly close in, while we were sitting watching the sea, low down on the west side.

There are also Lundy ponies to track down and admire, who have the run of the North end of the Island. Visitors are warned that they may bite and kick, but I ‘speak horse’, i.e. I know how to sidle up to them and see if any are  interested in meeting me, and can tell when they are not. So I always manage a bit of scratching time. (Me scratching the pony…)

Also roaming the top half of the island is next year’s burgers…




These guys are a fairly recent addition to the farm, and seem to be a success so far, especially now that the first offspring is on the menu in the Tavern. There is something very satisfying about eating meat that lived its entire life on the island. The farm also has pigs and a lot of sheep, although these live in the fields in the southern half of the island. Plenty of cute lambs at this time of year!




There are ‘wild’ animals to find too – a herd of Sika deer can be seen almost anywhere on the island, but are most reliably found on the east side, where they are fairly unafraid of people walking past gently.





Less wild, but equally interesting are the feral goats and their ridiculously cute kids.






We watched this family playing for ages, and then two young males started to size each other up…



The last of the herd animals are the soay sheep. A rare breed, I believe, but doing very well on Lundy, with lots of the most adorable lambs…




As with the deer and goats, they do so well the numbers need to be reduced regularly, so all of these feature on the tavern menu. The roast soay was delicious.

Last but not least, I couldn’t resist a picture of this lady. Not sure Lundy duck has ever been on the menu, nor duck eggs, so not sure what purpose she serves, but she was waddling around the farm quite contentedly.




So we had a great week finding all these animals, and a few good birds too, including a short-eared owl, a cuckoo, and a ring-ouzel, all just passing through on migration. We walked all over the island, often in a sharpish wind, and spent the one rainy day curled up in our cottage playing a fascinating new board game. Our crossing home was as sunny and calm as the first one, so was a fine end to the holiday.

Lundy cottages and other places to stay



Over the years I have stayed in several different Lundy properties, and have enjoyed them all, as they all have different characteristics and locations. Last week, as I mentioned in my last blog, my family and I all stayed in Government House, just below the village. It is handy for the Marisco tavern and has lovely sea views.




There are several other properties in the village itself, built out of Lundy granite, and grouped round a sheltered courtyard. This is Old House North, which sleeps 2, with it’s entrance in the corner.




Nestled into the valley, halfway up the beach road, is the grandest house on the island, Millcombe House, which sleeps 12. I have yet to stay there, but I have had a look round inside and it is lovely and spacious.




In total contrast, round the corner in St Johns valley is Bramble villas, a simple, low wooden structure divided into two 4 bed cottages. Much less grand, but comparatively cheap and still nice and sheltered.




If one wants something more interesting, then how about a castle? There are three cottages inside the castle wall, with a central courtyard, but the only sea views are through the odd arrow-slit sized window. Not my cup of tea, but dramatic.




Further from the village, but with stunning views, you can even stay in the old lighthouse. The attached house is divided into two flats, sleeping 4 and 5, and there is a little one-bed cottage in the compound as well. There are no rooms in the tower, but you can go up to the top whenever you like, day or night!




There is a fantastic view from the top of the entire island. The picture below is taken looking towards the village, and shows another cottage in this area, Stoneycroft.




The most remote property is the old coastguard lookout, Tibbets, which is 1 3/4 miles down the island, and has no electricity, just gas lamps. It is much loved by all who have stayed there, including us, for its near 360 degree sea views and total solitude .





So, 23 properties in total, spread out across the southern end of the island. I would love to have a holiday in each one at least once! 7 down, 16 to go!

A few days on Lundy, my favourite island



We enjoyed the 90 minute crossing to Lundy last Tuesday on the MS Oldenburg, the Lundy supply ship, on a beautiful sunny day. Hats and gloves were needed to counteract a chilly breeze, but we didn’t have to layer up in waterproofs, and we stayed on deck for the crossing, eating bacon sandwiches and drinking coffee. No cetaceans this time, but we saw a few razorbills, guillemots and puffins once we neared the island.

Not everyone is as lucky with their crossings! By the Oldenburg’s next scheduled arrival on Thursday, the wind had become a stiff easterly, which is the worst wind for Lundy, as it blows right into the otherwise sheltered landing bay. We watched her as she approached the island, looking fairly stable, but as she turned into the bay the waves were catching her side-on, and she started to wallow about. She made it to the jetty, but was plunging up and down so much they couldn’t secure the passenger gangway, so they aborted the landing! Instead they took her around to the sheltered side of the island until later in the afternoon, when the wind had dropped a little, and the tide was lower, when they managed to tie up and offload the passengers and supplies.




The island is  long, narrow, and flat-topped, with a gently sloping grassy east side, and a more precipitous, rocky west side The beach road winds gently up a valley from the beach to the village on the top of the island.




We stayed in one of the rental cottages, just below the village and handy for the tavern, but with fantastic views back down the valley to the sea. They have fully equipped kitchens, but we usually eat in the tavern in the evenings, as the food is so good.




After some very tasty island born and bred soay casserole, we wandered over to see the Anthony Gormley sculpture, Daze IV, which has been on the island for the last year. It is one of five life-sized sculptures placed near the centre and at four compass points of the UK in a commission by the Landmark Trust to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It is due to be removed soon, and despite my initial misgivings when it was first suggested, I think it has been good for the island and I will be sad to see it missing in September.




The next day was just as sunny, but with a very stiff breeze, so we dressed warmly, put on sun cream (typical for Lundy to be wearing a thermal hat and  factor 50 on the cheeks…) and headed up the island towards the north end.




Pondsbury is the biggest pond on the island, and is good for birds, but there are several other small pools dotted about.  This is quarter wall pond. We stopped at Jenny’s Cove which is the main puffin colony, and with the aid of decent binoculars found 8 puffins sitting on the cliffs, and 36 in the sea. They are just settling in to breed at this time of year, and by July there will be at least a couple of hundred buzzing around bringing sand eels to their chicks.

Finally arriving at the north end we found a sheltered spot for a picnic, watching the migrating wheatears and swallows, and counting the seals lazing on a flat rock below.




Walking straight back down the centre of the island takes only about an hour or so, so we had a relaxed afternoon reading before heading to the tavern for dinner. A perfect Lundy day.


To be continued…








Spring days and Spring tides



We have been enjoying some lovely spring weather, with one particularly fine misty, dew-covered morning.






Once the mist cleared, then we had a fine sunny day, much enjoyed by the rabbits, who dozed in quiet corners.




We have also been having very high spring tides, and went down to Ilfracombe one morning to find that the water in the harbour was almost up to the level of the road!




Round the other side of the town, the Bristol Channel was putting on a fine show.




I have been plant shopping again, and am working hard to keep up with the planting. This is a lovely strongly scented spring shrub, Viburnum burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’.




I have planted it next to the path that doesn’t exist yet, along with three yellow grasses, Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, and three blue spring perennials, Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’.




I started to level off the path, and now just need to put some stones down and tidy up the two ends. I am pleased with the area, and just need to keep on top of any regrowth of the suckering shrub that was there before.




We are going to Lundy on Tuesday, for a short holiday, staying in a cottage, and I will take some photos to show you all when I get back.

The best bit of gardening

Which is, of course, planting things! I have done a lot of gardening the last few days, or so my muscles tell me, and most of it has been planting, which makes a nice change from all the destructive gardening.




I love bleeding hearts, or Dicentra spectabilis. It is one of my favourite plants, and I now have two in the woodland, between the clumps of daffodils that have finished flowering, where they will add colour through to the summer. I have two of the white variety to plant as well.




These dog’s tooth violets, or Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ were planted a couple of weeks ago in the Acer glade, and have already grown in size and sent up additional flowers. The clumps of leaves behind them should be bluebells, so hopefully I will get a pleasing combination of pale yellow and blue.




This is one of the Acers that gives the glade it’s new name. It is ‘Bloodgood’, just coming into leaf, and should be a lovely strong specimen if it doesn’t get nibbled by anything. This little glade is just a small area in my woodland that was full of snowdrops, so I called it the snowdrop glade. But now it is looking to be also full of bluebells, so I will call it the Acer glade instead, or I shall be changing it’s name every season! There are two other Acers already planted, but they just look like twigs until the leaves emerge, so photos will have to wait.



The long fenceline across the top of the garden is not the most attractive, so I am planting a succession of shrubs, well spaced out, which will be allowed to grow large and help conceal the fence. They don’t look much yet, but the front one is a Californian lilac, Ceanothus ‘Concha’, with blue flowers in late spring, and the rear one is Escallonia ‘Appleblossom’ with pinky white blooms also in late spring.




Further down the garden, in deer country, I have gone for spiky plants, with a red berberis at the front and Sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, to the rear. I hope they survive!




There is a shrubbery of evergreens in the centre of the garden, and this gap between two large shrubs was crying out to be filled, so I have put in a pink camellia that was rescued from the sales area at the garden centre, and is actually a nice little plant.




The deciduous shrubs around the garden are all starting to leaf, and I still don’t have a clue what most of them are! I can’t wait to see what I have, and am watching them carefully. This one is still a mystery – thick waxy little leaves, or sepals, emerging from each bud, with a little flowerhead of some sort in the middle. Ideas, anyone?

Putting in the paths

The only paths we have inherited in our acre and a quarter garden are the straight one that runs along the bottom edge through the wood, and a curved one through the large sloping border behind the house.




The curved path starts on the patio, curves up a set of steps through the main flowerbed on the bank behind the house, and then curves back down these steps pictured above to the lawn at the front of the garden. You lose all the height you gain by going up the steps, and as there is a continuous row of shrubs on the far side of the path, you cannot access the upper lawn areas and the orchard.




So we have started a little stone path that zigzags off the top of the path onto the lawn by the orchard. We are using the stones we have dug up around the garden, but it is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle fitting them into a stepped path. I think it will look lovely and rustic when it is finished, and the first of many paths to come.

One of the first things I did in the winter was to cut down a very scraggy shrubby honeysuckle just beyond the path, and lo and behold there is a view right to the far end of the garden. So finally we have now dug out the roots, so that we can have another path leading through the shrubbery and beyond.You can see the two major stumps awaiting carrying to the bonfire.




I have also been out and wrestled with our new mower, and started to define the grassy paths through the ‘meadow’ that the far end of the garden will become. It is far too large an area to mow all of it, and it will be interesting to have areas of long grass.






I have started by mowing the routes that we already walk, and will gradually add in some more mown strips to create a pleasing network of gently sloping paths by which one can explore the whole garden.




I can also start to plant shrubs and trees in the curved corners of the paths, to help define the routes. It is great to see these ideas starting to show on the ground, even if we have a lot of hard work to do before they become reality.

This afternoon I tackled the ‘rockery’, a stony bank above the wall bordering the drive. I cleared away some of the weeds and ivy, and planted six aubrieta along the front edge to trail down the wall. Well, at least I hope they will, as it is a north facing wall, so not as sunny as is ideal.




The front lawn continues to be a delight, covered as it is with fritillaries, primroses, daffodils, anemones, and grape hyacinths. At least one area of the garden is already a riot of colour!









The view from the summit

I like walking up hills, even though it is hard work, as you get a huge sense of achievement, and the view from the summit is usually worth the climb. The exception was the time I struggled up Snowdon with a group of kids from the school where I worked. In the rain. In a cloud from the car park to the summit and down again. No views at all, and the cafe at the top was shut as well. Pah!

So I was pleased that the day of the walking club’s hike up Codden Hill near Barnstaple dawned bright and clear.




The path led directly up the end of the ridge, and was very steep and unrelenting. I managed it quite well, considering, so maybe the elusive fitness is finally happening. And the views from the top made it all worthwhile.




Directly below is was Bishop’s Tawton where we started, then beyond that is Barnstaple. The hill in the distance on the right is Saunton Down, with Braunton Burrows stretching across just below the sea. In the other directions it was rolling green landscapes as far as the eye could see.




After a brief stop for a drink and a mint humbug, which is a walking club tradition, apparently, we headed down the far side. It was good to stretch out and walk at speed after the slow climb, and I walked a large section of the walk at the front with the leader.




Once we reached the valley the walk skirted round the side of the hill, giving us great views of where we had been. I stopped briefly to watch a male blackcap singing in a bush. Summer is coming!




The return journey followed a pretty stream through some wet woodlands. There was a dipper flying along the stream, but there seems to be a dipper in every stream in Devon. I am not complaining, they are lovely birds to watch.




The ridge of Codden Hill was ever present.





Little lambs were in every field, mostly resting in the sun.




We passed through an old quarry.




Marsh marigolds were putting on a fine show in the shallow pools.




After a good stretch of level walking, we then had to use our climbing muscles again as the path gently rose across grassy fields to return us to our start, where we refreshed ourselves in the local pub before heading home. They did a very nice prawn salad, and the cider wasn’t bad either. Just what we needed, and you do have to support the local businesses, after all!




As I sat with my coffee this morning, I glanced out of the window, as I do every morning…




Sheep! Trampling through my flowerbeds and sampling my shrubs! We dashed outside, only to find that it wasn’t just the handful that we could see from the window; there were in fact about thirty-five of the flippin’ things…

We rounded them up fairly easily and herded them back down the garden onto our little private lane, where they couldn’t do so much damage.




Being new, we hadn’t a clue where they might have come from, or who they might belong to, but luckily our neighbours have been here forever, and not only know everyone, but also have their phone numbers. So we woke  them up. (oh dear, guilty feelings, but it was 8am on a weekday…)

Meanwhile, the sheep, being more intelligent than we usually give them credit for, had meandered down the lane and come back into the garden at the far end.




At least there wasn’t much for them to ruin down that end, so we let them stand there for a bit, with me between them and the flower beds, feeling like a shepherdess! The neighbours then opened up one of their paddocks with the intention of driving them into it to await the farmer, and we started to gently ease them down the lane.




But they dived off very confidently up the track that leads up the hill , so we suspect that they came down that track from the fields at the top, and were returning home. Soon after, the farmer arrived with a dog in the back of his pick-up, and we sent them up after them to make sure they got home. Lets hope that he also mends the fence!


My poor lawn was already a bit thin and muddy here, and we were keeping off it to give it a chance to recover…




And it was only this week we were saying how nice it is not to have to deal with cats in the garden…

I guess we live in the countryside now!