Situated in the extensive acreage owned by the Armathwaite Hall Hotel close to the northern end of Bassenthwaite Lake the Lake District Wildlife Park is only a relatively short drive along the country lanes from the camp site so on Day 5 of my holiday I decided to go along and take a look. As wildlife parks go it’s not a big place compared to many – about 24 acres in total – but most of the enclosures and paddocks were large with wide and well laid out paths making it easy to walk round and see everything.
The meerkats were closest to the entrance so I started with those, gave the next door reptile house a miss, then wandered along various paths round the enclosures. Some of the animals weren’t easy to see or photograph as they were hiding among the various trees and vegetation in their enclosures, and try as I might I just couldn’t see the red panda which was supposedly curled up asleep on a branch. I got shots of most of the ones which interested me and which stayed still long enough, and seeing the zebras reminded me of holidays spent in South Africa – the people I stayed with referred to them as donkeys in pyjamas, something which always makes me smile.
Walking towards the birds of prey aviaries my attention was caught by a loud screeching noise and I went round the corner to find two of the ugliest chicks I’ve ever seen – they had faces that only a mother could love, though they were cute in their own way and would probably grow into quite nice birds. It was the smaller of the two which was making all the noise, it was ear splitting and constant, but eventually mum appeared from somewhere with some food for them both and the screeching finally stopped.
The final shot was actually taken from somewhere in the middle of the park as I was walking round but I’ve saved it until last as I think it’s a really nice view. The park has birds of prey flying displays, various animal talks, picnic areas, indoor and outdoor play areas, a cafe and a gift shop, none of which I bothered with; I was a bit disappointed that some of the animals were hiding so I didn’t get to see them but I liked what I did see. For a small-ish park it was very nice so I may very well make a return visit another time.
When I wrote in my third Manchester Flower Show post that I’d been very disappointed with the ‘towers of flowers’ installation on Deansgate Square I didn’t say that was the second time I’d been to look for it. The flower show website had given its location as Deansgate Square, Owen Street and a look on Google maps showed me where Owen Street was. With the photo I wanted to recreate firmly in my mind I went there on my first visit to the show but looking for the floral installation was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Finding Owen Street was no problem, what was a problem was finding what I was actually looking for. The three high rise towers in the internet photo were over on the left but the whole street for quite a distance along was just one massive great sectioned off building site surrounded by huge hoardings advertising ‘Deansgate Square Phase 1’ or 2 or 3 etc. I even asked a couple of builders where this flower thing was but they hadn’t a clue so after wandering further along the street and still not finding it I gave up and headed back towards the city centre – and that’s when I had a lovely and very unexpected surprise.
The Castlefield goslings have been the subject of several Instagram posts and comments over the last few weeks. Along with a couple of adult geese they (presumably) live in and around the Castlefield Basin but for some unknown reason like to commute to the streets at the other side of Deansgate, taking their lives in their webbed feet by crossing the extremely busy main road. It beats me how they haven’t been squashed by now but traffic does seem to stop for them.
As I crossed the end of a side street behind Deansgate I looked to my right and walking down the middle of the street were several fluffy yellow goslings, two older ones and a couple of adult geese. The little ones ran onto a patch of spare land and spent a good five minutes pecking at the weeds growing round the edge, watched over by one of the adults before they all set off in a line down the street towards Deansgate.
With hindsight I should really have gone to the main road to get a shot of them crossing it but some street art caught my attention and by the time I did get round to Deansgate they had disappeared. I finally found the flower installation a few days later after asking someone who posted a photo on Instagram – the flower show organisers really should have put proper details of its location on their website as it was in such an obscure place. It was while I was in that area for the second time that I went to explore the Castlefield Basin and saw the goose family in the Bridgewater Canal.
Mentally counting the goslings I found the same number as I’d seen a few days previously so at least none of them had become victims of the Deansgate traffic. No doubt by the time I make another visit to Castlefield the goslings will be all grown up so seeing them walking down the street a few days previously had been a lovely surprise which I’ll remember for quite some time.
It was eleven years ago today that Sophie came into my life. I’d found her from a classified ad on the internet while searching for a companion for my other little dog Sugar and of all the Jack Russells advertised something kept drawing me back to her picture. It seemed I was the first person to ring and enquire about her; she lived in south Derbyshire and as I couldn’t drive at the time a good friend offered to take me down there to see her the following day.
When we pulled up outside the house Sophie was in the garden with Christina, her owner, and the minute I saw that little dog something grabbed me and I just knew I was bringing her home. The following day was Sophie’s birthday, she would be two years old, so it seemed that not only was I getting a new little friend and Sugar was getting a new companion but Sophie was also getting a new home for her birthday.
She curled up on the back seat of my friend’s car and slept all the way back, and from the minute we arrived home it was as if she had always been there. She settled in with Sugar straight away, often sharing the same bed, she liked running about and exploring while on our long walks and quickly grew to love our many camping adventures. She only ever barked briefly if someone came to the door, other than that she was very quiet, and she was the happiest, sweetest, gentlest, most good natured little dog I’ve ever known.
Photos above : Top – Sophie’s 2nd birthday, 23-09-2009 Centre – Fleetwood beach, 04-10-2009 Bottom – Christmas Day 2009
Photos above : Top – Swamped by a wave on a Norfolk beach, 03-06-2010 Centre – With the rosettes she won at a fun dog show, Oswestry 20-06-2010 Bottom – On Cemaes beach, Anglesey, 28-06-2010
Photos above : Camping at an East Yorkshire site, May 2011 Centre – Paddling in the River Calder, June 2011 Bottom – Camping at Elvaston Steam Rally, July 2011
Photos above : Top & centre – Looking abandoned outside a cafe near Abergele, North Wales, Easter 2012 Bottom – With Sugar on the Anglesey camp site, June 2012
Photos above : Top – Looking very silly in a hoodie far too big for her, Willow Lakes camp site February 2013 Centre – With Sugar on the same site Bottom – In the van and not happy to be going home, Anglesey June 2013
Photos above : Top – The end of another holiday, Anglesey May 2014 Bottom – At Elvaston Steam Rally July 2014
Sophie had been with me for over five years when just before Christmas 2014 I sadly lost Sugar to kidney failure at the age of sixteen-and-a-half. I’d been aware of the outcome when she first became ill so not wanting Sophie to be on her own I searched the internet again and found Poppie – she lived in Grimsby and I collected her on the last day of October that year. Initially on the timid side she became a good friend to Sophie once Sugar was no longer with us and the two of them were often found sharing the same bed.
Photos above : Top – With Poppie in the tent, Anglesey June 2015 Centre – At Elvaston Steam Rally July 2015 Bottom – On the camp site at California, Norfolk, September 2015
Photos above : Top – Curled up with Poppie, Anglesey May 2016 Centre – In the tent, Anglesey June 2016 Bottom two – Santa’s little elves, December 2016
Photos above : Top – The deepest she ever went in water, at a local reservoir May 2017 Bottom – After a minor operation on a front leg, June 2017
Photos above : Top – The end of an Anglesey camping trip, June 2018 Bottom – After a long local walk, July 2018
Photos above : Top & centre – A walk in a local park, March 2019 Bottom – With Poppie on holiday in Cumbria, June 2019
I didn’t know it at the time but our Cumbrian holiday in June 2019 would be the last proper holiday Sophie would have. As many of you will remember from previous posts she suffered a stroke in early January this year; with medication and 24/7 care from me she improved slowly and I was hopeful that she would eventually recover but sadly it wasn’t to be and she drifted peacefully away after almost five weeks.
Photos above : Top – Wrapped in a pilchard-stained towel after just being fed 2 – A silly way of sleeping 3 – The best way to keep her safe while I was out of the room 4 – In her bed at the side of mine Bottom – In the back garden after a walk
Sophie’s passing left a huge hole in my heart, a hole which even now still hasn’t completely healed, and I still have unexpected moments of sadness when something triggers a particular memory of her. Tomorrow would have been her 13th birthday and though she is no longer here Poppie and I will cuddle up, remember the good times, and share a bit of cake in her memory.
Walking through Queen’s Park the other day I took several photos of the squirrel I saw, a couple of which I included in my previous post, but as he looked so cute I thought he deserved a post of his own. I actually took a photo of another squirrel when I was in the same park last year so I’ve included him too.
Although the squirrel I saw last year very quickly scampered up the tree the second one wasn’t in too much of a hurry so I was able to watch him from a respectable distance for several minutes. I know grey squirrels are classed as vermin but to me it doesn’t matter what colour they are, they are all cute and this one certainly was.
Several days ago I was just setting out to take Poppie for a quick walk when a little dog ran past my front gate. I’m very familiar with all the dogs living in my area and this wasn’t one of them, so unless someone new had recently moved into somewhere close by then I assumed this little one must be lost. Putting Poppie back indoors I went out and called the dog but it ran off back the way it had come. Next thing there was a squeal of brakes from along the street and a car stopped in the middle of the road – the little dog had just missed being hit by it.
The young woman driver shouted me to ask if it was mine and when I said no but I was trying to catch it she said she would help. The dog ran round the corner and down the next street so while I walked down she went down in her car; the dog still wouldn’t come to us but it doubled back up the lane behind the houses which, luckily for us, is a dead end, and we finally caught up with it in the corner of a nearby garden. It was obviously very frightened as when I put my hand out it cowered away growling; neither of us wanted to risk being bitten so I took my jacket off and threw it over the dog so I could pick it up safely. Being wrapped in the jacket seemed to calm it down and it snuggled in quite happily though it was wet through and shivering with cold.
The young woman said she had to get to work – judging by her uniform she was a nurse – so I thanked her for her help and said I would take care of the dog and try to find its owner. By this time I was absolutely soaked through as the fine drizzle of earlier had turned into quite a downpour but at least I was only round the corner from home so could soon get dry. After towelling the little dog down, and discovering that it was a little girl, I wrapped her in a fleece blanket while I got changed and made a brew. She was a sweet little thing and once she was almost dry I gave her a bit of food then she sat quietly at my feet while I drank my coffee.
Next was to try to reunite her with her owner; she had a collar on but no ID disc so I took her down to the nearest vets to get her scanned for a microchip. For some reason they couldn’t get a reading but they said if I left her with them they would contact the local dog warden; I felt a bit sad to give her up as she was so adorable and such a little sweetie but I knew someone somewhere would probably be missing her. I left my contact details with the vet’s receptionist and I’d only been back home about half an hour when she rang me to say they’d managed to trace the owner. I did ask where the little dog had come from but because of data protection she wouldn’t tell me; I’d only asked so if I ever see it running loose again I would know where it belonged.
To be honest I think it would have been nice to have got a phone call from the little dog’s owners to say ‘Thank you for finding our dog’ but if the vets wouldn’t give me any details of the owners then maybe they wouldn’t give my details to them. I don’t know how long she had been running loose when I found her but I’m glad to know that she would have been reunited with her family – and if she hadn’t been reunited then I’m sure I could have found room in my heart and my home for another little four-paws.
As there’s no Monday Walk this week I thought I’d post something which definitely has the ‘awww’ factor. On November 21st Smithills Open Farm, just fifteen minutes walk from home, welcomed the arrival of a miniature Shetland pony born to Shetland parents Dinky and Stuart Little. It’s the first Shetland foal ever to be born at the farm and though its arrival was a bit later in the year than would normally be ideal mum and baby – apparently smaller than she looks on the photos – are bonding well and both are very healthy.
As from last Saturday – November 30th – the little foal will be going into the pets corner at the farm and the farm staff will be running a competition to choose a name for her. I’d love to go and see this adorable little foal for myself but at £8 per adult I think the admission price to the farm is a bit steep, so I’ll have to be content with these photos – which obviously aren’t mine, they come courtesy of the local paper.
**As I’m currently on holiday in Ireland and have no internet access this post has been scheduled so I’ll reply to any comments when I get back at the end of the week – and maybe by then the little foal will have a name.
In which I fall foul – again – of the ‘law of Irish distance and directions’ and indulge my love of horses…
Chatting to the two guys in the shed at the bottom of Kildare tower I asked if it was possible to walk from there to the Irish National Stud. I thought it was but I wanted to be sure and they confirmed that yes, I could walk there, it was only a mile – if I took the road opposite the market square, followed it past the Grey Abbey, over the motorway, turned left at the end, next left and the second right would bring me to it. It sounded simple enough but by now being rather dubious about Irish directions and distances I decided to seek confirmation (or otherwise) from the information centre in the market square and a very nice lady in there gave me the exact same directions, telling me it would take me about half an hour.
Now at the speed I walk it does not take me half an hour to cover just a mile so it sounded like this place was a bit more than that. Also it seemed like I would be doubling back on myself, however off I went and after what felt like forever – 29 minutes to be exact – I reached the entrance to the National Stud. On paying my entrance fee in the visitor centre I was given a couple of information leaflets, one of which had a map showing how to get there, and when I looked at it I realised that instead of following the directions I’d been given and going a long way round I could have walked down a different road which would have taken me straight there. Also there’s a regular free shuttle bus from the shopping village so I needn’t have walked there at all, but no-one had told me that!
The Irish National Stud was originally founded in 1900 by Colonel William Hall-Walker, a horse-loving Scottish-born businessman from a famous brewing family. After purchasing a farm and other land at Tully on the outskirts of Kildare town he set up a thoroughbred horse breeding facility and quickly became the most successful breeder of his time, enjoying his finest hour when his favourite Tully-bred colt, leased to King Edward Vll, carried the royal colours into the winners enclosure after a famous victory in the 1909 Epsom Derby.
The world-renowned Japanese Gardens were devised by Colonel Hall-Walker and created between 1906 and 1910, being laid out by Japanese master horticulturalist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru. Planned to symbolise the ‘Life of Man’ through trees, plants, rocks, lawns and water the gardens trace the journey of a soul at it goes along the various paths of life from birth to death. The name Minoru means ‘the favourite one’ and this was chosen by the Colonel for his favourite horse, the one which won the 1909 Derby.
In 1915 Colonel Hall-Walker moved to England and gifted the entire Tully property and land to the Crown ; it then became the British National Stud and its success continued under the leadership of Sir Henry Greer, though the Japanese Gardens fell into a period of relative obscurity. In 1943 the newly formed Irish Government took over the land and buildings and in 1945 the Irish National Stud Company was formed, taking over the running of the stud in 1946 ; also that year the Japanese Gardens got a horticultural supervisor to return the gardens to their original splendour. Fast forward to the present day and in 1999, to celebrate the forthcoming Millennium, St. Fiachra’s Garden was designed by an award winning landscape architect to commemorate St. Fiachra, the patron saint of gardeners.
Turning left out of the visitor centre the first thing I came to was a very ‘flower power’ life-sized sculpture of Minoru, the horse which won the 1909 Epsom Derby. This was part of Under stARTers Orders (the capital letters aren’t a typing mistake) an arts charity initiative celebrating the redevelopment of the iconic Curragh Racecourse and raising funds for two charities local to Kildare, the Irish Injured Jockeys and Sensational Kids. A total of 21 resin sculptures were exclusively painted by some of Ireland’s leading equine and contemporary artists and were put on public display at various locations in and around the county, with the opportunity to buy either online or at a live auction in June.
The cost of the admission included a guided tour of the stud and its various facilities and though at first I’d intended just wandering about on my own I realised that there was a tour starting at 2pm so I decided to join it, having just enough time to snatch a handful of photos before going to the meeting point near the Minoru sculpture.
The tour guide was a very friendly and knowledgeable young lady called Sarah and as she walked the group round she gave out lots of really interesting information about the workings of the stud, interspersed with a few amusing comments here and there. Past a sculpture of Invincible Spirit, the current top stallion, and the entrance to the Sun Chariot Yard foaling unit was the museum with the skeleton of the legendary Arkle displayed in the window. Arkle, owned by the then Duchess of Westminster and named after a mountain in Scotland, won 27 of his 35 races including three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins, and had the highest Timeform rating ever given to a steeplechaser ; he remains the greatest steeplechaser to have lived anywhere and at any time.
Past the stallion boxes were the stallion paddocks where I was able to see at close range some of the world’s current best stallions. Depending on popularity a stallion’s breeding fees can range anywhere between the price of a car and the price of a house ; the top stallion is currently Invincible Spirit with stud fees of £120,000 per time, he is father to many champion racehorses and his foals can sell at auction for several hundred thousand pounds each. Past the nursery paddocks were the Living Legends paddocks where previously great racehorses can live out their retirement years, with five horses – Hurricane Fly, Hardy Eustace, Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon and Rite Of Passage – currently in residence.
Across from the Living Legends paddocks was the extensive St. Fiachra’s Garden and once the tour ended I went back to take a couple of photos before going to the café for a much-needed coffee and a cake treat. With a good selection of cakes and other calorie-laden stuff I was spoilt for choice but eventually decided on a slice of Banoffee Pie, which was highly delicious and also very filling.
A look round the Japanese Gardens was a must and as the café was right next door I didn’t have far to go to get there. To be honest I don’t really subscribe to the Japanese ‘story of life told through a garden’ concept, I like to look round a garden for the garden itself, but all the features were numbered so I followed most of them – although not all in sequence – without referring to the story, the end of which is actually quite sad.
With or without the story the Japanese Gardens were lovely ; it was a shame it was such a grey day as with sunshine and blue sky they would be really stunning. Checking the time when I came out of the gardens I was hoping I would be able to go back to St. Fiachra’s Garden but there was a courtesy bus leaving the car park at 4.15 and I didn’t want to miss it (getting that would save me the walk back into town) so reluctantly I gave up on that idea.
The courtesy bus put me off just inside the shopping village and from there it was only a short walk across a car park to the bus stop for the coach to Roscrea. I arrived back at 6pm to another of Nellie’s lovely meals then later on I went round to Laura’s to spend a final hour with her before tackling the unwanted, although relatively easy, task of packing my things ready for the following day’s journey home. Apart from the needlessly long walk to get to the National Stud my day had been very interesting and successful, and not having had time to see all that the Stud has to offer means I’ll be making a return visit as soon as I get the opportunity.
Anyone who knows me knows that cities hold no attraction for me whatsoever, give me countryside or coast and good views any time, however on Monday this week I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long while and haven’t up to now – make a visit to the Cat Cafe in Manchester. It was very much a spur-of-the-moment decision made at 8am, I booked online straight away for the 11am slot and leaving the van at home I went into Manchester by train. The café was an easy walk from Victoria Station, I got there a few minutes before eleven and once I’d booked in at reception and got my visitor’s pass I was free to spend my hour with the cats.
The first cat I saw was a Ragdoll, sleeping in a box which looked far too small for it – unless of course it was an exceptionally big cat. Next was one sleeping in a cardboard house on top of a unit in the window then I saw Savannah, a beautiful Bengal who was more than willing to have some attention lavished on her before she too curled up and went to sleep. After having a wander round and taking a few photos I got a can of Coke from the bar – unlimited hot and cold drinks are included in the cost of the visit – then sat on a very comfy settee for a while just taking in the calm and peaceful atmosphere of the place before spending more time photographing some of the residents and their surroundings.
When my hour was over I said goodbye to the cats which weren’t asleep, handed in my pass at reception, and emerged from the quiet coolness of the café into a busy street and a sunny day which was getting warmer by the minute. It had been nice to spend an hour with the cats in the café, it was something a bit different from the norm, but an hour had been long enough for me. Would I go again? – probably not. It was nice for a one-off experience but it’s expensive for what it is – and anyway, if I ever want to cuddle a cat I’ve got three of my own here at home.