A seal experience

After reading a recent post of Becky’s my own comment on that post got me thinking back to an amazing wildlife experience I had at a place on the Lincolnshire coast back in 2007, so in the absence of a Monday walk I thought I would post an account and a few photos of that experience. I can’t remember now how I first found out about this particular place – probably from the camping forum I frequent – but the more I read about it the more I wanted to go there so I started doing some serious research and came across a very informative website for photographers.
Donna Nook National Nature Reserve covers 6.25 miles of the Lincolnshire coastline and is made up of sand dunes, sand and mud flats, salt marshes and inter-tidal areas ; it’s also part of a larger area owned by the Ministry of Defence and the sand flats are used during the week for RAF bombing practice. Interesting plant communities flourish in the salt marshes and 47 species of birds breed regularly in the area, with over 250 migrant species passing through, but the main attraction for visitors is the large colony of grey seals which, from the end of October to late December, use the sand flats and salt marshes in one particular area for breeding and giving birth to their pups before returning to sea.
A special enclosed double-fenced viewing area at the foot of the dunes is staffed by volunteer wardens from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, but back in 2007 serious photographers were allowed to go out onto the sand flats to observe and photograph the seals at close quarters, though certain rules had to be followed. Anyone wanting to photograph these creatures close up would need  to be serious about it too as there was a bitingly cold wind blowing and the mile trek across the sand involved wading through water channels several inches deep ; it was necessary to wear at least three layers of warm clothing plus dark coloured waterproofs and wellies and in some instances to act like a seal by crawling or sliding along the wet sand.
In the course of my research that year I found out that there was a nice little camp site only a couple of miles from where the seals were so I booked four nights for myself, my partner and our caravan and off we went at the end of November, arriving at the site at lunch time. Our first full day there was treated as a recce of the seal area and even from behind the fence I could see that this place was pretty special ; hundreds of seals, both young and adult, were dotted about over a huge area and as far as the eye could see, and several were close up against the fence with one pup having its head actually under  the inner fence.
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A small part of the seal colony
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The following day, suitably dressed in warm layers, waterproofs and wellies, we set out from the viewing area on our trek across the sand and out towards the sea, following a designated marked out route to avoid the possibility of being blown up by some unexploded object buried in the sand – presumably, as long as we followed the rules and the route, we would survive with arms and legs etc intact. Eventually we got close to the sea – seals were dotted about everywhere and I spent well over an hour getting shots of various adults and pups. I got close but not too  close – I had to kneel, sit, crawl or lie on the wet sand several times but it meant that I got the shots I wanted without disturbing the seals so it was worth any minor discomfort.
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The next day we returned to the reserve as I hoped to see a seal pup being born, though this time we stayed behind the fence. Unfortunately I didn’t get to witness an actual birth but I did see a little one which had obviously been born not long before. I got several more photos of these wonderful creatures but the intermittent sunshine wasn’t enough to give any warmth to the day and it was bitterly cold so reluctantly I said goodbye to Donna Nook and we returned to the camp site for our final evening.
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A newborn pup
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Maybe the world looks better upside down
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A final view of Donna Nook
Five years later I went back to Donna Nook on my own. I’d enjoyed the previous experience of getting close to the seals on the sand flats so much that I wanted to repeat it but when I got there I found that things had changed – access to the sand flats and beach had been blocked and all  visitors had to stay behind the fence. On talking to one of the wardens I was told that since my previous visit the handful of serious photographers allowed onto the beach had turned into coachloads of visitors and as many as 300 people a time were walking out across the sand flats. This meant that at least 65 seal pups per season were being lost, abandoned by their mothers and left to die because of all the human disturbance.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I couldn’t repeat my previous experience ; I was  disappointed as it had been such a fantastic thing to be able to do, but I fully understood and respected the reasons for preventing public access to the beach while the seals were there – just one pup lost to human interference is one too many. Seals have been breeding at Donna Nook since the 1970s and numbers have been increasing each year, with a total of 2,066 pups being born during the short 2018 season.  My once-in-a-lifetime experience back in 2007 had proved to be just that, but if I ever go to Donna Nook again I know I’ll still get some great photos even if I do have to stay behind the fence.
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Well done Michael!

Just over a week ago Michael got a letter from Warburtons congratulating him on his ten years service with the company For that ten years he now gets £100 to spend on Extra Dough (the money variety, not the sort you make bread out of!)  and he can choose whether to have it added to his wage, spend it on the website or take the equivalent in vouchers. The letter was followed earlier this week by a card personally signed by Brett Warburton, executive director and co-owner of the company.
Now just to avoid any possible confusion, Michael is actually his middle name and he’s always been called that by me, family and close friends, but for some reason at work everyone calls him by his first name, Sean, and that’s who the letter and card were addressed to.
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The Warburtons bakery isn’t far from home and I remember if we ever passed nearby when Michael was quite young he always said that the aroma of baking bread smelt more like toast, so it was always a joke between us through the years that Warburton’s were making toast again. Right from being so young he always said he wanted to work there and when he left school at 16 it was the first place he applied at for a job but unfortunately he didn’t get taken on at the time.
Fast forward through several years and other jobs and he eventually went to work at Warburtons through an agency ; he was with the agency for just over four years before being taken on as an official Warburtons employee and since then has worked his way up to a job which carries a fair amount of responsibility. His shifts are long – usually 12 hours – but the work is varied, he enjoys what he does and he gets a decent amount of days off and holidays. Neither of us knew, all those years ago when he was very young, that he would eventually achieve his goal and work for the largest bakery brand in the UK – as his mum I’m proud of him. And yes, it does still smell like they are making toast!

Upside down

After reading a recent post on Jayne’s blog, in which I commented that a certain photo looked like it was upside down, she followed that with another post with some ‘upside down’ photos specially for me. Well that got me thinking – I knew that somewhere in my archives I had some photos which could be turned upside down and I’ve spent some time over the last few days searching for them so in the absence of a Monday walk and just for a bit of fun here they are, including one with some gravity-defying rocks. And just so certain people don’t have to stand on their heads to make sense of them I’ve also included the ‘right way up’ ones.
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One thing I’ve realised while doing this – if you look at certain ones long enough you end up not knowing which are the upside down ones and which are the right way up. I wonder if Jayne realises just what she started?…..

A watched pot never boils….

Or in my case, a watched dishwasher doesn’t do anything.
To put you in the picture, at my evening job it’s usual for one of the girls on reception to put the dishwasher on late in the afternoon then switch it off again before leaving work at 5pm, so all I have to do later is remove the clean pots and put them away, which up to now has never been a problem. However, when I got to work this evening the boss’s secretary told me that one of the girls was on a day off and the other had gone home early as she wasn’t well, so as the secretary herself had put the dishwasher on late and it was still running I needed to make sure it was switched off before I left for the evening.
I got all my usual work done and left the kitchen till last but when I went in there the light on the dishwasher said it was still in drying mode ; I could hear a faint humming sound so while I was waiting for the machine to finish whatever it was doing I wiped over the work surfaces and draining board, but even after I’d done that the ‘drying’ light was still on. Now there’s a notice on the front of the dishwasher in capital letters, DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR WHILE DISHWASHER IS RUNNING, so not knowing how much longer this thing would take I stood there watching it and waiting for the ‘drying’ light to go out and the ‘end’ light to come on – and I watched and waited and watched and waited a bit more but still the light didn’t go out. And then it dawned on me….
The humming noise I could hear was coming from the small extractor fan set high up in the wall near the ceiling – the dishwasher was actually completely silent and when I tentatively opened the door I found that the machine had actually finished its cycle ages before and was just sitting there quietly, waiting to be emptied. I don’t know why the ‘end’ light hadn’t come on but I’d just spent all that time watching something that wasn’t going to do anything because it had already done it! Needless to say, I emptied it quickly, turned the main switch to ‘off’ and made tracks for home – I’d had enough for one evening!

New Year’s Day walk 2019

After more than two weeks of almost constant gloomy and wet weather New Year’s Day was dry, bright and sunny so I took the opportunity to go for an afternoon walk round part of Leverhulme Park, a local place I hadn’t been to for about twenty years. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t take the dogs this time – with Sophie having recently had a major operation she wasn’t allowed out and it wouldn’t have been fair to take Poppie and leave Sophie behind so for once I was on my own.
Leverhulme Park is the largest of all the local parks and was gifted to the town by well-known local soap magnate and generous benefactor William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme). Back in 1914 Bolton Corporation was negotiating to buy 67 acres of land on the outskirts of town to turn into a park but when WW1 broke out government restrictions made it impossible to raise all the money necessary for the purchase. When William Lever heard about this he bought the land himself and presented it to the town, then went on to buy further pieces of land to extend the park to 98 acres – a total of 88 of these acres were donated by him and the park was eventually named Leverhulme Park in his honour.
Although the top end of the park provides the usual park facilities – well mown grass, bowling greens, cricket pitches, football pitch, playground, dog walking areas and more recently an up-to-date leisure centre and running track – the bottom end has more of a countryside look with wild meadows, woodland, two rivers and several unmade tracks and paths, and it was this part I was going to explore.
My walk started at the main car park close to the playground and followed a wide tree-lined tarmac path with the cricket pitches and a bowling green up a bank on my left. After a while the tarmac changed to cobbles and the path went downhill through a small wooded area, ending up close to a road where a row of cottages nestled in the shadow of the 86ft high Darcy Lever viaduct. This was once part of the railway line connecting Bolton to Bury but the line was closed in 1970 and the track was left derelict for many years, though more recently the viaduct has become part of a shared footpath/cycleway running from Bolton to Radcliffe.
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A few yards along from the cottages the River Tonge flowed down wide shallow steps and under the road ; footpaths ran both right and left of the river and I took the right hand one as I knew that would take me back into the park. I hadn’t gone far when the path split at the beginning of a wild meadow ; going straight on would take me directly across the meadow so I went left through a small coppice and followed the river round the meadow’s edge. At the point where Bradshaw Brook joined the river itself a man was throwing sticks into the water for his dog although it looked rather gloomy just there as the tall trees were keeping the sunlight at bay.
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The River Tonge
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Bradshaw Brook
At the far side of the meadow the path took me through a thicket of trees to a second meadow ; the man and his dog had given up playing in the river and were walking ahead of me. On the left was a bridge with stone parapets and railings, a bridge which I knew would lead to another more cultivated part of the park although I would save that one for another time. Continuing straight on the path led through more woodland but not sure of where I would end up I turned right and followed a nearby dirt track uphill.
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Bradshaw Brook near the bridge – a great spot for picnics and paddling in summer
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Looking towards the meadow from the bridge
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The top of the dirt track brought me out onto the main path through the top end of the park close to the running track ; although it was only just after 3 o’clock I was already losing the best of the sunlight so deciding that it was time to go home I followed the path past one of the more modern slide constructions and back to the car park.
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It had seemed strange walking without the dogs but although it hadn’t been a long walk – time-wise it had only taken 45 minutes – it had been a good one and it was nice to see that the bottom end of the park hadn’t really changed in the years since I was last there. I’d got some good photos too so I must remember to go back in the spring/early summer to see the differences a change of season will make.
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My walk, clockwise from yellow dot
It’s good to see that my blogging friend Jo is resuming her Monday walks when she can so I’m linking this with her latest, a walk round a nature reserve and salt marshes in Southern Spain, ending with some delicious-looking cake and cream.

Sophie at the vet’s but it’s good news

A few months ago I noticed that Sophie had developed a small lump under the skin on her lower abdomen ; it wasn’t bothering her so I left it alone but kept an eye on it, however quite a while later I noticed it had grown and two more lumps had developed close to it so I booked a visit to the vet’s. I was told that these were probably mammary tumours and she would need an operation called a ‘mammary strip’ – it wasn’t a small operation though and the recovery time would be quite lengthy so as I was due to go to Ireland at the end of November I postponed it until after I’d got back home.
I finally booked Sophie in for her operation on December 17th but when I took her in that morning I was dealt quite a blow – she had developed some more lumps on the other side of her abdomen near her chest and though they were only tiny at the time they would grow and would eventually need removing. The vet said that all the lumps were probably caused by a hormonal imbalance and recommended that I have her spayed asap, which left me with three options – (1) have the original operation which I’d already paid an expensive amount for, then have a second operation at a later date which would be another expensive amount, (2) have the original op plus the spay (an added cost) then the second op another time (again, another expensive amount) or (3) have the whole lot done at once, in which case they could reduce the combined extra cost. It was a no-brainer really, apart from keeping the cost down I couldn’t put Sophie through two or even three separate operations so I agreed to have the whole lot done there and then.
I’d been told I would be able to collect Sophie that evening but I got a phone call to say that even though the operation had gone well and she was in recovery they were keeping her in overnight just to monitor her. I finally collected her at noon the following day along with three lots of medication and strict instructions – plenty of rest, peace and quiet, no walks except once round the garden on a lead, no running, no jumping, no picking her up etc. and I had to take her for a post-op check three days later.
Now I personally don’t agree with confining dogs in cages unless it’s for transport purposes but knowing that I would need to keep Sophie separate from Poppie I’d put them both in a cage each before I went to Ireland. For one thing it was easier for my friend Lin to deal with them while I was away and also it would get them used to being separated, although the cages are next to each other. So since Sophie came home she’s been in her own little den with a new bed and a hot water bottle, and post-op care has consisted of medication three times daily, a slow circuit of the garden every three hours and a hot water bottle refresh 3-4 times a day. For the first couple of days she was a bit subdued but since then she’s come on in leaps and bounds (almost literally) and for the last few days has been back to her lively little self.
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Coming home in the van
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Today I took her to have her stitches out and the vet was very pleased with her. The test results showed that the lumps were non-cancerous, the mammary glands and all the lumps had been removed and she has also been spayed to sort out the hormonal imbalance, so there is now only a very very slim chance that this will ever reoccur. So Sophie has been given a clean bill of health and can now start going for walks again, although they will only be short ones to start with. The whole procedure may have been a very expensive business but when I get a paw on my leg, a tail wag and her little face looking up at me I know it was worth every penny.

2018 – Looking back

As 2018 draws to a close I thought I would recall just some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. On January 3rd, after making an official complaint at the local hospital three weeks previously about the apparent misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment of his broken ankle, Michael finally got to see the relevant specialist and was put on the emergency list for an operation asap. That took place just three days later when he had a bone graft and a plate and a couple of screws inserted to bring the broken bits together, followed by six weeks in plaster. His recovery was long, and certainly very painful in the early stages, but he finally went back to work ten-and-a-half months after he first broke the ankle.
Early February saw me succumbing to the much-talked-about-at-the-time Aussie flu virus and taking two weeks off work ; it was the first time in my life I’ve ever had flu of any sort and I’d never felt so ill before. The up side though, if you can call it that, was the opportunity to catch up on some reading and I got through several books in the time I was off work. Late in the month my washing machine gave up the ghost and after trying in vain to get someone to repair it I ended up getting a second-hand-but-almost-new one from a local shop ; it was in absolutely mint condition and is still working well. After several weeks of wet and often cold weather the last few days of February turned out dry and gloriously sunny so the end of the month saw me taking the dogs for a walk along one of my favourite routes through a local golf course and the Last Drop Village. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable walk and just rounded off the month nicely.
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The golf course pond
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The Last Drop Village
Early March saw the return of the sparrows which, the year before, had taken to perching on the outside window sill of the spare bedroom. I hadn’t expected them to come back so it was lovely to look through the glass and see them less than 3ft from where I sit when using my pc. In mid March, after several months of searching on the internet and in various camping stores, I finally ordered a new tent to replace my much-loved previous one which had sustained an irreparable tear in its roof the previous year. It wasn’t quite the same as my old one but it was near enough, it satisfied all my criteria and came at a good price with free delivery so I was more than happy. One evening late in the month saw part of my street turned into a river when a main water pipe burst and sent a substantial amount of water flooding across the road – it took two days for United Utilities to fix the problem but not before many gallons of fresh water had gone to waste down the drains. The end of the month saw the start of the Easter weekend and my 4-day break in North Wales, a break which wasn’t the best for many reasons and one in which the word ‘break’ could be taken literally.
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One of my feathered friends down in the garden
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My new tent
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A river in the street
The month of April certainly didn’t get off to a very good start for me. It rained on and off for most of the Easter weekend and put the kibosh on many of my plans, and on the Monday I woke to find that during an unexpected overnight snow shower which had turned to ice my brand new tent had collapsed on top of my belongings ; two of the three poles had broken completely and the end where I would have been sleeping had been totally flattened – thank goodness the dogs and I had been in the van. Fortunately the two broken poles were the only damages my new tent suffered and back at home a few days later I took them to my nearest camping store to get the broken sections replaced. The rest of April passed fairly uneventfully with the only other highlight being a visit to the animal sanctuary spring open day later in the month, and with Michael still being off work he came too – the first time he’d ever been there and he quite enjoyed it.
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My brand new tent – what a disaster!
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Disney at Bleakholt sanctuary
The beginning of May saw Michael finally going back to work on a phased return just over ten months since he first broke his ankle in June last year. It also saw a dramatic change in the weather with the rain of the previous months gone and the start of what was to be a very long and very hot summer. The first bank holiday weekend of the month saw me suggesting (very unwisely) that we go to a car boot sale on the Sunday and then on to St. Annes – the weather was extremely warm, the world and his wife were out on the roads and we ended up getting stuck in nose-to-tail traffic, going miles out of our way and missing the car boot sale completely. It took ages to find somewhere to park at St. Annes but once we did we had a very enjoyable afternoon with a good meal and a couple of dog walks along the beach. On the middle Saturday of the month I went to Hornby Castle gardens, somewhere I’d never been before and where I got some lovely photos, then the following day I managed to burn my foot with scalding water from a recently-boiled kettle. Silicone dressings prescribed by the doctor helped to ease the pain and promote healing, and after resting it as much as possible for a week I couldn’t ignore the continuing good weather any longer so the final weekend of the month saw me taking the dogs for a local walk to Smithills Hall and gardens.
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St. Annes promenade gardens
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The walled garden at Hornby Castle
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Smithills Hall gardens
My planned 11-day holiday on Anglesey at the beginning of June was shortened by several days due to circumstances beyond my control but I managed to get six days out of the eleven and with the continuing good weather I really made the most of them by exploring as many places as I could in the time that I had. The highlight of the week just had to be finding and photographing the old abandoned brick works at Porth Wen – it was difficult to get to and involved a long walk with a couple of hairy moments but it was an amazing place and well worth the effort for the photos I got. The rest of the month was fairly uneventful but then the 28th saw the start of a wildfire up on the moors not far from home, a fire which would eventually cover more than five square miles, mean the closure of several local roads including the one running past the end of my street, and would involve more than 30 fire crews while it was at it worst.
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Porth Wen old brick works
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Porth Wen sea arch
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Part of the Winter Hill fire on the west side
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Part of the fire on the east side
At the start of July Michael and I had a lovely day out in Southport then for his birthday in the middle of the month he went over to Ireland for a few days, where he encountered a coach driver who didn’t know the route from Dublin airport to Roscrea and had to be directed a couple of times. The highlight of the month though just had to be the tour of the new outdoor Coronation Street tv set ; with great weather, a very knowledgeable tour guide and the freedom to take as many photos as we wanted it was a great tour and one I would certainly do again.
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Southport promenade
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Lord Street gardens, Southport
Rovers return
This needs no explanation
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Our official photo
Although most of the Winter Hill fire had been extinguished by the middle of July and the number of fire crews reduced there were many hot spots still burning under the surface so it wasn’t until early August that it was officially declared to be completely out after a total of 41 days. On the 9th of the month I took my first walk up there the day after the land was reopened to the public and was shocked and saddened to see the large scale devastation the fire had caused. Two days later the highlight of the month came when, at the town’s central fire station open day, I got the opportunity to go up in the air on a fire engine hydraulic platform – from 100ft up the extensive views all round the town were brilliant and I got some great photos.
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Fire ravaged land on Winter Hill
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The hydraulic platform going up
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On the way up
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Winter Hill from 100ft in the air
The highlight of September came early on in the month when, during a Heritage Open Day, I got the opportunity to climb the 180ft bell tower at the local parish church and also try a bit of bell ringing. Although the weather wasn’t the best – the long hot summer had finally ended locally the day after my fire station visit – I still got some good photos from the tower roof and the bell ringing was quite an interesting experience. A very sad time came in the middle of the month when I accompanied my friend Janet on the day she had her dog Aphra put to sleep, then later in the month I had my second short holiday on Anglesey, with an impromptu visit to my blogging friend Eileen on the way there. The weather wasn’t the best to start with but it got better as the days went on so I still got out and about and had plenty of sunshine for my photos.
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A view from the parish church tower roof
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Aphra
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Benllech beach, Anglesey
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A Llanddwyn Island beach looking towards the Snowdonia mountains
Apart from when Storm Callum hit the UK towards the middle of the month October was really nice weather-wise and still quite warm for the time of year so I went on long walks with the dogs as often as I could, both to local places I’ve often been to and some I hadn’t even known about. In the process the lovely autumn colours gave me lots of great photos and I even had one featured in an online edition of the local evening paper.
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Farnworth park
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Firwood Fold’s hidden lake
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Close Park, Radcliffe
A dull day in early November saw me taking a photography trip to Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) after reading the very interesting history about it, then on brighter days I continued my autumn dog walks in the local area. The highlight of the month though was a dazzling light display which lit up the front of the local town hall on two consecutive evenings – unfortunately it was very poorly advertised and I think I may have missed some of it on both occasions but what I did see was amazing and I still got some reasonably good photos.
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Preston marina
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The town hall light display
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My short holiday in Ireland at the beginning of this month was very enjoyable and a day of exploration round Dublin city centre was so interesting that it left me determined to go back in the future and for much longer, as there’s so much to see that it can’t be done in just one day. Just over a week ago I developed a nasty sore throat, cough and cold which came from nowhere and robbed me of my appetite so Christmas in the Mouse House was rather a non-event, although as there was only me and Michael anyway it didn’t matter too much. I’m feeling much better now though and tonight we’ll probably drive up to the moorland road near here and watch the fireworks going off all over town.
So there it is, just some of the highlights of my year, and all that remains now is to thank everyone for visiting this blog over the last twelve months and to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – cheers!