Thursday, 31 December 2009


Yesterday, before we left to collect Malcolm's mum from the northbound side of the Trowell Service Station on the M1, where she was being delivered by the travel company and before we went once more to visit my mum who is still languishing in Hospital, Malcolm and I thought we would take a jaunt around Tesco.
The approach to the supermarket was fraught with danger and frustration as the vehicular queues trying to get into the car-park were enormous. Eventually arriving at an available parking space and having given other drivers several threatening stares dissuading them from 'nicking' our place, we parked up and strode toward the entrance. We managed to grab an abandoned trolley en-route (you can bet there would be none to be had at the door), I took charge of it and prepared for the scrum inside.
On entering the 'marbled halls' of Tesco we were immediately confronted by an enormous display of hot-cross buns on a two-for-one offer, reminding us that Easter is just around the corner. Not a trace of Christmas was to be seen. The decorations were all gone, the New Berry Fruits have been sent back to be re-dated so they can be legally resold next year and the remains of the festive sprouts were mouldering in their nylon nets. Christmas is but a thing of the past and will not show it's festive face until Easter is out of the way and the garden furniture and barbecue charcoal has been sold off at a discounted price following another disappointing summer.
Clinging to the wreckage of Christmas, here are a couple of pictures of our Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Bought for us by our friend Jayne, it is still glowing with festive cheer on the kitchen table.
Thanks Jayne....
Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009


2009 is on it's 'last legs' and the infant 2010 is about burst onto the scene - I wonder what it will bring!
Just one picture today, which shows it is not just we human animals who appreciate Christmas. These two penguins also seemed to be agog with anticipation at the prospects of opening their pressies on the big day. The boxes apparently contained their food (herrings, do you think?) and I'll bet the wrapping paper didn't stay on them for long!
As I sit here at the computer, we are still waiting for the 'all clear' from the Queen's Medical Centre, to collect mum and take her home. There seems to be no urgency to release mum, one would have thought they would need the beds! Oh well....

Monday, 28 December 2009


With Christmas day but a memory and the prospects of New Year looming large on the horizon, it was good this morning to get a text message from my mother, who is still in the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, to say that it looks as if she might be released to go home today. Having had a visit from one specialist, first thing, she is waiting for another to give her the 'once over' before she is allowed out. So, fingers crossed for later today.
The snow has now all gone and the ice has melted - the last of it disappeared yesterday - so it would be ideal if we could take mum back to Norfolk before the cold returns ready for the weekend.
On the subject of snow, this was the second good fall of snow this year. Remember the early part of the year when we had several inches of the white stuff?
I love it and get quite excited by the sight of the first snowfall of the year - I'm just a big kid at heart. The skeletal trees always look wonderful as they take on a covering.
I wonder how the Palm tree in our back garden likes the cold and snow! It doesn't seem to mind too much.
When the sun comes out and shines on the newly fallen snow, it looks very picturesque and there can be no finer sight for giving you the Christmas feeling.
Here's to the next few days and the prospect of some more snow.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

A couple of carols to lull us all into a false sense of security before the big day tomorrow. Firstly, O Little Town of Bethlehem, a carol written by Episcopal priest, Phillips Brooks in about 1868 and set to music by organist, Lewis Redner. The tune we sing most often - and that which is heard here is by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who seems to have had a hand in many of our favourite carols.

Lastly, a beautiful, quiet carol know by all. Silent Night was originally written in German by Austrian priest Father Josef Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber. The English translation which we hear in this version from King's College Choir was published in 1859.

At the time of writing this, my mother is still unfortunately languishing in hospital, unable as yet to walk well enough to be let out. Lets hope she is home again by tomorrow - wouldn't want her to miss out on the sprouts!
So, here's wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


It's the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes, but you can always count on there being one or two mishaps or disasters along the way too.
Having brought mum safely from Norfolk to Derbyshire in dreadful weather conditions and icy roads on Sunday afternoon, we thought all was well. First thing Monday morning however, mum had a fall from the bottom step of Malcolm's mother's stairs and hurt her hip. Fearing a fracture or break, she was taken straight to The Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham for X-Rays and further investigations.
The X-Rays showed no breaks but, to be on the safe side, mum was kept in for observation, pain killers and a MRI scan. This scan also found no fracture - thankfully - so it is now just a matter of getting mum up and about walking with the aid of a zimmer frame until she is well enough to be released back into the community!
We'll see what happens next, when we visit this afternoon.
In the meantime, another carol from the choir of King's College, Cambridge. The Sussex Carol is a 17th Century work first published by Luke Wadding, an Irish bishop.
The name 'Sussex' comes from the fact that the tune was discovered and written down by Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who heard it being sung by one Mrs. Harriet Verrall of Monk's Gate, Sussex.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Once in Royal

After a couple of rather hectic days (about which, more later), here is a real Christmas calmer.
Published in Miss Cecil Humphreys' hymnbook 'Hymns for little Children' in 1848, it is, of course Once In Royal David's City. A year later, H.J. Gauntlett discovered the poem and set it to music.
The traditional opener to the King's College Cambridge, service of Nine Lessons and Carols since 1919, it starts with the boy soprano's solo first verse and builds to a heart warming crescendo.

Not a dry eye in the house!

Saturday, 19 December 2009


The other day, I was bemoaning the fate of Christmas TV and the lack of anything funny these days. The radio however, still has some gems of mirth-making to crack our faces and bring a feeling of joy. One of my favourite new comic acts, goes by the name of Count Arthur Strong. The product of the fevered mind of comedian Steve Delaney, Count Arthur Strong takes the guise of an elderly, pompous mostly unemployed, deluded, thespian from Yorkshire. He appears to suffer from attention deficit disorder and memory loss, probably caused by a little too much to drink. He is apt to use numerous malapropisms in an attempt to appear educated. These always falls flat.
If you've never heard Count Arthur Strong, have a listen to his Christmas Special from last year's radio show. His telling of the Nativity has to be heard to be believed. As before, put the kettle on and dunk a biscuit or two and have a laugh.

Friday, 18 December 2009


By 'eck it was cold this morning as we took a longer walk around Shipley Hill. The plunging temperatures meant that the mud of the last few weeks had solidified and frozen hard, it also meant that the puddles had become like skating rinks and required a lot of fancy footwork to avoid falling in an inelegant spread-eagle.
It was still well below freezing when we set out and hadn't broken through the zero degrees mark when we returned.
The snows of yesterday were still clinging to the bushes and adding their bright highlights to the blackness of the woods and the long shadows of mid winter were painting dark lines across the ground.
The remains of the old hall atop Shipley Hill were etched in the snow and stood out against the frozen ground.
Malcolm couldn't feel his fingers any more and was in danger of never thawing out again, but soon came round after a hot coffee.
Today's musical interlude is a departure from the carols theme, so in tribute to the frost and snow of our walk here is the Boston Pops Orchestra playing sleigh Ride.

Written by Leroy Anderson during a heatwave in July 1946, but not completed until 1948, it is the most evocative sound of snow and frost.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

O Come....

a short walk again this morning as it was so cold and with the wind chill, it was absolutely freezing. Couple that with a few flurries of snow blowing at us, it wasn't too pleasant. So, having collected a few sprigs of holly from the hedgerows for our Christmas table centre-piece, we turned for home again and a hot cup of coffee.
another carol today and an interesting one it is too.
The origins of O Come all Ye Faithful, are ancient indeed. The Latin text upon which it is based is probably of the 13th Century, but in it's present form it is from the pen of one English Hymnist, John Francis Wade and dates to around the mid 18th Century. The hymn tune is known as 'Adeste Fideles' but the arrangement we hear today is from Sir David Willcocks and involves harmonised organ accompaniment and various descant harmonization to make it an elaborate hymn.

As I am typing this out at about 12:45pm, the skies have darkened and the snow begun to fall turning a cold day into a white-out. Yippee! I love it.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Having not had much in the way of walks lately, due to the weather and other outside influences, we were determined to get out and about this morning. So, with an optimistic air and a song in our hearts (well, nearly), we set off towards the garden centre at Shipley. Undeterred by the spots of rain, we bravely marched on, to gaze open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the wonderful Christmas displays and decorations.
I was like a kid in a sweet shop, looking in wonder at the mechanical Christmas scenes of Santa in his sleigh being hoisted to the top of a little helter-skelter before being released to plunge, headlong down to the bottom, before starting all over again. Baubles made of pearlised glass, sparkled in the glow from a million fairy lights, displaying their price tags brazenly to the shoppers.
Magical clocks on the wall urged you to 'try me' by pressing the buttons on their sides. When pressed, the clocks began playing Christmas music and performing an intricate dance involving the clock faces splitting, turning around before coming together again before displaying the £495 price tag (including batteries).
Sitting down to a weak, but mercifully hot cappuccino before walking home again, we gazed out to the rain which was now falling a little more heavily.
Clutching our few purchases - you can't walk round these places without buying something - we headed for home to get warm and dry once more.
Another traditional carol today, probably dating to the early 18th Century and of Cornish origin. The First Nowell is surely known to everyone.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Twice the joy!

Two carols for you today.
The first is one which we used to sing at school, back in the middle ages. Past Three O'clock is not heard much these days, Malcolm didn't remember it at all and it has taken some tracking down to find it on the interwebs. But here it is a strange ditty dating back about one hundred years. Words by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934) to the traditional tune "London Waits".

The second carol is much more well known and Malcolm's favourite carol. It came Upon the Midnight Clear is American in origin and the first printed version appeared in 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts. The best version is, however, sung with the English musical score known as the "Noel", which was adapted from an English melody in 1874 by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame).
This one was also difficult to track down in it's 'proper' form, but here it is. Sing up Malcolm!

Monday, 14 December 2009


An early start this morning as we had to do a favour for a friend of ours. Kay, who sometimes joins us on our ramblings around Shipley Park, needed a ride into Arnold (a suburb of North Nottingham) and had to be picked up at 8.30am, a time we are normally only aware of through the mists of our first coffee of the morning while still in bed. Tackling the roads into the Nottingham area at that time of the morning is, as you can imagine, more akin to hell on earth, especially when the route takes you past some of the - shall we say - less salubrious parts of the North of Nottingham.
All this did, however, give us ample excuse (as if excuse were needed) to call in at Heanor Tesco on the way home for our monthly cooked breakfast treat and a little shopping.
Back home and settled in the warm again, the weather still damp and cold outside, it's time for a little more Christmas cheer. This time we have a beautiful, traditional carol. God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen is very old, probably dating back to the 15th Century. certainly it was exceedingly old and well known when it was first published in Britain in the early 19th Century.
It was clearly known to all as it appears in Dickens' A Christmas Carol:

" the first sound of — "God bless you merry, gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!"— Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost."

Here sung by the choir of King's College, Cambridge (the best in the world), to an arrangement by David Willcocks. Enjoy.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


It occurred to me this morning, while brushing my teeth, that Christmas television is rather like Dickens' Christmas carol.
Those of us expecting a televisual feast of festive delights, are haunted each year by the ghost of Christmas TV Past. This takes the form of an indistinguishable conglomeration of all those wonderful old programmes of yore. Fading memories of Morcambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, innumerable Christmas specials, Billy Smart's Christmas Circus, Christmas cartoons featuring Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd. Cookery specials from Delia Smith showing us how to boil potatoes, stuff the bird, peel the sprouts and cook them in such a way as to mask their flavour. Long diatribes on the time taken to properly cook a 75lb turkey, always remembering to add a few hours to ensure the quarter ton of stuffing inside is piping hot throughout.
All of this goes to create a wonderful memory of times gone by.
We waited with bated breath as the Christmas TV and Radio times magazines (yes, we had to buy two, double sized magazines, despite only having three channels) appeared on the newsagents' shelf and couldn't wait to get our hands on them to beginning scanning their pages for all the shows we couldn't miss. When we first began to have video recorders, we would excitedly grab our pens and put marks against the programmes which we had to watch and those we had to record for our later delectation.

Coming fast upon the heels of Christmas TV Past, we are disturbed further by the Ghost of Christmas TV Present. Big, brash, loud and over-confident, this creature is, outwardly jovial and festive. It clings desperately to the vestiges of Christmas Past with repeats of those wonderful shows of yesteryear. But, just as you begin to think that Christmas TV isn't so bad after all, it creeps up and reminds you that you are but nothing in the great scheme of things. You are there, simply to pay through the nose for the now hundreds of TV channels, all mindlessly repeating the shows which you never liked the first time round and certainly are not going to waste your time by watching now.
Very occasionally, you may stumble upon a Christmas special, filmed in the middle of Summer, from a dross-filled soap, American medical series, or a desperately un-funny modern 'comedy'. Beware these impostors! They tempt you in with promises of mirth, celebrities and Christmas appeal. What they leave you with is a sense of despair and the question on your lips "what on earth did I spend the last half hour of my life watching that rubbish for?"

Lastly, we are confronted by the awful spectre of the Ghost of TV Christmases yet to come. A dark, forbidding, terrifying beast this is. We are shown visions of what it will be like if we are not too careful. The idea that, in another 30 years, we will be looking back with warm nostalgia to the the programmes of today. Longing for the sophistication of 'Big Brother' and 'I'm a Celebrity'. Desperate for the intellectual heights of 'The One Show', 'X Factor' and 'Britain's Got Talent'. Wide eyed and drooling we will have long forgotten the Two Ronnies, Dad's Army, The Good Life and To The Manor Born.
Endless, American Drivel will be pumped into us as we see the writing on the tombstone of British Christmas TV and mourn for the 'good old days'.

Is it too late? Can we be saved from this spectral nightmare of future Christmas TV? Probably not, but in the end, we will still have Dickens' A Christmas Carol, to bring us back to times gone by and send us, dewy eyed and full of e-numbers to bed on Christmas night, looking forward to how much better the TV will be..... Next Christmas. HUMBUG!

Speaking of nostalgia, here is a blast from the past to warm your cockles. Dr. Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Bracket celebrate the festive season at the Old Manse in Stackton Tressel. Put the kettle on, make a cup of tea, dunk a biscuit or two and enjoy the gentle humour of this BBC Radio treat.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Carrying on with my Christmas Carol theme, today we have another traditional and rather ancient piece. The original version of this was written in about 1328 by a German called Heinrich Seuse. One of the latest and better known incarnations of the piece was by Mike Oldfield as far back as 1976 when it reached number 4 in the charts. It is, of course, In Dulce Jubilo.

The words sung here are a little different from the original but roughly are as follows:

In dulci jubilo
Let us our homage show;
Our heart' joy reclineth
In praesepio,
And like a bright star shineth
Matris in gremio;
Alpha es et O,
Alpha es et O.

O Jesu parvule,
My heart is sore for Thee;
Hear me, I beseech Thee,
O Puer optime;
My prayer let it reach Thee,
O Princeps gloriae;
Trahe me post te,
Trahe me post te.

O Patris caritas!
O Nati lenitas!
Deeply we were stained
Per nostra crimina;
But Thou for us hast gained
Caelorum gaudia:
Oh, that we were there!
Oh, that we were there!

Friday, 11 December 2009


Looking around YouTube for songs of Christmas past, I came across this little gem. Paul McCartney (try to ignore him if you can - I never could stand the man) and the Frog Chorus, performed 'We All Stand Together' for Christmas 1984. Much maligned and having had the mickey taken out of it, it remains a wonderful piece of fun. I love the looks on the faces of some of the frogs, especially the big, fat ones at the beginning of the song...

Back to a more traditional theme and today's carol comes from the pen of English poet Christina Rossetti, put to music by Gustav Holst in 1906.
This version is by Loreena McKennitt, a Canadian musician, singer and composer. Beautifully done...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Holly and Ivy

Another Christmas theme today (you'll all be sick of it soon). As we walked around what remains of the 'American Adventure' site this morning, we were doing our best to avoid the larger of the puddles and the worst of the mud and to enjoy the glorious sunshine. I was wondering what to make the subject of today's blog entry. Then, seeing many large Holly trees and lots of Ivy in amongst the undergrowth, made the decision for me. Earlier, during the Autumn, this particular Holly (Ilex aquifolium) tree was covered with berries....
But now it is almost completely bare but still shiny green in the sunlight.
Ivy (Hedera helix) is a strange plant as the young leaves are very different in shape from the mature leaves on larger plants. Here the young ones sprawl across the ground and have white veins through the dark green leaves.
When it eventually makes it to a tree and begins to cover the trunks with it's maturing stems and leaves, they are quite differently shaped, more heart-like.
Malcolm suggested I should make a recording of him singing 'The Holly and the Ivy' to accompany this entry but as he has a croaky throat at the moment and sounds like Lee Marvin singing 'Wandering Star', I thought he should rest his voice for a future rendition. Besides which, he didn't think too much of my idea of changing the wording to reflect the Latin names. 'The Ilex and the Hedera' doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Holly and Ivy have had strong links to the Winter and Christmas season for hundreds of years. Druids associated Holly with the winter Solstice and both were seen in their bright greenery, as resisting the harshness of the Winter weather. The carol itself probably dates from the early 18th Century.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Having tackled Tesco again this morning and survived the experience in one piece, it's nice to get home again for a coffee and sit down. The festive lights are spreading across the house fronts along our road and each time we look out of our back window, we are greeted by the sight, in our neighbour's garden, of a lit-up snowman, posting letters into a post box ready for the Post Office to go on strike and ensure the cards will not arrive until about March.
The first recorded use of the word "Christmas" was in 1038 when a book from Saxon England used the words "Cristes Maesse" in it. The Christmas crib originated in Medieval times but in Medieval Italy. In 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have used a crib to explain to the local people of Assisi the Christmas story.
Medieval people would certainly not have eaten turkey on Christmas day. The rich would have eaten goose and, with the king’s permission, swan. If they could be caught, woodcock would also be eaten. To make a roast bird look even more tasty, medieval cooks used to cover the cooking bird with butter and saffron. This would give the cooked bird a golden colour by the time it was served. However, if the poor could afford it, the Church had a fixed price of 7 pence for a ready cooked goose. An uncooked goose would cost 6 pence - about a day’s wages.
Another Christmas song for you today. This time from the glorious voice of Enya. The words to the Advent hymn, 'O come, O come Emmanuel' were originally written in Latin text in the 12th Century. The author of the words and composer to the music of O Come, O Come Emmanuel is unknown. It is thought the melody was of French origin and added to the text a hundred years later. The Latin was translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851. Enjoy.........

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Seasonal Birds

Leaving aside the Christmas carols for the time being, Malcolm and I had a nice walk this morning and were struck by the number of bird species which were also enjoying the better weather. There were Carrion Crows, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Sparrows, Starlings, Robins, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Woodpigeons, Green Woodpeckers, etc. etc. Quite a list for one short walk. Here is a picture of a Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), which I snapped in our garden earlier this year. It was taken through the window, so is not as sharp as I would have liked, but you can't have everything!
The picture clearly shows just how brightly coloured this little finch is. You will also see the sharply pointed bill, ideal for 'winkling' out small seeds from teasel heads and Alder cones. We often have the impression that British birds are rather dull and brown, and certainly, some of them are but, there can surely be not many more spectacular little birds in the world than this.
Back to a little seasonality and a bird which is synonymous with this time of year and which appears on a million Christmas cards is, of course, the Robin (Erithacus rubecula). Again, these were 'snapped' in our garden. The first was on the fence.
Feisty and always ready for a fight with other Robins, they are well known for their aggressive behaviour. They will sometimes fight to the death during the breeding season, but tend to be rather more tolerant toward each other during the harder and harsher winter weather. As Christmasy as Santa and as wintry as snow, this little character was skulking in the hedge.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Ancient times.

Following on from yesterday's fine and ancient carol, here is another for today. More widely known as a hit for the group Steeleye Span in about 1973, the carol Gaudete was written during the 16th Century and first appeared in print in about 1582. The Latin words originate from sacred texts of the Middle Ages.
It begins quietly, swells to a crescendo before fading again towards it's conclusion and starts with the lines "Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus Ex Maria virgine, gaudete". Translated, this means "Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born Of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!" Sing along if you like, the words are below...
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat lam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


...beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

A very short walk this morning. We set out with all good intentions, but it soon became clear that it was far too wet under foot to enjoy it. Having rained heavily all night, the footpaths were transformed into rivers and the mud squelched up the sides of our shoes until it became too unpleasant and we turned for home again. The picture below is of one of the main paths on Shipley Park, but looked more like a shallow river this morning.
On a lighter note, no one can deny it, Christmas is upon us. Malcolm is beginning to look fraught as I get more and more excited at the prospect of the festive season.
I have always loved this time of year. The shopping for gifts, wrapping, card-writing, more wrapping, too much food being bought, the first carols on the radio (they have been on the in-store music systems for about three months already), Delia on the TV showing us how to stuff an old bird and the threat of Morecambe and Wise re-runs, is all just too exciting to my childish (or child-like?) mind.
I put the tree up this morning. Small though it is, it still sparkles with Christmas cheer.
To get us all in the spirit, here's a beautiful piece of music, the Coventry Carol. Dating from the 16th Century, it represents Mary's lament for her doomed child following Herod's ordering of the massacre of the innocents. Haunting, simple and stunning beautiful.....

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Out and about

A fine walk this morning in the weak, pale winter sunshine. As we were both 'breaking in new footwear, we initially opted for a short wander, but still managed about 4 miles. Our route this morning took us through a small area of wet woodland which forms part of Shipley Park, known as Pewit Carr.
The ground around the trees is very wet and indeed runs with water in parts. An important habitat within the British Isles, wet woodland is full of wildlife at all times of the year. This morning revealed Goldfinches busily feeding on the Alder seeds, Blackbirds making a meal of the Hawthorn berries and a Squirrel splashing around in the water at the base of one of the Willows.
The area reveals it's industrial past with bits of old railway line sticking out of the undergrowth from the days of coal and mineral mining and the steel works which once filled the air with their acrid smoke. Embankments which once carried these lines and which separated man-made canals from natural rivers, are still much in evidence as can be seen here.
Around Straw's Bridge pond, the Geese, Gulls, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Moorhens, Coots and Mute Swans were all still trying to mug the passer-by for bread.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Found it!

Having trawled (see what I did there?) through the web this afternoon, I think I have found what species of fish it was in the rock pools. It seems as if they were young White Bream (Diplodus sargus).
So, that's alright then!

Last of Portugal

I will end my series of Portugal pictures with a few more animals. I have already mentioned the rock pools and the abundance of life which can be seen in them at each low tide. One day, we saw large numbers of small fish caught in the pools. i have not yet been able to positively identify them however, but will 'stick with it' until I do!
A little more difficult to see in the next picture was a small Blenny trying to appear invisible next to an exotic-looking Murex shell.
Toddling along the shore and running at high speed into and out of the surf were numbers of Sanderlings (Calidris alba). Seemingly spending their whole life at the run, they seem to be expending more energy than they could ever get from the tiny specks of food they were managing to find.
Lastly, some rather cute animals which were to be found living around the apartments and spending all day asking for food. Mother cat and her kittens. Say Aaahh! if you like.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Out and about

The environs of Olhos d'Agua was every bit as nice as the rest of the area. Down towards the old fishing area of the town were a line of palm trees fluttering their leaves in the wind and looking very exotic against the blue sky.
The cliffs along the seashore are, as I have mentioned before, rather beautiful but are nonetheless very dangerous. Indeed, just a few weeks before we went, five Portuguese people were killed as they sun-bathed at the base of the cliffs. The cliffs suddenly and without warning, gave way and fell on the unfortunate people.
Along the roads, the gardens of some of the large villas had big, knobbly and contorted trees growing in them. These turned out to be Cork Oaks (Quercus suber).
The thick bark of these trees is 'harvested' every 9 to 12 years and is used to produce the corks for wine bottles and various others. strange to think that cutting off the cork bark has no lasting effect on the tree, which immediately starts to grow more.
Also growing as a commercial crop all around the area, are Oranges (Citrus X sinensis).
Many different sub-species exist and many flavours, shapes and sizes as we all know. The trees are strange among flowering plants as they produce flowers and fruit together and almost all year round. Portugal produces about 1% of the total tonnage of oranges of the world's biggest producer, Brazil.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


As the weather was so good while we were in Portugal, we decided to have a walk down to the beach one evening to watch the sun set over the sea. There was still an hour to go when we settled down on the steps of a closed beach-side restaurant.
The colours of the sun deepened and reddened as it dropped slowly towards the horizon.
The redness of the sunset is due to the slight being scattered through the atmosphere by dust particles, soot and various solid and liquid aerosols. This explains why sunsets are usually more spectacular after events such as volcanic eruptions which blast huge amounts of particles into the atmosphere.
At last, the sun had set and it was time to get back to the apartment for dinner. A perfect end to the day.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

More animals

As we walked along the beaches of the Algarve, we encountered several different species of animal. I have already mentioned the birds and today there are some smaller and possibly less attractive animals!
Firstly, some of the creatures to be found stranded in the rock pools along the shore as the tide went out. Limpets are simple gastropods and are to be found all over the world, clinging to the rocks where they eat the algae which grow there.
These were rather handsome as they clustered into any available crevice to await the returning sea. Among the limpets were thousands of barnacles encrusting the rocks. Related to crabs and lobsters, they are filter feeders raking microscopic bits of food from the water as it flows across them.
Another filter feeder, but this time much more mobile and animated as it swam around it's rock pool, is this shrimp.
Almost completely transparent, it was given away by it's dark stripes although, as Malcolm pointed out, not big enough to make a sandwich from! What would you do with him?
Away from the beach and an insect which we found stamping around out apartment block. Large and rather 'tank-like' I later discovered it has the rather catchy name of Pimelia costata. A Darkling Beetle....
Clinging to a wall nearby was this little charmer. A Wall Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica).
Common around the Iberian peninsular, they have a certain charm and look cute sitting on vertical surfaces by means of highly specialised feet pads consisting of hundreds of ridges and scales.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


For me, probably the highlight of our holiday in Portugal, was being able to add a few new species of birds to my 'life list'. We begin with a magnificently large one, the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia). Spotted soaring high above us while we sat on our balcony, sipping our afternoon tea (how English).
Standing about 4ft tall and with a wingspan of up to 6ft, it is truly an imposing bird and an exciting 'first' for me.
Secondly and on our way back from our long walk to Vilamoura, we spotted a falcon swooping around the cliffs. At first I thought it was a Peregrine, but on closer inspection it turned out to be an Eleonora's falcon. Sadly, I didn't manage to get a picture of this one as it didn't stay around long enough. Named after Eleonor of Arborea, a national heroine of Sardinia, this is a spectacular bird of prey it is a migratory species, spending winter in Madagascar. Spanish and German researchers have demonstrated the route through the Sahara Desert, the equatorial rainforests until reaching Kenya and Mozambique. The total distance covered during the flight has reached up to 9000 km for a single one-way trip. Spectacular!
Thirdly another bird of prey a Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata).
A little difficult to see in this picture as it was, like the Stork, soaring very high above our apartment. Another migratory species, it winters in sub-Saharan Africa and it is because of this migration that southern Portugal is such a good place to see birds. They accumulate here before attempting the crossing of the sea to Africa which is much shorter distance at this westernmost point of the Mediterranean.
Not new to me, but no less worthy of a mention here were the scores of Azure-Winged Magpies (Cyanopica cyana) which flew around almost everywhere. A simply beautiful member of the crow family.
Lastly, i must mention the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis). These small heron-like birds were to be seen every day in the field over which our apartment looked, as they licked around looking for insects, grubs, etc.

On a separate note, I must mention a special person who has a birthday tomorrow. Malcolm (Latin name unknown) will turn 47 tomorrow but as we will be visiting my mum in Norfolk, there will be no blog entry, hence the early mention! So, Happy Birthday Malcolm ..... What a cute chap!

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Last Wednesday, Malcolm and I decided we would take a walk along the coast road to Vilamoura. Our route would take us along some spectacular and colourful cliffs, along quiet roads and along the wide, sandy beach.
The cliffs themselves are rather dangerous as they are extremely unstable. Instead of being made of rock, they consist of loose sands cut through by layers of even looser gravels.
This layering makes for some rather lovely colourful horizontal stripes of red and yellow and contributes to the sandy beaches. In some places, the authorities have sprayed the face of the cliffs with a strengthening layer of cement to try to prevent further disintegration.
When viewed against the deep blue of the Portugal sky, the colours stand out even more clearly.
By the time we had reached Vilamoura, we were ready for a sit down and a coffee. We found a nice cafe beside the marina, overlooking the large and expensive yachts and cruisers bobbing around in the water. The town is well known as a playground for the rich and famous, so Malcolm and I seemed to fit right in!!!!
Time to head for home along the beach - hard going as the sand is so soft, taking two steps forward and one back, makes the walk rather difficult. In all, the round trip was about 13 miles - no wonder we needed a sit down when we got back!