Pembrokeshire Puffins & Seals

We spent the last week of April in Pembrokeshire. Jane had fancied a visit there and found a vegan B&B that did evening meals which she had booked a while ago. I wasn’t much looking forward to the 4 hour drive but we made the decision to have a proper mid-way break in Cardiff rather than just wing it which in retrospect was a great idea.

So I let the TomTom navigate us to Cafe Atma in Cardiff which offered some great – tasty and wholesome – vegan food including a good choice of cakes. Suitably stuffed Jane took over and drove us to The Gables B&B in Roch, about a mile away from Newgale Sands. Susie and her vegan dogs and cat* made us really welcome at The Gables and it was a change for me never having to double check if I could eat something, from the scones on arrival to the lovely diners she made us and the cooked breakfast – everything was vegan. Also not too expensive. Highly recommended!

Maybe the real reason Jane had wanted to go to Pembrokshire was to visit Skomer Island with a hope of seeing puffins. With a limit of 250 visitors allowed a day, and the single landing point meaning conditions didn’t always allow the boat to sail, getting there wasn’t a certainty. We were in luck though and at 11am Monday were boarding the Dale Princess then on our way.

The Dale PrincessThe boat trip was fun and took about 15 minutes then up a long stairway to a greeting area where a Welsh Wildlife Trust warden gave us the low down and in particular asked us to stick to the paths as the whole island is riddled with burrows many of which contained nesting birds including the nocturnal Manx Shearwaters – about 300,000 breeding pairs apparently. We couldn’t expect to see any in day time excepting the macabre pairs of bodiless wings scattered about the island, leftovers from when the Greater Black-backed Gulls had a few for supper.

We walked up the old farmhouse which now serves as a visitor centre, attempts at farming having ceased in the 1950’s. Then we set off in the opposite direction to the others so we could have our picnic lunch looking out over the Mew Stone which is a rock out to sea at the south of Skomer. The rock ledges of Mew Stone was occupied with lots of birds that we decided were Guillemot, we’d been told a pair of Chough had been seen earlier but we didn’t spot their distinctive red beaks and legs.

On to The Wick, a steep cliffed feature like someone had cut a thin slice of cake out the island, and there were puffins everywhere. We’d been alone for much of the time so far but loads of people were puffin watching, the birds themselves didn’t seem much fussed though a volunteer told me they could get a bit stressed having to walk across the path to get to their burrows.

Puffin9 Puffins1 Puffin2It was a fine sunny day so I managed to get some good photos despite having to rely on the autofocus as varifocals and cameras don’t mix. We also had a pair of Fulmars snuggling up high on a cliff ledge pointed out to us as well as more Guillimot and some Razorbills lower down on the cliff. It was a while before we tore ourselves away and continued round Skomer’s perimeter.

Skomer had been used for farming rabbits since the 14th century and there were still lots about, mostly your standard issue grey bunny but we also saw several black ones.

Black BunnyI had suggested we travelled to Skomer on the 11am boat instead of the 10am as the first boat back was supposed to be 3:30pm and I had visions of us getting cold and bored on a wet and windy island. In fact the opposite was true and we had to keep an eye on the time to make sure we were waiting for our boat 30 minutes before it’s 4:00pm sailing – it had been pointed out to us at the start that there was no later boat and ‘it was already rather crowded at the hostel’ (some visitors and researchers spend the night there).

A 2nd visit to the old farmhouse to use their compost loos and buy some water then back to the top of the landing stairs where we were entertained by more puffins, seals – in particular a young one that came over to our side of the bay and, on our descent to the Dale Princess for boarding, a close look at some Razorbills who hang out near the steps.

Seal3 Seals1Razorbill1Puffins3Puffins4* Life for Celine, an elegant and friendly black cat – healthy at 15 years on her vegan diet – could have been terribly different. Celine started life at Hill Grove Farm where cats were bred for vivisection until it closed, mostly down to the efforts of activists, in 1999.

Controversial cat farm closes (BBC)

Save The Hillgrove Cats Campaign (YouTube)



OX5 Run 2013

It was a sign of my diminishing fitness that I wasn’t much looking forward to cycling all the way out to Woodstock and back – a round trip of 24 miles – to run the OX5 Run at Blenhiem Palace. A few years ago I would happily cycle there just to the start of a 200k Audax, 12 years ago my 4 times a week commute was longer than that. Oh well!

Anyway the forecast said it would be cold and what with an increasing 15 mph north-easterly wind gusting to 30+ it would feel even colder. I wrapped up well for the ride out, getting quite toasty with the effort and all my layers and overshoes and winter hat and gloves on. The traffic was backed up to the Bladon roundabout and struggling to park in muddy fields so I congratulated myself for bothering to cycle. I’d allowed 30 minutes to orientate myself, peel off my layers and have a warm-up jog. I watched the official Zumba warm-up again but wasn’t tempted though a bit of music was nice.

It was so cold in that wind though. Soon enough I was back at my bike putting everything back on again I was that cold. My frozen shoulder throbbed through the layers of painkillers as it doesn’t like being double frozen. I wandered further into the Blenhiem estate to shelter behind a hedge and found Stuart, Phil and a couple of other IWCA members also tucking themselves away out of the wind. I chatted with other familiar local faces then wandered back towards my bike in time to hear the start had been delayed 30 minutes to allow the cars to park. The forecast had said it would feel even colder as the wind increased and it was dead right. I considered just getting on my bike and riding home, why I didn’t go in the cafe and have a cuppa I don’t know.

11am and at last we were off at last to the sound of an air-horn wielded by Raymond Blanc. My VRUK vest invisible beneath a fleece I decided to keep wearing though I did strip down to shorts. It was great to get going but the start was total chaos as many first timers were understandably confused which direction we were to start in and their efforts to get near the back put them right near the front. I started halfway down the field and spent much of the first, and consequently slowest, mile passing walkers and runners while faster runners passed me in turn.

There was some great fancy dress and teams of charity runners and the course is through some pretty parkland so soon enough I was warming up and glad to be there. I felt slow though and didn’t plan to push myself so just enjoyed the run, I was far enough back not to be passed by all and sundry. We went north round the lake then turned south for a bit of tailwind back towards the palace. Then continued round the lake past a gate with a ‘Please Close Gate’ notice we had laughed at when walking here at Xmas, the message made more sense now as it was attached to fencing.

Blenheim gate

‘Please Close Gate’ sometime around Xmas

Then up a short hill which felt like a big hill followed by a good descent through woodland, all on smooth paths, and a last down then up to cross the Glyme – this last bit straight into that wind. I was glad to finish and my 44:43 was as good as expected despite being almost 7 minutes slower than last time I ran the OX5 in 2011. I was 309th of 958 runners – the great thing about these fun runs is you can be slow and still finish in the first half. The ride back was exhausting and I foolishly failed to refuel properly so bonked pretty thoroughly. Glad I did it though and have just entered yet another March charity run – The Resolution Run 10k trail race up Shotover where I’d no doubt have been running anyway on the 24th 🙂

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Taking It Easy

After a couple of months of attempting to ignore the increasing ache in my upper right arm, a constant ache which becomes very painful with even the slightest bash or overstretch, I dragged myself along to the doctor a couple of weeks ago to be diagnosed with a frozen shoulder. I’d already done some research and thought it wasn’t frozen shoulder as the pain was mostly in my arm but as it’s progressed I realise he is probably correct. A choice between a cortisone injection and a referral to physiotherapy was offered so I chose the physio though I have to wait till late March for the earliest appointment. Meanwhile I’m doing some passive exercises in the hope of losing any further movement range.

From what I read on the internet frozen shoulder can take months, even years, to go through it’s usual 3 stages. The painful stage, which I seems to be in now, the frozen stage and the rehabilitation stage. Meanwhile I am consuming regular ibuprofen and paracetamol to stop it nagging me and to help me sleep so won’t be doing any particularly fast or long training for a while. I also have reduced swing in my right arm so have to stay aware to avoid running even more asymmetrical than usual. My legs still work fine though and my plantar faciitis has faded to a gentle reminder to keep up the stretches so at least I can still run.

If there is an upside to this it is that I can just get on with enjoying trail runs and shorter races without any pressure to perform. I’ve got 3 parkruns in this month, all very cold, all around the 26:30 mark – 3 minutes off my pb. I didn’t bother driving to the Wokingham Half as it was clearly going to rain and be cold so why put myself through it with no hope of a PB. There are several local races coming up: Wrap-up and Run 10k, OX5 Run, Brill Hilly 10k – these should be fun to cycle out to and plod round.

I seem to be fine for a few trail miles so hopefully I’ll be ok for the Compton 20 in April, there’s lots of variety and some inevitable (for me) walking to break things up. Similarly I’m optimistic about being able to do the Vegan Carneddau in June though I’ll need sufficient and comfortable right arm flexibility for the odd scramble.

Meanwhile those cats are settling in well. They can both use the cat flap now though unfortunately they prefer to crap in the nice warm litter tray. Molly continues to be a bit timid, the only time she’s been on my lap was when I was trying to eat a plate of teacakes, she does like to rub heads with Jane though. Honey is very affectionate, she loves a knee and likes to sleep on the bed which isn’t always convenient what with me already struggling to get comfortable. Jane has got them a huge scratching post in the hope of saving the furniture.



Honey and Molly

11am Saturday 12th January and I was in Jane’s car on my way to the Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary to pick up the new girls. Jane was off on an Isis bike ride for the morning but I had one cat basket and the promise of a loan of another, the sitting room was all set up to be their home while they acclimatised – Jane had got various toys and mats and boxes to hide in for them to ignore – so I wasn’t expecting too much trouble.

I waited in the sanctuary office for them to be brought round from their pen to be micro-chipped. It was a beautiful chaos in there with 2 of the cutest puppies rolling about the floor and an older dog who seemed in danger of falling off the table complete with bedding. Honey and Molly arrived sharing a basket while I handed over the required donation and signed forms saying we’d look after them well. Just before the chap who injects the chips did the deed he decided to give Honey a quick scan ‘just in case’ – sure enough she was already chipped, the records were wrong, we just needed to be registered as the new owners. I was also given their ‘health record’ cards and a quick look at Molly’s suggested she was 8 years old not 6 as thought. Meanwhile Molly decided to make a dash for the back of some shelving resulting in a lot of furniture moving to get her in the basket.

So Molly in our wicker basket, Honey in a plastic one, both strapped to the back-seat with the seatbelts, and we were on our way to their new home with us. Molly made a lot of fuss, I think she really didn’t like the noise and vibration, while Honey just sat patiently. All went quiet on the way into Blackbird Leys and I looked in the rear view mirror to see escapee Molly standing on the back of the rear seat looking wide-eyed, she got in the boot so I carried on but then she appeared in the front passenger foot-well so I turned into a side road and stopped. She got up on the dashboard and gave me a dirty look. I decided to give her a few minutes to calm down then got her back in the basket securing the bit of door she’d squeezed out of with the carry strap from my phone case. We continued safely home with her basket in the passenger foot-well from which a paw would emerge every now again to have a swipe at the gear lever.

  Dashboard Molly 2At home I left them alone in the sitting room for a bit to sniff around and unwind. Another look at their cards revealed that Honey was in fact Charlie, at least it said she was a neutered female. A phone call came early the next week to explain we’d been given the wrong cards, someone kindly came and swapped them so now Honey and Molly turn out to be just turned 6 years old.

Honey settled in quickly and was eating and demanding fuss not long after arriving. Molly was frightened and probably stressed out by her 2 failed breaks for freedom and hid under the sideboard and later behind the speaker in the corner. Honey, out of sisterly affection, or maybe because she didn’t want to be left out, joined her for some of the time.

Molly's CaveShy SistersLater on Saturday, as Jane was cooking, there was a smell – a bad smell. Molly darted out from behind the speaker and went back under the sideboard. I got the job of cleaning up the cat diarrhoea from the skirting board and, fortunately ancient, carpet. The extension lead was beyond hope – I threw it away and replaced it after wiping the mess from the plugs. I’m glad she didn’t pee on it and electrocute herself, not an eventuality we’d planned for. Since that one incident they have both been the cleanest cats imaginable using their trays and not throwing spare litter all over the place.

Ten days later and Molly is still very timid but a very pushy side of her character is beginning to show itself. She doesn’t want to sit on a lap but likes to wander on the back of the chair behind Jane rubbing heads, demanding strokes and trying to steal food and drink. Then she’ll panic at a noise and run upstairs to hide under the bed (or it’s covers). I think she’s coming round, she’s certainly developed a healthy appetite after a couple of days of not eating.

Molly ExploresMolly gets out of bedHoney is much more forward. Always after a knee to sit on, following me round to perch on my keyboard, sleeping on the bed, and generally being a people cat. We put a bit of catnip on a scratching mat and she was playing with the attached mouse like an excited kitten. Jane’s given them a pot with some grass from the garden planted in as they are supposed to need it to help their digestion and prevent fur-balls, they both enjoy a nibble of that. They’re lovely – the house has seemed a bit empty without a cat since we lost Lala and we’re pleased to be able to give the sisters a home and I think they’re pleased to be here.

Playing Catnip MouseyHoney being CuteCats on Knees


Honey and Molly’s Photos

Honey String Dec 2013.jpg
Inverted Honey.jpg
Molly Nap.jpg
Hot Honey 2013.jpg
Molly in her Bush.jpg