Self-isolation holds no horrors for me. It’s what I do much of the time anyway – in the open air. Until relatively recently it was the fate of all deaf people – that and ridicule. Even though I have a high-tech hearing aid and am not alone, indeed am blessed with a very tolerant wife, the thought of house arrest fills me with dread. A week ago, in that very different world, the threat of all the over-seventies being locked up for 3 months – a fate worse than the virus to me – was receding.
At least though I would be able to get out in the campervan to some remote spot where I would be safe and I would be no threat to others. Every day I tracked the BBC online weather forecast. (I can’t watch it on live television because of the ridiculous institution of live sub-titling which means the words don’t match the lip movements.) It shows two weeks, but we all know that the symbols at the far end of that period are unreliable and can change dramatically. As we came up to mid-March the daily image of cloud and rain, which had been our lot for so long, was showing a change – dry weather was on its way. Some days the change looked uncertain but the closer we got to the twenty-first – last week-end – the more our hopes rose. It really was going to be dry and sunny!
Joyfully I planned a trip to Pembrokeshire. I would go to the south coast where I might be able to see the first of the migrant birds arriving as the wind swung round to the south. A few weeks later and they will be unremarkable, but what joy to see the first Chiff-Chaffs, Sand Martins and Wheatears. (I do realise that not everyone knows what these birds look like, but bear with me.) By Saturday afternoon I was packed and ready to go, but for the next few days a cold North wind was forecast and it would be frosty at night. I was worried that the heating which had been temperamental recently so I decided to stay closer to home. Pembury Burrows near Bury Port would be a good place – wild open dune-land, a good place for landfall. The names show a fascinating and rare interchange between English and Welsh. Bury is synonymous with Warren, one of the many places where Conies and their youngsters, then called Rabbits, were kept confined by warreners and trapped for their meat. The Welsh word is “twyn” which also means “down” and “dune”, and was part of the name of our first house in Wales, Felin Maestwynog. I kept the “twynog” bit (pronounced too-in-og) meaning “hilly” or “downy” as my email address. So Porth Twyn or Bury Port was where the dunes were.
With all the talk of staying at home, I was surprised to find so many people out and about, mostly walking dogs.
“Look” I said to myself, “it’s the first fine day of the year and it’s Mothers’ Day. Of course I’m not the only one to want to be out in the open air.” As long as we don’t get too close it’s the healthiest place to be.So I walked out in the cold wind and watched a young kestrel flying close to the ground. It’s a Nature Reserve so the young man wandering through the dunes with two lurchers running free was breaking the rules and damaging the wildlife, but then I realised it could have been me forty years ago! All dogs, on leads or not, suppress wildlife, but what can you do? There are just too many of them and they need excercise.
I stayed by the long-silted Pembury harbour, and was out in the early morning, isolated, alone, biting wind on my face, two pairs of gloves, but was thrilled to see this Ringed Plover.
On the long spit of sand where the Pembury Burrows peninsula merges with the sea is a resident colony of Oyster Catchers. I waited a long time to get the perfect shot of them flying, but settled for these: Then it was eastwards, passing Llanelli to the north, and on to the bridge over the Loughor and my favourite spot on the Gower Peninsula – Llanmadoc and the Whiteford Burrows: more dune-land. There were already a few cars in the little car park at Cwm Ivy, and as I walked the two miles to Whiteford Point with it’s lonely rusty lighthouse (see above), I said a passing hello to a few small family groups and solitary walkers, again mostly with dogs. The Cwm Ivy Marsh was created when the 17thC sea wall finally gave way to the pressure of rising water levels in 2013. It is now, according to the National Trust website, a thriving saltmarsh, but it didn’t look very exciting today:
Water levels were still very high after the succession of deluges we have suffered over the past month, and detours away from the flooded path were the norm. The wind was cold but the sun was warm and here was the first Wheatear
(the name is a corruption of “white-arse”).
When, 4 hours later, I got back to the van, the car park was rammed and there were cars backed up all through the village. All the wonderful places on Gower have kept their magic despite all being within half an hour’s drive of 300,000 people, but the roads are narrow, the van is wide. I made my escape. The internet was full of condemnation of the crowds. The message is “Go home and stay home”. It was Sunday afternoon. Kidwelly Quay was on my way home and I could stay the night there. Trying to escape the many dog-walkers, I walked up the canal and was so happy to hear, see and photograph the first of the incoming Chiff-chaffs, and yes, the name is the song! On the way back I came across an extraordinary tableau. Grouped together on the path were two rats, two blackbirds, a chaffinch, a dunnock and a squirrel. I couldn’t get them all in focus at once though.As the sun set there were still plenty of people, but I sensed that they were taking a last opportunity to be in this beautiful place before returning to their homes and an uncertain and constrained future. In the morning I took some more pictures but then cut short my trip and went home. At least though I can get out into the hills and valleys around us. I can can’t I?