This is part 2 of a 2 part blog post write up of our summer holiday in West Wales.
You might like to read these posts in order, so to read the part one first, please click here.
Wednesday 10th August. "NEWPORT SANDS".
Ben and I had a round of golf booked at 10am on Wednesday, at the superb Newport Sands golf club, with views (in this weather) over the bay and Irish Sea to die for. The sea looked like a mill pond all day (all week in fact). The only wildlife of note on this day (when we were concentrating on our golf and the wonderful views to be frank) were a pair of cronking ravens over the course (brilliant birds, ravens, I think) and small flocks of linnets bouncing noisily between clumps of gorse.
Anna saw a little egret on the estuary as we drove away from the course after our round (Anna and Finn spent another day on the beach) and we ate at Parrog, on the water front at a very basic (fish and chip) cafe, The Morawelon Cafe. I liked this a lot - LOADS of people around, kayaking and canoeing and swimming - the real hub of Newport, Parrog was. In.... yup... ridiculously glorious weather. By this point in the week everyone looked like they were on holiday in the Med. How lucky were we?!
Thursday 11th August. "STRUMBLE STROLL".
By Thursday I was becoming very much of the opinion that if you were to take a holiday near the coast of Pembrokeshire and NOT take a walk on a clifftop or two and NOT try to spot a seal or a dolphin or porpoise or gannet, then you might as well have stayed at home. So up I got, excited, at 6am - and out I sat, on the patio, overlooking the paddock and the river below, with a coffee. THIS is when I saw my (and our, in fact) only OTTER of the week. I was sitting there quietly, watching and listening - when three young ducks (that had been on this stretch of the river all week), hidden to me by the large willow tree in the garden,
became exceedingly agitated. I'm constantly telling people that if you want to SEE more wildlife, you need to LISTEN to your surroundings first. These ducks had been pretty quiet all week, and now they were alarm-calling and flapping about all over the gaff (I could hear that... not see it). Something must have upset them. And not a human (as we'd been close to them all week and they didn't mind). Something predatory. A fox? Nah... not in the river. A heron? Nah... I'd have heard that and anyway, herons don't tend to bother ducks when those ducks reach a certain size. A dog? A cat? I doubt it. So something else then. A mink? perhaps! An OTTER????!!!! Very possibly. Probably in fact! I kept watching the river and watched as all three young ducks quacked noisily and flew up stream in fits and bursts. Followed by a v-shaped ripple in the smooth river surface. As I watched, the ripple became a nose and then a head of YES. an otter... swimming upstream, leisurely it seemed. I saw the otter's head very clearly and watched it for about five seconds - then it submerged again and swam out of sight. All before the sun came up over the Eastern woodland and hit the river and paddock properly, all before anyone else had crawled out of their pits - and I (nor we... any of us) saw an otter again that week... despite getting up again at this time on Friday and quietly watching the river, in the vain hope that otters were more like their mustelid cousins, badgers, which often keep to predictable routines, and less like their mustelid cousins the weasels and stoats which are far more chaotic in nature. No photos nor videos of "my" otter I'm afraid - my camera(s) wasn't (weren't) with me and anyway... this was one of those times where I was far better just watching and forming memories, rather than worrying about aperture of lens and ISO film speed. I'm afraid I made Anna very jealous this morning as otters are her favourite animal, whereas badgers are mine - but there you have it. I just got lucky I guess.
When we had all had breakfast, we drove down to Strumble head for our cliff walk. It would give the boys a chance to see a lovely lighthouse (all children (and some adults too!) love lighthouses and tales of shipwrecks and mermaids eh?) as well as perhaps spot a big Atlantic grey seal or a porpoise.
Drenched in unrelenting sunshine again (you're getting jealous now too aren't you) we had a wonderful few hours gazing out to sea and we were lucky enough to see all manner of wonderful wildlife on this walk including: quite a few grey seals (calling to each other too - I told Ben about the mournful mermaids myth at this point), kestrels hunting in the sea breeze around the lighthouse itself on St. Michael's island, lots of shags, quite a few gannets out at sea, a pod of harbour porpoises checking out the bow wave of a wildlife watching pleasure cruise boat about half a mile off shore, some rock doves, some oystercatchers, lots of great black-backed gulls and some flocks of linnets. Anna saw a common lizard on the path and Ben found a bloody-nosed beetle too. It was just lovely to take the family to such a stunning coastline to show them seals. Anna was certainly very proud / thankful / relieved and glad that we decided to go "seal hunting" on our own and have a lot of success, rather than drive an hour up the coast to New Quay (for example) and pay for a boat to take us out. That would have been fun too I know, but all rather unnecessary if you just want some views and a seal or two - and you have a three year old who is a bit of a handful on land let alone on a boat!
Ben and I explored the observatory on the cliff top,
and then we drove home, full of smiles again after seeing the seals. We decided again that night to eat at the pub which was a very short walk away from Penwaun, the Trewern Arms. Even better it was this time, the chewy burger. Highly recommended!
The day ended with Anna and I being treated to the sight (and sound) of two badgers eating at our feet at dusk. I'd thrown caution to the wind regarding these lovely animals and offered them some food right by the cottage, after spending the week enticing them closer and closer. And HOOO BOY did it work! I may have been closer to badgers in my time (I've had cubs play on my boots whilst I was wearing them once after all), but Anna told me she'd not had such a close encounter with these wonderful wild animals before. They are just superb, badgers. And contrary to our government's insistence (after being lobbied by the rich NFU for decades) they do NOT threaten cattle farms' existence with bTB - that's basically just poor animal husbandry by the farmers - which we basically force them to adopt after insisting on cheap food ourselves. You can see a video of our set up and these badgers at the end of Friday's section (when Ben watched them with us).
Friday 12th August. "DINAS IN THE OVEN".
We had all got up at 6am to try and spot "my" otter again, but alas no joy this time. Although we did see one or two dippers in the gloom before the sun crept over the trees to illuminate the river. One or two dippers and one or two kingfishers, so the dawn wasn't wasted at all (it never is!).
Our last moth trap morning produced a load of Black arches moths again and half a dozen Rosy footmen again but little else of real note.
Our last full day in Pembrokeshire - so we thought we'd walk around Dinas Island in the morning in oven-like temperatures and then wade, at our leisure, up the river in the afternoon. If you are to do the same as us and explore the island (with just stunning views across to Fishguard and her ferries to the West and back to Newport bay to the East, then I'd really recommend you drive to Pwyllgwaelod beach in the early(ish) morning (the car park is free but fills quickly) and walk from there, rather than drive and park at the incredibly busy (from dawn it seemed - kayakers everywhere and parking charges) Cwm Yr Eglwys. We had a brilliant (if steep and sweaty) walk up Dinas Head, where we also saw more seals from the cliff tops, a few fulmars, lots more shags and many stonechats too. The completely unexpected wildlife highlight of the two hour walk for us though was the sight of a juvenile cuckoo alighting on a fence for thirty or so seconds, before disappearing over the brow of a hill. Adult cuckoos left our shores weeks ago, having deposited their eggs in other birds' nests. This young (brownish/grey rather than airforce grey of the adult) would have never seen its true, biological parents, having been raised by a pair of reed warblers or similar - but now, perhaps six weeks after its real mother had flown back to Africa, this young bird was going to fly to Africa itself too. On its own. For the first time. An amazing sight for us all - and if you had asked me if I was expecting to see a cuckoo start its flight to sub-Saharan Africa in August on cliff top on an island (for all intents and purposes) off the west coast of Wales - I'd have said you were mad. But mad you would not have been. We saw it.
I loved walking around Strumble Head on Thursday and loved walking up Dinas Head today but equally, perhaps even more so, I absolutely ADORED wading up the sparkling clear river Nevern with our eldest boy Ben in the afternoon. We saw three dippers we think (really excellent views) a couple of kingfishers and quite a few grey wagtails. But just the feeling of wading up (to our waists at points - although we were all too aware that in most years and at ALL other times of the year, we would not be able to wade in this part of the river - we'd either be swimming or not entering the river at all, as the current would be too powerful - but not this week and not this never-ending summer, and not this week), was just glorious. We waded almost half a mile upstream before turning back. Ben really impressed me in this adventure too - he's becoming a proper little man! (sob! sob!).
Our last night at the cottage - so we went back to our favourite eatery for tea - the brilliant (if expensive) Castle Inn.
Because of Anna and my badger watch experience on Thursday night, we allowed our eldest boy Ben to stay up with us and hopefully watch the badger(s) from the kitchen patio balcony with us. On Thursday night the badgers arrived at 2140... but they didn't arrive until 2210 this night - but when they did arrive, WHAT A SHOW they put on for Ben. I don't think I've ever seen a 9 year old so quiet, so happy and so talkative afterwards. His eyes were like dinner plates! Well... he had badgers literally eating AT HIS FEET! (lit up my my red head torch - yes dear reader I came prepared with a macro camera, an action camera, a landscape camera, a pocket camera, a trail camera, a thermal camera, a pair of binoculars, a telescope, a moth trap, an extension lead AND a red head torch for wildlife watching!). You can see my edited video of this badger watch in the video below (all shot automatically with my static trail camera to our side, and also by me with my hand held thermal imager). You can also see in the photo below our "set up" for the badger watch - and just how close they came to us. In fact on the Thursday night, one badger even joined us on the patio. It got to within a foot of my feet!
Saturday 13th August. "THE END".
Saturday morning was basically spent packing and cleaning the cottage as we needed to vacate the property by 10am (we saw the cleaners arrive at 10:01am too as we drove away (wow!)) so I'm afraid, other than a tiny walk up the hill by Ben and I (where we gawped more at ancient oak trees) we really didn't see any wildlife of note.
Just before we left we all walked around the plot to say goodbye to the nesting swallows, the black horse (we assume she was a mare and perhaps a pregnant mare too looking at the size of her belly (perhaps she was just bloated, who knows, who cares?!)) in the flood meadow, the otters, the dippers, the dragonflies and the bats.
We left pretty sad really. Almost tearful in fact. Oh of course the weather helped enormously but we had had a wonderful week.
The plot was just so quiet. So so quiet! I'd love to return without a 3 year old in tow, but even with a three year old with us (and a nine year old), the only real sounds from the land all week were the chittering of swallows and house martins above the cottage, the burble of the river below and the occasional drive by of a big tractor on the road behind (perhaps 5 times in the whole week). Oh and the church bells I guess. And what a lovely church it was.
We'd love to return one day.
Perhaps we will.
Thankyou Penwaun and the Robinsons (the owners). Your (incredibly quiet) cottage and land and most importantly of all, your bats and badgers are just wonderful. Please continue to look after them.