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Looking For Beatrix

Exploring England #26

Beatrix Potter’s beloved home, Hill Top, is one of the most visited sites in the Lake District and I’d heard about long queues and timed tickets, which often sell out early in the day. But on an cool and overcast Sunday afternoon, there were just a few visitors in the pretty village of Sawrey and I almost had the house and its beautiful garden to myself.

Hill Top was purchased by Beatrix Potter in 1905 with the proceeds of  her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It was the first of many properties she bought in the Lake District and was the place which inspired many of her stories and paintings. As I wandered along the garden path, it was easy to see where her inspiration came from. Late summer blooms perfumed the air and the lush greenery of the vegetable garden spilled over into the fields beyond.

The house, with its thick overcoat of vines, was a vision in green and the garden even came indoors; every room was decorated with simple floral arrangements.

It was easy to see why Beatrix loved this place, with its tranquil setting and beautiful country views. From an upstairs window I gazed out upon the surrounding farmland, and imagined her standing in this same place whenever she stayed here.

I felt her presence in the garden too, and expected to find her around the next corner, paintbrush in hand. I thought this robin was posing for me, but perhaps he was looking for Beatrix.

 

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Swanning Around!

Exploring England #2

It’s a warm sunny day in late summer and a walking expedition on the Dorset coast beckons. It’s not far to the village of Abbotsbury and there’s also a coastal path, but today we’re visiting Abbotsbury Swannery, one of the largest colonies of mute swans in the world.

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The swannery is located in the calm waters of Fleet lagoon, a long stretch of brackish water protected by Chesil Bank. The waters weren’t always so calm; at the end of the last Ice Age massive waves created the bank, a narrow wall of rocks between Lyme Bay and the coast. The land behind the bank was flooded as sea levels rose, creating the perfect breeding environment for water birds.

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There have been mute swans in the lagoon since the 11th century, when the Benedictine monks of St Peter’s Abbey began farming the birds. In 1543, after the dissolution of the monastery, Sir Giles Strangways bought the land from Henry VIII and the swans have been cared for by his descendants ever since. While the swannery is not a zoo and the swans are free to come and go, the colony is carefully managed. We must purchase tickets at the shop before entering the grounds of the swannery.

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From the entrance it’s a pleasant walk in the summer sun past grass covered fields and curious sheep. A stream flows beside the path and wildflowers bloom on its banks.

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We enter the woodland closer to the coast and find hydrangeas flourishing in the dappled shade.

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Our first sighting of a swan is a thrilling moment. A single white bird stands on the path ahead of us as if guiding the way.

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Another swan with her half grown cygnets accompanies us for a while as she glides on a fast flowing stream.

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As we walk there are more swans,

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but these glimpses do not prepare us for the spectacle waiting at the end of the path – dozens of swans, a sea of white on the sparkling waters of Fleet Lagoon.

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They might be called mute swans, but they are noisy. We’ve arrived at midday in time for a feeding session and the swans are excited. We learn that they receive limited feeding, sick or injured swans are captured and cared for before returning to the lagoon, and cygnets are monitored to ensure they remain healthy.

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Young visitors are invited to help feed the birds who gather close to shore.

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From a raised platform there’s a beautiful view of Fleet Lagoon, Chesil Bank and the swannery.

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But it’s the opportunity to see these magnificent birds up close that we have all come for.

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Abbotsbury Swannery is open every day from March to October, 10 am to 5 pm

See more great walks from around the world at Restless Jo’s Monday Walks.

A Speck in the Ocean

Goin’ Cruising #8

Day Six – Willis Island/Sea Day

We farewelled Port Douglas and sailed overnight in an easterly direction, out into the Coral Sea. Our destination was Willis Island, a tiny speck of land 450 km from the mainland. From our vantage point on Deck 7 of Pacific Dawn, the island seemed completely alone in the open ocean, but it is actually one of three small sandy coral cays.

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The whole island is 500 metres long, 150 metres wide and at its highest just 9 metres above sea level, although from  a distance it didn’t even look that big.

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A cluster of buildings house a weather monitoring station for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and the four meteorologists who live there provide vital weather data, especially during cyclone season.

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The sky above the island is filled with dozens of large seabirds, one moment soaring high and the next swooping low over the water. Some came close to the ship, flying over and around us as if they were inspecting the intruders in this isolated place.

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When is a Goose not a Goose?

Holiday in Hawaii #10

When is a goose not a goose?

When it’s a mongoose of course.

During our lunch break at Wai’anapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, we had the feeling we were being watched. We spotted movement near the stone wall, but the creature moved so fast we missed him at first. So we sat very still and waited, and out he came again.

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He surveyed the scene carefully before venturing out in search of food, but quickly darted back into the gap in the rock wall when people came too close.

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Mongooses were imported into the islands of Hawaii in the 1800s to reduce the rat population in the sugar cane fields. Unfortunately, they took a liking to the native ground nesting birds and devoured them as well as the rats. The only Hawaiian island that doesn’t have mongooses is Kauai; the story goes that when a delivery of mongooses was being unloaded of a ship in Kauai, a mongoose bit the hand of a worker. He was enraged and threw all the cages into the ocean. As a result, Kauai has a much larger bird population than any other island.

Visit Jude’s Garden Challenge this month to see more animals in gardens.

Watching Whales

Holiday in Hawaii #5

After migrating more than 4800 kilometres from the Gulf of Alaska at the end of each year,  thousands of humpback whales bask in the warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands. Every morning, from our eighth floor balcony, we saw whales passing by. With coffee in one hand and binoculars in the other we scanned the ocean looking for blows. Sometimes the binoculars weren’t even necessary.

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These tantalising glimpses of whales left us wanting more, so we joined an early morning whale watching tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation. The rising sun gilded the West Maui mountains as the catamaran Ocean Spirit glided effortlessly out of Lahaina’s sheltered boat harbour into Auau Channel.

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Once in open water, we gathered along the railing, searching for signs that whales were about – the first blow was greeted with excited cries.

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Expert commentary from our guide told us where to look and how long to wait before the whales were likely to surface again. Even though our group was large, there wasn’t a sound as we waited in anticipation. A pod of whales, at least three and sometimes up to five, rewarded our patience with their playful tail slapping and head rises.

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We didn’t just see whales. When an underwater microphone was lowered into the depths, we heard their haunting whale song.

What were they calling to each other? Probably courtship songs, but I’d like to think the whales were as fascinated by us as we were by them.

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Justin Beaver and Marsha Lee came whale watching with us.