Sunday, 11 November 2018

Westonbirt Arboretum

The Autumn colours have been particularly spectacular this year.  Here in the Rhondda, the landscape has looked more like North America in places than Wales.  We have ancient oak woods clinging to steep valley sides, and vast stretches of pines on the mountain tops.  In the valley bottoms are woodlands of ash, oak, sycamore, wych elm, alder and willow.  All of these trees have put on quite a show for us.  My favourite trees at Autumn have to be acers, also known as maples, which unfortunately for me don't grow in the wild here.  Luckily, we are within easy driving distance of Westonbirt Arboretum, with its world-renowned collection of Japanese maples.  A beautifully sunny but cold Autumn day dawned, so we hopped in the car headed across to Gloucestershire.  It was the day the clocks went back, so the extra hour was in our favour.

When we arrived it was already super busy - seems like a lot of people had the same idea as us.  Fortunately it's a very large site, of about 600 acres, with 17 miles of paths.  We headed off into the Old Arboretum area first, and enjoyed exploring the twisting pathways.  It wasn't long until we found the main attraction, a huge area of red Acers, casting a magical rose-hued light throughout the whole glade.  It was packed with people taking family portraits with dogs and children, Asian tourists doing selfies, and some serious photographers with big bits of kit.  We took a few snaps, but didn't linger too long as we knew there was still much to explore.  One of the other highlights was a raised wooden walkway that winds through part of the woodland, with little crow's nest lookout points.  It certainly gave a different perspective, being at squirrel-level up in the trees.

It was a cold day, but I was kept cosy in my new-to-me 1970s Eastex coat.  No, I don't need any more coats, but that doesn't stop me buying them - especially as this was just £3!  I also wore a 1970s hat, matching its navy colour with my tights and gloves.  As we were in an arboretum, I chose my horse-chestnut brooch to finish things off.  The Prada boots had an outing again, as they are a flat and sensible choice for walking around all day.  Even so, our legs were aching after walking solidly for about two and a half hours.  Back at the car, we had a welcome cuppa from the thermos we'd brought, and then decided it was time we headed back to Wales.  If the arboretum was closer, I would definitely be planning a return trip for their enchanted Christmas trail, as they deck out parts of the wood with lights.  I'm sure it would be spectacular.

I was left with one burning question - why have we had such a good display of Autumn colours this year?  I knew it was to do with the weather, but until I read this article, I wasn't sure of the science behind it.  Apparently, a warm summer is a contributing factor, as is not too many frosts early in the Autumn season.  If you don't like your news to be fake, I highly recommend The Conversation online news site.  It's written by contributing academics, so everything is fact-checked and presented in a non-sensationalised way.

Westonbirt @porcelinasworld

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Storm Callum in Shropshire

Last October it was Storm Brian in a caravan on a clifftop in West Wales, this year we were in Storm Callum in a log cabin in Shropshire!  It was a break planned a while ago to give me a little treat for completing a first full draft of my thesis.  Any plans for glamour had to be abandoned; all you'll find in this post are waterproofs and jumpers I'm afraid - the trip was all about having a rest and a change of scene!

Leaving South Wales was quite the adventure.  Our quickest route took us over the "Rhigos" mountain, also known as Craig y Llyn.  It's the highest peak (2,000 feet) in our county of the Rhondda.  Spectacular views are guaranteed (as long as it's not foggy).  This day was no exception, partly due to the impressive waterfalls that were spilling over the mountainsides from the heavy and constant rain.  When we came down the other side, the roads were blocked with flooding in two directions...  A bit of a guess-work detour then, to try and get onto the main road we wanted, so that we could cross it and head off across the moors to Brecon.  Luckily, we didn't encounter any more major flooding, though when we rejoined the main road we were shocked to see the river level lapping just under the road bridge.  We heard later on the news that they'd closed the Rhigos mountain road not long after we'd crossed it.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.  We stopped a few times, in Builth Wells, and in Llandrindod Wells, for petrol, supplies, and a teensy bit of charity shopping (vintage buttons, and a vintage belt).  After navigating some pretty water-logged roads, we were grateful to arrive at our home for the weekend, a little wooden 'dacha' (Russian holiday lodge) on Foxholes Farm near Bishop's Castle.  I found the place through Airbnb.  The cabin was thankfully cosy, watertight, and structurally sound!  It had lots of lovely vintage touches that I appreciated, like vintage crockery and framed old adverts.

@stormcallum @porcelinasworld

Sunday, 21 October 2018


In Cardiff Bay, there is a small area of wetlands that's been designated as a nature reserve.  It was formerly a salt marsh, and is now a protected 8 hectare plot through which wind gravel paths and a boardwalk.  St David's Hotel looms across the water, along with high-rise apartment buildings.  This spot at the end of the boardwalk is quietened by the reedbed, and seems a world away from those bustling commercial and residential parts of the bay.  The only noises are the gentle chimes of boats in the marina beyond, mallards quacking, and the occasional cry of a gull.  If you're lucky, from the boardwalk you might spy a heron, or a bird of prey such as a kestrel.  I joined the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) at the start of this year (I pick a different charity each year), and I am slowly starting to learn more about identifying different birds.  In Cardiff city centre itself, you might get to see a peregrine falcon as they nest at the top of City Hall.  That's how I ended up joining the RSPB - one of their wildlife champions had a telescope set up when I was walking past one day, and I was able to see a female peregrine falcon ripping a pigeon to pieces with its beak.  I signed up there and then!

Sadly, nature reserves such as this wetland are becoming increasingly under threat.  A little further along the coast, there is an area of important biodiversity called the Gwent Levels that is currently at the centre of a longstanding environmental campaign.  The region is at risk from a new motorway being built right through the middle of it, impacting on two nature reserves and an area of the Wales coastal path.  It seems ludicrous in the age we're living in that building more roads is still thought of as an acceptable solution to traffic congestion, rather than investment in public transport and other measures.  The petition is here, for all to sign, whether you live in Wales or not. 

Boardwalk @porcelinasworld

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