Sharing the scone

It just isn’t done. A scone is a beautiful thing, particularly when smothered in butter and/or (don’t judge the calories) thick cream. It’s not for sharing, after all there are other scones. So imagine my unease when, having sat down in the sunshine to eat my scone and drink my coffee, I was approached by two Chaffinches who wanted me to share my scone with them.

“They won’t sell us a scone of our own,” they protested. I fell for it. For 20 minutes, I shared bits of scone with two hungry and grateful chaffinches.

I set off early this morning for Dryslwyn Castle and the plan was to climb to the ruins and then head off to the National Botanic Gardens nearby. Weighed down by a full bag of camera and lenses, I set off from the car park, pausing only to chat to a bird watcher returning to his car. “The Whooper Swans haven’t arrived yet,” he said in answer to met enquiry about whether he’d seen anything interesting. “I’ll try further up the river, but I think they may be late this year.” We parted with a comment about the weather, and I started the short but steep climb to the old castle.

At the top, I could see the rain coming in from the west and a rainbow showed where the rain was already falling. I didn’t linger; taking photos of the castle still bathed in sunlight with my normal camera and the one converted to shoot infra red. In the distance, Paxton’s Tower was also picked out by the sun. This was built shortly after Admiral Nelson’s death at Trafalgar by his friend William Paxton. It was part of the estate that now makes up the Botanic Gardens.

As I left the hilltop, the rain started and I just managed to get to the car before the heavens opened. After the short drive back tot he gardens, I waited in the car until the rains topped. By the time I emerged from the ticket office, the sky was clear and blue and the sun warm on my back. I spent the next hour or so slowly wandering around the site, ending up in the fantastic biodome built on the site of the original manor house. Inside, it was pleasantly warm and the flora were all from parts of the world with Mediterranean climates. As I made my way through African and Australian bushes, a small plane buzzed overhead.

Then to the cafe, housed in the old stable yard. A scone and coffee were on order and I’d seen one of the staff wiping down the seats outside, so I decided to eat out in the sunshine. Before I’d even finished buttering my scone, two chaffinches turned up. While one distracted me by sitting on the back rest of the chair opposite, the other tried to sneak in under the table. I slowly reached for my camera and this seemed to put the sneaky bird off. But in no time, they were both back and jumping on to the table. Maybe the crumbs of cone I’d scattered for them was too tempting. Maybe they were interested in my camera. They were both very tame and for a few moments I thought I might be able to get one to eat from my hand. But a loud child shattering the calm spooked both birds and they disappeared.

It was time to head back and I left plenty of crumbs for my little friends and set off down the path to the gate. On the way, I spotted dragonflies and I managed to act as voyeur as two of them expressed their love for each other while darting about over a little inlet of a larger pond. Having finished, one sped off and the other dropped into the water, only just managed to drag itself out before the wings got too waterlogged. A fine finish to the morning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Advertisements

Penllergare

I belong to a camera club in work. And this morning, we had arranged for a visit to Penllergare woods, complete with a guided tour around the formal gardens. I’ve been going to the woods for years, first with Rufus before major restoration work had begun, and lately in my quest for a photograph of the Kingfishers. I’ve been interested in the history of the site but today was an opportunity to get some specific information about the places I’d walked. As it turned out, I discovered some new places, too.

We set off from the car park, past the cafe and down to the upper lake via the terraces. These are large steps in the hillside leading down from Penllergare House, the home of the Dillwyn Llewelyns, that were lined with ornamental urns. The view down to the upper lake, slowly being cleared of decades of silt and vegetation, were striking. Our guide explained that when they started clearing away the undergrowth, paths steps and stone lining started appearing and it was a process of discovery to see how the gardens had been laid out. Much of the work is restoration rather than creation and the aim is to have the gardens looking very similar to how they would have in the mid 19th Century.

We gathered around the waterfall for a photo shoot and were shown the new bridge, constructed from stone cut and laid by the project’s stone mason. Holes have been left in the stonework for birds to nest in. A short walk along the river bank brought us back to the top of the terraces, and the bridal way that once led from Cadle to Penllergare House.

Dillwyn Llewelyn was a keen photographer right at the start of photography, and he was related to Fox Talbot. This means that there are many contemporary images of the house and gardens which has helped enormously during the restoration work. He was also an astronomer and the remains of his observatory, where the first photograph of the moon was taken, is being restored as part of the Penllergare project.

A lot more information about the Penllergare site and the trust can be found on their official website.

A (much too) brief stop at the cafe for coffee and an excellent, locally made scone ended the morning. I found the tour fascinating and discovered some new places to explore the next time I visit.

I still didn’t see any Kingfishers, though.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

More coffee stuff

I woke up yesterday morning, stumbled downstairs, set the bread off on it’s transformational journey to become toast, opened the cupboard for a fresh packet of cafetiere coffee and….

AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

… no coffee. Not even a jar of solidified, 18 month old instant granules. I ran my finger along the shelf – there might have been coffee dust. Nothing. I even looked again, in case my caffeine-craving brain had missed a vital clue – like a large packet of coffee. It hadn’t.

I resorted to tea. I like tea, but it’s not coffee.

In work, I must have seemed ignorant and rude. But I knew there was coffee on my desk. It’s not called a desk, of course. In the 21st Century, it’s called a workstation. But it looks like a desk and performs the duties of a desk in a perfectly acceptable manner. And it’s not even mine, as I hot desk. But the coffee was there and that was mine and about 30 seconds after I’d reached my desk, I had a piping hot mug of coffee.

Fast forward (like my brain did once it had received the caffeine hit). It’s Saturday morning. I stumbled downstairs, set the bread on an enlightening quest to achieve the tao of toast, opened the cupboard for a fresh packet of…. oh… was it a dream…of course it was…there must be…..

AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

It was later  so it was lighter, and in the daylight, I discovered two catering sachets of Nescafe (other coffee dusts are available). They both went in the cup, without me checking the use by date. Seconds after I’d finished the mug of … ahem… coffee, I was out and down to my nearest convenient purveyor of coffee for a packet.

You will be relieved to know that as I type this, a mug of Italian roast blend coffee is within reach, and in sight at all times.

 

Notes from the coffee shop

I’ve been working on something today that hits several of my tick boxes and which I thoroughly enjoyed doing. It left me with a big smile on my face. But I’m not allowed to talk about that so instead here are a few random thoughts as I sit my my local coffee shop, part of a large chain of such places.

Coffee shops sprang up after the bean was introduced to Britain. The first coffee house was opened in Oxford in 1652, and one was opened in London in the same year. Many of these venues became very popular places for people to meet, talk and later debate. They must have been lively and loud and their significance is illustrated by the fact that Charles II tried to have them shut down.

Gradually, the clientele polarised until particular establishments attracted particular customers; the usual lines were around politics and trade. The insurers Lloyds of London famously started in a coffee house run by a John Lloyd. In the late 17th Century, the London Stock Exchange grew out of a coffee house run by one ‘Jonathan’. Coffee houses attracted a range of classes and one of their draws was that lack of that class distinction. But eventually and perhaps inevitably, the upper classes were loured away to private establishments that quickly became the clubs seen today in London.

In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, coffee houses became the gathering place for artists and writers. These days you will find a range of social types and occupations frequenting the chain coffee shops that have appeared everywhere. I’m writing this in my favourite local establishment and so far, in the 30 minutes I’ve been here, there have been students, parents, office workers, shoppers, lovers, singletons, bloggers and kids. The coffee ship tradition of a meeting place for all continues to this day.

It’s grown dark while I’ve been here, and the drizzly rain continues to fall. In a few minutes I have to venture out and shop in this. The caffeine is fortifying me against the moment I have to leave the comfy environment. While I put off the inevitable, I’ve been people watching.

A pair of young mothers with babies in push chairs have just popped in for a swift latte. It was consumed at an expresso rate before their little ones started to grizzle. A group of four people stared longingly at the comfy chair I’m occupying, as if I’d take pity and move to a wooden chair as comfortable as the ones we used in school.

Two old guys have just wandered in, matching walking sticks in matching right hands. I didn’t catch whether they had flat caps, but they probably did. A kid, possibly 9 or 10, has just run in and out several times He’s dressed in a red football strip and acts as if he’s been on caffeine all day. Another child, just walking, is pushing the boundaries of it’s new found mobility. It made a break for freedom out through the door and off towards the three flights of stairs. It’s mother, trained to react in milliseconds, caught it before harm could be done.

In the far corner, diagonally opposite me, another loner sits typing away at her laptop. We may well both be blogging and a little part of me wonders if she’s describing me now, as I am her. I like that thought. An older woman, coat done up against the cold that she sees through the window, is sat connecting with the world on her smart phone. That’s how things have changed, I guess. We all connect in some way.

If I wanted to, I could probably make contact with the other internet users in this coffee shop just by typing instructions into my laptop. One day that will be okay but for now, even though we are firmly in the 21st Century with technology, we are stuck in the late 19th when it comes to interpersonal communication.

Italy VII – Just when you thought it was safe to come out…

Aaaaahhhh! You thought I’d finished the blog about Italy yesterday. Well, there are a few loose ends to clear up. All the stuff that doesn’t really fit into the individual days.

Map of Italy

Red dots show where we went. From the top: Riva, Verona, Venice, Florence, San Gimignano, Siena, Assisi, Chianciano Terme, Rome.

I love the travelling part of travel. Admittedly, some mornings it was hard to enjoy the coach journey but there were other mornings when I enjoyed just staring out of the window watching the world go by. I tried taking photos from the coach and although the contrast was a little low, and there was some blur from the movement, I was pleased with the results. On the way back to the hotel from the cities, the air conditioned coach was most welcome, along with Andreas’ (the driver) supply of chilled water. For most of the trip we had the coveted front seats (although we didn’t realise exactly how much they were coveted until the complaints on day four led the tour rep to say ‘It’s a free for all tomorrow and I don’t want to be involved’. And indeed, she hid in the hotel that morning until just before the coach left. The ensuing fuss was entertaining to watch from our new coveted seats half way down the bus, by the middle door.)

The people on our trip, with a few exceptions, were an odd bunch, most of whom seemed to want to complain about something. I have no problem with that; as a nation we don’t complain enough when it is justified. But many people seemed to use it as a means to get attention. I don’t care if your room isn’t perfect (ours wasn’t on the first night). Don’t tell me, tell the hotel staff (as we did – no fuss, we were moved, we were happy). There were a few complaints (or mutterings or whatever) about the walking and distances involved. Given that some of the group were a little unsteady on their feet, this was inevitable. I was impressed that people coped with the heat and the distance as well as they did, but ultimately, this was a trip that very obviously would involve a lot of travelling and a lot of walking. It was not suitable for all.

I think the worst bit for me was the journey home. Our flight from Milan was scheduled for 14.35 and we had to be in the airport at 12.30 for check-in. Our coach left Chianciano Terme at 5am to rendezvous with another from Lake Garda at Verona airport at 10am, from where there was another 2hr transfer to Milan. Fair enough. A long journey, but so be it. But when we got to Milan, it turned out that the flight had been ‘rescheduled’ to depart at 4pm. Only if I were cynical would I dare to suggest that the early departure from Chianciano was actually to allow the tour rep to pick up her new tour group from Verona airport at 10.20 without having to go through the hassle of putting on a second coach so we could leave at 7am. Only were I to be deeply unimpressed with the rep’s performance throughout the trip would I suggest that maybe she should have been aware of the rescheduled flight times, and perhaps she was but chose not to tell us.

All this makes it seem that I didn’t enjoy the trip. I did, and very much so. It helped that I was in fantastic company (thanks Em), and that early on we met a couple of like minded souls who helped made the evening meals and, particularly, the last night at Chianciano a special (and at times, hysterically funny) experience. Together, the four of us overcame the inflated Vatican Museum Tour Priority Ticket prices and conquered the queues. Em and I avoided the obvious during most of the city tours and tried to find the hidden in most of the places we went to, which paid off.

For the geeks (amongst whose number I include myself), I took 913 photos, mostly on my little compact camera. If I was going again, I wouldn’t pack so much and I’d leave more room for souvenirs. I’d think again about the camera I took. If I wanted to do the tour again, I’d concentrate on Riva del Garda, Venice, San Gimignano, Assisi, Chianciano and Rome. We discussed this after we got home and the ideal tour would be at our own pace with our own transport. We’d build in days with no firm plans so that we could just sit in a cafe and watch. I would like to spend a bit more time looking at the Roman ruins in Rome, but the rest of the city doesn’t interest me.

I have to mention the food and drink. For me this was the underlying pleasure that everything else rested on. The food, every bit of it, was of superior quality compared to what we are used to here in the UK. The simplest snacks were richly tasty and well presented. The coffee was superb. The wine was wonderful (and I’m not a red wine fan). The ice cream was thick and creamy. And despite what I’d been told (and not counting the Florence Ice Cream incident), the prices were not excessive. I’m prepared to pay for quality, but I was surprised at how little I did pay for it.

Italy gets a tick from me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.