Posted by: travelrat | July 23, 2017

Penguins at Bluff Cove

King Penguins 2

Falkland Islands: 7th February 2017

I had been wondering what the collective noun is for a group of penguins. I found that it differs. On land, it’s a colony, a huddle or a waddle; when they’re at sea, it’s a raft. And, I think they call the place where penguins gather, a ‘rookery’.

Anyway, we visited the ‘rookery’, and saw the colony, huddle or waddle and I took some video. Now, the thing is, they didn’t waddle very much, and I wondered later if it was a really good thing to video something static. After all, the main purpose of video is to capture motion; if your subject isn’t moving, you may as well take still pictures.

Music: ‘Bushwick Tarantella’ by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License…

Posted by: travelrat | July 20, 2017

Travel Theme: Heat


Has anyone noticed the odd thing about British media? When temperatures are low, they report them in Celsius (It was ten degrees below zero last night!) but when they’re high, they report them in Fahrenheit (Temperatures will be in the upper 80s this week)?

Of course, that doesn’t happen much in Britain, where a definition of a heat wave is two warm days and a thunderstorm. Or, it used to be; nowadays it’s more like a warm week then a thunderstorm.

Now, before anyone starts yelling ‘Climate Change’ … let me say, it is happening; it’s been happening since the last Ice Age and will probably continue until the next Ice Age. Whether or not the actions of Man are partly responsible, or anything can be done about it is debatable, and I do not propose to have that debate here.

But surely, cleaning up our act and ‘reducing our emissions’ can be no bad thing, whichever view you take.

But, I’m racking my brains for travel stories involving heat, without telling ‘war stories’ of the Kalahari Desert and a non-air-conditioned Land Rover.

First, let’s go to the Venetian island of Murano. That’s the main place they make the glass for which Venice is famed. We followed the guide-book advice not to accept the ‘free’ trip, and look around the glass-works that some hotels offer … but it’s difficult to avoid a visit to at least one, when the touts are crowding to meet you off the vaporetto. Still, at least you have a choice of which one you’ll visit.

So, we had a demonstration of how those ornaments are made … and it was hot in there; it reminded me of an uncle, who often said he was ‘sweating like a glassblower’s … er … hindquarters’

No doubt he was, for he was a fireman on the railway. And, having ridden on the footplate of a steam loco, I know just how hot it got; the crews used to cook their breakfast by putting bacon and eggs on a shovel, and sticking it in the fire for a few seconds.

The hottest locos of all must be the Ffestiniog Railway’s ‘Double Fairlies’ The firebox runs right through the cab, leaving little room for the driver and fireman. Which is why you’ll often see them hanging out of the cab as far as they dare, to get as far as possible from the heat.

Merddin Emrys

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | July 18, 2017

Plas Cadnant Gardens: Slide Show

Cadnant 7

Anglesey: 2nd April 2017

I can’t leave Plas Cadnant without posting some more pictures of the beautiful garden. It’s divided into two parts. First, there’s the formal ‘walled garden’, laid out in the precise geometric style of many a Stately Home. Beyond that, you’re in woodland, sloping down to the River Cadnant, with its picturesque waterfall. There are plenty of exotic plants here, too, but these get gradually fewer and fewer, and eventually give way to natural woodland.

There are nearly a mile and a half of paths by which the gardens may be explored, and they’re colour coded  to indicate their difficulty or otherwise.

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Posted by: travelrat | July 16, 2017

The Larkhill Sheds

When I was stationed at Upavon with the Royal Air Force, we used to brag that we were the country’s … possibly the world’s …. first military flying base still in existence. There were those who said that nearby Netheravon and Old Sarum might give us an argument about that. It was many years later that the ‘Gospel According to St Google’ proved us to be right.

But, prior to that, aircraft operated from a grass strip at Larkhill, on land leased from the War Office, as early as 1910. Larkhill, home of the Royal School of Artillery has an even earlier connection with aviation, for it was here, in 1873, that the Army held trials for artillery observation from balloons. The technique had already been proven ten years earlier, in the American Civil War, but they still had to have ‘trials’.

They decided it was a Good Idea, so No 1 Balloon Company, Royal Engineers was formed … from which No 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force claims direct descent.

It was at Larkhill that the British and Colonial Aircraft Company … later, the Bristol Aeroplane Company … set up a Flying School, and where, on the 20th July, 1910, the first flight of the Boxkite aeroplane took place. They built aircraft sheds here … and they are still in existence.

Operations at Larkhill ceased in 1912, and aviation transferred to its new site at Upavon. The airfield has long since been built over, but the sheds remain. It’s thought they are the oldest existing aircraft hangars anywhere, and are Grade II listed buildings. The Army use them as store sheds … until the other week, when they received a very special visitor, about which I shall tell more later.

Scout at Larkhill 2

Posted by: travelrat | July 13, 2017

Falkland Islands: Penguins

Gentoo Penguin

Falkland Islands: 7th February 2017

When you visit the Falkland Islands, you must ‘do’ penguins. We’ve seen penguins in the wild before, but Little Penguins, in Australia, which, since they only come ashore at night, we weren’t allowed to photograph, as the flash damages their eyesight.

But, these were a different breed of penguin altogether: Gentoo and King Penguins, all huddled together with their chicks at a place called Bluff Cove. It’s not a place you can just drive up to; the minibus from Port Stanley drove us to a remote car park miles from anywhere … everywhere in the Falklands is miles from anywhere … and we transferred to a Land Rover, which took us on a bumpy ride across a barren, featureless plain …‘where we’re going, we don’t need roads’


 I suppose if a road was to be made, more visitors would come, and the penguins would go elsewhere.

But, there they were, standing in a sort of disinterested huddle, just being penguins. They were surrounded by a ring of metal markers which the rangers in attendance told us not to go beyond. Nevertheless, we were able to still get quite close to the birds without alarming them.

Bluff Cove 1

Just over the dune were a couple of Portakabins containing a café, a gift shop and a small museum, showing, and, of course selling all things penguin. But, more importantly, distributing cakes and most welcome hot drinks, which were included in the tour price.

Bluff Cove 2


Posted by: travelrat | July 11, 2017

Travel Theme: Flavour

Brazilian BBQ

I particularly like watching reruns of the 1950s comedy film Carry On Cruising. Of particular note was the Chef, baking a cake for the retiring Captain. It contained all kinds of most unlikely ingredients, but the flavour of each reminded the Captain of the many places he’d sailed to.

Now, knowing what went into it, I have no desire to taste such a cake but the principle is good. I only have to take a small morsel of frikadelle or bratwurst to be instantly transported back to Germany … even though I lived there 40 years ago, and have only briefly visited since.

You don’t have to go to Germany; you can buy these products just down the road, at LiDL … but there are some flavours you just can’t reproduce. You really have to go to Amsterdam to taste satay as it should be tasted and, try as I might, I can’t produce chips quite like those I’d get at a Belgian fritkot. (Don’t get me started on the beer and chocolate, or we’ll be here all day)


Harry's 3

I did find a couple of places which produce pies like Aussie pies … close your eyes, take a bite and think of waiting for a boat on the banks of the River Murray, trying not to share your pie with an over-importunate pelican. Or, you could put a few cubes of lamb or chicken on a skewer, hold them over a barbecue and you’re in Greece.

Sometimes, though, you can’t reproduce the flavours elsewhere. For real Chinese food you must go to China; a visit to the ‘Happy Dragon’ or wherever does fall somewhat short. It doesn’t only apply to food, either. The licence-brewed ‘Stella Tortoise’ we get in Britain is miles away from the ‘real thing’, as brewed in Leuven, Belgium. Maybe it’s the water?

Dec 4

For years, I thought that the statement ‘Guinness in England doesn’t taste the same as the stuff you get in Ireland’ was a load of pretentious guff … until I visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin!

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | July 9, 2017

Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens

Plas Cadnant

Anglesey: 2nd April 2017

I love a garden, and I especially like one that’s been rescued from near dereliction. Cornwall’s ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ are probably the best-known example, Coincidentally, the Tremayne family, who owned the Heligan Gardens were related to the owners of Plas Cadnant … which was another ‘recovered lost garden’.

Plas Cadnant estate, and the gardens were established in 1804, when John Price chose the site for his elegant Georgian house, and started work on the gardens surrounding it. The Price family held the estate until after the First World War, when it was divided, and sold to various owners. The house and gardens were acquired by a keen gardener, but shortage of labour and resources meant that it dwindled in size to just a small area around the house, and the rest became overgrown and dilapidated.

Anthony Taverner

In 1996, the gardens were bought by Anthony Taverner, who set about the painstaking task of restoring them to their former glory. But, on Boxing Day, 2015, it seemed that all his hard work was undone.

A disastrous flood swept away almost all of the garden. ‘There’s been nothing like it since 1804’  we were told. But, neighbours and local farmers rallied round to help, and today, there’s no sign that anything happened here … indeed, there’s nothing to suggest that the gardens lay abandoned and derelict for half a century.

You just can’t sum up these lovely gardens in a few words, so I’ll put up a couple of pictures now, and post a slide show next time the ‘Wales Diary’ comes around.

Plas Cadnant 2

Posted by: travelrat | July 6, 2017

Travel Theme: Tidy

‘A tidy desk is a sign of a sick mind’

‘A tidy house is a sign of a broken computer’  (Unknown)

At a place I used to work, we had a notice on the door:

‘Please excuse the mess. We work here!’

It wasn’t an office as such; we called it the ‘crew room’, and it sort of combined the functions of open-plan office, rest room, coffee bar and locker room. It had a transient population of about fifty, a dozen or so were ‘in residence’ at any given time. So, the place wasn’t very tidy. All the time you’d hear stuff like

‘Has anyone seen my notebook?

(Where he left it, only someone dropped a raincoat over it)

‘Jimmy! Where are the tea-bags?’

(Jimmy was our clerk, and the only person in the world who knew where everything was)

All this would change at the end of the month, when the Boss came down from Headquarters for his monthly visit, when it was all hands to tidy the place up. So, for a day or so … nobody could find anything.

‘Where are the travel claim forms?’

‘Green cabinet, top drawer, in the folder marked ‘Travel Claims’’

That was where they should be, of course, but for the rest of the month they’d be anywhere but there.


As you have probably gathered, I’m not the greatest fan of ‘tidy’. ‘Orderly’, yes … but that isn’t an exact synonym. I like an orderly garden, but not a tidy one that, to me, suggests someone scurrying around with a tape-measure and a tri-square, ensuring everything is just so, and woe betide the shrub that dares to grow an inch beyond its allotted bounds.

Bolsover Castle

Sadly, we sometimes find this trend at some of our monuments … a ruined castle is, in my opinion, spoilt by ‘over-gardening’ the surroundings, and making it too much like a municipal park. But, it doesn’t do to have it unkempt and overgrown, either. A middle ground is possible. Why not ditch the mower, and, instead, turn out some cows, sheep … or, as they did at Machu Picchu … llamas!

Llamas at Machu Picchu

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | July 4, 2017

Scratch Maps


Among my Christmas presents was a World Map to hang on the wall. But, it wasn’t an ordinary map; it worked on the principle of a scratch card … you were supposed to scrape off and uncover the countries you’d been to. But, it wasn’t quite that easy.

‘Do we uncover the places I’ve been to, or just the ones we’ve both been to?’

We decided on the latter, so that was Libya, Botswana, Denmark and Malta ruled out.

Now, if you look at the larger countries, you’ll see the states and provinces of most of them are shown. So, Florida, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Alberta and all Australian states except Western Australia were scratched off. China, we could have the whole country, because we spent three weeks touring it.

Not Russia. It seems wrong to uncover the whole country, when we only spent ten hours in St. Petersburg.

‘But, you scratched Sweden off, and we only spent two hours there!’

That’s a bit of a problem; you can’t ‘unscratch’ anywhere. But hey, you’re not going to be jailed or fined if you ‘break the rules’ occasionally, so who’s worried?

Posted by: travelrat | July 2, 2017

Sea Lions


When we visited Kangaroo Island in 2003, I was somewhat amused to go to Seal Bay, but find no seals. Because, despite the name, this is the haunt of the Australian Sea Lion … and they’re there in plenty. Maybe the bay’s original discoverers thought they were seals?

‘What is the difference, anyway?’ I asked. A ranger explained that the usual way to tell was that the sea-lion has external ear flaps; the seal doesn’t.

Another, perhaps more obvious way, I found when I consulted the ‘Gospel According to St. Google’ after our visit to Puerto Madryn. Since a sea-lion spends more time ashore than a seal does, it can rotate its hind flippers, to form rudimentary ‘legs’, and thus can walk on land, whereas a seal must slide on its belly.

Although we saw plenty of sea-lions at Puerto Madryn, the RIB didn’t approach them too closely; I think it’s forbidden to, by law. Some people in kayaks got much closer … but paddling a kayak all the way out to the point is really too much like hard work.

I zoomed in as much as I could, and, when I got home, zoomed in some more on the computer. I managed to produce some satisfactory, if not great results. The video, on the other hand, was absolute pants, and I junked it.

So, I got enough to produce a slide show, which I’ve bulked out with some of the pictures I took on Kangaroo Island in 2003.

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