Hello. thank you for visiting. A number of my Willowbrook colleagues have asked me to keep in touch now that I have retired - where I go and what I see and do etc. This should keep you "in the picture".
The Ashes. For many people an iconic game of cricket between England and Australia. For me, it meant something completely different. After a family discussion, we had decided to scatter Les' ashes in two places; the Mawddach Estuary in mid-Wales and then on the Lickey Hills where she grew up.
I had already decided that, for the next several years, I would spend April 1st (our wedding anniversary) at the Mawddach and had already booked a room at the George III hotel on the water's edge at Penmaenpool, near Dolgellau. The kids rented a lovely cottage for the weekend, a few miles inland near the Coed-y-Brenin forest. We drove over in three cars on the Friday, met for a "family get-together" on the Saturday including lunch at the George and a short beach session at Barmouth (too windy really!) and then devoted Sunday to the ashes scattering. I had already decided that I wanted to scatter Les' ashes in four distinct locations along the estuary. The first was by the "old" road bridge over the Mawddach, at a quiet spot where the tidal estuary and the river merge. We frequently went there, standing on the bridge just looking down at the water, inland up into the hills or towards the coast and over to Cader Idris. More than once we saw a herd of cows (Les loved cows!) drinking down at the water's edge. The second place was another quiet spot, very close to the George III, where the estuary's course kinks and leaves a lovely marshy spot where sheep from the adjoining hill wander down. I scattered some ashes here on the Sunday morning after breakfast, on my own, watched by some new-born lambs and their very wary mothers. (The toll bridge and the small jetty by the George III were the scene of a major maritime tragedy as recently as 1966. A pleasure boat on a day-trip up from Barmouth was attempting to turn, to moor at the jetty. It hit the bridge and overturned. 16 people drowned.)
After linking up with Peter, Helen and her family, we headed down to where the estuary meets the sea, opposite Barmouth. We parked and walked to the water's edge, only a handful of other people around so early on in the year. We scattered some of the ashes at the foot of a slipway used by pleasure craft; on the "inland" edge, hopeful that maybe they will remain there, watched over by the magnificence of Cader Idris. We then walked a few hundred yards round the end of the spit, to where the outgoing tide was flowing and scattered the remainder there, to flow out with the tide. Les' maiden name was Livick, a very old Norse family name (and one that is actually mentioned in the 1856 book called "The Northmen of Cumberland & Westmoreland" which details the influence the Vikings had on that area. Les was very proud of this book which I bought her some years ago.) Who knows, her ashes may, depending on the influence of the tides, go back to Scandinavia.
When we organised this, none of us had realised that Sunday was also Mother's Day, which gave the scattering even more meaning. For that same reason, Hazel had departed in the morning with Joe and Beth, to spend the afternoon with her Mother, but Peter stayed with Helen and me. The weather was warm and sunny; we could not have wished for better. Afterwards Libby was able to play on the sand, helped by Ant making the sand castles while Freddie had his first "sunbathe".
Late Sunday afternoon, Helen, Ant, Libby and Freddie set off on the journey back home, while Peter came back to the George to stay with me. He and Helen had decided that I should not be on my own on April 1st. Monday was another sunny morning and I was determine to find a certain narrow lane on the opposite side of the estuary, high up in the hills. It was a road Les and I found 20-something years ago and at the time I reckoned it was the narrowest road I had ever driven along. With a stone wall on either side, to break down would have been problematic - impossible to open either door. Sun roof as an escape hatch! All this was actually academic as the walls only extended about 50 yards! With Peter on the maps, we ventured up into the hills. Roads change over time and a road which I am sure we had used then was now signed "Unsuitable for motor traffic". So we approached from another direction and yes, we found it. Another difference; then I was probably driving a VW Passat estate, a somewhat wider car than the MX5 and possibly with bigger wing mirrors. I was slightly disappointed. There were several inches either side of me now!
The challenge now completed, we drove into Barmouth for a snack lunch. Barmouth out of season is OK but is a place we always tried to avoid during the main summer holiday weeks. Call me a snob, but it had a very "down-market" air about it; too influenced by the large funfair. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Barmouth is now trying to improve its image - a volunteer group of locals called "BRIG" - Barmouth Resort Improvement Group, are working very hard to smarten it up - and the funfair seems much smaller than I remembered it.
Back in our hotel room late that afternoon, we suddenly heard the very distinct low, heavy throb of a Chinook helicopter. Peter reacted first and ran outside; I grabbed my camera and followed him. There, in front of us and flying low up the valley was an RAF Chinook, below the tops of the mountains opposite. Amazing.
The following day, Tuesday April 1st was again warm and sunny. Les did us proud with the weather. I wanted to re-visit Cregennan Lakes, 800 feet up in the foothills of Cader, along another single-track road. Owned by the NT, this is a beautiful spot (read it on TripAdvisor!) overlooking the Mawddach estuary and the Barmouth Railway Bridge. The narrow roads and very steep descent into Arthog village keep it very quiet. When we arrived, there were just two birders, hoping to see a Peregrine Falcon and having to make do with a stonechat (which flew off as soon as I looked through his spotting scope!). Then a lone biker arrived, to photograph his lovely BMW touring bike with the Lake in the background. With a 6-cylinder 1600cc engine, the bike just purred when he pulled away again. I have no desire to ride a motor bike but the technology in them is amazing. Continuing the NT theme, Peter and I then headed for Barmouth. I knew that the very first piece of land donated to the NT over 100 years ago was at Barmouth, 4 1/2 acres of headland called Dinas Oleu, rising above the town. I wanted to visit it. Peter loves walking and, as a NT member himself, was keen to see this piece of history. As the photographs show, we did and the views are pretty spectacular. Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the NT, spoke of "creating open-air sitting rooms for city dwellers to have a place to breathe." (Remember, conditions then for many people were pretty horrible by today's standards).
Wednesday morning was dull and rainy as we meandered along the coast road to Tywyn (best forgotten about) and on to Aberdyfi (Aberdovey) where I do want to spend a "mini break"; and then headed for home. I had been away for five nights, my March and April "mini breaks" rolled into one. An emotional few days, both for me and for Peter and Helen; but despite the sadness at the reason why we were there, we all felt very positive about our time there. I will finish with the words of the Mawddach Poem, written in 1891:-
The Mawddach is a truly magical place which I adore. I shall return.
Today was a very difficult day for all of us; Helen, Peter and me. We had decided that we would spend the day together, to comfort each other. Peter took the day off work and arrived about 9.30. He and I went off to Willowbrook Garden Centre to have breakfast and just "talk". After taking Libby to a morning activity and then dropping her off at nursery, Helen arrived with Freddie about midday. We had previously agreed that we would spend the afternoon on the Lickeys, an area special to all of us as a family but even more so because it was somewhere Les loved, where she had grown up and where she and her elder brother Wayne had spent much of their free time as youngsters, enjoying the freedom of the Hills and being at one with the natural world. (Only a few days ago, Helen had bumped into her, now-retired Headmaster from Lickey First & Middle School at, of all places, a garden centre near Redditch. Small world!)
There was another reason too. Having failed in our attempt to get a memorial bench erected in Les' memory on the Lickeys, (too many benches there already according to the Parks Dept.), I had discovered that the Rangers are creating a new "Community Orchard" in a previously undeveloped corner of the Lickeys and are looking for sponsorship. I wanted Helen to see it and decide if she felt this was worth following up. It is literally only three minutes from the Visitor Centre, but adjacent to a footpath not commonly used. We "checked it out" and Helen and Peter agreed that I should set up a meeting with the Chief Ranger to discuss placing something there as a lasting memorial to Les.
After a lunch at the Visitor Centre, we went for a walk, along a path Les had probably walked many, many times in her youth. We talked and, at times, we were silent, each of us no doubt with our own thoughts and memories.
We talked about how lucky we are to have the Lickeys right on our doorstep and yet sometimes, for that very reason, we ignore it. We will drive for an hour or more and rave about somewhere, yet we have a "country park" equally appealing only a few minutes away from where we live.
It is at times like this that I am so glad of the very strong family bond we have. Helen and Peter have their own growing families but they do ensure that I am very much part of "their" lives as well. I am so grateful.
Peter has departed to collect his two from school; Helen has gone to pick Libby up from nursery. The house is silent; just me and my thoughts; what might have been, what can no longer be and yet, what I still hope to achieve.
In one sense, photography was the last thing on my mind today; yet I felt it was important to record what we did. The first photo is the four of us (three + Freddie) at the new Community Orchard and the second is of a brother and sister "walking the Lickeys".
In Autumn 2012, Les and I spent a long weekend based in Truro and one day were exploring the Roseland peninsula. We had lunch at the Rising Sun Inn. Back home we decided we wanted to spend more time there and so I booked for us to spend Les' 65th birthday there. Then, with Les in hospital, I had to cancel but they agreed to carry my deposit forward for a future visit. I decided that I would go back there at the same time this year. I knew it would be very emotional; and it was.
I had a rough plan; drive down Wednesday (via the King Harry ferry - Les loved ferries!), get my bearings and have a wander round. Thursday, catch the foot ferry from St. Mawes into Falmouth, wander round and "do" the National Maritime Museum. Friday, mooch around the area. Saturday, "do" St.Mawes castle, then back across the King Harry ferry and back home.
Talking to Jo, manager of the Inn, I discovered that St. Mawes has quite a strong connection with the motor sport world. Frank Williams, founder of the Williams F1 team, has a house in the village but even more interesting is that David Richards not only has a house there but also now owns two hotels in the village, the Idle Rocks Hotel and the St. Mawes Hotel. David was a very successful rally navigator who then went into the "business" side of motorsport, established Prodrive (running rally teams for several manufacturers) and eventually became chairman of Aston Martin. He bought the first hotel in 2012, gave it a multi-million pound refurbishment and it opened last summer. Currently it is closed again for another refit as the recent storms smashed up the ground floor pretty badly (see pic.)
Jo reckons that possibly as much as 60% of the village is "non-residents".
For anyone with an interest in the sea, water, boats, weather, the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth is well worth a visit. I spent 4.5 hours there! Not as mind-blowing as Yeovilton last month, but much more "up-to-date" and family friendly than the Haynes car museum. The NMM also remembers the WW2 raid (combined RN and commando) which set off from Falmouth to destroy the dry dock at St. Nazaire in France. FIVE Victoria Crosses were awarded as a result of this successful sortie, the largest number ever for a single action. The jetty used by the St. Mawes ferry has inscriptions relating to the action, some of which (particularly the humorous ones) are in my photographs.
Friday was a bit of a dead loss as the weather was cold and rainy. Spring had definitely not come early to the Roseland! I did a lot of reading.
Saturday, I explored St. Mawes castle (with the aid of a handheld personal audio guide) which I found fascinating. A few of the photos are of the "purely a record" type but with others I have tried to capture (sorry!) the way the light, shapes and textures all interact with each other. Then, I did manage to buy some local Cornish daffs (which Les loved) for the family, back across the King Harry ferry and back to home.
And the Rising Sun Inn - yes, I can recommend it. Comfy bed, friendly staff, good (pub) food and a superb waterfront location. Watch the ferry come and go from the bedroom window, and the enthusiastic gig racing team practicing.
Visited the annual Race Retro exhibition at Stoneleigh last Friday. It acts as a showcase for the classic and historic racing scene which just seems to keep on growing and growing. Very enjoyable. Over a burger at lunchtime, I started chatting to another chap. After the usual polite pleasantries, we realised we were both on the "same wavelength". Turns out this chap spent many years on one of the Silverstone recovery trucks; had quite a few tales to tell. Remembered Martin Brain's fatal crash.
Too cold for racing, so enthusiasts gather at a muddy hill to see who can make a (purpose-built) trials car get as far up a marked section as possible. If you get to the top, you are deemed to have "cleaned" it. This year, the Hagley club (who run the Loton hill-climb) were using a new venue by the Long Mynd in Shropshire. A sunny day in beautiful countryside, what more does one want.
Twenty-one competitors rose to the challenge, with varying degrees of success. It is a very skilful branch of motor sport, albeit run at very slow speed. Lots of revs and a "gung-ho" attitude is not always the answer. Sometimes the subtle approach pays off, searching out the tiny bits of grass (rather than mud) and letting the car move forward slowly. Enjoy the pics.