Trefil to the Chartist's Cave

P1100590 - Chartist's Cave, Trefil
There’s something rather appealing about visiting a place that can lay claim to a title. Capitol of, most northerly, most westerly, most inebriated. You get the idea. For our first full day’s walk since returning from Mull we had another such location in mind, this one being the highest village in Wales. Sitting 409 meters above sea level Trefil, as it’s more commonly known, lies right on the boundary of the Brecon Beacons and to be honest hadn’t crossed my consciousness before now other than a glimpsed road sign as we blasted our way out of Wales along the Heads of the Valleys road. So why now? A good question with no more a complex answer than I happened to see a photo of the Chartist’s Cave whilst browsing the web and immediately thought to myself – I have to go there. Out came the OS maps, routes were plotted and on our first free Saturday we found ourselves looking down the broad Sirhowy Valley having just climbed out of Trefil itself.

P1100565 - Trefil

Pembrey Terns

P1100555 - Oystercatchers, Pembrey
I did wonder how long it would take me to start missing Mull and begin searching the property listings once more but even by my standards the afternoon of our return was unexpectedly rapid. The fact is that we had such a fantastic time that initially at least all I could focus on was how soon until we could get back? October’s looking like a potential option and is an attractive time of year too with the island’s Red Deer rut in full swing and all that choking Bracken well and truly dead. Good for walking and photography alike. The long drive home also got us talking about a new project we’d like to take on which should make our future exploration, in particular a tour of the entire Hebrides archipelago, a much easier and more enjoyable affair. For now though that’s all I’m going to say on the subject just in case nothing more comes of it. In the meantime the best way to take our minds off that Mull shaped hole in our hearts was to get back out into the great outdoors which is exactly what we’ve been doing.

First up was a late evening visit to the old Pembrey harbour a couple of weeks ago in order to coincide with both a spring high tide and sunset. Our timing was a little off arriving as we did after the main sandbanks had been inundated but that only made the views across the Burry Inlet all the more impressive. The less said about the sunset the better (it went cloudy).

P1100528 - Pembrey

Even as we watched the water level continued to rise, moving with a surprising turn of pace as it crept first up to the edge of its normal containment before spilling over. Footprints left from the day’s visitors were consumed one after another until the harbour looked fit to bursting, as indeed it was. This of course left very little space for any birds, the majority having been pushed over to Pembrey Burrows and out of sight. There were still gems to be found however which included at least thirteen Mediterranean Gulls loafing out in the Burry but I’d estimate that you could safely triple that number with ease and still not be near their true population. An impressive increase when I think back to even a couple of years ago.

Their stable-mates the Sandwich Terns were much noisier with special mention going to one particular pair which spent a good ten minutes flying in high circles overhead, each clearly not happy at the others presence. Equally vocal were a couple of hundred Oystercatchers huddled together on the eastern point of Pembrey Burrows, their evening roost slightly disturbed by a couple of kayakers wisely biding their time until the waters had ceased their race. Eventually even that position became untenable, consumed entirely and sending the flock skywards. Indecisive they milled around in front of us for a few moments before eventually heading over to Gower. We may not have Eagles down here but we do a fine line in Oyks.

P1100550 - Oystercatchers, Pembrey

P1100555 - Oystercatchers, Pembrey

Four Dunlin were also present briefly along with a small number of Common Gulls but there was no sign of the hoped for Ringed Plovers roosting on the inner breakwater. Probably too much disturbance. Not a problem for the colony of Sea Holly which also grows there and which was looking in fine health on this balmy summer’s eve.

P1100534 - Sea Holly

We finished off with a juvenile Linnet which briefly had us shouting Twite before our location brought us to our senses. It may take a few days to get my birding radar back into Welsh mode.

The Curtain Call - Isle of Mull

P1100526 - Glac Gugairidh, Isle of Mull
Originally written 21/07/2017

And so to the last of my posts from Mull this summer, but what a fortnight it’s been. We’ve experienced everything from glorious sunshine to gale force winds and unrelenting rain, Eagles aplenty not to mention sharing an island with just eight other souls and several thousand sea birds. There’s been Dolphins and Otters, Red Deer and Hares, and my footsteps have been a little more cautious having discovered that we’ve Adders basking all across the valley. Both of us have suffered from a damp foot or two thanks to Mull’s boggy interior but all is forgiven after the fantastic and memorable time we’ve been able to spend out in our kayaks. There’s been no ascent of Ben More but we did make it back up Beinn an Lochain and Carn Moir and finally managed to squeeze in my first ever trip across to Ulva. In fact looking back it’s hard to believe we’ve managed to cram so much in and that probably explains the few aches and pains I’m now carrying. Nothing ten hours in the car can’t fix as we make the long journey back to Wales.

The prospect of that very drive meant I favoured a walk from the house with which to round off our Mull adventure. It only felt right really as we got to say goodbye to some of the sights and wildlife with which we’ve been living side by side these last couple of weeks. If only the weather would have played its part but things could I suppose have been a lot worse than the grey sky and showers which faced us. They did however make for slightly treacherous walking conditions as we rock hopped along the coast, one of north west Mull’s hidden secrets our destination.

P1100517 - Isle of Mull

As we’d seen elsewhere Black Guillemots seem to be doing very well this year with at least another nine individuals out on the water and likely more hidden up in the cliffs. Wheatears were about as well even along the rocky shore though I must admit the sight of a female Pheasant down here did cause us a degree of surprise. Something which was by now almost expected however was the view of a Common Sandpiper’s rear end disappearing off into the distance, one species which no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get close to this time. Out in the loch a trio of Commic Terns were hunting not far from a small flock of at least ten Kittiwakes who as one would periodically dive down to the water’s surface. An impressive sight for sure.

P1100522 - Still Cave, Isle of Mull

Taking far longer than normal thanks to the slippery conditions we did eventually make it to the still cave. So called thanks to its association with the illegal distilling of alcohol back when these valleys used to be inhabited it now sits abandoned to the birds, a small raised level and a couple of old barrels the only hints to its illicit past.

P1100519 - Still Cave, Isle of Mull

And of those old communities we passed two on our way back out, first Crackaig which we visited on our first walk here two weeks ago and then Glac Gugairidh nestled over the rise just a little higher up the valley. The network of stone walls and well preserved buildings there make this one of the most evocative abandoned villages on Mull. It’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like for people living up here, a hard life of course but one with a great sense of community.

P1100524 - Crackaig, Isle of Mull

P1100525 - Glac Gugairidh, Isle of Mull

P1100526 - Glac Gugairidh, Isle of Mull

Back at our house it was as if all the valley birds had come out to pay their respects. The feeders were packed with two families of Great Tits and a variety of Chaffinches, fledgling Robins and Dunnocks littered the ground whilst juvenile Blackbirds and a very active Willow Warbler were constantly flying back and forth. The ever cautious Rock Doves even dropped in briefly before the sight of one another sent them into a blind panic and heading back the way they’d come. Our resident Song Thrush and pair of Swallows were also about as was the young Rabbit which has spent each evening carefully chewing its way through the daisies and buttercups outside our window as I’ve been writing these blogs. I’ll miss them all but I’m confident they’ll be waiting for us to top up the feeders next time we find ourselves on the glorious, Isle of Mull.

Calgary, Caliach and Croig - Isle of Mull

P1100512 - Croig, Isle of Mull
Originally written 20/07/2017

Our penultimate day on Mull and I don’t want it to end.

But there’s a time and a place for feeling sorry for ourselves and that’s on the ferry back to Oban. For now we had the prospect of a glorious sunshine filled day ahead of us and to fill it one of our favourite walks. We’d be sticking to the north west coast again, starting at Calgary before following the raised beach and lazy beds around to Caliach. To be honest though it was hard to push ourselves beyond the first hundred meters or so given the views were as good as this.

A Valley Day - Isle of Mull

Originally written 19/07/2017

One of the best things about visiting the same place year after year is the chance to build up an intimate understanding of its flora and fauna and as a result notice any changes that may occur. Indeed my ever present notebook in which we record our daily sightings began on Mull for that very reason and continues to this day. They however are just a drop in the ocean compared to the wildlife book which has been running in our cottage here for the best part of fifteen years now, its pages crammed with records from numerous visitors covering a wide range of interests. In fact I’m just about to set out on the daunting task of digitising the entire thing in an effort to preserve and consolidate it for posterity. Once complete we should have definitive lists of everything seen in our area, an added spur perhaps to seek out new species and populations hitherto undiscovered. To that end we decided to have a valley day on Wednesday and see if we couldn’t get a head start.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that as our primary interest is birds that’s exactly what we’d be concentrating on. And in the end we did pretty well. Thirty one species seen including a rare for here Goldfinch and confirmed breeding of Black Guillemots down at the beach. We’ve long suspected the latter having watched them flying up to their presumed nesting sites in the cliffs but today was the first time we’ve actually managed to see a juvenile fully fledged. It was hunting out in the small bay along with at least five adults of which there were several more perched on rocks along the coast. Now admittedly these birds aren’t anywhere near as tame as those in Oban but some judicious fieldwork ended up with me getting very good views indeed.

P1100427 - Black Guillemot, Isle of Mull

Tobermory Kayak and a Sunset - Isle of Mull

GOPR0227 - Tobermory Bay by Kayak
Originally written 18/07/2017 

What’s the story in Balamory, wouldn’t you like to know? Well on Tuesday at least it involved these two landlubbers hitting the water once more for a paddle around Tobermory Bay. Capital of Mull and famed final resting place of a legendary Spanish galleon laden with gold, though we were hoping for a slightly less terminal outing.

GOPR0205 - Tobermory Bay by Kayak

After the long carry at Torloisk it made a nice change to be able to park right next to the slipway in Tob meaning we were on the water in no time. Behind us the colourful high street looked resplendent whilst ahead lay a bustling marina complete with at least one yacht which must have easily stretched its owner’s pockets to seven figures. Our vessels felt slightly inferior when surrounded by such craft but we had one key advantage, a very shallow draft. This meant that unlike them we could stick closely to the steep sides of the bay as we headed across to Aros, enjoying dappled shade from the overhanging trees as we went. After a period of mixed weather (to put it mildly) we were now experiencing the hottest day of our trip so far. British weather, you’ve just got to love it.
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