Tuesday 30 April 2013

'Off Island' - pt 1

  I had a few hours 'spare' this morning (17th April) so decided to take a look at the blog and do an update. Checking the date I discovered that I've now been away from home for 3 weeks and what a busy three weeks it has been.

  We left home on the 28th March, drove to Lerwick and caught the Northlink boat to Aberdeen which left at 7pm. Thankfully the crossing was pretty calm, so no ill children (or adults) and the ferry docked on time at 7am. By 7.15 we were on our way for our first stopover at Liverpool where we would be for two nights with friends. It was a fairly good journey - apart from half an hour driving through a blizzard between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

  We were told that the Moscow State Circus was in town , so as it was only 20 mins walk from the house we decided to go to a matinee performance the following day. It has been over 40 years since I last went to one (Roberts Bros' in Bournemouth - complete with lions etc) so I was quite looking forward to the show. We weren't disappointed, the show was a great success and well worth the ticket price. There wasn't a highlight in particular - it was all equally as good. Taking photographs was permitted - not with flash (pointless given the distance and also the flash could distract the performers) but video was not allowed. There were one or two folk however that tried to either video or use flash, they were soon spotted and were told in no uncertain terms by a rather stern looking Russian woman to stop. Below is just one image taken using a very high ISO but it still wasn't enough to freeze the fastest of action...........

Moscow State Circus

  On Easter Sunday (31st March) we headed south on the M6 for our next 'port of call', Lyndhurst in the New Forest. Despite the fact it was a holiday weekend, the motorway south was very quiet (not for those going north however, as there was a long queue south of the Blackpool junction). Salisbury, which is normally a bottleneck at the weekend, was quiet and we went through in just a few minutes. On this occasion, we were staying in a very pleasant b&b just outside of Lyndhurst instead of with Ian and Elspeth. Over the next few days, we had a pleasant - but blustery - walk in the forest, a trip to the New Forest Wildlife Park - which is always a hit with all of us, more of that later, we also went to Marwell Zoo which has so much there one day doesn't do it justice.

  Back to the New Forest Wildlife Park (formerly called the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park - a bit of a mouthful). Since my last visit it has changed quite a bit, both in the layout and the introduction of new species. Many of the animals and birds are European and are too many to list here, so if you are interested click the link above. My favourites by far, (and for obvious reasons) have to be the otters. They have four species there - European, American River, Giant and Asian Short Clawed - all of which can be seen at very close quarters and are great to watch - especially under water through the glass sided pools. The girls and I spent ages watching the European Otter swimming in the glass sided indoor pool. If the sky behind us had been clearer taking pictures would have been easier as the grey sky caused a lot of reflections. One way around this would have been to hold up a coat behind us but I don't think other folk would have been too pleased :)

 Giant Otter

Red Fox

  The following day  we all headed off to Marwell Zoo. As I said earlier, there was an awful lot to see, so we split up and so Sula and I headed off together. Sula particularly wanted to spend some time at the Amur Leopard enclosure; so, despite the chilly wind we waited for half an hour for its feeding time. I did feel sad for such a beautiful creature being held in a large 'cage' and however controversial it maybe, they do serve a purpose whether its for education, breeding or for the survival of the species. I do like hearing some of the comments from onlookers however and on this occasion it was regarding the animal not showing earlier on before feeding time. Bearing in mind some of these animals live in the mountains of NE China, a comment from one onlooker on not seeing one outside in the enclosure was 'because it was too cold'  probably wasn't quite true. From there, we headed off for a bite to eat - we thought maybe a burger would fill the hole - but didn't ask if there was any horse meat in it ;) The price however did take me by surprise, £9.50 for a burger and hot-dog; as I like to say 'at least Dick Turpin wore a mask !

  We then slowly meandered around the park and ended up over at the Asian Short Clawed Otter enclosure - half an hour before feeding time. The antics of this species are always worth watching as they are very sociable  and call often. It was here that Sula and I heard another innocent comment that did make us chuckle. We were standing next to a young couple, when one of them said 'do they lay eggs?' The comment did sound a bit ridiculous, but in their defense, maybe they thought they were related to a Duck-billed Platypus ? Comments like this reminds me of many years ago when we lived in Malawi for a year. We were staying in Mvuu reserve and I'd gone on an evening game drive with a group of visitors. The vehicle came to a halt as there was a Hippo lying on the sandy track in front of us. The guide then told us about Hippos and why they come out of the water to do this etc etc. When he asked us if we had any questions, a lady sitting next to me,  asked in a very serious voice 'do they climb trees?' I remember thinking, 'Gosh I hope not, think of the hole in the ground when they jump out'!

Asian Short-clawed Otters - always good 'value'

  Back in the New Forest later, we headed out for a lovely meal in the pub at Bank. On the bar was a very large glass jar about 14" high and 6" across (like an old sweet jar). It was filled with hundreds of very small coloured chocolate eggs and, if you paid a £1, you got to guess the number and if you won, you got the jar of mini eggs - we paid £5 and all had a guess. My method was to do it like when counting a flock of birds, count say 50 and then estimate how many 50s there may be. A few days later, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I got a call from the pub to say I had guessed the number exactly - 777 - I don't get lucky that often.

  After 4 nights in the Forest, we headed north again to the Cotswolds. We were to stay at some friends who live near Hailes Abbey. The day between the two nights (if you see what I mean) was going to be the day I'd been dreading for the trip - a visit to Warner Bros' studio nr Watford to 'Harry Potter World'. For the last 6 months, all I've seen and heard from the kids (except when they were at school that is) has been Harry Potter!

  We left in plenty of time at 6.15am for our 9.30 tour slot - and arrived an hour before it opened at around 7.45 due to not much traffic. Even though I really didn't want to go, I will have to go on record to admit to enjoying it. Not I hasten to add 'Harry Potter' (the film could have been Mary Poppins or Tele Tubbies!) but because of the work that went in to the sets, costumes and props etc. The mechanical and electrical creations were quite mind-boggling at times and something I'll happily remember for a long time. For most of it, photography was allowed - and although videoing wasn't encouraged, I did see numerous people doing it. What I did notice - and a sight not seen too much on the 'Island Above All Others' ie Unst, was a lot of folk wandering around with Ipads held up in front of them either taking pictures or videoing. I just wonder if they only got to see HP World when they got home and not when they were there...........

  As I've not seen much of the HP films, most of the sets were a mystery to me. However, as I said, some of the techi' stuff was amazing and this 'door' below is the one I'll remember. Each part moved in one way or another to unlock the door, just the time that must have been spent on this alone must have amassed weeks - if not months - of work......

 ....and a crop....

  I was going to go to the trouble of cloning out the lights but time wasn't on my side (it give's an idea of the size when you look at the people in the bottom right hand corner).

  The following day we were on the move again, this time just a few miles east to Longborough and Moreton where my sisters live - which was also where I grew up (although some might disagree with the 'growing up' bit)