Archive for the ‘Leeds’ Tag

Edinburgh, Durham, Leeds and Coventry: 19th-22nd September 2018   Leave a comment

We recently had need to go to Edinburgh to attend a sad event, a family funeral. I’ll say no more about that as it was a private affair. However we did spend three days on the return journey visiting some sites in southern Scotland, northern England and the Midlands which will be the subject of this post.


The day of the funeral was marred by high winds and torrential rain. However it was still and dry at dawn so I took the opportunity to visit the shore at Musselburgh which was quite close to where we were staying.


This area is famous as a wintering area for seaduck such as these Common Eider.


There were a large number Velvet Scoters in the area, spread out over several miles of coast


Velvet Scoter can be told from (in most places) the eponymous Common Scoter by the yellow in the bill, white mark under the eye and in particular by the obvious white stripe in the open wing which is caused by white secondaries and greater coverts.


The female, seen behind this male, is identified by the two pale patches on the head, quite a different pattern than on Common Scoter. I usually see one or two of this species each year, the odd one winters in Dorset although they are nowhere near as regular as Common Scoter either in winter or on migration. Here I saw no Common Scoters at all, just about 300 Velvets.


However the reason I made several visits to Musselburgh was to see Velvet Scoter’s American cousin, White-winged Scoter (third from the left). Recently split from Velvet Scoter, this was only the 3rd or 4th record of the species in the UK (depending on whether this bird is considered the same one as was seen in Scotland in 2017). White-winged Scoter is very similar to Velvet Scoter, differing only (in the male) in it’s larger and upturned white mark below the eye, swollen ridge of the upper mandible and pinkish rather than yellow tip of the bill. The white wing bar is not a diagnostic field mark as is shared with Velvet Scoter, just that in this photo the White-winged is holding it’s wing slightly open revealing the white secondaries. It certainly wasn’t easy to find with so many Velvet’s to check but with perseverance I eventually located it. There is a further type of scoter with white wings, Stejneger’s Scoter from Asia, which I saw well in Mongolia earlier this year. Currently this form is considered a race of White-winged Scoter but many think it deserves species status in its own right. As far s I know there have been no records in the UK but it has occurred in Eire.


We left Musselburgh and continued along the coast towards North Berwick. Much of the Firth of Forth is dominated by views of the Bass Rock. The closest approach is just east of North Berwick where this photo was taken. The marbled surface of the rock is actually perched Gannets. 150,000 Gannets breed on the rock, making it the largest Northern Gannet colony in the world. I was surprised that there were still thousands of them about in mid September.


We continued eastwards and visited this cove next to the headland of Barns Ness. Good for scenery but not many birds. It was a bit of a shock that evening when I found out there was a Woodchat Shrike there all the time. In the distance you can just make out the southern shore of Fife where we visited last November (see this blog for photos and an account of that trip).


We called in to picturesque harbour at Dunbar …


… and St Abbs but by mid-afternoon the weather was on the turn and we headed south, back into England and on to the city of Durham. This was my 19th trip to Scotland. So many people I speak to in the south of England have never been at all, well all I can say is they are missing out big time.


We spent the morning in the city of Durham with Dave, my friend from University days.


We had met Dave, who lives near Consett in County Durham, a few minutes earlier in the quaint Market Place.


The Market Place is dominated by the statue of Lord Londonderry which is known locally as ‘the man on the horse’. As the photo of Margaret and Dave above shows we were wrapped up well against the cold but the chilly conditions that morning had no effect on this man. In fact people from the north-east have a well-known resistance to the cold and it said that the Met Office won’t issue a severe weather warning until a Geordie lass is found wearing an overcoat!


Durham city centre is encompassed within a loop of the River Wear and comprises a small number of quaint ancient streets.


From Wikipedia: Local legend states that the city was founded in A.D. 995 by divine intervention. The 12th century chronicler Symeon of Durham recounts that after wandering in the north, Saint Cuthbert’s bier miraculously came to a halt at the hill of Warden Law and, despite the effort of the congregation, would not move.[7] Aldhun, Bishop of Chester-le-Street and leader of the order, decreed a holy fast of three days, accompanied by prayers to the saint. During the fast, Saint Cuthbert appeared to a certain monk named Eadmer, with instructions that the coffin should be taken to Dun Holm. After Eadmer’s revelation, Aldhun found that he was able to move the bier, but did not know where Dun Holm was. The legend of the Dun Cow, which is first documented in The Rites of Durham, an anonymous account about the Durham Cathedral, published in 1593, builds on Symeon’s account. According to this legend, by chance later that day, the monks came across a milkmaid at Mount Joy (southeast of present-day Durham). She stated that she was seeking her lost dun cow, which she had last seen at Dun Holm. The monks, realising that this was a sign from the saint, followed her. They settled at a wooded “hill-island” – a high wooded rock surrounded on three sides by the River Wear. There they erected a shelter for the relics, on the spot where the Durham Cathedral would later stand. Symeon states that a modest wooden building erected there shortly later was the first building in the city. Bishop Aldhun subsequently had a stone church built, which was dedicated in September 998. It no longer remains, having been supplanted by the Norman structure.

Also from Wikipedia: Owing to the divine providence evidenced in the city’s legendary founding, the Bishop of Durham has always enjoyed the title “Bishop by Divine Providence” as opposed to other bishops, who are “Bishop by Divine Permission”. However, as the north-east of England lay so far from Westminster, the bishops of Durham enjoyed extraordinary powers such as the ability to hold their own parliament, raise their own armies, appoint their own sheriffs and Justices, administer their own laws, levy taxes and customs duties, create fairs and markets, issue charters, salvage shipwrecks, collect revenue from mines, administer the forests and mint their own coins. So far-reaching were the bishop’s powers that the steward of Bishop Antony Bek commented in 1299 AD: “There are two kings in England, namely the Lord King of England, wearing a crown in sign of his regality and the Lord Bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown, in sign of his regality in the diocese of Durham”. All this activity was administered from the castle and buildings surrounding the Palace Green. Many of the original buildings associated with these functions of the county palatine survive on the peninsula that constitutes the ancient city.


The 11th century castle and for many years was the residence of the Bishop Princes. It now has been renovated and acts as accommodation for student at University College. Considerably finer accommodation than the terraced slum I occupied for three years at Uni in Leeds (mind you it was the best of times and I wouldn’t have had it any other way).


As there were events on for freshers week we were not allowed into the college but the security man allowed me to walk close enough to get a shot of the courtyard through the arch.


We wandered through some ancient streets to the Cathedral …


Photography is not allowed inside the cathedral so I have taken this photo from


But I could take photos in the adjoining cloisters …


In spite of light rain we took a walk along the banks of the River Wear.


…seeing, ducks, swans and the odd canoeist.


By the weir on the Wear we had great views up at the Cathedral. Dating from 1093, both it and the Castle have been designated UNESCO Heritage Sites. There can be few cities that have such magnificent views just yards from the city centre.


We then headed down to Leeds, checked into our hotel which gave a good view over the east side of the city and then met up with our old friend Nigel.


I have known Nigel since school days and shared a place with him at University and beyond. He has developed a strong interest in art and often takes us to either the city art gallery of one of various commercial galleries in the city centre.


He is so well know to the staff that they offered him (and us) a drink and allowed us to sit and absorb the art on offer at our own pace. Our visit to Leeds was short and we just spent a few hours in the afternoon with Nigel in the city and then went for a meal, but it was great to meet up with someone who has been your friend for over 50 years.


As we drove south to Poole we detoured to visit the centre of Coventry. I was born near Coventry and spent my early years here. I still have some relatives in the city but seldom see them. The purpose of our visit was to show Margaret the amazing modern cathedral.


I’m sure on my last visit this used to be a roundabout with the statue of Lady Godiva in the middle. From Wikipedia: Godiva, Countess of Mercia died between 1066 and 1086), was an English noblewoman who, according to a legend dating at least to the 13th century, rode naked – covered only in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants. The name “Peeping Tom” for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind or dead. Wikipedia goes on to say that although Lady Godiva is a historical figure, the story of the naked ride is almost certainly apocryphal. On the hour a figure of Lady Godiva on horseback appears at the clock and moves from one yellow door to the other whilst the face of Peeping Tom emerges from the yellow triangular opening above. The statue was erected in 1949.


Coventry was devastated during the blitz in autumn 1940 (my mother lived through it all and continued to work at the Sainsburys store in the bombed out city centre). Perhaps the highest profile casualty was the destruction of the cathedral. The cross on the altar is formed from two burning timbers that fell on the altar during the blitz.


Winston Churchill visits Coventry Cathedral in 1941. Photo by Capt Horton- War Office official photographer – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums.


The cathedral was not rebuilt in its former locality but the ruin was left to stand  as a powerful tribute to the events of WWII …


… and has become a powerful symbol of reconciliation between nations with powerful links being forged after the war between the cathedral and church organisations in Germany and elsewhere. Iron nails from the roof timbers have been fashioned into a series of ‘cross of nails’ which have been sent to reconciliation centres worldwide.


In 1963 a new cathedral was opened, designed by Sir Basil Spence and is designated a grade 1 listed building. It was built along side, rather than in place of, the old cathedral. It’s design departed markedly from traditional church architecture and like Concord, the Moon landings and the Beatles it symbolised the ‘brave new world’ of the 1960s. Having grandparents living in Coventry I visited it a number of times and was always in awe of its modern magnificence. So 50+ years on would I still feel the same? As you walk up the steps to the entrance you pass the magnificent statue of St Michael’s victory over the Devil …


This modern sculpture dominates the entrance. Marked on the marble floor is the ancient Christian Chi Rho symbol.


The baptistery window designed by Graham Sutherland


Looking down the aisle and past the quire you see the full magnificent of the cathedral.


Once thought to be the largest tapestry in the world, the huge tapestry of Christ in Glory was designed by Graham Sutherland. Three nails from the old cathedral (the first of the series mentioned above) sit at the centre of the altar cross.


There are a number of side chapels …


… in this one the angelic figure is framed by a representation of the ‘crown of thorns’.


Looking back towards the entrance you see this lovely etched glass window and the old cathedral beyond.


Leaving the cathedral we stopped for a bite to eat nearby and were intercepted by this young lady from a dance troupe called ‘The Dance We Made’. She asked us about our journey from Edinburgh to Coventry and then incorporated ‘aspects’ into the dance. You can see this at and we get a mention 3 minutes into the routine.


The students were returning to the University (as they had been at Durham and Edinburgh, explaining why accommodation was so hard to find as their parent were taking them to Uni and staying overnight in all the travel lodges). So there were other strange events going on as well as the dance troupe, such as these six students sharing a hexagonal bicycle.


From here it was just a matter of finding the M40 and heading home. It had been an interesting few days meeting up with old friends and sightseeing in various cities and doing some birding in Scotland although of course the actual reason for the trip was a very sad event indeed. I’ll conclude with another view of Coventry Cathedral looking away from the altar towards the lovely window by the entrance. And as to the question ‘would the building that I found so inspiring when first seen as a child still do the same today’, then the answer is an emphatic yes.


Summer 2017: a few trips away from home.   Leave a comment

As in 2016 I haven’t posted much to my blog during the summer and early autumn.

As I mentioned earlier I have lost all my edited photos from the Caribbean trip so haven’t been able to upload any of those, I spent much of July and August ringing and September was spent on a wonderful tour of Western Australia.

With my ringing paperwork up to date I’ll now attempt to edit the thousands of outstanding photos (outstanding in the sense that I haven’t touched them rather than that they  particularly good) that I have accumulated and get the blog up to date.

This post deals with a few non-birdy activities this summer (or rather should I say ‘less-birdy as birds creep in a bit)  and the next with the more birdy ones.


In early July we went up to Derby to see my brother and his family and then from there on to Leeds. The purpose of the visit was to meet up with my old friend Nigel (left) whom I have known since school and Uni days. Another friend from University is Dave (right) who lives in County Durham and caught the train to Leeds to meet up with us.


Nigel has a strong interest in art and as we all like a good stately home, we visited Temple Newsam House in Leeds which was quite near where I lived in 1976-78.


Temple Newsam is a Tudor-Jacobean house with grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. The estate was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, was once owned by the Knights Templar (hence the name), was seized by the crown and given as a present by Henry VIII to his niece Margaret. Today it is owned by Leeds City Council.


One of the most outstanding features of this grade 1 listed building is this highly decorative staircase.


The ornate rooms, carefully shielded from the rays of the sun are what you would expect from a house of this antiquity.


Later we all returned to Leeds for a spot of lunch. When I lived there in the 70s Leeds was a drab northern town (although still full of character). Today it is lively, modern and beautifully decorated (for example by these owls on the side of high-rise building).


However the old arcades have been preserved and in many case improved.


Dingy back streets have been covered over and turned into beautiful shopping malls. I lived in Leeds from late 69 to early 78 and am amazed at its transformation.


A particularly dingy area was along the banks of the River Aire but now decaying warehouses have been turned into luxury flats and pedestrian access along the old tow-paths allows for a pleasant stroll by the waterside.


As with our last visit we stayed at a hotel just south of the river. The following morning we set off on a long drive to Essex. We stopped for a bit of birding in Cambridgeshire and then visited Margaret’s friends in Suffolk before arriving at her daughter Anita’s house in Maldon that evening.


Anita, her husband John and Margaret on a coastal footpath in Essex.


At the park in Maldon is the statue of Byrthnoth, a Saxon Earl who rejected King Ethelred’s policy of appeasement towards the Vikings. He fought and was defeated by the Vikings at the Battle of Maldon in 991.


The only bird photo in this post! Along the shore there were many Black-tailed Godwits. Nearly all the UK’s Black-tailed Godwits breed in Iceland, a few non-breeding birds spend the summer in the UK and in July these are joined by the first of the returning birds. At this time many are in their resplendent brick-red and grey summer plumage.


John and Anita had some business to attend to near Southend, so we went with them and took a walk along the seafront. Off shore several large sailing barges could be seen. In the distance is the Kent coast on the south side of the Thames Estuary.


The tide was out exposing a huge expanse of intertidal mud. This is an important area for wading birds but in early July relatively few had returned from their breeding grounds.


In the distance we could see Southend Pier, the longest pier in the world. On a previous visit we walked to the end of the pier and I posted photos of and from the pier on this blog.


Rows of beach huts, he stereotypical image of an English seaside resort.


On another day we visited the area around Tollesbury, which lie to the north of Maldon on the Blackwater estuary. Unlike Suffolk and Norfolk to the north the Essex coastline is dissected by multiple estuaries. These have created a large area of saltmarsh (much of which has been converted into grazing pasture) but fortunately some remains, as seen here . I don’t like the phrase ‘reclaimed land’ as this indicates that farmland was once ‘lost’ giving farmers  the right to ‘reclaim’ it, which is far from the truth.


An old lightship and Bradwell power station (on the south shore of the Blackwater) are seen above the expanse of salt marsh.



The many creeks are enlivened by some pretty villages.



Two days after our return from Essex I undertook a far less successful trip, this time to western Cornwall. Earlier in the year news had broken of an Amur Falcon in Cornwall, but it disappeared long before I had a chance to go and see it. On 17th July it was rediscovered at St Buryan to the west of Penzance and was even seen to go to roost. Two of my friends joined me for the 200 mile overnight drive. We arrived about 0400 and waited from dawn until late morning at this vantage point but there was no sign of the falcon. This is the second time that this highly migratory east Asian raptor has been recorded in the UK It was a real shame that we dipped, partially because of the wasted effort but mainly because unlike the first UK record in the north-east it was in an easily identified plumage and had shown very well the day before. Also there was no ‘back-up’ rarities in the area to allow us to claw back some value from the twitch.


Later in July we had a day in London, Margaret needs to renew her South African passport and this required a trip to the South African consulate.


Situated near to Trafalgar Square this involved an early morning bus ride from Poole and a lot of queuing and form filling. Even now this simple matter is not fully resolved.


We later walked past the fortress that is Downing Street. On a visit to London as a child I remember you could walk up Downing Street and take a photo of Number 10, how things have changed.


We spent the afternoon in the impressive Victoria and Albert museum (usually known as the V&A).


Even the cafe is a historical exhibit in its own right ….


…. but the reason we had come was to see the Pink Floyd exhibition which charted the 50 year history of the band from its psychedelic beginnings ….


…. to the bitterness and remorse of ‘The Wall’ ….


…. to the post Roger Waters period.


I first heard ‘Piper from the Gates of Dawn’ in 1967, saw Pink Floyd three times between 1970 and 1974 and have seen Pink Floyd tribute bands many times recently. I have all of their albums. I can honestly say that few bands have given me so much enjoyment or given me so much food for thought. In particular I have come to love the interplay between Waters’ acerbic lyrics and Gilmour’s angry guitar playing on ‘The ‘Wall and ‘The Final Cut’ albums. I never saw them perform ‘The Wall’ live and I will always regret that, but I’m glad I saw them when I did and delighted that 50 years on a three-month long exhibition about their timeline can draw tens of thousands of fans.


After the exhibition there was only an hour or so available to enjoy all of the other exhibits at the V&A. These beautiful medieval triptychs are but an example of the countless treasures in this wonderful museum. We must return and spend the whole day here.


In early August, planned to coincide with the so-called ‘glorious twelfth’ I attended Hen Harrier Day at Arne RSPB. The purpose is clear, opposition to illegal killing of our birds of prey. Year after year shooting interests openly flaunt the law (and in most cases get away with it) and slaughter birds of prey just in to prevent them predating their precious game birds. This is most acute on moorlands where whole estates have been turned over to ‘Red Grouse factories’, with every predator exterminated, wet areas drained (so increasing erosion and flooding downstream) and birds even fed with medicated grit to avoid infections that result from overcrowding. The result is a hundred-fold increase in grouse numbers all to the detriment to all other species – just so people can blast the grouse out of the sky!


This raptor persecution is wholly against the law as the Police Wildlife Crime Officer reminded us, yet it still goes on seemingly unpunished. Although Peregrines, Goshawks, Buzzards and even Golden Eagles are targeted it is the beautiful Hen Harrier that comes off worse. Most years only 3 or 4 pairs in England raise young whilst enough habitat exists for 300 pairs.


Every year a few stalwarts like Chris Packham (above) and Mark Avery speak at Hen Harrier events but I’m beginning to think they are preaching to the converted and a new plan is needed to bring this iniquity to a wider audience. Over 100,000 people signed a petition to call for a ban on driven grouse shooting but the parliamentary committee that looked into it swept the facts under the carpet.


Our final trip away during the summer was our (almost) annual trip to the Bird Fair at Rutland Water. This time we went up to Derby prior to the Fair to see my brother and his family. As well as meeting up with many people who I know, the main aim of the visit was to look into getting a new telescope. In the event I didn’t buy one but at least I know which one I want.


As well as visiting many of the stands and chatting to old friends we went to a number of talks. Perhaps the most interesting was from Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis who set a record for the most birds seen worldwide in a single year, an incredible 6,833 and gave an account of his non-stop race around the world.


Arjan got a lot of sponsorship for his record-breaking and was able to present a cheque to BirdLife International’s preventing extinction program of (I think) 24,000 Euros.



Northern England, Derbyshire and Essex: 2nd – 10th July 2016   Leave a comment

Wales trip route

In my last post I described the journey Margaret and I took through Wales. In this post I continue the saga as we drive from north Wales to Liverpool, Southport and Blackpool in Lancashire, Leeds and Harrogate in Yorkshire, Duffield in Derbyshire and eventually arrive at Maldon in Essex.

IMG_6126 dock

I have visited most of the major cities in the UK at one time or another but Liverpool has remained an exception. Margaret was keen to visit this most iconic of cities too. We arrived in the late afternoon and booked into our hotel adjacent to the newly refurbished docks.

IMG_6105 Anglican cathedral

As it was Sunday the following day we thought we had better visit the two cathedrals straight away as services would be going on in the morning. First, Liverpool’s imposing Anglican Cathedral.

IMG_6096 Anglican Cathedral

According to Wikipedia: The cathedral is based on a design by Giles Gilbert Scott. The total external length of the building, including the Lady Chapel (dedicated to the Blessed Virgin), is 207 yards (189 m) making it the longest cathedral in the world;[n 1] its internal length is 160 yards (150 m). In terms of overall volume, Liverpool Cathedral ranks as the fifth-largest cathedral in the world[2] and contests with the incomplete Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City for the title of largest Anglican church building. With a height of 331 feet (101 m) it is also one of the world’s tallest non-spired church buildings and the third-tallest structure in the city of Liverpool. The cathedral is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building.

IMG_6095 Anglican Cathedral

This cathedral spent a long time in the planning phase, as it’s construction was first authorised by Parliament in 1885. The initial site was unsuitable and due to various delays (including two World Wars) the opening ceremony wasn’t until 1978.

IMG_6101 Anglican Cathedral

The beautiful Lady Chapel was the first part of the cathedral to be completed.

IMG_6111 RC Cathedral_edited-1

As the song In Our Liverpool Home goes if you want a cathedral we’ve got one to spare, Liverpool has two cathedrals. The Anglian version, although most impressive, is based on a traditional design, the Roman Catholic one is a wonder of modern architecture.

IMG_6114 RC Cathedral

The circular design and the beautiful colours are quite breathtaking. Again from Wikipedia: ‘officially known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King,[it] is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool in Liverpool, England. The Grade II Metropolitan Cathedral is one of Liverpool’s many listed buildings. To distinguish it from the Anglican Liverpool Cathedral, locals call it the “Catholic Cathedral.” Nicknames for the building include “Paddy’s Wigwam” and “The Mersey Funnel.” Unlike the Anglian one, construction was rapid, starting in 1962 and completed by 1967 although the site was purchased as long ago as 1930.

IMG_6115 RC Cathedral

We were glad we visited the cathedral on Saturday afternoon but wished we had come half an hour earlier as we arrived just as they were locking up and we just had time to take a few photos of its wonderful interior.

IMG_6109 China town

We completed the day with a nice (chinese) meal in Chinatown.

IMG_6135 Albert Dock

The following day we walked the short distance to Albert Dock, an area of dockland that has been renovated and turned into attractive accommodation, shops, museums and other attractions.

IMG_6150 Museum of Liverpool

We paid a quick visit to the Tate Liverpool (but although I like some modern art, I found little to my taste there) and a much longer visit to the Museum of Liverpool where we could have spent all day if we had the time.

IMG_6152 Ben Johnson painting in museum

I was very impressed by this panoramic painting by Ben Johnson (not the athlete) of the Liverpool skyline, with both the Anglican and RC cathedrals being clearly visible

IMG_6156 Town Hall etc seen from museum_edited-1

The imposing Port of Liverpool Building, Royal Liver Building and Cunard Building at Pier Head are known as ‘the Three Graces’. This photo was taken through glass from the Museum of Liverpool, hence the unusual tint.

IMG_6142 Liver Bird

On the top of the Royal Liver Building are the two Liver Birds, the symbol of the City (and the name of an entertaining 70s Liverpudlian sitcom by Carla Lane).

IMG_6177 The Carvern

But for all it’s great architecture, unique culture and importance of one of Britain’s most famous ports, Liverpool is best remembered by most as the origin of the Mersey Sound in the early 60’s, when various talented artists started to play live music in this famous club.

IMG_6160 wall of fame

Across the road from the entrance to the Cavern is the ‘wall of fame’ commissioned by Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers which lists all the artists who played at the club in the 60s and 70s and few who have played more recently since it was refurbished. Centre stage, of course, is kept for the ‘fab four’, the Beatles, who not only put Liverpool on the world’s musical map but changed the face of popular music for ever.

IMG_6159 wall of fame

However there is one artist I would have liked to see more than any other and his name is in the centre of this photo. I had a chance, but I was working at my father’s shop during University holidays in 1970 when Hendrix played at the Isle of Wight Festival. I could hardly go sick or just pack the job in without my father’s permission. If I had known that a few weeks later Hendrix would be dead then I might have acted differently!

IMG_6174 The Cavern

We took a look inside the Cavern ….

IMG_6165 The Cavern

….where even on a Sunday morning someone was playing ….

IMG_6173. guitar signed by Queen

…. and admired a number of guitars donated by famous artists, for example this one has been signed by all the members of Queen.

IMG_6184 Queen Vic

We carried onto St George’s Hall and Lime Street Station and the imposing statue of Queen Victoria before heading back through a series of shopping arcades and covered walkways ….

IMG_6189 Albert Dock Liverpool

…. until we were back at Albert Dock. There was much more to see in Liverpool but time was now pressing ….

IMG_6190 Nia and Graham

…. as I had a long-awaited reunion in front of me. I first met Nia in 1970 at Leeds University on our microbiology course. We worked together after University in the Leeds Public Health Lab, but in 1974 she moved to London and we lost touch. She contacted a mutual friend via Friends Reunited six or seven years ago and he put her in touch with me. In the mean time she had moved to Lancashire, brought up two children and has a number of grandchildren. She now lives in Southport with her husband Graham. It was great to meet up gain after 42 years!

IMG_6196 Southport pier

Before we left Southport we had a look at Southport Pier ….

IMG_6201 noddy train

…. which can be accessed either on foot or via a ‘noddy’ train.

IMG_6198 Southport pier

The pier overlooks the Ribble Estuary which is probably the second most important site in the whole of the UK for wading birds and wildfowl. In winter it plays host to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of waders but in July we just saw a flock of Dunlin fly by and a distant gathering of Oystercatchers.

IMG_6192 Marshside RSPB

The nearby RSPB Marshside reserve added a few new species to our trip list, but once again winter would have been the time to come. We had already agreed with Nia and Graham to come again sometime in the future, but this time in February or March.

IMG_6191 Marshside RSPB

Looking across the mud-lats of the Ribble we could see the famous Blackpool Tower and the scary roller-coaster, and that was to be our next destination.

IMG_6235 Blackpool_edited-1

I have never been a fan of the traditional bucket and spade seaside resort, at least not in adulthood. Poole doesn’t fall into that category and Bournemouth only just does. Blackpool however is the epitome of ‘tack’ with its amusement arcades blaring out loud music, multiple fish and chip shops, candy floss stalls, the three piers with their ‘faded elegance’ and peeling facades and the ever-present smell of doughnuts.

IMG_6234 Blackpool Tower

The weather soon turned bad and there seemed to be no point in going up the famous Blackpool Tower as visibility was very poor ….

IMG_6217 Tower ballroom

However Margaret, a fan of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, was keen that we visit the overly ornate Tower Ballroom.

IMG_6214 Tower ballroom

With only two couples dancing the visit was hardly the ‘Strictly’ Blackpool extravaganza but it was well worth visiting.

IMG_6204 Blackpool

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of going on Britain’s tallest roller-coaster ….

IMG_6207 horse and cart

…. or travelling in a gilded carriage ….

IMG_6221 comedy tiles

…. but I was amused by these tiles on the promenade composed of a collection of comedy punch lines and dialogues, none more so then this famous dialogue from Fawlty Towers. The sketch, of course, was not intended to be critical of the Germans but of those fuddy-duddy Brits (epitomised by Basil Fawlty) who couldn’t put the past behind them. As can be clearly seen in this photo the rain was now very heavy, so we returned to the hotel to dry out.

IMG_6224 gulls being fed

Some holiday makers complain about gulls swooping down to snatch their food and are campaigning for a cull. I think this is absurd because if they don’t want their food snatched outdoor they obviously should eat it where that can’t happen (like indoors) plus they would be better off directing their anger instead towards those to intentionally feed the gulls and teach them that holiday makers equals free food!


From Blackpool we headed east to Leeds where I used to live in the 70s and booked into a hotel on the south side of the River Aire.

IMG_6242 Harewood House

We were visiting Leeds to meet up with my old school and University mate Nigel Mackie whom I have known since 1967. Nigel greatly influenced my choice of music and my choice of politics and it is a great shame that we live so far apart. Rather than wander around Leeds again, we took advantage of the nice weather and went to Harewood House near Harrogate.

IMG_6239 Harewood House

Buddhist monks in the gardens of a stately home was an unusual sight.

IMG_6253 Harewood House

Taken from Wikipedia (again): Harewood House is a country house in Harewood near Leeds. Designed by architects John Carr and Robert Adam, it was built between 1759 and 1771 for wealthy plantation owner Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood. The landscape was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown and spans 1,000 acres at Harewood. Still home to the Lascelles family, Harewood House is a member of Treasure Houses of England, a marketing consortium for ten of the foremost historic homes in the country. The house is a Grade I listed building and a number of features in the grounds and courtyard have been listed as Grade I & II

IMG_6252 Harewood House

The house, the upper stories of which are still lived in, contains the usual wonderfully ornate bedrooms, sitting rooms and libraries ….

IMG_6258 Harewood House_edited-1

…. none more so than the beautiful gallery. The extensive grounds were the site of a Red Kite reintroduction program and in spite of the huge numbers we saw in Wales, it was wonderful to see these soaring over the park and even over the suburbs of Leeds.


Leaving Leeds we drove south to Duffield in Derbyshire to visit my brother and his family. On route we called into Carsington Reservoir in the Derbyshire Dales as I know this to be a reliable site for two species we don’t see in Dorset – Tree Sparrow and Willow Tit. I’m glad to say we saw both.


As always we paid a visit to my sister-in-laws parents, Ida and Dennis. Dennis was full of his usual amusing stories and anecdotes – never a dull moment!


Leaving Derbyshire we drove south-east via the M1 and A14 to Essex. We had hoped to visit friends in Sussex on route but they had last-minute change of plans. With time on our hands we detoured to the town of Kettering in Northamptonshire where I lived from the age of 4 to 14 and I showed Margaret the house we used to live in, ….


…. Wicksteed Park that I used to visit at lunchtimes as it was adjacent to my senior school ….


…. and my old primary school that I attended from 1956 – 62.


There was more nostalgia as I returned an area known as Headlands. This railway bridge was much easier to look over then and several boys and I used to go train spotting from here. On the other side was open fields, a wood and a stream and here I remember seeing Water Voles, Foxes and a Barn Owl – all magical stuff for a kid like me. Now, of course, its a housing estate dominated by the roar of traffic on the A14.


With time for another stop, we had lunch at Fen Drayton near Cambridge and did a little birding at the nearby gravel pits. My last visit was in 2014 when I twitched a Baikal Teal but there was nothing of that quality on view today. However on the nearby Great Ouse River we had prolonged views of a swimming Grass Snake, a species I haven’t seen for many years.

IMG_6286 Glossy Ibis

We arrived at Margaret’s daughter Anita’s place in Maldon Essex on the evening of 7th. As Anita and John were at work on the Friday we met up with Simon Cox, an Essex birder I have met on several BirdQuest trips and another ringer. He was not doing any ringing that day but agreed to take us to the RSPB’s Old Hall marshes where we found this Glossy Ibis. In spite of the recent increase in numbers this remains a fairly rare bird.

IMG_6294 cr Blackwit

Whilst staying at Maldon I took the opportunity to bird at Haybridge Basin on the other side of the Blackwater Estuary from Maldon. In a flock of 400+ Black-tailed Godwits I found three colour ringed individuals. Colour ringing is an excellent way of tracking some birds movements but the colour rings only allows a certain number of combinations and works best on long-legged birds that feed in open areas like mud flats where the ring combination can easily be read. All three birds had made remarkable journeys during their life, the best of the three I have reproduced below, showing multiple sightings in eastern England in winter and Iceland in the breeding season as well as a visit to Holland.

Black-tailed Godwit adult, male
R8-LO 15.07.10 Siglufjordur, N Iceland
R8-LO 07.03.11 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 18.03.11 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 09.03.12 Gansooiensche uiterwaard, North of Waalwijk, Noord-Brabant, C Netherlands
R8-LO 23.03.12 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 27.08.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 30.08.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 10.09.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 21.09.12 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 09.10.12 Heybridge Basin, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 15.01.13 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 22.03.13 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 07.08.13 Heybridge Basin,Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 12.08.13 Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E Eng
R8-LO 20.08.13 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 29.08.13 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 3.10.13 Heybridge Basin,Maldon, Blackwater Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 4.02.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 21.02.14 Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 26.02.14 Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 2.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 3.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 5.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 6.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 11.03.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary,Essex, E England
R8-LO 11.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 16.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 20.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 21.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 26.03.14 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 02.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 04.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 08.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 09.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 11.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 13.04.14 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, E England
R8-LO 14.04.14 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 16.07.14 Frampton Marsh, the Wash estuary, Lincolnshire, E England
R8-LO 21.07.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 23.07.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 29.07.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 7.08.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 13.08.14 Frampton Marsh, the Wash estuary, Lincolnshire, E England
R8-LO 22.08.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 5.09.14 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 20.12.14 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 20.12.14 Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 17.01.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 18.01.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 20.02.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 21.02.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 01.03.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 02.03.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 23.03.15 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Suffolk, SE England
R8-LO 28.03.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 09.04.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 10.04.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 18.04.15 Arnarhóll, Flói, Árnessýsla, S Iceland
R8-LO 21.04.15 Arnarhóll, Flói, Árnessýsla, S Iceland
R8-LO 21.04.15 Vorsabær, Flói, Árnessýsla, S Iceland
R8-LO 29.08.15 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 1.09.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 2.09.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, SE England
R8-LO 11.09.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 8.10.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 14.10.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 22.10.15 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 22.11.15 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 07.01.16 Heybridge Basin, Maldon,Blackwater Estuary,Essex,E England
R8-LO 09.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 09.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 10.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 11.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 13.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 16.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 27.01.16 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Essex, E England
R8-LO 29.01.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 30.01.16 Mistley Quay, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 7.02.16 Mistley, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 07.02.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 20.02.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 1.03.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 7.03.16 Mistley Walls, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 23.03.16 Stutton Mill, Stour Estuary, Manningtree, Essex, E England
R8-LO 9.07.16 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary,Essex, E England
R8-LO 12.07.16 Heybridge Basin, Maldon, Blackwater Estuary,Essex, E England

Of course we spent most of our time with Anita and John and went on a nice bike ride to the island of Northey which sits in the Blackwater Estuary opposite Heybridge Basin.

We headed home on the afternoon of the 10th after a very pleasant 14 days away having visited various friends and families and explored several areas of the UK that were new for us and driven some 1600 miles.

During the preparation of the post I found I had used up all the allowed space on this blog. This is entirely my fault for uploading high-resolution photos. As a result the last few shots were uploaded at a very low resolution and hence are poor quality. I need to decide how to proceed from here as the upgrade WordPress want me to take is quite expensive.


2nd – 5th July 2012: visiting family and friends in Leeds and Derbyshire   Leave a comment

In the last post I described how Margaret and I visited her daughter and three sets of friends in East Anglia between June 26th and July 2nd. We left Framlingham in Sussex on the morning of the 2nd and drove to Leeds in Yorkshire.

IMG_8953 Fairburn Ings

We made good progress and I considered we had enough time to visit Fairburn Ings, an RSPB reserve to the east of the city near the A1. I started birding in 1977 and although I had to catch two buses and walk a couple of miles to get there, Fairburn Ings became my ‘local patch’ until I moved to Poole in March 1978. At that time the reserve consisted of a lake and a few pools sandwiched between the village of Fairburn ….

IMG_8952 Fairburn Ings

…. and the hill in the background which at the time was a slag heap. I saw most of first waterbird species here along with a selection of passerines.

IMG_8951 Fairburn Ings

…. but there weren’t these reed beds, woods or raised walkways ….

IMG_8948 Collared Dove

…. nor was there a visitor centre with book shop, cafe and bird feeders complete with flocks of Tree Sparrows (and the inevitable Collared Dove), I think the RSPB should be congratulated in turning this area of mining subsidence into a first class wildlife reserve.

IMG_8952 Whitelocks

We headed for Leeds and checked into our hotel just south of the river. In the early evening we headed to a 300 year old pub called Whitelocks on Briggate in oder to meet up with my old friend Nigel.

IMG_9039 Nigel

I first met Nigel in 1967 when he moved to our school in Duffield, Derbyshire to do his A levels. He was instrumental my musical education, converting me from being a fan of Motown and Soul to Jimi Hendrix, the Nice and above all The Incredible String Band. Nigel also went to University at Leeds in 1969 and we shared accommodation for much of the next seven years. Nigel remained in Leeds when the rest of the gang moved away and served as a councillor for many years and was given the title of Alderman for his services to the city.

IMG_8953 Victoria arcade

Leeds is known for it wonderful shopping arcades, one of the best being Queen Victoria Street in the Victoria Quarter between Briggate and Vicar Lane. This was a street open to the sky when I lived there.

IMG_8953.6 Leeds arcade

Nearby is the ornate County Arcade.

IMG_8953.9 R Aire at night

After a lovely meal and further drinks we headed back across the River Aire to our hotel.

IMG_8957 riverside appartments

Nigel was busy the following morning so we explored the riverside area. Back in the sixties and seventies this part of the city was very down-at-heels, full of old warehouses, shabby shops and the sort of pubs where if you go in for a pint you leave quickly with just a bag of crisps. Indeed I avoided this area in general especially at night. There has been a wonderful transformation, the riverside warehouses have been turned into fashionable dwellings ….

IMG_8960 R Aire

… many new buildings have been erected and the Leeds – Liverpool canal has been cleaned up and is now a place for a pleasant stroll.

IMG_8959 canal Leeds

Docks have been created along the canal as well as numerous high-rise buildings.

IMG_8963 no she's not

Oh no she’s not!

IMG_8979 R Aire and Leeds Liverpool canal

Near where the river and canal divide lies the Royal Armoury,  a multi-million pound purpose-built museum that opened to the public in 1996. It was built to house a large part of the national collection of arms and armour, and displays over 8500 objects throughout its six themed galleries: War, Tournament, Oriental, Self-Defence, Hunting, and Peace.

IMG_8967 Royal Armoury

Looking upwards into the Hall of Steel is quite awe-inspiring.

IMG_8978 Royal Armoury

We visited the Royal Armoury on a previous visit but Margaret found the open glass staircase induced vertigo, so our visit was cut short. She has greatly overcome this fear recently (as our trip to the Alps proved) and had no problem climbing up to the third floor.

IMG_8972 Leeds Liverpool canal

The view over the river and canal from here is quite impressive.

IMG_8977 Leeds Armoury

Of the many exhibits this ‘war elephant’ caught my eye.

IMG_8968 Royal Armoury

…. and the cavalry section.

IMG_8981 Leeds Minster

On our way to meet up with Nigel we passed Leeds Minster.

IMG_8984 Leeds Minster

Our arrival coincided with the two-minute silence for the victims of the dreadful massacre in Tunisia and we were able to pay our respects in a most appropriate place.

IMG_9000 Leeds arcade

As we made our way through the city centre we came across many covered shopping arcades. I remember from my time in the 70s that many of the minor roads between Briggate, Boar Lane and the Headrow were poorly lit and uninviting and in general places to avoid. Again there has been a huge transformation.

IMG_9006 Leds Town Hall

We met Nigel at the art gallery near Leeds Town Hall.

IMG_9015 Leeds art gallery

Nigel’s main interest these days is art and he showed us around the gallery. I liked the symbolism, if not the sentiment, of the large painting on the left depicting Britannia slaying a tiger, symbolic of the ruthless suppression by the British of the locals after the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

IMG_9011 Leeds art gallery restaurant

This hall houses the restaurant, incredibly this room was bricked up some time around the 60s and for years no-one could remember what was in there. Recently the room was opened up again and this gorgeous tiled interior was discovered. Wonderful that this gem still exists and wasn’t destroyed in the name of ‘progress’ but what a shame that generations of art lovers were denied the pleasure of seeing it.

IMG_9031 Saltaire Mill

The three of us then caught a train to Saltaire, a former Victorian mill town near Shipley and a World Heritage Site. Nigel particularly wanted to show us the art collection that is now housed in the old mill.

IMG_9040 Titus Salt

The town gets its name from a combination of the surname of its founder, mill owner Sir Titus Salt and the River Aire. The woolen mill was built adjacent to the river and the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

IMG_9034 Saltaire town hall

Titus Salt was an enlightened mill owner, building decent stone houses for his workforce with wash rooms and bath houses, a hospital and also (above) the Victoria Hall. Because of this combination of houses, employment and social services the original town is often seen as an important development in the history of 19th century urban planning.

IMG_9042 Saltaire gallery

A whole floor of the mill is dedicated to the work of the Bradford-born artist David Hockney.

IMG_9048 Salthouse gallery

A modern painting of the mill in its heyday.

IMG_9056 the Lewis'

On the 4th we left Leeds and drove to Duffield in Derbyshire, a slow journey due to the almost continuous road works along the M1. We arrived at my brother’s house mid morning. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the nearby Ecclesbourne valley. L-R my niece Jennifer, my sister-in-law Viv, Margaret and my brother Simon. My elder niece Miriam is away on a gap year before University.

IMG_9062 the Ecclesbourne

Simon and I used to go to the nearby Ecclesbourne grammar school which used to have a school song that went ‘a school grows here in Duffield by Ecclesbourne’s fair banks’. According to my nieces who are (or have been) at the school recently they have dropped this hideous ditty.

IMG_9063 the Lewis'

The Lewis’s on parade.Viv, Jenny, Margaret and Simon.

IMG_9078 lamp switchoff

Switched off between midnight and 0530 to save electricity and turned on during the day to waste it!

IMG_9082 Carsington

On the morning of the 5th we paid a visit to Viv’s parents, the always entertaining Dennis and Ida and called in at Carsington Reservoir. I usually visit around Christmas time when the reservoir holds many wintering wildfowl and is a good place to see Tree Sparrow and the increasingly scarce Willow Tit. Well the Tree Sparrows were in evidence but not much else, but it was a nice place to complete our journey.

So all that remained was to drive back to Dorset. A 1000 mile journey over 10 days, enjoying the company of family and old friends and seeing some interesting sights and wildlife on route.