There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Three Favourite Gravestones: Armenia, China & Wales

This might seem a morbid topic for a post, but as Lynne so often says, 'it isn't really a holiday unless you've been round a graveyard.'

Père Lachaise in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London are well established on the tourist trail, but the graves of non-famous people in non-major cities can be just as interesting.

1) Grave of a Baker, near Goris, Southern Armenia.

We had driven out from Goris to see some ancient cave dwellings. Getting as close to the caves as we could - which was not actually close enough to make them interesting - we walked through a graveyard. Several of the newer headstones bore representations of the deceased in a style we have not seen anywhere else.

The grave of a baker, near Goris, southern Armenia

I imagine he was proud of his profession and wanted the casual visitor to know that he had spent his life producing fine bread - an honourable and noble calling.

2) Miao villager, An Chi village, Guizhou Province, South West China

The Miao are one of China's largest ethnic minorities. 10 million Miao live in communities across south west China with another 1.5 million in northern Vietnam and Laos (where they prefer to be called Hmong). The Miao are divided into a multitude of subgroups, speaking several different though related languages. The Chinese and Vietnamese traditionally classify the groups by the dominant colour of the women's traditional clothing. An Chi, in rural south west Guizhou, is a Black Miao village.

Black Miao women, An Chi

Graves are situated throughout the village and adjoining fields. The distribution appears random but the graves are all in auspicious sites, carefully chosen by the village shaman.

Black Miao gravestone, An Chi
The gravestone names the deceased and gives a detailed genealogy including not only forebears but also descendants who are added, generation by generation, in ever smaller script as they arrive in the world.

3) The Davies Family Vault, St Cynog's Church, Penderyn, South Wales

Lynne is a keen genealogist and despite the problems caused by the Welsh National Surname Shortage, has traced both our families back through many generations.

It has long been a source of amusement to her then when searching for the graves of my ancestors it is usually sufficient to walk into the churchyard and head for the largest monument. It worked for my paternal grandmother's family in Magor in 2010, and we had found the technique effective for my other grandmother's family in Penderyn twenty years earlier.

Penderyn is a village on the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Since 2000 it has been the home of the first (and only) malt whisky distillery in Wales. More importantly to my ancestors it is only a long drop kick north of the industrial valleys of South Wales, where they made their money.

The Davies family vault, St Cynog's, Penderyn
The picture was taken in 1991. Little has changed, except my daughter
 and I are now more than 20 years older

The angel on the top of this Victorian monstrosity is probably pointing the way to heaven. I prefer to think the mason was a cricketer (as, doubtless, God is too) and the angel is the celestial umpire giving my ancestors 'out'.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Eagle Owl, Vulture, Heron and more

I do not claim to be a photographer; I take snaps. I use a small, simple camera and do not understand all the buttons even on that. I work on the basis that if you go to interesting places and snap away enough, then the law of averages will provide a quota of pleasing images.

And if I am not a photographer, I am even less a wildlife photographer. I do not have the necessary equipment, and if I did I would not have the skill and technical expertise to use it. Nor do I have the knowledge of where to place myself, or the patience to wait for hours, silent and motionless in hot, cold, wet or bug infested conditions. I have great respect and admiration for those who do.

There are, however, occasions when animals – in this post birds – just stand and wait for you to take a photograph, and it would be churlish to refuse.

 Here in reverse order are my six favourite bird pictures of recent years; none of which appear elsewhere on the blog. I am no birder, though I have friends who are, but I have only taken identification advice on the eagle owl, all the others are open to challenge.

No 6. Griffon Vultures, Bordeira, Portugal
October 2005
Griffon Vultures
Bordeira, Portugal

We stopped for a picnic in the dunes near Bordeira on the Algarve’s beautiful but windswept west coast.  As we were getting back in the car we noticed this flock (if ‘flock’ is the right word) of griffon vultures wheeling above us. It took me a while to identify them as I was unaware that vultures lived in Europe; but I am pretty confident that is what they are.

No 5 Nesting Coots, Shropshire Golf Club, Lilleshall, Shropshire
June 2007
Nesting Coots
Lilleshall, Shropshire

Ok, so their only coots, but it’s a pleasing picture.

No 4 Herring Gull, Carvoeiro, Portugal
October 2005

Herring Gull
Carvoeiro, Portugal
Hardly an exotic bird either, but they are not usually this cooperative. We met on the cliffs at Carvoeiro on the Algarve’s beautiful if tourist-infested southern coast. North European herring gulls have, I learnt, grey legs. This fellow (or lady – how do you sex a seagull?) has pink legs, typical of the Mediterranean race of gulls, though the water slapping the bottom of the cliffs was definitely Atlantic not Mediterranean.

No 3 Red Grouse, The Roaches, Peak District National Park, Staffordshire
March 2009

Red Grouse,
The Roaches, Peak District National Park

Grouse are not difficult to see on upland moors; they scuttle across the road in front of you or flit into your field of vision before perching on a distant outcrop. Brian and I were walking along the top of The Roaches when this chap landed on a rock and ignored us as we approached as close as I have ever been to a living grouse – the odd dead one has turned up on a dinner plate, though.

No 2 Heron, Wolfcotesdale, Peak District National Park, Staffordshire
June 2006

Wolfcotesdale, Peak District National Park
Being big and confident herons are probably the easiest British birds for an amateur like me to photograph. This chap lived in Wolfcotesdale for several years and would flap up and down the far side of the river inviting walkers to take pictures. I am sure I was one of many who took up the invitation.

No 1 Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Ismant el-Kharab, Dakhla Oasis, Egypt
November 2009 

Pharaoh Eagle Owl
Ismant el-Kharab, Egypt

The ancient town of Kellis, now known as Isman al-Kharab (Ismant the Ruined), was abandoned in the 5th century AD after five centuries of occupation.  The Dakhla Oasis Project has been conducting excavations here since the 1980s but the site was deserted the day we turned up. For a small fee the caretaker was happy to show us around and we were in a ruined Byzantine Church when a huge bird flapped over our heads and landed on the wall opposite. He sat and inspected us for a while, perhaps considering us for lunch or maybe telling us this was his territory and requesting us to kindly go away. It seemed unwise to argue with a bird of that size, so we left.