And one for the road

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Sunday 21st July

Woke up on the campsite this morning to find most of our neighbours gone, leaving an uninterrupted line of site to the wireless transmitter and a full signal. “Wonderful”, I thought, “I’ll be able to post today” But it didn’t last long – when we got back after today’s walk a whole line of lunking great motorhomes stood between us and the aerial – how on earth they imagine they can manoeuvre these behemoths around the narrow lanes without causing chaos baffles me. Yesterday our bus had to reverse 100 yards back down a steep hill and three blind corners because an oncoming car driver was either unwilling or unable to reverse. Pembrokeshire run a brilliant and cheap shuttle service around the peninsula and yet many people still drive here for the boat trips assuming there will be somewhere to park when they get here. Seeing the first and the second car parks full they invariably push on in the Trumpian hope that there ought to be a place. Eventually they reach a locked gate and the belated realization that you can’t make a an ‘ought’ into an ‘is’, and the lane near the gate turns into the purse net full of panicking trippers realising they’re going to miss their £60 adventure. Ah well, it’s fun to watch, and – for the record – our van, Polly, is the size of a transit – plenty big enough for us – and we park it and then, for however long we’re here, we walk or catch the bus.

Anyway, the days are falling into a kind of pattern and after a leisurely morning’s reading we generally wander off for another walk down one or another of the footpaths that lead eventually to the coast path. It doesn’t matter a bit that it’s repetitive because every occasion brings new plants and new things to look at. Today I was wading around in the edges of a bog trying to photograph amongst complicated mixture of Watercress, Hemlock Water Dropwort and Brookweed when I heard the loud sound of a dragonfly which, because I was standing very still, flew between me and my subjects about a foot from my nose. I lost sight of it for a moment but the noise continued – it was a big female Golden Ringed dragonfly over three inches long and with a wingspan not much less and then I was able to see it hovering vertically, head up, probing and testing the surface of the mud with its ovipositor until it found the right spot and then presumably laid its eggs barely three feet away. I watched, amazed, until it finished and flew off. The photos became a sideshow to a sight very few people will have witnessed for no other reason that I was crouching there quietly at just the right moment. Sadly the quality of the photograph was somewhat compromised by my distraction. Then, moments later I watched a pair of large white butterflies mating, the female much larger than the male; I guess it was my lucky day. In fact the hedges were alive with butterflies as we walked, and a little further on as we passed a pool the air was full of dazzling damselflies.

Elsewhere I returned to the Comfrey plant I’d logged two days ago because I wasn’t completely sure I’d identified it correctly and my doubts were confirmed as it was Russian Comfrey and not the native variety I’d logged – it’s all about attention to detail – and double, even triple checking. As we walked I was checking off more new discoveries and confirming old ones. It’s amazing how once you’ve identified a plant, you begin to see it everywhere. Today included a hands and knees search in the grass for some shy plants that I spotted when I was tying my boot laces. It’s amazing how much a change of viewpoint can throw up. When we eventually got to the café at Porthclais I did a quick count and once we got home and I’d identified a couple of grasses and some more photos I was astounded to have reached over 150 with another day left.

Returning to the beach at Porthlysgi bay, the children had all gone and it was quiet once again. I prowled around the margins to double check some of Thursday’s plants and found a group of Rock Sea Spurry clinging to life on a collapsing wall of mud alongside a similarly impoverished group of Hartshorne Plantain. On the other side of the bay the same plants were doing much better with some shelter from the prevailing winds,

And after a cup of tea at  Porthclaes, we caught the bus back to the campsite – this time driven by a much more sedate driver who kept the radio a good deal quieter.

By late evening it was drizzling and the South Westerly wind was getting up towards gale force so we battened down hoping for a better day, but after an eceptionally rough night we woke up to more glowering mist and rain and so we decided to cut our losses 24 hours early and drive back to Bath.

Monday 22nd July

Packing up the van has developed into a kind of silent duet because we’ve done it so often.  I remember someone telling me that submariners are obsessively tidy because they have so little space, and that pretty much fits the bill for living in a smallish campervan. It usually falls to me to empty the cludger and, trust me if you let it get too full it’s a nightmare to lug down to what’s euphemistically called the ‘chemical disposal point’, so we (I) have a strict routine to keep it simple.  On many campsites the CDP is a more or less separate building with all manner of facilities to make an unpleasant job as quick and easy as possible.  Not so here – it’s a manhole cover with ‘CP’ daubed on it in white paint. As I was strolling down I met our neighbour – the one in the twelve bedroomed pedestal bedded and complete with washing machine (no kidding), obliterator of all wifi signals, pantechnicon. Not that I ever judge a man by the size of his motorhome! Seeing that I was carrying the cludger he accosted me.  He was in full peacock glory with his permatan and much toned face, shorts and expensive trainers – the kind not made for running –  and damselfly blue reflective sunglasses moored on top of his head.  “Where do you take the stuff mate? ” he said in a slightly saaf London accent.  “Stuff”? – I thought to myself  …. are we talking ordure? sewage? night soil? crap? I explained the technicalities of lifting the manhole cover, ensuring that your mobile was not in your top pocket, tipping the “stuff” in and returning to the palace triumphantly dragging your empty elk behind you. I thought he’d probably get his wife to do it.

On my way back I spotted another plant.  Discarding my (smaller) elk for a moment I got down and had a proper investigatory look. It was – is – a Broomrape. I think that makes 154. Sadly no phone (for aforementioned reasons) so no photographs.  The identification stops there because they’re a complicated group of plants that need more time and much more expertise than I possess.

Home then in blisteringly humid conditions on a busy motorway, breathing fumes and being part of the problem rather than the solution.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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