Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Day 36 - The Hawk Conservancy, a drive and arrival in Tetbury

It’s a rainy day today. We have a decision to make. We could hang about in Portsmouth until we need to drive up to Tetbury or we could just head off and make a day of the drive. I’ve got my eye on a couple of potential stops and scenic routes. There’s still plenty we think would be interesting to see at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Hubby’s leaving it to me but I’m tired of being on my feet and I’m worried about his after weeks of flogging shanks pony. We decide to head off and make a day of the drive.
After a lovely breakfast and a nice farewell chat with our hostess we tell the TomTom to take us to Petersfield. It’s the scenic route and I have an agenda. I need to find some Bassett’s Sherbet Lemons to take home to my mum. Last time I was here I found them at the servo up near Petersfield heading in the same general direction.  When we come to a service station Hubby pulls in to fill up and I go into the store. Sure enough, a rack of my target prey. There you are my little beauties, you’re mine. Excellent. A couple more of the Fry’s Turkish Delight to take back for Mum as well and we’re away again.
Gees, what is it with this thing. The phone keeps insisting on randomly selecting Australian tracks. Gurumul, John Williamson, I draw the line at Down Under, skip that today. Is the music reflecting or creating my melancholic mood? The rain feels like the tears that brim and betray my private thoughts. Galleries of pink galahs, crystal nights with diamond stars, apricots preserved in jars, that’s my home. Land of oceans in the sun, purple hazes, river gum, breaks your heart when rain won’t come, it breaks your heart…”. When Aussies get mournful we sing of drought. I’m half home-sick half just sad to have to leave the UK very soon now.
We’re heading for Andover and the Hawk Conservancy.  Aiming to arrive in time for the first flight show of the day but I’m half inclined to just keep driving. It’s the mood.  We’ve arrive in plenty of time. I give myself a mental slap. Snap out of it woman. We make our way in but not until I've stopped to appreciate the song of a robin in a nearby shrub. 
We check out the gift shop briefly and then slowly make our way in the general direction of the Savannah flight arena via a look at the aviaries in that general direction. Along the way we pass a ferret enclosure with little wire tunnels for the animals to run through and a sign advertising regular ferret races. That looks like fun!
They’re very keen on vultures at the Hawk Conservancy and they have a number of species. The King Vulture is pretty spectacular, they are all impressively large. Eagle Owls are not something we get at home whether captive or free so that is interesting. It seems like no time at all before Hubby is hurrying me a long with an alarm about the time. We need to get into position at the savannah flight arena. There’s not a huge number of people here today, it’s school term and not the most inviting weather. The rain threatens but so far holds off. This is a new flight arena and it is incredibly well done but sitting waiting for the show to commence we don’t know the half of it.
The first bird to make its appearance is an African Fish Eagle. This bird we are told is virtually synonymous with Africa. Food is thrown into the water and the eagle neatly drops down and picks it up and is away in a graceful arc. We are even given a count down for photographs but I’m unco-ordinated and repeatedly miss the moment. After a few rounds and a good wing stretch the bird heads off and we await our next visitor.
Tolkien the Milky Eagle Owl flies in. This bird’s specialty seems to be flying very low above the patrons virtually brushing them with its wing tips. He’s another large bird with a very prominent beak for an owl. He swoops back and forth drawing gasps from the audience.
Our next performer is an African Tawny Eagle who makes short work of cleaning up the opportunities for a bite to eat as he flies back and forth and sees what’s going near the mock up buffalo carcass. It does a good job of warming us up for the next, enormous pair of wings to fly towards us from behind the crest of the hillock. This is a White Backed Vulture and it is massive. It has a wing span of around 2 metres. It is an amazing bird to see in flight. Gosh you’d have to have some nerve to handle one of those and support it on your arm with confidence.
But wait, the dry season has reached a point when the savanna is beset by fires. Smoke erupts and several Yellow Billed Kites fly over the burning ground on the look out for food. The handlers throw food skyward and the hawks catch it on the wing in an instant. The fires are followed by replenishing rains and the flight arena bursts into fountains of spray over the pond and surrounding ground.
Meanwhile a couple of meerkats have popped their heads up out of their burrows and appear to be feeding on something. This facility has done a simply marvellous job of putting together this presentation.
Our last demonstration is half performance and half training flight. The flock of Sacred Ibis are coming out and with them a bird that is free flying for the first time so who knows what it will do. The main flight troupe perform immaculately, the new bird nicks off quick sticks to the land behind the hill. The show progresses to its natural conclusion and then we’re told that it’s now a training situation and hopefully the bird will come back.  We smile. It reminds us of the bird show in Darwin where one of their birds of prey, I think it may have been a buzzard, would just routinely leave and not come back. No training situation just that the bird had a mind of its own. It was well known in surrounding districts and people would phone the park to tell them where it was or the bird would just come back in its own good time.
Looking at the program of events across the day it would be just so easy to spend the whole day here relaxing at the tables or picnic ground between items. There’s two more shows and they will go ahead whatever the weather although if the rain is really coming down they may relocate them to the savannah arena where there is some shelter for the visitors.  We are invited to have an English Barn Owl sit on our hand after the show. I get distracted at first and nearly forget Hubby prompts me to get on over there and take my turn. The Owl has the most beautiful plumage. It’s like it’s overlaid with the finest delicate lace. What an exquisite bird.
Hubby and I consider our options for the afternoon over lunch. There’s a large cafeteria onsite with a nice area of outdoor tables for use on sunny days. Hubby goes for Sausages, beans and chips and enjoys that. The chips don’t look all that flash but are actually excellent. I ordered a bacon roll which comes with a reasonable salad. The roll itself was a bit pathetic, one rasher on a huge baguette. It improved a little when I put both halves of the rasher on one half of the baguette, but honestly… someone pop up to the Glencoe Café or the café at the People’s Palace in Glasgow and have a look how a good bacon roll is put together.
It’s a tough decision but the weather looks like it’s deteriorating rather than improving and we decide that we will head off. We’ve had a wonderful short visit. Well worth going out of your way for. Really impressive. You’d never see a better flight show than that.
Where to now? Well. We decide to do something crazy. It’s something I’d looked at and ruled out when planning this day. We pass very close to Stone Henge and we’re no more inclined to stop there today than we were last time. There's also an option for Wood Henge, or so a sign tells us. A large visitor centre appears on our right, is that Wood Henge? We pass through Larkhill, home of the Royal Artillery and it’s obvious from the properties and the people we pass. Where on earth are we heading? I just have the most overwhelming urge to drive back through Somerset and go back to Mark. We’re so close. What if I never get the chance to come back. I know a lot more about the rellies from Somerset and their extended families than I did back in 2012. It seems that I must be prone to this sort of wild scheme as departure approaches. There’s no more denying this than leaving Bath in favour of Blenheim on our last day of our trip in 2012.  I’m selecting destinations and then changing them to make sure that Tommie keeps us off the Motorway. Aim for Muchelney for a while, no, Tommie now aim for Wedmore. We travel along Reynolds Way, through a tunnel of greenery along a ridge. As we head west the rain only gets worse. Eventually we come through the rain and are in sunshine. Look back east the sky is dark. Glad we didn’t stay hanging around at Andover it looks like that rain depression is headed that way.
A flash of recognition as we get to Shapwick. A rush of adrenaline, should we stop and see the reserve? We keep on. Through Burtle and here we are in Mark.  A different angle on the approach, I realise as we near the end that we’ve been driving along Southwick, so familiar from the census records. 
We head for the Anglican church. I didn’t bother with it last time because our lot were non-conformists. But I regret not just taking the time to get to know the whole village better. I fancy taking a look through the churchyard. I figure there might be some familiar names even if not my actual family.  Luckily there’s a church parking area down a little side street, by a property with a large apple tree in the backyard covered in fruit.  Autumn is making itself felt. Creepers climbing the stone wall of a cottage are turning red. Green in the portions where they are still protected by the overhang of the leaf above.  There’s not a lot to the heart of Mark, a pub, a small post office. I toy with maybe going in but I’m not in the mood to be social or answer questions. A little quiet time among the graves is all I’m wanting.
Puddy. Lots of Puddies here. And a few Coleman’s. Some of the cousins married Colemans didn’t they? Harriet Popham worked for some of the Colemans along Southwick, related by marriage I think they were. It was obviously a tight little community back in the mid-late 19th century. Here’s a grave for someone Stephens. I have come unprepared but does it really matter who these graves belong to? I read and consider the lives reflected on the stone memorials. Perhaps those Stephens are related to my great grandfather’s half brother. I take a photograph to check later. I’ve photographed the Coleman’s too. Most graves are too recent to be those I feel I’ve come to know a little delving into the documents their lives have left behind. No Tidballs. Should we go across to Banwell where Permela ran a shop. Maybe one day but not today.  There’s just a couple of Pophams scattered here and there. Probably not connected but I’ll check just the same. I should come back properly prepared and find the rental house that used to be the church where I expect my lot worshipped or at least celebrated their life events. Surely Joseph and Merinda Popham would have had the resources to erect a gravestone over two year old Matthew when he drowned and surely Joseph himself has a headstone, they weren’t poor and his daughter and son in Australia were well off, surely they would have ensured a gravestone was erected.
Hubby’s made himself comfortable on a seat. I stalk around. Enjoying my solitude. After a short while I head back. We consider maybe relaxing in the Packhorse Inn for a short while but it’s closed at the moment. It’s time we started to head back across to Tetbury. It’s almost four o’clock.
Looking at the route Tommie has in mind I’m pleased that it is delightfully low speed and takes us back across via Wedmore.  Tunnels of hedges with occasional stone villages along Wedmore road. Views of the Mendip Hills. Paddocks of stubble with baled hay in autumn tones. Soon we’re climbing up through streets of bath stone. 
Crest a hill. Oh look at that! Gloucestershire laid out. Hubby whizzes on. Turn back, let’s stop and take a break back at the view. Hubby waits for a safe opportunity and we backtrack a few hundred metres to Tog Hill. The facilities here are welcome but we’ve found the low point of our UK toileting experiences. The antithesis of the appliances of Thomas Crapper. Simply awful.
The view is deciphered by a plaque at the survey marker. All meaningless names to me.  The trees and shrubs protecting the picnic area from the wind are growing up and obscuring the view. Trimmed back a little there would 180 degree views. Maybe that’s a job for the winter.
Our journey continues much the same. We resort to Dr Google to find the Royal Oak in Tetbury, enjoying exploring the little stone town with so much atmosphere and a beautifully consistent style. The Royal Oak is beautiful too. They’ve finished the new parking arrangements they mentioned as being in the offing back when I booked. We would have pulled up on the cobbles at the door of the pub but someon’s already parked there. I linger at my car door listening to the bird song drifting over from the little vegetable patch next door. Hubby’s hurrying me along. He’s got his cattle prod at hand a lot lately!  Yeah, righto. Hold your horses.
Check in is across the bar of the pub. We’re on the first floor of the adjoining building and the live in Inn Keeper takes us across and shows us the ropes. I’m keen to settle in for a few minutes and have a look at the information folder. Hubby’s keen for dinner. It’s already well after 6 pm so it’s fair enough we head over to eat.  The upstairs dining room is closed tonight so dinner is being served in the bar. We can take our pick of um… that table over there. The others all have people or reserved signs on them.  We settle down and consider what to have.
I am running out of time to have a fish supper, so I go for the house favourite Real Ale Battered Fish of the Day, Hand Cut Fries with Homemade Tartar Sauce & Garden Peas £13.50.  Now for the life of us we cannot remember what Hubby had. Whatever it was he had plenty to eat because my fish and chips was large and there was plenty of that to share. Hubby’s beverage tonight is Camden Stout, which he says is very good he likes it. It is light and dark, not heavy like most stouts.
The Royal Oak is a dog-friendly pub for friendly dogs and accordingly, patrons have brought their canine friends out for dinner. This is OK until a new dog comes in and its owner takes up a spot at the bar, not far away from another person with a dog. Our meal is accompanied by some quite aggressive barking, which gets a bit tiresome very quickly for non-doggy diners and drinkers. Another lady pulls up on the cobbles and comes in. She’s not only got a dog she’s got an enormous dog. It’s mostly well behaved but gets a reprimand when it too lets out a loud complaint over some matter of offence. Another patron suggests it wants some dinner. I’m thinking perhaps it has got the idea that barking is tolerated so it may as well speak up too.
We’re too full for dessert and I’m not the full quid health wise.  My cold has gone onto my chest though not in a way anyone around would notice. Bed is welcome. 

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