Our little tribe

We had a relatively free day on Saturday, so decided to head out to the beach at Sand Bay near Weston-super-Mare. It was a bit of a grizzly day, but the grey clouds and grey sea made for a very atmospheric view across the Bristol Channel to Wales.

I was feeling quite energetic, so Molly and I did a bit of racing up and down the beach, while Natalie looked on in bemusement. Sand Bay is a very dog-friendly beach and possibly one of Molly’s favourite places. And I’d have to admit a certain fondness for it, too.

As we were wandering back up the beach, I noticed that quite a few other people had had the same idea as us. Stretched out along the mile or so of sand were several small groups of people – and dogs. Little tribes, much like our own, making the most of this grey day by the sea.

The Labrador that couldn’t stop

Our Labrador Molly loves playing on the beach. And at this time of year, when the weather is OK-ish and the beaches aren’t yet particularly crowded, we all like to go for a nice walk by the sea. Admittedly, with the Severn estuary having one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, the sea can often be quite a way away. But the beaches are long, sandy and have plenty of room for throwing a ball.

There’s also usually something interesting going on. Here’s Molly the other weekend, surrounded by kitesailors.

Molly on the beach

The best thing about playing on the beach with Molly, though, is her sheer enthusiasm. When I throw the ball, she hares after it like a bat out of hell. And instead of slowing down when she catches up with the ball so that she can pick it up gracefully, she continues full pelt and hurls herself bodily at the ball with unrestrained glee. Sand flies in all directions as she comes to an ungainly, and not very well controlled, stop in a giant, four-pawed skid. She beams a sandy grin, her ball lodged firmly in her mouth.

Here’s what the aftermath looks like. It’s difficult to see the scale in the photo, but this skidmark is about thirty feet long.

The drop zone

Having retrieved her ball, she turns and races back towards me. She picks up speed as her paws find grip in the soft sand. Her eyes gleam as she sees me and she puts her head down, all effort directed to reaching me (purely so that I can throw the ball again) as quickly as her body – and air resistance – will permit. I can see her leg muscles pumping away like furry orange pistons. She continues to accelerate even as she approaches where I’m standing. There’s no way she can stop in time. I close my eyes and brace for impact.

Sunrise

One of the best things about winter is that the sun comes up sufficiently late for us to catch the sunrise. Molly and I were taking our early morning walk the other day and the sun was just coming up over the hills. The colours were stunning. It was like normal life, but with the colour saturation cranked up to the max.*

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* Please excuse the large volume of photos on my blog that are of this part of Somerset and taken with my cameraphone. But I walk along here several times a day and there’s always something new to see. I really do live in a particularly fantastic part of the world. And no, I don’t work for the tourist board. Though perhaps I should.

And then the rains came

Until last weekend, it had been raining here non-stop for the best part of a month. Now, we’re quite used to a bit of bad weather, but when a significant part of your annual rainfall arrives over the course of just a few days, things don’t always work as they should. Which is why much of the area around here has been a little bit on the damp side.

In some places, it has been quite dramatic. I drove into Bristol just as the worst of the floods had started, and was a little surprised to see torrents – and I mean torrents – of water gushing down the hillside and onto the main road. And when I returned a short while later, this and several other roads had been closed by the police, as they were simply impassable.

Some of the lower-lying villages have been practically cut off, such has been the scale of the rainfall. Because it has been so wet for so long, when the rain falls there’s just nowhere for it to go, so it forms huge pools wherever it gathers – on field, on roads, in people’s houses. Not great. And for the third time this year, too.

When the rain finally stopped last weekend, Natalie, Molly and I took a stroll down into the valley to see how things were doing. Here’s the team ready to start…

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The sports field across the road was half covered with water, which made for great photos and fantastic paddling, but probably wasn’t much good for football.

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We could also see some brand new water features dotted around the landscape. See the lovely lake behind the trees in the picture below? It’s supposed to be a field (and a road). I’m writing this a week later, and the water’s still there.

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As we walked across the field down towards the road, Molly found a very exciting stick, so we had to take a short break.

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Which turned into a slightly longer break.

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Which became longer still when one of Molly’s friends (Bud) arrived to share in the action.

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But we eventually made it down into the valley, where our town almost meets the next village. And where the train station is. Only two hours (direct!) to London – not bad, huh? Anyway, this is the lowest lying part of the town, so it was no surprise that there was a lot of water. This is (I think) a glacial valley and is essentially a flood plain, so there are numerous rhynes that drain the land and keep it usable.

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This one here is usually a babbling little brook, but today it was quite a lot more than that. I half expected to see some teeny weeny kayakers whooshing down it.

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You can see the footpaths across the fields, as these were the first bits to fill up. The water’s just not draining away, so if there’s any more rain, then the field will disappear.

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You see the grey barn in the middle of the picture below? And the small cottage immediately to the left of it? Natalie and I used to live there. We remember, during a similar bout of torrential rain several years ago, standing on the doorstep, watching the flood waters creep their way slowly across the field towards the house. Luckily, they stopped several metres short, but it was not a good feeling. Unsurprisingly, we have since moved quite considerably uphill.

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The nature reserve on the other side of the road was similarly drenched. Usually a little lake with a small drainage ditch running alongside it, the site was now a large lake with a tiny peninsular of land running down the middle.

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The local wildlife was clearly loving it.

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But, for everyone else, the whole episode was a bit of a nightmare. As I mentioned before, this is the third time it’s happened this year. And still, we insist on building housing estates on flood plains and ignoring the warnings of scientists about climate change and extreme weather. Honestly, how much more of a sign do we need?

In the gloaming

The gloaming is that fleeting, magical time just after sunset but before darkness. We hardly notice it in the summer because it stays light so late. But as the days get shorter, the gloaming’s nearly-night-time arrives ever earlier. Our bodies tell us that it’s time to hunker down for the evening. But our watches, sadly, tell us that it’s only half past four and our to-do lists point out politely that there’s no chance of slumping onto the sofa for at least another couple of hours.

Which is why, at this time of year, Molly and I invariably find ourselves taking our evening walk in this odd half-light, when the daytime is over but the night-time proper hasn’t really kicked in. Now, you might argue that a moonlight stroll is a perfect, even rather romantic, end to the day. But when (a) it is cold, (b) it is muddy, (c) one of you is tired after a day’s work and (d) the other one of you is a nuts Labrador, romantic is not the first adjective that comes to mind.

The views over the valley at this time of day, though, are pretty spectacular. Which is the main reason for this post. Because it has been raining here all day, but as the sun went down the rain stopped and we had a brief moment of calm as the moon rose in the sky and the world prepared itself for bed. As usual, though, I’d forgotten to take a proper camera so was forced to rely on my very rubbish camera phone.

Anyway, here’s the moon over the valley. The three bright points of light in a little row are the floodlights at the football pitch in the next village along. Must be soccer practice tonight. Most of the other lights are street lights along the main road, with some houses mixed in.

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Here’s the view looking west, where you can see that the sun has only just gone down. You can see the lights from a couple of remote cottages in the valley below, but there’s not really much here between us and the sea.

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OK, so the zoom on my camera phone is fairly awful. But I just loved the colours in the sky; the way it goes from pink to blue so delicately, silhouetting the hills below and the clouds above.

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On our way home, we passed the local church and the porch light cast this welcoming glow across the graveyard. I know it’s wonky and blurred (the photo, not the church), but given that I was holding my camera phone and the end of the dog’s lead in the same hand, I’m just glad you can make out anything at all.

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And then, as quickly as it had arrived, the twilight of the gloaming was replaced by true darkness. In wintertime, this ephemeral period is most definitely my favourite time of day. Or is it night? Whatever. Here’s to the gloaming.

An early morning wonderland

I’ve just got back from taking the dog for her morning walk across the fields. It was a little nippy first thing (about minus two degrees when we first went outside) and the mist was hanging over the countryside like something magical, as if the Earth was still waking up and hadn’t quite got dressed yet.

I only had my cameraphone with me, I’m afraid, so my photos aren’t very good. But hopefully you can get some idea of what it was like. Here’s the ‘bottom field’. You can see that someone was here before us. And you can just make out Molly on the left, following a scent. Just after I took this photo, she had a mad puppy moment and ran right up the hill, around the tree in the patch of sunlight at the top and then back to me. No idea why.

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The sun was just coming up over the hills on the far side of the valley and it was so beautiful as it shone through the trees. The photo doesn’t really do it justice. I must remember to take at least my (sorry, Natalie’s) Nikon Coolpix with me next time.

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Here’s the view over the valley. Where we live used to be an island in the middle ages, so you can almost imagine what it must have been like to be surrounded by water. If you look carefully, you can see the church in the next village just looming out of the mist in the distance. What you can’t see, but I wish you could, is the tiny wisp of smoke coming from one of the little cottages among the trees on the far hillside. It made me smile to think of someone (possibly just like me) stoking the fire to make their first cup of tea of the day.

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Here’s the other way down the valley. Somewhere beyond the mist far off to the left is the city of Bristol. You’d never think we were only a twenty minute drive from the city centre.

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Here’s my favourite photo of the morning. It truly does, to my eyes at least, look like an early morning wonderland. Well worth getting out of bed for. Even at minus two degrees.

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A morning walk

My dog and I have just got back from our morning walk through the fields on the edge of the small town where we live. We have a very pleasant morning walk, in which we meander along the side of a long valley, which leads from Bristol right down to the sea. And when it is sunny like today, our walk is a particular pleasure.

The valley near our house

Valley of the hounds

As we reached the mid-point of our wander, we passed two small terriers playing on the edge of a field. Molly greeted them in her usual enthusiastic manner and, after a brief interlude in which the three dogs took turns to chase each other in a sweeping circle through the freshly-cut grass, we continued on our way.

About five minutes later, we heard one of the terriers let out a colossal woof. Not a ‘look what I’ve found’ woof or a ‘help, a tiger’s got me’ woof, but one that says simply ‘hello world, I’m here’. In the dewy morning air, the woof echoed slowly down the valley, as if all the world’s terriers were joining in. Our new friend was evidently surprised by this response, as he woofed again. And again.

One by one, other dogs in the fields and hamlets down the valley joined in, until the place was alive with a riotous symphony of canine communication, multiplied a hundred-fold by the steep hills on either side. My own dog, needless to say, sat silently, taking this all in with her usual quizzical expression. And then, suddenly, and with the sad inevitably of all things ephemeral, the moment was over and the dogs fell silent. Molly and I looked at each other and continued on our way.