Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stuffed and mounted - 22 February 2009

Gathering in the woodsThe weather was not as brilliant as yesterday but good walking weather nevertheless. A shorter walk just outside the M25 took us along a number of ‘lanes’ which may once have seen regular traffic but were no longer used in any way other than recreational.

We have, many times, driven past the sign to the Museum of Natural History in Tring, largely the collection of Walther Rothschild. Pink and ProudIt is a truly amazing collection of stuffed birds, fish, reptiles, marsupials and mammals all in amazingly good condition and beautifully posed, mounted and displayed. With a free entry it is hard to beat for an intriguing day out.

We were disappointed not to see a kiwi in the huge bird collection but on an upper floor, in pride of place among “Walter’s favourites”, was the kiwi.
Original museum display galleryKiwi display
Walter had a flock of kiwi and could not bear to leave them behind when he went to Cambridge University so he took them with him. How the other residents of Magdalene College responded to said kiwi invasion is unknown.

Farthing Downs - 21 February 2009

During a recent visit to areas south of London we drove along the top of Farthing Downs and so liked what we saw that we were keen to revisit the area. A book we were given before we left NZ has 28 walks in and around London, and we had done 26 of them. One of the two remaining took in Farthing Downs and Happy Valley so with a beautiful late-winter day at hand we set off to tick off the penultimate walk in the book.
Village pondCaterhams
We went via Caterham, once the home of the iconic British two-seater sports car, the Caterham 7. Production has moved to Dartford but a showroom remains.
SnowdropsWall painting
From there it was off to Farthing Downs to begin our 7-mile walk that took in the North Downs, woodlands, meadows and the village of Chaldon. The pretty little 12thC flint church is home to one of the oldest church wall paintings in England and the churchyard provided a great display of snowdrops.
Happy ValleyChaldon church

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hot Water Beach - February 2009

Cathedral CoveA family wedding called us home to NZ so we boarded an Air NZ 747 and settled in for a 25-hour journey via Hong Kong. With the help of a pill we got some sleep and arrived in Auckland feeling remarkably good. After a family meal we set off for Hot Water Beach on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsular where we had rented a holiday cottage for the week.

Hot Water Beach is possibly unique in the world as geothermally heated water bubbles up through the sand
Hot Water Beach showing the crowd around the hot poolsThe beach lagoon
and is accessible for two hours either side of low-tide. During that period a small army of tourists gather with their spades to scoop out pools in the sand and create their own geothermally heated spa pools.

Enjoying the hot poolsAs the water seeping up through the sand is 64ยบ C the best technique is to dig in such a way as to allow a mixture of hot and cold water into your pool and, as there are only 2 locations on the beach where the hot water surfaces, the demand for such prime spots is high and the early-birds have first pick.
Enjoying the hot pools
It is fun to watch the unwary walking barefoot along the beach suddenly break into a hopping quick-step as they, inadvertently, find the location of the springs. It is a wonderful gathering of people from around the globe and as one of the tourists we shared our pool with observed, "Everybody here is smiling."

Cathedral CoveCathedral Cove
Nearby is Cathedral Cove, brought to the big-screen in the Chronicles of Narina:Prince Caspian as the place where the children first re-enter Narnia. The shoreline here forms one edge of NZ's first marine reserve and the water is crystal clear. We made two visits to the Cove which is only accessible on foot (30 min walk from the car park) or by sea.

Square KauriAll too soon a week of perfect NZ summer beach weather was over and it was back to Auckland to get the last minute wedding preparations done. On the way we made a brief stop to look at the Square Kauri. Possibly 1200 years old, it is the 15th largest Kauri tree on the Coromandel Peninsular and, although very close to the road, was spared by the loggers in a "gentleman's agreement" because of the unusual square shape of the trunk.
Cathedral Cove
And then, with the wedding over, it was back on the plane for 24 hours via Los Angeles to London, and winter. In contrast to the complete lack of jet-lag effects on the outbound trip, we felt pretty ragged after the return journey.