Category Archives: The Wilds

Limestone Cliffs and Salt Pans, Xlendi Bay

Late afternoon and the air begins to cool, just a little. We explore moonscapes, stare at the shells emerging from the ground beneath us, they seem too brittle for fossils, but how else have they come here? Yet they sit next to circles of rust, marking the presence of metal. Setting sun picks up the yellow of limestone, turns it chromatic against the blue of the sky, picks out the smooth shapes carved out of it by wind and rain and sea leaving sweeping lines of wonder. Smooth boulders. A heart. The Knight’s watchtower seems almost a part of it, anchored there by the door carved into the stone and the tunnel that must be there holding it fast like a dark hand. Below the salt pans, carved by human hands into the rock to capture sea and its salt in the form of crystals. In one direction the open Mediterranean, in the other the cliffs.

They are beautiful even in the early morning light.

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Sunset, Xlendi Bay

We attempted a walk in the morning, beautiful, but the heat sent us stumbling back, though first we got to the oldest of the four surviving Knight’s watchtowers on Gozo, built in 1650 to guard this bay against (other) pirates.

Xlendi Bay

The salt pans:

We retreated, returned in the evening. Found a cat-shaped hole in the hillside, from which its eyes burned.

Xlendi Bay

And the magnificent cliffs.

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Xlendi Bay

Down to the Sanap cliffs, where we found a family eating their meal on a fold up table beside their car.

Xlendi Bay

and then a race back home against darkness…

Xlendi Bay

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Devil’s Bridge and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train

Trains. I really love steam trains, and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train is a corker. It is second only to the train from Chama to Antonito in my experience, though granted my experience is still very small taking a global view. This narrow-gauge train, opened in 1902,  leaves from Aberystwyth and climbs and climbs through the valley to Devil’s Bridge.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Crawls up the valley. Stops to refill, and allowed us to marvel at the wonderful raised beds full of wondrous flower plantings — it is amazing how this whole project is loved. The volunteers were young, with leather caps and overalls. Life was fine on this Saturday.

Finally we arrived at Devil’s Bridge. Everyone headed there directly so we headed in the opposite direction, following the walk which can be found detailed here.

It’s longer than 6 miles.

We walked to the ruins of Bodcoll’s Woolen Mill, mysterious, overgrown. The river Mynach is beautiful here, impossible to photograph the smooth bowls its waterfalls have carved from the rock.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Climbed up and looked out across the hills. Walked and walked, saw some local hill sheep.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Got a bit lost. Got back on track.

Saw this little church, built in a much older sacred site and incorporating standing stones into the walls. I was tempted to swing by, but there were cows between us and the church.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Also, I had dragged Mark out on this walk in deck shoes. Neither of our shoe decisions was fortuitous.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Still, sheep scattered before us with fear, picturesque against the heather-covered hills.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Feeling powerful we strode up and up, young and strong, not a single ache or pain, not a breath out of place, the wind teasing our hair, the horseflies shying away from our very splendour. We found ruins, marveled at thick walls of stone.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We continued on and on. Crossed more water running sluggishly in the heat filtering down through sun dappled trees.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Then up again.

And then down and down and down a steep, rock stubbled roadway,  sharp points penetrating the thin soles of Mark’s shoes though he made not a single complaint. We came to a stand of Scots pines, which the guide tells us have long been associated with rights of way, planted to mark overnight stops for men and cattle as they moved across the land, and at difficult sections of the route.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We descended further, came to the mine tailings of the Cwm Rheidol.

Devil's Bridge Walk

They continue to pollute the river and surrounding area, the informational sign noted the presence of marcasite, a mineral which in the presence of air and moisture (and this is Wales you know, there’s a lot of moisture) begins to develop a powdery white bloom and a whiff of sulpher as it crumbles away (if it’s in a museum exhibit) or dissolves into a sulpheric acid that can also melt lead and zinc into a rather toxic mess.

Still. I spent many holiday excursions of my youth around mine tailings, this made me happy. I know it shouldn’t.

Down into the valley, it was beautiful.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Yet we knew we would have to climb back up.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Back up to the railway line.

Devil's Bridge Walk

And then those bastards made us walk parallel this fairly level if steady climb in a strenuous up and down pattern that echoed the larger walk in microcosm. Until finally, with only once getting lost at the very brink of town, we arrived back.

Past the station and on to Three Bridges itself. Looking down.

Devil's Bridge Walk

A pound in the slot gets you through the old fashioned and terribly narrow iron-barred entrance. Look at this place, three generations of bridge built one upon the other.

Devil's Bridge Walk

The oldest built between 1075–1200, the second in 1753, and the third in 1901. The three of the span this incredible chasm.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Why devil’s bridge? The legend of the old woman who outwitted the devil himself — tragically at the expense of her loyal dog — can be found here. George Borrow wrote of it, Wordsworth too. I haven’t let Wordsworth ruin it though.

I had remembered this bridge from watching Y Gwyll, which I quite loved and have an immense desire to watch again now that I know these landscapes so much better.

We had no time for a pint. We boarded the train. And then failed to find a table at any of Aberystwyth’s fine dining establishments. We bought some wine at the Spar and had a glorious fish and chips sitting on a bench by the harbour.

Most wonderful.

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Queequeg’s room and Pinkletinks

Queequeg! Who could have guessed that he stayed — well, Amos Smalley, upon whom Melville based the character — in this very room (that top room, there at the sunlit end), in this very house  where I first met Sam’s grandmother wearing a baseball cap backwards to dinner causing what I later realised was probably some level of disapproval. I stayed here the last time I came, when Queequeg’s room was Tas’s. Her family built this house long ago.

Martha's Vineyard

So exciting. Good to come back to a place that always feels a bit like home away from home, after Sam and me got ourselves through college commiserating over worries about our families, lack of funds, the love and loss of land, and missing wildness. We also both lived in  in places inundated by seasonal tourists, though the ones on her island were of a slightly different sort. We would escape to the basement in Mary Lyons to drink tea in the evenings — escape everyone else — listen to music, talk about home and writing. We invented the happiness game. I wish we lived within at least a thousand miles of each other.

I love that it still feels wild here, and old. Surrounded by ocean:

Martha's Vineyard

Walking through woods full of lovely stone walls from when this place was once grazed flat by sheep:

Martha's Vineyard

Old iron wheels and the great tower from those (very semi)industrial times when this island once produced the bricks that helped build Boston’s Beacon Hill

Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard

The beginnings of spring (already in full daffodil flower here in Manchester, with crocuses being done), and the season of pinkletinks. I was invited to share the audible delights of peeper’s corner, and we sought them further here:

I am forgetting this pond’s name, black silver reflecting the last of the beech leaves before the new green begins. And now the pinkletink.

Imagine them so loud they can be heard for miles, through the glass car windows even. So loud that as you approach they hurt your ears. They remained invisible to us, escaping to obscurity and silence as we approached.

They are also reintroducing Cranberry bogs, amazing:

Martha's Vineyard

This island also has the best baked goods I have had in ages. But mostly, I loved the beauty of it. The emptiness of it. And I miss the whole of this family, who feel a bit like mine, except that they are always so very late. I was so sad to leave…yet I was leaving in the co-pilot’s seat of a tiny Cessna (look, it’s me!)

This made me feel like a flyer or a film star, and was an incredible view as we flew through crystal clear skies to Boston. I now know what some, not all, of those buttons, levers and gauges do.

It took the sting off, I confess. But I was still sad to go.

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We got more sunsets the last time I was here, seven years ago now… hope it’s not another seven before I get back.

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Marsden Moor

It’s spring, and that means finally a better chance to really get outside for a while, breathe deep, get out onto the moors with space all around. Happiness. We are so close now to moors and a little wildness, so close to the Peak District. A train ride away.

So today we took the train to Greenfield, and walked up along the canal to Diggle — that was crowded with Sunday walkers but nice.

Greenfield to Marsden

Above all, the pair of Labradors that continuously launched themselves in flying leaps into the canal. They were glorious. I saw the first leap, and as we continued walking we could hear a new splash behind us after every lock, turned around to see them happily swimming back to a laborious exit.

Diggle is where the canal goes underground — the longest, highest AND deepest canal in all the UK.

Greenfield to Marsden

We climbed up onto the Pennine Way, slowly leaving village, grass, and human beings behind us.

Greenfield to Marsden

We climbed part of the way through the detritus removed from the tunnels beneath us…not only the canal, but three different train tunnels dug at different points. The view looking back.

Greenfield to Marsden

Up to Brun Clough reservoir.

Greenfield to Marsden

And then up across the moors. Golden brown enough still with winter to warm any desert girl’s heart, a little too boggy for our trainers — this is the way not taken:

Greenfield to Marsden

This the old turnpike road we traveled:

Greenfield to Marsden

Final freedom of Marsden moor before the descent to green fields:

Greenfield to Marsden

Coming into Marsden:

Greenfield to Marsden

And finally, the picturesque dignity of sheep (I jest, you know I do, I know too much about sheep now):

Greenfield to Marsden

Greenfield to Marsden

Greenfield to Marsden

A delicious meal in the Brewery Riverhead Tap, and back on the train to Manchester. With a sigh I confess. We still have to go back to find the Roman road.

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Glorious Trees in Winter: Kelburn Castle

It is so hard to photograph trees, but the burn of Kelburn Castle was of surpassing loveliness and contrasts on this mid-February day. Wind through  branches filled the world, an icy roaring mostly above our heads — a few branches came down around us as we were walking. One huge crack and a falling of one just in front of us provided some photographic comedy gold (Much as did my wearing three shirts, jumper, hoodie and coat), but also a slight thrill of danger.

But the woods, oh the woods. Empty of people, full of forest soundings. They sang impossibly beautiful around us in traceries of twigs framed by moss covered trunks. The red of fallen leaves still glowing.

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

My little brother, who at over six feet isn’t actually all that little but seemed hidden and small in this place…

Kelburn

Trees surrounding the falling of water…

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

This incredible mossy bark…

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

The wooly character of branches

Kelburn

The microcosms that live here

Kelburn

And then to slowly emerge from the trees to see the view of the Firth of Clyde and its islands and snow-capped mountains in the distance:

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

And its unexpected additions

Kelburn

From there we returned back to the castle, to a most wonderful walled garden and trees tamed — yet not entirely.

Single trees, enormous and ancient yews, some of them planted over a thousand years ago and framing more formal gardens alongside Kelburn castle. Three of Scotland’s most historic trees are here.

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

Kelburn

The first spring flowers I have seen this year, and a few other budding branches:

Kelburn

This whole place is primarily geared towards kids, families, campers — there were wonderful things for kids all around, though I was glad that the weather meant we had the place to ourselves and I imagine it is heaving in the spring and summer. I quite love what these Brazilian artists did to the castle when let loose on it:

Kelburn

Kelburn

But the last bit of the walk brought an unexpected reminder of some of the underlying social relations that have clouded this place. Not least that it is privately owned, but also in how it connected to power and Empire. All of this beauty was once owned by the Earl of Glasgow, who also served as governor of New Zealand — in an old not-very-waterproof shed sits a small museum with some of his collection. The faces of those who had their own wilds stolen from them stared back at us.

Kelburn

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Kelburn Castle: 2017’s first spring flowers

Tristram and I drove down to Kelburn Castle, and it was baltic, with rain almost sleet as we left but we headed from Hamilton towards Largs and occasionally the clouds would break to reveal patches of blue sky. Some sunshine, though lighting the world up far from us. The wind was freezing, even among the trees. Ice lined the puddles of water, though water flowed and rivuleted everywhere down the burn as we climbed it.

Kelburn

It was astounding to see these amazing snowdrops:

Kelburn

Thousands of them. Like these, adorning the banks, among these enormous, ancient trees.

Kelburn

As we walked back to the car park, we passed this last, lone utterly mad daffodil.

Kelburn

In the walled garden there were some beautiful rhododendrons blooming as well — I love walled gardens, what wonderful places they are in this climate! Yet I don’t feel I can count them really.

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Last Desert Wander: Peppersauce Wash

Original idea? To maybe try Peppersauce cave, but then, you know, no headlamps, no extra clothes, slight fear of dark enclosed spaces and being lost forever even though the internet swears that is impossible. Follow-up idea? To hike up past it into Nugget Canyon, but then, you know, turns out I really hate driving very narrow winding mountain roads with drop-offs to one side when all the other vehicles coming the opposite direction are large trucks, some pulling improbable RVs. So we stopped at the campground and hiked up the wash/road that led up towards the foothills, and that was a rather short walk, but a nice one. despite having to stand aside to let a progression of ATVs and these new four-wheel souped up golf-cart things past us.

It was beautiful, full of oak trees and sycamores, a stretch with gurgling water falling over the stones.

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

As we climbed up out of the wash up a steep road, the view spread out behind us:

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

Before us:

Peppersauce Wash

The mountainside to our right was covered with tailings spilling down from mine workings

Peppersauce Wash

Small wonder that the road and the wash were full of the most amazing rocks — huge boulders of conglomerates that I haven’t seen before:

Peppersauce Wash

Amazing details:

Peppersauce Wash

Peppersauce Wash

Look at the geological history to be read here…

Peppersauce Wash

Lava flows, faultlines, clean breaks between past and present:

Peppersauce Wash

Some processed ores, and some local shooting:

Peppersauce Wash

Finally we saw three more deer, silently climbing high up the hill just as we reached the car again.

A last view of Oracle too, the antique store in town, still with some holiday cheer very reminiscent of that found in Tucson

Oracle Antiques

But also so much more…

Oracle Antiques

Oracle Antiques

Oracle Antiques

I am a bit sad to be back in Manchester, where the cold and damp are brutal and the sun apparently never shines…

Buffalo Bill Cody’s Mines: Old Maudina and Campo Bonito

Buffalo Bill Cody! Like many I am fascinated by him, particularly as I increasingly realise just how much he had to do with creating the mythology of the Wild West and spreading it around the world. Many years ago, Manny and I traveled to Spain and ended up in the same Barcelona hotel where Buffalo Bill had once stayed — where he had ridden his horse up the marble stairs if my memory does not lie. There are traces of him in England too, and I always wondered what the many people who traveled with him as part of his show felt and thought as they experienced Europe and crossed the US. What an adventure — and yet to be on display, to create mythologies through recreating scenes as they almost certainly never happened — from cowboy life to white victories over Native American tribes.

I never knew that in looking towards his retirement Buffalo Bill partly settled in Oracle, filed mining claims there that he hoped would make him rich but that instead helped bankrupt him. He is not alone in that. A picture of him in Oracle.

William ‘Curly’ Neal, who Cody took under his wing as an aide and scout (and last blog is all about him and his amazing wife Annie and a small window into the lived experience of race in Southern Arizona), was doing very well for himself in Oracle and Buffalo Bill and some of his riders would often come stay with him at the Mountain View Hotel. The Mine With the Iron Door by Harold Bell Wright — both the novel and the 1924 silent film itself filmed in Oracle — helped inspire his desire to find the mine in the Catalina mountains that would make him rich.

When Curly told him the mine with the iron door was nowhere to be found, Buffalo Bill filed claims on High Jinks, Campo Bonito, Maudina, Southern Belle, and the Morning Star mines. They would drain him of all money – partly in legitimate development, which is always expensive and over-cost. But from Marriott’s description in Annie’s Guests, it certainly sounds as though he was soundly robbed by those he employed to manage the mines for him.

Buffalo Bill stayed up at the Hijinks claim, now a series of ranch buildings just alongside the Arizona trail, it’s now a National Historic Site:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

A picture of Buffalo Bill can be found there near the entrance:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

It is alongside an old cart, driven by Liz Taylor and Tom Skerrit in Poker Alice:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

the view looking out across the valley towards the Gaiuros Mountains…not too bad at all:

Arizona Trail - Hijinks Ranch

Views of the Old Maudina Mine:

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

(and the view from inside this shallow working)

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

The more traditional mine entrances, fenced off, signs warning of danger riddled with bullet holes…

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Some of the tailings spilling down the hill, all iron- and mineral-stained quartz:

Arizona Trail Walk - Maudina Mine

Campo Bonito mine was much bigger, a shaft driven deep but mostly obscured by huge rock tumbled from the cliff face above it. Here’s a long-ago view of Buffalo Bill playing Santa Claus here though:

The view looking outwards remains splendid:

Arizona Trail Walk - Campo Bonito Mine

In Marriott’s chapter on Elizabeth Lambert Wood, there is a diary entry mostly describing Buffalo Bill’s wife, who had confided to Elizabeth that his long white hair was a wig. She loved knitting, and was using one of Buffalo Bill’s Medals of Honor to wind her wool. Wood also comments that she saw the saddle that Queen Victoria gave Buffalo Bill just lying on the ground. She writes:

They told me they had so many valuable things thay had no place to put them…To her they were only ‘negligible trifles’. (104)

A larger than life character in every way. Elizabeth Lambert Wood later bought the Southern Belle Ranch and the mine, and made a fortune in Tungsten.

The walk to get up to Hijinks and the mines was brilliant. We started at the Arizona Trail head just alongside the American Flag Ranch (our map had that wrong, so it took us a while to find.) We walked up the Arizona Trail to meet the Oracle Ridge trail, along that a ways, and then down along the old roads to the mines and then back to the Arizona Trail. You can see the Biosphere II from here once you come up to Oracle Ridge, though this picture hardly does its SF feel justice as it sits white and gleaming in the desert landscape.

Arizona Trail Walk

We saw three white-tailed deer, huge numbers of birds, and traces everywhere of a most abundant wildlife. A wonderful spot for hiking.

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