Golfing Greens and Sea Grass Beds

With the late arrival, on Saturday night, of our Marine Recorder, Simon Taylor, we are nine in residence at Bryn Engan.  Before we head for our shore of the day the five conchologists in our number have time to set up stations in the ‘dry lab’,  Blog-DryLaba small weatherproof outbuilding which harbours a small pool table around which we erect temporary work benches to accommodate our microscopes and associated paraphernalia.

There is also a wet lab of sorts, a larger stable with a ping pong table, which is served by the outside tap where we must sieve our samples.  It works.  We just lack sea water on tap and late on Sunday evening an excursion to a local beach is made to fill the two large plastic containers which Ian Smith has brought.   Blog-PhotoStudioIan needs to set up his photographic equipment and eventually settles on the front porch!

On Sunday our shore of the day is Porth Dinllaen, a stretch of coast which has been surveyed on previous Conch Soc field trips under the auspices of Tom Clifton the former area recorder for Anglesey and the Lleyn.

Porth Dinllaen at Morfa Nefyn, is a rocky peninsula projecting northwards with a small harbour of east side and more craggy and less accessible coast on the west.MorfaNefynInternet  With special dispensation we park at the golf club there and walk the tarmacked right of way that crosses the greens and more than once to the shout of ‘Fore’ we duck because misguided golf balls are heading our way.  To our left as we walk north there is a string of pocket beaches which look promising, if difficult of access.  Some of our number head for the tip of the small peninsula.

I decide to work the east harbour,porthdinllaenInternet and as we are on the shore well ahead of low tide, I focus on the upper shore noting Littorina compressa to be common.  LittorinaCompressa1

Despite careful searching none of us on that shore finds Melarhaphe neritoides nor much else in the way of upper shore crevice dwelling molluscs, although I do later obtain Lasaea adansoni from my Lichina sample.  Blog-2JanZosteraReally I am waiting to see if the ebbing tide will reveal the extensive Zostera beds I recall from previous visits.  Zostera is otherwise known as eelgrass (which is a good name) or seawrack which is a bad name as Zostera is a grass, a flowering plant, not an alga or seaweed.   (At Studland in Dorset there are now seahorses breeding amongst the Zostera there).  ZosteraInternet1Sure enough as more of the sand flats are revealed, so also is the green turf, which losing its buoyancy in the water, flops onto the silty sands losing its grace and mobility, which are features to enjoy when wading Zostera beds in shallow water.  I am stymied for sampling as I have slipped up by forgetting to bring a sieve of suitable mesh size in order to sieve some sediments associated with the sea grass, taking sand from small bare patches where the roots of the sea grass are not disturbed.  Even so I might have expected to see a scattering of shells of the species that inhabit this particular biotope.

We do find valves and fragments of the showy venerid clam Callista chione.CallistaChioneInternet2  This is a large bivalve with a handsome polished shell.  It is also edible although you would be wise to cook Callista first as attempts to swallow it raw and whole may be met with resistance from the large muscular foot.   Unlike the passive and hapless oyster!  My species list for the site is otherwise paltry.  With the law of diminishing returns in force we decide to take our paltry haul of specimens back to the ‘lab’ leaving our stalward Marine Recorder working the little pocket beaches we passed on our way to the shore. Blog-SimonPorthDinllaen

Who ate all the pies?  Well, we did; our evening meal being contributed by Peter whose local butcher makes fine meat pies.  Followed by his blackberry and apple crumbles we are replete and can settle to sorting our samples.

Secret Seven explore North Wales

It’s that time of year when the Equinox approaches and high tides will be extra high and low tides extra low and there will be super seashores to explore in our hunt for molluscs.  All we need is some decent weather.  Well, I think I can say that the weather exceeded our greatest expectations.  During the week we were based at Bryn Engan just north of Criccieth we celebrated fine sunny days, often breezeless giving us good water visibility too.

My journey would take me from Dorset north to cross the River Severn then turning towards the northwestern direction to follow a traverse of Wales that will take us through stunning landscapes.  On this exceptionally fine, sunny autumnal day Nick and I share a car journey we have never made before.  Leaving Abergavenny the A40 takes us into the valley that passes between the Brecon Beacons on the west and the Black Mountains on the east.  Forking onto the A479 we continue north to Talgarth and, with the road tracking the flow of the River Wye, on to Builth Wells where we stop at a garage for a coffee.  We have grazed on a box of salad stuffs, an avocado and a pack of 6 mini pork pies.  The latter a rare and complete over-indulgence!

We’ve rejoined the A470 and still many miles to cover we track northwest and between Llanidloes and Llanbrynmair on the B4518 we pass the large water body of the Clwedog Reservoir.  LlynClywedogInternetpic1We are heading for the hills again and enter the Snowdownia National Park at Mailwyd where our route takes us west to Dolgellau over the Afon Mawddach and due north to cross the River Dwyryd and now we are getting warmer.

Our lodgings for the forthcoming week are at Bryn Engan, a property belonging to a relative of one of our number, a former farmhouse hiding in the Criccieth hinterland on the margins of the Snowdownia Park. Blog-ViewBlog-House1andGrab

By late early evening seven of our number have converged and taken possession of their rooms.  Nick and I have carried the evening meal, a Chicken Dopiaza with accompaniments.  In the view of some I probably slipped up as I had neglected to provide a pudding!!  We enjoy our meal, the first of several convivialities to follow, around a table designed to seat twelve comfortably.  A large kitchen and generously proportioned table are de rigueur when we Five, Six or Seven go wild for a week.

Joie de Vivre

News of Rooney has been great.  The family have taken to him big time, and I think he probably thinks they are pretty marvellous too.  He seems to have joined some kind of love-in, which is everything a former owner could ask.

Meanwhile Nick and I have convened with a group of friends in Pembrokeshire in order to explore some shores during the Equinox tides.  The coast to the east and west of Tenby offers bays with stretches of sands from the bijou to the expansive.  These are interrupted by rocky cliffs and headlands of Old Red Sandstone.  Many of the beaches have sea caves, a minority of these being known to harbour the minute rare snail Paludinella littorina.  Bas perfects the art of finding these specks of shiny golden shell in their crevice habitat.

Just now the sands are swept pretty clean of detritus and shells.  The strandlines at the top of the shore are made up of kelp and other seaweeds, driftwood, bird feathers, much plastic detritus, a few cuttlebones.  One beach, Manorbier Bay, has a beautifully preserved example of the Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalis physalis)

Nick and I spent an enjoyable and active week with four other friends, sharing a manor house attached to the National Trust Stackpole Outdoor Learning Centre.  With a large airy kitchen and plenty of space to set up our improvised labs., we get on with processing fresh samples and in my case I continue the long haul which is the curation of years’ worth of shelly acquisitions, mostly microscopic.  The larger specimens can be dealt with promptly and easily.

At the end of the week Bas, Terry, Sonia and I went to Saundersfoot to dig the sands for sea potatoes.  You might well wonder.  Sea potato is the common name for the sea urchin Echinocardium cordatum which lives in a burrow in the sands near low water mark.  You might well wonder more when I say that the object of the exercise is not to gather seafood, but to search for the tiny white commensal bivalve that lives in the associated sands and feeds on the urchin’s detritus.  How does one explain that to curious passers-by and retain one’s dignity?!  :).  But tha’ts conchology, and field work for you.

We return to Winterborne K to be greeted by CJ and family who have sought sanctuary from their building works.  I cook my first roast for ages then on Sunday we have lunch at the Brace of Pheasants at Plush before the Perrymans head for Godalming.

The following week sees the fulfilment of various appointments and tasks. On Monday Stuart and Angela come to supper.  On Tuesday I have my Yoga session, lunch with Celia and Rollo a bit later. I have lunch with my sister, niece and mother in the Chesil Beach Cafe on Wednesday.

Nick and I collect the reframed hand-painted wallpaper pictures, designed and executed by Victoria Doran, which have been reworked by a framer using UV glass.  This was a costly mistake on our part, we should have chosen this first time around.  Fortunately we realised our mistake when we noticed that despite the placement of the pictures out of direct sunlight, the sun was shining through each of the Velux skylights as it traversed across our roof.  Victoria’s paintings are unique and look well in the ‘gallery’ setting we can give them.

On Friday we cross to St Vaast, not knowing exactly how or when we will return to WK in time for our week in Venice.  Happy to be back in the newly restored house we celebrate by having friends and neighbours to dinner on Saturday evening.  It’s quite a feast because the French often bring a dish when they are invited.  So we start with whelks and large prawns, I provide a Thai Green Curry Chicken (which is just the easiest dish I know) and some Venison sausages as an alternative for one guest.  I’ve brought a platter of English cheeses – now that’s a daring thing to do – but it is a success, they love the Blue Vinny, the Ribblesdale Goat and the Devon Oke.  Christine brings a perfect Tarte Tatin (the secret she says is to use “les Goldens”), meanwhile I have cheated and brought over some of the Gu individual cheesecakes – a bargain at half price in that awfully successful supermarket.

On Sunday afternoon I finish The Ghost Road, a real trial of a read based on the experiences of some real and fictional characters in the First World War.  It is the current Winterborne K Book Group book of the month, and I feel a sense of duty to read this, not to the group, so much as to those who made the terrible sacrifices in those 4 nightmarish years.  My paternal grandfather survived the trenches but my grandmother tells me his health never recovered and he died prematurely when my father was 13.

Nick is feeling more active than I so he sets to pruning some invasive shrubs, the Victoria Plum tree and uprooting an old and failing Fuchsia.  I think I know just what will go well in the space created.  More about this in the next post on gardening matters.  Meanwhile a slideshow to illustrate some of what we have been about……….

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