Scotland tells collector: stop stealing our eggs!

Scotland
An obsessive collector of rare birds’ eggs has been banned from visiting Scotland during nesting season. The ban was slapped on Matthew Gonshaw, 49, and lasts from February 1 to August 31 of every year for the ten years. He’s also banned from visiting land owned by the Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Gonshaw has been repeatedly arrested for stealing the eggs of rare birds and is currently serving his fourth prison term for the offense.

The ban came as an ASBO, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. ASBOs ban individuals from certain activities that are annoying or potentially criminal. Public drunkenness, playing football in the street, and other minor offenses are often stopped through ASBOs. Some ASBOs are a bit odd, like banning a sixty year-old man from dressing as a schoolgirl, complete with plaid skirt. This guy was hanging around schools and making parents nervous. BBC has a list of some of the weirder ones here.

In Gonshaw’s case, the ASBO will hopefully keep him away from the rare bird’s eggs he’d rather stick on a shelf than let hatch. Scotland is one of the top destinations for bird watchers and if “collectors” like Gonshaw are allowed to steal eggs with impunity, Scotland’s wildlife could be seriously affected.

Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC via flickr.

Exploring the Welsh coast: Aberaeron and New Quay

Welsh coast, New Quay
Yesterday I mentioned that Aberystwyth is a good base from which to explore western Wales. On our second day in Wales my wife, son, and I hopped on a local bus and went south down the Welsh coast to the ports of Aberaeron and New Quay. Aberaeron is about 40 minutes from Aberystwyth and New Quay is only about 20 minutes further south from Aberaeron.

While we didn’t have long in Aberaeron, we liked this tidy little Welsh town with its brightly painted houses and fine view of the sea. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and pubs and we got the impression that it might be a better place to stay than Aberystwyth. Like in Aberystwyth, we heard a lot of people speaking Welsh. Most signs are in both languages. It’s nice to know that the language is surviving in the age of globalized English.

At New Quay we stopped for lunch at a pub on a cliff overlooking a sandy beach and broad harbor. The view was nice but service was slow and the food substandard. Sadly, this was the case with all too many of our meals in Wales, even though we usually followed local advice as to where to eat.

%Gallery-129265%The famous writer Dylan Thomas lived here for a time and New Quay was the inspiration for his fictional town of Llareggub (“bugger all” spelled backwards). Visitors interested in literary tourism can follow the Dylan Thomas Trail.

We’d come to take a boat trip instead. My five-year-old had never been out to sea so we decided to remedy that by going on one of New Quay’s many dolphin tours. Dolphins are abundant in these waters; we’d seen several from the window of the Seabrin Guest House in Aberystwyth. We chose a tour run by the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, which uses its profits to fund research into the sea life on this part of the Welsh coast. The sea was calm and the sun shone fine so we weren’t worried as we stepped aboard an inflatable motorboat with a half dozen other people.

This good weather was our undoing. The calm conditions had made the fish move further out to sea, and the dolphins had followed them. As we made our way down the coast on our one-hour ride we saw exactly none. Oh well. It’s best to remember that nature isn’t there for our amusement.

This stretch of Welsh coastline is beautiful, with jagged rocks rising high out of the sea. The strata of the rocks is clearly visible, which allowed me to give the kid a lesson in geology, and the cliffs are dotted with numerous caves that smugglers (our boat captain called them “pirates”) used to elude the customs agents. My son was more disappointed about there being no pirates than he was about the lack of dolphins! All was made better when he got to sit in the captain’s chair.

One local told me that New Quay isn’t the most pleasant place to be at night in the summertime. A lot of rough people come into town to get drunk and start fights, and two of his friends got knifed in one incident. We saw a big fight in Aberystwyth too. This isn’t unusual in the UK. When I lived in London, I regularly saw fights on the street on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s just a sad fact of life in this part of the world.

Still, we had a nice day and the kid had a great time and got to experience something new, which is what really matters. Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about a steam train we took through some beautiful Welsh countryside. Unlike my last two posts on Wales, this one will be entirely positive!

Hiking the Yorkshire Moors


England is a wonderful place to hike. When the weather is fine the countryside is as beautiful as you’ll find anywhere, and it seems that every step is steeped in history. There’s variety too, from idyllic hikes along the Thames to challenging treks along the length of Hadrian’s Wall.

One of the more unique places for hiking in England is the Yorkshire Moors. Moorland is found in uplands that have acidic soils. There aren’t many trees and most of the vegetation is grass or heather. When a river cuts through it, like in the photo above, you’ll find trees and a richer variety of plant life. The moors in Yorkshire are some of the biggest in England and in the summertime are purple with blooming heather. Sheep graze on the slopes and a wide variety of birds can be seen. Parts of it reminded me of the Scottish Highlands but with gentler terrain and no lochs.

The Brontë sisters were inspired by this brooding yet subtly beautiful landscape and many of their stories are set on the moors. Local historian and hiking guide Steven Wood led me and my group out onto the moors to visit some of the Brontë’s favorite spots. In fine English tradition it started pouring as soon as we left the hotel. Waterproof gear is essential on any English hike. Even if it’s beautifully sunny, bring it anyway just in case. You won’t be sorry because the weather can change quickly. While it can go from bad to worse, it can also go from terrible to lovely. That’s what you get for being on an island between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

Within half an hour the weather had cleared and we were walking through open fields. Yorkshire has been cultivated since Neolithic times and while there’s no shortage of civilization, it’s quite easy to walk away from it and into land that looks as it did centuries ago.

%Gallery-104950%Our first stop was Top Withens, an isolated stone farmhouse that may have been the inspiration for the location of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Located on a highpoint surrounded by low, undulating hills covered in heather, it’s a spot that could certainly inspire a novel. You can see for miles in all directions, the dull browns and greens of the land matching the slate gray of the arching sky. While this abandoned farm has been a pilgrimage site for Brontë fans for a century, today we had it for ourselves. With no other people about, no animals, and the jet contrails hidden by lowering clouds, it felt like we were the only people in all of Yorkshire.

We then headed to a waterfall that the Brontë sisters liked to visit. At least it’s said to be the waterfall. Like a lot of “George Washington slept here” kind of spots, the waterfall’s reputation is based on a slim bit of fact (they mention frequent visits to a waterfall) and a lot of local lore and wishful thinking. The main thing is that it’s beautiful. A little stream, stained brown by the moor’s soil, rushes through a narrow valley thick with greenery. Another stream cascades over a nearby hill, making a sparkling little waterfall before joining it to flow on towards Haworth, where the Brontës lived. A natural stone seat has “C. Bronte” carved on it, along with the mysterious initials “DWW”. A nearby bridge has a plaque talking about how this was probably where the Brontë’s like to spend their spare time.

It’s all a bit iffy, but who cares? If it wasn’t for its reputation, I wouldn’t have whiled away an enjoyable half hour watching the water flow between the heather. People from all over the world come to see this stream, and if they want to believe this was the place the Brontës visited, that’s fine. It may even be true. The crowds of Japanese Brontë fans who come here seem to think so. The Brontës are huge in Japan, and so many Japanese travelers show up that the signs marking the routes are in Japanese as well as English!

There are many different hikes in the Yorkshire Moors. Some are easy day hikes like the one we did. Others are long-distance paths that take days and pass by the rugged coastline. The Walking and Hiking website has a good listing of routes to get you started. The Welcome to Yorkshire website has free downloadable maps of several popular routes. The Walking Englishman has an amusing description of the walk we did (including a photo of a sheep stealing his lunch) and a map of the route.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: Brimham Rocks: weird natural formations in Yorkshire

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.

India’s Kaziranga National Park has world’s highest tiger population

Zoologists studying at Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India, have declared that it has the greatest density of tigers in the world–32.64 per 100 square kilometers, in fact. By way of comparison, Corbett Tiger Reserve, which is in the number two slot, has “only” 19.6 per 100 square kilometers.

Park officials say there’s such a healthy population because of the large amount of tasty wildlife such as deer and buffalo for the tigers to eat, as can be seen in this amazing slide show from the BBC. Less edible for tigers but equally interesting to visitors are the rare Indian Rhinos, of which two-thirds of the world’s population live in the park.

Kaziranga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular destination for safaris. Visitors can ride an elephant through forest and grassland in order to spot the diverse population of animals and birds.

It’s wise to remember that wildlife is truly wild. Back in April a Dutch tourist was trampled to death by a wild elephant at Kaziranga. The park also has large numbers of King Cobra, the longest venomous snake in the world. Acting with caution and listening to your guide will keep you safe from most dangers, however.

Some thoughts on travel in Ethiopia

One evening I was walking near my home in Madrid and in front of me there was a group of people discussing where they should go to dinner. They were just passing Mesob, the only Ethiopian restaurant in Madrid. One of them said, “Look, Ethiopian food!” and they all started laughing. Several stupid comments about empty plates and starving children followed. Needless to say they didn’t go in, and didn’t learn about Ethiopia’s flavorful and varied cuisine, or the relaxing Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Ignorance is self-perpetuating.

Ethiopia has an image problem. We all have those horrible pictures of war and famine burned into our minds, but as our series on Ethiopia has shown, Ethiopia is a safe and welcoming place to travel. Tour operators such as Abey Roads say tourism is picking up, and considering how much the country has to offer, it’s amazing it isn’t a major destination. Ethiopia has something for pretty much everyone:

Hikers and rock climbers: The rugged Semien Mountains are fast becoming a destination for serious trekking. The more verdant Bale Mountains also offer good hiking opportunities. Rock climbers are beginning to make a foothold in the country, and with many untouched routes there’s plenty of opportunity to be the first on some challenging climbs.

History buffs: Grandiose castles, towering monoliths, and medieval cities help you delve into the past.

Adventure travelers and package tourists: You can rough it on public transportation or fly in comfort from site to site. You can camp or stay in five-star hotels. With facilities for all sorts of traveler, your level of comfort is dictated only by your inclination and the thickness of your wallet.

Budget travelers: Ethiopia is cheap. Even the airfare isn’t bad. I flew Egyptair from Madrid to Addis Ababa for 550 euros ($728) and it’s easy to travel in relative comfort on $20 a day.Students of religion: Ethiopia is the second oldest Christian nation in the world, and has large number of followers of Islam and traditional African religions. For the most part these different faiths get along, despite an embarrassing and atypical religious flame war on this very site. Angry people always make the most noise, but the vast majority of Ethiopians are easygoing and tolerant.

Nature lovers: The southern part of the country offers many safari opportunities with a chance to see rare black-maned lions, elephants, baboons, and much more. If you really want to get up close and personal, go to Harar and feed the hyenas.

Birdwatchers: An estimated 850 species, including scores of endemics, plus bird-themed tours makes this a great destination for the adventurous birder.

Friendly folks of any description: The best aspect of any trip is the people you meet. Ethiopians are open and friendly, and hopefully they’ll stay that way as tourism increases. Communication can be a problem in the more rural areas, but in cities and towns there’s always someone who speaks English or another European language, and everyone is happy to teach you their own language.

With all this, Ethiopia could and probably will be a major destination in ten years. The worst part of their history is behind them and Ethiopians are busy taking their nation to the next level. Now is an exciting time to see it, if only more people knew. Hopefully the government will invest in a campaign to get the nation’s public image out of the 1980s and into the present day.

This is the last installment of our series on travel in Ethiopia. Hope you enjoyed it!

Coming up next: a series on Somaliland, the other Somalia.