Darwin Awards Contenders Foiled By Observant Cafe Customer

Four men who could have become strong candidates for this year’s Darwin Awards have been saved by a Good Samaritan who was enjoying some coffee nearby.

The BBC reports that a customer at a cafe in Oxwich Bay, Wales, spotted four men in a dinghy clutching onto a buoy and desperately trying to get the attention of those on shore.

It’s unclear if the men were consciously trying to win the Darwin Awards, given out every year for people who get killed in stupid ways and thus improve the gene pool of our species. Nevertheless, they proved their candidacy by setting out in an inflatable dinghy into worsening weather with no life jackets and no flares. Winds had reached up to force six on the Beaufort Scale by the time they were saved. Force six is just short of a gale, with waves rising up to 13 feet.

The person who spotted them alerted the coast guard, who sent out a lifeboat to save them. If it wasn’t for this observant coffee lover, these wannabe sailors may have replicated the famous “Raft of the Medusa,” being adrift at sea for weeks, slowly expiring from hunger and thirst until desperation led them to gnaw on one another to survive. It would have given a whole new meaning to the term “Welsh rarebit.”

If you must try an alternative diet, try vegetarianism instead. It’s far more benign. Also familiarize yourself with weather conditions before setting out and practice these sea safety guidelines. Now that spring is here and everyone wants to get out in the water, it’s important to know how to play safe.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Wrestle A Shark, Become A Hero And Get Fired

Back in January we showed this amazing video of a man wrestling a shark on a beach in Queensland, Australia.

Paul Marshallsea, 62, became an Internet sensation when he pulled the 2-meter-long dusky shark away from swimmers. Unfortunately for him, fame came at a price.

Marshallsea has been fired from his job as a project coordinator at the Pant and Dowlais Boys and Girls Club in Wales. In a letter quoted by the BBC, the club trustees said that although he was on sick leave during the incident he had apparently been healthy enough to wrestle a shark. The hint being, of course, that he was faking his illness.

Marshallsea objects that he wasn’t on sick leave for a physical ailment, but for work-related stress.

In a statement on their website, the club states that he was dismissed for a “variety of issues” unrelated to his holiday in Australia.

It’s a case of he-said, they-said and it’s difficult to see who’s right since the club is refusing to make any further statement to the press. You think they could have cut the guy some slack, though. If he can wrestle sharks, he can probably handle a bunch of Welsh kids.

[Photo courtesy SeaWorld, Queensland. The shark-wrestling incident did not involve a SeaWorld shark]

Remnants Of World War II In The UK Countryside

During World War II, the British were sure they were about to be invaded. The English Channel seemed like nothing more than a narrow creek against the might of Nazi Germany. As the British army fought in North Africa and Southeast Asia, the Home Guard and teams of civilians prepared for the worst.

One elderly English woman told me that when she was a teenager she helped lay electric wire below the water line of the southern beaches. The idea was that if the Germans launched an amphibious invasion, sort of a D-Day in reverse, they could flip a switch and electrocute the Germans. While the idea disturbed her at the time, the thought of an occupied England disturbed her even more.

Another defensive measure was the construction of more than 18,000 small bunkers called “pillboxes” at strategic sites. Thousands still stand along the rivers, estuaries, ports and main roads. If you hike for any length of time in England, Scotland or Wales you’re bound to come across some. The one shown above guards the road leading into Faringdon, Oxfordshire. Jump the cut to see another view of the same installation.

As you can see it’s not very big, barely room enough for a couple of men and a machine gun. Still, it would have slowed down the enemy and given the British time to organize a counterattack. Many installations were strung out in long lines called “stop-lines” across the countryside with the idea that the German invasion could be halted along those lines.

Pillboxes came in numerous types. They were built of concrete, stone or brick reinforced with concrete and had various shapes. The Pillbox Study Group is dedicated to the study and preservation of these defenses. Anyone who knows the British will not be the least bit surprised that such a group exists. They’re big on all sorts of societies and associations. These groups allow a rather introverted people an excuse to gather without (or sometimes with) the social lubricant of alcohol. Sometimes this is rewarded with a major discovery. The Richard III Society must be having their best year ever.

I’ve clambered over plenty of these little forts and each one is a little different. In Orkney, I even came across one built atop a prehistoric Pictish broch. Some have been incorporated into later buildings and one has even been used to create a habitat for bats. Most, however, are quietly decaying, visited only by local teens as a private place to drink and screw. Only a few are preserved as historic buildings. The Pillbox Study Group is trying to change that.

If you come across a pillbox while hiking, be careful. Despite once being bullet proof many are now in rather poor shape. Watch your step and admire these remnants of the nation’s Proudest Hour.

Snowdonia Light On Snow, Heavy On Attractions

Snowdonia National Park hosts the largest mountains in Wales and England. The attractions of Snowdonia, set against a backdrop of outstanding natural beauty, feature medieval castles, historic houses and elegant parks and gardens. Visitors enjoy galleries and museums, learn about myths and legends and can go deep underground to discover the area’s mining past. Located in northern Wales, a small gauge train ride took us on a journey through the mountains.

The Ffestinog and Welsh Highland Railways are two of the great little trains of Wales, offering a variety of travel options through northern Snowdonia.

We started in the coastal town of Porthmadog and took a relaxing 13-mile ride on the Ffestiniog railway, the oldest of the Welsh narrow gauge railways, completed in 1836. Chugging along to the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, we then traveled by bus to the alpine village of Betws-y-Coed for lunch and an afternoon in the mountains.

Unlike what the name would imply, Snowdonia rarely gets snow but is one of the wettest parts of the British Isles with an average rainfall of 4,473 millimeters (176.1 inches) a year over the past 30 years. That makes for great hiking, biking and climbing with many unique shops in Betws-y-Coed catering to those who enjoy such activities.

Here is a photo gallery highlighting our day:

Visitors to Snowdonia are split about 50/50 between those who stay for a day and those who linger longer.

In addition to some terrific trains, the area boasts some deep discoveries including the Slate Cavers a Liechwedd where two different journeys go deep into a Victorian slate mine. King Arthur’s Labyrinth invites visitors to grab a hard hat and set sail with a mysterious Dark Age boatman on an underground storytelling adventure. On Electric Mountain, visitors discover the powers of pumped storage hydro-electricity.

Other attractions include touring a variety of castles and grounds throughout the area. On the coast of Snowdonia, Portmelirion is a magical village with colorful cottages, shops and cafes surrounded by sub-tropical gardens and miles of sandy beaches. Bodnant Garden, one of the finest gardens in the world, boasts the world-famous 55-meter-long Laburnum Arch, 200-year-old Giant Redwood trees – the tallest in the UK – along with magnolias, daffodils, rhododendrons and azaleas.

The area is also rich in heritage and history starting with Plas Mawr, the finest surviving town house of the Elizabethan era, still standing as a symbol of the prosperous age. Lloyd George Museum lets visitors discover the life and times of David Lloyd George, the cottage-bred boy who became prime minister during World War I. The National Slate Museum tells the story of North Wales’ slate industry with a film, slate-splitting demonstrations and the largest waterwheel in Britain.

One of the very best parts of our visit to Snowdonia though was meeting the friendly English-speaking people who worked and lived in the area. All were eager to share their love for this magical place they called home.

For more information about Snowdonia stop by VisitSnowdonia.info or snowdonia-wales.net.

Visit The Newport Medieval Ship In Wales

When the city of Newport, Wales, was building its Riverfront Arts Centre back in 2002, there was an amazing discovery. A large medieval trading vessel was discovered in very good condition.

The ship measured about 85 feet in length and was 26 feet wide at its widest point. The timbers of the clinker-built ship survived the centuries thanks to the oxygen-poor conditions in the River Usk where it was found. This kept microbes from feeding on the ship.

Hundreds of artifacts were recovered during the excavation, including an hourglass, a shoe, a cannonball and Portuguese coins. The most important artifact was a small silver coin found wedged into a hole at the join between the stem post and the keel. This type of coin was minted in France from 1445-1456 and so the ship must date to then or later. Coins were often placed into the fabric of a ship when it was being built as a token of good luck.

While a planned museum for the ship hasn’t been built yet and restoration of the timbers isn’t finished, it’s still possible to visit the Newport Medieval Ship. There are various open days, including one on June 1 and another on June 9. The one on June 1 marks a decade since the ship was discovered. Visitors will get to see the restoration in progress and hear more about the ship and its times from local experts.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]