The Flower Show

September 13, 2016

The Flower Show aka Rothesay Horticultural Society Annual Show had to be a bit different this year.  After decades of being held in early September in the Pavilion the venue was changed because of the ongoing refurbishment of that iconic building.  The Show committee managed to shoe horn all the exhibitors into Trinity Church, its halls and even marquees in the garden.

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Mixed herbaceous border flowers in the church.

As well as reduced display space there was also a much tighter fit for viewing visitors – just as well that plant growers and flower lovers are a generally friendly bunch.

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A Bumblee

The floral artists were quite tightly squeezed for space but still turned out beautiful displays.  It was impossible to get far enough back from the big floor standing exhibits to take photographs.

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I personally did not like this year’s craft theme of ‘Weddings’ so only entered one black and white photograph of zebras from our recent trip to Namibia (obviously not wedding related!) and was quite chuffed with a Third Prize from an entry of 18.

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A Mouthwatering Line Up

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Another example of perfection.

Inevitably there was much talk of the awful growing conditions we have experienced this ‘summer’ here on Bute and the consensus of opinion was that particularly fruit entries had suffered.

The following photographs of our little ‘orchard’ will create a false impression.  In reality some of the trees do not look in the best of health – sadly I suspect canker.  Not removing any yet but will do some serious pruning and play a waiting game.

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Three of the dozen juicy looking plums before they all fell off.

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The Bramleys look good but the foliage is a bit sad.

This is the first year that the Conference Pear has had fruit.  It looks really impressive in the following photograph but I have to confess that each pear is about two inches long and hard as a brick.

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The young rowan tree is laden with scrumptious looking berries – I hope the birds appreciate this feast.

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Another first for our orchard this year has been the appearance of two hazelnuts.  We have never seen squirrels in our garden so I am hopeful that these nuts will still be there when they are ripe.

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I had to do a quick google on hazelnuts because as well as the precious bounty of two nuts the bush is covered with tiny yellow catkins – to my relief this seemingly sometimes happens.

Winter is certainly drawing in – the Waverley has stopped visiting, the farmers are furiously dodging downpours to harvest, the Flower Show is over, leaves are changing colour, the ferries were off yesterday because of the wind.  Bute is still the most beautiful place to live.


Annual Waverley Trip 2016

September 4, 2016

A sudden realisation last Saturday morning that it was the final weekend of the PS Waverley’s visits to Rothesay for this year  and we hadn’t yet made a trip.  Fortunately the forecast was quite good so we quickly rearranged our plans.

It is a delight to have to go through the Cabbie’s Rest on the pier on the way to the boat, whether it be the Calmac ferry or the Waverley.

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Hanging baskets in the Cabbie’s Rest, Rothesay

When the Waverley arrived she looked very busy but, as always, most of the passengers who have come from further up the Clyde or Glasgow disembark for a few hours in Rothesay so we had plenty of space to move about and take in the scenery from all angles.

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Leaving Rothesay

Our house can be seen neatly framed by the left hand side of the wheel spokes.  We weren’t going on a long journey – just through the Kyles of Bute and round to Tighnabruaich.

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Through the Kyles while the ferry is tied up.

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Tighnabruaich Pier

I love looking under this old barnacle and seaweed strewn pier as it brings back memories of many hours spent playing under the pier at Whiting Bay.  Whiting Bay (on Arran) in those days didn’t have a million or so pounds worth of yachts anchored around.

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Mainland on the left and ahead, Bute on the right.

It wasn’t really a meal time when we were on board so we had to forego our usual fish and chip tea but a spell watching, hearing and smelling the engine was compulsory.

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Very shiny and mesmerising.

I can still feel my father’s arms around me as he would hold me up to see the engine – comforting and scary at the same time.

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On the Waverley through the Kyles of Bute

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It was a great afternoon out but with the usual tinge of sadness that it will be mid October before we see the iconic shape of the Waverley come sweeping into Rothesay Bay again.  She is off down south now. We have a bonus this year as I understand that the Waverley’s sister ship, the Balmoral, will be visiting us in September (23rd – 26th September).  It must be autumn.


Bute Highland Games 2016

August 26, 2016

Before starting to type up this post I have had a read through the words I chose in previous years to describe this wonderful event – this is the eighth time we have visited.  The thing that strikes me instantly is the weather – this is the first year we have been wet! It rained off and on nearly all day, only clearing up in the late afternoon.

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Coats on.

Sadly the pipe bands lose a lot of their spectacle when their colourful tartans are carefully protected from the downpours.  Another sad consequence was that the competition for the hundreds of beautiful Highland dancers had to be moved up to the gym hall at the school for safety – it was too slippy on the dancing platforms.

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But our hardy visitors stuck it out ……

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The competitors stuck it out too, and showed their usual determination and skill in the various competitions.

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From young teenage girls sprinting …

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… to the all age groups starting off on the 10K Road Run.

I did a double take when I heard that we were moving into the 21st century and that the runners were being ‘micro chipped’ for the first time this year.  Instant vision of the local vet being seconded to attend the Games with his little ‘gun’.  Turns out that it was only the runner’s official vest numbers which were to be tagged, allowing everyone to get an accurate personal race time.

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Race officials getting the medals lined up.

We enjoyed very tasty burgers or steak rolls from the Kingarth food tent and were very grateful to have access to the Patrons’ tent for a seat.  While there, our visitors, two Americans and one English (not counting family) were thrilled to meet our friend Len Scoular, Lord Provost of Argyle and Bute, and have a close look at his magnificent chain of office.

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Presented with a special ‘wee dram’.

All the time the dancers, throwers, pipers, wrestlers, etc  were beavering away at winning medals and trophies and sometimes small amounts of money.  Mostly they were just having fun and enjoying something they loved doing.

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Pipe Major’s Competition

The youngest competitor in the Pipe Major’s competition looked so tiny in the middle of the great space of the arena but she was strutting her stuff with great aplomb.  At the same time some bigger girls were throwing their weight about – and trying to toss the caber.

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Wet grass, slippery tree trunk but no disasters.

There is one person who never minds being last – the gentleman from Greenock, who, dressed as a clown, raises large amounts of money for charity as he ambles around the 10K route.

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‘Tommy Frae Greenock’

The weather did improve later in the afternoon and by the time of the Grand March down through Rothesay most of the pipers were able to discard their waterproofs and show a welcome splash of colour.

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This row of beautiful wee girls from one of the local dance schools got a great cheer as they launched into a sequence of ‘pas de bas’  as they swung round the corner.

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You can wait all day for a Pipe Major to come along when all of a sudden you get four in a row.

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Kilsyth Thistle Pipe Band

If your Mummy or Daddy plays in a pipe band there is always the chance that you will get to carry a trophy in the Grand March – They take their proud duties very seriously.

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This is the second of our two local schools of dancing – they are privileged to have a wee boy in their ranks.  We watched some of the dance competition up at the school earlier and saw a couple of teenage boys – handsome, immaculately turned out and twinkle toed.

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The host Pipe Band always comes last in the Grand march – Rothesay and District Pipe Band.

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A fast twirling mace.


Rothesay Raft Race 2016

August 18, 2016

On Sunday we had another of the Island’s fun filled charity events.  No rain at this one but a lot of people got wet anyway.  The Sailing Club organise this race of home made rafts from the beach at Children’s Corner to in front of the Yacht Club.  Nine teams entered on this overcast but warm, calm day.

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There are strict rules about wearing life jackets plus official encouragement of sabotage equipment – flour, eggs and pump action water pistols.

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They’re off.

Teams of more than four adults have a one minute time delay so the hardy folks from Stand Up to Cancer had a bit of catching up to do.

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Ballerinas tentatively tiptoeing through the seaweed. 

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The Co-op being not quite so elegant.

A lot of effort had gone into the building of the rafts, decorating them and creating the costumes.

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A wetsuit, a lifejacket and then a bikini on top.

The sea conditions and the weather were so benign that the safety boat took to zooming very fast through the fleet to create waves.

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Man made waves.

I think it was gravity and balance that did for this team rather than waves.

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They look as though they are chasing after the ferry.

I wonder if any of the paddlers will make the GB Team for the next Olympics.  According to the Buteman report all nine teams finished the course although the last home, with only two oarsmen remaining, took two hours – that’s the kind of grit and determination that wins gold medals (all they would get would be a beer and a beef burger).  A great afternoon’s entertainment.


Bute Agricultural Show 2016

August 12, 2016

Unfortunately the Cattle Show on Wednesday drew the short straw as far as weather was concerned – damp, light drizzle to start and getting wetter as the day progressed.  The previous two weekends had both had good weather which was much appreciated by the hoards of visitors attending ButeFest and the inaugural Bute Noir crime writers event.  If you have time to read a very funny description of the crime ‘scene’ in Rothesay last weekend click here.

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Happy campers enjoying breakfast at UCB

For the three days of ButeFest the cordon bleu chefs at the United Church of Bute cooked bacon and sausage rolls for breakfast – the campers from the field below the church very much appreciated the good food, warm welcome and especially our nice clean toilets!

Rothesay is a very busy place when visitors are involved but  ‘home grown’ events have a place in all Brandanes’ (and incomers like us) hearts too – and one of the most special events is the annual Cattle Show.  I love the mix of people, animals and the feeling of friendly rivalry on the day.  This year the weather was not entirely kind.

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Even some horses had their coats on.

Some hairdos coped with the dampness better than others –

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I liked how these sheep had a banner of their own fields to make them feel at home.

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A fluffy fringe looking a bit damp.

The entrants in the ‘young handlers’ class seemed even younger than usual this year ….

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…. and sometimes resorted to brute force rather than persuasion ….

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There were other uses for wellies apart from keeping your feet dry.

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Every year I try to work out what exactly the judges are looking for when picking the winners in each class but find it impossible, for example the only difference I can see in the three below is a slight variation in size and colour.

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It is even harder with the milking cows – they are all nearly identical, some brown and white, some black and white and all with perfectly straight backs.

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The next photograph shows a very unusual distinctive animal.  I love it but have a small reservation about how much adult ‘support’ this ‘under 6 years’ artist had.

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I find it funny that the donkeys are always held in a pen as far away from the other livestock, especially the horses, as possible.  I’ve been told that the young elegant ponies get very skittered by their equine cousins.

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Looking very innocent.

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Looking elegantly in control.

Inside the marquee some of the most fiercely contested competitions of the day took place  – on this island baking is taken very seriously.  I admire all the mouth watering entries and find it frustrating that they are destroyed after being on open display all day, for food hygiene reasons.  because we are down to only two ‘Rurals’ here now we no longer compete against each other but instead prepare a joint display of our combined talents.

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Ballianlay and Port Bannatyne Rurals on display.

The rain got a bit heavier in the afternoon but that did not deter the hardy dog owners of Bute – as usual there was a large entry for the various classes in the dog show.

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I love how the dog on the right is carefully sitting on his owner’s feet and not on the wet grass.

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My favourite.

The rain started in earnest on Wednesday afternoon and has continued incessantly now for 72 hours – I think I’ll check on that half built ark we have in the basement.


Etosha National Park, Namibia

July 23, 2016

The last section of our holiday was spent in the north of Namibia in amongst the wildlife of Etosha.  We were based at Ongava Lodge very close to one of the main entrances to Etosha.  We arrived late in the afternoon and were immediately taken out on a game drive. The rules had changed now – no more hopping in and out of the vehicle to inspect things up close, we had to stay in the car at all times; after dark we even had to be escorted from the bar / dining area to our room.

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This young male lion was purposefully leading two much younger cubs – the guide reckoned he was about 4 or 5 years old and was ‘babysitting’ the others.  The adults could be seen way up ahead heading out hunting.

The light was fading fast when we found this trio.

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Not the best quality photo but it was getting dark.  I was very surprised and  very excited when we were told we could get out and walk closer to the rhinos.  The driver of the next vehicle had a rifle and escorted a dozen of us a good bit closer.  We all took photos and the guides in whispers explained what we were seeing.  After my adrenalin rush began to subside I began to think what should I do if the rhinos charged – run, stand still, no trees to climb, could I lie down and pretend to be already dead?  Of course my fantasies were totally unnecessary – not sure how much the rifle was for show or if it would ever really be needed.

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The gun was real – but would he ever use it?

For the next two days Jeremia took us into Etosha National Park.  I am struggling to find the words to describe the awesome sights we saw.  Although I have seen countless wildlife documentaries the real thing was so much better than I expected.  Such a privilege to sit quietly and simply watch.

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Little and large

Colin unexpectedly fell in love with the giraffes – driving along we would spot a long neck  appearing above the tops of the trees and be subjected to an imperturbable gaze through those beautiful long lashes.

Beauty …………

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Steenbock

….. and the beast (literally).

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Wildebeest

Etosha covers 20,000 square kilometres of northern Namibia and is scattered with about 60 waterholes, some natural and some man made.  There are gravel roads between the waterholes and vehicles are not allowed to go off road.  This protects the animals and allows them peace while they drink and move about.  It is such a huge place and the wildlife so abundant that sometimes we would have a waterhole to ourselves or at most a couple of other vehicles.  I think the most important aspect to me was that the animals totally ignored us, never even glancing up.

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The Batchelor’s Club at Okaukuejo

This is a group of young males.  Within the park there are three ‘resorts’ – fenced areas with accommodation, restaurant, shop and administration / security offices.  The above photograph was taken from a seating area at the resort.  It is the humans who are fenced in here and the animals completely free to roam, as it should be.

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Dusk at Ongava Lodge 

When we returned to the lodge in the late afternoon it was such a pleasure to stand on the veranda with a cool beer and continue the animal watching.  The waterhole was lit at night so even a nocturnal toilet visit involved animal watching!

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I loved the mix of animals at the waterholes.  Jeremia explained how they all coexisted without any obvious strife – except for lions of course, although even then the other creatures kept a wary eye open but knew if the big cats were likely to be hunting or not.

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Springbok, ostrich and oryx.

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In the centre of Etosha is the Pan – nearly 5,000 square kilometres of totally dry, hard baked clay and salt, seemingly visible from outer space.  Driving along a bit of the edge was like any shore line with grassy, low, sandy dunes but instead of welcoming cool water beyond there was glinting hard whiteness as far as the eye could see.

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The dot in the middle is an oryx, a long way ‘offshore’.

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My new best friends.

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Rietfontein Waterhole, Etosha

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We watched this ostrich having a thoroughly good dust bath, finishing off with an exhilarating shake – just like the wee sparrows in the garden in Rothesay.

All the time we were taking photographs at Rietfontein we, and all the animals, were aware that a few hundred yards away resting in the shade of the trees were two lions.  I have debated with myself whether I would have liked to see them hunting or not – have concluded that in spite of how exciting that would have been, I would really rather not see the gory details.

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Lions in the shade.

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I have kept my promise and not shown you the ‘hundred’ photographs of elephants we took.  Our trip to Namibia was awesome, so varied in the different areas we visited and made extra special by  our very knowledgeable, friendly and caring guide Jeremia.

Well, just one more picture of a few of the elephants of Namibia –

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All Creatures Great and Small – in Namibia

July 17, 2016

I mentioned in an earlier post about how good our guide, Jeremia, was at spotting wildlife.  Driving along a dead straight, gravel road, across a featureless plain at about 50 mph he notices this.

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Namaqua Chameleon

This little fellow was only 6 inches long and quietly sitting by the edge of the road absorbing the early morning sun.  After a few minutes with us watching he got up and started to move across the gravelly sand surface.  After only a few strides he looked like this –

Namibia Select 090616  - 133and when the chameleon was about two yards away the only way we could pick him out was by the tiny shadow his body was creating.  The camouflage was perfect.

Namibia Select 090616  - 136We saw lots of ostriches and learnt that several females over a period of about ten days will lay their eggs in one communal nest.  Two dominant females from the flock will then raise the entire brood – so all these funny little scuttling chicks are not brothers and sisters.

I hadn’t thought about it in advance but being in a very arid country meant that there were very few insects about – far too hot in the daytime and too cold in the evening, although in a couple of places we had mosquito nets over our bed and we took antimalarial tablets for the northern most part of our journey.  The beautiful red dragonfly was by a pool at a restaurant.

Namibia Select 090616  - 138Namibia is a very large country with a very small population.  Apart from in the two towns of Windhoek and Swapokmund the only people we saw were those working in the tourist industry.  From reading the guide books and visiting the museum in Swakopmund I knew a little of the country’s history, the European colonisation and the movements of indigenous peoples, and Jeremia was keen for us to visit two groups of local people who with support from his company were trying to improve their own lives.

Namibia Select 090616  - 142This extended family group of Himba people were making and selling beaded jewellery.  The women’s hair was utterly fascinating – many tight, narrow plaits thickly coated with ochre mud, with the ends combed out into bushy ‘tails’.

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At the Hairdresser

The woman having her hair plaited was sound asleep.  We made a donation in respect of taking photographs of the people, but with Jeremia translating for us we discovered that they had a $50 and a $10 American notes which they had no way of exchanging for Namibian dollars.  After checking the exchange rate on Jeremia’s mobile phone we were happy to help.

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The other main ethnic group were the Herero people and their appearance  was totally different.

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Buying Dolls from a Herero Woman

These ladies wore full length, very colourful cotton dresses – the Herero national costume.  The story is that the early Victorian era Portuguese settlers were unhappy with their almost naked house servants and covered them up with flowing dresses.  Today, long after the days when styles of clothes could be imposed on folk, and even after independence, the Herero people choose to continue the tradition.

As we approached the Damaraland area we started seriously looking out for elephants.

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I didn’t know that an elephant puts its back foot directly on top of its front foot print – so at first glance it could be a two legged creature.  I have also added to my skill set that I can tell how old a pile of elephant dung is!

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About 24 hours old.

Unfortunately no sightings before we reached our next accommodation at Damaraland Camp, another luxury tent.  On the first night here, all 16 guests were taken by torchlight away from the main camp to a wonderful barbecue party in a ‘boma’ out in the rocky desert.  Boma is the Afrikaans word for a stockade, and that is exactly what it was.

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Waitresses at the boma

We sat around a huge camp fire and later ate our meal by oil lamps.  The waitresses were a huge entertainment as they described each course of the meal, and the wines, firstly in English and then in the native ‘click’ language.  When a word could not be translated into click they improvised with miming and gestures – ‘lamb’ had much baaing, and if something was going to be particularly delicious there was much tummy patting and eye rolling. Great fun.

The next morning our elephant tracking practice paid off.

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Only the first of many.

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Over the next two days we saw many family groups of elephants browsing the trees in the dried up river beds.  Such a joy to simply sit and watch these magnificent creatures – they totally ignored us.  One afternoon we visited the world famous rock carvings at Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Twyfelfontein, Namibia

The animals carved on these 20 or so slabs of rock are thought to be about 5,000 years old. As well as the instantly recognisable giraffes, wildebeest etc there is a sea lion on the far right – 100 miles from the sea.

On the last morning at Damaraland we were up at 5.30am to be taken for Bush Breakfast to watch the sunrise.  This was a stunningly beautiful location but quite chilly until the sun rose from behind the mountains.

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The staff singing a farewell song after breakfast.

On our way north we visited a petrified forest in the Aba-Huab Valley.  The trees are calculated to be about 260 million years old and are so perfectly preserved they look as though they were felled only a few years ago, and they are very, very big – over 30 metres long.

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You can even see the bark in places.

Dotted in amongst the fossilised trees were many Welwitschia plants, probably the strangest plant I have ever seen.  They grow in the most inhospitable place and some are thought to be as old as 2,000 years.

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Welwitschia plant

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Termite Mounds

In this post I have deliberately not included the many other animals we saw in these few days but instead concentrated on some of the other things we saw and experienced.  The final post of the Namibia adventure will be wall to wall animals, which is exactly what it was like in Etosha National Park.

To be continued ……