Two very different days

Saturday afternoon and  Celia (daughter #4) and I were on the 6th level of the Millenium Stadium, watching Wales lose a game to South Africa that they should have won, and which at half-time they were leading.

The noise from the 60,000 of us watching the game was such that at times it was difficult to think, with what was happening on the pitch mirrored seconds later by the response of the crowd. Warmed up by all that now accompanies a major rugby game in Cardiff, we had seen male voice choirs, the Lostprophets, three base jumpers off the roof, choreographed pulses of fire, before the gladiatorial entry of the teams, and the anthems: Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika,  then Land of my Fathers. The final chorus, “Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad” filled the stadium.  Expectation rippling around the crowd, a sudden still, the referee’s whistle, and then game on.

Television delivers an experience stripped of passion, where the commentary and the camera angles shape how you see the game, and just in case you missed it, the replays. Very little is left to you. There is no sense of involvement, and your role is no more than a passive observer. Up close and personal, or as up close and personal as you can get on the 6th level, it is all very different. You see the whole pitch, and even if the the players are difficult to distinguish, there is movement:  it is much easier to feel what is happening and to make sense of it. You can hear the stands opposite and at each end;  and the bank of spectators behind you: to your front it seems little more than a wall of noise, with the occasional words of Cwm Rhondda suddenly heard; and yet behind and around there are the snatches of conversation overheard, laughter and groans, and “Wales, Wales”, taken up and echoed back.

And afterwards there are the crowds.

Arriving at the ground is easy: we were through the turnstiles at 1.00 and had an hour and a half, watching the stadium slowly fill. At the end of the game it is as if a plug has been pulled, and thousands are funnelled down the stairways, and out through the Gates. It has been a very long time since I found myself  in quite such a crowd and making our way to the railway station, sometimes with and sometimes against the flow was not pleasant, even though he crowds were quiet: as if all excitement had been drained away.

This afternoon was a different world.

Caroline and I were on Mardon Down, bright sunshine and wind making ripples through the grass. The bluebells may be past their best but they still tint the shallow slopes where the bracken is uncurling, pale green- still only a hint of what will be a dense covering in little more than a month. In the air Skylarks, floating in the wind, with Swifts hawking insects and a lone Buzzard playing at being a Kestrel, holding position with hunched wings.

Just the two of us, accompanied by birdsong and with views south to the Moor, caught in shadowed sunlight. And a slow drive home. Hawthorn in bridal white and campion splashing the green walls with colour.

Early summer birdwatching

After the heat of the week before last, we have had four days or so of rain. Driving home late Friday afternoon, after two days in the centre of Bristol, the countryside south of Exeter was green and wet, and the roadside verges lost in cow parsley. The early purple orchids have replaced the primroses, and the steep slopes of the Teign Valley are blurred by trees in full leaf.

I am never quite sure when spring ends and summer begins in this part of Devon, but this weekend it feels that we are on the cusp. As I write this post, Caroline is sitting listening to bird calls on the RSBP website (if you haven’t tried it you should), to fix the sounds in her mind. With the start of summer, it is increasingly hard to watch birds in the tree canopy, but you can still hear them. Walking through Yarner Wood a fortnight ago, the pied flycatchers were easy to spot, but tomorrow when we hope to get out again, it will be harder: deeper shadow and thickening leaf cover. This year we are determined to raise our bird watching game, and learn to identify them by song.

Late April we were in Wales, staying outside Brecon and mixing walking and birdwatching, and since then, and much closer to home, we have been in Yarner Wood (pied flycatchers and ravens), by the Hennock reservoirs (blackcaps and great crested grebes) and out on the northern moor (red grouse and ravens).

The highlight in Wales was climbing Pen y Fan, highest of the Beacons. We started from the Upper Neuadd Reservoir and climbed easily in hazy sun along the old Roman road.

At the gate at Bwlch ar y Fan, we turned left to Cribyn, the tops lost in low cloud. We heard, before we saw, a group of a dozen or so young men, loud and raucous, first on the path down from Fan y Big, and then coming up fast behind us. By this time they were quieter. Each had a pack, though not a Bergen, so we weren’t sure whether they were squaddies or a college trip.

They passed us easily (the speed of the young) and as they did, their two instructors (we met them on Cribyn, and learnt they were junior leaders) were not even puffing. It was somewhat different for us, but we finally reached the top of Pen y Fan, the final stage up the steep stone pitched path reminding us of Snowdon last year. Sunlight, and ravens in the sky.

We were back in Wales, walking with ravens.