A friend told me about the Minterne Himalayan Gardens on Monday, and I visited the next day. This is an ideal time of year to go, because of the rhododendrons and the azaleas and other spring wild flowers, but the great collection of wonderful trees would justify a visit at any time of year. I took so many pictures that I cannot make a choice, so here for the record are lots and lots of them, with occasional commentary.
I decided to call in on the little church instead of returning straight home.
The very first Sir Winston Churchill, his wife, and his daughter are buried here. On the left is the grave of John Churchill, the first Winston’s father.
I felt particularly for this woman, ‘languishing under a tediouse sickness for halfe a year’ before she died.
And there were a few other commemorative plaques which caught my eye, some of which told interesting stories.
Until last Saturday, my only recollection of Gloucester had been of an incident at least 30 years previous. I had arrived, with others, by narrowboat in the docks, and, for reasons I can no longer remember, was wandering around in the area on my own. I was approached by a copper, who asked me to account for my whereabouts for the last 30 minutes or so. I did so, and he seemed content at my explanation. When I asked why he wanted to know, he told me that someone of my description had been seen leaving a local shop with stolen goods. (I was wearing blue jeans and a navy blue sweater, even more of a uniform those days than now.)
Anyway, this Saturday I went nowhere near the historic docks, though would have done so had I had the time. I was in the city to join in an early music singing workshop in the Parliament Rooms of Gloucester Cathedral. (All I have been able to discover about these rooms is that one of them was used by Richard II for a Parliament in 1378.) I couldn’t really take photographs of the workshop itself, but was pleased to have time during the lunch break to wander around in the immediate vicinity.
I must return to Gloucester to explore the docks once more, hoping to escape the beady eye of the law this time.
I had a choice at this point, to walk along a very busy road, or to enter a wood, where three years ago I had found carpets of bluebells.
There were no bluebells where I expected to find them. Either my memory was faulty or they had been stripped out. Or they had been suppressed by the acres of sedge that seemed to be everywhere. After a long while I did find some, but not in the swathes that I expected.
But happily they were English bluebells, with not a Spanish bluebell in sight, then or for the rest of my walk.
Impossible not to be aware of a great low-flying bird across my path. It settled in a tree to my left.
Then it flew off, to a much higher and much further tree, not yet covered in foliage.
A very pleasant afternoon. And other than on the first road, I didn’t meet a soul.
Our final day ended with a ‘sunset cruise’, intended, we were told, less to look for wildlife than to just enjoy the experience of being on the (Zambezi) river for a couple of hours. As I stood beforehand on the terrace of the Camp Nkwazi Lodge…
As people started embarking, I held back to get this picture, and feared that I was therefore condemned to sitting in the full sun of the open top deck. But in fact, given the breeze created by the movement of the boat, it was lovely up there.
It was very pleasant along the river, and, uniquely, sundowners were offered – I had gin and orange, the quinine in tonic not being good for my tinnitus. (Sorry, sufferers.)
We hugged the Zambian bank. I wondered if we would come back that way as well, given that halfway across the river we would be in Zimbabwe.
My geopolitical query was answered when we went well over the invisible dividing line halfway across the river when we turned round. So perhaps this trip should have been advertised as ‘Namibia/Botswana/Zambia/ Zimbabwe’. Though truth to tell, we had only ventured a few miles even into Botswana and Zambia.
We drift back over to the Zambian side.
I tried, not very successfully, to capture photos of birds low-flying back to their roosts.
As we arrived at the lodge, the owners signalled that there was a Finfoot (‘Uncommon resident.. resemble ducks and cormorants but … unrelated to these groups’, and not yet seen by us) on a small island nearby, so we went in search. Some got a reasonable but fleeting view, I saw it for about half a second scrambling up a bank, and some didn’t see it at all. No question of my photographing it.
But we did hear and see some trumpeting Trumpeter hornbills, and saw some more Hadeda ibis.
And could this be bettered as a final view at the end of a most fantastic and privileged trip?
PS. I went, last Saturday, to a Big Cat Festival in London organised by Bradt Travel Guides. There were lots of wonderful photographs, alongside some hard-hitting conservation messages. In Africa, except when we were at sewage works (!), where it was possible to see some wonderful birds, we had been in national parks, which exclude permanent human habitation. I would not like to have given the impression that these three countries are teeming with wildlife. Our visit was only possible because their governments see the value of preserving what remains of the living treasures they house. At the same time they are having to deal with expanding human populations, and drought.
At the Big Cat Festival, I saw this large picture, by Jonathan Truss. He kindly allowed people to take photos of it. (Sadly I only had my tiny phone with me.) If those lions we saw a few weeks ago had been even half the size of this imaginary one, I think that our confidence around them, even protected by our vehicles, would have been somewhat diminished!
Our leaders had pity on us, the morning of this our last complete day. Breakfast was up to as late as 8.00, and there was no pre-breakfast walk.
On the way to breakfast:
I was the last to arrive at breakfast, at 7.30, and was greeted by Neil with ‘Good afternoon!’, to which I reacted with appropriate indignation.
We set off for the day’s activities at 9.00.
We drove through the town of Livingstone. Difficult to capture images describing the place.
Surprise, surprise, we arrived at a sewage works. I didn’t take many photos, except of terns in flight – most unsuccessfully.
We then undertook a long and bumpy journey.
We were aiming for a lunch place (a lodge of course) some miles down the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls, overlooking the gorge. Leader Neil was disappointed that we were not giving it more attention, but the fact is that it was much cooler in the shade, and, perhaps more significantly, most of us were deep into our phones and tablets, having access to wi-fi for the first time in 48 hours. Our super luxury lodge had been without the service since our arrival. Not their fault, but the local tower, or whatever-you-call-it, was out of action. As we were due to depart the following day, people hasd urgent and less urgent need of communication with the rest of the world.
That said, everyone did look at the gorge for a while at least.
I remarked to Neil that I was surprised how slow the water flow was, given the amount and speed of it over the Falls. ‘Or perhaps it’s a matter of scale?’, I asked. ‘It’s a matter of scale,’ he said. ‘Look at those kayaking.’ I hadn’t noticed the tiny little dots. They were moving, very fast, and were much further down than my brain had registered.
Having lunched and, er, used the facilities, (which were totally respectable)
Thursday 7th March, afternoon. We only went a very little way into Zambia, near to the town of Livingstone, formerly capital of Northern Rhodesia. Thebig tourist attraction around there is the Victoria Falls. We went direct to them after lunch.
Here is a model of the Falls before the Zambian entrance. Note the footbridge, within the park, and the road bridge linking Zambia and Zimbabwe. As I learnt later, the model considerably minimises the sheer breadth of the Falls.
A more accurate representation would show, that there is much, much more of them to be seen from the Zimbabwean side. But they were impressive enough from Zambia.
A statue of the great explorer, sometime missionary, scientist and abolitionist, fascinating, stubborn and somewhat disorganised, David Livingstone greets you shortly after the gate. ‘He travelled the African interior to the north between 1852 and 1856, mapping almost the entire course of the Zambezi, and was the first European to see the Mosi-o-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) waterfall, which he called Victoria Falls after his monarch.’
I started wandering back.
Back at the entrance, Neil pointed out that it was possible to take a path to see the top of the Falls. On the way I saw this Western three-striped skink.
It was time to move on to nearby Camp Nkwazi Lodge, again on the banks of the Zambezi River, where we were to stay for our last two nights.
All our lodges over the fortnight had been very different from each other.
Thursday 7th March, morning. As mentioned already, Neil and Jakes were not licensed to lead game drives in Botswana, but we had the opportunity to go on an optional (= paying) game drive organised by the lodge, leaving at 6.00 a.m. Most of us decided to do so, but in the event found we very much missed the quality of our own guides. We were again in two vehicles, open ones this time, and with a couple of other people staying at the lodge in each as well.
The guides were clearly not interested/didn’t see birds at all, and it was the German lady in our jeep who spotted these and asked to stop for photos.
The tour laid on by the hotel clearly caters for the general public just passing though, not knowledgeable (well, most of them) fanatics like us! But we did nevertheless see some interesting and new things, before we got back for a hasty breakfast at 9.00 a.m., and departure as soon as possible afterwards. For we were to leave Botswana finally for a brief sojourn in Zambia, before setting off on the long journey back to the UK.
This next was perhaps the most interesting sighting of the game drive. A black-backed jackal came trotting towards us, clearly carrying some very fresh meat. It stopped, dropped the meat, scrabbled a bit, and then moved on – without the meat – and passed behind our jeep. What was going on?
Perhaps this was the reason the jeep was rushing. We found ourselves in a bunch of at least a dozen other vehicles, all straining to catch a sight of…
He was followed by a procession of five or six of his females – I lost count.
But they were a very long way off. On the other hand, had we not had the very good lion sightings earlier on in the trip, we would have been thrilled to see even these.
We turned round, and on the way back for breakfast caught sight of …
Crossing from Botswana into Zambia (the former Northern Rhodesia) was a more complicated affair than nipping between Namibia (the old South West Africa) and Botswana (the old Bechuanaland) had been.
Entering Zambia involved crossing the ‘mighty’ Zambezi River. We hadn’t the time to wait for this bridge, being financed by China, to be completed.
So we were going to cross by this.
Fortunately it was not too long, once we set off, before we stopped for lunch. Though at one point we all leapt up from table (outdoors of course) to seek out a trumpeting Trumpeter hornbill, of which this was the best photo I could get!
We heard, and indeed saw, plenty of these – very loud – at our next and final lodge.
Wednesday afternoon, 6th March. Vervet monkeys hung around the lodge. Indeed we were advised not to leave our sliding doors open. I did go onto my balcony a couple of times to look, but I didn’t see any. These were in a common area.
After a rest it was out on the boat again, in the same direction. Some familiar wildlife and some new. One very special.
These last two pictures had been taken while the boat was moving fast, with, unusually, no stopping, and at a time when I would have thought we would be turning round. Yet the boat sped on, further and further from the lodge.
After a short while all became clear. A leopard! Those local boat steerers/guides keep in touch with each other!
I hadn’t given my hope of seeing a leopard – which would complete my big cat ‘list’ – a thought for days. But given this opportunity, I, like everyone else, took zillions of photos, of which here are a very few. It (I don’t know whether it was male or female) was a long way off, but once you knew where it was, there was a clear view.
I moved to the upper deck of the boat, and by the time I was there, she also had moved.
Short of seeing her catch prey and dragging it up a tree (the chances of seeing that from a boat were slim to non-existent, I would imagine) this was the best possible view we could have had. From these pictures, I extract the following enlarged portraits.
It was now indeed a race to get back to the lodge before the (Chobe) national park shut. I don’t think we made it in time (there were no physical barriers) but I didn’t hear of the boatmen being fined either.
Wednesday, 6th March. While our guides were not licensed for Botswanan wildlife trips, there was nothing to stop them explaining things if we took established boat rides from Chobe Safari Lodge within the Chobe National Park. So at 9 a.m. we set off for the first of two boats rides today – in which we saw lots of elephants! On the whole, to begin with, we kept to the south bank of the Chobe River.
When we saw elephants, I took enormous numbers of photographs and videos. Just a very few are here.
We continued on our way, to a ‘lovely’ muddy area.
We started wending our way back, mainly along the northern bank of the river now.
These impala were on the far southern bank.
The we became aware of lots, and lots, and lots of elephant lining the southern bank.
On the northern bank was already this leader, presumably the matriarch of at least some of them. She summoned them over.
Tuesday 5th March. Last few hours in Namibia. During our customary pre-breakfast walk around the grounds of our lodge, the Zambezi River looks much the same as it did the evening before.
On our way to a different border crossing…
But before getting there, we stopped for coffee at a very small lodge, with, I think, the hope of seeing a particular bird.
Continuing, and near the border crossing…
By lunchtime we had reached the Chobe Safari Lodge, right by the Chobe Safari Park, where we were to spend two nights. I have to say, very comfortable and smart as it was, it was my least favourite resting place. It was HUGE! As a result the dining area sounded like a large works canteen, very noisy, though I had no complaint about the food. There was a large swimming pool which had many people around it, as if we were at a seaside resort. And my room, on the second floor (there hadn’t been any second floors so far) was really just a very modern, characterless, hotel room, from which this was the view, onto the Chobe River.
Not to be blamed on the lodge, but the temperature that day was the highest we were to know – 38° C max – and, with an overnight temperature of 20°C min, at last I gave in and put some air conditioning on. I had been resisting up to that point on environmental grounds.
Our leaders, being themselves visitors from Namibia, were not licensed to show us round the national park, so later in the afternoon, we went out for a drive to … another sewage works. Some good sightings though. Here are a few.