I’m fortunate to have a country lane at the end of my road, and it makes a nice 40-minute walk there and back to a main road. Outward yesterday I only took one picture, but on the way back I decided to capture a variety of views of Glastonbury Tor.
The one photo I took going out was of these ponies. The previous time I had been by they had been well-spaced in the field. This time they looked so sad, and I imagined that they were feeling deprived of human company, though I was sure that they were being well fed and watered. I stood and talked to them for five minutes.
On my way back though, a young lady was leading two more ponies back into the field. I told her – at a distance – of my romantic notion. She said that the three had indeed been eagerly waiting at the gate – but for their two companions to be returned. And indeed, I could see the joy of the three as all five gambolled (is that a good word for ponies?) off around the field together. Apparently, their lives haven’t changed a jot since lockdown, and their carers are working just as before. So what do I know about equine behaviour?
My first view of the Tor was taken from the deserted main road at the far point of my walk.
Now having turned round, these views are all to my right:
But my next picture was not of the Tor. I was entranced by this scene and stood and watched for a short while.
Zooming a little led me to think there were figures at he top of the Tor, which is on National Trust land.
Yup. It was probably quite blowy up there.
I wouldn’t be tempted to go up the Tor because the way up is, sadly, all concreted and lots of steps now, and passing people would bring one too close to those going in the other direction. (Quite apart from the fact that I puff a lot when I make the effort!)
I also admired the sky – which is often covered in contrails.
I did want a picture of the JCB, and if I wanted the Tor as well I had to put up with the building.
Where my road joins the lane there is a public park.
It remained just to take the Tor from the one corner of my garden where I can see it – when there aren’t too many leaves on the trees.
What are those white blobs?
It’s difficult to imagine what else there remains to write about right now…
Having visited the ancient Anti-Atlas on Thursday, on Friday 13th March, our last complete day, we were off to the High Atlas mountains. These were much younger – formed by uplift over only the last 60 to 10 million years! We only went into the ‘foothills’, but they seemed pretty high to me, and they were certainly beautiful.
But first we stood in the garden of our temporary home, as some had heard the Black-crowned Tchagra. Sadly, we didn’t manage to see it at this time, but I took a picture of a Common Bulbul, (they’re everywhere), possibly the one which sang outside our windows every morning.
Our first stop revealed some extraordinary folding, caused, as for the Anti-Atlas, by the crashing of the African plate into the Eurasian one. (That is still going on – the Alps are still getting higher. My 2007 OU geology course taught me that the Mediterranean will in due course disappear!)
The next stop involved a short upward stroll.
The next, a longer stroll along a nearly dried-up river bed, in Paradise Valley. First a few steps downstream.
And then upstream, the flow having transferred to the other side of the road by going under it, and then apparently either diverting under the geological feature or just drying up, the rest of our walk being alongside a dry river bed.
There followed a long, climbing, drive to our lunch place.
We ate our packed lunch in the Café Restaurant Le Miel. (Again they were happy for us just to buy drinks) and were meant to wonder at the Cascades of Imouzzer. But they have not had the slight trickle of water for at least two years. (Here is a 3-minute video I found on YouTube about the Imouzzer region, made in 2015 when there were still trickles of water over the Cascades.)
Having eaten, we were driven up to much nearer them, for botanical reasons, but it gave a chance to look at the rocks more closely. From this angle, to me they look like a bearded old man, sitting with his wide sleeves dangling, his hands resting on his knees.
Two flowers were particularly sought.
We moved on to this rather unprepossessing spot, (whose whereabouts we were told never to reveal, even were we able, because hordes of twitchers would drive away the bird we had come to see).
Which we did, at a great distance:
Finally we moved to perhaps the most beautiful spot of the whole week (though that’s a difficult pick), high, high, high – in the (still only) foothills of the High Atlas. First our attention was drawn to several examples of the Moroccan Day Gecko.
And in due course to this dwarf iris, the Barbary nut (the tubers used to be eaten).
How’s this for a rockery garden? All natural of course.
And for the rest of the time, at this our last stop, we just enjoyed the views.
On the next day, Saturday, 14th March, we did not need to leave the Atlas Kasbah for Agadir Airport until late afternoon. Half the group had a cooking lesson in the kitchens, and the others went out with Philip and James, to review the first morning’s sightings, and to see some more. (They saw a Black-crowned Tchagra at last.) I did neither. I had not yet managed even to read the hotel’s own information folder, and really wished to do so, nor had I had a chance to wet the new swimsuit I had bought a few days before coming away. So, having achieved the former, I was then obliged to spend time here.
With its views outwards
For a long while I had the whole pool to myself. (In the event the water was too cold for me actually to wet the swimsuit.)
We ate the tagine our colleagues had prepared in the morning at lunchtime, and the afternoon whiled itself away. In due course we said a reluctant goodbye to those who had been looking after us so well, the more so for knowing what we were going back to.
I had a window seat again on the plane.
I feel so blessed that I was able to take that holiday, for which I had been longing for months, before the clampdown enforced on us by this horrible virus, Covid-19. As I said in the first post in this series, Morocco had already banned flights to and from 25 countries the day before we left. (We ten travellers knew about France, but not about how many countries the ban extended to. Our leaders did. Philip was looking at his screen constantly for news.) Two days after our return they added the UK and others to the list.
Now the Atlas Kasbah is shut down, like pretty well the whole world. Here on my own, thankfully with the company of my felines, I’m grateful for the telephone, and all the media, which allow me to be in touch with friends and family and the wider world. I have this extraordinary sensation of fellow-suffering, not just with those I know, in the UK, family on both coasts of the US, friends in France, the company both employed and holidaying which I so enjoyed in Morocco, but also with every single one of the world’s 7,800,000,000 people. Every single one of us is having to contend with the same fears and concerns and ignorance about the future, most of our fellows without even the resources that we have in the first world. I’m going to avoid a cliché, but this is something we do all, every single one of us, face together.
It was a gentler day on Thursday 12th March. ‘Oh good’, thought I as I started this post, ‘Fewer photos to share.’ Fail!
It was back in the minibus today, as we headed off, making several stops as ever, to the Anti-Atlas mountains. An odd name, given by a couple of British geologists in the 19th century. The rock formation is extremely old, dating back 300 million years, linked with the Appalachian Mountains, but coming to the surface only some 80 million years ago as a result of the collisions of the African and European plates, and heavily weathered since.
Throughout the week, we saw far more than I was able to capture on ‘film’, but this time at our first stop I took:
Our next stop was for a drink at Ait Baha. ‘Ait’ means ‘tribe’ or ‘family’ in Berber, and appears in many town names. This one is best-known for shoe-making, and we wondered round a co-operative, some people buying. There was no aggressive hard-selling. I think this actually made one all the more likely to buy. The guilt I felt for not doing so would have been absent had I been pestered. (I would have bought if any of these lovely slippers and shoes had had supportive insteps.)
Moving on we saw, among other things:
We were heading for the hilltop village of Laatik, and its agadir. An agadir was originally a defensive grain store, but expanded its purpose to the storage of anything precious owned by villagers. Each family had one large cupboard/room in the agadir. This building was at least 600 years old, but there was apparently a more famous and larger one elsewhere dating back some 900 years. We were greeted by its guardian, though Mohamed gave most of the explanations.
It was intended that we should eat our packed lunch in that corridor, but in the event we had to beat a hasty retreat. Locals objected to our presence, for fear that we were bringing the coronavirus with us. At that point (I was keeping a very close eye on the national and international situation) only 2 cases had been declared in Morocco, each of those Moroccan residents in northern Italy, who had returned to Morocco for a visit. I don’t blame those local people in the least for wanting to be rid of us.
Our leaders found a lovely spot a few kilometres away on the way down for us to eat, including even a natural bench for those of us who couldn’t crouch on the ground. I was happy to be in the open air and not in that corridor.
We were then allowed 30 minutes to wander around at our will. I concentrated mainly on (those cactuses that weren’t cactuses, but) euphorbias. Hélène had told us the previous day that their local name was ‘Mother-in-law’s seat’. Some ‘humour’ is universal.
There were some beautiful trees as well.
Once we had moved on in the minibus, at last I managed to get a decent picture of a Barbary Ground Squirrel.
The sky had started clouding over as we had left the agadir, and we actually caught a glimpse of a shower in the distance at one point in the afternoon. This was the only hint of precipitation we saw all week.
Back to Ait Baha for afternoon refreshment. The kestrel was still there, but now on the windowsill.
The traditional method of building houses in Morocco is to plan for a next storey, should it prove desirable and affordable. So these houses are only unfinished in the sense that they may or may not grow in the future. Meanwhile, the floor of that next storey, with window spaces all ready, serves as a roof terrace.
These very modern apartment blocks on the outskirts of ever-expanding Agadir make no such provision.
Once we were back on the main dual carriageway towards Agadir, I was thrilled to see a woman in colourful dress driving a large colourful tractor, coming in the opposite direction. Unfortunately I had no time to capture the image.
Always good when our temporary hilltop home comes into sight.
Wednesday 11th March was mammals day. For that we visited the Souss Massa National Park, and learnt something of its conservation work. We went in four 4x4s, so that each of us had a window. They put me in the front seat of the vehicle driven by Mohammed in case I needed to communicate urgently with the driver. (I didn’t.)
The Park was set up in 1991 in recognition of the area’s importance as a breeding ground for certain birds, including the Northern Bald Ibis. To quote Wikipedia, “Souss-Massa also holds captive-breeding programmes for four threatened North African ungulates: scimitar oryx, addax, dama gazelle [not on our target list] and dorcas gazelle, … The reintroduction of the North African ostrich – which is extinct north of the Sahara – is also underway.” With the exception of the Dama Gazelle, we saw all of these.
We had our packed lunch standing in a shelter, and among other things, watched a sea mist…
… rolling in.
but, although we drove through a little mist as we left, it came to nothing. The drought continues.
After a stop at a local pottery and café, where I had a much-craved ice-cream, we were driven to the mouth of the Oued (River) Souss, and stood on a bridge to see what we could see, hoping for flamingos.
For our final stop, we were driven over the bridge, and further downstream to a rather unprepossessing spot, where we could see a two-poled pylon in the far distance.
Immediately to our left was a telegraph pole.
A final look round revealed a Little Egret …
and some Sanderlings. Or so Mohammed said, and he was very good at his wildlife.
Before dinner, it was Hélène’s turn to invite us into the salon of the Atlas Kasbah. She opened her big wooden box, which like all Moroccan brides (she is French) she received on her wedding day. It was full of traditional health and beauty items, and she explained the purpose of every one. A question at the end (from me) about covering her hair at the school where she teaches (she doesn’t, though the fact that it is a French school may have something to do with it?) led to an immense amount of information about the role of women in Morocco – considerably more liberated than in many other Moslem countries.
Today was to be half urban, with a morning visit to ‘mini Marrakech’, a town full of character called Taroudant. We were briefed that the souk was a serious market for local people, where tourists just got in the way, and we should not try to haggle. The stated price was the price to be paid.
But I wasn’t sure I should be joining the party. I, who never have tummy upsets, spent half the night…. well, let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep. (I think I had just eaten far more than my system was used to processing the day before.) Five minutes before we were due to leave, having dared have, and feeling like having, no breakfast, I decided to take the risk, with fingers very crossed. I just about got away with it…
It was our driver and sometime guide, Mohamed, who showed us round the first attraction, the ‘Hotel of Peace’, once the palace of the local rulers, but now a hotel, which has clearly seen better days.
Mohammed then drove and led us to and through the souk, where we had strict instructions to be able to see one of our three leaders at all times. A wonderful array of foodstuffs. Some bought, I didn’t.
At one point I felt faint, I hadn’t slept much, I hadn’t eaten anything, and it was very, very, hot. I slid down to sit on a very low step, cushioned by some items that looked like boiler covers, but turned out to be donkey saddles for sale!
We left Taroudant, and arrived for a late packed lunch at a restaurant (where they were happy that we just bought drinks) at the Oasis of Tioute. They certainly know how to do cool in the midday sun.
We went for a short walk, (well, they tell me it was short) meeting Mohamed and the minibus at the other end.
We made a short stop to have a guided tour round the Argana Tiout (I can find no website) women’s co-operative, where they made and sold argan oil products. I stayed in the minibus, and just popped into the shop to buy some of their oil – cooking, not cosmetic version, which I was told would substitute nicely for the olive oil I put into my (breadmaker) bread. We shall see!
On the Monday (9th March), we took our first trip out in the minibus, with several stops along the Atlantic coast, to the north of Agadir. The first stop was at Cap Rhir, mainly to look at vegetation, though we saw fauna of interest too…
I got the giggles at this. Philip, Don and Alison take photos of the lizard, a young shepherd boy on his donkey looks on in puzzlement, and his sheep follow.
And the ovines catch us up.
Believe it or not, these two plants are both from the euphorbia family. The cactusy-looking one is not a cactus!
This is a Moroccan Lizard-toed Gecko, or three-quarters of one. Philip had picked it up, but it escaped, leaving its tail behind to wriggle and distract the predator.
Philip was mortified, saying that this had never happened to him before.
We moved further north to Oued (River) Tamri, in search of the endangered Northern Bald Ibis. The total world population (in the wild) is only about 800, and near here was a known breeding site. When we stopped in the car park, alongside the vehicles of some surfers, we knew we would see some of the birds, as one of our number had spotted some high on a cliff to our right.
They flew around a bit.
A Marsh Harrier came to join the party. Well, not really, but it was good to see it.
After eating a very copious packed lunch provided by the lodge, we walked further along the dunes to the mouth of the oued.
We enjoyed walking along the sand, with its fresh breeze and wonderful surfing waves, and were reluctant to leave, but our next stop was explicitly for us to enjoy even more some sea action.
Our route back to the hotel took us into Agadir, and we climbed and climbed, to our puzzlement. It turned out we were being taken to the Kasbah (fort), which was very severely damaged in the 1960 earthquake, especially inside.
The views explained the setting.
Before our evening meal, we were invited into the salon of the Atlas Kasbah, which in a Moroccan home is a room near the entrance used only for entertaining guests. According to Moroccan tradition these can (and do) turn up completely unannounced, have the right to stay for up to three days, and it would be the height of bad manners to ask how long they were intending to stay. They sleep in the salon.
We stayed for about an hour, to be introduced by Hassan to the very elaborate traditional tea making ceremony. Ibrahim – or Hussein, I never did manage to tell them apart, as both were so charmingly smiley – assisted.
With some time to spare before lunch on the Sunday, I wandered round the award-winning Atlas Kasbah ecolodge. This was the brainchild and baby of Hassan and Hélène, our lovely hosts, and was opened in 2009. Here is a little more of its story.
One storey up was the roof terrace. Three of my companion couples had rooms in the corner towers.
Going down to the ground floor I took a peek unto the salon (French is the alternative language to Berber in Morocco), where if you enter you must remove your shoes.
Wandering outside, I found this lady, who had multiple roles in the establishment, making bread – heavenly to eat – in the traditional oven.
She turned it over and around every few seconds with her stick. It took a couple of minutes to cook one flat bread.
My last discovery was another roof terrace, this time covered, where I was told we would be having lunch shortly. Food for the week was Moroccan, copious and, I suspect, a little westernised. For instance, every time we came back from an excursion, we were greeted with a small glass of herb tea, only slightly sweetened, whereas the locals would have taken five times the amount of sugar.
After lunch we were to go for another walk, and I took this photo from the terrace in our intended direction, towards and into the older parts of the local village.
We set off. I just could not stop taking photos of our so photogenic home.
As I said to Philip, as we sat on a low wall waiting for the others to catch us up at one point, I felt it was good to start our week getting our local bearings, and not being isolated from the realities of Moroccan rural poverty. (I also felt it was good to get it over at the beginning of the week.)
Until a few weeks ago, ‘Agadir’ meant to me ‘just’ that awful 1960 earthquake which killed some 12,000 to 15,000 people. Other than that it was on the coast somewhere in North Africa, I couldn’t have told you its location. Now I know it is to the southern end of the UN-recognised part of Morocco, which itself is on the left-hand – as you’re looking at it – ‘shoulder’ of the continent. (I mention the UN because Morocco itself lays claim to the next country south, known to the rest of the world as Western Sahara.)
The improvement in my geography has come about because three days ago I returned from a very enjoyable week’s holiday in that Maghreb country, organised by Wildlife Travel for BBC Wildlife readers, and we stayed in a beautiful ecolodge half an hour’s drive from Agadir airport. We got back just in time. Last night, Monday 16th March, at midnight, the Moroccan government banned travel to and from the UK, having done the same to 25 other countries the day before we left.
It was a nearly four-hour afternoon flight from Gatwick to Agadir. With a window seat I had splendid views of:
It was late by the time we arrived at our ecolodge, but a welcoming meal awaited us.
Breakfast was always at 8.00, and we were out at 9.00. Here we are on the Sunday morning, 8th March, at our introductory briefing from Philip Precey, from Wildlife Travel, as big James Lowen, BBC Wildlife contributor, looks on reflectfully. Apart from these two leaders, there were ten of us, plus Mohamed, our excellent driver and sometimes guide.
Outside, Philip introduced us to the Argan tree, a staple of Moroccan life, and providing employment for women in co-operatives, as they make argan oil, and products for cooking and beauty from it.
Here are the inner gates, with the name of the ecolodge written in Arabic:
and Berber, the language and tribe most widespread in Morocco.
We started walking down to the main gates.
We set off for a local walk, looking back at our kasbah.
We approached the sound of many sheep and goats, anticipating a delightful rural scene. We were very disappointed.
With two friends, each of them a keen member of the Royal Horticultural Society, I visited East Lambrook Manor gardens this Wednesday. This was my third visit, but my first at this time of year. They are currently holding their snowdrop festival. Here are some of the photos I (with one obvious exception) took.
Having kept our purses firmly unopened, we moved on to the rest of Margery Fish‘s wonderful cottage garden.
The day before storm Ciara was beautiful, just right for joining a group privileged to visit an RSPB hide not normally open to the public, (for complicated reasons). West Sedgemoor is just about the southernmost extent of the Somerset Moors and Levels, and much of it is an RSPB reserve, acquisition of which has been built up over the decades. This means the RSPB is now able to control the water levels, to the advantage of wildlife of course, by the management of sluices, these days remotely.
We were given this information en route to the hide, having stopped here to overlook part of the moor.
And before we reached the hide we saw, looking right,
Also seen en route, looking left:
We stayed for about 90 minutes. Here are some of the dozens and dozens of photos I took. It should be said that nearly all of them were taken with my camera on its maximum zoom. The other caveat I would make is that there were too many people to make it easy to ask our expert leader for identifications, so some of them given here are tentative. I hope a knowledgeable reader may offer suggestions and corrections.