Caribbean Cruise – Antigua

The third stop on our Caribbean cruise was Antigua. We docked at the capital, St John’s, in the north-west of the island, which has a deep harbour suitable for large cruise ships. Antigua was named by Columbus when he first visited the island in 1493, and means ‘ancient’ in Spanish, but is also known locally as Wadadli, which has a meaning similar to ‘our own’, and gives a delicious meaning to the name of the local beer! By 1674 its main crop was sugar, and by the 1770’s it had a slave population of over 37,000, and a non-slave population of 3,000! The slaves lived terrible lives, malnourished, cruelly mistreated, and even killed by their owners. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and slaves freed by 1834. In 1981 Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua’s economy now relies on tourism, with luxury hotels along the coastline, and throughout the summer months cruise ships visit almost daily.

Antigua is surrounded by coral reefs, with a coast-line of about 54 miles, and (we were told) 365 sandy beaches, enough for one a day for a year! We had decided it was time to spend a morning on the beach, so we took a taxi ride to Fort James, a quiet and pleasant bay not far from St John’s. After paying an ‘umbrella rent’ we strewed our belongings under our huge, hexagonal wooden umbrella, and went for a dip. I expected the aqua-blue water to be warm, or at least warmish – it wasn’t! Instead it was a refreshing cold, not the gasping cold, we’re used to in the UK. There were large, long roller waves that almost swept us off our feet, we were later told this was quite unusual. We dried off quickly in the sun, and did a bit of beach-combing across the hot sand, finding shells and pieces of coral that had washed up on the beach. It was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and a bottle of Wadadli from the beach bar, went down very well!

Palm trees grew along the beach, and there were scrubby trees with bright orange flowers, rather like azalea. A bird, with black plumage and bright yellow eyes hopped around in the sparse undergrowth at the edge of the beach, and then perched in the bushes; we later discovered it was a carib grackle. Fat pink doves cooed at us from the trees, and humming birds hovered around the flowers, iridescent blue and yellow, but they moved too fast to photograph. There were also huge, black frigate birds soaring high in the sky, and then swooping low over the sea.

The beach at Fort James, Antigua was completely what I expected from a Caribbean island beach – pale dazzling sand, clear blue sky, aquamarine sea, and wall to wall sunshine!

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More snow

Yesterday it snowed some more, but once again not as much as was forecast. It was still very cold, -3C, and if it still wasn’t ‘deep and crisp and even’, the earth was certainly ‘hard as iron, and water like a stone’. I defrosted the bird bath every time I had a hot drink, and the birds were very grateful. Mr and Mrs Blackbird took it in turns, and kept coming back for more. A pair of magpies stopped by, and a small flock of four starlings bickered and chattered as they filled their beaks. Some great-tits, blue-tits and long-tailed-tailed-tits flicked around from bush to bush and tree to tree, along with a tiny wren, but they didn’t join the drink queue. Most of the birds sped off as soon as they saw me with my camera, but Mr and Mrs Blackbird posed beautifully. The birds were obviously finding enough to eat, as they were only interested in the water, and largely ignored the scraps I put out. The dog happily finished those bits off later!

A wintry garden

It snowed last night, not deep or crisp or even, but definitely snow, sprinkled across the garden like icing sugar. Although it was bright and sunny this morning it snowed some more, soft fat flakes drifting and dropping aimlessly. This afternoon it grew colder, and the snow fell like tiny hard crystals whirling madly in a biting, easterly wind. Some of the longer spikes of grass are still standing tall, but most of the lawn and flowerbeds are covered with a thin lacy blanket of snow. A few small, half-open daffodil buds, have been stopped in their tracks, as winter has returned with a vengeance. Tiny pendulous snowdrops stand straight, while pink and white hellebore flower-heads are heavily laden, bowing down to almost touch the icy cold earth. I’ve defrosted the bird bath three times today, and have been rewarded with the sight of blackbirds and pigeons grabbing a quick drink, and I spotted a wren on the trellis, and a squirrel high up in the oak tree. Despite the bitter cold, there is still life in my garden. We may not have had the snow we were expecting, but there are a few days yet of snow and below zero temperatures forecast, so who knows…..

See the life in winter

This morning the sky is an unrelenting grey, sombre and lifeless, sapping my very being. The trees are mere skeletons, each tiny twig hard and stark against the cold sky. Yesterday I felt full of energy and life, but it seems to have evaporated over night, leaving me low and dispirited.

Then up high there is a movement, and I see a single solitary seagull wheeling across the bleak expanse of cloud. Suddenly a squirrel catches my eye as it scampers along the top of the fence, and a small flock of starlings fly overhead. A couple of pigeons alight on the pergola, rather early in the year for their amorous courtship. I can hear a bird singing, a blackbird or robin, the sound reaches me even though my window is closed against the chill air. I see green ivy twisting and turning around the lower branches of the old oak tree. The world outside is not dead at all. I begin to come to life myself, and despite the grey skies my spirit lifts a little. To my mind’s eye, the steely grey sky becomes slightly softer, the twigs become more feathery and less harsh, and somehow full of future potential. When I look closely, even in the cold of winter there is life.

 

Christmas is drawing nearer

This morning is very different from yesterday, yet it seems somehow the same. The weather is a little warmer, and the sky is no longer clear blue, but soft grey. There is no sparkling rime of frost, no crackle of ice underfoot; instead there is a chill dampness in the atmosphere, and the bushes and plants are bedewed with water droplets.

Like yesterday, the air is still. Smoke from the chimney drifts and drops, then lazily oozes down the sloping roof. It is quiet, and even the birds are silent. It is as if the world is waiting, holding it’s breath. As if something is about to happen.

Christmas is drawing near

This morning is cold. A thick frost lies heavily on the grass. Long thin contrails criss-cross the expanse of watery blue sky, while streaks of clouds meander way up high, like tattered curtains.

Everything is still, there is no breeze to stir the last remaining leaves clinging to the old oak tree. Through the frosty air comes the sound of birds chattering excitedly. Do they know that Christmas is coming? Do they feel a tremor of hope in the air?

 

Ifield Millpond in Winter

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I walked round Ifield Millpond yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp, winter morning. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun hung low, so that blinding sunlight bounced off the frozen surface of the millpond, making photography difficult. The grass and undergrowth were rimed with frost, and ice scrunched underfoot. A heron who habitually sits at the waters’ edge, was perched on the branch of a tree. The water birds, usually seen swimming happily, were today skidding and skating precariously on the ice. Three Canada geese one behind the other slowly and carefully plodded towards a patch of open water near the bridge. The first two held their footing reasonable well, but the last one slipped drunkenly on every step – two steps forward and one slip-step backwards. Seagulls coming to land, ran a few slippery steps, wings flapping wildly to keep their balance before coming to a standstill. A solitary duck padded across the ice, webbed feet flapping, but the rest of the ducks seemed to be crowded into a narrow stretch of water between the bank and the boardwalk.
The funniest of all had to be the coots. They looked rather like misshapen, feathered rugby-balls, with ungainly legs and long flat toes that are usually hidden under the water. No doubt the toes with flabby flaps of skin that act rather like webbed feet are ideal for paddling through water, but they are not really designed for walking on ice! The faster the coots tried to go, the more they slipped and slithered. But however much difficulty the birds had staying upright on the ice, I didn’t see any actually fall over; and thankfully neither did I!