Thursday, 9 February 2012

Old Rectory Let

Even though there’s low cloud and a little soft drizzle brushes my face, I can see for miles as I walk north over the high spine of Rhosilli Down at the west end of Gower. The vast golden sands stretch out along the curved bay below; I can look at five counties from up here. This part of Gower gets little snow; even during the recent extreme blizzards in England, only a little fell on these salty west-facing slopes. Microclimates like this are common in the warm west; in Pembrokeshire, Skomer Island gets much less rain than the mainland just a mile or so away and the tops of some hills invariably seem to attract rain when either side is perfectly dry.

I pause briefly at an Ordnance Survey trig point. These stone-made truncated pyramids are a feature of many high points in Britain, and some have become mini landmarks. Still in use, they’re a vital ingredient in the production of the ever-improving OS maps, which delight walkers and country lovers alike. The astonishing details of our landscape so intelligently and expertly displayed in these maps have become minor masterpieces, with old versions now valuable collectors’ items.

The National Trust owns the lonely old rectory perched on the raised beach below me. Now an up market holiday let, it attracts rich visitors from across the world. I hear it costs an arm and a leg to stay there and is occupied throughout the year; smoke from the chimney suggests they’re right. I wonder if those inside are aware of the pair of choughs searching for insects on the closely cropped turf just outside the window, or the ravens croaking as they display high in the sky above the rectory.

The rain stops, the clouds lift and I make out scoters behind the surf and hundreds of gulls at sea. Seemingly never silent oystercatchers poke into the sand at the sea’s edge looking for shells and at 300 feet above the sea I get a rare view from above of a kestrel hovering over the gorse below as I head down to the deserted shore. I’m alone save for crows, gulls and the sanderlings scurrying along the water’s edge. It’s such a contrast to the summer months when surfers and sun worshipers descent on the bay. Little do they know that now is the best time to be in this magical place.

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