• Puffins, rocks and a bleeding yew

    Escaped last week to the pleasures of Pembrokeshire with the main aim of visiting Skomer to see puffins for the first time in my life. We were in luck - the ferry was going on the Wednesday. It doesn't always run if the wind comes from the north, making safe passage a bit dodgy, and even on our return crossing with the wind heading round that way it was pretty lively. However, it was all well worth while - 30,000 puffins on Skomer, and as soon as you land the air is thick with them. These fabulous little birds nest in burrows on the cliff tops, mainly at two particular hotspots on the island. Many are quite happy with you only a matter of a few feet away - guess they have just become so used to visitorss. Trying to get that classic image of a bird with a mouthful of sandeels is harder than you'd think as they tend to fly in and dive straight down the burrows to feed their young, but I got one crack at a bird that posed beautifully for a few seconds before disappearing underground. The other speciality of the island is the Manz shearwater, but they tend to be nocturnal, so we didn't catch a glimpse. The flowers on the island are pretty spectacular too - vast swathes of red campion and hummocks of white bladder campion, and (although we'd missed the best of it) thrift.

    We spent some time in one or two of the little coves just marvelling at all the different rock formations - very clear illustrations of strata upheaval and some great colouring. I wish I knew more about geology, but it doesn't diminish the enjoyment. Who needs art when you have rocks like these?

    Heading back home on Thursday we stopped off at St. Brynach's church in Nevern to have a squint at the Bleeding Yew, a tree that I featured a few years back in my Heritage Trees Wales (soon to be reprinted). An avenue of eight trees leads from the gate to the church door and it's the second on the right that is named the Bleeding Yew because of a sticky red blood-like fluid that exudes from the site of a bough cut off in the nineteenth century. This weird phenomenon has attracted various legends and beliefs. Christians believe it weeps for the crucifixion of Christ - the wounds symbolising where He was nailed to the cross. Pagans, on the other hand, see a vision of the Earth Mother, the bleeding redolent of menstruation. Another tale tells of a monk who was hanged for some unknown crime, but protesting his innocence he cried out, 'If you hang me, guiltless as I am, these trees will bleed for me.'

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