Childhood holiday memories in the UK
Wildlife I remember from childhood holidays
I have been recalling what I remember best of my childhood holidays with my family, and without any doubt it is the wildlife I encountered in the places we stayed at and visited in the car. When we went to the beach I was always more interested in what I could find in rockpools than the sands or going in the sea.
My mother used to say it was "hard to get me out of my Wellingtons," and so it was if we went to the beach. I often preferred to wear my "Wellies" to bare feet because it meant I didn't hurt my feet on sharp rocks and was less likely to slip.
Also if the beach happened to have a river estuary or muddy tidal lagoons, all the better as far as I was concerned, because there were always all sorts of creatures and plants to be found in brackish water habitats.
As a small boy I remember we used to stay in a holiday chalet in a village called Stepaside just outside the beach of Wiseman's Bridge in Pembrokeshire. Amroth and Pendine were just along the coast and sometimes we went to these beaches too.
The Adder or Viper
In my spare time when we were back at the chalet I would roam about on the grassy banks that overlooked the holiday homes and look on the roadside verges on the road into the place. It was there that I would spot Adders (Vipera berus ) with their distinctive zigzag patterned backs.
I used to delight in finding these snakes basking on anthills and patches of exposed earth. There were smaller greyish males and much bigger females that were sometimes a reddish-brown.
I would be careful not to disturb the snakes but it didn't take much to do so. The slightest movement and they would uncoil and vanish into the grass and surrounding undergrowth.
Common Lizards too could be also found where the Adders lived and this was not surprising because this snake eats the smaller reptile. Sadly today both these British reptiles are becoming rare.
In the evenings I was excited to see what types of moth turned up after being attracted by the lights. I used to see what sorts of wild flowers I could find too and look up all the new species I discovered in my Observer's Books.
My Dad had a blue Vauxhall car with a curved-roof and we used to go on day-out journeys to other beaches and locations of interest in Carmarthernshire and Pembrokeshire. Often we stopped for lunch for a fish ´n´chip shop and I used to love eating battered cod and chunky chips with plenty of salt ´n´vinegar, all wrapped up in newspaper. They don't make fish ´n´chips like this anymore!
At Wiseman's Bridge I remember catching prawns in the deeper pools. I had a big net and learned to sweep it under the rocky ledges in the pools and under the underwater seaweed. Bringing it to the surface quickly you would hopefully find prawns jumping about in the net, and sometimes there would be fish or other interesting marine creatures.
If the prawns were females often they would have masses of eggs underneath and I would throw those back in the seawater.
We also used to catch shrimps on the sandy beaches and that was a totally different technique needed of skimming the net through the top of the underwater sand and then swilling it in the water if you were in luck and could see any shrimps in your catch. They were speckled and hide by burying in the sand.
Sometimes we brought home a catch of mixed prawns and shrimps. We used to clean them by leaving them in a bucket fresh tap water overnight and cook them by dropping the crustaceans into a boiling pan of water when they would instantly die and turn pink.
I remember being fascinated by the small fish known as Blennies. They are able to live out of water for short periods and often could be found in deep crevices in the wet rocks after the tide went out. Blennies reminded me of the exotic Mudskipper fish I had seen on TV wildlife documentaries with David Attenborough.
On day trips to other places in Pembrokeshire I can remember a place called Dale where there were muddy saltmarsh lagoons and on the beach I found the strange Porcelain Crabs with flattened claws. In St Martin's Haven, another beach we sometimes went to, I discovered the Cornish Sucker fish (Lepadogaster purpurea ) in the rock pools.
These weird little fish look really exotic with their plum-pink colouring and shape and they stick on the rocks like some types of tropical catfish can do. They also have eye spots on the back of their heads. Cornish Suckers are a type of cling fish and this was the only place I ever saw any.
We also used to go to a place called Stackpole where there was a long walk past the Bosherston Lily Pools and end up on a sandy beach where a stream from the ponds went into the sea and I could catch small flatfish in the large pool it created of brackish water.
When I was a bit older we stopped going to Pembrokeshire and started going camping in the New Forest and had a big blue family tent. I can remember how exciting it all was, and used to enjoy hearing the rain pattering on the canvas if the weather was bad. I remember the very plastic smells of the inner compartments that we could zip up and the plastic buckets and bowls and food containers we had.
It was all very plastic and artificial but it didn't seem that way so much because we had grass and trees and sky outside. It was fun sleeping in a sleeping bag too.
I cannot be sure of the name of the area we camped in but I think it was near Ringwood. Again I was thrilled to be able to go out and find all sorts of wildlife.
I remember wandering about in the forest and moorland areas near the campsite and finding Sand Lizards, a rare species I had only seen in books, Grass Snakes, Adders, White Admiral butterflies and occasionally catching sight of Fallow Deer as they ran to hide in the trees and bushes.
I also remember finding moths that flew into the toilet block attracted by the lights. I saw some of the first Prominent moths and also Thorn moths and some types I never managed to find in my insect books.
My Dad used to drive me and my family to beaches and towns and places of interest in the area and I know we went to Chesil Beach, for example, but for me what I remembered the most and enjoyed the best about the camping holidays, was being able to find all sorts of wildlife that didn't live in Wales. Holidays for me were always about exploring nature and finding plants and animals.
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© 2009 Steve Andrews
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