UNIVERSITY TRIP TO ABERYSTWYTH

One of the main factors that came into my decision of studying animal behaviour and wildlife conservation was down to a course offering fieldwork/practical elements. Thankfully, the university I chose was perfect and lived up to my expectations. The first trip we took happened last year in November, a night stay in Aberystwyth in Wales. The main purpose of this trip was to have a go writing in our field notebooks and a way to get to know other members of our class who we may not have spoken to yet.  
elan visitors centre wales The journey to Aberystwyth is roughly three hours, however, we stopped off at a few places on the way. The first place we visited was the Elan visitor centre. The visitor centre is set against the backdrop of a Victorian stone dam. The Elan Valley estate is 72 square miles of Cambrian mountains, the broadleaf woodlands found here are some of the oldest in Great Britain and were originally planted for use in the timber industry but now provide shelter and food for a vast variety of animals. Here we spotted birds from red kites, goldfinches to long-tailed tits. The visitor centre is the perfect place to start whilst exploring the estate, there is a small exhibition inside which explains the history of the site whilst there is also a shop/café, toilets and a large picnic area. Here, our task was to note down information about the site, for example, the estate has 12 sites of special scientific interests (SSSI), 2 special areas of conservation (SAC’s), and specially protected areas (SPA). We also had a practice of sketching the area and labelling trees, plants etc. Sketching for me is something I need to improve on.
red kite feeding station, wales red kite feeding station, wales
At the start of the university year, we were given a task to write a mock assignment on the conservation of red kites in the UK. In Wales, roughly 20 years ago there were approximately 30 breeding pairs of red kites, today there are over 300 pairs. One method that has been credited for the rise in population are feeding stations, this is due to red kites being scavengers, the Llanddeusant red kite feeding station was opened in 2002. The kites are fed at 2pm (GMT) or 3pm (BST), we got there just before the feeding started and there were already red kites flying in circles in the sky. The main focus here was to write notes on the behaviour of the birds as they were being fed. Red kites slowly started to fill the sky in anticipation of the feed and once the food came out and was scattered, the red kites started diving straight down, picking up a piece of food and flying off. It was a spectacular sight to see, and with the reflection of the kites bouncing on the water, it felt like they were all around us. The feeding lasted around 20 minutes and as if like magic many of the kites had disappeared from the sky.
starling murmuration wales
We arrived at the hotel late in the afternoon, I can’t recall the name but it was a petty hotel with surprisingly big rooms and right on the seafront, so we got to wake up to a pretty seafront view! The main reason we had come to Aberystwyth was to watch the starling murmuration, so before having dinner we headed out to the pier and waited. Slowly, from over the buildings a group of starlings emerged, then from all directions, other groups of starlings emerged forming into one big group. They then started to engage in an incredible show of synchronised flying, every time you thought the show was over more starlings would show up and join the group. I was memorised and every time more starling showed up I got even more excited. Eventually, the starlings started to make their way under the pier to roost for the night, there can be up to 1000 starlings roosting under the pier. The starling murmuration occurs in the autumn and winter months and it is honestly something worth watching even if you aren’t a big lover of animals.
In the morning, after spending a night out my group decided to have a lie in, this was short lived due to being given incorrect times of meeting. We weren’t aware we had a task to do in the morning, in the shape of observing the beach/sea. This was a quick task observing the beach and sea, we did spot a seal in the distance and a jellyfish, me and two others, however, left the group to go find somewhere to get breakfast as we were so hungry. This caused a slight delay in everyone leaving, and they were all waiting for us in the mini busses… On the way back we had one last stop this was a visit to the Ynyslas sand dunes which are part of the Dyfi national nature reserve.
I don’t know much about sand dunes, one of the staff members told us a little bit about them from how sand dunes are established, what species you can find in sand dunes from types of grasses to reptiles. I actually think the sand dunes are quite beautiful and getting to know what life can thrive in these sandy conditions was interesting. Afterwards, we did a walk across the beach and had a go at identifying different seashells, a lot of people found this activity pointless, but I enjoyed it, mainly because I was to do survey work after university so being able to identify different species is an important element to that. We were able to identify horse mussel, pod razor shells, common cockle and common dogfish egg cases.

It was a nice little trip and it was a great way to sort of introduce the class to the course and what we can expect from the year overall. 

VEGAN EATS - REBELS PIZZERIA & PANCAKE HOUSE.

Last year after being a vegetarian for around fifteen years, I FINALLY made the decision to go vegan and honestly, I regret not making the switch sooner. Over the last several years veganism has been on the rise, with more companies and restaurants recognising the demand for vegan foods which is amazing! Since moving to Wolverhampton last year which is a small town itself, I noticed in general that there is a lack of places to eat within the city, however, despite that there are a few independent places that offer a variety of vegan foods.

Rebels pizzeria and pancake house is a new addition to Wolverhampton, and as the name suggests they serve vegan and non-vegan pizzas and pancakes. They promise good quality food by using locally sourced ingredients and to have an understanding of how the ingredients are produced and the impact it can have on the environment. I found out about Rebels via a vegan facebook group I am a part of and I ended up visiting there twice in the space of a few days, once for pizza and the second time for pancakes.

rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton
The pizzeria and pancake house itself resembles a small takeaway with tables to sit in and eat food, on the menu are 10 pizzas of those 10 four of them can be made vegan. I decided to opt for the cheesy green pizza (12” for £9.50) which was topped with spinach, cherry tomatoes, vegan cheese and tomato sauce. The service and staff were incredible and the staff being friendly, answering any questions about the menu etc. (they mixed up Rui’s order and gave him an 18” pizza instead of a 12”, which I found hilarious because it was huge).
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton vegan
My relationship with pizza has always leaned more towards the dislike side of things, occasionally I would have phases of eating pizza but for me, the ingredient that puts me off pizza is the tomato sauce. There are several reasons for this, sometimes the sauce is too thick or there is too much of it, not enjoying the taste of the sauce etc. But this pizza was delicious (Rui even said it was one of the best pizzas he has ever had in his life, and he eats A LOT of pizza) for me, the base was thin and just the right amount of crispy, the sauce was evenly spread across the base and didn’t distract from the toppings which there was a good amount off (although I feel like spring onions would have made this pizza that extra bit tastier). Pizza is classed as a junk food and when I have had pizza in the past I usually have that slightly guilty feeling that comes when you eat junk food rather than healthy eating… But with this pizza, I did not feel like that. The pizza wasn’t dripping in fat, it tasted clean and fresh.
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton  vegan
I really wanted to try the pancakes, but the pizza filled me (I couldn’t finish it all, so I took the rest home with me) so the next time I went I knew I had to order pancakes. There are 6 pancakes on the menu all of which can be made with alternative ingredients to accommodate a vegan diet. I was torn on which option to get but settled for the dark orange and chocolate pancakes (£7.50) which are served with chocolate sauce, oranges, blueberries and dark chocolate. The portion size was huge, with five fluffy American style pancakes topped with two shards of dark chocolate. It looks as good as it tastes, I could’ve drunk the chocolate sauce it was that tasty! Again, usually, when I have pancakes I can only have 2/3 before they start to get too sweet for me and I start to feel sick, this wasn’t the case here. The combination of dark chocolate, oranges and nuts gave a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, I managed to eat the whole lot!
rebels pizzeria and pancake house wolverhampton vegan
I honestly can’t wait to go back to Wolverhampton in September and get another pizza and pancakes from here! Have you tried any amazing vegan options whilst you've been out for food?

ICELAND - Solheimajökull GLACIER HIKE

On our last full day in Iceland we decided to do a full day activity, after looking around at several options I suggested a glacier hike which we booked on prior to Iceland (all this holiday was booked through Iceland air, including the activities we did).
ICELAND VOLCANO
ICELAND VOLCANO
The activity also included a few stops on the way, our first stop was a volcano visitor centre, one in which you could see volcanos in the distance. Not all of them quite looked like your stereotypical cinder cone-shaped volcano, instead just looking like normal mountains. This was a quick stop, for refreshments etc. However, I had a quick walk around the centre, it was filled with information about the history of volcanos, how they monitor them etc.
ICELAND VOLCANO
We also got to visit the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, the volcano lies under an ice cap cover and has a summit elevation of around 1,651 metres. It last erupted in 2010 and due to volcanic ash dispersing into the atmosphere it caused airport transport across Europe to be grounded for a week. The site was very picturesque with the volcano lying behind a pristine field of grass, as of today the volcano is considered dormant.

After this stop, we were dropped off at the site to do the hike whilst the bus carried on (our tour bus had two groups, the glacier hikers and one doing a sightseeing tour). The glacier we hiked was the Solheimajökull, this an outlet glacier that flows from an ice cap called Myrdalsjökull underneath this ice cap there is a volcano called Katla. Here, we met out certified expert, we were fitted with crampons, given a harness and a walking sticks and a health and safety introduction. Once we had gone through all of this we made our way to the glacier, fitted our crampons onto our shoes then given a quick history and talk about glaciers. A glacier is what happens to a large amount of snow after several years, it transforms into ice. Glaciers also move, although very slowly this is due to pressure from the weight of overlying ice, whilst meltwater help it glide. Glaciers have helped shape and form the landscape we see in many places today. However, due to climate change this glacier is melting and moving at a quicker rate than usual, this was explained to us, every year they measure and mark how many kilometres the glacier has moved, as the temperature has risen the more kilometres the glacier has moved.
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
The first part of the glacier was coated in a thick layer of ashy rock, leftover residue from the volcano eruption. This part of the hike was mainly uphill, we made our way over cracks and crevasses, around pools of water that looked shallow but were incredibly deep, peered down into gaps that dissolved into darkness. I was terrified of walking on the ice because I thought I was going to fall over, it took a little while to get used to and to walk as our guide told us ‘like a penguin’. Having the sticks was a great help to put weight onto in difficult areas but overall it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, although my mum did struggle quite a lot, so I guess it depends on how comfortable you feel, my mum did not enjoy the hike at all whilst everyone else in our group loved it.
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
One thing I also noticed is that it was not as cold as I had anticipated, Iceland in general to me compared to the UK was a dry, crisp cold whilst in the UK cold feels different… (If that makes sense at all!) Whilst hiking over the glacier, I felt like I did not need as many layers as I had put on and did not even feel the need to wear gloves and usually my hands are first to feel the cold. Once we had climbed up the first part of the glacier, the ash slowly started to disappear, revealing the white of the ice and a flat layer of ice. Here, we got to drink fresh water from the melting ice caps and have a go at using our pick axes to hack away at the ice (and if you wanted to you could put some in your mouth). The hike itself lasted around an hour and it is up there with one the best things I have ever done, it is not something I ever expected to see myself doing and it was different to most things you get to do on a holiday.
 Solheimajökull GLACIER ICELAND
WATERFALLS ICELAND
WATERFALLS ICELAND
Once the hike was over we sat on a bench, ate lunch and admired the views all around us. We didn’t have to wait long until the bus was back to pick us up. We still had two more stops on the way back, Skogarfoss waterfall and Seljalandsfoss waterfall. We visited both in the golden hour, and it was beautiful. Skogarfoss is a 60-metre-high waterfall, the water flows into the Atlantic ocean, here we were greeted with a rainbow. Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions, mainly due to being able to walk behind the waterfall! This is something that has been on my list of things to do for a while, it was incredible even if you do get completely covered in water residue, we then got to watch the sunset. It was the perfect way to end our short time in Iceland, and after a long day we were all ready for bed. 

ICELAND - THE PHALLOGICAL MUSEUM AND WHALES OF ICELAND.

Our itinerary in Iceland was pretty jam-packed for the few days we were there, in our spare time we got to visit two museums (which I had chosen as I had a look what was in the area prior to going).
the phallogical museum iceland
the phallogical museum iceland
the phallogical museum iceland
The first museum we went to was the phallogical museum, as guessed by the name this is the only museum in the world that have a collection of phallic (penis) specimens from a variety of mammalian animals from across the globe (including Homo sapiens) and those that are found in Iceland. The museum has a collection of up to two hundred penises and penile parts. I partly have an excuse for visiting since I am studying an animal related degree, but I suggested the museum more as a funny thing to do. The museum is full of teeny tiny specimens to very large ones to coiled, lumpy, thin and pointy specimens. It was interesting and amusing and something that can easily be fitted in within half an hour.
whales of iceland museum
whales of iceland museum
The next museum we went to was the whales of Iceland museum, which is the largest whale exhibition of its kind in Europe. The exhibit consists of life-size models of whales which are found in the waters around Iceland. We arrived about half hour to closing and were given a discounted price and a headset which provided information on all 23 man-made models from the blue whale to the sperm whale. The headset we were given was a shorter version due to the time we arrive. I loved the exhibit it was like stepping into the ocean everything shrouded in blue, the sound of the ocean, whale and dolphins call. It was dreamy and magical. The sculptures were amazingly lifelike and filled with so much detail. The headset provides detailed information about every single whale, I wish I had more time here, so I could’ve listened to the whole/longer one. Unfortunately, due to the lighting, my camera wasn’t the best as evidently shown in the pictures!

ICELAND - THE BLUE LAGOON

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spot located in Iceland and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. The lagoon itself is not natural and was formed in 1976 and is a result of extra water from a power plant, the water is clean and filled with minerals such as silica that does wonderful things for your skin. The lagoon is so popular that you must book a time slot, there are three packages to choose from but we all opted for the basic (and cheapest) package which included the entrance, a silica mud mask and a towel.
blue lagoon iceland
Our time slot was at 11am, which gave us a chance to have a lie in but also provide us with time to do other things in the afternoon. On arrival, we were greeted with the lagoons beautiful milky-blue opaque waters, steam rolling of the water surrounded by a black lava field. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait in the queue for long, around 20 minutes before we were let in. You are provided with a wristband which lets you buy drinks etc. Now, I was told that for hygiene reasons you must shower naked. This was not something I particularly wanted to do and not something I was looking forward to. This is because there is no chlorine in the water, however, I saw no one showering naked… but there are curtains/cubicles for privacy. I also chose to smoother my hair with conditioner before entering the lagoon to prevent it from drying out.
blue lagoon iceland
No glamorous shots here! 
The lagoon was larger than I expected, with the smoky haze it was hard to see where the lagoon ended. The average temperature is said to be around 39°C making it the perfect temperature to bathe in. After exploring and swimming around the lagoon, I headed to the mud mask bar to try out the silica mask. The mask is kept on for several minutes before being washed away and your skin should feel super soft afterwards. There is also a sauna and steam room on site, for that extra heat and relaxation. When I used to work at a gym going into the sauna and steam rooms was one of my favourite things, my skin always feels so good afterwards. Near the sauna and steam room is a manmade waterfall, I loved this! You sit underneath it and the crashing water massages your shoulders to help relieve any tensions in your muscles, it was unbelievably good and definitely worked my shoulders and back felt so much better afterwards.

Overall, I really enjoyed the lagoon it was a nice way to relax and unwind. In total, I think we spent around two hours here, although many people choose to stay a lot longer than that.


Is the Blue Lagoon on your list, or have you already been? Let me know your thoughts, I personally think it is a place which people will either love or hate depending on what you enjoy. 

ICELAND - NORTHERN LIGHTS


The best time to see the Northern lights is between August and April, with the most intense colours often being seen in October and April. Seeing the Northern lights has always been a dream of mine, it’s one of those mystical and magical things that has always been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. However, weather can be unpredictable and tours can be cancelled at any moment due to poor visibility and even if a tour goes ahead there is no guarantee of seeing the lights. We ended up doing two Northern light tours, one by boat and one by land.

WHAT ARE THE AURORAS?
The Northern lights or the aurora borealis is a natural electrical phenomenon, the lights occur due to the sun. The sun has magnetic fields, the fields can become entwined together which causes them to burst and create what is called a sunspot, charged particles escape from these sunspot regions and collide with atoms in the upper atmosphere the result being the magical display of lights.

BY BOAT.
iceland northern lights
Not the best picture quality!
The first tour we went on was by boat, we had booked onto this one prior to going to Iceland. The company we had booked with was special tours in Iceland. Since we were out on the open water I thought it would be freezing so I piled on the layers, on the boat we were given some thick overalls to wear. Thanks to the layers I was super cosy and warm for most of the night. The sky was cloudy and after being out on the water for a while I started to lose hope eventually, the clouds started to clear, the sky grew darker and stars slowly started to appear. Several shooting stars flew across the sky, then faintly in the distance over a hill a green glow appeared, small at first then growing brighter and brighter. It was so exciting watching this tiny speck of green grow until we could see the whole of the aurora borealis across the sky. It was amazing, and I was so incredibly happy.

BY LAND.
My brother decided he wanted to do another Northern light tour due to not being completely satisfied with the one by boat. Out of fear of missing out me and my sister booked on as well. This time we went with Reykjavik sightseeing, we were provided with tablets to tell us about the lights, constellations etc. we were also provided with a Northern hemisphere constellation map and they also provided advice on the best way to photograph the lights. The bus will drive around to several areas using instruments to track where the Northern lights are most likely to be seen. We got lucky, we went to one stop and saw the most incredible show.

iceland northern lightsAgain, it was cloudy, so doubt filled my mind, I stayed on the coach for a while as it was a lot colder this time around. Once more the clouds started to break, and flashes of colours started to appear.
iceland northern lightsI’ve seen the pictures and videos of the lights dancing in strobes and that is exactly what we got on the night, right above our heads, there was lights dancing in colours of greens, pinks and even purples. There is one thing about the lights that no one tells you and that is they show up so much brighter on camera as it can pick up colours we cannot detect, however tonight the lights were so bright that even the phone on my camera could pick them up. It was phenomenal. There are honestly no words to describe, I felt so incredibly blessed to have witness the Northern lights not once but twice.

iceland northern lights

Both are the tours were incredible, if you ever go to Iceland and can fit in one by land and one by boat I would highly recommend doing them both. A lot of people also choose to hire a car and drive around in an attempt to find the lights which is always another option. Most companies will offer you another chance to go out if your tour gets cancelled or you fail to see the Northern lights.

Is seeing the Northern lights on your list, or have you already seen them?

Photo credits: Northern lights Reykjavik sightseeing tours and Special tours.


*This trip was taken in October 2017.

Iceland - The Golden Circle Tour

Last year, me, my sister, brother and mum took a short break to Iceland. Since we were only in Iceland for a short period of time we wanted to cram as much in as possible, therefore this meant doing all the touristy things Iceland has to offer. The golden circle tour is one of the most popular trips to do in Iceland, and with it being a full day trip it is well worth the money.

This was an unexpected stop on the tour, but it turned out to be quite an interesting one. Many of you may know that Iceland has to ship most of its food into the country, hence why the food is expensive (trust me on this, every meal we had out came to over £100 for something as pizza and pasta).
Friðheimar greenhouse cultivation centre.At the greenhouse, they grow tomatoes all year round which is done in an environmental way using green energy pure water and biological pest control. The greenhouse has a supply of geothermal water which provides the heat for the greenhouse, they also have a queen bee and a colony of bees on site to help with the pollination of plants.Friðheimar greenhouse cultivation centre.Using the tomatoes grown here they make a variety of products from soups to sauces all of which can be sampled on site, something I took advantage off. I enjoyed coming here, simply because it was an interesting insight into seeing how Iceland uses geothermal energy.icelandic horses


The Great Geyser.
the great geyser
The great geyser is probably one of the most famous geysers in the world and officially marks the start of the ‘official’ golden circle tour. As the bus pulled up into the car park we could see from the window the steam rolling over Iceland’s beautiful countryside, as we climbed off the bus we were then greeted by the fate scent of sulphur… There are pools/streams of waters than run either side of the pathway leading up to the geysers being curious, and probably not one of my smartest moves I dipped my fingers in to test the temperature, thankfully it was cold (I couldn’t feel any heat coming off the water!)
the great geyser icelandthe great geyser iceland
Of course, we headed to the great geyser first, and watched the water bubble and boil before it exploded and showered everyone with water and steam. I watched the eruption several times and from different viewpoints, never really growing bored. I was incredibly lucky to see it erupt twice in a row! I then walked around the rest of the site looking at the other pools of water which had a variety of different colours from blues, oranges and greens. There was a food hall located near the car park so once we had finished walking around we headed there, my sister, mum and me opted for soup and I swear I have never had soup which tasted as good as the ones we bought here! It was delicious and perfect for the weather.
the great geyser iceland golden circle


Gullfoss falls.
gullfoss falls golden circle
Also known as the golden falls, it is a phenomenal sight to see. No number of pictures can truly do Gullfoss justice. The falls can be viewed from two different locations, one that takes you right next to the falls and the other which is seen from above, if you have time go to both viewing areas!
gullfoss falls golden circleWhen you approach the falls, the water looks like it is falling and disappearing into a huge crack in the earth's crust, only as you get closer do you see the river it feeds into. You come to see as to why the falls are also known as the golden falls, brown vegetation surrounds the falls, the sun bounces off the water in all directions coating the surrounding areas with this beautiful golden glow, it is simply breath-taking.gullfoss falls


Thingvellir national park.
thingvellir national park
golden circle tour
This was the last stop on the golden circle tour, this park is known for its natural, geological and cultural importance, this is the place where the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia are found (you can also swim between the plates!) We took a leisurely stroll through the park, admiring the views and trying to spot the fish in the water surrounding us. It was a nice way to end the circle tour, and if like me you are a game of throne fan some scenes were filmed here, such as scenes with Ygritte and the wildlings which was a highlight for me.

If you have any questions about my trip to Iceland feel free to ask.


*This trip was taken last year in October.

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