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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hippos In The Mist (and other animals.)

So we were promised a warm and sunny weekend, by the forecasters on B.B.C. Breakfast. After a couple of weeks of wind, rain and snow, which meant we were confined to the house, we made the decision to get out and drive somewhere in the car. Well, not only the weather was an excuse, but the cost of petrol is currently less than £1 at the moment, so it seemed a great reason to go somewhere, so we went to Whipsnade Zoo. It was misty as we drove away from Milton Keynes on a southerly direction down the A5 towards Dunstable, but the sun was making a very brave attempt to break through. We knew that the zoo wouldn't be open until 10 o'clock, and as we were far too early when we got to Dunstable Downs, we decided to drive into the visitor center car park on the Downs and walk along the path and visit the centre, which we have been to on several occasions in the past. It's run as a joint project between Bedfordshire County Council and the National Trust (of which we are members) and is actually referred to as the Chiltern Gateway Centre and houses a National Trust shop and café. We parked in the car park, which was beginning to fill up rapidly when we arrived and found that the actual visitor centre wouldn't be open for around another 20 minutes (at 9.30, which shows how early we were. )The fog/mist had come down and goes to show that this is the highest point in the East of England. There were a great many people walking dogs along the footpaths as well as runners going their thing (as usual.) A group we saw in the distance were gathered around a van with the sign Regimental Training written on it as well as some coloured poles in the ground which we then found out as we walked along the path were going to be used for some sort of running exercise when they began to run around them. They didn't look the sort of folk who intended getting out of the way for anyone as they had that intent look on their faces, making all other human life-forms including dogs, invisible. We walked down the path towards the Downs and came to the metallic structure which is part of the Gateway Centre and looks like some sort of metallic sculpture, similar to the Angel of The North which you can't fail to see as you drive towards Newcastle near the A1 and designed by Anthony Gormley. But this 'thing' is actually not a sculpture at all but uses the wind from off the Downs to generate electricity (don't ask me how.)  For want of a better name I'll call it the Wind Catcher. It is certainly quite odd-looking and might be a sculpture or some weird and wonderful space machine which has crash-landed.

The Wind Catcher. Make of it what you will.

We then came across a group go dog walkers with an assortment of dogs. If we had our two dogs with us they would have enjoyed making friends, but knowing Alfie, our Yorkie, he would have had a field day running up and down and sniffing everybody, including humans!  I never realised until recently that this area is what is known as an S.S.S.I. (A Site of Special Scientific Interest.) as well as an A.O.B. (Area of Outstanding Beauty.) The things you learn as you move about the countryside. Also, it has historic significance as there are Bronze Age burial grounds nearby, apparently. We came upon a beacon which must have been used during the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977 when a chain of beacons was lit across the country.

The Beacon, along with some dogs who were being walked along the Downs but who just strayed into the shot.

We wandered inside the visitor centre when it opened at 9.30. We browsed in the shop and saw a magnificent chair which both of of couldn't resist sitting in and taking photographs of ourselves. Well, it did rather reming me particularly of the children's television series called 'Jackanory' where someone sat in a similar chair to tell stories!

Then we drove away towards Whipsnade. It was by now around 9.50, so we had to queue up with other vehicles entering the zoo. We were again driving the car inside as it makes it a good deal easier to get around inside. You can always park outside and walk in and then walk around or use the free bus, but as we have Fellowship membership of Z.S..L. (Zoological Society of London) we always try to get the best out of our membership wherever possible, so it seems logical to drive in. The mist was slowly lifting, but it gave a really soft light and meant that we could see whatever animals were out in their enclosures in a sort of soft-focus view. Hence, seeing hippos in the below photograph.

We drove right round the zoo site and stopped off at various intervals to look at the animals. Not all were on view, but whatever were out and about we saw in a slightly different aspect from whenever we visit during the summer months.

We went to one of the many cafés on site for coffee and cake and then, when we drove further, had to visit the toilets. When I came out, I heard this amazing sound, a sort of roar with a sort of cat-like undertone. Apparently it made by one of the tigers in the near-by tiger enclosure. There are three tigers in this enclosure and this one was wandering around near the perimeter fence, sort of pacing up and down. We have never seen any of these tigers at such close quarters and managed to take a few photographs, but, unfortunately, it wasn't easy to do this with the wire of the fence getting in the shot.

We wandered around the zoo for a good two hours plus, including getting some first rate views of the giraffes in their house, where you have to climb up a walk-way so that you are virtually at eye level with these incredible animals. We were rewarded with some fine photographs which I may post on this blog or Flickr. Having walked around as well as driven we decided to make our way home to Milton Keynes and had to do some shopping. On approaching Milton Keynes stadium the traffic was building up for a football match so decided on Waitrose as Asda, which is close to the stadium, which be difficult to get to due to the amount of traffic.
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