Thursday 18th May dawns and the sun is shining after 3 days of rain. Of course it is! It's time to set off for the annual Porthcawl Study Day when the sun always shines.

I met up with 18 other members, many regulars just like me, eagerly anticipating a good day out, organised by Doug Jones and his willing helpers in Porthcawl U3A. We set off at 8.30 and in spite of delays on the M4 at High Cross still managed to arrive in time to register and have coffee. The theme this year was:


We started off with a fascinating talk given by Anna Holmes, curator in marine biology, National Museum Wales, entitled "A Look At Life Beneath The Oceans".

She explained how life was possible in the oceans, knowing the physical constraints of light and temperature, also how creatures obtain the gases they need i.e. how long can they stay under water. (Apparently Polar Bears 3-4 mins, Penguins 20 mins, Seals up to 1 hour, Turtles up to 7 hours (if inactive)!).

We all know that fish have gills, but did you know that an albatross gets rid of excess salt though a hole in its beak?

The Gulf Stream is also familiar to us as it brings us a milder climate via the warm water in the Atlantic, but have you heard of The Thermohaline Conveyor Belt?? I certainly hadn't. It is a global series of deep sea currents and waves in the oceans that has very long term effects on our planet. (Need to 'Google' this to find out more.)

Did you know that there are deep sea pools that have up to 30% salinity? Normal is 3.5% apparently. In the Gulf of Mexico one pool is high in methane and sulphur where life exists only at the edges. It is Known as "The Jacuzzi of Despair".

The ocean is an environment that supports creatures from 0.001 millimetres, to the Blue Whale up to 170 tonnes.

I have mentioned just a few of the facts conveyed in an hour and haven't yet mentioned the "bone eating snot fish". Anyone wanting to know more can visit the museum in Cardiff where there is an exhibition called "Wriggle" - I certainly intend to.

Our next speaker, Kathryn Cook, Director National Parks UK, gave her address the title "A Delicate Balance: Our UK National Parks Family"

There are now 15 National Parks in Great Britain, the first was the Peak District in 1951; the latest, the South Downs in 2010. The parks have a variety of environments e.g.

  • The 186 miles of coastline in Pembrokeshire,
  • Loch Lomond with its 21 Monroes,
  • The longest stone road in the world - Dartmoor,
  • Largest area of protected night sky in Europe - Northumberland.

We were shown many pictures illustrating the beauty of the parks.

National parks were set up with two purposes: to provide free access to the countryside, as well as to protect and preserve the countryside. Hence it is a delicate balance and can cause conflict. How can we encourage and facilitate people to visit these areas and at the same time safeguard fragile environments? One example given was the thousands who now climb Pen-Y-Fan on a sunny bank-holiday and what damage that does to the mountain.

After a pleasant home cooked, hot lunch, the third talk was entirely different in subject and presentation. This time we had a "Joe Public" figure, who, some years earlier, had decided to walk unaided, with absolutely no backup, across Africa. His name is Fran Sandham and the book he subsequently wrote is called Traversa.

His talk was not what I expected, in that he simply talked, providing very few visual images. So we were presented with an oral picture of Africa, much more like listening to the radio rather than watching TV.

His initial urge was to see for himself if anything remained of the Africa of Victorian explorers. His route of 3000 miles started on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, and finished at the Indian Ocean near Dar-es-Salaam. It took him two years.

He kept our attention for an hour giving a very personal account of his walk across Africa. Quite a few of us bought his book so that we could find out more about his incredible journey. If you want to find out more: www.traversa.co.uk

From the comments in the bus coming home I think that we all enjoyed yet another successful visit to Porthcawl. If you would like to join us next year check the notice board next spring.

Julie Fry
May 2017
(Please note any factual errors are mine not the speakers')