Day Two of the Road Trip started with thunderstorms, and waffles for breakfast. When it rains here it really rains. America doesn’t seem to do drizzle. It was bouncing of the roof with a rapid drumming sound, but happily it stopped before we started our planned walks, giving us a hot sunny day for our wanderings.

First stop was the Crystal River State Park and a 2 mile trail that started at Mullet Pool, a spot for fishing not east European haircut disasters. Many signs warned of alligators operating in the area but they were not to be seen on our route, although I did photograph a number of birds at close range. Incidently I’m sat at a motel pc as we didn’t bring along Tina’s laptop so I can’t edit and upload any photos until back in Jacksonville I’m afraid. After completing the pleasant and scenic walk we headed north to Curtis Tool Lane (honest) and the Crystal River Eco-Trail another 2 mile trail but this time through a varied environment of different ecosystems.

Before we set off we called in a the ranger hut to use the “restroom” and were made welcome by Gary, a magnificently bearded archaeologist with Welsh ancestry who was a friendly font of all knowledge about the surrounding areas of natural beauty and surprisingly the porcelain wares of North Staffordshire. By all accounts it was the tableware of choice of the middle classes around the time of the American Civil War. He used to dig pieces up. We could have talked most of the day but there was a walk to do so we bid farewell and set off round the loop trail. It was a stunning route and we saw birdlife, butterflies, huge grasshoppers, and a had a brief glimpse of deer running across our path. At the end as we ate lunch a woodpecker hammered away at a nearby tree. Best of all though was we had all this to ourselves.

Heading 8 miles south to Homosassa Springs Wildlife Refuge we arrived in time to catch the last manatee programme of the day, in other words a brief talk on the manatee by a ranger who spent most of the time in the water feeding carrots to these incredible creatures. The springs were simply stunning, crystal clear waters allowed some fine photos of the manatee. “The girls” as the ranger called the manatee then headed off to a special pool to receive their big meal of the day, three crates of lettuce and one crate of cabbage. We wandered around the rest of the springs complex which is home to a hippo, black bears, alligators, bald eagles, and countless other birds. Endangered species they may be, well looked after too by State Park Rangers, but there is an uncomfortable feeling about seeing animals in enclosures rather than their native habitat. To be honest I hadn’t realised this was the format of the park, reading it had a 1 mile trail with places to observe manatee.

Our journey to Tampa was largely uneventful other than using a toll road that cost $1, or so I thought. Arrriving at the first toll plaza I scoffed at the paltry sum which Tina insisted would be all we had to pay to use the road. Five toll plazas and $4.75 later we were at Tampa, but it was a cheap price to pay for a 70mph road with very little traffic on it. In keeping with recent times the arrival was later than expected despite finding the hotel first time, so instead of the intended decent meal out we scuttled over to the Publix supermarket to see what culinary delights we might purchase there. So tonight I sat down to veggieburger done to a turn by microwave, and some sort of spinach and feta pastry creation that claimed it could be microwaved, but clearly would have been best in an oven. Alas there were 4 burgers in the packet so I seem to be in for a second helping tomorrow night. At least before then I have a day in downtown Tampa to look forward to.

Right the Plan. Put together with the usual Pointon military precision as fostered by Pointon Snr (aka The Owd Mon), the man of 4am starts, memorised A Roads and marmalade butty breakfasts on Paignton sea front by 9am sharp.* Here’s what we’ll be up to next week. Atten…shun!

17 June – Leave Jacksonville when Tina gets off work around lunchtime. Drive to Crystal River in the west calling in at Gainesville to break up the journey and visit the architecturally interesting University, its pretty gardens, and Lake Alice complete with alligators. Overnight at Crystal River.
More of this?
18 June – Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, and Homosassa (no sniggering in the ranks!) Springs Wildlife State Park for walking trails and manatee observation points. Drive to Tampa in the evening and stay overnight.

19 June – Downtown Tampa attractions. Drive east to Titusville late afternoon (maybe a quick flit via Orlando) and stay overnight.

20 June – Walking trails and looking for alligators and manatee at Merrit Island Wildlife Refuge near Kennedy Space Center. Return to Jacksonville and have the night at the apartment.

21 June – Drive north-west to Florida’s capital, Tallahassee. Do the Leon Sinks Trail in the Appalachicola National Forest and maybe Walluka Springs if time. Stay the night at Tallahassee.

22 June – Return to Jacksonville calling first at either Ellaville or White Springs to do trails along the Suwannee River.

Stand at… wait for it, wait for it… ease! Dismissed.

* Not forgetting of course the obligatory stop at Taunton Deane Services and coffee in a flask.