Sunday, 30 April 2017

Market cross...

The 17th century market cross in Wymondham, Norfolk. The stilted building was designed to protect valuable documents from both flood and vermin. According to T F Thistleton Dyer's English Folklore, live rats were nailed by their tails to the side of the building to deter other rats...


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Bird-watcher...

A bird-watcher on the raised river-bank at Lakenheath Fen (that's not a camera, it's a spotting scope). I bet he saw the great white egret too...


Friday, 28 April 2017

Lakenheath Fen...

Spent the morning at Lakenheath Fen, an RSPB reserve. I heard bitterns ‘booming’, and was lucky enough to see one in flight. I watched a pair of marsh harriers performing their mating flight: amazing. I was hoping to see hobbies hunting over the reedbeds, but I was told that they’re easier to spot later in the day, when there are more insects on the wing. Everybody but me spotted a great white egret. Never mind; it was a relaxing way to spend a few hours…




Thursday, 27 April 2017

Kindle...

There’s an article in the Guardian this morning about how sales of ebooks are slowing, while sales of proper ‘physical’ books are booming. The author of the article says her Kindle now languishes in a drawer. It’s gratifying that books - paper books - are continuing to sell, though I’m really happy with my Kindle too.

Compared to modern, all-singing, all-dancing tablets it’s clunky, slow and bereft of ‘features’. But it does one thing, and does it well. I’m not tempted to surf the web rather than read; I’m not distracted by pop-up adverts. The text on the ‘paperwhite’ screen - which is matt rather than glossy - is easy to read in direct sunlight, and, unlike with a book, I can choose the font, the font size and the brightness of the screen.

The Kindle suits my travelling life. It's small and light. I can read in the van at night, without turning a light on. I can hold the Kindle in one hand, and tap on the screen to turn the page. I have about 80 books on the Kindle at present; they represent the books I read and re-read while I’m writing a book about belief. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christopher Hitchens are well-represented. Most books I’ve had to pay for, though some works, now out of copyright (by Bertrand Russell, Mark Twain, Frazer’s The Golden Bough, etc) I have downloaded for free. Also free for the asking are the Bible, Koran and Hadith. I wanted to cut down the number of books I had in the van - it was turning into a mobile library - and the Kindle certainly helps with that.

The Kindle’s simplicity becomes a virtue when I have to recharge it. If I plug it in for half an hour, I can carry on reading for at least a fortnight. That’s a real bonus when I have other, more important things to recharge, such as the laptop and camera batteries.

There are many things I can’t do with an ebook. I can’t sell it, or lend it to a friend or give it to a charity shop. I miss the tactile experience of turning real pages. But, for me, the sheer convenience of the Kindle is what matters; it represents £100 well spent…

The tiered tower of the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Burgh St Peter, Norfolk...

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Wymondham...

A frustrating day. The light was great, but my plans were stymied. I had a list of windmills to photograph. One was wreathed in scaffolding while it was being repaired. Another was on ‘private’ land, surrounded by barbed wire, even though the map showed a right of way leading to it. A third windmill was off-limits because of roadworks and no obvious detour.

I crossed the River Yare - on the little Reedham Ferry - thus leaving the southern Broads behind. The ferryman remembered me, though I think it was the Romahome he recognised rather than me. I’ve ended up in Wymondham, with beautiful evening light on the old butter-cross in the marketplace. I got a few good pix before the local lads gathered in the butter-cross to gurn and flick v-signs at me…

Woodbridge...




Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Campsite...

Stayed another night at the campsite, and finished editing a hundred pix. Phew.

Some campsite showers are rather basic, but the showers here are luxurious: underfloor heating and all. It's good to lock a door and have some privacy. A sign by the loo read "Don't put anything down the toilet that you haven't eaten". I'll remember this place, by the River Waveney; it will be my go-to campsite the next time I'm in/on the Norfolk Broads... 

A quiet corner of Woodbridge...


Monday, 24 April 2017

River Waveney...

By accident, not design, I found a campsite yesterday, next to the River Waveney. Very posh - with its own onsite pub, 'glamping' yurts and swimming pool - but also very cheap. So I booked myself in for the night, plugged in and edited fifty pix. Woke up this morning and edited some more. If I do a hundred it will be time well spent (though boring), and my reward will be a pub lunch overlooking the river. It's so pleasant here that I might stay another night...

Quayside homes at Wivenhoe...


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Orford Ness...

I took the ferry yesterday morning to Orford Ness, a lunar landscape of marsh, shingle and lagoons, dotted with buildings dating from both world wars, and, on the seaward side, a lighthouse. Visitors are told to follow a particular route, because there are still areas of the Ness with unexploded ordnance; I was happy to stick to the marked paths. I saw the birds I expected to see - stonechat, wheatear, linnet, skylark - but it was a surprise to see avocets nesting. And a seal swimming, viewed from the shingle beach, which had a head like a black labrador.

Orford Ness is a strange and lonely place to take a wander. I’d hoped to get some pix, but the weather quickly deteriorated. I’ll return, in a month or two, when access to the Ness is on a daily basis, not just weekends.

I stayed in Beccles last night, a little town on the border between Suffolk and Norfolk. The Friends Meeting House is just around the corner from where I parked, so I went to Quaker meeting this morning. There were twenty people and twenty two chairs. The empty chairs were either side of me, perhaps due to the strength of my cheap cologne. They were friendly folk, but only two of them would have been under pensionable age, which does not augur well for the future of Quakers…

Friday, 21 April 2017

Minsmere...

Up early this morning to finish off an article. By 8am I was ensconsed in one of the hides at Minsmere. It was an animated scene, out on the scrapes, with hundreds of black-headed gulls mating, nesting and arguing. It was good to see the avocets once again, and marsh harriers. Best of all were a couple of dozen mediterranean gulls. Their heads are almost black (the heads of black-headed gulls are, confusingly, more of a chocolate colour).

The morning’s birds included barnacle goose, shelduck, gadwall, shoveler, wigeon, teal, bittern, heron, marsh harrier, kestrel, oystercatcher, avocet, turnstone, dunlin, redshank, black-tailed godwit, mediterranean gull, sandwich tern, common tern, stonechat, reed warbler, sedge warbler and cetti’s warbler. In one year cetti’s warbler has gone from being a bird I’d never heard or seen (and never expected to hear or see) to a bird whose explosive song is now very familiar to me. One bird sang so close to me, and so loudly, that it made me jump!…

Minsmere...


Blind faith...

Hurlmere is notoriously hard to find. The road signs were removed during the war - to confuse any German troops goose-stepping through the lanes of South Lakeland - and were never replaced. And it didn’t help that the village was right on the fold of the double-sided Ordnance Survey map (Outdoor Leisure 99: Hurlmere, Bloggers How and the Less Popular Lakes). Once a map got scuffed up, or tea-stained, Hurlmere disappeared altogether.

This is, nevertheless, the map that most locals use when walking the local fells. Everyone except Hayden, that is, who ordered up a special map from Ordnance Survey, featuring Hurlmere at its centre, which re-created the pre-Copernican view of the universe: that everything revolves around us. It cost a bit more than the regular maps, but Hayden’s a man who believes in buying the best.  

He never ventures on foot outside the the village without his map in the poacher’s pocket of his coat. With a stubby forefinger he traces the route of his rambles, following pecked lines across the schematic landscape. A map is to walking what a jack and a spare tyre are to driving. Though there are many days when Hayden won’t need it, on another day it’ll be a live-saver. With a map in his hand he looks like a man who knows where he’s going (though when he’s trying to fold the map in a gusting wind, he looks like a man trying to coax a tune out of a cheap accordian).

If we knew where we were, outsiders were less sure. Despite the best efforts of Brenda, our tireless tourism officer, to promote the village’s many attractions, too few visitors were finding their way to Hurlmere.

We thought that technology had come to our aid when motorists started using satnavs. By tapping ‘Hurlmere’ into their dashboard-mounted gadgets, they would hear a disembodied voice telling them, in confident, well-modulated tones, what route to take. We looked forward to ‘the road less travelled’ getting more traffic, with more visitors - and their wallets - beating a path to our door.

Our optimism proved to be misplaced. By putting too much faith - blind faith - in their gadgets, they stopped thinking for themselves. They began to mistrust their innate sense of direction and even the evidence of their own eyes. Convinced that their satnavs were infallible, they unthinkingly followed every instruction… even when, as often happened around Hurlmere, their gadgets got it wrong.

Motorists never wondered why they were following a muddy farm-track instead of a country lane. They never slowed down as they approached the yard of Dale Head Farm. They ploughed on regardless, with the confidence of the damned, through an obstacle course of puddles, savage dogs and clapped-out farm machinery, only coming to a juddering halt when they’d buried their four-door family saloon into Les’s malodorous manure heap. Moments later the voice of the satnav would announce, with finality and the hint of a smirk: “You have reached your destination”.

Always happy to turn a drama to his own advantage, Les would tow the car out of the midden with his tractor and give the windscreen a cursory wipe with the sleeve of his jacket. Once they’d paid a ‘salvage fee’ of twenty quid, he’d send another carload of bewildered people on their way. They paid up without complaint. These were people so disorientated, so obedient to authority and so reliant on misfiring technology, that they barely knew their own names.

Les thought about putting up a sign, where the farm track meets the road: ‘Don’t follow your satnav, you’ll get lost’. But, in these straightened times, he appreciates the extra income. In any case, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with satnavs. Plenty of people in Hurlmere use them, and the secret is not to let them over-ride our common sense. Hayden, true to form, bought the top-of-the-range model, which gives him advanced warning of speed cameras (budget models only remind motorists to smile as the flash goes off). And, be warned, the very cheapest satnavs don’t recognise Hurlmere at all.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Fingringhoe Wick...

I visited Fingringhoe Wick last Saturday, the day after the funeral. It was good to hear the nightingales, even though the reserve was rather crowded. I shared a hide with a guy who looked - and sounded - like an east end villain, but who had nevertheless developed an interest in birds. His young grand-daughter seemed more interested in slamming the door as hard as she could, to see how many birds she could frighten away. “Shut it, you noisy little cow”, he said cheerfully. 

I went back a few days later, when the reserve was less like a children’s playground. There were plenty of nightingales; people stood and listened, rapt. To us the song sounds yearning, valedictory, but that’s just our anthropomorphism. The nightingale’s message may be simpler: “This is my tree, fuck off”. A guy with a camera and huge lens said he wanted to get a shot of a nightingale. Good luck with that, I thought; I couldn’t even see one. The highlight of the morning was seeing a barn owl being chased by a kestrel, and my first sightings of marsh harriers this year. As well as the nightingales, there were plenty of other songbirds… particularly blackcaps and whitethroats…

The reedbed at Fingringhoe Wick...

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Colin...

The funeral of my old friend Colin has been and gone. Denise and I met up in the pub at Syderstone, to run through our little eulogy. The funeral itself was at a woodland burial ground near Norwich, Colin was in a wicker coffin and the proceedings were humanist and religion-free. While Denise was word-perfect, I got a lump in my throat. But if there’s ever a time for a poor delivery, due to a tear in the eye, it’s a funeral. We loaded the casket onto a gun-carriage pulled by two black horses, and walked behind it to the graveside. It was quite surreal.

At the graveside Jake, Colin’s son, dropped his mobile phone into the grave… and nearly followed it in. In a few years, when everything else has been forgotten, this might be the one incident that sticks in the memory.

The next day, Saturday, I drove down to Fingringhoe Wick, in Essex, hoping the nightingales had returned. I was lucky. A nightingale’s song confirmed the regenerative power of spring; it sounded wonderful…

The church at Syderstone...


Thursday, 13 April 2017

Claudio Ranieri...

A mural of Claudio Ranieri in Leicester... painted before he got the sack, of course...


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Reedham Ferry...

“Continue for two miles”, said the satnav lady, as I turned onto Ferry Lane, “then board the ferry”. ‘Boarding’ the Reedham Ferry is a matter of moments, as is the river crossing itself. The ferry, carrying two cars (“three if they’re very short”, said the ferryman) only travels about three times its own length across the reed-fringed River Yare. On the northern side is the Ferry Inn.

After my Hebridean island hopping I’m very fond of ferries… the smaller the better. And they don’t come any smaller than the Reedham Ferry. It’s brilliant!…


The Broads...

Messing about in boats near Horsey Mill, Norfolk Broads...


Monday, 10 April 2017

Swallow...

Better than Easter, better than Christmas, better than the Second Sunday after Ascension, better than even the most momentous dates in the church calendar… it’s today that I saw my first swallow of the year. Just one bird, circling over St Gregory’s, an old thatched church at Heckingham. All is well...

Wistman's Wood, Dartmoor...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Editing pix...

Phew… what a warm weekend… like August in April. But hot, sunny, hazy weather is not much good for photography. So I had a day of almost total inactivity yesterday, parked up in Sheringham, and today I made a start on editing a backlog of pix.

Grimspound, a late bronze age settlement on Dartmoor. I tried to use the light to make the remains of the stone dwellings stand out against the background...


Saturday, 8 April 2017

Runners and riders...

It’s Grand National Day… not that it means much to me. I love cricket, watch a fair bit of football and can even take a slight interest in golf (except when American spectators insist on yelling "get in the hole!"). Given the opportunity I can watch hour after hour of snooker (I give myself the players' skill level, and try to anticipate what shot they'll play next). But I draw the line at any sport which includes horses, and can’t watch dressage, show-jumping or horse racing. I can’t listen to the commentators, the self-regarding owners in their camel-hair coats or any of those tiny, mumbling, Irish jockeys. So I won’t be sticking a pin in a list of names today, or studying the runners and the riders, the favourites and the form. My one hope is that all the horses get around the course without mishap.

Foot feeling gouty today, so I’ve got myself some more anti-inflammatory pills, hoping to ‘nip it in the bud’. Fingers crossed…

Friday, 7 April 2017

Martin Simpson...

Really enjoyed seeing Martin Simpson last week, in St Andrew’s Church, Moretonhampstead, a small town - or maybe a large village - in Dartmoor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a church with every pew filled. A high point was when he went seamlessly from one of my favourite songs - St James Infirmary - into another, Dylan’s classic song, Blind Willie McTell.

Despite the Nobel prize (now collected) Dylan’s not always on song with his lyrics, but Blind Willie McTell contains some of his best:

Well, God is in heaven
And we all want what's his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is.
I'm gazing out the window
Of the St James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell.


Martin Simpson pointed out that “power and greed and corruptible seed” seems to sum up the state of the world right now, and I can’t disagree…

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Norfolk Broads...

I’ve never driven from Cornwall to Norfolk in one go… until today. Interesting to see the landscape change, from west to east, and to visit two towns called St Ives. The fields are so lush and green, and the spring light piercing. I learned that Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire are real counties. Who knew? I saw lots of buzzards… but even more dead mammals by the roadside: about ten foxes, maybe twenty badgers. 

Gratifyingly, the satnav lady says “Bath”, like a northerner, not “Barth”, like a soft, southern bed-wetter. She’s not just northern, she’s old-fashioned… directing me, for a few miles, up the “Great North Road” (rather than the more prosaic A1). The day ended at Ranworth Broad: a gorgeous sight after hours of driving…

Stonechat...

Took some more pix of the bronze age settlement at Grimspound, Dartmoor, and watched a male stonechat, in breeding plumage, singing from a gorse-bush. Then pix of the old clapper bridge at Postbridge, followed by a beer and a sandwich at a nearby pub. “Where are you going to be sitting?”, asked the landlady, “so we can find you”. I suggested I wouldn’t be too hard to find, since there was no one else in the pub…

Stonechat...


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Chysauster...

I got my pictures of the iron age village at Chysauster, and now heading north. I've got a big backlog of pix to edit or discard, but want to keep on shooting while the light and weather are so good...

The light is incredibly bright. I had been wondering whether my solar panel was operating as it should; the problem wasn't to do with the panel... it was just the lack of sunlight! I now have power to spare...

Monday, 3 April 2017

Penzance...

My attempts to photograph the iron age settlement of ‘courtyard houses’ at Chysauster were cut short by the weather. Fascinating site, though, and I’ll be back tomorrow. I had a look around Penzance; it was disappointingly pirate-free, though I did see a guy with a full-face tattoo. There were many questions I would have liked to ask him… but I would have settled for just “why?”…

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Tin mines...

A special day’s photography today, around the Cornish tin mines near St Just (only a few minutes drive from Lands End). The engine houses at Botallack, perched halfway down the cliffs, are particularly photogenic. I got plenty of pix, and saw choughs, with their ragged-edged wings and signature red beaks wheeling acrobatically around the cliffs. The gorse was in flower - with pungent coconut scent - giving cover to stonechats, whinchats, wheatears, goldfinches and linnets. Buzzards were catching the thermals overhead. It’s the longest walk I’ve had since the last gout flare-up, and I’m pleasantly knackered…

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Mevagissey...

Just gone online in Mevagissey, Cornwall, to find that my old mate Colin has died. He’d had so many surgical procedures in recent months that it shouldn’t have been a big surprise… yet it was. I’m so glad I saw him in hospital last Tuesday; he looked tired, but happy to talk.

When we worked together on Camera magazine in Peterborough, I was about ten years older than Colin (and most of the other people I worked with). So he fell a long way short of his ‘three score years and ten’. Goodbye old chum; I’ll raise a glass or two of excellent Cornish beer this evening, gaze out over the harbour, and take a wander down memory lane…