Friday, 20 April 2018

A Bit Of Blakeney

Blakeney on the warmest day of the year so far: people sit on the many benches overlooking the boats on the tidal creek, a man sells ice-cream while next door a shop displays art and curios, the man in charge of the National Trust car park leans in the doorway of his wooden kiosk chatting to a friend, several people relax in the King's Arms pub and a few others watch the ducks and geese on the pond. 

It'll get busier in the main summer season of course, there'll be fewer spaces on the benches and the ice cream seller may well have an assistant, but otherwise it will be "business as usual".

The village still clings to its seagoing traditions though in truth, apart from the boats that take tourists out to Blakeney Point to see the seals, there's not much activity here since the harbour silted up many years ago.

There was a time though when Blakeney, along with the neighbouring villages of Wiveton and Cley were the focus of a busy maritime trade. The coastline here formed a sheltered haven for sailing ships plying their trade around the coast and across the North Sea. The clearest evidence of this wealth that remains today are three very fine, larger-than-average churches.

Like many old ports there is a history of smuggling and piracy alongside the more legitimate trade. Ships that sought shelter in the haven found themselves relieved of their cargoes overnight.

The building above is known as Blakeney Guildhall but is now thought to be the cellar of  a merchant's house which would have been used for storing his goods. It dates from the fifteenth century and is looked after by English Heritage. 

In times past there were many tunnels and passages in the town which were probably very handy for anyone engaged in smuggling. A tale is told of a fiddler and his dog who explored one such tunnel playing a jig as he went. At length the music stopped and it was not till some days later that his terrified dog reappeared. The fiddler was never seen again.

It must be true because you can see it on the village sign. The only trouble is that similar tales are told at nearby Binham and at Anstey in Hertfordshire. Unless all fiddlers of yore felt compelled play tunes while to exploring tunnels it seems an amazing coincidence.

The Blakeney Conservation Area Duck Pond was founded in 1977 on the occasion of the Queen's Silver Jubilee and is stocked with many varieties of ducks and geese. That's a Ruddy Shelduck above.

And this gorgeous goose is a Red-Breasted Goose, a species which does turn up in the wild here occasionally though I've never seen one as close as this.

And now one of the men sitting on the benches overlooking the boats is going to make a purchase from the man selling the ice-creams.

Take care.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

A Garden In April

The first summery day of 2018 with bight sunshine and temperatures up to about 22°C with just a light southerly breeze. Perfect. And perfect for this month's jaunt to the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge to see how the seasons are progressing.

The Pasque Flowers are blooming on the rockery and looking very showy. These are much bigger than you ever see in the wild in this country, though they are also Pulsatilla vulgaris unless I misread the little label.

The Yoshino Cherry tree is almost in full blossom at the moment, though the grass still has to be cut - not a bad place to work though on a sunny day.

I went up close to get some more detailed shots of the cherry blossom.

No idea what these red flowers are though they are certainly attractive. (it's Clianthus apparently - see the comment from Kathy below).

Part of the garden is given over to the Systematic Beds which were designed by John Stevens Henslow, who laid out the gardens, as a teaching device for his botany students. The plants are arranged according to their scientific classification rather than any thought to make a pleasing assemblage of flowers. There's not much flowering there at all right now, though I did find these dazzling sunbursts of Willdenow's Leopards Bane. There were certainly no leopards around so I guess it must work!

We saw these Red Dogwood stems back in January when they were adding their vivid hue to the Winter Garden. For my money they look even better now when a few lime-green leaves are beginning to show.

Another part of the garden is given over to the Chronological Beds where plants are arranged according to the time when they were introduced to Britain from elsewhere in the world. This is Honesty, that traditional flower of every cottage garden, which was apparently brought here some time before 1550. Before that there was no Honesty in these islands!

I always have to check the name of Crown Imperials as to my ears it sounds all wrong for a flower, more like a sort of toffee or perhaps a brand of household paint. But no, Crown Imperial is correct or even Fritillaria imperialis if you want it in Latin.

These magnificent catkins are hanging from the Hop Hornbeam tree. The reason the tree is here is to illustrate some of the trees which should be part of our British woodlands, but which were destroyed by the last Ice Age and never recolonised. They say you learn something every day and that's what I learned today!

The Cambridge University Botanic Garden holds the National Tulip Collection. These are grown in pots and moved into the glasshouses when in flower. (They're not really six feet tall, that's just me playing with unexpected viewpoints again!).

While there are only a few of each variety on show they nevertheless show the diversity of colours and forms of the humble tulip.

Outside again to see some of the wildflowers which are encouraged in the grassy areas.

Each time I come here I think I'll try to show you more general views and include some of the beautiful trees, but once again I've come home with a memory card full of colourful flowers instead. So I'll leave you with this shot of the lake and a promise that I'll try harder next time.

Take care.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Ten Things You Might See On A Walk In England

This morning my brother and I went for a walk in the countryside just east of Royston. These are some of the things we saw, the sort of things which might be seen by anyone who has the will to wander the footpaths and byways of England...


Lonely lanes with very little motor traffic, taken only when the extensive footpath network doesn't quite join up. Just down here was a house flying the union flag on a pole in the garden, that's something you don't see very often in this country.


Perfect village churches. This one at Chrishall is unusual in that it stands away from the main village with just the vicarage for company, but it's no less attractive for that.


Muddy farmyards. We've had a lot of rain lately and an undue amount of it has accumulated on the lane/path leading to this farm. We managed to edge past with dry feet but muddy boots.


Pretty wild flowers. Wood Anemones were flowering as we passed through this little wood. 


Places where you're not really sure where the path goes. Not so many of those today, the detailed Ordnance Survey maps matched up well with what was "on the ground".


Wide sweeping views across arable fields, broken by hedgerows and occasional woods and copses.


Traditional English cottages. Not everyone can live in one (I certainly can't afford one), but it's nice to see them and photograph them.


Farmyard animals. 


Views down village streets, though it's not often you'll find one that's not littered with cars and vans. With less and less villages served by public transport villagers can't really get by without cars these days. 


Sheep wearing shoes. No you won't. These are resin animals which some whimsical person has shod with comfy footwear.

When you've done all that you can drive to The Dolphin pub and get a nice meal and a pint, you'll deserve it.

Take care.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Song Of Springtime

And in a tree the Chiffchaff sang....


The tiny flowers of the Dog Violet lurking almost invisibly 
in the grass.


Trees are budding, a promise of the greenery to come.

Just flown in from North Africa or Spain  and already he's singing

Blossoms appearing too.

I'm happy to hear him call from the top of a bush,
a sure sign that Spring is finally on its way

The Chiffchaff is a small greenish Warbler that doesn't really warble at all

The tiniest of cowslips shyly appearing.

Lower down in the bush lurks a female Chiffchaff
listening intently to the tune

This is what all the singing and budding and blooming is about of course,
the reproduction of the species.

High in a sycamore tree there's another Chiffchaff singing

Little daisies shine up from low down in the meadow grass.

The female cocks her head, listens, compares,

Wood Ear, Jelly Ear or Jew's Ear fungus, 
though it should really be Judas's Ear, 
so called because it appears mostly on Elder trees
and Judas is supposed to have hanged himself
on an Elder tree. 
(according to some accounts).

Somewhere she'll find the Chiffchaff with the perfect song,
the perfect

The Seven-Spot Ladybird wakes up from a long sleep.

Until she decides they'll both keep singing

Spring bursting out all over.

In a day or two I'll have tired of the repetitive song
though still he'll continue
Day after day till spring turns to summer.

One of the last remaining flowers of Lesser Celandine,
for them Spring is almost over.


Take care

Friday, 13 April 2018

Life's A Beach

Leaden grey skies continued to hang heavy over the land all this week, variation coming only in the form of drizzle, fog and occasional downpours. Nothing for it but to scroll back a week to a day of dazzling blue skies when, after a walk at Dersingham Bog, there was still time for a stroll on the north Norfolk coast.

The transition from land to sea can, in some places, be abrupt and clearly delineated; a line of cliffs, say, with sea on one side and land on the other. All very neat, concise and clearly defined. North Norfolk is not at all like that.

Here land and sea do not so much brush shoulders as they walk side by side, but instead they hold hands, link arms and, when nobody's looking, become so intimately entwined that it's difficult to decide where one ends and the other starts.

The coast becomes a loose, unravelling skein of sand dunes, beaches, mudflats, shallow inlets, salt marshes and offshore sand bars. Threading its way through the drier parts of it is the North Norfolk Coastal Path, while further inland runs the coastal road. In places there are rather incongruous pine tree plantations, planted on some of the dunes to stabilise them and provide some shelter from the wind.

All this shifting, irresolute frontier between the solid and liquid worlds is much to the liking of many kinds of birds, especially during the winter months. Rafts of sea ducks loiter offshore, gulls sweep past out to sea, Sanderlings skedaddle back and forth before the incoming waves while other, less energetic, waders probe the mudflats for tasty morsels. And in spring the pinewoods become a refuge for exhausted migrant birds.

And all the while the waves of the North Sea lap along the beaches slowly moving the sand, shifting the seashells and murmuring soporifically. It's hard to imagine this same sea can at times become enraged enough to break through the sea-defences and inundate the land.

Even in midsummer you need to watch the tide-tables here as the sea can come in very rapidly across these vast sands. 

So remember, have a good run, fetch that stick, but for goodness sake....

take care.