Saturday, 23 January 2021

A Watery Walk

A set of photos from a couple of strolls around the RSPB's bird reserve at Fowlmere, just a short distance away from home.

As most of you will know it's a regular haunt of mine, though at the moment it looks a little different as much of the wet woodland is wetter than usual, some of it very much underwater.

The main path around the reserve is mostly raised above the flood, though the woodland loop is, if not underwater, at least under-mud. The mud can be interesting though when it shows the tracks of the many Muntjac and Fallow Deer that make their homes here. We sighted both species in the flesh, including an almost white Fallow buck splashing through the reedbed.

As it's been a relatively mild winter so far, fungi are continuing to thrive on the sodden rotting wood.

Ivy grows on many of the trees in this part of the country and, although it can eventually strangle the life out of the tree that supports it, its evergreen foliage provides a warm winter refuge where many small birds hunt for insects.

Most of my other local walks are also very wet at the moment, some involving a good deal of paddling while others are deep with mud. The path here at Fowlmere has another advantage in these Covidious times of being designated as one-way, so you don't spend all your time dodging out of the way of oncoming pedestrian traffic.

And there are some gorgeous little corners to explore, like the little pool above which was opened up a couple of years ago by cutting back some of the scrub vegetation.

There are several trees on the reserve which have the strange shape of the one above; they seem to have collapsed in all directions as the ground gets regularly inundated every winter.

Mosses and lichens thrive too, anywhere they can get a foothold.

As it's a bird reserve you'd probably expect a list of birds seen, but there's been little of any great interest about on the last couple of visits, though on Christmas morning, when my brother and I went for a pre-dinner stroll, we spied a White-Fronted Goose on the meadow beside the entrance road. I knew they'd been seen elsewhere, but later learned that it was the first ever (!) sighting of this winter visitor on this particular reserve.

Take care.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Houses - Private And Public

 .....and a few other buildings found along the way.

Just a few pictures of quaint cottages and other structures discovered during nearly ten years of blogging but which, as far as I know, have never seen the light of day before.

You are of course being treated to these pictures because I've not been venturing out much during the latest "lock-down" in this country. And to be honest the weather hasn't been very tempting either.

The Rose And Crown at Histon, photographed some years ago.

I think the house above stands in Castle Rising in north Norfolk. The house looks very much as though it's built from carrstone, a form of sandstone that outcrops in a narrow band running up towards Hunstanton. Wherever it occurs the older houses have that "gingerbread" look.

This little building is the cricket pavilion at Langley in Essex. For some reason the teams' changing rooms for cricket are always called "pavilions", however small and humble they may be. More importantly tea is also served there - cricket being the only game in the world that stops for for sandwiches, cake and a cup of tea!

Cottages like these are much sought after by people retiring to the countryside. Without this constant influx of people (and money) many of these homes would have fallen down long ago.

The evening sun here is picking out the pargetting, or fancy plaster work adorning the front of the building above.

I think these lovely roses were growing around a cottage in Barrington, which was also where the first photo in this set was taken. It's just three or four miles down the road from me.

Many cottages in this part of England have the upper storey partly contained in the roof-space under the steeply-pitched thatched roof. Some of the oldest of these dwellings would originally have just had sleeping platforms reached by ladders and conversion to proper rooms only came later.

I suspect the little building above, standing beside a farm, may have started out in life as a small granary, though probably just used for general storage today.

It's thirsty work whizzing all over the countryside like this, so you'll be glad to stop for a drink in The Poacher Inn.


Another strange structure that I'm not absolutely sure about. I'd guess it was once a dovecot; nesting boxes for the pigeons were placed around the inside wall and reached by a rotating ladder fixed to a central post. The recently hatched pigeons, known as squabs, were considered a great delicacy.

An ancient half-timbered house in the village of Ashdon.

You not only need a certain amount of wealth to buy one of these old houses, but you then find that constant repairs are needed. Thatch, despite its obvious charm, needs replacing every thirty years or so and is a fairly laborious process, as can be seen below.

(I meant to put in this link:
- a post explaining a bit about thatch. Thanks to Marcia for asking in a comment below and thus reminding me).

Take care.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Making A Start

How to get started (somewhat belatedly) in the New Year?
The combination of meteorologists, virologists and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson have done their best to keep me at home in the warm, though I have sneaked out occasionally for a bit of exercise.....

.....but that's the kind of weather we've been enjoying, usually without the little patches of sunshine, though we haven't had the snow which has been "enjoyed" by other parts of these islands. I have though been sorting out some photos from last year, ones that never made it to this blog, mostly through not being part of any overall theme.

I did, at one time, have an idea to make a series of animal portraits, but didn't get far beyond the little flock of sheep that contentedly graze on Shepreth Moor.

But those two photos are as far as I got with that little project!

Then a month or so ago I thought I'd do some close-ups of frost on leaves....

I took several but that's the only one that pleased me.

At some time last year somebody removed some old kitchen or bathroom tiles and, rather than dispose of them properly, decided to dump them alongside a little-used track. Even more inexplicably someone else then came along and took a photo. For some reason which I can't start to explain I rather like the end result!

Then sometimes I start fiddling about with pictures of flowers and come up with some sort of mandala-like thingy.

Then again I might go out on another little walk to see if Spring is on its way....

Soon maybe.

Take care.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Wishing.....And Hoping.

to everyone who travels by Stargoose and Hanglands,
in hopes that we can all travel a little further next year.


One thing I've missed above all others this year is being able to go to the many concerts, fairs and shows where live music is performed. To make up for this deficit I've been giving YouTube a hammering recently, searching for some of those musicians I've heard in the past. 

At this time of year I should have been at Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge where, a while ago, I encountered the young woman on the right, Becky Langan, playing her guitar in the street. At first I was mesmerised by her sheer dexterity as she attacked the strings in all kinds of unfathomable ways - my photo is supposed to give you some idea of her unconventional approach. Then I stood back and just enjoyed the shimmering music that brightened a dull and chilly afternoon. 

Hearing her video on YouTube the other evening transported me right back there. Give it a listen - I guarantee that if won't be what you expect....

Hurriyah, the title of the piece, means freedom in Arabic.

(I recommend clicking on the little box at the bottom-right of the video for the full wide-screen experience!).

Parallel Paths | Becky Langan ( : to listen to, download or buy a CD of some of Becky's music.

Take care.

Sunday, 20 December 2020


Just last week it was considered OK for us to travel as long as we didn't go to areas with a high rate of Covid-19. Now it's all changed again and I can't even travel to my local town of Royston, which is just a couple of miles away, but over the border in Hertfordshire. So it was that one day last week my brother and I went to the North Norfolk coast for the day. 

As you can see there's plenty of space up there and we planned a walk from Holme-Next-The-Sea to Thornham Harbour and back. You can walk on the beach or among the dunes and there's a wide variety of birds to keep you entertained.

In fact I got so engrossed in searching out the various wading birds that I didn't take many photos at all, though I did get  side-tracked for a few moments by the patterns created by the outgoing tide.

Here we are at Thornham Harbour which was once a much busier port than it is today. The old posts that stand rotting away on the saltmarsh always attract my attention. They are all that remains of some former jetties and buildings.

You can usually find one or two small working-boats moored up here. As you can see from the mud in the foreground this is hardly a major commercial harbour though. And speaking of mud: guess who slipped over in it?

Once I'd cleaned myself up, I photographed the three-hundred-year-old coal barn. Presumably there must have been coastal trade at that time with boats sailing down from the Northumbrian coalfields.

This old vessel is not sailing anywhere. There are usually a few old wrecks on the mudflats and saltmarshes around the harbour or staithe, as wharves are known up and down the east coast. 

A lot of the North Norfolk coast is a confusing maze of saltmarsh, dunes, mudflats and tidal creeks. Not everyone's idea of the seaside but birds love it. Here's a list of the birds encountered along the shore:

Black-Headed Gull, Great Black-Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Redshank, Starling, Stonechat, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Brent Goose, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Cormorant, Coot, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Shoveler, Shelduck, Mallard, Mute Swan. 

and on the fields just inland from the coast were huge flocks of geese, mostly Pink-Footed Geese recently flown in from Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard.

This curious abstract pattern was spotted on the beach. It's just ripples on the sand but there's something about the dark shadows caused by the low-angled sun that my eye finds confusing and sometimes it just "flips" to something else. Either you see it or you don't....

And just to add to the confusion this last picture may well be the worst photo, from a technical point-of-view, that I've ever put on this blog. On the other hand it gives me more pleasure than most others....

We were scanning for birds when Les suddenly said "What on earth is that beside that muddy channel?"
Neither of us could figure out if it was a bird or a lump of wood, even with binoculars. Just then it raised its head and I exclaimed "Chinese Water Deer!".

Some of these tiny deer escaped from Whipsnade Zoo many years ago and established a small wild population in an arc stretching from Bedfordshire, up through Cambridgeshire and into North Norfolk. Unlike some invasive species they cause no harm whatever to native wildlife or human economic activity. Ironically they are doing rather better here than they are in China and now represent about 10% of the world population. There are perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 of them but they are very secretive and shy. In years of walking in the area I've never encountered one before. Les has also always wanted to see one, and there it was just staring at us from the edge of the vegetation.

Take care.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Books For The Curious

If there is anything good about having to stay home more than I would choose, it's that it has made more time for reading books. Here are just a few that have interested, intrigued and entertained me over the past few months...

"Dark, Salt, Clear" by Lamorna Ash

If you grow up with an unusual name like "Lamorna", you soon become aware that it's the name of a Cornish fishing village. Not only that but one of Cornwall's favourite songs is "Way Down To Lamorna". So it was for Lamorna Ash, even though she grew up in London and went to university in Oxford. The book tells how she moved down to Cornwall to discover her roots and learn about the fishing community in the town of Newlyn. Most of us would be content with a brief visit and a search on the internet, but, luckily for us, Lamorna is made of sterner stuff and joins in with the drinking in the pubs and accompanying the rough 'n' ready lads out on the fishing trawlers, learning how to gut fish. It's a privileged glimpse into a fast disappearing world.

"An Audience With An Elephant" - Byron Rogers

Those of you who enjoy the eccentric tales and curious places that I sometimes turn up for this blog will warm to this collection of writings by Mr Rogers. Besides meeting the last elephant to appear in a British circus, we also makes the acquaintance of the last tramp to walk the roads of Wales, a very old man who competes in triathlons, the Duchess of Argyll, a rather jolly hangman, the poet R S Thomas and the man who wrote speeches for Prince Charles, among others. You'll also visit an ancient church, see a big hole in the ground caused by an explosion and get to ride on a train to nowhere. How can any sane person resist?

"At The Loch Of The Green Corrie" by Andrew Greig

Andrew Greig is a fine Scottish writer of all kinds of books. Once upon a time he wanted to be the poet, Norman MacCaig (and once upon another time he wanted to be a member of the Incredible String Band - but that's another tale, and one that gave rise to a different book). He later became friends with MacCaig and on the last evening they spent together before the poet's death, MacCaig said to him:
"I should like you to fish for me at the Loch of the Green Corrie, only it's not called that. But if you go to Lochinver and ask for a man called Norman MacAskill, if he likes you he may tell you where it is. If you catch trout I shall be delighted. And if you fail, looking down from a place I don't believe in, I shall be most amused."
A few years later Greig set out on his mission; the loch was elusive and the trout even more so. But along the way he learns about MacCaig, about life and about himself. It's a profound meditation set in the beautiful and sometimes bleak landscape of the Highlands.

"Mudlarking" by Lara Maiklem

"Mudlarks", if like me you've heard the word but don't really know what it means, were people who descended on the mud revealed by low tide on the River Thames in order to scavenge whatever had been washed up. These poor people made an unhealthy and precarious living by finding bits of coal, lost coins, old bottles and other "treasures". More surprisingly still, there are people who still engage in this grubby activity, though not from necessity, but more as an eccentric hobby. Lara Maiklem is one of these people and she takes us along with her as she scours the mud for anything that catches her eye, making her way slowly downstream past the best "mudlarking" sites. What she finds reveals the history of London, though you never know what's coming next - rather like being a "mudlark". And like the hobby itself, she gradually entraps you in the charm of this unlikely pursuit.

"The Baroness" by Hannah Rothschild

Cast your mind back a month or two and you may remember me writing about the banker and entomologist, Charles Rothschild and his interesting and very different children. The most surprising of all perhaps was Pannonica (Nica) who went off to New York and became immersed in the world of bebop jazz, being a kind of patron to the likes of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Here her niece, Hannah Rothschild, uncovers the story of the aunt whom the family avoided mentioning to her. She travels to New York and meets her and pieces together the extraordinary tale of the woman that the jazz musicians knew as the Duchess.

Thelonious Monk was also a strange and enigmatic character; many said he couldn't really play piano, while a knowledgeable few thought he was a genius (an opinion to which Mr Monk himself subscribed). Luckily for posterity Nica was among those few and supported him while he pursued his unique musical vision, waiting for the rest of the hepcats to catch up.

That's Count Basie sitting beside the piano - I think he understood, not sure about the man doing the introduction though!

Take care.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

A Country Calendar

It's that time of year when we look back over the last year and forward to the next. And it's become something of a habit of mine to scrape together some of my favourite photos to present as a kind of virtual calendar. This year most of the images (for reasons of which we're all too well aware) were taken within walking distance of my house and all of them are from the countryside.













Lets hope that next year we can start to venture a little further from home.

Take care.