Tuesday 24 July 2018

First Thing

"First thing"...that's what they called it down on the farm. Dawn, daybreak, sunrise or, if you like "first thing". That very precise time of day when, as it was once explained to me, "You goes down the yard and falls over sumthink in the dark and, by the time you gets up, you can see what it was!"

So that's what I was thinking about as I got my bike out of the shed at half-past-four this morning (!) and cycled off down the village street. The weather here has been so unusually warm recently that I reasoned that early morning was the only cool time of day to get some exercise.

The breeze was deliciously chilly just like it used to be when cycling to the farm on a summer's morning and I managed to arrive near the crest of Chapel Hill just in time for sunrise.

Chapel Hill would scarcely get a mention on the maps of most parts of the world, but here in the flat lands of Cambridgeshire it's a famous and fearsome incline that opens up views for miles around.

I took dozens of photos - enough to make up for all the other mornings when I stayed in bed - before walking back down the field edge to where my bicycle leaned against the gate.

The light from the early morning sun was lending a rosy glow to the apples.

At the bottom of the hill there stands an old cottage where every year there's a show of pelargoniums in old terracotta pots on this window ledge.  I've meant to photograph them before but never have. It looks like I might be just in time too as there's a SOLD notice on the house. Time moves on.

The sky was now putting on a more subtle show of greys and pastel colours. The strange object on the horizon is part of the Radio Astronomy Observatory at Lord's Bridge where they look into deep space for I know not what. At roughly the same distance from the other side of the picture you might be able to make out the tower of the University Library. And further to the right, if you've got very sharp eyes, are the spires of King's College Chapel.

A little later the sun began to shine over the band of cloud and send its rays heavenward.

From the sublime to the agricultural as I'd found a rather battered farmyard door. No need to replace that for a year or two!

And here's today's quaint thatched cottage standing by the roadside in the early morning light.

On the opposite side of the lane the sunshine was illuminating the wild oats and grasses at the side of a field.

I then followed the farm track back through the recently harvested fields. The straw has been baled into the huge square bales that they favour nowadays. Pretty soon there won't be many of us left who know how to build a straw stack out of the old small bales. That lane doesn't look as though it rises much at all but....

....you soon reach a point where you can gaze back over the way you've come with something approaching smug satisfaction.

"That were lovely first thing. Best bit o' the day - and most people missed it!"

Take care.

Thursday 19 July 2018

Back To The Garden

"We've got to get ourselves back to the garden" as Joni Mitchell recommended so many years ago. But it's not Woodstock that we're going back to, but the Cambridge Botanic Garden where a rather different music event was taking place yesterday evening. TG Collective were performing gypsy-jazz-and-beyond as part of a programme of events called Sounds Green which takes place in the garden throughout July.

Many families bring picnics and start to gather on the lawns as much as two hours before the music begins. There were dancing girls in front of the stage too - but they were about six years old!

The event concluded a rather musical day for me as beforehand I'd been wandering the streets of the city centre listening to the buskers. On this fine July afternoon that included a Celtic folk trio, a man playing musical saw, African drummers and probably the world's only glove-puppet ukulele player (I kid you not!). And at lunchtime I'd been to a recital of classical flute and piano music in Sidney Sussex Chapel. That's Cambridge for you.

Take care.

Monday 16 July 2018

A Gentle Turn Of The Pedals

Another warm day in this glorious summer, they say it's the best since 1976 and I'm not about to contradict. Too warm to enjoy a lengthy walk but ideal for a short bike ride, as long as you can go gently enough so as not to overheat but just fast enough to produce a cooling breeze.

I tootled off through the village to see what sights the Cambridgeshire landscape might serve up on this fine July morning. I turned down Malton Lane, not one of England's major highways and rather bumpy in a car, but pleasant enough for a bike ride.

Almost everyone who passes this way (and there aren't very many of them, it's true) exclaims that they would like to live in Malton Farmhouse. It might prove to be a bit isolated for some tastes as the village of Malton disappeared as long ago as 1428, though you could apparently still see the remains of its church until the 1930s.

Most of the land around here is in full agricultural production though there are occasional scruffy bits where wildflowers and weeds flourish.

Malton Lane leads at length to the village of Orwell, where a road leading off to the right will take you to Barrington.

Leaving the village I came across what appeared to be The Lone Ranger's horse (!) though I think the mask is just to prevent flies getting in the eyes. As you can see in the background, harvest here is well underway with some straw already baled up.

When out on my bike, hunting for photos, I always pull off into any field gates that are open. Often you get better views than when the hedgerows are in the way. Besides photos I always collect a lot of sharp grass seeds in my socks.

I don't know if it's because harvest is earlier than usual, or because it's been uncharacteristically dry, but so far we haven't been bothered by what we know as "thunderflies". These tiny, almost invisible, little beings do not bite but are equipped with what must be microscopic claws with which the crawl about on your skin and in your hair. Their presence is one of the more irritating aspects of harvest time. "What wuz the Good Lord thinkin' about when he made them little buggers?" would be a question asked every summer on the farm.

Into Barrington where the huge village green is a lot less green than usual, but the bench, with it's view of the old farmhouse and the cricket pavilion, looks particularly inviting.

While sitting supping on my water bottle the local bus went past. The service is run by Whippet Coaches, which were named long ago with a humorous nod to the USA's more famous Greyhound Buses. I see that they now have some smaller vehicles appropriately called "Puppies".

I promised myself I wouldn't photograph any picturesque, thatched cottages on this visit to Barrington - once again I failed miserably!

At Barrington church I turned right towards Foxton.

The skies were beginning to look interesting as I cycled onward. I'd been hoping to see some harvest work taking place but it was not to be. Modern machinery is into and out of the field so quickly that you're lucky if you see it.

Near Foxton the main railway from Cambridge to London crosses what used to be the main road (A10) to the capital. The "signal box" is actually a level-crossing box from which the gates used to be opened and closed, though now everything is automated. The crossing's recently had a number of safety features added in an attempt to prevent accidents. There's also talk of a bridge being built to carry the road over the line.

I biked alongside the A10, which is still a busy road, using the cycle-way. This used to be a rather rough, bumpy track but is now as smooth as the road itself. And still you see occasional idiots who'd rather ride in amongst the traffic! 

I turned off into Shepreth where there's another cottage that everyone says they'd like to live in; though in this case they haven't realised that every car that goes past at night shines its lights straight into the windows.

There are still a few fields of wheat waiting to be harvested. And back in Meldreth I saw this window surrounded by flowers. Now I'd like to live there...

and, as luck would have it, I do. That's my kitchen window and inside the fridge there's a bottle of apple juice and a nice salad awaiting my return.

Take care.

Saturday 14 July 2018

A Garden In July

My monthly trip to the Botanic Garden in Cambridge has rolled around once more. I have to start with the flower that always typifies hot summers for me and that's the coneflower or Echinacea. The centres seem to be bursting with sunlight while the petals appear to be exhausted by the heat!

But I knew where I ought to be heading in this warm, dry spell of weather which we're having at present - The Dry Garden. It's a small area within the larger garden which is devoted to drought-resistant plants which may become the norm if global-warming is allowed to continue on its merry way. The next four photos were taken in the Dry Garden.

The curious black "flower" is Aeonium 'Zwartkop'. 
The Dry Garden is interesting and attractive though a long way from the lush greenness which we associate with gardens here in the UK.

On the Rockery the little Peruvian Lilies were putting on quite a show.

And there were quite large areas devoted to various flower mixes. A sign explained, almost apologetically, that these were experimental research plots - in my opinion they can do as much experimental research as they like if it gives such stunning results as these.

The beds beside the small stream were a riot of growth and colour.

I sat by the lake for a while, but even here it felt more like the Amazon rain forest than England with many dragonflies skimming over the water.

Take care.

Thursday 12 July 2018

The Country In Between

Lets have a look at the country in between the small coastal towns and villages of north Norfolk. And also the land sandwiched between the sea and the workable fields, a zone which can be up to two miles wide along this stretch of coast.

To a wandering gull the coast of north Norfolk must be an incredibly easy place to navigate. A little hop in the air and a couple of flaps of the wings and you can see for miles across this mostly flat landscape.

Down at ground level it can be a bit more confusing as things are constantly shifting and rearranging themselves. The Ordnance Survey maps can't keep up and Google maps just colour the whole area an optimistic green, though in reality there's not much that interests them in this landscape. Your GPS will tell you where you are but has no idea where the land ends and the water starts. And you'll be lucky to pick up a signal for your phone.

It's not only the difference between low and high tides that causes the changes. Winter storms can break through the sea defences and flood areas of previously dry land and then dump sand elsewhere. Ancient timber posts can be found stranded out in the middle of the beach.

Tidal creeks frequently change their course through the sands. Interesting word that - "creek". In England it's used to denote a tidal channel, whereas in North America and Australia it's changed its meaning to denote an inland stream. It seems to be derived from the Dutch word "kreek" and occurs most often in the east of England where there was frequent trade with the Low Countries.

These beautiful Avocets were feeding at Titchwell Bird Reserve which has itself had to adapt to the ever-changing coastline in recent years by allowing the sea to invade part of the area. The RSPB uses the bird as its emblem, as its recolonisation of our coasts has been one of the success stories of recent years. Ironically this invasion began, not as a result of any initiative by conservationists, but because of attempts to prevent a less welcome invasion - they stated nesting here in the 1940s when large areas of coast were protected by barbed wire during WWII.

Changes at Titchwell have also opened up this beautiful little pond to the public. It has a magic that makes you want to linger and it's also the best place to watch the Marsh Harriers that nest nearby.

Attitudes and fashions change too. This little holiday home was built among the dunes of Blakeney Point during the inter-war years, nowadays the area is a nature reserve.

There are also large areas of salt-marsh which at this time of year are tinged with a subtle shade of lilac by the Sea Lavender. There are occasional paths leading through but otherwise you won't find much to tempt you into these parts.

Beyond the salt-marsh is another of those endless beaches. Parts of this beach are used by naturists - but only during the summer I suspect.

They don't often venture up into the dunes - the vegetation is far too rough and prickly! It's amazing that anything can grow up here on what is no more than a heap of salty sand with no obvious sign of water. But plants do grow including, a little earlier in the year, several varieties of wild orchids

Views inland from the top of the dunes are surprisingly far-reaching. The grassy area is grazed by cattle during the summer months but in winter it's grazed by thousands of Pink-Footed Geese that fly down here from their breeding-grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Spitsbergen.

We'll end our little review of these in-between lands with a walk back to the car through the pine plantations on the Holkham Estate. These were planted on the dunes stabilise them and to prevent the sand blowing further inland. Then we'll travel back to Hunstanton where people gather to watch another sunset over the sea.  

Take care.