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.

Tuesday 8 December 2020

Misty On The Mel

A wander through the woods around home on a foggy day in December. We're not much blessed with woodland here, just a thin straggle along the River Mel and a nameless patch of trees that I reach by a muddy stroll through Bury Lane. I was surprised by just how much autumn colour there still is - and I say this with the authority of one who walked these paths just a couple of days beforehand: somehow the grey weather today emphasised how much yellow and gold hangs on. Lets go and find some pictures....

And home in time for tea!

Take care.

Monday 30 November 2020

Here And There

Here: as in near my home. There: as in near my brother's house. And all of it within the local authority area of South Cambridgeshire. That's how our wanderings have been restricted during the last month. 

Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB reserve is just down the road from Les's house. There were more birds about than it looks in some of these pictures, though we didn't manage to see the Cattle Egrets which have been there lately. We did see a couple of Great Egrets however.

The area above is where they've created "scrapes", areas of shallow water and wet meadowland, just the thing for the huge flocks of Wigeon, neat little ducks that spend the winter here. 

A family of Mute Swans on one of the drainage ditches.

Just before we left we noticed dark clouds gathering, with the low winter sun illuminating the reeds and bushes.

I ventured out early one morning while frost was still on the ground and the mist was clearing, transforming (I hope) a mundane scene into something more interesting.

The first rays of sun were illuminating this lonely rose and had already transformed a touch of frost into tiny drops of dew.

The overnight frost made me notice this stylish picnic table.

I loved the way this spindly tree seemed to be breaking free from the tangle of bushes and briars.

A visit to Fowlmere bird reserve yielded a spectacular sunset - but no murmuration of Starlings now. They seem to have moved on elsewhere, leaving about 30 birds to try to put on a show - and probably wonder where all their mates had gone. 

The fields surrounding Les's village are all intensively farmed and, back in the seventies were virtually all given over to growing wheat and barley, year after year after year, and maintaining output by applying huge amounts of chemical fertilizers. Don't blame the farmers though; they were doing exactly what the government and the EEC were encouraging them to do. There are a few pleasant walks, like the old Lolworth to Childerley road that you can see above.

Lolworth has a population of just 150 people, while Great Childerley and Little Childerley were destroyed long ago in order to make way for a deer park by Sir John Cutts, owner of Childerley Hall. I think you can work out why the old road fell into disuse. 

Some high cloud began to drift over as we made our way from Childerley to Dry Drayton. It's called "Dry" Drayton to distinguish it from "Fen" Drayton. 

That's potatoes being harvested as we get close to Dry Drayton. And we'll pop back to that sunset we saw at Fowlmere to bring these wanderings to an end. For now.

Take care.