Friday 24 December 2021

Peace And Happiness

Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it, or if you perhaps choose not to celebrate at all...

...wishing you peace and happiness in the coming year - however you number it, whatever you call it and whenever it may begin.

Take care
(of yourselves,
each other,
and this planet we call home).

Tuesday 21 December 2021

The Man Who Walks In The Fog

 I must admit I rather like a good fog...

Partly it's that feeling of being out and about while everyone else is hiding indoors, but also fog and mist have a transforming effect, changing even the most familiar landscapes into something a little different. We all need a bit of variety sometimes.

England has a reputation of being a land of fogs, especially in winter. I blame Charles Dickens; he used fog in his novels as a device to suggest that something was wrong in society. Then along came Claude Monet and managed to make it look beautiful, despite the number of people who were dying from lung disease. It wasn't the fog that was the problem, but the amount of smoke that London produced at that time. Even Ella Fitzgerald sang about foggy days in London town.

The bald meteorological facts, however, show that we're far from being the foggiest place on earth. Thick fogs lasting for the whole day (like we had last weekend) only occur once every couple of years or so. And here in the countryside the fog is damp but largely benign.

But why would anyone want to go out taking photographs on a foggy day? You might think that fog just obscures the land, but it can reveal it too. By getting rid of all the distant distractions, it focusses the eye on the here and now. It cuts out all the clutter in the background of the scene. We can do with that as we travel through life: getting rid of all the noisy and complicated details and just concentrating on what's within our reach.

Fog also softens the hard edges of the world, making it seem a more gentle, kindly place. It's good to be cocooned in in my foggy blanket for a while in these crazy times. So it was that my mind was far from dwelling upon ghosts and cruelty in Victorian London as I idled along the footpaths and byways of rural Cambridgeshire.

I set out on two separate days, with two separate locations in mind that might make some nice photos: one yielded no photos and the other had no fog! That's the mystery and unpredictability of fogginess. But along the way I found other things I was not expecting.

One of the less welcome surprises was a huge fallen tree that completely blocked "the forgotten path". I call it that because twenty-odd years ago it was set out as a "riverside walk" with signs and information boards, but slowly the signs have disappeared and the way has become overgrown. I don't even know if I should really be there.

But anyway my progress was halted by this fallen tree, an obstacle I would have once scrambled over with ease. Nowadays I choose a long uncomfortable escapade amongst thorns and brambles to find an alternative route and eventually came out at the edge of a field. Luckily this led me precisely to where I wanted to go.

You may have noticed that the pictures don't match up very well with the text so far. Exactly so, fog is always playing tricks like that!

I ended up walking several miles, at times with the visibility down to less than fifty metres. It didn't matter at all, because as I walked the way opened up clearly before me, as it always does. That seems to be another life-lesson; although the way ahead may be unclear, if you keep plodding on all will be revealed in good time. 

So lets step out into the fog : it's really rather pleasant.

Take care.

Sunday 19 December 2021

Three More Things.....

...that are well-worth seeing before leaving the Horsey area, where we'd been visiting the Grey Seals

All Saints' Church at Horsey

The tiny settlement of Horsey stands just outside the Norfolk Broads national park and feels quite different from that nearby watery world. The strong, low-angled sun and the tree-shadows made photographing the building very tricky, but I thought you'd like to see it anyway. It's a very traditional Norfolk church with its round tower and thatched roof and seems to date from around the eleventh or twelfth centuries.

If this ornate door is unlocked we can take a peep inside.

Everything is as old-fashioned and rustic as one would hope, almost as if it has grown up from the rich Norfolk soil; a refuge from the modern world. 

Sometimes old churches like this feel damp and gloomy, but with the bright sun coming in through the many clear-glass windows the interior had a warm and welcoming glow.

There are just a few stained glass windows which were added during the Victorian era, including this charming memorial to Catherine Ursula Rising, a local artist, pictured at her easel.

Horsey Wind Pump

The whole of the Norfolk Broads is studded with what appear to be windmills of varying ages and states of preservation: except that they are not mills at all but wind-driven pumps concerned with the drainage of this difficult land.

As we got nearer I spotted an interesting reflection in a puddle.
The wind-pump is not as ancient as you might imagine, dating from 1912. But it replaced a much older pump, the bottom few courses of brick are still in place. The flat, windswept land here and gales coming off the sea, meant that these structures were constantly being repaired or replaced. In fact the National Trust, who look after the structure, are still carrying out frequent renovation work, even though the pump is no longer in use, having been replaced by diesel power.

In less contagious times you can climb up to the top to enjoy the view and there's also a small café alongside for visitors.

St Mary's Church, East Somerton

Just two or three miles down the road from Horsey, hidden away among trees, is the magnificent romantic ruin of St Mary's church.

It must once have been a very large church but has been ruinous since the seventeenth century, by which time the parish had been subsumed into the larger parish of Winterton. This huge building then became a private chapel to the inhabitants of nearby Burnley Hall, who presumably could not afford the upkeep of such an enormous building.

Having feasted our eyes on the ivy-clad ruin we climbed into my brother's car to travel the ninety miles or so back home.

Take care.

Thursday 16 December 2021

Beach Babies

The North Sea coast in mid-winter can be a brutal place. Winds whip down from the Baltic, waves crash onto the beaches and there's no cover whatever from the elements. Not the sort of place, nor the time of year, to give birth and care for the little ones. Or so you might think.

This is the coast at Horsey Gap in north Norfolk - and those aren't rocks on the beach, but Grey Seals; the darker ones are probably males (bulls), the mottled brown ones are the cows and the smaller white ones are their pups.

They come ashore along this stretch of coast and start giving birth in November, though some will not be born until January. 

They only suckle the pups for around three weeks, though the milk is so rich that in that time they more than triple their weight. They don't stay cute and fluffy like that for long either, they soon moult all that cotton wool and grow a waterproof, sea-going coat like their parents.

Should you visit Horsey you'll be greeted by members of the Friends of Horsey Seals (FoHS) who oversee the welfare of both seals and visitors.

This gorgeous creature, for example, had managed to get up close to the path through the dunes and was being supervised by one of the volunteer wardens so that we didn't approach too closely, thereby avoiding scaring the pup or any human visitors getting bitten. This photo was taken with a long lens from an appropriate distance.

The beach itself is roped off during the breeding season to prevent disturbance to the seals. In fact part of the dune path was closed too as a particularly cranky bull had decided to take up residence in the dunes. It didn't matter too much as there was plenty to see in the other direction, where there were less people.

Everyone we saw was behaving impeccably, though we were told that the public can at times do all manner of crazy and dangerous things, like dodging under the ropes and trying to chase the pups into the sea. As their coats are not waterproof when they are young this could be fatal for them.

When this colony first began, at the beginning of this century, there were just a few seals here, but it seems there are more each year. So just how many seals give birth along this stretch of coast?

Adults 2,881
Pups  1,172
as of 25th Nov 2021
but why are there no more recent counts?

Those of you from the UK may remember that we had some strong winds and storms at the beginning of December. This played havoc with the seals and many of them sought refuge among the dunes making it too dangerous for those trying to count them. Seals can be aggressive and surprisingly mobile if you get between them and the sea, as they feel threatened when their escape route is blocked.

However I can give you the total from last winter when 2,500 pups were born along this stretch of coast between Horsey and Winterton. In all about 40% of the world's population of Grey Seals are born around the British coast.

This little one, who must be very recently born, had found a tennis ball washed up by the tide and was practising some football skills. They are naturally very inquisitive and tend to play with everything they find, some of which are much more harmful. Every year the team here rescue young pups who get tangled up in plastic and fishing nets. 

The gestation period for seals is eleven months, which means that, as soon as the pups are weaned at three weeks, breeding starts again.

 A few more facts about these remarkable creatures:
Although they are warm-blooded, air-breathing mammals (just like us) they can dive down to 300 metres and stay underwater for around twenty minutes.

Every year or two our local news programmes feature stories about seals that have turned up in all sorts of unlikely places - like in a farmer's field twenty miles inland! 

Some people think that the Grey Seal is not as good-looking as the Common or Harbour Seal. The scientific community agrees and its Latin name Halichoerus gryphus roughly translates as "hook-nosed sea-pig".

Bulls like the one above can live for about 25 years and weigh in at around 350 Kg (772 lbs) - that's around a third of a ton. Cows are not so big but can live about ten years longer.

This little one's got a lot of growing to do.

Take care.

Sunday 12 December 2021

A Calendar For 2022

It's become something of an annual habit of mine to trawl back through my photos at this time of year and make an imaginary calendar from the shots I deem most suitable. Apart from December's picture, all of them were taken during the last year.


A cottage that was once one of many pubs in my village. Now there's just one.
 This was taken early one January morning.


Snowdrops in my local wood.


Out on Wicken Fen, Konik ponies are used for conservation grazing.


Bluebells grow wild in Hitch Wood, Hertforshire.


Hatfield Forest, buttercups in the meadows.


Cricket on the green in Barrington.


The "Foggy Bottom" garden at Bressingham.


Heather blooming on Roydon Common in north Norfolk.


Fishing boats on the beach at Aldeburgh.


Knettishall Heath in Suffolk.


Sunlight catches a lone tree on one of my morning walks.


Ely Cathedral at Christmas time.

Lets hope for a good year in 2022.

Take care.