When most people think of heather, they think of Scotland; or at least the moors of northern England. But we have heathland down here in the south too, and few places are more spectacular in August and early September than an area of poor, sandy soils to the east of the town of Kings Lynn in Norfolk. Lets go for a wander and I'll point out a few things along the way.
This is Roydon Common which is in the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It's quite a large, complex area with marshy land, grasslands and woodlands as well as the seemingly endless swathes of heather. Most folk probably just wander from the car park along the most obvious path, though there's plenty of scope here for longer walks.
There's some bracken here and there, but it's mostly under control. Photographically it provides a pleasing counterpoint to the heather whether it's green.....
Here's part of the conservation team. These are White Park cattle and are descended from the ancient wild cattle of the British Isles. They've been around for at least 2,000 years and unlike many newer breeds they retain the ability to thrive throughout the year on the roughest pasture.
There are just a few isolated trees on the heath.
A large part of the common is kept free from human disturbance, allowing birds like Lapwings and Curlews to nest.
The sandy soil shows here and there, but everything else is covered with blooming heather at this time of year.
And this is the rather unimaginatively named Sandy Lane, which forms the southern edge of Roydon Common. South of here is Grimston Warren which was a very similar landscape until the 1960s when it was decided to cover the land in coniferous trees, despite plenty of advice that this would be an environmental disaster.
But recently almost all of those trees have been cleared and the land has been allowed to revert to its former beauty and richness.
A few stumps still remain to remind you of the land's recent history.
It was feared that it might take decades to restore the heathland to its former glory. The birds had other ideas and some heathland specialists were returning to the area even while the heavy machinery was engaged in clearing out the old timber.
But what is that curious building on the horizon?
It turns out that this (and another identical structure a short distance away) was built during the last war as an observation tower. There was a wooden structure on top, reached by a ladder, and from there members of the Royal Observer Corps would pinpoint the exact locations where shells fell while the army practised their artillery skills. They could then get some idea of just how accurate they were and make the necessary adjustments to their sights.
Grimston Warren is also threaded by paths to allow an extended walk - and more recently a third area, now known as the Tony Hallatt Memorial Reserve, has been added.
Now we'll make our way back by a slightly different route, but still with plenty of heather to be seen.
The cattle are still hard at work!
There's also a small herd of Dartmoor ponies, not to be confused with the Exmoor ponies we saw a few weeks ago at Knettishall Heath. They are a similarly tough breed and well-suited to conservation grazing. Back in 1950 they reckoned there were 30,000 ponies on Dartmoor, but now there are only about 1,500 and purebred Dartmoor ponies are a rare breed.
At this time of year the Rowan, or Mountain Ash, trees begin to produce their bright red berries, set off here rather exotically by the purple heather.
Then we're back into the birch trees which grow on the northern edge of the reserve. But while we're in the area there's time to investigate one more location.....
These are the ruins of the eleventh century St James' Church, which stand in an isolated location reachable only by a rough farm track. It was once the parish church of the village of Bawsey, which has disappeared even more completely than its church but may once have occupied the surrounding fields. The church has been a ruin since at least the seventeenth century.