Saturday 26 February 2022


"In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty" - Phil Ochs (1940-1976)

In an attempt to get clear of the ever-darkening news on the radio and TV, my brother and I went to Wandlebury Country Park, just outside Cambridge, for a wander. For a wonderful Wandlebury wander, if you like. 

Wandlebury is the site of an Iron Age hill fort but is now a rather pretty area of semi-natural countryside - paddocks, woodland, paths, tracks, orchards and gardens. Being so close to Cambridge it can get crowded on summer weekends, but on Friday mornings in February there's plenty of space to wander.

Large parts of it were once a garden, belonging to the house which was built, with cavalier disregard for the ancient site, right in the middle of the old ring fort. At this time of year it's a great place to see drifts of snowdrops and galaxies of aconites. It comes recommended by my brother who used to park up near here when he should have been delivering office supplies!

First we can dawdle along this field-side track, which was once a road and in fact is still classified as a "highway". It will take us down to the old Roman Road.

There are precious few Roman centurions marching along here today (unless you come on a dark, misty evening when you might still hear the sound of marching sandalled feet). Joggers and dog walkers are here in abundance, as well as the occasional bird-watcher who may be training their binoculars on the flocks of Linnets, or perhaps watching a distant hare.

We return via the cathedral-like space of the beech tree avenue, before making our way to the Banyard Hide, where you can watch the woodland birds on the feeders. There won't be anything super-rare but here's a brief gallery of photos taken on Friday.....

Mr Squirrel is first to put in an appearance....

....on best behaviour today, clearing up under the feeders, rather than trying to knock them down.

The Blue Tit, the most common bird to find on the feeders in your garden, but no less beautiful for that.

Is this my best side?

Or this?

This tiny bundle of fluff is a Long-Tailed Tit. You'll just have to take it from me that it really does have a long tail.


Then we'll complete our journey by returning through the walled garden and the orchard, where the early spring blooms are at their best. Both the snowdrops....

....and the aconites.

In the orchard some of the earliest plum trees were coming into blossom, though this is a very sheltered part of the garden and is noticeably warmer on the chilliest days. We were hoping to see the bright red breasts of the Bullfinch here; they are the fruit farmers enemy as they love to peck away at the first buds of blossom, but here they are welcomed. We did spot a Nuthatch though.

This is the Old Granary. It was rescued from a farm in the village of Tadlow and re-erected here by Cambridge: Past, Present And Future, the charity which manages this site. It would have originally stood on staddle-stones, those mushroom-shaped little pillars designed to keep rats and mice from climbing up and feasting on the grain.

And there we'll end our little tour of the Wandlebury area. I hope you enjoyed it.

Take care.

Wednesday 23 February 2022

White Magic

I went out for a stroll in my local woodland this morning. I took a few pictures of the Blackthorn blossom which is just appearing. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a flash of white moving along the tiny river. I crept over and it flapped languidly up on to a low branch. A Little Egret. And there it sat allowing me to take as many pictures as I wanted - the blossom in the breeze was actually moving more than the bird! 

And that - apart from a long conversation with a man mending a fence after the recent storms - was my entertainment for this morning.

Take care.

Sunday 20 February 2022

The Indecisive Stream

I lived for many years in a village where a slow, cautious river edged its way through green fields in a series of unhurried loops and meanders. There was often a church tower loitering among the trees on the horizon too.

But not this church, or this river or these meadows - not too far away though.

And if you become interested in birdwatching around here, you soon gravitate towards the many flooded gravel pits along the flood plains of the rivers. So when my brother and I visited the nature reserve at Godmanchester recently, I was in familiar scenery, even though my boots had never encountered these particular muddy paths before. I nearly didn't post these pictures, but I realise that I have readers from far and wide, and what is utterly familiar to me may be exotic to those elsewhere.

We were in the wake of Storm Dudley, which had passed by on the previous day, and we were yet to meet with Storm Eunice, who threatened to cause untold damage in the next few hours. Even so it was mighty windy with little to hamper the chill blast in this open countryside. 

As it turned out Eunice passed with winds touching hurricane force, but did not cause me any great inconvenience. The next day I picked up some twigs and dead leaves in my yard and moved a large piece of roofing felt from the car parking spaces outside, but that was all.

However it was rather more dramatic for a man out walking his dog just half a mile down the road; a huge tree fell on them, trapping them beneath its branches. Remarkably, although they had to be freed by emergency services, they escaped relatively unharmed.

Anyway, back to our walk. The watercourse above is unusual for two reasons: firstly it's called Cook's Stream and, although this is a country full of streams, there are very few that have "stream" as part of their name; secondly it flows from the River Great Ouse, follows a squiggly course of its own design, divides in two, then both arms flow back into the main river a little further downstream. Even when rivers are as indecisive as they are around here, that's an odd thing to do.

We were looking for birds of course, in particular a Black-necked Grebe that's been here for a while. It's probably still there, but we didn't see it.

In fact my main "achievement" of the day was to get totally baffled by the network of footpaths hereabouts - how can you get misplaced walking around a small lake? Easy, just don't pay any attention to the map.

It was a morning to enjoy the familiar sights: crooked willow trees, rambling brambles, circuitous streams, muddy meadows and falling-down fences. There was even a disheveled shed to admire and photograph.


Which all leaves time for a little music.....


A familiar tune given a delicate arrangement by Hirokazu Sato
and played by the S Korean guitarist Kyuhee Park, 
who has a couple of classical albums available
as well as many YouTube videos

I think Eric would approve.

 Take care.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Muddy Studies

The moon moves in the heavens, the oceans shift their weight, the tides recede, the shimmering waters withdraw. And what are you left with? Mud. We paused our recent walk on the Orwell Estuary when we reached the boats' graveyard so we could investigate the wrecks. We clambered over the remains of the tidal defences to nose around in the thick, glutinous mud in search of some photos. They may not be the best pictures ever, but it was fun!

Take care (and remember your wellies!)

Sunday 13 February 2022

An English Estuary

In the village of Chelmondiston in Suffolk there's a narrow lane which threads its way down to the tidal estuary of the River Orwell. The lane ends abruptly at the riverside where there's an old pub and a confused cluster of houses which form the hamlet of Pin Mill.

There's no mill in Pin Mill, neither on the ground nor in the annals of history; this is a place of boats. In the past small vessels were loaded and unloaded and the old Thames sailing barges were brought here for repairs. Yacht repairs are carried out to this day.

It's the sort of place where one can imagine Arthur Ransome setting one of his adventure stories for children - and indeed he did. "We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea" is set here and his own boat Selina King was built in Harry King's boatyard and was frequently moored here. Although other yachting facilities around this coast are dominated by luxurious clubhouses and modern marinas, here all is delightfully informal and gloriously untidy.

But we're here to go on a walk, albeit one which will be dominated by boats as we make our way alongside the estuary. First we have to sneak along the shore in front of the pub. A footpath leads amongst trees and here we encounter what looks like a shanty town - a fairly prosperous shanty, 'tis true, but you get the idea.

Old houseboats, converted barges, tumbledown shacks and rotting wooden jetties form weekend homes for keen boat people. Planning restrictions prevent them building anything more permanent, so every spring the ravages of the winter are made good for another season of carefree sailing. Amazingly this stretch of coast is owned by the National Trust, the charity which usually concerns itself with grand mansions and perfect beauty-spots. Further along things get even more ungroomed.

Beyond the houseboats is what can only be described as a maritime graveyard, where old boats are left to rust and rot. These old wrecks are much loved by photographers: they arrive at high tide, assemble their tripods and take long-exposure photos with blurry water - you can find basically the same photo all over the place. It's much more fun though to arrive as the water goes down and squelch about in the clinging mud and examine the disintegrating hulks up close. More of that in another blogpost!

So, an hour or so later, we can continue up through the woodlands.

They call this "the cliff", though only in countryside as flat as East Anglia would such a modest feature be honoured with such a grand name. It does however give pleasant views through the trees of the boats on the estuary.

Beyond the woodland the countryside opens up once more and here, completely isolated, stands a single cottage on its own little muddy inlet. Perfection. We watched the birds here for a while, spotting several duck and wader species, including one Black-Tailed Godwit already in its brick-red summer breeding plumage.

We're going to turn back here and return to Pin Mill, but not to visit the pub, which is fully booked-up for lunch. Instead we'll have sandwiches, bananas and hot chocolate back at the car, which will give us plenty of time for an afternoon walk - and no concerns about contracting communicable viruses!

The pub at Pin Mill has the memorable name of the Butt And Oyster. The "butt" in this case refers to a wine barrel, maybe a reference to the fact that oysters were once transported in such barrels, or just possibly it's a subtle hint about the commodities which were once smuggled through this quiet port at dead of night.

Setting out again, much refreshed after lunch, in the upstream direction, we passed close to these old coastguard cottages, another reminder of the old days of smuggling.

It's strange how remote and unspoiled this little area seems, even with the influx of tourists and yachtspeople, though I admit that our reason for being here in February was to avoid the worst of the crowds. However we're only about five miles (8 Km) from the container ports of Harwich and Felixstowe, in one direction, and the busy town of Ipswich in the other.

There are many characterful trees along the riverside, including these two old "pensioners", standing hand-in-hand and gazing in disbelief towards the new Orwell Bridge.

I know you wanted to see a big concrete bridge carrying the A14 road on its way to Felixstowe docks! One day, when such structures become old and less numerous, people will suddenly appreciate that they have a certain grace and elegance - when viewed from about four miles away at least!

We are now in the environs of The Royal Harwich Yacht Club, founded in 1843. Soon the skies here will be bristling with white masts and sails, and expensive cars will be parked near the modernistic clubhouse. All very different from the mud, rust and real ale to be had back at Pin Mill.

But what's this? It looks like a church or chapel. But, then again it seems that somebody lives here. And there's a sign on the fence that reads The Cat House. Research required.

It was built in 1793 in the grounds of Woolverstone Hall (which we'll pass later) and is described by Historic England as a house and eyecatcher. In other words it was designed to beautify the estate, provide housing for one of the employees and to impress visitors and passers-by. 

Now then; at some time in the past the inhabitant of this building had a cat and, when that animal died, he had it stuffed. So far, so mildly eccentric. But this cat, after its demise, took to an afterlife of crime and played a vital role in illegal activity. For, when there were no excise men snooping around, this ex-cat was displayed in an upstairs window to inform smugglers that the coast was clear.

Our path turned inland through woodland....

.....and emerged, rather suddenly, at St Michael's Church, Woolvestone. The church was much restored in the late-1700s when the very wealthy Berners family built their country residence in the area.

And here is Woolverstone Hall today, no longer a haunt of the aristocracy but now home to the Ipswich High School. It's a Grade I listed building and one of the finest British examples of the Palladian style of architecture.

This sheep showed not the slightest interest in historic architecture.

Passing through more woodland, I spotted a bracken frond resting artistically on a lump of fallen tree bark. Honestly I didn't put it there, though I did a little tidying up around it.

And, before you know it, here we are back at Pin Mill once again.

Take care.