Wednesday 30 March 2022

Spring In March

I've been on several bird-watching walks recently (more accurately "bird-searching", as we didn't necessarily find what we were looking for), but it was mostly in places that I know well, so didn't yield many photos - just a few from around Paxton Pits and along the Great Ouse river. I also treated myself to a new lens for my camera, one that lets me get very close to small subjects, and I've taken a few trial pictures with that. So I'll share those pictures here, all mixed up and intermingled, to give you an idea of how spring is progressing hereabouts:

Looking across Hayling Lake at Paxton Pits nature reserve.

A tiny daisy on the churchyard wall.

Celandine in the meadow.

Weeping willows coming into leaf along the Great Ouse.

Blackthorn blossom.

Geese flying above, geese swimming below
 - and sandwiched in between
 Cormorants perched, and in some cases nesting, in the trees.

A dandelion happily growing in a crack in a wall.

And another daisy on the churchyard wall.

The floodplain of the Ouse.

The tiny flowers of Herb Robert growing on the wall at Topcliffe Mill.

Take care.

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Thriplow Gold

The people of Thriplow like their daffodils. There are thousands of them all over the village, from the grandest of gardens to humblest of verges and hedgerows. Since the late 1960s they've held a Daffodil Weekend to raise money for local charities, but if you want to really enjoy the flowers then go on a day in mid-week and avoid the crowds - though even then you'll not be alone.

There's still some bunting and the information caravan left over from last weekend's event. So won't you join me for an hour or so's gentle wander around this lovely Cambridgeshire village on a perfect spring afternoon?

There are said to be well over a hundred different varieties of daffs growing here, including "Thriplow Gold" which is named after the village. Who knew there were so many kinds?

Take care.

Sunday 20 March 2022

Remnants Of Past Glories

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the idea of the seaside had never caught on? How about if people never came with buckets and spades, or wealthy city folk didn't come to live in the country? What if the countryside had just been left unchanged for the last century or two? Come and take a stroll around Waxham, it might be as near as you ever get to an un-tampered-with coastal village.

This is the Hall, nowadays a rather over-sized farmhouse, but once home to the wealthy Woodhouse and Calthorpe dynasties. It dates from about 1570 and still retains the grandeur of a garden wall with octagonal corner turrets. There's even a gatehouse, but the opening is blocked up and the whole is submerged beneath a dense blanket of ivy.

Some of the once state-of-the-art farm buildings have also deteriorated considerably. That's how much of East Anglia might have looked after one of the periodic agricultural slumps.

But what is that rather grand gable-end seen behind the old tractor?

At around the same time that they were building the Hall, Sir Henry Woodhouse decided he needed a big barn - that's one end of it in the photo above. And when he said "big" he meant BIG. It's 178 feet long (54 metres) with flint walls and a thatched roof. It was built just after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and may well contain materials salvaged from these religious buildings - one of those buttresses seen above looks like it might come from there.

It's the biggest ancient barn in East Anglia and was probably built as a "vanity project" meant to compete with (and ruthlessly defeat) barns built by other landowners in the district. But he also had reason to invest in such a huge structure; his family had become wealthy by supplying food for the army and navy. However Sir Henry liked spending money so much that he "utterly consumed the estate" and his son had to rebuild the family fortune from scratch.

By the 1990s the wealthy families had long left the scene, the barn was in desperate need of repair and was purchased by the county council who restored it. You can clearly see where some of the beams have been replaced. The barn is now used as a venue for weddings, but is open for public perusal at all other times. One of the associated buildings now houses a café. There were several people sitting outside the café, but no one else took the opportunity to take a look inside this Grade I listed building. Sad.

Tucked away in a dusty corner of the barn, with no explanatory notice, was this elderly piece of equipment which, unless I'm greatly mistaken, is a hand-turned quern of the type used in farmhouse kitchens for grinding flour.

Time to step outside again and continue our stroll around this tiny village.

This end of the barn is walled off internally from the rest of the building and I suspect it may have been used as a granary. Those slits in the gable wall are to allow air to circulate and the central round holes are to let owls enter and leave; they were vital for vermin control in old barns.

St John's Church dates in part from the twelfth century, but has been patched up and added to, with varying degrees of success, over the years. Photos I've seen online show a nicely dilapidated interior which hasn't been ruined by the heavy-handed restoration of the Victorian era. Unfortunately the building was locked - perhaps they open it in summer when more people are about.

This ivy-clad, or perhaps we should say "ivy-swamped", chunk of wall is all that remains of the church's chancel. It's been unused for centuries and you can still clearly see how the chancel-arch has been infilled.

Gorse is becoming a recurring theme in this blog lately, and it shone brightly against the cold grey stone of the church tower.

What else is there to see? Well, just a handful of houses scattered around an irregular quadrangle of narrow roads. In high summer these roads get clogged up with parked cars - people have discovered that they can park here for free and find their way down to an uncommercialised stretch of beach.

Oh, and you can buy half-a-dozen eggs, just pop your money in the honesty box.

Take care.


Friday 18 March 2022

Beside The North Sea

If you were here for my last post about wonderful Winterton you'll recall we were going to Horsey Gap to look for some seals. As we bumped down the track and into the car park we saw an encouraging sight - a woman in a high-vis jacket, carrying a bucket. The bucket was for donations and the bright yellow jacket indicated that she was from that excellent charity Friends Of Horsey Seals. And where there are Friends there will be seals.

"Many seals about?" we enquired. "Hundreds" came the reply.

Now this may look like some kind of Grey Seal orgy and in a way it is - an orgy of itching and scratching.

Having given birth to their pups between November and January, the seals return to the sea for a few weeks to feed up. Then they come back to this beach from late February to moult and grow a new coat for the next year.

The whole process takes about six weeks and they live off their reserves of fat during this time as they wait to regrow the protective waterproof layer.

Unlike when they are giving birth it's OK to go on to the beach at this time, as long as you stay at least ten metres away from them and don't do anything to scare them. They also get a lot closer to each other when they don't have young ones to protect.

Incidentally you sometimes see pictures of seals "waving" to the camera. It's adorable, isn't it? But what people don't realise is that this apparent friendly behaviour is actually the seal saying "Back off, mate, you're too close!". It's amazing what you can learn if you chat to the volunteer wardens.

They must be doing something right along this stretch of our coastline. In 2002/2003 there were about a hundred Grey Seals here and they raised perhaps 50 or 60 pups. The numbers have increased at around 10% each year and this past winter there were around 2,500 pups raised.

The seals come just far enough up the beach to get out of the water, which leaves plenty of room to wander along maintaining enough distance between you and them. These photos were of course taken with a long telephoto lens.

"If you're going to stick your tongues out at us, then we're leaving"

"Good, then we can get on with this tiring business of growing new coats".

Incidentally, we needn't have travelled to the coast in search of sand. This was the top of my re-cycling bin the next day......

....that's dust from the Sahara, picked up by the wind and then dumped on us by a passing shower, leaving a fine coating of sand on every surface. There's plenty on my windows too, if anyone wants a job.

Take care.