Thursday 27 July 2023

Last Train To Walmington-On-Sea

Alan Bloom, the man who founded the garden at Bressingham, had other enthusiasms besides gardening. One of these was steam trains, and that hobby also spilled over onto the Bressingham site. As we made our way towards the Dell Garden we passed by the Oakington signal box. Oakington is just a few miles from Les's house.

After our walk around the gardens (and a good lunch in the café) we made our way to the exhibition space.


First of all you pass through the "Dad's Army" exhibition. Much of the TV sitcom was filmed around here. Corporal Jones's delivery van has now made its final delivery and has retired to Bressingham.

As has his butcher's shop.

Here is the fire engine with which the brave men of Walmington-On-Sea attempted to infiltrate "the enemy" during a training exercise. Several of the old vehicles featured in the series were on loan from Alan Bloom's collection.

The Dad's Army exhibits fade in rather muddled fashion into the steam engine museum. Behind the small green locomotive you can see the full-size mail coach. We can take a peek inside...

I remember having one of these in my toy train set. It automatically picked up a mailbag hung from a trackside gantry. Magic! Here you can see where the letters were sorted as the train sped along its way.

There are a number of these wonderful machines, but they are crammed into a small space and were not easy to photograph.

I didn't really expect to use these photos for a post and, although I read the information boards, I can't remember many details about these old steam locos. There were a few old steam traction engines too...


There were various other steam-driven devices on show. Those red and green lines are all applied by hand. And who nowadays would design a pressure valve to look like a Grecian urn?

But we had to have another look at that signal box. Mum's brother, our Uncle Bill, was for a time the signalman at Old North Road station, near Longstowe, and we once visited him at work and were allowed to pull the big levers that operated the points and signals (probably a lever that wasn't in use). An unforgettable experience for little boys!

Take care.

Saturday 22 July 2023

Old-Fashioned Friends

A quiet morning along the River Ouse near Paxton and my attention turned to old friends. My walks are sometimes interrupted by wild orchids or other rarities, the celebrities of the plant world, but now let us honour the faithful everyday flowers, the kind that turn up every year and never let you down.

So here they are, gathered together just as in real life, between the flooded gravel pits and the river itself. For some reason it feels right in this context to give them their old-fashioned country names....

Gatekeeper butterfly / Jingling Johnny / Bedflower
Small White butterfly on a Pincushion Flower / Granny's Toenails / Hardheads
Flower of the Dead / Holy Rope / Meadow Queen
Clown's Heal-all / Staggerwort / Codlins and Cream
Tares / Policeman's Helmet / Adderwort
Ranting Widow / Hagtapers / Dashels (and a Red-Tailed Bumblebee)

Take care.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Pertanical Perspectives

Yes, that's what I heard when I was about four years old, "Tomorrow we're going to the Pertanical Gardens to feed the ducks". A few years passed before I found out it was really called the Botanical Garden and was part of Cambridge University. I've been wandering there, on and off, throughout my life and regularly featured it on my blog in pre-pandemic days (there are 53 posts under the label Cambridge Botanic Gardens). This week I took along my long telephoto lens to give a different perspective, throwing foregrounds and backgrounds out of focus for that impressionistic feel that I've come to love.

Some work better than others, I suppose, but I had fun. I hope you enjoyed your visit too!

Take care.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Southern Hills

We drove along looking for the sign announcing that we were about to enter Central Bedfordshire. Not that Central Bedfordshire is an area much praised for its natural scenery, but just past that sign there's a bit of delectable countryside, an outlier of the Chiltern Hills.

We'll start off by walking up Deacon Hill. This blog has been here before, though it was a while ago. Last time we found a whole field of poppies. What would we discover this time?

Right on top of the hill we met a ewe and two lambs. A ewe with a view, perhaps, though her eyes were firmly fixed on some tasty grass.

If these sheep raised their heads for a while they would see that most of Bedfordshire is a flat arable plain dotted with villages and towns. 

There seem to be fewer sheep up here than there once were and it appears that they are moved around on a rotation designed to allow the vegetation and wild flowers to recover. Those purple dots are Pyramidal Orchids.

They are reasonably common on chalky soils like this - if the sheep don't nibble them before they get a chance to flower. We walked on around the head of a short valley; Skylarks sang overhead and Red Kites patrolled the hills searching for carrion.

It was too early to stop, but we stopped anyway! Sometimes you just have to sit and soak up the scenery, especially when someone has gone to the trouble to erect a bench in just the right spot.

There were glimpses down into the valley.... well as a panorama including the flank of Deacon Hill. 


We continued on our way, stopping here and there to look down the steep valley sides.

I made a very short detour to meet a Hebridean Sheep. Although sheep can destroy the natural vegetation they still have a part to play in maintaining the landscape: it's all a question of herd density and the kind of sheep that are kept. Several rare breed sheep and cattle are used on these hills.

The long ridge behind Deacon Hill is revealed from this angle. That skinny lone tree on the horizon was passed earlier in the day and gave us a good idea of the route we'd taken.

We passed this fenced off area which at present is ablaze with Rosebay Willowherb, known as Fireweed in some parts of the world. This is also a conservation area, dedicated, believe it or not, to the preservation of "arable weeds". This much maligned group of flowering plants have almost been sprayed to extinction by farmers who are keen to maximise the output from their fields. Some of these plants produce seed which is harmful to humans and, however much you admire the flowers, you really wouldn't want the seeds turning up in your flour.

A telephoto shot shows some buildings down in the tiny village of Pegsdon - that's the way we're heading.

A glance back to where we've been. And that's a Red Kite high above all. Thirty years ago I saw my first Red Kite and I had to travel to mid-Wales to see that, but since those times they've made a remarkable recovery and we usually see one or two on most of our walks.

Across the Pegsdon road we made another loop to take us back to the car.

This is where the poppy field was a few years ago and there are still a few here and there. This little trio were set off quite beautifully by the yellow Bird's Foot Trefoil.

On the other side of the track were patches of Restharrow, a plant which gets its name from the way in which its dense tangled roots caused problems when breaking up the soil with horse-drawn harrows - it literally "arrested the harrows".

At length we arrived at the viewpoint overlooking Knocking Knoll - that's the grassy hillock in the centre of the photo. Someone's bound to ask, so here's the explanation of the name that I gave in the past to one of your questions:

"The story goes that a British chieftain is buried under Knocking Knoll with a chest of money. From time to time he can be heard knocking on the chest to check that it's still there! Or more likely it comes from "cnycyn" an old Welsh word meaning a hillock - I know we're not in Wales but lots of English hills have Welsh elements in their name; the language in the past being spoken over a much wider area".

From there it was but a short stroll through some woodland till we again came in sight of Deacon Hill, with clouds building in the blue sky above it. Soon we were driving towards the village of Great Offley.

Ah, yes. The pub was a lot busier than it looks from here - everyone was in the restaurant ordering their lunch. Despite being part of a national chain of pubs the Green Man rises above the usual quality (and quantity) of the meals in such places. It also exceeds the normal standards of views from the beer garden....

Take care.