Recent outings and activities...
A visit to the County Clare...
The annual Epping Forest Outdoor Group visit to Ireland this year was to County Clare, leaving home on Saturday 17th June and arriving back on Sunday 25th June.
By way of three cars and the ferry between Holyhead and Dublin, we all travelled to Liscannor, a village on the west coast. The twelve occupants of the three cars met up at Bangor for a meal on Saturday evening and then crossed the Menai Straits to drive across Anglesey to Holyhead. We had pre-booked an overnight stay in a hotel near the port and caught a Sunday morning ferry across to Dublin. There was still a 270-mile or so drive across Ireland to complete before we reached Liscannor in the evening.
Our rented house had been well-chosen by Eileen, situated on a quiet road and with the garden stretching down towards low cliffs and a bay which separated Liscannor from the town of Lahinch. From the lounge we could sit and gaze at lovely views across the bay, with – just a short way away – the fragile-looking remains of the fortress tower from which the village gets its name: the fort of Connor - Lios Ceannúir.
Our first expedition, on Monday, was to the attractive and colourful village of Doolin, some 16km to the north. From there we set out to walk the 8 miles back to where we'd left one of the cars not too far from Liscannor. It was an exhilarating walk, always within sight of the sea, and looking out towards the Aran Islands and beyond to the Galway Coast. Beyond that is nought but America.
The walk is along the the heights of the Cliffs of Moher – grand cliffs rising up to 700ft and reputably Ireland's biggest tourist attraction. For all that, although we met other walkers and maybe some passed us, the only place where it got crowded (really crowded!) was at the visitor centre, about half-way along our walk. The weather was phenomenal. Has 27C. ever been known in Ireland before!
On Tuesday we returned to Doolin, but this time went down to the harbour. We'd booked passage on a ferry to the Aran Islands, so on Tuesday we returned, parked our cars in the village and walked down to the harbour. The Arans consist of three islands off the coasts of Clare and Galway, and are perhaps best known for the production of Aran sweaters. We'd chosen to go to the largest of the three, appropriately named Inishmore, or the Big Island. The others are Inishmaan and Inisheer. Being the largest of the islands, Inishmore is also the busiest, with a bustling harbour bringing lots of visitors in the season. Hence, as well as the shops, pubs and cafes, there are bike-hire facilities, and mini-buses and pony-and-traps waiting to pounce. We chose a mini-bus for a general tour of the island and particularly to visit Dun Aengus.
Dun Aengus (Dún Aonghasa) is a cliff-edge fort, thought to have been built during the Bronze and Iron Ages. One 19th-century description was "the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe." We duly paid our entry fee at the visitor centre and trekked up the access path over the karst limestone rocks that comprise the islands. Despite the heat, and considering the numbers of other visitors – some not so young and some obviously not so fit – well worth the effort.
On Wednesday the three cars carried their occupants on different journeys, depending on what had attracted individuals through looking at the guide books and leaflets. With Brian our driver, Kathy and Lynne, we journeyed to Craggaunowen (Creagán Eoghain). This has a 16th-century castle, which has been renovated from a ruin and is accessible up to the top ramparts, and a reconstruction of an iron-age village, including a crannog, which is a fortified settlement built on a man-made island. The whole is set in lovely woodland surroundings with a number-indicated pathway winding through with examples of constructions from stone, bronze and iron ages. An excited group of piglets came running up to us, squealing down the rocky woodland hillside, but behind a fence. Obviously they were after food, but mum came along and asked them to leave us alone – which all but three did – and then dad came too, and the whole family wandered off into the trees. They were bronze-age-style pigs – in other words, wild boar. At Craggaunowen too is the 'Brendan Boat', the hide boat in which Tim Severin sailed from Ireland to the United States, re-enacting the voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator, who in the 6th century is said to have made that voyage to High Brasil – the promised land out to the west across the Atlantic – and thus discovered the Americas. It may well have been the indigenous people had discovered it before, though.
Wednesday was the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year – and I would have loved to have gone out to the cliffs of Moher – only a few miles from Liscannor – to watch the sun go down oe'r Galway Bay, as well as the Aran Islands. The idea wasn't well received generally with one comment being “You can watch the Sun go down from here”. Well, you can watch the Sun go down from anywhere, it's true – but not always o'er Galway Bay, and not always over the sea – which you couldn't from Liscannor. And also not always on the Solstice. The only saving aspect of my not being able to go to the cliffs of Moher (which was too far to walk) was that it was cloudy. The sunset took place, as it usually does, but I wouldn't have seen it anyway.
Our second long walk was on Thursday, beginning again with a drive to and through Doolin, parking by the sea and a 9 mile walk with a lot of uphill slog onto the edge of the Burren and back down along a long, quiet, country road to the car park. It was a nice walk, and the heat wasn't as great as before, mostly warm, but sometimes with a cool breeze.
The Burren is one of the wonders of Ireland, and unique in the country. It – like the similar Aran Islands – is a landscape of karst limestone pavement, as can be found in parts of the Pennines, for example. However, the Burren is huge, and because of the mild climate combined with a northerly position and sometimes harsh weather, there is a strange and unique mix of plants to be found there – some Mediterranean, some Alpine and some in-between. Many exist in the deep grikes between great slabs of limestone – a bit like paving stones. However, walking a distance in a day doesn't really give opportunity to look closely at the wildlife, so I found myself passing things I'd never seen before and had only read about, and hoping that I'd come back sometime to enjoy the area in closer detail.
On Friday again we set out for different places in different cars. This time Brian, Kathy, Fred and I went to Doolin Cave. Doolin again. It is advertised as a truly wild cave, though a modern visitor centre and cafe is a prelude to an impressive 120-step metal staircase down an 80ft. lined shaft into the cave. There are just-about head-height man-enlarged tunnels to negotiate, and the hard-hats were a necessity judging from the number of times that they could be heard to hit the ceiling as we processed through. It is by no means the most attractive limestone cave system that I have visited; it doesn't even have the traditional organ-pipes, elephant's head and Madonna and child that most do. Nor is it extremely colourful as some are (although I have suspected trick-lighting in some of those). But, the great stalactite is a wonder. It hangs almost alone but for a few much lesser stalactites, in a great cavern. And the cavern needs to be great because this is the second longest stalactite known, the longest being – we were told – in the Lebanon. A look on Google didn't quite dispute this, though longest and largest is of course different, and Mexico comes into it somewhere. The Doolin stalactite, notwithstanding (or notwithhanging, maybe?) is something like 24 feet long, and is truly awe-inspiring (well, at least to me it was). I had a bit of a job getting someone to translate the Irish name (Poll an Eidhneáin) of the cave for me, but eventually got 'Cave of the ivy cliff'.
From the cave we went to Kilfenora, an attractive small town with – amongst other attractions – an old church and some even older stone crosses in the grounds. It was raining a bit there, so we didn't stay long, but proceeded along smaller roads towards Father Ted's house, set way into the countryside and not on Craggy Island. The small roads took us onto the edge of the Burren landscape proper, with limestone walls and patches of the the brilliant Bloody Cranesbill flowers at the roadsides. In the distance we could see Mullaghmore mountain, around which is now an area of outstanding natural beauty and recognised as one of the most distinctive landscapes in Europe. We had a nice tea-shop-stop in Corofin, and wandered down to the River Fergus before returning to Liscannor. That evening we drove to Lahinch for our evening meal, and I seemed the only one disappointed. My choice was a looked-forward-to fish and chips, but this proved to be the most bland fish I have ever eaten. Apart from one experience at Ramsgate – where I am not sure the “cod” was even a fish – I have never had such a poor fish and chip meal. The others apparently enjoyed theirs, though, so perhaps I got a poor one or it was “just me”. The walk back to the cars was enlivened by some of the group drawing faces in the sand of the extensive beach at Lahinch.
Saturday was the day of our departure, and the lady came along at about 9.30 to see what damage we'd done. She seemed pleased that we hadn't wrecked the place, and we said to farewell to her, to the house and to Liscannor, and again chose different routes for our day-long journey back to Dublin in time for the late-night ferry.
Brian, Kathy, Lynne and I travelled at first on relatively smaller roads, and thus encountered some nice scenery, including more of the wonderful Burren landscape. We stopped briefly at Lough Bunny – the name of which for some reason amused me – and experienced the shallow waters changing colours from blues to light green as the light varied, all with a backdrop of distant Mullaghmore mountain. Unexpectedly - because none of us had researched the route- we found Kilmacduagh Monastery, a ruined abbey near the town of Gort in Co. Galway. We might have passed it by had it not been for the round tower, around which is a collection of old monastic buildings, a church and a graveyard which is still in use.
We'd arranged for all cars to meet up at the Ireland's National Stud in the Curragh of Kildare at 3pm., but first we stopped for a nice lunch at Portumna on the way. The town wasn't quaint or anything, just pleasant and with the nice little cafe that we chose.
As planned, we arrived at the National Stud and paid our entrance fee to walk around a Japanese garden, and then some of the rest of the grounds. This is where they have bred and breed some of the most renowned race-horse. We saw Arkell, but he looked a lot underfed to me, little more than bones. It was a nice interlude, meeting up with the others before the final haul on motorways to Dublin.
The crossing was a late one, so we arrived at Holyhead towards 1am on Sunday morning. We'd pre-booked our original rooms at the TL.hotel, so quickly settled down to a short-night's sleep before a quick breakfast in a local fast-food restaurant with a Scottish-sounding name and then the drive across Anglesey and the Menai Straits into an increasingly wet and busy-roaded mainland Wales. We stopped off at Chester for lunch and a cathedral visit, then Brian continued the long drive home through England.
My thanks to Eileen for organising and planning the holiday so well, as she always does, and to Brian for driving all that way up through England, along the coast of north Wales, right across Anglesey and Holy Island, and right across Ireland – and back. And thanks, Brian, for picking me up at the door, and dropping me right back there. That was a weight off my shoulders, and my arms! Thanks too to the others on the holiday who helped make it so enjoyable.
Paul Ferris, 29th June 2017
Rickmansworth Canal Festival - 20th May 2017
Arriving early at Liverpool Street station, Cathy and I made our way to the meeting place, near the Metropolitan Line platform, where we found Duncan. After a short while we were joined by Fred, Val and Ken although Brian had decided not to come, just in case there was the teeniest bit of rain.
At Rickmansworth, we headed towards the canal-side, passing numerous eateries, each looking very enticing and, following the sound of the festivities, found the canal, where there was a lively gathering of people enjoying one of the many musical acts performing. We decided to make our way towards the main festival area, along the canal tow-path, the canal being busy with an assortment of canal boats/barges moored 3 or 4 wide. Boarding one of the boats, which offered day trips along the canals to various groups, suggested a possible future day out, maybe?
Having sampled some (barge made) lavender fudge, strange yet surprisingly yummy, we found the festival’s central arena, at which point the heavens opened up, but we sought shelter in the beer tent. Now this was a notable moment in my life, as I wasn’t inclined to go for a beer (doctor says I’ll be back to normal soon, so don’t worry). A short 5 minute shower and we were back with glorious sunshine, and looking for lunch. Cathy and I went for the healthy jacket spuds, whilst the boys went for a burger/roll. Whilst eating, a lady came round giving out flyers for the group that was dancing on the stage, but didn’t hand one to me. It turned out they was for a 50+ dance group, I must have looked way too young (highlight of the day!!).
We decided to leave the others and investigate some of the many stalls providing all sorts of interesting looking merchandise, and were then ambushed by a much more substantial cloud-burst (oh bother, I thought). We dashed to a nearby large tent, which as it turned out, was the owl stage, where another music act was performing a wonderfully eclectic set which sounded like punk meets country music. They were Jo Carley and the Old Dry Skulls and we stayed and enjoyed their performance.
After finishing our round of the stalls we returned to the canal where we met Duncan and then wandered along the canal, watching boats navigate the locks, before returning to the festival site. Unable to find the others (Val, Fred and Ken), we decided to head back to the lock-side centre via the tow-path for a final view of the proceedings, before returning home.
The festival was a much bigger and busier event than I thought it would be, and apart from the two showers the weather was good. Even if you are not a rivers/canal type person, there’s plenty going on. Many thanks to Duncan for a good day out.
Trev Eley, May 2017
From Sevenoaks to Ightham Mote on the Greensand Way
A disappointingly small number of people suggested that they'd be going on Ken's proposed walk when asked at the club on Thursday evening. My perception is that this has been the case for a few walks now – although more subsequently have turned out than indicated beforehand.
So it was that I travelled to Victoria Station to meet just Ken and Fred - on Saturday 27th May – and did so at the proposed time, by 8.55. The station was as busy as usual as we were getting our tickets - only £3.10 for a Day-return to Sevenoaks with our Freedom Passes and Travelcards. However, as we were being served announcement began that the Underground part of the station was closed due to a person on the line. While waiting for our train, Victoria Station became as populated as a miserable winter Sunday in the '60s.
We hang on outside the ticket barriers where our train was at the platform, hoping that there might be some further arrivals from the Group, but realising that even if there were, they would have had trouble getting there, with the closure. Then Lynne went past. So fast that Ken and Fred didn't even see her and certainly faster than any of the trains at the platforms and probably anybody else on the station. She was through those barriers before my brain could get my mouth into gear to shout, but with Ken's assistance our combined voices caught her attention, and she joined us. And that was it...then there were four.
From Sevenoaks station it is a bit of an uphill haul along town roads and past the back of a T...'s store and near the bus station before you exit the town through a small gate and are suddenly in the countryside of Knole Park. Immediately there were grassy, grazed hillsides, bosky woods (whatever they are) and a herd of fallow deer that didn't pay much attention at all to passing people. There were more deer than there were passing people. We, as people, passed the deer, and then more, and more deer. There were a lot of deer, all beautifully marked in traditional colours – not like the more unconventional costumes that our Epping Forest ones are sometimes prone to wearing. And all more or less unconcerned about our passing – at least until you try to stroke them.
We picked up (but not literally) the Greensand Way, which is a long-distance footpath actually marked on O.S. Maps. I remarked that the name – and indeed the markings on the maps – are not very descriptive because although it might be sand, it ain't green. That didn't deter anyone, so we continued, past Knole House and through very nice parkland country until – crossing a road marked in yellow on the map (which of course was not yellow, or brick) we entered more natural-seeming country, with sandy heaths and scattered trees. Sometimes the scattered trees got together to form woods.
We had been generally climbing from Sevenoaks Station, and at Carters Hill (about 630ft) we emerged onto a path running east along the scarp face of the Greensand ridge, overlooking the Weald to the south. It is a very pleasant route, with a variety of lanes, paths, tracks, wood, grassland and scrub to add interest. Unfortunately, I was suffering foot-wise – and had been since leaving home – so much of the pleasure was negated just by walking. A Paracetamol at a brief rest-stop led to some abatement, but not much.
We were very lucky with the weather. The day before had been hot and clear. Today sometimes a bit of cloud – even a few specks of rain – and there was a breeze. This meant it was neither humid nor burning, and was good for walking. Never quite reaching 700ft, the route took us along the scarp with some short ups-and-downs at about 650ft until we reached the edge of the Ightham Mote estate which – the house being in a hollow – meant that we descended slightly, past some oast-houses and to the garden-grounds of the house itself.
Ightham Mote is a Grade 1 listed mediaeval manor house, surrounded by a moat, and is owned by the National Trust. After having tea (and, for me, another pain-killer) at the cafeteria we showed our N.T. passes and went in to the grounds. We listened to an introductory talk about the origins and history of the manor, then went inside the manor to spend some time looking around the very interesting building.
Our concern at the finish of the tour was to get back to Sevenoaks, and as the manor house is some 2 miles by narrow road from Ightham, and walking narrow roads did not enthuse us, we decided that our best route was to walk by way of footpaths to the A25 road some way north, and hope to catch a bus. That option was at least shorter than walking back to Sevenoaks.
As is often the case – at least I have found – beginning a walk from a particular location is the most difficult part. It begins with orientating oneself with where you are in relation to where you want to be. Essentially, we were in the car-park of a National Trust property, and wished to find an appropriate footpath out. By means of two different scale O.S. Maps and a “You are Here” map of where we were in the grounds, we made our way out, and onto a bridleway. It was a very sharp-stoned bridleway, and unfortunately the wrong one, as we discovered after some few hundred metres. We gained the correct paths, and proceeded to walk the 2 miles to the road – mostly uphill and sometimes steeply so. Strangely, after my pain of reaching Ightham Mote, this for me was a relatively painless and thus more enjoyable part of the trek. Paracetamol is good stuff.
Reaching the pub by the A25 – by now all tired and wanting a bus – Lynne went ahead to see if she could find a bus-stop, and I went into the pub to ask where was one. Lynne's was the better option, because after I'd found out and we'd followed her, she appeared ahead waving her arms madly and encouraging us to run. We tried, but the bus driver did not want to wait a minute or two so we missed the penultimate and hourly bus by minutes.
Anyway, having then plenty of time for a leisurely drink, we got the last bus of the day an hour later, which deposited us at Sevenoaks station in two-minutes time for the train, and we went home.
Thanks to Ken for organising the walk, and to Ken, Lynne and Fred for the company. It was a good walk, totalling 6.7 miles, ascending 1069 ft and descending 909 ft.
Paul Ferris, 28th May 2017
Return to Fingringhoe Wick - 7th May 2017
What a lovely day it turned out to be, yesterday. When I set off to join the EFOG gang in Snaresbrook, the rain-threatening, dull grey morning confirmed that I was right to put scarf in my bag, layers on my 'top' and flask in my rucksack. What do the forecasters know? Where was the promised sunshine?
Still, it was cheering to see the little crowd waiting in Snaresbrook to sort out car shares and soon we were on our way. I was even being chauffeured this time – really appreciated as I'd had a bit of a sleepless night. Thank you Joshi and Sandhya – for your company as well as your care.
The dull weather seemed well set in on the journey, even after we had breakfasted in Heybridge Basin. The giraffes, crocodile and hippo hadn't moved much since our last visit. The food was just as good as I remembered. Looking at the clouds after we left the café, it was just possible to see the white disc of the sun floating above the grey murk. “It is trying to get through.” Marilyn said, smiling at it gently. I asked it to “try harder”.
The sat-nav and a bit of additional guidance from Paul ensured that we soon got to our final destination – Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve. The group had visited the new part of the reserve last year – see the blog entry 21st February 2016 – when I had compared it to a kind of building site. It didn't seem that way any more – but it was just as magical. Perhaps more so. Nature had clearly taken over - with a lot of help from her friends - well done Essex Wildlife Trust.
Talking to others, I discovered I wasn't the only one to think birdsong this year seems to be more varied and loud than usual. They were definitely in good voice at Fingringhoe. I can't remember hearing so many trilling nightingales at once – but I still didn't see any. Of course, there were more birds – including cuckoo, blackcaps and blackbirds – even a buzzard was spotted – perhaps helping to generate alarm calls?
Our chief goal, of course, was to re-visit Ann's Reeds and the new seat. We didn't get lost (thank you Duncan) and we weren't disappointed. I don't think I've ever seen a more photographed bench – and so many smiling faces – as we remembered our very, very dear friend. I could almost hear her 'squeaking' hip and feel her lovely spirit. There were other seat 'memorials' as we walked round, but this one will always be special to us all.
By then the sun had won its battle with the clouds. Its rays beamed on us for the rest of day, encouraging us to jettison layers as we walked round, putting some back on again when wind from the estuary blew through open hide windows. Some of the group changed plans for an early return – it was too good a day to cut short – in many ways.
This time, there were no dramatic surging tides breaking through breaches, no welly-sucking, muddy walks, but the views were magnificent, the late Spring colours fresh and vibrant. The wonders of verdant flora and fauna were multiple.
The waters were calm mirrors, reflecting clouds and sky-scapes; the feeding birds seemed settled and contented, ignoring the sometimes noisy visitors; the opportunities for silent contemplation were blissful. The air was nectar to my polluted London lungs. Thanks to all for making one of my now rare days out with EFOG such a great way to start a new week – soul-strengthened.
Pamela Fleisch, 8th May 2017
A visit to Fingringhoe Wick always gives rise to mixed emotions for me. The emotions always include one of pleasure, but also of sadness and loss. The visit by members of the Epping Forest Outdoor Group on Sunday 7th May to view Ann's Seat and Ann's Reeds held all of these emotions, and perhaps even a little more so.
The approach to the reserve, which is situated on the edge of the River Colne opposite Alresford Creek and really nowhere near any large towns, has always confused me, even though I have driven and been driven there on a number of occasions. The country roads get narrower and narrower, there are almost un-signposted turnings to find, and just before entering the reserve the road – almost a track – becomes sandier and sandier, quite unlike much of Essex. The sandy nature of the soil and the planted Pine Trees give it something of a Suffolk heath feel. As we drove along the approach track, a buzzard was soaring overhead.
The group assembled outside of the visitor centre, having arrived in different vehicles and still awaiting some latecomers, and the sun was shining brightly and there was a warmth to the air that had often been missing over the last few weeks. Some of us wandered over to view the lake in the deep hollow below. Much of the reserve's contours is the result of quarrying over the years, now completed and resulting in a diversity of habitats and landscapes. Mallards, Coots and assorted common duck were visible, and briefly – together with it's whinnying call – a Dabchick visible before diving. A lot of interest was shown by some of the group to the chickens that were roaming about, but my attention was caught by the sound of Nightingales just along the path. I spent some time, within view of the others, trying to spot one, but this is a near hopeless task. They are always so loud, so near, yet so invisible. They are also so rare, and increasingly so. Each year I worry that I shall never hear one again, yet know that Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve is one place in Britain where they still may be heard. I had my camera ready, just in case, and realised that I could record the sound if not photograph the bird, so switched to “record”. That's when the rest of the group turned up, chattering quite as loudly as Nightingales sing, but closer. When they'd either quietened or moved on uninterested, I tried again. That's when a young lad came along, shuffling at the gravel path. The Nightingale continued. I gave up.
Fingringhoe is an excellent place to see badgers, even in daylight – if early enough or late enough, or quiet enough. We were none of those, but I did see the distinctive scrapings at the sandy edges of the footpaths we were walking along. There were Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing, and the quieter and increasingly rarer song of the Willow Warbler. And Blackbirds, too – to my mind possibly the best of all the songs.
At Fingringhoe, the vegetation changes suddenly from scrub and woodland to the wide open views of the Colne estuary, and as we walked up the few steps to the sea wall, just before us was Ann's bench, which I was seeing for the first time. Most of the EFOG group were already gathered around it, so I kept back and looked across the small creeks of the salt marsh below the sea wall towards the Colne. This salt-marsh landscape, with its muddy creeks and low vegetation, is one that has a particular appeal to me. This certainly results from long childhood times spent at my grandma and grandad's plotland bungalow, with its French window looking south across the Pitsea grazing marshes out towards a distant Thames. I used to wander alone as a child by the salt-marsh creeks around Pitsea Hall Creek, where now the Wat Tyler Country Park is. Mud and crabs, purslane and sea-lavender. Out on the Fingringhoe marsh, a solitary Little Egret seemed to be just keeping an eye on the crowd by the bench on the sea-wall, but was completely safe out there with the muddy creeks between it and us. There was no sound of the Cetti's Warbler that Duncan and I had experienced on a previous visit to see Ann's Reeds, before the bench was set up above them. Possibly just a bit too much disturbance this time, but an ideal location for that loud bird, and hopefully – as the reeds develop – a Bittern may take to using it. From the bench, looking across Ann's Reeds, the recently-flooded new part of the reserve was at a low-water point, so the waders that are increasingly frequenting it were far away on its outer edges, near the Colne.
The group got itself together, with a succession of cameras pointing at the group posed around the bench, before moving off to walk along the ridge on the newly-opened track above the breached land. The previous week, two friends had visited the same place, and had sat quietly on the bench and reminisced. They'd known Ann, and appreciated the place in a quieter moment. I shall go back and do that, some time.
The sun was warm now, and it was lovely weather. We were by now split into a number of smaller groups, taking if not different routes, then different directions. Amina and I went into one of the hides and out across the lagoon and scrapes saw two Grey Plover in fine breeding plumage and handsome Sheld-duck swimming around in the shallow waters. The "wardens of the marshes" - the Redshanks - were piping across the waters, and - more distant - the lonely bubble of a Curlew could be heard. These are marsh and estuary sounds indeed.
A small group of us gathered together, and I suggested that a right-turn from the ridge-track rather than the more direct route back to the visitor centre could make a more varied walk, so that we did. It's a walk I know and like, mostly parallel to the stream that feeds the reeds. It follows at first a wide-cut grass track between Hawthorns – complete with May blossom – passes by an ancient meadow and then enters something of a wonderland of narrow paths along rising and descending ridges. Last year when Duncan and I walked this we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing a Turtle Dove – another of those sounds of the countryside that is almost gone now. We weren't so lucky this year – not with a Turtle Dove – but we did hear a Cuckoo. That, to me, is one of the most evocative sounds of Britain in Spring and early Summer. How many more years will we be able to hear that, as well?
Our last - well, not quite last – observation – and that is apart from the pleasure of the walk itself – was of a Green Hairstreak butterfly, already being looked at by a group of four people. These are not necessarily rare creatures, but are decidedly local, so not a butterfly that is commonly seen. And just to round the wildlife aspects off as we got very near the visitor centre – a few Swallows and a few Sand Martins passing overhead – and a male pheasant and his two females in the adjacent fields.
We met the others, already ensconced in the cafeteria part of the centre, joined them in tea and cake and the like, before various sub-groups began to say their farewells and return to their cars and home.
I suspect that all enjoyed their visit to Fingringhoe Wick, to see Ann's Reeds and the bench that the group purchased to her memory. The weather was lovely, and the stroll round the beautiful area was – hopefully - a pleasure to all. I think that probably quite a few of the group didn't perhaps appreciate the wealth of wild things that some of us were aware of – and maybe didn't even know they were hearing Nightingales. Ann would have done, and my lasting image will be of that Little Egret out there on the marsh, watching the group chattering around her bench.
Paul Ferris, 14th May 2017
Photos by Paul Ferris and Peter Gamble
A Week on the Norfolk Broads - 29th April to 6th May 2017
There was nobody from either EFOG or the 18 Plus Group already arrived at Potter Heigham when Fozi and I arrived in Chris's car around mid-day on Saturday 29th April. So we checked roughly where the boats Trevor had hired were moored, and went into a quite busy Bridge Stores Riverside Restaurant and Tea Room to eat and await other arrivals.
Those were forthcoming, together, or rather preceded by, a text message that just about got through the less-than-one-bar signal that seemed to be quite prevalent in these wilder and more desolate parts of the British Isles. Thus it was that having met the other eleven members of our holiday complement we boarded the Broads cruisers and having completed a short introductory course, distributed ourselves roughly EFOG on the smaller Corsair Light 2 and 18 Plus on the larger Jewel of Light – at least for the days.
But that was only roughly, and only for the days, for sleeping accommodation had to be more carefully worked out. As always, though, Trevor's meticulous (almost) planning was done in such a way that we all had a cabin to sleep in – apart from those who had to sleep in the wheel-house/lounge. Also, nobody had to share a double bunk, and to my knowledge no-one did, though some had to share a twin cabin, and some slept in somewhat cupboard-like facilities. Trevor – by the end of the holiday, had tried just about all of them – except my on-my-own (sad) double.
Last year, the weather during the day had been mostly warm and beautiful. The nights were beautiful if you like stars – and cold. This year I was nice and cosy in my sleeping bag at nights, and the days were a mix of bright for one half and dull for the other – and with an annoying tendency towards cold. Hence the choice of clothing in the photo to the left.
We travelled down the River Thurne from Potter Heigham, then up the Bure towards Wroxham. At about mid-day, we moored for a while at Salhouse Broad, where five of us took out two Canadian-style canoes, with myself and Eleanor in one and Trevor, Cathy and one of the 18 Plus group in the other. It was a pleasant experience, messing about on the water, getting used to paddling in synchronisation, fighting against a wind on the way back when our time was up, but also just idly watching the water birds doing their things. During the remainder of the journey towards Wroxham we all on the little boat had the opportunity to take a turn at the helm, or to watch other out-of-practice or newbies-to-the-game weaving from side to side or trying to mow down sailing vessels. We had one interesting incident whilst trying to find night-time moorings when both boats went into a potential mooring, only to find it full and with no easy turn around. The big boat behind us got help from a woman on-shore with a broom, whilst Trevor was driving our boat back and forth trying to get into a turning position without bashing other boats until we came up with a cunning plan. We pivoted round on a wet penny – thanking whoever that there were no gongoozlers (or is that only on canals?) and trailed the other boat some ten minutes later to a more appropriate mooring.
On Sunday we cruised from Wroxham by way of the River Ant and across Barton Broad towards Stalham. More driving of the boat was undertaken by those who wished, and we all felt just a little more confident than the day before. Not to say that some of us didn't do any weaving, though, and not to say that anyone other than those more experienced did any of the harder docking procedures. At Stalham we were able to moor easily in the very large boatyard and walk into town to eat at a decent-enough pub – The Swan Inn.
Monday began with Trevor walking into Stalham to visit the supermarket there. It begins with 'T', and has changed Stalham from a market town into a supermarket town. He'd asked if anything was required for the boats or individuals, and a few requests had been given him. Later, apparently just after he'd bought the requests and left the store, a phone call was made requesting some extras. Then Eleanor and I thought it would be nice to have some wine on board, and whilst I was finishing that request, some jam was added. That's when Trevor asked – with a tone to his voice – whether we wanted vanilla jam or ice-cream jam or what? As I'd never heard of these, I suggested Strawberry might be nice. Somehow, I don't think these late requests went down well, but the wine did. The jam never got eaten, so Trevor – probably rightly – claimed it at the end of the trip.
Our Monday journey was back down the Ant – as the Ant is a no-through river. Monday was also May Day, and hence the First Day of Summer, come what may. It started well weather-wise, as well. We moored for a while at How Hill, which is a lovely spot with an historic marshman's house called Toad Hall Cottage and, on a knoll fifty feet above the river, the other extreme – How Hill House. From here there were great views of the marshes and waterways and lovely and extremely carefully tended gardens, with rhododendrons, azaleas and manicured hedges. The lovely sunny and warm morning meant that we were also treated to many butterflies and bees. Louise said that it was like something out of Alice in Wonderland, and another visitor commented to us that it was like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
Continuing the boating part of our holiday, we turned left into the Bure near St Benet's Abbey (Remains Of) and bore-right with the Bure where it meets the Thurne near Thurne at a place called Thurne Mouth. Now we were heading south, towards Acle. Here we said fond and sad farewells to members of our EFOG crews, as Cathy, Louise and Fozi had to return home. They got a cab from Acle Bridge, accompanied by Trevor to ensure they got away. We moored for the night there, and had a good meal at a Bure-side restaurant/pub before retiring to our respective boats and bunks. We were still boat-hopping at that stage, and Trevor was beginning to experiment with sleeping in different bunks each night – strangely after the women had vacated them.
Tuesday was still May, but the summer seemed to have gone back to April, at least to start with. We began by some of the dwindling group taking the Corsair Light 2 back to Potter Heigham, and thus saying farewell to Steve and Sammy (18 Plus) and to Chris and to Phil. (EFOG), whose time was up. The rest of us – minus Trevor who had gone back with them to Potter to return the boat – journeyed along the River Bure, which had a distinctly easterly direction to it, as did the wind. The Bure becomes more and more maritime as it nears Great Yarmouth, and we were beginning to see wading birds on the muddier and muddier banks, along with seaweed. It get busy going into Yarmouth Town, where – on account of the wind – everybody had their heads bowed down. But you have to get away from Yarmouth Town, and the wide open spaces of Breydon Water is where you do that. This is like driving at sea, though keeping between markers to indicate the navigable channel. Then into the quieter waters of the Waveney, to moor up at St. Olaves where Trevor was waiting for us, and to have lunch at the pub there.
Later in the day we moored up at Oulton broad, near Lowestoft, having crossed from Norfolk into Suffolk and from the northern Broads to the southern ones. It's a convenient mooring at Oulton, because there are shore facilities such as showers, places where you can draw money, and places where you can spend it. We chose to spend ours at The Waveney, a pub. Last year we'd taken part in a quiz here, came first and won wine and the food was alright. This year there was no quiz and the vegetable portion of our meals was indisputably mean. I told the barman so, and at least one other of our group did, too.
On Wednesday we travelled back along the Waveney as far as Haddiscoe, where we turned left into the New Cut, which is a short-cut-canal to enable vessels from Norwich to access Oulton Broad and thus the sea without looping around Burgh Castle, up by Breydon Water. At the end of the cut, and regaining the Bure, we stopped off for a while at Reedham, where some of us walked around the small village. Although at its highest only a few metres above sea-level, because if the surrounding landscape there is a feeling of height. I like Reedham. It seems like a “real” place without the ostentatiousness of some Broadland water-side communities. But I may be wrong.
We passed the sugar-factory at Cantley, where proper British sugar is produced from proper British crops, and drove towards Norwich. We didn't actually quite get to Norwich, but then we hadn't intended to, but moored instead for the night at the Surlingham Ferry pub near Brundall. The meals we had here were wonderful – all fresh and wholesome and plentiful. We chatted to the lady behind the bar, who'd lived in the area all of her life. She had a lovely boat moored by the pub in which I think she lived, at least during the summer. What a difference the Surlingham Ferry was to The Waveney of the previous evening.
Thursday required a long 18-or-so mile journey back, including crossing Breydon Water, to Stokesby. This was a lovely mooring, right outside The Ferry Inn with – on the opposite bank – just a view of the reeds and no other horizon. We were early enough to go into a cafe for a snack before the pub in the evening where we'd planned to go for a meal. The cafe was delightful, with good and plentiful food and a highly entertaining – if somewhat dry-humoured – cafe owner, whose accent was not at all Norfolk but more, as it turned out, Chadwell Heath. Our pub meal later was good too, but we determined to go back to the cafe in the morning for our breakfast.
Friday morning broke as one of the sunniest of the whole week, with a beautiful blue sky and a glorious Sun illuminating the pretty village. Our breakfast was just as good as we'd hoped and set us up for the penultimate day of our holiday, heading for a mooring at Ranworth Broad. Ranworth is not actually on the way to Potter Heigham, but necessitated a return travel up the Bure, turning left at Thurne Mouth, passing the remains of St. Benet's Abbey again, passing the little River Ant which we'd taken on our second day, and pulling in to moor stern-on at Ranworth Staithe on Malthouse Broad. This is another favoured mooring, and I remember it well from last year. There is a conveniently close shop for basics and trivia, the Maltsters pub a few hundred yards or metres away, public conveniences, and loads of attentive wildfowl mooching about in gangs. In that respect it's a bit like St. Ives with its rogue seagulls. Here, the gangs wander about on the roof of your boat in the early hours of the morning. Nice enough is Ranworth, although a bit classy and doesn't have the same feel of reality as did – for example – Reedham.
Trevor and I wandered off to look at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Ranworth Broad, which is a lovely and an interesting place, managed to show different aspects of the Broads environment from woodland through carr, to reed-bed and water. Or maybe the other way round. We had our annual ice-cream in the visitor centre and then visited St. Helen's Church – known as the Cathedral of the Broads. It is possible to climb to the church tower from whence there is a magnificent view, but we didn't do that. The church also has one of – if not the – finest rood screens in the country. Returning to the boat, just as we got there we heard a cry of “She's fallen in the water!” We assumed it was a dog, and dog's do that. They commonly happily swim out and shake themselves dry with a waggy tail, or get one their owners to do it with a soggy towel, whilst the other owner extricates him/her self from the water after attempting a totally unnecessary rescue. However, in this case it was the young child on the boat next to ours that had gone in, with – rightly – her dad immediately after her. This could have been nasty, particularly as it was at the stern of the boats which are together, and against the bank. Dad offered up the child to one of our crew, Francesca, who of course offered it over to its mum. Mum and child were distraught and dad was wet. Nobody was drowned, and Francesca was congratulated on her assistance, and rightly so. Later in the evening, when mum and child had calmed down and were smiling, I suggested that we should play Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle's 'Swimming Song' to them: “Last summer I went swimming, last summer I might have drowned...” but they said I was evil, and we didn't.
Trevor was still trying out different cabins and he spent the night in one of the smallest (which Eleanor had occupied originally and another of the group had found claustrophobic). I stayed where I was and after a good meal at the Maltsters, spent my last night aboard in my usual cabin, only banging my shins once and getting cramp as I walked across the walls and cupboards to get out of bed.
It was an early (7.30) start the following morning (Saturday), as we needed to get the boat back to Herbert Woods Boatyard at Potter Heigham and catch a bus to Great Yarmouth, to catch a train to Norwich, to catch a train to Stratford, to get home. The bus arrived promptly at 10.20, and the rest of the journey was uneventful. It was over.
During our trip we had been accompanied daily by the sounds of Reed Warblers and Cetti's Warblers. We'd also been privileged to hear Grasshopper Warblers, and see a few Kingfishers. One Cuckoo was heard, on May 1st, and we saw our first Swallows - but they didn't necessarily herald a summer any more than May Day did. We didn't see any seals or otters as last year, but lots of Marsh Harriers were a constant reminder of how valuable these reed-beds, rivers and broads are to England's generally diminished wildlife. It's a pleasure to note that we'd seen lots more Harriers on the northern parts of the Broads than last year, which may indicate an increase in their numbers. Of course, not everybody is interested in these aspects of where we were, and are happy just to cruise along in a peaceful landscape or to have the opportunity to learn just a little about the handling of a river-craft. It's a nice holiday, and I have to give thanks and congratulations to Trevor for organising so well a complex procedure – especially with people not being able to stay the full time and finding ways to get them to a convenient railway station. Also thanks to the 18 Plus Group, for inviting EFOG members to join them once again.
To compare this year's Broads Adventure with last year's, see here.
Photos and article by Paul Ferris, 9th May 2017
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