Recent outings and activities...

Gor' - luv a duck - another great day out for EFOG, this time to Barnes Wetland Centre, on 10th April.

When the suggestion to go there had been made at the programme planning meeting, about thirty-two people had thought it was a good idea, and because of the huge numbers expected, we reckoned three leaders should be employed. So, we were pleasantly surprised to find that on the actual day, five members turned up. Unfortunately, Steve was unable to be there on the day, but Fred and I thought we could cope.

Peter, Maz, Jane and Fred went by car, and apparently had a lovely journey. What a joy it must have been to be driving across London on such a fine day! The other group - who couldn't afford the petrol - consisted of myself and a contingent of one member - Pam - and two non-members: Janis and Jenny. Maz was heard to comment that I'd arrived with my harem, but that's not quite fair as non of them are even Turkish. (One is part-Welsh, though – so that may count)

We all spent the beginning of our visit to this wonderful waterfowl reserve by sitting in the sunshine drinking tea and coffee and eating cream cakes. Fred said it was much like being on holiday, and he was thinking that being retired wasn't such a bad thing after all.

However, the relaxation couldn't last, as at midday there was to be a duckling display. With the usual EFOG enthusiasm for excitement, we made our way to the lodge in the North American section, with posters of bison and beavers and deer and antelope playing. We hadn't really known what to expect from a duckling display – Jenny thought something like the Red Arrows, but Paul had in mind more like formation underwater swimming with red, white and blue ribbons trailing from their tails (It's called “Tailing”). However, what we experienced was perhaps even more remarkable (but maybe not). The ducklings were of a variety called “Runners” - apparently bred at a place called Bow Street to pursue villains in much the same way as geese are used to deter Rottweilers from breaking into farmyards.

barnes_duck_display_100410_40306smallDuckling Display at BarnesThe ducklings, of which there were five (including one that seemed to be able to make itself invisible from my vantage point), were performing in – of all things – a kiddies garden pool; one of those thin yellow plastic things. The pool was empty of water, but they had in there with them a dish with food placed on it to keep their peckers up, and a water-dispenser – totally unlike those that you get in a typical office scenario where they've gone beyond taps.

Being Runners, their display consisted of running in very complex – one could even say unpredictable – patterns, round and round the pool. These fascinating movements were interspersed with individual demonstrations of sitting down, falling over and even at times apparently falling asleep in the food bowl ! The Great Duck-mistress – who it must be said was not of duck-breed - explained that they were only a couple of weeks old, so their skills would certainly improve with age and experience. Already, these ducklings were so revered for their art that like all the elite, we were told that to touch one would result in severe punishment from the Great Duck-mistress. Inevitably, of course, some of the younger members of the audience and Maz were so drawn to these wonderful creatures that their hands strayed towards them, but a sharp rap on the knuckles quickly put a stop to that!

The demonstration over, we exited from the lodge blinking in the sunshine and from amazement. What a start to our visit! The sight in the pools nearby of Buffleheads, Crested Mergeezers and Deadly Venom-spitting Smew could hardly compare to what we had just seen! Sad to say, we didn't see any beavers, bison or deer or antelope playing. Personally, I have to say, it's a bit of a con just to encourage visitors. The crocodile in the African section didn't look too real to me either; I suspect it was actually a model one – just a deception. Sir Peter Scott has a lot to answer for – especially the massacre of the Ruddy Ducks. Ne Ne, I hear you say!

Still, not to let these things spoil the day, some of our group of eight – which was by now two groups of four (hold on: 2x4 equals - er... 1,2,3,4 plus 1,2,3,4....yes that's right), were treated to not just one but TWO water voles singing to each other in the reeds. And a frog on a log.

So the day was excellent – we probably all got sun-burnt, definitely four of us got chucked out of the binocular emporium for overstaying their closing time and not buying anything, and the two groups of four never met up again and went home their separate ways. Next time we are going to do the other half of Barnes Wetland Centre and I might well take another Cornish pasty to defrost on the way and save some money on buying food at the Centre (it is a bit expensive there).

Paul Ferris, 11th April


Cycling on the Cambs/Herts border

The  weekday weather forecast for last Sunday was for heavy rain, so we were relieved to know on the Saturday that sunny intervals would be around for the next day.

At Steeple Morden , Bill and Inger (and Gill Light) were waiting with their bikes.  We were puzzled as there was no sign of their white van.  Had they cycled all the way from Pymoor and were then prepared to go a further 20 miles ?  Er....no.
Lurking in the car park behind us was a new sleek black hatchback, which had a 2-bike rack that could be stored in the boot when not in use.   A useful bit of kit and much admired.

We were soon joined by Cliff , Ann, Duncan and Parviz.   Leaving Steeple Morton we set off in the direction of  "Wrestlingworth". Fearing that the folk there might be violent we continued on to Eyeworth !

Cycling in CambridgeshireThis was a typical village ; old houses nestling alongside new ones, and everywhere there were daffodils ; on verges and in gardens , and some had even been planted alongside one of the deep fen-like ditches. I noticed some early yellow coltsfoot by the road and the white blossom of the blackthorn was starting to show as well.  Where there were trees there was the first green tinge to the branches ; the new shoots displacing the black/brown boughs of winter.

The roads were undulating - no obvious steep hills but there were several long inclines. When cloudy, a stiff cold breeze sprang up and in this headwind even the inclines were a challenge.  However, there were several long downhills on quiet lanes so the sprinters among us could take off and blow away the cobwebs.   This is an area of arable farming and the landscape often lacked trees , hedges and fences ,so fields under cultivation were huge.  It was strange to see nothing but big green mounds of growing crops right up to the horizon.

We cycled through the immaculate villages of Dunton and Edworth,and stopped at Hinxworth, where an unusual war memorial presented itself as a lunch venue.   A central clock tower was flanked by a high wall on either side, complete with wooden seats. Just the place for a group photo as well.

cambs 100328 3192The sun decided to shine and we were glad of the slight warmth as we ate our sandwiches. On the tower a plaque recorded that the restoration of the clock tower in 1997 was funded by Major Robert Clutterbuck , no doubt a descendant of a Vincent Clutterbuck whose name was inscribed on the WW1 Roll of Honour.  We were nearly shot off our seats when the bell in the tower above our heads struck one o'clock !

Apparently Hinxworth was known as 'Haingesteuuorde' in the Domesday Book of 1086: 'enclosure where stallions are kept'. Judging by the number of horseboxes in people's yards as we went around, and Newmarket not a million miles away, the locals are certainly keeping up the tradition !

We continued to the large, vibrant village of Ashwell and then on back to our starting point at Steeple Morden.  Cliff was in good spirits as he had found a lucky dried rabbit's foot before we set out, and Inger had managed to purchase a bunch of leeks on the way round.

We all thanked Inger and Bill for organising the ride (20 and a half miles) and then fell to the task of putting bikes on racks before leaving this interesting corner of Cambridgeshire and North Hertfordshire.

Jill D.

EFOG Spring Clean Up in Bath, 2010

Over the weekend of 13/14th February 2010, 19 members of the EFOG went to Bath for the weekend on our Spring getaway.  Staying in the very convivial Lansdown Grove Hotel, the group had a tourist day on the Saturday and got down to the serious business of walking on the Sunday.

With the weather being unpredictable as it has been this last few weeks, most of the EFOGs decided to join a guided tour of Bath. Who says that nothing is free!!  This tour was funded, I guess, by the local authority.

With added non-Effogers, we were a large group (about 25-30)  and our guide Cheryl was a gem; she was enthusiastic and had a great sense of humour, you could always hear what she said and she held all our attentions for whole 2+ hours that we were with her.

The origins of the bubbling mud and springs which made Bath famous can be traced back to 863 BC to Bladud the son of King Hudibras. Bladud had the misfortune of contacting virulent leprosy and was banished from court to wandering with pigs in the countryside to survive. He discovered that the condition of the pig’s skin improved with wallowing in the mud and waters and wondered then if his own problem would also improve. The rest is history - he recovered and returned to court and on the death of his father become King.

The Romans arrived in 43 A.D. and were similarly impressed with the healing powers of the waters and amongst many things built the famous spa baths which in part are still standing to date.

Bath always remained an important place of business and pleasure and in the Georgian period the town was transformed on a grand scale.  Richard ‘Beau’ Nash set about improving the seedy social habits of the upper classes of the time and improving the lot of the poor and needy.  John Wood, an architect, and in later years his son, designed the famous Royal Crescent and The Circus, the Assembly Rooms and many other buildings which still stand and bear witness to the skills of this well respected man.

Pulteney Bridge, BathPulteney Bridge, Bath

Many famous people have lived in the Royal Crescent and The Circus: The Duke of York, Sir Isaac Pitman (who invented shorthand), William Pitt the elder, the artist Gainsborough, David Livingstone and Clive of India to name just a few.

After being hit with such a massive input of historical facts and figures we were all understandably thirsty and in need of the local waters and refreshments, in particular Sally Lunn’s Bath buns, which we all pursued with animated enthusiasm.

As a side trip, a couple of the Efoggers also made it to Bristol, about 12 miles down river with a particular destination in mind – the waterfront with its converted warehouses and the restored SS Great Britain.  An iron-hulled steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and launched in 1843, the Great Britain also had six masts, and was as fast under sail as the Cutty Sark.  The Great Britain sailed around the world 32 times and continued sailing until 1886.  She was finally abandoned in 1937 off of the coast of the Falkland Islands.  In 1970, the historic ship was raised, towed back to Bristol and has now been restored as an impressive museum which the visitor can go in, round, and under!

After all of that history, Sunday was for the serious business of walking.  The group took the train to the pretty town of Burham on Avon, about 9 miles outside of Bath, and after a brief look around the town’s historic attractions and a refreshment stop at The Bridge Victorian tea room,  walked back to town along the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal.  The canal was built by John Rennie and opened in 1723.  To solve the problem of the change in gradient along this section, the canal was built criss-crossing the River Avon using two dramatic aqueducts at Avoncliff and Dundas.  It’s a very popular spot for both walkers and cyclists – for the very keen you can walk the entire way to London using the canal path and other linking waterway paths, around 250 miles!   Another trip for EFOG perhaps!

After a wash and brush up, we reconvened at the dining table for a last get together before dispersing the next morning by bus, train and car back to London and parts surrounding.  Many thanks to Ken and Susan for their organisation of another very enjoyable weekend.

Val and Sue

Greenwich Walk -- London Meal

It's a great group this; at short notice I offered to lead a walk that had been programmed to be in the Greenwich area, so that's where I aimed for.

On February 27th, ten of us met at Stratford station at 10.30 to catch the DLR via Canary Wharf to Mudchute, pointing out important historical landmarks such as where I went to school and where I lived on the way.  At the station before Mudchute I decided to get off so as to approach the walk from a slightly different angle to that which I had planned an hour or two before.  There had been a certain excitement from Val who had remembered a certain drinking establishment favoured when she had worked on the Isle of Dogs, and more excitement from Maz when she realized we would be seeing (she hoped) the animals at the city farm she remembered from when she too had worked there.  Perversely I ensured that before that we had walked a circuitous route around the Mudchute area, taking in some mud, some snowdrops and some weird ducks.  Unfortunately we encountered the cafeteria en route and a slight rebellion occurred when coffee, chocolate, and various cakes were demanded.

Eventually the walk continued - at last taking in the animals - after which we made our way to the river-front at Island Gardens.  One of the things about our group when we are out walking - as opposed for example to a Ramblers' group - is that we don't maintain the sensible rule of not walking ahead of the leader.  Thus it was that a couple of members dived into the foot-tunnel access while my intention was to show the group one of the finest views in London.  This is across the river towards the Royal Naval College buildings and beyond to the Observatory buildings on the hills of Greenwich.

View from Greenwich ObservatoryView from Greenwich ObservatoryWe made our way through the foot tunnel emerging to where the Cutty Sark used to be (or where it still is, but under wraps). We had perhaps expected rain, but in fact there was some blue sky and white clouds as well as some quite grey ones.  In other words there were quite dramatic views along the Thames.  Passing between the buildings of the Royal Naval College, crossing the road and passing the National Maritime Museum, we walked the well-used path up to Greenwich Observatory, taking care not to tread on tourists.  The usual throng of visitors were there - some in the eastern hemisphere and some in the western, and some with their legs apart in both.  And there we had our second rebellion, when two of our members disappeared into the building complex.  The rest of us, perhaps not too reluctantly, eventually followed and this was followed by a gradual wandering of everybody in different directions.  Quite unreasonably at this the home of time, time seemed to have become meaningless, so it was only after some sort of reassembly that we realized that we had misplaced one of our newer members.  Now if this had been one of our long-term members perhaps I would not have been so concerned - after all most of us had each other's telephone numbers and anyway we are all adults and used to getting lost and split up.  After some heroic down-and-up-hill effort by Prue (who in reality was trying to exercise off some excess cake) we re-established contact with Tina and continued our walk across Greenwich Park.

Exiting the park by one of the corner gates we negotiated some busy roads to investigate Blackheath.  The heath got off to a pretty good start with muddy paths and gorse, but the majority of it was dire; boring  short grass with almost no shrubs or trees to add interest, only the more distant views and the fun of seeing land yachts and kite-boarders to break the monotony.  We entered the park again and inevitably made our way to the pavilion.  More tea, coffee and cakes - the latter perhaps a mistake - for after that we were soon back in Greenwich Town where we had intended to eat.  It was slightly too early for that anyway so we made a group decision to take a riverboat trip to London so as to be able to eat at a group-favoured restaurant near the Strand.

Yes, it's a great group, this; we had taken on what had intended to be a walk in the Greenwich area - led at short notice - which we had accomplished without losing anybody, and had ended up dining in London.  This isn't necessarily typical of the group, but then the group isn't necessarily typical.

Paul Ferris, 28th February 2010


If February 20 is here, can Spring be far behind.... ?

Winter....an opportunity to walk some of the local walks which, in Summer, tend to be sacrificed for walks farther afield.

Today’s walk starting at New Farm Drive in Abridge, was one such walk.  Only about 7.5-8 miles but full of variety and interest for the ten intrepid EFOG walkers.

Our first point of note was the small airfield at Stapleford, with plenty of private flying activity on this bright Saturday morning. The ground is surprisingly high here above the River Roding, with a distant view of, but thankfully little noise from, the M25. In chasing a hare, Katie, the Greyhound, found why she’d never made it to racing dog! Thankfully the hare won!

Tea break/elevenses at Stapleford Church (with outside seats as a bonus!) and still beautiful bright clear weather with blue skies. On to Curtismill Green then to our lunch stop on a convenient wooden bridge, where by now our boots were so covered in yellowed grass stuck to the mud that they looked like traditional ‘thatched boots’. Onward to cross the B175 at Stapleford Abbotts. from where we had to contend with some more awful mud before reaching the Lambourne End /Stapleford Abbotts road at Crown Park Farm.

A three-quarter mile road plod into Lambourne End was soon over, and we set off down a bridleway to the pretty Lambourne Church, through the woods, and finally back into New Farm Drive, leaving a couple of hundred yards back to the cars. We just made it in time for ‘tea and a bun’ at the Log Cabin Cafe.

A super day, if you didn’t go you missed a treat!

Duncan, 25 February 2010