Just over a week ago we were under several inches of snow and ice with the temperature struggling to get above freezing. Yesterday the wind fell light, the sun was out and it was in mid-teens centigrade. Time for a long overdue walk. Will nature have recovered quickly? What will we see?
Everywhere the Robins were announcing their claim to territory. Their glorious song filled the air. Full volume now, not the subdued version they will utter even in the depths of winter. They mean business. To our ears beautiful music, to a rival a challenge, throwing down the gauntlet!
Banks of snowdrops and crocuses filled country gardens, groups of daffodils in sheltered spots already in bloom. Wild flowers starting to appear on the verges of the country lanes, Bright yellow lesser celandines, small blue speedwells, daisies and dandelions. New growth pushing through and in the warmth you could literally smell it!
Along the 7 mile walk my eyes were peeled. I just felt the conditions would awaken a hibernating butterfly. Like last year it was Mrs H who spotted the first, a Peacock, and as is her way kept reminding me of it (didn’t think it was a competition). A few miles further on, as we were admiring the local Alpacas, a lemon yellow male Brimstone danced past right under our noses and did a circuit of the paddock. I got my first butterfly photo of the year just a mile from home. A fluttering by an ivy hedge caught my eye and there a Peacock in pretty good condition (considering it spent the winter possibly in a hole in a tree) sat in the sun, posing, allowing me the pleasure to capture the moment for posterity.
Hopefully this isn’t a false dawn and we can enjoy more days like this in the weeks to come, I can’t wait!
Under restrictions we are to stay at home (except for essential shopping or work) , only go out once a day for exercise and can meet just one person from outside the household. This is a bit limiting for places to go where I can find subjects to photograph at this time of the year. Luckily we live on the edge of town and at the end of our street is the ‘Weaver’s Way’ footpath which leads into the countryside. A couple of Sundays ago it was bright sunshine after a frosty night so we took a wander.
The field paths were nicely frozen and made easy walking. The roads however were like skating rinks!
We made our way cautiously through the hamlets of White Horse and Spa Common. Amazing the amount of traffic on the country lanes considering we are in lockdown. More amazing was the speed they travel on the icy roads, wish I knew what tyres they use! We reached the canal bridge at Bacton Wood Mill and decide to follow the course of the disused waterway north. No cars and the going easier underfoot.
A short history lesson. The North Walsham & Dilham Canal was constructed in 1825 just in time for the coming of the railways to make it obsolete! It mirrors the path of the River Ant from it’s source at the spring fed Antingham Ponds for approx 9 miles (14km) to Smallburgh. This is the only man-made waterway in Norfolk with locks to raise and lower the boats, there are 6 locks in total. Cargo was mostly offal for the bone mills at Antingham but also other produce was transported both ways. One problem was inadequate water supply to operate the locks so only one boat could make the journey each day. The canal was a commercial flop and the last wherry the ‘Ella’ sailed here in 1935.
The canal soon fell into disrepair and nature took over. 20 years ago a volunteer group was formed to restore it. 2.5 miles were cleared of reed and scrub from Ebridge water mill to Swafield bridge. Half this stretch now has water in it whilst permission for the rest to be re-watered is on hold. The lock at Bacton Wood Mill has been completely restored and new gates put in at Ebridge. The locks are much bigger than those on other canals. This is due to the type of craft that plied their trade. On the industrial waterways of the midlands and north they were barges or narrow boats, here it is the unique Norfolk Wherry.
The wherry was the workhorse of the Norfolk Broads and rivers. About 50ft long, 12ft wide and with a draft of 3.5ft and made of oak. The single gaff rigged sail and forward mast were designed to be operated by just one man (though they usually had a boy as well), the sail and mast can be quickly lowered to allow the wherry to ‘shoot’ bridges. The keel could also be removed and towed behind to let the craft negotiate shallow water. The distinctive black or dark brown square sail was covered in fish oil for weather proofing. Only two traders are now afloat, carefully preserved. There are a handful of others that were turned into pleasure yachts for the growing holiday trade. The rest of the 300 or so built were unceremoniously sunk to block entrances to private waters or in mass ‘graveyards’, the remains of many can be seen at low tide in various parts of the Broads.
The photo above shows how quickly reed can take over. About three years ago this stretch was cleared and filled with water to make sure there were no leaks, it was then drained again. The bridge is the only one that has been replaced to help modern traffic and the the house on the left is the former ‘Wherry’ pub which closed in ’65.
Hope you enjoyed my slightly historical ramblings, as you might gather I have a fascination for this canal which goes back to boyhood days when we used to go and ‘explore’ or try and catch sticklebacks (little fish). Maybe one day restoration will be completed.
For those of you outside the UK who don’t follow the news…. As of last night our Country has, again, been placed in full lockdown. This new covid variant has caused cases to sky rocket, hospitals are almost full and sadly loss of life is increasing. Our PM has said if all goes well with the vaccine roll out restrictions could be eased mid-Feb, 7 weeks. A look through the window, cold, wet, windy, my mood is not getting better.
Let’s take a look back at the last twelve months and reflect on happier times in an awful year.
The new year started in grand style with a luxury hotel break in mid-Wales. We were on an organised coach trip and got to see the sights of the Elan Valley and the Cambrian Mountains. On the return home a stop in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon. Little did we know what was in store.
Into early spring and as temperatures rose the first butterflies appeared in the garden, just in time for the first lockdown. The (my) world became eerily quiet. Roads were deserted and skies empty of planes. At work and customers were panic buying, shelves emptied and supplies ran out. Surreal.
As spring progressed I spent my time in the garden or walking the country lanes around the village. I was getting itchy feet. Driving the few miles to a favourite Broad I felt like a criminal. I craved to be out by the wetlands and the dragonflies and butterflies welcomed me with their beauty.
By June restrictions eased and I ventured the 120 miles down to Essex to photograph the Heath Fritillary, one of Britain’s rarest butterflies. It was my first venture onto roads other than between home and work and it felt unreal, like I had never driven before. Locally and the Silver-studded Blue’s emerged on the heath. It was so peaceful just to sit among them.
July was a major upheaval as we sold our home of 30 years, moved into temporary accommodation with Angela and Simon and set about buying a new house. We still had plenty of free time to explore the local countryside and found some superb wildlife. I ‘treated’ Mrs H to a trip to Canvey Island in Essex to see the rare Southern Migrant Hawker dragonflies and got my best ever in-flight shot.
We moved to the new home in September. Lots of decoration and garden clearance but we had a pond, somewhere I would spend hours watching the comings and goings. Most of the year and sport was banned, then allowed with no spectators. As you are aware I’m a drag racing addict and I was getting ‘cold turkey’! Santa Pod Raceway announced a trial of three races with limited entry and lots of guidance, no matter, I was going!
Restrictions started getting tighter again. I had made the massive decision to take early retirement from the end of October. Life’s too short to spend your days stacking shelves in a supermarket during a pandemic. We were allowed out to exercise so I went to Suffolk to ‘exercise’ and just happened upon a very rare bird I had not seen before, as you do.
We also started going on long walks with our friends Rose and Mick. These hikes are now not permitted. We can walk locally around town but no more driving to beauty spots.
The last year proved it can have its good times. It must be said that my part of the Country was the area with the lowest infection rates. This is no longer the case, now we are among the highest. Spring will come again and if the vaccine is a success the future could be brighter.
Sunday and with sun forecast all day we could get a walk in. It’s been a bit wet of late so we haven’t had a chance for a couple of weeks. As everyone enjoyed my last choice I was tasked with picking another so I settled on an old ‘stomping ground’ Horsey.
We started at Horsey Mill. This drainage pump is the best preserved of these iconic Norfolk sights. It is in the hands of the National Trust and a couple of years back was given a new cap and sails. Then we crossed the very soggy marshes to the coast. For several miles on this stretch is an extensive dune system and this sand and marram grass is all that keeps the sometimes volatile North Sea from flooding the low lying freshwater Broads network. The last time the defences were breached was the terrible surge of 1953 which claimed many lives on the east coast and Continent.
A big attraction on the beach here are the Grey Seals that from November come ashore to give birth. The area is cordoned off and has a lot of voluntary wardens on duty to stop idiots trying to get close. There were hundreds of people there so we only gave it a few minutes just to get some shots.
The seals are ungainly on land but pretty nimble in the water. They are not my most favourite mammal but the pups are quite cute.
Leaving the madding crowd far behind we headed across some fields to a raised drainage ditch bank. This led us to the ruins of Brograve wind pump. On the way was a small herd of ‘winter swans’ mostly Bewicks but a couple of larger Whoopers as well. Unfortunately too distant for any decent shots.
There are many fascinating tales linked to this mill. It was said the devil chased the landowner here and beat on the door leaving hoof marks. Annoyed at the marshes being drained the devil was said to have tried to blow the mill down, hence the angle of lean (which is actually subsidence, sorry to be a spoilsport). The drainage is now taken care of by a less romantic electric pump.
After six miles we arrived back at Horsey by dusk. Despite the last stretch of narrow path leaving our boots caked in mud all agreed it was a great day out.
Mrs H and myself wish everyone as happy a holiday period as possible in this difficult year. Keep safe and we will see you all again in ’21.
Last Saturday and it was my turn to choose a walk. After going through a pile of assorted maps and books that Mick and Rose had accumulated, I had ear-marked a few. Trouble was they all involved sections of wetlands I am familiar with and at this time of the year could be muddy underfoot. I settled on what I thought would be the easiest, following the River Ant from Ludham Bridge upstream to How Hill then across fields to Ludham village. I was hoping for a bit of brightness but unfortunately the day got gloomier and by the time we had done the seven or so miles it was almost dark. It made photography tricky with such low light but I think adds an atmosphere to the landscape shots.
When I worked at the last boatyard, I would spend a fair bit of time ferrying boats to and from different yards in the winter. Scenes like these are very familiar and to me captures the nicest season on the Broads. This mill was built in 1875 to drain the Horning Marshes into the River Ant so they could be used for livestock grazing.
How Hill is an 800 acre estate with the mansion house built for Edward Boardman in 1905, it is now an environmental education centre and nature reserve.
The men who worked the marshes cutting reed lived in cottages like this. Very basic with no luxuries like running water and electricity. Toad Hole is now a museum and furnished to show the marshman’s life.
Its a new day
But it all feels old.
Its a good life
That’s what I’m told.
It all just feels the same
And my high school: it felt more to me
Like a jail cell, a penitentiary.
My time spent there
It only made me see
That I don’t ever want to be like you.
I don’t want to do the things you do.
I’m never gonna hear the words you say
Cause I don’t ever wanna.
I don’t ever want to be.
You don’t want to be just like you
What I’m sayin’ is this is the anthem
Throw all your hands up
You. don’t want to be you
After 48 years, 8 boatyards (some more than once), 4 builders, post office, HGV mechanic training course, several bouts of unemployment and finally 2 supermarkets I have called it a day, stuck two fingers up to being a wage slave and taken early retirement!
So now I don’t have to get ready for work at lunchtime and spoil a whole day. What shall I do with all this spare time? (apart from the extensive list of to-dos being drawn up by Mrs H!)
It would be lovely to go travelling again once this bloody pandemic gets under control (as of the 5th we are again under lockdown so cannot go anywhere!). Berlin beckons. I really miss being able to see our daughter the Lemming and she is really struggling with all the restrictions she is under in Germany.
Our holiday to Berlin this spring was cancelled very close to departure time and it took many months to get the full refunds. Good job we had not booked a stay on the Greek island of Corfu. I am really looking forward to being able to return here one day. I enjoy the Greek way of life and there is so much more of this verdant isle to explore.
What else can I do to occupy my tiny mind? (yes dear I haven’t forgotten that list). Well I could buy myself another motorbike. Always been part of my life since I was a teenager, I didn’t get a car until I was in my 30’s! I sold my last bike a couple of years back but to be brutally honest I’m getting too old. The condition of the roads (potholes etc) are lethal and the amount of traffic is even more deadly. Best forget that idea.
I could always take up fishing again. When we moved I brought all my old rods and reels with us. It’s been twenty years since I put them in the shed when I lost my love for angling. A lot of the lakes and rivers I fished changed ownership and became private or very expensive. With the birth of our daughter I just gave up but now sitting besides a beautiful river on a crisp autumn morning has an appeal. Perhaps I should dust them rods down, if the mice haven’t got to them!
I could always attempt to see and photograph all 58 species of British butterflies in one year. The amount of travelling involved puts me right off this idea, best to just take your time and enjoy those that come along. We will now be able to go when we please when the weather is good without having to worry about booking holiday time in advance so that’s a bonus! I might invest in a nice shiny new 600mm super zoom lens. I have been pondering the purchase of one for some time and it would make bird photography a lot easier.
Whatever I do in the coming years one thing is for sure, I will grow old disgracefully! I have had years of experience!
If you are still with me after my thoughtful wanderings,well done, see you soon…..
Go to college, a university
Get a real job, that’s what they said to me
But I could never live the way they want
I’m gonna get by and just do my time
Out of step while they all get in line.
I’m just a minor threat so pay no mind
Do you really want to be like them
Do you really want to be another trend
Do you want to be part of that crowd.
Cause I don’t ever wanna.
I don’t ever want to be you
One thing we looked for when searching for a new home was a smaller garden. Seems strange as most people want a bigger plot, yet we wanted to spend more time enjoying things and not tied to endless chores (one and a half hours lawn cutting in our last place!). Our new garden suited us fine despite it being neglected for a while and needing a lot of clearing and chopping back. It’s about a third the size of the previous plot but joy of joys it has a pond! I’ve always wanted a wildlife pond (no fish) but have been too lazy to dig one, now I’m spending ages watching the comings and goings instead of getting on with other jobs.
I was delighted when I saw the first dragonfly appear and a little pond dipping revealed they had made use of the feature before, in among the weed and mud were several dragon and damselfly nymphs. One day two exuvia (cast shells) were on an iris leaf, a darter and hawker, we had had babies!
To date I have noted six species of odonata and egg laying by Common Darter and Southern Hawker. Dragons are not the only visitors. I’ve seen baby newts, a frog and lots of other bugs.
I was delighted with the sixth species of dragon it was a Willow Emerald Damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis). This damselfly only colonised the UK in about 2009 but is spreading across the country. It lays it’s eggs in branches overhanging the water. The larva when they emerge then drop down and continue development underwater. Will it use the dogwood? Probably not but it’s lovely to see one here.
Anyway must get on, jobs to do and ponds to watch!
An exciting day today. We pick up the keys to our new home, the purchase has gone through very quickly by UK standards. Things were made easier as this is the property we wanted to buy at the end of last year but it fell through, so we had all the paper work in place. Luck was on our side as it came back up for sale (another buyer had to pull out) as we were finalising the sale of our old place. The house is bigger than anywhere we have lived before and we have plans and visions for decorating etc. We hope to get the essentials done before moving in the furniture which is presently in storage. The garden is small and not very butterfly friendly, so that needs addressing. There is a number of mature shrubs that require a look at but best of all it has a small but lovely wildlife pond. Fingers crossed I could have dragonflies on my doorstep!
All this work means time (we still have our day jobs to do as well). We will be staying at the ‘Old Apple Store’ until the furniture is in. I cannot envisage having any spare time to get out and about with the camera anytime soon, or for writing any new posts. So, I am going to take a break for a short while. I do hope to find a moment or two to visit your blogs and catch up with what everyone is doing (can’t work 24/7) so until whenever a few shots from the past couple of weeks.
Mid-July and the Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus) start to appear. Also known as the Hedge Brown as this is just the place to see these charming little butterflies.
Who needs a full set of wings? A very old and battle scarred Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
Very pleased with this in-flight of a Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isoceles) over the old canal. Also known as Green-eyed Hawker, you can see why.
Look what I spotted! This rather unassuming looking bird is a Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata). This used to be a fairly common sight however between 1967 and 2010 the population of this summer visitor from Africa has dropped by 89%!
A fresh, second generation Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) seen in the same spot as the Fritillaries.
The Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) is probably the commonest and most wide spread of the high summer butterflies in England.
The Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) was the last British butterfly to be identified. This was because they look like the the Small Skipper (T sylvestris). The difference is the colour of the underside of the antenna tip! On Essex the tip is all black and on the Small, varying shades of brown. The males also have different shaped sex brands (line on the upper forewing). As these butterflies are so small you have to get real close to tell them apart.
Earlier in the week I managed to get out and explore my new surroundings. I walked for many miles along the old canal and around the country lanes. The weather was not perfect but since then summer has temporarily left us and it’s been a bit soggy.
The Banded Demoiselles were present all along the old waterway. If it had been a touch sunnier I’m sure I would have seen more dragon and damselflies. There were however Brown and Southern Hawkers, the big boys of the dragonfly world. A few Black-tailed Skimmers warmed up on the footpath, always difficult to approach they rarely sit anywhere other than the ground. A good number of Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella) were in the nearby ditches.
Even in overcast conditions several butterflies danced among the grasses that bordered the fields. These were the Meadow Browns and Ringlets. I did see my first Small Skippers (Thymelicus sylvestris) of the summer.
Sometimes you come across an area that may look just like dozens of others but for some reason is an absolute magnet for butterflies and other insects. It may be that it’s position is slightly different so offering the perfect micro-climate. I glimpsed one such spot on Sunday and went back Tuesday before the rains came to confirm my sightings were no fluke.
Situated alongside a country lane and public footpath, nestled on the edge of an impenetrable wood was a patch of bramble, nettle and other various wild plants. Here dozens of butterflies sipped nectar or soaked up the odd minute of sun as the clouds gathered. Commas, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Large Skippers, Green-veined and Small Whites, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and better still up to six gorgeous White Admirals. The best of all was magnificent Silver-washed Fritillaries (Argynnis paphia).
Now I have to admit I absolutely love Silver-washed Frits and I was jumping for joy at finding these here. It was only ten years ago that this butterfly re-colonised Norfolk after being extinct for some thirty years. They are a wonderful sight and I tried to convey this to walkers who paused to question what I was photographing. I got the feeling most thought I was slightly eccentric, “a grown man taking pictures of butterflies, how odd”. Some took an interest and it was a pleasure to share my enthusiasm.
Some of you may recall back in April I mentioned that we had sold our property and might end up homeless. Well, in the last couple of weeks everything has moved very quickly. We were given a date to exchange contracts and complete the sale so all our spare time has seen us packing away thirty years of our life and yesterday we moved out. Thankfully we are not on the streets as Mrs H’s great friends Angela & Simon are letting us use their annex while we wait, hopefully, for the purchase of our new home to proceed. We thought our old house was in a rural location, the ‘Old Apple Store’ is even more remote. Surrounded by beautiful garden and only a two minute stroll to the disused North Walsham and Dilham canal.
A spare day before back to work so we decided to explore the old waterway. The sun was trying to peep through and it was warm and sheltered from the strong breeze. Flitting around the reeds were dozens of Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx spledens) looking for all the world like overgrown blue butterflies, I have never seen so many in one place.
The females of this species are green and lack the coloured wings. Difficult to pick out they are charming in their own right.
We saw several butterflies including our first White Admiral (or as the better half called it, a black and white Swallowtail!) of the year. I think a copy of the ‘I-Spy Book of Butterflies’ may be on her birthday list! The habitat is fantastic here and I will probably spend a fair bit of time checking it out when there is a bit more sun.
So a very special thanks to our new ‘landlords’ for allowing us the chance to relax and catch our breaths until we move on again.
I have been a huge fan of Drag Racing ever since my first visit to Santa Pod when I was 7-years-old. I love all Motor Sport but Drag Racing is still the one that gets me jumping around enthusiastically. Despite America having the larger NHRA Championships, which I also continuously follow, I have always preferred European and British Drag Racing. This is mainly because I have grown up with it - the first official FIA European Championships were held in 1996 and I haven't missed a big event at Santa Pod since 1997. When an event is on I get to the track, plonk myself down somewhere along the spectator banking and would very happily sit without moving for the entire weekend watching the racing.