A circular woodland walk around Cholesbury-cum-St Leonards CP

Cholesbury St Leonards Walk Map
Cholesbury St Leonards Walk Map

I received a text from an old friend who was worried that I had fallen off the face of the earth, because he had not seen any updated on my blog. To remedy the situation I promise I will make extra effort to update more often. My excuse is that I am pretty busy at work in my new role at work, but I quite enjoy doing the updates so will make the time to keep people up to date so here the the first of many more.

On Saturday Helen and I had a long arranged agreement to go for a walk with A&C in the hope of a fungal foray, I thought it was a bit late to be looking for mushrooms, but I will take any excuse to go for a walk in the woods with good friends. A&C are also birds watchers so nature would be on the agenda either way. I thought I would try something new and document the walk for others to enjoy.

A&C picked us up just after 10am much to Helen’s annoyance as she had slept in and was a bit short on time, but we were soon on our way. The walk starts up in the hills near St Leonards. Drive up the hills via the forestry commission Wendover wood entrance, past the golf club then follow the road. Once past the caravan park you will come to a bend in the road at St Leonards church their is a turning on the right onto a road called Gilbert’s Hill. We parked up on the verge of the road at the bottom called Bottom Road.

Cholesbury Fort, Buckinghamshire
Cholesbury Fort, Buckinghamshire

The walk is circular and this would be third week running that I have done it. I first chose it by looking on a map and trying to find a shortish walk which took in a good amount of woodland and was pretty local. It turned out to be a nice fairly flat walk, which I shared with Helen the week after, and when we were deciding where to walk with A&C it seemed like a good choice, as there were mushrooms and birds to spot.

Take the path that leads in to the woods north and follow the path just in the woods next to the open field, until you get to a cross roads take the path right past the bug hole. The bushes on the edge of the woods are a good place to look for birds we saw Redwing, Coal Tit, and Gold Crest. See label (1) on the map you know you are in the right place if you can see manhole covers for a pump station. Follow the footpath towards the house in the distance, the footpath passes through the barn yard of the farm buildings. A pony was making a lot of noise try to catch our attention.

Along the track from the farm there is another food path that joins it with a plaque on the gate remembering a “knowledgeable man”, label (3), there is some scrub-land here it is worth taking the time to scan the vegetation, as if you are lucky you will see the bright Yellow Hammers that seem to hang around this spot, the first time I did the walk I also got a male Bullfinch, which is always brings joy. In the distance we saw a Red Kite perched in a tree and we were surprised at how bright and light the bird was.

Buckland Woods, St Leonards, Cholesbury, Buckinghamshire
Buckland Woods, St Leonards, Cholesbury, Buckinghamshire

Follow the path to the row of terraces on Little Twye Road, cross the fields (3) good place for flocks of Yellowhammer, then keep going till you get to a modern house and take the footpath down the side of the fence, and just keep on going straight till you get to an open filed with a couple of houses in the corner near the road that leads to Cholesbury. At the road turn left and after about 50 yards there is a path that leads to Cholesbury church and it’s grand wooden gates. Take the path that leads around the Cholesbury camp hill fort (4), then when you come to the footpath junction take the left turn away from the fort and across a couple of horse paddocks, it can get muddy here.

At the entrance to the woods keep on the path that goes through the woods (5) look out for the fairy and pixies that someone has arranged in various places as you walk through. Keep on the path and keep your eyes out for Tit flocks and if you are lucky the odd Treecreeper (6). If you get a a road then you have missed the turning that almost takes you back on yourself. Head towards (7) and keep your eyes out for mushrooms in the leaf litter until you get back to the place where you parked up. It took us 2 hours but we were doing bird miles, it could easily be done in less that and hour and a half.

When we finished the walk it was about lunch time and after trying a pub that was shut nearby we settled for the Old Swan at Swan Bottom (Steve will know it well), the food was great and the staff very accommodating and friendly. I had Fish and Chips, Helen cheese sandwich and chips, and A&C both had Chicken Pie, as a starter we shared deep fried sweet potato and salsify with a water cress aioli.

A very enjoyable walk with great company, and thanks to Steve for inspiring me to keep up the blog posts.

It’s a small world

Beach view Horsey Norfolk with seals
Beach view Horsey Norfolk with seals

The plans for today were centred around visiting Horsey Wind pump at Horsey, so following a leisurely breakfast we left the hut, and headed off. We are staying only about 10 minutes form the pump, which is run by the National Trust our plan was to do a circular walk, so see some seals by the sea and possible take in a boat trip from the mill, however just as we arrived outside Horsey I had a spontaneous change of plan, and we parked up at a beach car park. The car park was pay and display but the pay and display machine was locked up inside a mini container, so we saved ourselves a couple of quid.

The beach is accessed via a gap in the dunes which run along this part of the coast. The weather was great for taking photos as the haze of the last few days had cleared and the blue skies were covered in fluffy clouds. The weather forecast for most of the country was gales and rain but there was a chance that we were in a corner that would just miss all the bad weather. On the beach the wind was increasing but the sun was out and it was pleasant enough. The tide was going out and there was a stretch near the surf that was solid thus making walking easier. We headed south which was where we were told by Helen’s colleague the seals hang out. We soon started to spot waders on the beach ; Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, and also Little Tern hunting over the sea. We walked for about a mile and spotted plenty of seals in the sea popping their heads out of the water to keep their eyes on us, then we came across probably about 200 seals lying on the beach between two break waters.

View from top Horsey Wind Pump NT Norfolk
View from top Horsey Wind Pump NT Norfolk

We headed up into the dunes so as not to disturb them, where we found somewhere to site down and watch them and have a snack of Christmas cake. I took the opportunity to take some time lapse photos with the GoPro. Next we headed back to the car the weather was still holding out but the wind was building as forecast. We drove the mill itself and parked up at the NT car park , another free be as we are members. The nice man at the cafe invited us in and explained about the mill, told us to get on the boat trip you need to put your name on the “automatic” booking system and was happy for us to us the cafe to eat our sandwiches. Helen when off to put our names on the booking system while I went and got her binoculars form the car, then we went had had a look at the Mill/Pump, which if you don’t mind steep steps gives a great view from a platform at the top. Back at the cafe we got a coffee and the man tempted Helen with a box a bargain cards, how did he know that Helen is a sucker for a card? We took our coffee’s outside and sat in the lee of the building and had lunch.

Ross's boat trips from Horsey Wind Pump
Ross’s boat trips from Horsey Wind Pump

We took a stroll round the broad for a bit to kill the 30 minutes before the boat trip. It turned into a private boat trip, as we were the only people booked on it. Ross Warrell who runs Ross’ Norfolk Broads River Trips it turns out has a connection, I mentioned that I went school fairly locally and he said did I know his borther Adrian turns out he was in the class below me, what a small world we live in. The boat trip was great Ross really like bird watching and essentially the trip turned into a bird watching trip. We saw loads of Marsh Harriers, Sedge Warblers, Reed Buntings, as you would expect but we also had a fly past by a Cuckoo and great views of two Hobby’s. We both really enjoyed the trip and would thoroughly recommend it, Ross is really the star of the boat with his knowledge of birds and his relaxed attitude to the whole tour of the broad.

Back on dry land we went back to car to decide what to do, we had probably an hour to do something but could not see anything on the map that took our fancy. We had been out in the wind all day and wanted something a bit more sheltered. We headed to Winterton-on-sea to see if we could get a coffee and found a gem of a cafe called Dunes Cafe just off the beach car park.We went in expecting nothing special, but inside it clearly was not you usual beach cafe, they had an expresso machine, a great collection of cakes, and the menu looked great too. On the wall there was evidence that it had featured in the press, with framed articles.We opted for the homemade red velvet cake which was a chocolate cake with beetroot and a butter cream icing, it was lush.

Coast watch tower at Winterton Norfolk
Coast watch tower at Winterton Norfolk

Whilst we had coffee I noticed there was a coast watch hut and a couple had been invited in to take a look, so after we left the cafe I wandered over to see if I could have a guided tour too. The man in the watch tower was just packing up as his shift finished at 16:00 but he very kindly agreed to show me around and tell me what he was up to. The watch is run form 08:00 to 16:00 each day and concentrates on smaller craft i.e. those not on the AIS system. Apparently the one at Winteron is covered by only 8 volunteers. I noticed on the table he had a note about a dead dolphin being reported on the beach to the south, backing up his comments that public treated them a lot like to the place to report anything from lost keys to lost children. We talked about local pubs and he recommended the Nelson Head at Horsey.

We got home we checked out the website for the Nelsons Head it looked good and promised to yo accommodate any diet,  Helen gave then a call and checked that they did veggie food and booked a table. The pub is a strange place in the back next to the var park there was a car van with a staffie at the window. In the pub it was like your tradition establishment with all sorts of brick a brac hanging from the walls including, a very large shot gun with a six foot barrel with a gauge of about an inch and a half, apparently it was used to shot many ducks with one shot. The food was average but the beer was great. I had Brain’s Bitter and Helen had Nelsons Revenge.

Serial boat trippers are we

Greylag nesting at Hicking NWT
Greylag nesting at Hicking NWT

We were up early had, breakfast then left the hut at 09:20, destination Hickling Broad NNR, about two miles walk. It was a pleasant walk, mainly by track and footpath, we arrived at the visitors center and attempted to book a place on the 1030 boat trip but unfortunately it was full, but there were some places on the 13:30 so we booked that one in instead.

As we had three hours to while away we started off slowly with a coffee, whilst we sat and drank our coffee we were surprised at the number of birds we spotted just sat there; Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Robin, Tits etc. We set off around the reserve stopping off at the Cadbury hide, named after the family who purchased the land and then donated it to the NWT some years ago. The Cadbury family still have a link with the reserve as they lease a lodge deep in the reserve and next to the edge of the open water. When someone is staying they raise an appropriate flag, today a flag with a Marsh Harrier was flying. We did not see much from the hide the I think because the water levels where so low the habitat was not how they had intended it when the hide was built.

In the next hide we thought that a situation was in front of us until Helen spotted a Water Rail. The Water Rail is a very elusive bird normally only observed briefly when they venture out of the reeds. The low water level was to hep us in this situation, the edges need the reeds where the rails would normally feed was dried up forcing it to wander out into the open. We saw it forage slowly and then go into a small patch reeds where we lost sight of it but our patience was rewarded when it came back out into the open for a while before a short flight back into the reeds. Along with the Black Tern yesterday the Water Rail wold be added to the weeks highlights.

Observation tower Hickling NWT
Observation tower Hickling NWT

Next it was down to the far edge of the reserve and past the Lodge leased by the Cadbury family, where we headed back towards the visitors center making the walk into a circular one. We ate the sandwiches we made back at the hut with another instant coffee then we walked back into the reserve to find the mooring for the boat trip.

There were not many birds to see on trip I think we were just there at the wrong time of year, all the winter wildfowl had left and the spring/summer migrants delayed by the delayed spring weather. The guide had some interesting facts to convey to us, one that stuck out was the story of Emma Turner who was a victorian naturalist who got permission to use an island on the broad which was used for hunting. She had a house boat built and a hide then lived there for the next 25 years, photographing and recording the birds.

We walked back to the hut and got back at 16:30 so we had a long day out in the field. We ventured out to the The Swan pub at Stalham an Adnams pub where the food was great.

Dogs on the loose

Control room at RAF Neatishead Norfolk
Control room at RAF Neatishead Norfolk

We were up and about at a reasonable time of 08:00, and we had a plan. Near by at Neatishead there is an retired RAF station which since the 2nd world war, and through the cold war was a radar station. There is museum there run by volunteers, and it opens at 10:00 with a tour starting at 10:30. We had breakfast then headed out following the sat nav, but because we could not find the (well spell) Neatishead, we set the destination as Horning. Helen then took charge and put the correct spelling in but then we then had to go anti-clockwise round the broad we had been travelling clockwise around!

As it happened we got there at bank on 10:00, and there was plenty of room in the car park. The entrance fee is only £6 but we opted to pay the slightly extra fee and agreed to the gift aid deal, which means that the charity can claim back the tax. A couple arrived behind us and the guy was explaining to the manager that he had been posted at Neatishead twice during hs career in the RAF, both times in the 80’s. The place reminded me a bit of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, the place would be nothing without the volunteers, but I can imagine that the committees and working groups behind the scenes must be a bit of a nightmare for the only paid employee, the manager.

Douglas Baders bunny at RAF Neatishead Norfolk
Douglas Baders bunny at RAF Neatishead Norfolk

The tour was very interesting and the speakers all very skilled at explaining the way that RADAR works, and how the RAF had perfected and used the technology to monitor the aircraft nearing the United Kingdoms airspace over the years. The first exhibit started with WWII where everything had to be done by hand, with token, and telephone lines being used to push the information up the chain of command. As RADAR improved the systems became slightly more sophisticated  and eventually, crude by today’s standards, computers were introduced. The final exhibit was a bit like the NASA mission control room, but all the large screens on the wall were maintained by operatives writing backwards on glass screens, to relay the information. When the tour was over we looked at most of the other exhibitions all RAF and RADAR related, including one where they explained how space was started to be monitored as satellites became the norm. We finished off by having a toasted sandwich and coffee at the cafeteria, which was find and good value.

My parents headed off home from the museum and Helen and I had a date with and NWT nature reserve at Ranworth Broad, so sat nav programmed we set off. As is tradition in this part of Norfolk you have to pass through Wroxham if are going anywhere, and today was no exception. It was comforting to know that Roys of Wroxham is still thriving in what one can only describe as Norfolk Broads on Sea, I would not be surprised if you an purchase “Kiss me quick” hats at Roys. Wroxham is at the cross roads of quite a few roads and has a bridge that joins the roads in the South to the roads in the north. Add to that the moorings and boat trips you can take from there, and everyone wants to be there on a bank holiday Monday, the place was Sergio Ramos. Luckily we were just passing through.

On the way to the Broad we stopped at the Woodfordes brewery of Wherry Bitter fame, we were hoping to get a take out 4 pint container of beer, but unfortunately they did not have the facilities to do that in the shop, but hey did sell the containers, which could be filled at the pub next door. We purchased a container but decided we would get the beer at the pub near the hut, where we knew we could get Bure Gold and kind of summer ale at 4.3%. We parked up in a conveniently placed field below the church at Ranworth, which was free and just a short walk to the nature reserve. To get to the reserve visitors center there is a board walk, which is just a short walk. The building is floating and there are plenty of viewing points on the upper deck where you can look out over the broad. We inquired about the boat trips and as luck would have it there was one due in 15 minutes, so we paid the £5 a head, members price, and waited.

Ranworth Broad floating visitors center
Ranworth Broad floating visitors center

The boat trip was very relaxing the boat just pootled around the edge of the broad at about 2 mph which the informative volunteer told us about the wildlife and management of the place. We saw quite a few species, even though the winter is the busiest season for the broad, including Great Crested Grebe, Teal, Cormorant, Common  Tern as well as the less common Black Tern. We thought that the boat trip would take us back to the floating visitors center but it took us to the next door broad called Malthouse broad at a pub called the Maltsters inn. From there it was just a short walk back to the car.

We took the opportunity to have a look around he church, which had a tower you could climb up to take a look at the view. The notices warned on many narrow steps so I was left on my own to tackle it. And narrow the steps were then there was a metal m ladder followed by a final set of wooden steps which lead to a hatch onto the roof. Luckily for me we only passed two people on the way up could fit into a doorway as I went past. The view from the top was great because not only was the church on a hill top but the tower was a tall one too. I joined about 8 other people heading down I thought that we would have the strength of numbers where it came to who would back off if we came to and impasse. Luckily we did not but at times it was a bit of a squeeze especially as I had a rucksack on my back.

We had a drink and piece of cake at the church cafe, the cake was a bit disappointing as I was expecting home made cake but the Honey and Cream  was obviously shop bought and frozen. The journey home was short and we seemed to be going the right way as there seemed to be lots of cars going the other way but stuck in several queues. They would probably be at work tomorrow, we wouldn’t.

You may be wondering about the title of the blog post, well on two occasions today we had to give way to dogs wandering onto the road from the drive of two houses, the owners seemingly oblivious to the potential fate of their canine friends. Perhaps it is a Norfolk thing?

New year at the Eels Foot Inn

View from Eelsfoot Inn Eastbridge Suffolk
View from Eelsfoot Inn Eastbridge Suffolk

We are off to the Eels Foot pub in Eastbridge Suffolk for New Year. The plan was to spend three nights there and leave on News Years day. We left the house at a reasonable time and stopped off on route to visit my aunt. We arrived at Minsmere by 14:30 and did a quick route towards the wooded area and island mere before heading of to Adleburgh for a quick look round the shops.

We got to the pub at 17:30 and checked in, this time we were in room 3 on the first floor with a view over the pub garden. N&H arrived early evening and we had something to eat and caught up over a few beers.

We are up at a reasonable 08:30 for breakfast, then we headed out for a day on foot H had a bad tooth so we weren’t sure how far we would get,but we headed towards Dunwich heath, on the inland path because we had heard that the path to the sluice bushes was water logged and wellington boots were needed.

The Ship Inn Dunwich Suffolk
The Ship Inn Dunwich Suffolk

The weather was gorgeous and it was great to be out in the sun after the recent bad weather that had kept us indoors. The chip hut at Dunwich was shut for the winter so we went to the Ship Inn which was packed to the gunnels (did you see what I did there?) So we had to take a table in the garden which was not ideal on a sunny but cold and windy day. There was a queue at the bar, we got drinks and ordered for bowls of chips which considering how busy the pub was came fairly quickly.

After a rest we headed back towards coastguards cottages for a coffee then we headed through the reserve of Minsmere the through the reed beds to the Island Mere hide, by which time it was getting dark, and all you could see were the Moorhens  and Coots. The walk back from there to the pub was dark but even so we passed two or three sets of people walking the other way. We had another quiet evening in the pub.

The weather the next day promised to be wet and windy but when the day dawned the forecasts were good up until midday so rather than shopping we walked to Dunwich Heath and then back through the reserve, but where possible we tried to keep on different paths. We tried to get to the north east hide but the path was flooded and Wellingtons would have been needed, so we went to the north hide. There was not much to see other than the usual ducks. Helen thought she had seen a Smew and it was confirmed when we asked at the visitors centre. At the cafe we all had a coffee and something to eat, then we headed straight back as it was getting late and H&N wanted to pop to the Yoxford Antique centre, as it was not open on the 1st January.

Grey and windy North Sea view
Grey and windy North Sea view

New Years Eve in the pub started quiet, we hit the bar at 18:30 to ensure a table for something to eat, I suspected that I would not last till midnight. We had some more great pub grub, then chewed the cud for a few hours. I retired at 23:00 the others stayed till just after midnight. I did not get much sleep for a bit as our room was on the pub side of the building. There were fireworks at 00:00.

The next morning we had agreed with Julian the landlord to have breakfast at 09:30, as it happens he had been up since 07:30 and had not got to bed until 05:00, we did not envy him having to push on through, the pub was open all day and they expected it to be busy as the sun was out and it looked like it would be a great day weather wise.

Helen and I had to head off as we were meeting up with my brother and parents as we had not managed to get together over Christmas. The drive using the tourist route to Haverhill was great. We met up and swapped presents then Helen and I headed home.

We both agreed a pub is a great place to spend a few days at New Year especially the Eels Foot Inn in Eastbridge in Suffolk.

Wilstone Reservoir Great White Egret

View from Wilstone reservoir hide
View from Wilstone reservoir hide
Great White Egret at Wilstone
Great White Egret at Wilstone

All week there has been a Great White Egret present at Wilstone Reservoir, I woke up to clear blue skies and a slight breeze, so no excuse to not get down there and join the twitch. It is fairly rare to get one in Hertfordshire, although there is another one at another site presently. I have seen a few mainly at Minsmere in Suffolk, I would describe them as a pure white Heron with or a large Little Egret with orange/yellow beak.

The car park was full but someone was leaving as I arrived, I parked up and wandered round to the hide. The hide was empty bar two people, both with cameras. I enquired about the Egret, they said it was still present but out of site. I found a seat and settle in for a possible long wait.

Slowly the hide filled up. After a 40 minute wait the bird came into site on the edge of the reeds, as usual the sun was behind the bird so it would be record shots rather than decent pictures. Five minutes later it was hidden by reeds. It appeared again for 10 then flew off out of site.

Whilst waiting I scanned the whole area. Quite a few Martins still about, but did not spot any late Swifts, wildfowl included Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall, of the waders I only saw Redshank. A few times Buzzards flew over at one point there were three in view. The usual Cormorants, Lapwings, and Mute Swans were about. A fax was spotted in the far corner, and a late Tern was a highlight.

Distant shot of Great White Egret
Distant shot of Great White Egret

The GWE reappeared perched right on top of a fallen dead Willow, the photo potential was great but it would have require a longer lens that is currently available! We were then treated to a long flight around the reservoir, they have a real strange way of looping around a more like a Little Egret than a Heron.

There was a teenage kid in the hide, obviously a very keen bird watcher, he was explaining to someone in the hide how he had come from Kings Langley, on the train with his bike, this allowed him to cycle along the canal from Tring station and take in College Lake, Startops Reservoir and Wilstone Reservoir all in one trip. Is he a Chris Packham in the making?

I had had enough by 12:00 so headed home for some lunch. Later on we are off to the Thame food fair then out for a meal in Thame with I&R.

Three buses to Holkham nudist beach

Norfolk seaside view
Norfolk seaside view

After a hot night we were up and ready for breakfast at 08:10, I had scrambled eggs and mushroom had Helen had beans and hash browns, the toast was lovely made from home made bread. We gathered our stuff and walked down the road to the Stiffkey bus stop to get the bus to Burnham Deepdale, only to find the next bus was not for another fifty minutes! What should we do? We decide to get the bus going the other way and have a coffee at the Cley NWT cafe. On the way to Cley we realised that we would not have enough time for a coffee so we got off at Cley village stores, and waited for the bus going the way we wanted.

After a five minute wait we were on the right bus going to our chosen destination, we wanted to walk from Burnham Deepdale to Wells next to sea about 10 miles. We passed though Burnham Market on the way which had a craft fair going on around the village green, it looked interesting but the place was heaving and it was only 10. When we got off the bus we realised how hot the day was, the weather man had promised 30 degrees. As we headed out along the sea wall we both began to realise that the whole walk may not be managed. When you get close Burnham Overy Staithe you hit a kind of false summit, the sea wall heads back on it self, which was very disheartening to Helen and a few expletives were heard.

At the quay of Burnham Overy Staithe there is a chandlers/general store which sold cold drinks, it was very welcome. Inside it seemed to be air conditioned, we lingered deciding what drink to purchase. We sat on a railway sleeper in the shade outside, a woman was trying to find some where to tie up her small terrier Helen offered to hold on to the lead but the offer was turned down on the basis that the dog would probably go for us so could we warn passersby not to get too close! While the lady was a way the dog snarled a lot at the passing people.

Burnham Deepdale church
Burnham Deepdale church

The quay is a popular spot as there is a free car park and you can cross a shallow creek and then get out to a lovely cut off beach, seems every man and his dog was heading out there, it looked like a scene from war of the worlds when everyone leaves town in a mass exodus. We contemplated getting the bus to Holkham but in the end continued on our walk. After another couple of miles we were in the sand dunes, next stop was a paddle in the sea. It is surprising how cooling a paddle is, I think the cold temperature on your feet combined with the stiff sea breeze, just hits the spot.

Holkham beach is vast, and we were walking at the sea edge for over an hour. We can across some some very trusting Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers. At one point we stopped and sat down to have some lunch we had purchased some cheese and onion pasties the day before. Our choice of spots was not interesting, we were at the far edge of the nudist area, and every so often a nude man would make circuit strutting his stuff. Helen &I have have some experience of nudists beaches, not as nudists you understand, we just have this uncanny knack of coming across them when out of walks. Male couples tend to gather at the fringes of them and the Holkham one was no different. We walked on and slowly the nudists dissolved away and clothed beach users took over. The beach was tough on bare feet so we decided to head inland to the pine forest to continue the walk in the shade.

Hoklham beach view
Hoklham beach view

On one side of the forest there was a lovely breeze which combined with the shade of the trees was bearable but as we got deeper in to the forest the breeze went and the heat took over. We were starting to discuss the ice creams we were going to order when we got to the Wells ice cream shop. When we got to the ice cream the queue was massive so we walked on to the town along the sea wall, when we got there we had just about had enough. I popped in to a shop while Helen checked out the bus times. The buses seemed to be running late, but we made good use of the time downing two 7 Ups and two bottles of water between us.

Eventually the bus came 40 minutes late it turns out there was a bad accident around Holkham and the traffic was being sent round the Holkham estate. We purchased our tickets and requested being dropped off at the Red Lion in Stiffkey, one of the services offered by the coast hoppers is that you can be dropped off anywhere safe on their route. After 10 minutes in a very hot bus we were dropped off outside the pub. We rested a while before a shower and then went down to the bar, Helen had veggie lasagne and I had wild mushroom and pea risotto, both dishes got the thumbs up. For desert we had another drink, then retired to our room well replete.

Beaten by the Stiffkey potatoes

Norfolk sea wall view I
Norfolk sea wall view I

We’re off to Stiffkey for the weekend and apparently if you are in the know you pronounce it stew’key. Stiffkey is a long village on the north Norfolk coast between Wells-next-to-sea and Blakeney. We had popped over to my parents about half way there on Thursday night, and were up early so we could leave before the cleaners got there. We hit the road at 08:50 headed though Peterborough and on past Kings Lynn and stopped of at Fat Birds cycling shop at Hunstanton to see if we could Helen some cycling waterproofs for her commute to work.

We didn’t find the perfect water proofs but got some ideas, but Helen did come away with some new cycling gloves. We then headed off up the coast road to our first port of call Titchwell Marsh RSPB reserve, where we would be getting our first go in their newly opened Parrinder Hide. The RSPB have decided that they can’t win the battle with global warming and sea rising so have built a new sea wall a bit further in land than the existing one and they have build a brand new hide on top. They will let the sea breach the existing one but preserve the habitats for marsh birds slight further inland. Despite being the peak of the holiday season the reserve was not too busy, there was no queue for a coffee.

After a welcome coffee we headed out on the footpath to the beach where we sat on the collapsed pill box that is visible when the tide is out. It was very windy and sand got into everything. I left my new GoPro Hero2 taking some time lapse pictures for 10 minutes at one picture per two seconds, should result in a 10 to 20 second video. We headed back up the path and stopped off at the new Parrinder hide, which I must say is excellent, it has the same big glass windows that they have at Island mere at Minsmere RSPB, you can wind the bottom part down and pull the top part up giving you a great open air view, which was handy for another time lapse session.

We stopped off at the other hide for a quick look and another set of pictures, then headed back to the cafe for some lunch. The highlights included 15 Spoonbill, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Grey, Golden and Ringed Plover, Ruff and Avocet. At the cafe I had a Stilton and mushroom hot baguette and Helen had the largest beans and baked potato I have ever seen served at an RSPB establishment, there was at least a tin of beans with the rugby ball of a potato. It turned out to be too much for Helen, and some was left.

Norfolk sea wall view II
Norfolk sea wall view I

We then headed on up the coast road and stopped at Burnham Deepdale for some retail therapy. Thee is a new shop that sells all sorts of wildlife gear including Microscopes, tempting as it was I passed up the opportunity to walk out with a stereoscopic one. Helen was tempted by some bags and managed to purchase some much needed greeting cards, I think our stocks must be getting a bit low!

Then it was back in the car for a short drive to The Red Lion in Stiffkey. We had a swift half (Woodforde’s Wherry and IPA Gold) at the bar then unpacked car freshened up. The beer was good the menu looked good, and the rooms were well appointed, clean and smart. We headed out up the main road then took a left up a footpath towards the sea. After about half a mile we came across some farm building and a band of trees which for a drop down to the marsh. We took a left and then a right hoping to get down to the sand beyond the marsh. It was very muddy all around but the footpath was pretty dry and solid. At the beach we sat and looked at the distant seals on Blakeney Point and the birds out on the beach, there were quite a few calls from Curlews.

Back at the pub I had a shower and then headed down to the bar for something to eat, but not before leaving all the gadgets on charge for the next day, we only bought two chargers with us so some juggling would be required. To eat I had salmon on crushed garlic potatoes and spinach, and Helen had a goats cheese salad with some chips. Mine was really nice and Helen was once again defeated by potatoes. We had couple of pints and then retired to bed we had really enjoyed our first day in North Norfolk.

Little Bittern and Mutant Ninja Turtle at Stockers Lake

Turtles at stockers lake
Turtles at stockers lake

A Little Bittern has been reported at Stockers Lake near Rickmansworth since last weekend. Reports suggest quite easy to see, so I thought I would pop down there see if I could get a view. I have never seen a Little Bittern, so I don’t know what to expect, probably a bittern looking bird but smaller than the run of the mill Minsmere type Bittern.

I got off the M25 at junction 17 and parked up down a lane called Springwell Lane where there is a car park. Birdguides had reports and I get the OS grid ref from there and printed out a map from Bing. I orientated my self using the map in the car park, helped by a couple who pointed me in the direction of a crowd of twitchers.

Little Bittern at Stockers lake near Rickmansworth.
Little Bittern at Stockers lake near Rickmansworth.

On the way I spotted two Turtles sun bathing on a log by the edge of the water, they were close enough for the Canon 100-400mm. I took a few shots then moved on round the lake.

It was obvious where the bird was as there was about 30 people standing around the footpath getting the way of the Sunday morning joggers. It was apparently about 30m away hiding in the reeds and stinging nettles. I stood around with them and waited for a view.

After about 30 minutes we got some fleeting views as it walked behind the reeds, then about 10 minutes later it popped up about 10m down stream, we all moved and I lost my front row, and was relegated to the back, I was still able to get a look it was out in front of the reeds. It is as the name suggests a small version of a Bittern. In fact I would say a quarter to a third the size of a Minsmere Bittern. All the cameras were clicking away, then the bird was spooked and moved further up stream.

Little bittern twitch at Stockers lake
Little bittern twitch at Stockers lake

I walked down with some others and was lucky to get a spot right down on the bank of the river perhaps only 20m from the bird. I got some shots then sat down to get some even better ones, from a low angle. My Karrimat material insulating mat came in very hand as I sat there with cracking views, and got a load of shots off in good light. Eventually it flew a bit further down the river.

I called it a day at 11:49 and headed back to the car, then back home, to the hum drumb of domestic chores I trimmed the Laurel hedge in the back garden, and cut the lawn.

Farne islands boat trip part deux

Arctic Tern hat strike
Arctic Tern hat strike

We were up early again in hope of a trip to the Farnes, we had not booked but planned to phone at 08:30 to see what was on. I drove up the road at 08:20 till I got a phone signal and tried phoning. Permanently engaged on both numbers, so I resorted to booking online.

We arrived at Seahorses in good time there was a queue for Billy Shiel’s we queued up I noticed I had a confirmation booking, good news. Once paid up we had a wander and a few pee stops, as we were not sure of the arrangements later.

We headed to the end of the harbour wall to the boat Glad Tidings IV, and got on board, the tide was out so getting on board was a long walk down some steps, then a big step down, onto the vessel.

Basking seal
Basking seal

The boat left the harbour at 10:30 and we headed out to sea, the sun was shining and the sea was pretyy calm. We slowed when there were interesting things to see, both type seals basking on the rocks, guillimots, razorbills, shags, cormorant, and many other sea birds.

After taking a look at the furthest island Longstone, we headed back towards land to land on the Inner Farne. The friendly National Trust volunteers charged us non-members £6.20 landing fee, and told us to keep to the boards walks, and recommended we wear hats, or stand next to a taller person. It soon became clear why, the terns literally nest right next to the board walk, and then aggressively have a go at anyone close by, and had a knack of diving and pecking your head. I am tall and got pecked quite a lot later I noticed blood on my hat where they had draw blood right though the canvas.

Some puffins
Some puffins

We walked round to the light house and had our Heidi pies in the picnic area. After the lovely pies we continued our first circuit of the island. Just past the light house there is a cliff edge where you can get very close to the bird, many of them nesting, you are literally 1m away from Shag nests with young of various ages.

We ran the Arctic Tern gauntlet again as we got towards the National Trust centre, I was pecked a few more times. At the centre there is a church to have a look round, it is pretty basic, but did have a stained glass window. We had managed to while away about and hour and a half, we had 2 and a half hours left for more circuits of the island!

Packed boat waiting to return
Packed boat waiting to return

This time round I took the time to try to get some action shots of the Puffins flying in from their hunting forays, out at sea, for sand eels. The puffins were quite good at finding their burrows, and would drop in really close then dash quickly out of sight. If they missed the black headed gulls were hanging around to relieve them of there hard won sand eels.

At about 15:30 we went to join the queue for our 16:00 boat back, the queue was already long, the weather was turning I think everyone had seen enough and wanted to get back to a warm pub with a pint, we did for sure.

All in all we really enjoyed the trip, perhaps would have been better if it had been possible to land on two of the islands as advertised. We were definitely luck with the weather although it turned towards the end of the day, looking at the forecast for the next few days, today was the best.