The Ridgeway – Ashbury to Letcombe Bassett

Time to get back to the Ridgeway, after a few months of absence. I plotted the next 12 miles from Ashbury and determined that Letcombe Bassett and therefore Wantage would be the best place to leave the car. 12 miles would be tough as it was my first walk of that distance for a while and also there were no coffee stops or cafes on the route. One of the downsides of the Ridgeway is that it does not really go through many villages or towns near them but hardly ever through them.

I left the house at 08:10 dropped Helen up the road and headed to Wantage, ignoring the Sat Nav and going south of Oxford to get to the A34. I was hoping the rain/drizzle would stop by the time I got to Wantage but it had now. I sought out a shop to get some cheap waterproof trousers, and found some for £7 on the market. I suspect the vendor could have applied surge pricing as it was the type of inundation that makes you really wet. I grabbed a coffee in Costa to get my bearing and figure out how to get to Ashbury. Uber said there were no cars available so I wandered over to the local taxi rank. An old man seemed to be headed the same way so I held back rather than grabbing the only taxi waiting.

It wasn’t long before a taxi turned up, the driver was not very talkative and when he was he mumble quietly, so there wasn’t much conversation, he dropped me at the top of the hill where the Ridgeway crosses the B4000, which saved me having to walk up it from Ashbury. I headed off down the path the rain continued and I realised that I wold have to put the waterproofs on if I wanted to stay slightly dry.

The walk was pretty uneventful to start with but there were some ancient monuments to take a look at Wayland’s Smithy was the most interesting and the only one where I came across anyone else out having a look. I plodded on and passed a trough with a tap and a notice that said the was was fit to drink and that it was to celebrate the life Peter Wren who loved the countryside. I had a drink to save the water I was carrying. We need more taps like that in the countryside, to go with the benches you sometimes come across. Both would be very welcome on a long walk.

Eventually I came across a lady on a bicycle followed by three dogs, she stopped and told me an old dog was lagging behind a bit. About a quarter of a mile later I came across a setter who looked like he was on his last legs, it was all he could do to lift his head to look at me while he plodded past. next up was another lady and a dog this time both were on foot. The lady explained that she trying to keep off the slippery chalk, however she was running out of grass and was in danger and slipping down, I offered here a hand down but she said thank but no thanks so I left here teetering on the edge of a grass patch.
not many people Old dog

A couple of 4×4 drove up and 4 men with fluorescent orange flags got and walks across a field down to the valley. There were small sections of corn growing they clearly were running a shoot for pheasants, which were quite numerous in the area. Finally I arrived at Letcombe Basset, but unfortunately there was no pub so I settle for a bench at a junction. It had stopped raining for a while so I took the opportunity to take my waterproofs off to let my now slightly damp jeans dry out. While I was doing so a man drove out out of a parking space then moved his van into the vacated space then drove off in the car. Between each move he left a vehicle blocking the highway, there was no traffic.

The walk to Letcombe Regis was along a road because I missed a turning for a foot path, I tough someone had blocked the entrance but studying the maps more closely a complaint would not be necessary as google streetview allowed me to see where the foot path entrance was that I missed. In the village there was a big retirement complex which was run by Bupa. It was quite well done and I guess catered for all sorts of retired people, that that did and did not need care. There was a brand new village shop and cafe, it was a bit strange, clearly run by locals, but there was not much useful produce in the shop cuppa soups cakes and biscuits the sort of thing you would need if you were visiting an elderly relative! I stopped for a weak coffee and move on.

The path back to Wantage was paved but cross country I imagine that maybe it was built by the manor house at Letcombe Regis for staff in the bygone days, I wasn’t complaining it made for easy walking. In Wantage I popped into the cobblers to ask about leather glue apparently Bostik 6092 is the best stuff, but they could not sell me any even though I don’t look like a glue sniffer. In specsaver they did not have my contact lens fitting I was not being successful on the shopping front. I did manage to get the ingredients for Lhaksa at Sainsbury’s.

I dropped by Rory’s to fix his PC and he bought me a pint at the Akeman in return, it was good to catch up. The Lhaksa worked out OK.

Orford Crown and Castle

Orford views
Orford views

We picked a great weekend for the weather, the forecast was sunny cloudy, we were off the stay a couple of nights at the Crown and Castle in Orford. I dealt with a couple of administrative items before we left at 09:30ish, round the M25 and up the A12, traffic was relatively ok apart from the usual black spots on the A12.

We chose to head to Minsmere RSPB reserve first, for a walk to Lighthouse cottages, for lunch, then back to the the reserve via the hides. The heather was in fine bloom on the heath, as we approached Lighthouse cottages, the Dartford Warblers were about but quite elusive, generally spotted disappearing into the heather.

Orford views
Orford views

At the NT cafe we had a drink and scone/cake then headed down to the beach and onto the east scrape hide. There were lots of Sandpipers and Black Godwits to mention a couple. We sent a while enjoying the wildlife and then headed back to the visitors centre in the hope of seeing Bearded Tits on the reeds overlooked by the flood defences. Helen had a quick peruse around the gift shop, then we headed back up the road but took the turning to Orford.
We got the last parking space at the Crown and Castle, settled in then went for a walk down to the harbour and quay. The village is full of old cottages many of them looked like holiday cottages. It is a looking village, very typical of rural Suffolk.

Orford views
Orford views

Our dinner was very good the highlight for me was the skate main course. We were quite tired and retired to our room by 21:00. Breakfast was at 08:30 and the dinning room was quite quiet, I had poached eggs on toast and Helen had French toast and maple syrup. We planned to go to Orfordness by boat so we grabbed some lovely bread from the Pump House bakery in the village, and some cheese from the village shop, then headed down to the quay we missed the first boat but were lucky enough to get in the 10:20.

There were reports of a Ted Necked Pharalope and we teamed up with a bird watcher in an attempt to find it. We walked to the wardens hut via the blue route which is where it was seen, but we failed to spot it. At the wardens hut we had a look at some moths the researchers had caught over night. The Tiger Moth was most impressive with its bold camouflage colours.

Next stop was a building with some impressive binoculars mounted on top, good for viewing distant things as they were rock solid. From there a gravel path led to the red and white lighthouse, where we stopped for a rest on the gravel bags used to shore up the coast line and stop the lighthouse falling down. The trek along the shingle beach was tedious and led us to a group of buildings where we stopped for a rustic sandwich.

The church that featured in the Detectorists
The church that featured in the Detectorists

We were determined to see the Pharalope so we decided to do the blue route too, which is the more remote of the paths in the spit. It takes you close to Alpha Mist which is still a broadcasting installation for the BBC world service. The track back to the jetty had passing places, we decided that it is hard to imagine that they would ever be used because all vehicles have to arrive by boat.

Close to the jetty Helen spotted a brown mammal approaching, it was a hare. We stood for a while and although it was aware of our presence it came very close and wandered across the track and into the grass right in front of us. One of those amazing but rare wildlife encounters. We had a short wait for the ferry boat after getting out tickets back from the warden who checks everyone is off the island.

We stopped for a coffee at the tea room where Helen was harassed by a wasp, while I watched the tide almost reach the cafe terrace. I fancied an ice cream from the van at the car park but the queue was too long so we headed back to the hotel and had a half of Adnams each on the terrace, and as always after a day out in the fresh it it tasted better than normal.

The church that featured in the Detectorists
The church that featured in the Detectorists

On sunday we had the routine cooked breakfast and sadly we checked out and headed out of Suffolk, but before we left we would have a few things to check out. First as we left orford we spotted the school used in the Detectorists where teacher and partner of the lanky bloke taught. Then we went to an RSPB reserve called Wolves Wood near Hadleigh in Suffolk the plan was to walk from the reserve to the church that featured in the same BBC 4 comedy. It turned out you could not easily get from the reserve because it would have meant leaving the trail, so we did the trail then headed bay car to Aldham Church which is a stunning little church set on a small rise at the end of a country lane. I took some photos and a timelapse which turned out to be useless because the breeze move the camera.

next we visited my Aunt and Uncle for a cup of tea and cake, then headed round the M25 to visit a big M&S to get some clothes and grab some supplies for dinner. We were home by 16:00 and had had a very enjoyable weekend.

Blakeney 2017 – Cley NWT in the wind and rain

Blakeney harbour
Blakeney harbour

The weatherman promised a wet day for our last full day in Norfolk, and we woke up to rain. We took our time there was not compelling reason to get outside, but we did eventually. As we passed Cley it was still raining hard so we cruised on past and grabbed some petrol at a garage in Sheringham before returning to Cley.

The what;s about board for the day was a very short list probably because no one could be bothered to get out to a hide and back. We decided to take a look at the set of three hides near the centre, it was a cold and damp walk out and there was not much to see the usual crowd of Avocets and Shelduck were there the highlight were some baby Shelducks making and appearance from underneath their mother.

Angry Lesser Black-backed Gull
Angry Lesser Black-backed Gull

We walked back the the visitor centre and had coffee, cake and a pee before heading out again to the new Babcock hide which had been worth a visit the day before. We were not disappointed the Common Sandpipers and the Ringed Plover showed well in the scrape just in front of the hide. The walk back to the centre was even wetter, we lingered and watched the superb video in the exhibition space, some really good photography and time lapses.

We felt we had made as much of the day as we could given the weather so we went back to the hut and tidied up to save some time in the morning when we would reluctantly leave Norfolk. We had a meal at The Moorings to look forward to after the great meal we had one evening earlier in the week..

Blakeney 2017 – Cley NWT and The Quag

View of Cley marsh with blue sky
View of Cley marsh with blue sky

The weather promised to be great day, sunny and quite still. We decided a walk from the Cley NWT visitors centre would make for a pleasant day. We arrived at the visitor centre at just before 10 and had to wait a few minutes to get in and check the what’s about list. Of note was a Black Winged Stilt at the Quag which is a lovely small body of water a couple of miles east down the coast, a place we were quite familiar with,

We made goo progress until we got to a sea breach which I estimate was over a kilo-meter long. We reached a rest point on a hillock and I checked out the car park in the distance to see if the coffee van was there, alas it looked like it wasn’t. We rested for a while then continued the trudge as we got closer I checked out the car park again it looked like there was a coffee van it looked like just another blue van, but it had a queue of two waiting.

The new Babcock Hide overlooking Watling Water Cley
The new Babcock Hide overlooking Watling Water Cley

We grabbed a coffee from the man in the van and wandered up to the next little hill to enjoy it. On the way I noticed a drone flying over the marsh. We got to our favourite bench on the hill for a spot of sea watching, when suddenly a woman started shouting at her partner to get the bee off of her, he said he could not see any. Helen stepped in and explained that the noise was the drone over the marsh which sounded like a bee!

We headed off to the Quag, and managed to get there by avoiding pebbles all the way. There were some cows in a field and we noticed, unusually, a Bearded Tit fly in and settle briefly. We sat for 5 on a large lump of wood probably washed up in the winter storm to see if it emerged again, but it did not. At the Quag itself things did not look promising although there were some scopes trained om the water no one seemed to be looking though them. We took a look ourselves then moved round a bit and tried again, the Black-Winged Stilt was behind a small island and was not showing really well. It was a first for us they are quite rare in the UK and normally found in the south of France.

The coast road at Cley
The coast road at Cley

We walked up the lane to the coast road and checked the bus times, we had time for a coffee so we used the junk/book shop and tea room. Just before the bus we due we went out to the stop but the bus was just pulling past, I had read the timetable wrong. We had a 30 minute wait so had a quick browse around the junk then sat on the war memorial and watched some children doing cycling proficiency lessons until the bus came.

It was early afternoon at the NWT centre so I had coffee and cake and Helen a cheese scone, then we headed to the new Babcock hide. We were pleased to be able to watch Common Sandpipers and a Little-Ringed Plover. We got back to the hut at about 17:00 and spent the evening watching the Woman in Gold staring Helen Mirren which we both enjoyed.

Blakeney 2017 – Blickling Hall National Trust

Blickling Hall
Blickling Hall

The weather forecast was a mixed bag, and there were differing opinions. I went with the met office app which does an animated rain radar, and prediction as it was the most optimistic of the options. Given the weather uncertainty we decided Blickling Hall National Trust was probably the best bet as it offered both indoors and outdoor options. We were not early getting up and left the house at about 10:30 which was perfect as the house opened at 11:00.

There was some rain during the drive there but it was much brighter when we arrived, at the car park. There is a new system in the car park and you have to present your membership card to the ticket machine to park. Some people were having trouble with one machine and a queue was forming, so Helen went off to find another machine. My card albeit not valid for entry worked first time, then Helen returned with another ticket, so I gave mine to the people having trouble. I got told off at the welcome hut for not having the right card, but you have heard that story already.

Blickling Hall
Blickling Hall

As the weather was fine we took the chance to do the long walk around the perimeter of the estate. It was quite warm and I was soon down to my t-shirt, it was a lovely walk if a bit humid, the light was great to show off the greens of spring.  Eventually we got back the house but our path was blocked by tree felling, so we had to do a detour to get around and to the cafe for lunch. We were almost the last people in the queue before they shut the doors because they had run out of tables. The people queuing got complimentary brownie cake for their trouble. I had the leek and potato soup and Helen a cheese sandwich.

After lunch we had a look around the house and grounds close to the house. The walled garden was again well tended, and the house had an Indian influence. The second hand stamp and book shops were our last port of call before heading back via Cromer and the coast road. We stopped off at East Runton to look at a surplus shop but they did not have any poncho’s.

For dinner we went to the Moorings and had a very nice meal, which we liked so much we booked a table for Friday.

 

Blakeney 2017 – Holkham walk and Cley Spy woodland walk

Holkham Beach
Holkham Beach

Up slightly earlier than usual as we had an appointment for a bird walk at Holkham at 10:00 and I also had some back exercises to do. My back was improving I’m not sure why but I was determined to do the same each day to ensure what ever was working continued. I had homework from the osteopath, hot and cold packs, walking, driving and stretches I did while walking.

The website said meet at the car parking hut, but it was not clear where it was and it appeared to have lived to make way for a repair to the culvert at the entrance. Helen managed to track down the ranger, and get the complimentary parking ticket included in the £5 walk fee. We were the only real birders so the walk was a bit light on birds but we did learn a lot about the estate, and the warden was very knowledgeable about all the surveys they do and the contributions they make to the national record keeping.

Bayfield Hall
Bayfield Hall

The walk took in both the hides the George Washington and the Jordan tower hide, from where we saw four Spoonbill, one of them flying. The route back was via the beach was became a bit of a slog, and we were glad to be back on hard standing. Back at the car we decided to head to Cley Spy for lunch.

The art cafe does some very nice lunches most of them vegetarian, I had a falafel salad, and Helen home made beans on toast. The reason for heading to Glandford what primarily for lunch, but also to have a browse around Cley Spy and do the Bayfield woodland walk.

After a lovely lunch we headed out on the walk, it was warm and humid so quite energy sapping. The highlight of the walk was Jays and Treecreeper. At Bayfield Hall we stopped off at the wildflower cafe for a quick refreshment then finished off the last mile of the walk back to the Glanford commercial centre where we were happy for a sit down in the comfortable car seats.

We decided to stay in for dinner and had salad.

Blakeney 2017 – Cley NWT and Felbrigg NT

Servant Corridor Felbrigg
Servant Corridor Felbrigg

The weather man promised a mixed day bright start with an increasing chance of rain as the day in folded. We decided on Cley for an early walk then the Bird Photographer of the year exhibition and Felbrigg National trust property for when it was raining.

We left the house before 10 and drove to Cley which is just around the headland so to speak. There was the odd spit of rain but we checked in and then headed out to East Bank to see what was about and have a look at the new hide/shelter. There were plenty of Avocets, the odd Ringed Plover, the usual Redshank, as well as little brown jobs (Sedge Warbler and Reed Buntings). The highlight was a couple of Weasels running along the track at the bottom.of the East Bank.

Avocet Cley Marsh
Avocet Cley Marsh

The new shelter although windowless was a welcome shelter from the wind and rain, we shared it with an elderly couple competing on id’ing the bird first. We took a quick look at the sea which had taken over the bank which makes the walk to the car park relatively easy, making it look like a real hard slog. We scanned the sea for seals and seabirds but there was not much to see, so we headed back into the wind to try out the hide near the visitors center.

There was only really Avocet to see from the hide, so we did not stop long. Back at the visitors center the exhibition was not quite ready, so we headed to Felbrigg planning to return via Cley on the way home.

We parked up and Helen threatened violence if food and coffee were not forthcoming, however my back needed straightening so I risked a wander up to the house and back before we ventured in to the cafe. At the ticket office I was informed that my NT card with an expiry date of June 2018 was not valid, because the previous one, due to expire June 2017 was still valid. They let me in but warned me that I needed to use the old one until June. It was not clear and they did not tell me when I could start using the new one, however just like you do when you receive a new credit card I had already destroyed the previous card.

Sedge Warbler Cley Marshes
Sedge Warbler Cley Marshes

At the cafe we had some lunch I had crab sandwich and Helen backed potato with baked beans,. The house is fairly interesting it had last been lived in back in the 20’s so there was not a lot of contemporary stuff which I really like. I was able to give one of the volunteers  some advice on his diet to help with his gout based on someone I know who managed to stop gout by changing diet, it is all about reducing the reducing your intake of purines apparently. Helen went to have a look around the shop while I sat in the courtyard and tried to get pictures of  Chaffinches scrounging crumbs from the tables.

On the way out we had a stroll around the extensive walled gardens, which in my opinion are the jewel of the property. I was amazed at the number of Blackbirds around the gardens. We drove back via Cromer to Cley where we had a look at the fantastic photos of the Bird Photographer of the year exhibition.  We had a walk out to the hides to get 10,000 steps on the fitBIt there was not anything that we had not seen earlier, Helen was disappointed to not see Bearded Tits.

Back in Blakeney I picked up an Amazon delivery from the post office then we went back to the house and had veggie sausage sandwiches and salad for tea,  then settled in for the evening to watch Patriot on Prime, and a couple of beers from my Adnams mini keg of Best Bitter.

Blakeney 2017 – Holme and Titchwell

Holme beach
Holme beach

First full day in Blakeney we were up at reasonable time but did not leave the house until just after 10. We drove out to Holme NWT and would work our way back to Blakeney with a few stop offs.

Although it had been raining on the way there by the time we got to the reserve the sun was out. At the gate we blagged our way in by saying we were going to renew our membership, which Helen did while I straightened my back out. We then headed for the pines where a Spotted Fly Catcher had been seen. It did not take us long to find, posing in it’s distinctive more upright pose that other birds of it size. We then headed along the boardwalk along the dunes until there was an opportunity to get on the beach a mile or two down.

Holme beach
Holme beach

It was nice to be away from the crowds at one point we seemed like the only souls on the beach. We wandered slowly along the beach back to level with the pines and headed back to the visitor centre for a coffee then got back in the car and headed to Titchwell stopping on the way at Thornham deli to grab a vegetable pasty to eat at Titchwell.

At Titchwell the recent spots board was interesting, I wanted to see the Turtle Dove and Helen the Yellow Browed Warbler. We headed first towards the Fen Hide. We saw two baby pigeons in a nest and heard Reed Warblers but failed to get the birds we wanted. We headed straight out to the sea and sat and ate our pasties in the edge of the dunes. After Helen went to hunt for waders on the sea edge I took a timelapse set on the brick building rubble on the beach.

We headed back into the reserve and stopped off at the modern looking Parrinder the highlights were Turnstone and baby Avocets, being protected by all incoming birds by a parent. We tried again for the star species but dipped, however on the way out to the car park we got fleeting glimpses of another Spotted Fly Catcher high in a tree.

We stopped off at Deepdale on the way back where Helen bought a couple of books. Back at the hut I had a shower before we went to the White Horse for dinner. I had the Bream on roasted fennel and saffron potatoes and Helen the Haloumi salad both delicious.

Blakeney 2017 – The journey there

Cley Windmill view
Cley Windmill view

Another holiday in North Norfolk! We haven;t been for just over a year. We left the house just before 10 and obeyed the SatNav which took us on the M25 to the A1M then Cambridge way and through Thetford forest via Mildenhall and Lakenheath. We stopped and at the Lakenheath watching area but as promised by the website it was like most weekends, nothing was happening, so we stretched our legs for 5 minutes and carried on to Swaffham  where we grabbed supplies at the Waitrose.

The cottage was a bungalow just off Mariner Hill and had a parking space which is very rare for Blakeney. Parking was a challenge but a neighbour put us right, the parking for the cottage was not outside by the other side of the next door neighbour. I would have loved to see the plans for the cluster of houses, because there were parking spaces belonging to houses opposite and orphaned well kept gardens.  We unpacked and I did me Osteopath homework to sort out my back, then we went for a walk.

Blakeney harbour sunset
Blakeney harbour sunset

We walked to Cley along the sea wall the weather was warm despite the breeze, and the weather for the week promised more of the same if not warmer. At Cley we got the bus back to Blakeney, had a swift half and booked a table for Sunday evening then retired to the hut for some more back exercises and a salad dinner. We watched Babs on iPlayer which I thought was average and Helen really enjoyed. Helen then watched Graham Norton Show while I went down to the quay to get some pictures of the Sunset.

We were looking forward to the  rest of the week.

London – Robot exhibition at the Science Museum

My back was still not right, but I managed a 6 mile local walk the day before so I thought I would go a bit further a field, but I was not up to the Ridgeway. Scanning the what’s on on London sites I was reminded of the robot special exhibition at the Science Museum, so I booked myself an 11:00 ticket, giving me plenty of flexibility on time. If things went to plan I would get the tube there then walk back through the London parks back to Euston on the return journey.

I was up early, and managed to get the 08:06, but no coffee as the station cafe is shut on a Sunday. I grabbed the Victoria line to Green park then the Piccadilly to South Kensington. I got out of the pedestrian tunnel early in favour of fresh air and as luck would have I exited right opposite a Le Pain Quotidian where I grabbed an excellent coffee and even better Raisin Danish, which was essentially a Pain Au Raisin but twisted not twirled. I was a bit early and there was just one person and child outside the entrance, I joined them and therefore started a queue, which by 10:00 was a few hundred yards long.

Being the second person in the place meant that I could have a few sections of the museum to my self. I headed straight down to the far end of the ground floor, where there was a section about machine learning. One machine took my photo then deduced I was happy (smiling) and estimated to be 50, I was happy to take that. Next I headed up to the top floor where there are some aircraft and a load of aircraft engines through history, something I was not aware of despite previous visits. I worked my way down to the first floor stopping off to look at some of the stuff, my favourite bits are the mechanical simulation machines, the economy, tides etc. The Robots special exhibition was good and not too crowded, it marked the history of the development of robots, from automata through to the latest ones made by Honda, Toyota etc. Some of them you could interact with.

I had planned to walk back to Euston via Foyles. In Hyde Park I chanced upon some american expats plying baseball in the corner of a field. I got chatting to an older guy who explained that they were not all from the embassy some were bankers and other business people. He asked if I played, I was able to explain that I had when I was young played in the little league. I had to turn down the offer of a game because of my back, which was a shame.

I headed to Buckingham palace via Wellington Arch and Constitution Hill, then down to The Mall, to Admiralty Arch when I took a couple of pictures of one of the Seven Noses of Soho , which are brasses noses on several buildings placed by an artist making a point about the prevalence of CCTV in the city. Next was Trafalgar square where I was starting to flag, my back was hurting. I was amused by a Chinese lady shouting at a group of Chinese children having their picture taken on the steps to the National Gallery. The children wee very polite and obedient I think the lady was just power crazy. I am not sure who they all were but the adults in the group had DSLR’s and a 4k professional video camera.

I jumped on a 29 bus for a couple of stops, and had a look around Foyles computing section, but was not in the mood for buying. It is a short walk to Tottenham Court station and grabbed to the Northern line to Euston. I grabbed a sandwich, then waited for the train to be given a platform. The train was delayed because they were waiting for the police to take a person who had assaulted the guard to be taken away.