Thames Path – Windsor to Cookham

The River Thames and Bridge from Windsor to Eton
The River Thames and Bridge from Windsor to Eton

I was confused over the distance from Windsor to Cookham, I got it in my head that it was 15 miles but it turned out it was only 10, so a nice distance. A work colleague lives in Cookham, so I sought advice re parking. I aimed for being in Cookham at 09:00, as the buses worked at that time. For the first time the satnav did not suggest the M25 so I went via Beaconsfield, cross country.

I parked up and found the bus stop and by chance Max was there, and offered me a lift to Windsor, what a star. We walked back to his house and uncovered his convertible Mercedes, I would arrive in Windsor in style thanks to Max. I started at the Riverside station, and ignoring the map did not cross the river so I did a 1/2 km detour having to double back. My first stop was Boveney Lock to start this blog entry, usually I got the chance on the bus or train.

Dorney Lake Olympic rowing lake

At Dorney Lake I cheated by taking a very slightly short route taking in the Olympic rowing venue, there was a lot of activity going on, with rowers training and a Triathlon, just finishing. I say cheating but in the very loose terms, because my plastic map of the path takes you that way because when it was printer the path had a detour. The weather had turned out gorgeous, blue skies with con trails building as the morning went on. I was down to my T-shirt, but it was cold when stopped. At the end of the lake where the Triathlon had taken place a coffee stall was still open so I stopped for a coffee, I was at mile 3.88.

As you approach Maidenhead the Riverside houses are very opulent, I imagine they run into the millions of pounds. Quite a few own the bank but the foot path cuts the house off from the river. Just before Maidenhead you pass under the brick railway bridge built by Isambard kingdom Brunel, it has the widest and lowest self supporting brick arch. It looked to me like it needed a bit of TLC there were bushes growing out of it.

Barge on the Thames at Cookham

At the Maidenhead bridge at Windrush  VW (where I bought my Golf) I crossed the river and stopped in the Blue River Cafe for lunch, of Toast vegetable and Haloumi sandwich, which came with chips, I washed it down with a pint of orange and soda. While munching away I spotted my first Sand Martins of the year, as well as a Grey Wagtail. Unusually I started to get a blister after Maidenhead and my pace slowed a bit. Opposite Cliveden I rested for 5 minutes on a handy bench, it was peaceful and quiet until two elderly ladies came along and sat down and started nattering to each other.

I tried to contact Max as I got back to the edge of Cookham, but had to leave a message. Once in Cookham I took a look at the Stanley Spencer Gallery, which is £5 to look round but worth it as the paintings are curiously interesting, they are slightly impressionist and often contain the depiction of some biblical scene. By the time I had looked around the gallery Max still had not contacted me so I headed back to the car, then home.

I investigated my blisters when I got home they were not particularly large but they we deep and in an awkward position on the ball of my feet right near the base of my second toe in. I was using my new lined socks from Tesco which were fine on the first outing but had subsequently bee washed, the lining and the out seemed to be fused together and resisted being pulled apart. My theory is that the linings should slide over each other to stop the skin being stressed, and the lack of that property caused the blisters. I will revert back to my old thin silk lined socks that I wear over normal day socks in future and make a note to source some more. I bought them from an outdoor shop in Liverpool Centre more than 10 years ago and they have served me well I only hope I can find a replacement.

Lesser Grey Shrike Leiston Suffolk

Last full day of our holiday in Thropeness, the party is splitting into different factions. Helen and I went for a walk hoping to take in a rare bird that has been spotted less than two miles away from the hut. The others went for a walk to Aldeburgh to look at the giant clam sculpture.

Trevor on tour Lesser Grey Shrike picture

I spotted the bird sighting on the  UK400ClubRareBirdAlert site which is run by Lee Evans. Apparently according to the blog “A first-winter LESSER GREY SHRIKE is present for its fourth day in Suffolk after being discovered on Sunday by two novice birdwatchers who eventually notified RSPB staff at Minsmere RSPB after they had enjoyed a few beers in the Eels Foot Inn at Eastbridge. John Grant quickly made his way to the location and confirmed the bird’s identification. It has been showing well in the paddocks immediately SSE of Halfway Cottages, just east of Leiston town (situated on Sizewell Road about a mile down from the main Leiston to Yoxford road) at approximately TM 463 621. Park sensibly opposite the Cottages and respect the privacy of the residents. It constitutes the 9th record for Suffolk following singles at Hollesley Common on 22nd-23rd May 1970 (trapped & ringed), Walberswick Heath on 7th June 1973, Lakenheath on 4th June 1977, Lound Waterworks from 10th-12th September 1989, Walberswick Common on 25th May 1996, Thelnetham Fen in Suffolk Breckland on 29th June 2006 (singing male), Shingle Street from 8th-11th July 2006 (adult female) and at Trimley Marshes on 14th September 2009 (first-winter).”

We are staying about two miles from the cottages so we set out for a walk that would take in the site in the hope that after 5 days it was still there. We came across a couple walking a dog and puppy, the puppy seemed to wary of us and took some cajoling by the owners before it would walk past us and then it did as fast as it could. We covered some ground that we had covered the other day when we walked to Sizewell beach. After having to consult the map a few times we took a pretty direct route to halfway cottages, then identified the paddock by the group of people with scopes. The shrike was sat on top of a bush and was very visible, John Grant let Helen and I have a look through his scope which gave us the opportunity to see the bird in detail. If I had seen it myself I could only have identified it as a Shrike, as it is the first one I have ever seen, so to see a rare Lesser Grey Shrike was a real treat.

Minsmere beach

We hung around for 5-10 minutes observing then walked toward the sea just south of Sizewell where there is a cafe attached to a camp site. We had a coffee then headed back along the coastal path to the hut, in time for a cheese sandwich for lunch. Helen and I then caused another split by heading off to Minsmere RSPB for the after noon while another faction went for a walk on the beach and three others went for a £30 30 minute sea blast in a rib boat from Southwold harbour.

Helen and I  parked up at the reserve then headed in land and took a footpath on the right that headed over Dunwich Heath in hope of seeing Dartford Warblers. We were not disappointed we saw two Stonechat and about 5 or 6 Dartford Warblers which the heath is famous for. At coat guard cottages we had a drink and shared a piece of lemon drizzle cake whilst enjoying warm sun. I was down to a single layer just a t-shirt was warm enough. We headed down to the beach and on towards East Hide (our favorite), on the way Helen spotted a single seal out on the water and we had a look at an RSPB sculpture made of plastic found on the beach, which was being used to inform people of the issue that plastic is and how it pollutes the sea, as it gets broken down into smaller and smaller bits, it affects the wildlife, as it gets into the food chain.

There was not much to see from the East Hide just the usual suspects ducks and a few godwit. On the way back we stopped to look for Bearded Tit from the new sea defenses, but failed to spot more that a pigeon and a blue tit. After a look around the shop we headed back to the hut to tidy up before heading to The Dolphin pub for a meal.

Coombe Hill Wendover walk

Pulpit Hill silhouette from Coombe Hill

I spent the morning Christmas shopping, only two websites were involved, one of them does not pay tax in the UK but is very convenient and needs must. Christmas shopping done Helen was writing Christmas cards so I thought now is a good time to go for a walk. I was going to go up to Wendover woods but Helen wanted something from the shops to Wendover was now the chosen venue. The car park was pretty busy with Christmas shoppers, but after some patience I slotted the car into a parking space, purchased a parking ticket and headed up the high street towards Coombe Hill.

Wendover is a convenient place for a walk, you can park in the high street which means on the way back to the car you can stop off for a drink in a pub (Shoulder of Mutton and the Red Lion are both good) or a coffee at Rumseys. It is also popular with people from London because the railway station make the country side easily accessible. I usually walk to the top of Coombe Hill and back again, there is a main route up and down but there are plenty of alternaive routes to extend the walk and make it circular.

Gorse flowers on Coombe Hill Buckinghamshire

I headed up past the station and over the by pass, then forewent the left hand fork over the fields, for the direct route, which starts at the first bend in the road out of the town. The path flows the edge of the hill providing great views of Aylesbury Vale. Today the view was great with the vales bathed in low Autumn sun light, but the sun was the other side of the hill so I was in the cold shade. In the way up some birds flew over probably Goldfinch, but one solitary fly over had me intrigued, it had a very bright, almost fluorescent, rear I could not figure what it was. Bullfinch crossed my my mind but it was the wrong red and it was the rear not the chest. I referred to the internet when I got home and I reckon it was a Waxwing, I would not call it a definite ID but I’m now fairly sure it was. It makes sense as there has been a big influx in recent weeks, and they are being reported in flocks everywhere,even as far south as Kent.

At the top of the hill there is a monument, and took some time there to take some photos and admire the view. There were quite a few people out for such a cold day. I took a slightly different route back to the right of the way up but popped out almost at the bottom back on the path I had taken up. Down in Wendover I both some crisps for this evening and a lottery tick in the vain hope that I can stop work and live the life of Riley.

Three buses to Holkham nudist beach

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

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

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

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 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

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.

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

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.

Proper Lakeland weather

Flowering shrub

Thursday of our Lakeland holiday saw us waking up to rain, and mist over the hills. We had check the weather report at the pub last night, and already had vague plans to drive to RSPB Leighton Moss, which claims to be the largest reed bed in the North West. The rain and mist made up our minds RSPB would be the destination today.

The drive took about and hour and twenty, on mixed roads, a bit tedious but it was raining and we had the Desert Island Discs archive to while the time away. We (or should I say TomTom) found RSPB Leighton Moss easily. Once parked up I said to Helen “where are the binoculars?” We had managed to forget them back at the hut. In future we must both make sure we do binocular checks before we leave to visit a reserve. All was not lost, the RSPB will loan binoculars to forgetful members, like us FOC.

The helpful volunteer on the desk kitted us out with binoculars in exchange for Helen’s credit card, then gave us a virtual tour of the reserve. We headed out to Lilian’s hide apparently opened by John Prescott, the main attraction is the gull roost. We could not spot any other gulls than black headed, but there were a few ducks about. When we got a sense that the rain had eased off we made a break for the next hide.

Yellow iris

There was not much to see from the public hide so after a quick scan we moved on to the Low Hide, not much going on there either, but it was a good place to watch the Marsh Harriers, and the Swifts flying past. It stopped raining so we took the opportunity to walk back to the visitor centre for some RSPB lunch. On the way we saw and heard Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings.

At the cafe Helen had from the Kiddies menu beans and a veggie sausage (called sunshine beans on the menu great value at £2.10) and I had a Lancashire cheese baguette. Next we got drove down the road to the beach side hides that over look the marshes.

From the Eric Morecombe hide there were some Black-tailed Godwits, Little Egrets, Redshank, and plenty of Avocets, with chicks. From the Allen hide more Avocets and some Oyster catchers all with chicks. Next it wasa back to thje visitors centre to check out the last two hides.

Great views of Lapwings flying close in front of the hide, and a Gadwall pair. The lapwings were so close we could hear their wings beating against the air. We also saw a flock of 8 Little Egret fly over, which I think is the most I have ever seen so close.

Willow flowers

The Tim Jackson (died in an accident bird watching!) hide has recently bee rebuilt, and a lovely hide it is. A bit more activity lots of Gadwall out the front with the usual gaggle of Black-headed Gulls. Over the back of the lagoon we could see a Red Deer and a young doe gambling back and forth without any care, the velvet covered antlers of a stag could also be seen in the long grass at the edge of the reeds. On the way back to the shop I noticed a small mammal running towards me on the path I stood still and signalled to He’ll to do so too, the small creature stood and looked at me for a bit then ran into the under growth. Most likely it was a Weasel but it could have been a Stoat. We left the reserve at 16:30, to take a mountain pass home.

The mountain pass through Ulpha and across Birker fell did not disappoint, the climb up was very steep, but once we were up on the fell, the road flattened out and you could see far ahead, and the descent down into Eskdale was quite restrained. The pass had cut quite some miles but no time off the journey.

Reeds abstract

We were back bay 17:45 and felt we had made the most of the day by driving whilst it was raining. then doing the wildlife whilst the weather cleared up, culminating with sun as we drove over the mountain pass. We quickly dumped our stuff at the hut and headed back to Brook House Inn at Boot, some of it’s great beer and food.

The food lived up to our expectations, and was excellent, the menu was a fluid as it was yesterday, as we arrived some choices were removed and new ones added. I had the last Deep fried king prawns, with salsa, salad and chips, before that was taken down, and Helen had Feta and Spinach pie with boiled potatoes and a salad. As for beer we both had the Hawshead Brewery Windemere Pale.

One swallow does not a summer make…unless!

Neil's flint, not Helen's flint.

No plans for this weekend, so when Neil spotted that there were several ring ouzels at Ivinghoe Beacon (thanks to Lee Evans’s excellent bird blog) off we went on Saturday morning.  Headed up the path to the right of the Beacon itself, and counted 8 ring ouzels and two wheatear, which we watched for some time whilst the skylarks trilled away enthusiastically above us.  We then strolled up to the top of the Beacon, then on the descent I found a rather nice piece of worked flint. Not much about in the woods so we headed back to the car and off to the H cafe for coffee.

Wood violet

On Sunday Neil had heard that there was a grasshopper warbler at Startops reservoir so we had to see if we could find it.  No luck but we saw lots of other fellas, including our first swallow.  Three squabbling common terns, a yellow and various pied wagtails, linnets, little ringed plover?,goldfinch and marvellous views of a chiff chaff.

Wendover woods with the Bucks Bird Club

Wild flower

We noticed in the new hide at College lake a Bucks Bird Club outing to Wendover woods, the start time was 08:30 a bit early for a Sunday but it is only 10 minutes drive so we got up, and got ready. Helen did really well 40 minutes up and out of the door a new record.

We meet the birds at the free car park end. It turns out the guy leading the group had lead another party at 05:30 the same morning that is what I call dedication. We set out down the road toward the cafe but went straight on at the 90 degree bend and made out way down to the scrubby area at the bottom of the bowl on the hale side of the woods. On the way down people were hearing Gold Crest and Marsh Warbler, and even Crossbill.

The group was about 8 people in the group and all the eyes and ears available to us we had a lot of success. In the scrub we got Garden/Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wren, Marsh Tit, and Sparrow Hawk.

Wild Flower

We then headed up the hill again then took a detour via Go Ape where a Firecrest had been seen earlier. On the way we saw what might of bee a Green Finch but somone said it sounded like a Siskin, and there it was at the top of a tall pine looking very greeny yellow, a Siskin alright. When we got to the Go Ape area  and Rob heard a Firecrest we all got our binoculars out and searched, then eventually it was spotted by Helen it was trying to pull a bit of string or plastic from a branch, presumably for nesting material. It was surprising to see the bird so close to humans it was literally just above one of the Go Ape platforms attached to the tree.

We then headed back towards the car we saw some wild strawberries in the grassy area that overlooks the bowl. We were soon back to the car. We really enjoyed ourselves and would return again.

College Lake again

Shady Horsetail

Decided a local trip was in order, so we invited Helen’s folks for a walk round College Lake. The weather was really sunny and hot, we got there at about 11ish so not the best time of day to see birds. The usual suspects were on the water and island adjacent to the entrance. We walked on round the side twards the far end.

In the wooded are just pas the sand martin nest area I spotted an unusual plant that looked very primitive as plants go. It was a long stalk (6 inches) with with 4 regular buds on evenly spaced up the stem, topped off with a blobby bit. It turned out to be a Shady Horsetail (Equisetum pratense).

We were soon down to the field where the shrubs are planted. I scanned the fences ofor birds and spotted what I thought mightbe a Cuckoo. IIt was distamt so I got a bit closer and was more convinced. When it flew closer onto another post there was not doubt, later on on we all heard it call one time. In the filed near the cuckoo were 4 Whetear.

We finished off the walk with Ice Cream for some and a soft drink for others.