Halcyon Days Revisited

It was on the way home from this year’s HUBB UK meeting at Baskerville Hall (inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes adventure) that we dropped into the Nagshead RSPB reserve.

We sat patiently in the pond side hide, camera trained on a log at the water’s edge. In-between torrential downpours, Rosana finally got her photo.

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Halcyon Days

There it was. A blur of blue and orange.

Did you see that?

No, what?

haven’t seen one for years – get your camera ready, it will be back soon.

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We waited, quietly, still like statues. The water gently burbled and babbled beside us. Not that deep nor all that wide, but enough that we’d needed to use a fallen tree as a makeshift bridge across this New Forest stream, the ford too deep with recent rainfall to navigate on foot.

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What did you see?

A Kingfisher, it will be back soon.

We waited, patiently. Nature came and went, we waited some more. The trees rustled in the cool summer breeze and we waited.

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Whoosh. That same blur, heading in the other direction now. Electric blue and burning orange.

Did you see it?

Yes.

Did you get a photo?

No.

Doesn’t matter, you saw it.

Yes, it was beautiful.

Springwatch

Spring, a time of rebirth and renewal.

New life appears in nests, in burrows and barns and in farmers’ fields – tweeting, grunting and bleating and all of it wanting to be fed.

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Colour erupts around the countryside and the sun starts to warm our cold bones.  The sweet smell of pollen lingers in the air, the bees begin to buzz and butterflies flit amongst the flowers.

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Betty feels the change of season too. Regular readers might remember a breakdown a couple of years back, an inexpensive valve failing and destroying a very expensive cylinder head. There were ongoing issues leading to a subsequent complete rebuild of the engine that should really have solved every problem we had.

Instead, things were about to get a whole lot worse.

Crossing the Houtribdijk last year, the little red oil light of doom illuminated. We checked, we had oil. We didn’t have any strange noises…yet. The light went out.  Volkswagen, in its infinite wisdom, designed a very complex oil pressure monitoring system to monitor a very simple engine. A system which is prone to failure. A combination of two pressure sensors and input from the alternator. We knew we had some alternator issues so put two and two together and came up with three.  The van got us home and we replaced the alternator and the pressure sensors. It didn’t solve the problem. Connecting up a pressure gauge revealed the ugly truth.

So here we are, emerging from the depths of winter and Betty is reborn with a sparkly new engine. Our journeys now lacking the colour of a multitude of warning lights, the unpleasant bouquet of leaking diesel and the cheerless chirping of unlubricated metal on metal. Nothing screams to be fed oil or coolant.

Dull and dark winter journeys that bring exciting, bright and vibrant springtime joy.

Betty Bus reborn, back on the road and back in a field.

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Big Skies

The sky was enormous, seemingly stretching for ever in all directions. The vast mud flats of the Wash lay before us, wading birds strutting through the mud and plucking tasty morsels from the goo. Kestrels hovered over the salt marsh, wings beating furiously as they searched for their prey. Behind us the farmers were working overtime to harvest their crops before the forecast rain arrived. It was the summer bank holiday weekend, so of course rain was forecast – anything else would have been unnatural.

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We started our walk from the southern bank of Guy’s Head, not far north of the the border between Norfolk and Lincolnshire, all the while keeping our eyes open for seals. We’d left the van parked a short distance up the river Nene, where two similar looking lighthouses marked the entrance to the murky waterway, guiding shipping safely inland.

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Further upstream the Crosskeys bridge spans the river. Built in 1897 the swing bridge is still operational today, halting traffic on the busy A17 to allow commercial and pleasure shipping through. We hadn’t come for the engineering though. Like many visitors to the area we were here for the wildlife that is attracted to the nutrient rich mud flats.

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We chose a campsite at a pub, figuring if the weather got too bad that at least we’d have somewhere to hide from the rain, but for now the sun was still shining and the clouds only just starting to gather above us. It wouldn’t be long though, the farmers knew it and they worked their harvesters long into the night.

Awaking to dry skies, we headed for the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh. Our timing was not great, the end of the summer being too early for the autumn’s mass migrations. But none the less, the wardens were excited about a rare bird that had arrived. We followed their instructions and found the bird at the location they described. No idea what it was called, but it was black and white (not the one in the photo, that’s a lapwing and not rare).

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When the rain finally arrived it was heavy and driven fiercely by the wind. We made a hasty retreat to the campsite in the hope that it would clear overnight. As the rain drummed on the roof and fat wet droplets ran down the windows we cocooned ourselves in the snug confines of the van, wondering if it would let up enough to even make a dash for the pub.

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Monday was quite possibly wetter, so we set a simple goal of fish and chips by the sea, maybe taking in a lighthouse along the way. We followed the coastal road around to Old Hunstanton and ticked off the lighthouse from the day’s to-do list, then continued on east. A quick stop at Blakeney to see if we could see some seals found us quickly retreating to the safety of the van as the rain became horizontal.

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Heading further east we made a random left turn into the busy seaside town of Sheringham and settled in to watch the grey expanse of the North Sea while eating our lunch, ticking off the second and final item on our day’s to-do list.

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