Exmoor money


Exmoor tree

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

I always knew Exmoor was a special place. Not many people go there. They think south Devon has all the attractions but Exmoor is subtle. You have to drink in the beauties slowly to really appreciate them. Whether it’s the wild lanes with trees bent over in the wind or the attractions of the moor. Pinkworthy pond and the Chains or the rugged North coast with its rocky coves and exposed cliff walks.

What has brought the place to my attention is that Exmoor now has it’s own currency. Not the Pound or the Euro but the Groat. You can trade them for special offers in some of the shops of hosteleries that nestle in the deep coombes of the countryside. Read more about it here. Exmoor Groats

Norfolk marshes


Skeins of Brent Geese

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

There aren’t many places in England that feel like a real wilderness but I have found somewhere that feels as remote as the Central Kalahari of Botswana. Less than two hundred miles from London but there are no motorways here. The North coast of Norfolk is a desolate salt marsh that in the 1700s used to be home to a thriving port. Now, the sea has receded leaving one of the most remote and desolate places in England. In the winter sunshine though it is an inspiring place. The breeze blows through the whispering reeds and dykes and meres are a mecca for the throngs of wildfowl.
I am standing on a dyke in the freezing cold on the edge of the marshes near the village of Cley, waiting for dawn. I am looking at silhouette of the windmill that stands sentinel against the cold wind coming in over the Wash. The sky starts to lighten to a mackerel red and I rememeber that I got up early to take photographs and I attend to my tripod and camera but in between exposures I can delight in being up so early and enjoy the changing atmosphere.
Starlings gather on the windmill’s sails, chatting and squabbling in the growing light. Overhead, skeins of geese fly over. It is a sight that is so evocative of the light and winter in the salt marshes. The Brent geese are our winter visitors from the frozen tundra of Siberia. They come in every morning to feed in the fields on sugar beet tops having the spent the night away from prying foxes on the water. There are over 10,000 of them here in Norfolk. The last place I saw such an amazing site was on the Scottish Island of Islay which is the winter quarters for thousands of Barnacle geese.
One of Britain’s oldest reserves is at Cley and is looked after by the Norfolk Naturalist Trust. There is an impressive eco-friendly visitor’s centre and we sat looking out through the large panoramic windows eating a slice of quiche with soup and tea. There is a book shop and some friendly help from the volunteers on where to go and what to see. Out on the board walks through the marshes there is a series of hides to keep watch on the meres, where there are teal, wigeon, shoveller, thousands of Golden plover and lapwings. It is worth spending some time here. The more you watch, you more you see. As your eyes attune to the variety of birds here you see their interactions and you notice the odd redshank amongst them and maybe a pintail. A bird flew past with a familiar cry. I couldn’t remember what it was although my brain said that it knew. Fortunately it came back and perched on a post. It was a kingfisher who stood there for a while so I could snap off a few shots on my camera before it flew on.
There were reports of snow geese out on the marshes so we went off towards the beach as the light began to fade. There were only a couple of swans masquerading as snow geese but the day had one last surprise. As we walked back to the car thinking of tea, toast and a warm fire it flew over. A barn owl, silently quartering the marshes to disappear over the dunes in one last salute to the clear light that is the feature of this wilderness of Norfolk.

Dinner at the Cley windmill


Cley windmill

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The windmill is in a superb position on the edge of the salt marshes in North Norfolk. You can stay there and it is also open for dinner so I couldn’t wait to book in.
When you arrive you are shown into the sitting room. It is a cosy room with a fire going in the wood burning stove. There are old books in the bookcases, some cosy sofas and the hexagonal walls have small windows looking out onto the night sky.
According to the literature, if you go there in the summer you can stand out on the balcony looking over the marshes but it was blowing a gale outside and in fact I felt more like I was in a lighthouse than a windmill.
There is a set course menu so no choices to be made but we were shown a wine list to order something to drink for dinner but strangely we were not offered a pre prandial drink. Instead we had a glass of Merlot each to drink and then to take in to dinner.
The room is small so you are almost forced to talk to the other guests. They were a convivial bunch. A couple who had retired to the village and a couple who had got married here last year and were back again. You can hire out the whole place and I think quite a few people use it for wedding receptions.
According to the waitress, the owner was coming for dinner as well with his family and when he arrived he went and poked the fire around in a proprietorial manner although it was difficult to talk as we knew who he was but he didn’t know that we knew …anyway it was soon time to go into the candlelit dining room.
The starter was very tasty and served by the two pleasant waitresses. Smoked chicken and rocket salad was then followed by pork with mashed potatoes and red cabbage with a selection of vegetables. This was rather ordinary and seemed rather like a catering product than home cooked fresh cooking but maybe I am doing them an unjustice. The Chocolate and orange pavola was a bit too sweet for me. The ambiance however won over. The candle lights, low beamed ceiling and intimate atmosphere makes it a very pleasant and unusual place to eat. Do try it.

RSPB Titchwell


A flock of Golden Plover

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The RSPB reserve of Titchwell is on the North Coast of Norfolk. There are a series of inland lakes from the sea which are great feeding grounds for a variety of birds. From the hides we saw plenty of wideon and flocks of lapwings and Golden Plover. In the surrounding marshes are flocks of brent geese and curlews.
After a sandwich and coffee at the cafe we headed down to the beach beyond the sand dunes. There was an expanse of sandy beach bathed in December sunshine. With hardly any wind it was relatively warm although not quite enough to go for a dip in the Wash, as the sea is called around here.
On the beach there were oyster catchers, standing around looking half asleep. Turnstones made their way along the high water line of razor shells, turning over mussel shells looking for food. Sanderlings ran across, their legs going like clockwork. Walking along the beach there is the crunch of the razor shells, impossible to step around as they are everywhere. There is a breath of wind through the maram grass of the dunes and the gentle crash of waves up the shallow beach. The cry of curlews from the marsh and every now and then an oystercatcher flies across giving its high pitched ‘kleep-kleep’ alarm call.
Talking with other people we should have seen eider duck and long throated divers in the sea but maybe they had really high powered telescopes.
There is a hide over the fens where a waxwing had been reported but we saw nothing. In any case, a blanket of cloud came over, signifying a front moving through so it seemed a good idea to head back. The days are not long here. By 2.00 is seems as though dusk is approaching so time to head indoors for tea and toast.

Snowdonia


Rainbow

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

What makes a good view? I often hear people say -”That’s a lovely view”, when all they are looking at is some agricultural fields. Does any view of the countryside make a good view. Maybe if you have lived all your life in the city it may be so but I think there is more to a good view than a few farmer’s fields.
I have driven up to Snowdonia for a course and it has set me thinking because North Wales isn’t my ideal mountain scape. What poetry has been written here after all?
True, Turner came here to paint pictures but my problem is that is stricken by the industrial age with such scars on the landscape that it turns me away. OK, there are lakes with the mountains reflected in them, the snow capped tops partly hidden in the clouds should be beautiful but it is difficult to really get enthusiastic. The vistas are just not quite as well formed. It seems just a conglomerate of lumps and lakes without any aesthetic design, unlike the more prosaic Lake District.
Still, is is a wild place and for that I give it a lot of respect. Tucked away in the top left corner of Wales it is a long way from central England. I always forget how far it is until I drive it. After leaving the central motorways you are left on the A5, a winding road that joins together various welsh towns with appealing names…Llangollen, Betws-y – Coed. Apart from the central mountainous region there is plenty of moorland and an attractive coastline. This is the home for choughs, ravens, curlew, buzzards, kestrel, merlin and sparrowhawk.
The remains of the mining industry lie everywhere. Gold, copper and slate were the main industries and there are large open cast mines that have been carved out of the hillside. Most of them have been filled in and to some extent nature has recovered and there is something almost attractive about the way in which the hillside reclaims its territory.
The highest mountain in Wales in Snowdon and there is a railway that goes to the top although there are several paths for walkers, although I haven’t actually done the whole ascent myself. The railway means that the summit is often crowded with people so I have never been attracted to the top.
First came the plant hunters attracted by a range of alpine plants that had been left over from the ice age.
Thomas Pennant popularised Wales in the 1700s with his book on the Tours of Wales. Thomas Telford improved the road in the early 1800s. I am staying at the Plas y brenin mountain centre which was origianlly a hotel built to have a specatular view across two lakes towards Snowdon. It was after the road was improved that toursists really started coming here in their droves and the same is true today.
Of course, there were people here before the 1700s. There were Stone age settlements and evidence of Bronze age settlements. The Celts arrived here around 600BC . In AD 43 the Romans arrived and introduced modern agricultural practices – sheep. Mining techniques were also improved via the Romans.
After a few days on the course, I think I have been turned to the attractions here. The mountains away from Snowdon are remote places and the views from the top were stunning. As the clouds move and swirl around, there are snow-capped tops, and layers of hills stacked on top of the other like cardboard cutouts in the winter sunlight. Away in the distance is the coast and the glistening sea. Now this is a view to behold and it beats anything that the Lakes has to offer.

Thursday walk at the Warburg Reserve


Sunset

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

In the morning it was the coldest day of the year or felt like it. I wanted to just stay in bed and read my book in the warm but I had no excuse not to go to work so I dragged myself up and made some tea. Outside it was sleeting and dark. I went to work and through the morning the weather gradually improved and as it was my afternoon off I was excited to see the sun had come out and it was going to be a good afternoon.
I went to the Warburg Reserve. This is my favourite place for an afternoon walk and I like to return to it at regular intervals. I take photographs of the same trees in different seasons. I met one chap with a bike and a dog but otherwise it was all quiet.
The beech trees were completely bare of leaves but the sun cast long shadows on their trunks. A buzzard was soaring overhead and calling out. I saw two deer run across the track in front of me. I sat in the hide for a while but didn’t see any birds. On the upper ride, I saw some marsh tits working the upper branches of the trees.
I did a circuit of the woods and completely forgot to try out my walking meditation. The trees were too captivating and there is one magical section of the woods where there are strange and twisted trunks sticking out the carpet of dead leaves. It was almost spooky with no sign of life.
As the sun started setting I climbed back out the valley. The sky was clouding over. There is one lone tree standing in a ploughed field that I wanted to photograph. The mud was like clue sticking to my boots, tripod and bag but it was worth it and a good finale to my Thursday walk.

Meditation


winter trees

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

A friend remarked recently on the idea of Buddhist, changing your mind which got me thinking about meditation in general. Years ago I learnt to do Transcendental Meditation. I have lapsed in its use and don’t use it regularly but I do find it useful every so often to calm my mind and help with creative thinking.
I had always been interested in the techniques of Meditation and remember learning from a book how to use a mantra. The book suggested using an object that was close to hand like a tea cup. You would think about the object and then think about your breathing and the moment you were in. The mantra helped the mind to let go of all the extraneous thoughts that would crowd out the brain. It worked up to a point but I found the training with TM helped me to really get to grips with the ideas of meditation. Just sitting with a group of people all meditating made the experience ten times better. The rigourous training and checking helped me on my way.
With TM you were supposed to sit calmly for a set amount of time per day and it wasn’t until I read up about Buddhist meditation that I had the revelation that freed me up. You could really meditate wherever you were and whilst walking. The idea is to increase mindfulness, tranquility and concentration. Walking along on a country walk you would try to be in the moment, to be aware of all the things around you , the step on the ground, the crunch of leaves, the feel of the wind on your face. The breath of air into your lungs. In this way, it gives rise to a way of enjoying the walk whatever the weather. Funnily enough I was trying this out last week on my winter walk without realising it. I just wanted to enjoy the walk on a most wintery raining day. The temptation was to stay indoors but somehow I got the energy to go out and experience the landscape with all its elements. It turned out to be most enjoyable. I let go of any negative feelings and looked for the positive. I was using photography to help give me a sense of place and the photographs that I took felt most satisfying. I made a feature of the bare branches and the rolling clouds. The sun even came out towards the end.
I am going to try to practice the ideas of Buddhist meditation on my walks in the future and to see if I can develop the practice and to truly make them my own.

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