The Farne Islands


Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Finally managed to get to The Farnes. The Farne Islands are a small group of Islands off the coast of Northumberland. They are the summer breeding grounds of many seabirds.

The weather was wet and cloudy this morning but the sea was calm and it was our last day so we had to go. We caught the boar from Seahouses. The boat chugged out to Staple island where we nosed up into a cove surrounded by guillemots sitting on rock painted paint with their droppings. Along with 60 other people from our boat we stepped nervously off the boat onto the shore and slipped and slid our way up the path. It was only a small island and there were only certain areas that we were allowed on.
Along the paths, female eider ducks sat disconcertingly around on their eggs ignoring everyone who went past. The guillemots sat in huddled crowds on the edge of the cliffs. Every now and then you can spot a razorbill. They stand around with the guillemots trying to blend in but their beaks are slightly different and they are easy to see once you get your eye in.
Then there are puffins. They come ashore to breed and lay their eggs in burrows like rabbits. They fly busily around sorting out nests and generally being busy bodies. I tried photographing them in flight but they are very fast. The only way is to latch on to them as they appear over the horizon and follow their movement. You feel like a gunner shooting enemy aircraft (Not). In the end I found it easier to watch them stand on a bank and wait until they took to flight. They seem to throw themselves off the grass with arms and flippers outstretched before taking to the air.
Back to the boats and we cruised around to the Inner Farnes. A slightly larger island completely taken over by Arctic Terns who nest everywhere. They even nest by the path and in one case – on the path. They get pretty angry at all the tourists coming ashore and scream and shout at them. They even try to attack your head. There are good views down some cliff stacks with kittiwakes and more guillemots. There were loads of puffins and a group of Sandwich terns – black beaks. The Arctic terns have red beaks and there are some Common Terns although the Arctics are more common on The Farnes. We managed to spot one Roseate Tern on the beach.
It’s a great place to experience sea birds in the raw. Half term week is not the best week to go as it’s so busy and it was difficult to get that lost in the wilds feeling with hundreds of tourists stamping over you, making inane comments and using their mobile phones.


Wild places

I am reading ‘Wild Places’ by Robert Macfarlane. It is a magical book as he takes us on a journey around the mountain, moors and woods. I have been comparing it to some of the wild places that the Ravenous Rambler likes to go. I am currently up on the Northumbland coast waiting for the storms to die down so that it will be possible to go the Farne Islands to see puffins and other sea birds. Not sure that it is really going to rank as a wild place as the only way of going there is in the company of hundreds of other tourists but maybe there will be some sancturary. We will see. Meanwhile you can buy a copy at the Ymzala Book Shop

Quiche Lorraine


Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

This is one of my favourite dishes. I used to work for YHA in the Lake district and this was my signature dish for hungry ramblers. I made great big trays of it, served with roast potatoes and salad or cabbage. I now like to make this dish in a circular flan dish and I make enough so there is some for the next day. It seems to improve with keeping and wrapped up in foil it makes an excellent picnic lunch Summer or Winter. Strictly speaking the quiche Lorraine doesn’t have cheese but I will do anything to a quiche recipe to make a tasty version.

3 Onions
Olive oil
Optional bacon
Stick of celery
Optional leeks.
Pastry base
Cheese for the topping
3 eggs
Yoghurt and milk
Tomatoes for decoration

First get the onions on to fry in a little olive oil to soften. Then add some leeks and peppers. Some chunks of bacon will add some good flavour although leave out if you have vegetarians.
Whilst this is cooking, make up the pastry. Rub in the oil and add some very cold water. Mix and roll out for the flan dish. Leave in the fridge to keep cool. Some people say its better cooked in the oven blind but I like a soggy pastry base so don’t tend to do this.
Mix up the eggs in a jug. You can add milk and cream but I find this too rick so add yoghurt and a little milk. A pinch of seasoning and herbs.
Then make up the flan. Put the onion mixture into the flan case, add the egg mixture and top with cheese and some tomato slices as decoration.
Bake for about 35 minutes at 180.

There are so many options with this dish. If you use red leicester cheese it produces a lovely red cooked look to the top. Crumble Lancashire cheese is also tasty but doesn’t finish so well. For the filling, I like leeks but sometimes use courgette or just leave out and add extra onions.

West Wycombe Walks and food

West Wycombe

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The old coaching village of West Wycombe is an excellent centre for splendid walks and there are plenty of places where the ravenous rambler can get some refreshments.
I had lunch at the West Wycome garden centre this week. There is a small indoor eating area and then some seats outside with a nice vista. It was rather a strange ordering process – you have to go to the till in the main shop to order and they only have one menu!
I chose a quiche with salad for £4.50 and a pot of refreshing tea and settled down in the shade of the indoors. The salad was very good although no dressing and the quiche was quite small although for the price these days I suppose it was reasonable value and filled a small place inside. The tea was refreshing but the service seemed unfriendly on a day when there was hardly anyone around.
I then went for a short but splendid walk around the National Trust property of West Wycombe Park. The views at this time of year were splendid with trees overhanding the rivers. I walked through the deep cow parsley on a grassy path that passed follies and bridges over a meandering brook. This is not a wild place but a carefully manufactured parkland in the manor of Capability Brown. It is beautiful and an escape from the world outside. A swan with six cygnets swam past and I spotted a kestrel in the trees and several low flying kites. The view of the house from the other side of the lake is beautiful and I came away feeling quite refreshed by the experience.

Whooper swan

Whooper swan

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

On the way back from Islay to England we stopped for a day or two in Dumfries. This is a beautiful part of lowland Scotland with plenty of bird watching. Like Islay it is home for thousands of geese but these geese come down from Norway to spend the winter on the Solway firth. The WWT reserve of Caerlaverock was set up by Peter Scott to preserve these valuable wetlands and it is a superb site with comfortable heated hides and also many two man hides around the marshes. There is lovely cafe operating self service when we were there. It felt very homely to make our own teas and help ourselves to cakes. A real haven for the ravenous rambler.
There are many other attractions around this area with Loch Ken nearby where there are red kites and buzzards as highlights.

Dawn Chorus Walk at Warburg Nature Reserve

misty trees

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Dawn Chorus at Warburg, 4th May 2008
The Ravenous Rambler was up before the larks this morning. 3.30 am to be precise and then down to the Warburg nature reserve in the Bix valley for International Dawn Chorus Day.
It was still dark as we drove down the flooded winding lane deep in the Oxfordshire countryside. There were some shadowy figures standing around and our host – Gavin Hageman was giving a running commentary on what we might see. I worked out that the event was being recorded for Oxfordshire radio by Phil Mercer and whilst I was rummaging around in the boot, Mrs Rambler was being interviewed for the programme!
There were a few tawny owl hoots and then the skylarks kicked in along with blackbirds and mistle thrush. Then the robins started to sing and it all started to get a bit confusing.  We, there were about eighteen hardy souls, all went for a walk around the reserve and we heard black caps, chiff chaff and willow warbler and I was quite pleased to get these sounds into my head. Also distinguishing between blue tits and great tits. The great tits’ call is like “teacher..teacher”, whereas the blue tit is more “see…see…see”. We heard the green woodpecker with its cackle like cry.
The sun loomed up without giving much away – it was a dull day but the walk was excellent, through the chalky pastures and Chiltern beech woods. There were fields of cowslips and rings of mushrooms to spot.

This reserve is one of the oldest run by BBOWT. It nestles in a deep wooded valley in the Chiltern Hills and is a superb nature reserve with a network of interesting walks that link up with a variety of other footpaths that go outside the reserve. The mixture of chalk grasslands and ancient woodlands make it an excellent place to spot a wide variety of birds and butterflies.
It was with some relief that we headed back to the start where Gavin set to making breakfast on a camp stove and we all enjoyed bacon and egg sandwiches which have never tasted better. Red kits soared overhead but they weren’t getting my bacon roll!
Back home – it was back to bed with a pot of tea and we tuned into Radio Oxford to hear it all over again.