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.


Snape Maltings

Beach sculpture

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Everyone seems to be writing about Snape Maltings so I thought I ought to pen somethings because it is the strangest of places.
Coming out of the wilderness of Suffolk to Snape is like travelling through the snow of Norway and finding yourself in Santa’s grotto, almost. I often think of Suffolk as the best wilderness of England. Remote coastal heaths and marshes with spectacular birds. Where else can you see a bittern and a group of bearded tits in one morning? In the afternoon you can wander around Dunwich heath and see red deer. Maybe spend a week on the Walberswick marshes looking out for barn owls or wandering along the remote eleven mile shingle spit that is Orford Ness.
Then you go to Snape to visit the The Maltings. What a strange name and redolent of music and Radio broadcasts – “Welcome to the Aldeburgh Festival and tonight’s concert is broadcast live from The Snape Maltings…” From seeing no-one to being with everyone, that is the Zen of the place. The place is packed on a Sunday afternoon. There are gift shops, book shops, art galleries and a kitchen shop so huge and throbbing with people it seems as if the entire county’s population is packed into one place. All the papers write about the lush restaurant but the Ravenous Rambler doesn’t have time for such indulgences and retreats to the tea shop. Here, buxom waitresses serve home made cakes and sandwiches with lashings of tea and hot water. The seating area is surrounded by art and photography which gives me a great feeling of inner warmth. There is seating outside too but it’s too cold even if the sun is shining.
It’s worth a visit as it is so unusual but it is being built up even more outside. The old maltings are being turned into luxury homes for the very rich who can afford an extra holiday home. Maybe just pop by on your way back home on a Sunday afternoon

The Black Venus, Challacombe, Devon

River Barle on Exmoor

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

A delightful pub on Exmoor and ideally placed if you go walking up to Pinkery Pond. I went with D&J on a wet wintry night but there was a warm cosy welcome inside and we were soon drinking some ale and looking at the blackboard menu being careful not to bump our heads on the low beams.
We all had the home made beef and ale pie with flaky pastry. They were served with home cooked vegetables – delicious fresh leeks and carrots. There was a choice of chips or potatoes. I went for the potato option and it was a relief to have good fresh cooked food that hadn’t been messed about with. There were many temptations on the menu. As well as some good starters there was Exmoor Beast – gammon steak. The lamb shank with redcurrant sauce and rosemary looked very tempting.
For pudding I had the plum crumble with custard that went down very well with a cup of tea to finish. I heartily recommend it.

RememBird Digital Audio Recorder – Review

Pale Chanting Goshawk

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The Ravenous Rambler is a keen bird watcher so I feel a review of this device fits into place here among the recipes and walks.
Have you been out walking and wondered what that bird song was? Maybe you have been looking for the first chiffchaff of the season but can’t quite remember what the call is like after a long winter? Well, the RememBird device is exactly what you need to ‘remember bird’ calls.
I was thrilled to find this new invention at the British Bird Fair this year. It is a small device that is easy to hand hold but can fit with velcro attachments to the underside of your binoculars. It has two buttons. Press one to make audio notes about the birds you are watching. Then press the other button to record the birds’ call with a built in microphone. All the audio is digital and can be down-loaded to the computer later using the special program.
The details have been meticulously thought about. It has simple buttons and light displays and runs on one AAA battery. Also once you have made an audio note, the device records on a 4 second loop waiting for you to press the call button. So if a bird flies past singing, you will re-capture the last 4 seconds worth of the call. All the settings can be altered in the preferences.
But how does this teach you the calls? Well, I bought the European library of calls that comes on an SD card. Using the ear piece, you can search through the calls and listen to the library. There are calls and songs for most of the species, allowing you to compare your own recordings. You can even create your own library.
Back at the computer, the program downloads your own recordings and puts them in a database with date, place and your comments. It’s brilliant and great fun.

British Bird Fair, Rutland Water, August 2008

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

“Excuse me, can you tell us why there are so many cars here”? The bewildered couple were getting out of their van expecting a quiet stroll around Rutland Water bird watching. But they had chosen the very weekend that thousands of exhibitors and people descend on the place for the British Bird Fair.
It’s the biggest, best exhibition for twitchers and anyone interested in bird watching. Taking place every year at Rutland water there is something for everyone. Thinking of buying a new ‘scope? Maybe investing in a tripod or a camera? Planning a bird watching holiday? This is the place to find out and talk to people who love their work. Ideally placed on the edge of the RSPB Reserve there are plenty of subjects to test out those cameras and telescopes. I jostled my way to the front of the crowds trying out the new HD leica binoculars. Have you noticed that everything is HD these days? I might rename my blog – The Ravenous HD Rambler! We moved on to the Canon stall where we tried out a lens so big that they would make the paparazzi jealous.
There were several marquees each dedicated to different aspects of birding. There was the art tent, the holidays tent, the optics tent and so on. But that could wait, we needed a bacon sandwich and coffee at the refreshment tent! Anyway, people watching is all part of the fun and there are interesting types here at the show. Some are so dedicated to birding that they walk round with their bins round their necks in case a lesser whitethroat should pass by.
Suitably refreshed we headed to the stands. The technique to really enjoy yourself is to talk to as many people as possible and maybe ask for some freebies! They are all friendly and keen to persuade you to accompany them to perhaps central Panama to take tea in an observatory and tick off all the species that you might find. As we went round, we kept an eye open for celebrities. Bill Oddie – the British TV guru of birdwatchers walked past chatting away merrily. Simon King – another TV great was on his own stand signing autographs and generally being available so we took the opportunity to shake his hand and ask him if he was supporting ‘Survival International’ (for the Kalahari Bushmen). I am sorry to report he wasn’t.
There are many gadgets to look at and I was tempted by the RememBird device for recording and listening to bird calls in the field. I shall write a separate blog about this though.
The camera stands are excellent as it is such a good opportunity to try out kit and get advice. We weighed up all the tripod options and bought the Manfrotto 190CXPro3. A useful thing for any camera mad rambler as it is light weight but sturdy and the arm folds over so you can get down low.
So we have come away with lots of ideas – Costa Rica, Uganda, Panama, Orkney and Skomer. Maybe see you in a hide somewhere – you will recognise me with my impressive tripod!

Hand book journal

Hand book journal

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

hand*book journal co.
The ravenous rambler was taking a ramble around Oxford today and of course I went into the ‘the little gallery’ (Broad Street) to stock up on some art supplies. At the counter I made an exciting discovery! There they were just sitting on the counter as though waiting for me to call in. Green, blue and red in their cellophane wrappers. How could I resist some hand*book journals! I bought some small 3.5” x 5.5” pocket size versions and some larger 5.5” x 8.25 “ books. They both have 128 pages of 100% acid free heavyweight paper. I have the landscape ediition but there were portrait and square versions as well.
The small books are like the moleskines except the covers are a rather lovely clothe texture with an elastic enclosure and pretty ribbon bookmark. There is a little envelope in the back (like the moleskin) although it is not as classy as the moleskine version.
I prefer the paper to the moleskines. It has a better tooth so the water colour goes on well. I have tried out pen and ink using my Staedtler 0.05 pens and this works very well. So we shall have to wait for some more testing in the field to see how it operates. The books are thicker than moleskines and this might be the limiting factor for travelling.
Do leave a comment if you are using these stylish sketch books and if you prefer them to the legendary moleskines.

Good reading for France

First, some recommendations:
Where to watch Birds,
France; Philippe Dubons,
A useful guide to good spots for bird watching.
Travellers Nature Guides, France,; Bob Gibbons.
Interesting nature recommendations – geology, trees, birds and wildlife. A good buy.
Field Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe
Books Read
A guide to the Birds of East Africa, A novel by Nicholas Drayson
This is an excellent story set in Kenya and is the race between two genetlemen to see the most birds in a week. The prize is a chance to take thier belle to the ball.
The world according to Bertie by Alexander McCall-Smith.
A delightful tale about the people who live in the same block in Edinburgh. A story of love and happenings.
Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle
This is to help me with my book writing enterprise but I can recommend this whole series.
Wild Places
by Robert Macfalane
Re-eading this delighful evocation of the wild places of Britain.
The Sicilian, Grand Prix Attack by Gawain Jones
I have never mastered the Sicilian defence in chess and this is a good introduction with some readable analayis and several example games.
Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane
An evocative account of the history and fascination with mountaineering.
Soldier H – SAS, the headhunters of Borneo by Shaun Clarke
Not sure how much of this is true but a gruelling soldier’s account of the British Army trying to keep Indonesaian rebels out of Malaya in 1963. An unexpected find on the reading shelf!
Le Pays Cathare en aquerelles by Alain Vigneron
Beauitiful paintings of the Cathar region in water colours. I bought this for inspiration and it worked as it really got me painting when I wasn’t writing!