Thursday walk


winter trees

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

It was raining and there were dark clouds swirling outside but time for a walk. I set off up the hill and surprised a sparrowhawk on the ground. It flew off and perched on a post for a while. I could see its yellow claws. There were many red kites around working the fields and one them had landed on something. This was unusual because red kites usually just take their food on the wing even if it is a dead rabbit on the ground they can swoop by without stopping, such is their agility.
The trees were stark against the moody sky. There was hardly a leaf on them. I walked on to Fingest through a thick carpet of fallen leaves. On the trees there were buds coming out although it would be a while before they would emerge of course. In the hedgerows, wild clematis or old man’s beard wafted in the breeze. Groups of long tailed tits made their way noisily through the tree tops. A buzzard took off ahead of me and flew away. It was definitely a buzzard as the tail was all wrong for a red kite. They fly differently as well.
At Fingest the jackdaws were busy squabbling in the trees and they were flying out on small missions to a nearby apple tree which still had some fruit clinging on. As I climbed up hanger wood, the sun came out and lit up the sides of the beech tree trunks. Their shadows stretched out for a long way across the fields, so low was the sun.
By now it was getting dark, there was a thin horizontal line of sun on the horizon under a growing bed of dark clouds. I sudden disturbance ahead of me made me freeze and I searched the woods ahead of me. There were two roe deer standing there looking at me. For a few moments we met eye to eye and then they ran

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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

House sparrow


House sparrow

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

They were in the news this morning. Sadly they are in decline. A whole community live outside my mother’s house in Devon. THey are delightful. Living in a community together there would be a delightful buzz about the place. Busily feeding and fighting they would always be worth watching. In the summer in they lived in the shrubbery along the front garden. In winter they would move into the house martins nest under the eaves of the roof. It must have warmer for them. Come May, they would be turfed out by the House Martins, back from Africa and they would have to move into the shubbery again. Around July and August time the sparrows would find it too busy with all the martins and swallows around and they would pack their bags and go on holiday for a week or two. I think they went off to the seaside for a change of air and scenery.
What’s the answer? Plant more native shrubs. Honeysuckle is good but leylandii are bad, so is paving over your front garden. Look after our sparrows.

Walking in Autumn at the Warburg Reserve


Thursday walk

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

This wild place is in the depths of the Oxfordshire countryside near Henley. I parked at Maidensgrove common and walked down into the wooded valley to discover its autumn charms.
It had snowed in the Chilterns just the day before. An unexpected downfall that froze over making it treacherous to drive to work. The sun came out and the countryside looked beautiful. I hoped that some of the snow would survive the following day and I might get some interesting photos. It was not the case. There was not even a tiny drift left in any gully. However, the trees still had their Autumn colours so I was hopeful.
It was so quiet in the valley. There was no one around so I had the place to myself. It was raining as I set off but this soon cleared and the sun came through so I caught some good light effects on the leaves and branches. There were deer that scampered off into the woods as I approached. Right down in the bottom of the valley there is an old muddy track that runs through the reserve and one deer came out onto this in front of me and then couldn’t find a way out. She ran away from me on the track her heels kicking up the mud behind her.
In the bird hide, I settled down with my binoculars and had a cup of tea from my flask. Not really expecting to see anything. Then a gold crest came out and moved rapidly bimbling over the branches. I can recognise this bird just by the way it move but it was good to see the vibrant band of yellow across its head and its wide eyes. There was also a male bullfinch and several chaffinches.
Further up the valley I took more photos as the trees looked so good in the sun. I set up my tripod and wandered around looking for shots. Then within a few minutes a cloud rolled over and it rained again. I hauled myself back up the hill for tea and toast back at home.

Red Cabbage

This is an excellent winter vegetable to have with casserole of pheasant.
Ingredients
1 red cabbage
2-3 cooking apples
2 or 3 large onions
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
sherry glass of wine vinegar
What to do
Chop cabbage into 1/4s remove stalk and slice the apples and onions.
Put a layer of cabbage in the saucepan followed by a layer of onions, apples, brown sugar and seasoning. Repeat until you have used up all the vegetables. Pour over the wine vinegar. Cook on a low heat and stir frequently.

Pumpkin Chutney

Pumpkin Chutney is a great accompaniment for all sorts of dishes. I like it on a ploughman’s lunch with good cheddar cheese and homemade bread.

Ingredients
21/2 lbs pumpkin
1lb tomatoes
1/2 ib onions
2oz sultanas
3/4 lb soft dark brown sugar
3/4 ibs caster sugar
salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger, black peppar and allspice,
2 cloves of garlic
1 pint wine vinegar or cider vinegar
What to do
Peel pumpkin, discard seeds and the pith. SLice and cut in pieces. Pour boiling water over tomatoes skin and slice. Peel and slice onions and garlic.
Put all solid ingredients including spices and sugar in the pan. Add vinegar. Boil gently and cook until the mixture is jammy. It will take about 50 minutes, stir frequently and skim.

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.