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.

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.

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