Friday, 15 May 2009

Morning has broken.

A couple of days ago I was awake for no obvious reason around 4am, and noticed that the sky was already getting bright. By 5 it was looking so nice outside that I decided to jump out of bed, throw on some clothes, and go for a dawn bike ride.

I start out along South Quay, and the tide is low - very low and at a bend in the river the mud flats are covered with sea birds. I take the loop around Boal Quay, and then am back on the cycle path that runs along the Great Ouse. The sun is barely over the horizon and I peddle vigorously to get warm, and soon I’m out under the main road - already busy with commuter traffic - and slow down as I see a pheasant on the path ahead! I’ve never seen pheasants on this path, but I assume they are in the fields around. Soon the cycle path leaves the river and goes onto a track through farm land with hedges on both sides and I slow and stop to watch rabbits hop away, flashing their white tails at me as they do, and more pheasants in their bright feathers. Out here it is peaceful, majestic and wonderful - and I can even ignore the paper mill they are building behind me, and look out over the fields instead.

I get to the end of this lane, and the cycle route now goes out onto the country roads. Normally I’ll take this back, but I don’t want to lose the freedom that I feel right now, and having to be conscience of traffic would do that, so I just turn my bike and go back the way I came. I am new again to biking after maybe 30 years, and still a bit cautious and there are these barriers that are, I assume, meant to stop cars coming down the cycle path - they are about 6 feet tall, wide at the bottom and suddenly narrowing towards the top, they look like an inverted wine glass shape. They are about handlebar width plus 6 inches, and I've never felt confident about riding through them, so have always got off the bike, walked through, and then got back on again. Well, this morning I decide it’s time to face that fear, and so I rode through them! I have to really concentrate to get it right, but I am getting there. In all I was out for about an hour and was really warm and sweaty by the time I got back home, I laid back down but couldn't go back to sleep, which meant I was really tired when I went into work at 2pm!!

- - - - - - - - - - -

This morning I sleep later, and when I wake heard a noise that I couldn’t immediately identify, and then I realised it was rain drops on my window. I put on my robe and go out into the conservatory - this is one amazing morning!! There is no wind and the rain is just a gentle falling of water - it reminds me of a hymn we used to sing “soft, refreshing rain”. The conservatory is all glass, and the sound of the rain on the roof is just the sweetest soft sighing. My little pond and bird bath are getting a nice fresh re-fill too, without my intervention for once. I notice that I’ve left the door of my shed open a bit, so go out to shut it - my feet get wet, but the rain on my head really is soft and refreshing!

Coming back in I stand in the conservatory just “being” for a while, and think I must have got wetter than I thought, as rain drips from my hair onto my back. Then it happens again, and I realise it’s not me, it actually is dripping in here. There are just a few drops of rain coming from the central point where the sloping glass panels meet. It’s not much, and I put a couple of pails down to catch the water - it’s certainly not enough to spoil this soft and refreshing morning.

As I sit here now at my desk looking out over the river it looks like the rain is easing off, and from a practical perspective this is good because I need to go out to work later. But the feeling, scent and sound of this mornings soft refreshing rain will stay with me, I hope, as I get into the practicalities of the day.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Norfolk Road trip (2)

A new day and a new trip with no plans other than to explore! I start off along the small country roads and start to “collect” village signs - it seems that every village here has an ornate sign with its name on, usually in the middle of the village next to the green and the village pub. Norfolk is known to be a very flat county, and although it doesn’t have anything much approaching hills, the land does rise and fall, and as one gets to the top of a rise you can suddenly see the sea sparkling in the distance.

By following where I see the water is, I come to a tiny place called Bancaster Stythe and take the beach road. Driving down this I first see a sign warning that the road is liable to “tidal flooding”. As I drive the road is wet and there are pools of water - I have my windows open and you can smell the salt water - yes, it really must just flood each high tide! Getting to the end of the road there is a private area for a sailing club, one building, and a public car park. There is an attendant there taking money for parking, so I decide to just turn around and splash my way back out again - my pretty black car is getting dirty!!

Driving along the coast road I come to Burnham Deepdale, and spot somewhere that looks like a nice place for breakfast on this Sunday morning. One of the issues I have with this part of the world is that there seems to be few places open for breakfast, but this looks a nice place, and so it proves to be, with lots of people sitting both in the restaurant and outside in the sun. I sit at a table outside and have coffee, then use the bathroom and move on.

One of the interesting things about the country roads around here is that a lot of them are really straight - down in the south east where I’m from roads like this tend to snake in and out and around fields, but here they can just seem to disappear into the distance, and with the horizon that goes on forever and the different land uses as I drive, I am presented with one stunning view after another.

After a while I follow a sign to the Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve. Now, I’m not a “twitcher” but being in this area with its migrating birds does make me want to learn more, and I even invested in a pair of binoculars - so I hang these round my neck and go to the entrance of the reserve, which is through the visitors centre. Here I met a volunteer greater - Chris - and he tells me a bit about the place, gives me a map, and generally makes me feel welcome.

The reserve is actually quite small, but very well organised for visitors, with walk-ways over the marsh land, seating and hides where one can observe the wildlife without disturbing it. The riverside path is closed because of nesting birds, but Chris tells me that they have heard their first cuckoo of the season, although I don’t hear it. As I walk round I meet others on the path, and without exception they say hello - I guess it’s the community of bird watchers! This is a very interesting place, and it’s on a bus route from Lynn, so I’m planning on coming back during the summer.

Driving on I pass a number of the dykes which keep this part of the country from being marsh land, and then to the bank of the Great Ouse - out here there are often small communities of two or three houses in the middle of a field, and I wonder how they survive out here. One such “community” of 2 houses has a sign advising that it is “Neighbourhood Watch Area” - well, with just two houses, I guess you could watch the neighbours!

The clouds are getting darker and I can see a storm in the distance, and as I drive on it starts to rain - and I discover that the rental has automatic wipers! I’ve never driven a car with these before, and have always thought them pretty pointless, but actually, I’m now converted, and want them in my next car! We have quite a downpour, and as I drive I hope this is cleaning the car some!

I stop one more time at a Frankie and Benny’s for a late lunch, and am entertained by a table celebrating two birthdays - so the lights are darkened, and we sing “Happy Birthday to you” whilst the waiters bring out a cake - twice! Back home I realise I’ve driven about 100 miles today - in some ways it hardly seems like I’ve been any distance, but I’ve seen so many villages, and so many horizons that I guess I must have.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Norfolk Road Trip (1)

I don’t currently own a car, so I thought I’d rent one for a few days to get out and about. I collected the car last Friday morning, and the first nice experience - it’s a shiny black dead sexy Fiesta Zetec - and just been delivered to them, so I’m the first driver!

My first trip is back to my house and to collect my GPS and my diet cokes, and off to get gas as the tank’s on empty. It’s a bright sunny day, and I open the windows and turn on the radio as I start off down the main road to Norwich, - this is as good as it gets short of having a convertible!! On a whim I turn off at a sign to Pentney Lakes, a quiet country road, so I turn off the radio and drive slower and listen to the sound of the country. And also the smells of the country, which range from sweet to - how shall I put this - agricultural!

I’m soon at Pentney - a new community of log cabins around a lake. There are still plots for sale with planning permission to build your own cabin, and that would be a nice place to spend a long warm summer. Driving past the community, I get better views of the lake and the birds that live there, and see that they actually spill out not just onto the adjacent field, but onto the neighbouring farmer’s fields. Whilst stopping to look at this, I see what appears to be a bit of a building stuck in the middle of a field - except it’s more like a pillar than anything. But there is no sign and no one to ask so I just take a photo and move on.

As I drive I use my GPS to take me the “shortest routes” - I know that this means I get to use the tiny country roads, and that is exactly what I want! At other times I turn the GPS off and just drive - the fields around here are full of pheasants, and from the amount of road kill one sees, they are also very accident prone. I’m a city boy - and I get excited about seeing real wildlife just being there, so I keep slowing to watch the pheasants and rabbits I pass - and the one dear I spot in the distance!! After a while I get used to the single track, two way roads I'm driving on, and don’t panic when I spot a car coming in the opposite direction, although I do get concerned when it’s an enormous farm tractor - will they actually see me in my tiny car!

It’s now lunchtime, so I ask my GPS where there is a restaurant - it takes me to where is says a Little Chef is - only it’s a field!! However, just down the road is a place called “Hollywood Legends” - and how could I resist with a name like that:) It’s a reasonable place, and next to it is the Legends Car Wash. As I sit down and order, a lady arrives and goes looking to have her car washed - only the worker there is in the restaurant about to have his lunch! In a typical friendly Norfolk way, he says he will leave lunch till later, and the lady says for him to finish.
Lunch over, I set out for the coast, again using the small roads and getting really into the rural heart of Norfolk - mile after mile of straight (but tiny) roads through farm land, and the occasional village of just a few cottages with its village sign, and normally a pub and maybe a store too. Some of the places I drive through are probably too small even to be called a village, just 20 or so houses clustered round the road.

Soon I come to Hunstanton, which is quite a popular seaside resort in these parts - and an interesting one for the east coast; because of the way the coastline works, Hunstanton actually looks out west over the water!! It’s not really high season yet, and I drive into the huge parking lot near the amusement rides and there are only 5 other cars here - along with a duck and her ducklings waddling along the road. I stop here just to use the toilet, then drive on further along to Hunstanton Cliff, and park there.

We are on The Wash here - a strip of water from the North Sea that creates what is almost like a mini sea of its own, and here at low tide the sand goes on for miles. I change out of my jeans and driving shoes into shorts and sandals, and walk out the long way to where the sea is, and one can see why this area can be dangerous - as the tide comes in it will cover these flat areas of sand really quickly, and cut people off surrounded by water.

I spend about an hour on this bit of beach - walking and then just sitting in the sand dunes enjoying the sounds and smells, and the sun on my body. But then I get the urge to move on, so I get back in the car to drive some more - but as it turns out, not far. I follow a sign saying “old Hunstanton” and get to another part of the same beach. Here, however, there are many more sand dunes, with lots of beach huts in and among them.

Beach huts always appeal to me; I’ve never been in one, but they seem to encapsulate the essence of the old fashioned British seaside holiday. No water, no plumbing, no electricity, you’re not allowed to sleep in them overnight, and they are shut up all winter. But a “home away from home” by the sea, somewhere to sit and make a cup of tea on the gas stove you keep there. Or to hide from the rain when we’re on the beach coz it’s a holiday and we WILL enjoy it, whatever the climate thinks! On other beaches these huts are in solid straight lines along the promenade, but these are more random - they are dotted among the dunes and are raised up on stilts, maybe to avoid flooding, maybe to give them a better view?
Getting back to the car, and trying to keep most of the sand outside, I set off again along the coast road to Holm and Holm Dunes nature reserve. Once again I park and set out to walk - and here we need to cross a golf course to get to the dunes. There are signs up to show you where to look, and netting to “hide” behind when they are playing. If Hunstanton showed one face of the British Holiday tradition, here at Holms Dunes we come across another sort of vacation, because it’s along the Norfolk Coast Path, and hikers can be seen even this early in the year walking the 50 miles from Hunstanton to Cromer.

But not for me, for today - I walk out along the wild dunes and out onto the sand flats - no Amusement parks or beach huts here - just the open sea and the dunes. It is a glorious day, sunny, and the sounds of birds carried by the wind. The sort of place that makes you want to just stop the world, and take some quiet time.