Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Blue on Blue

Each day when I climb the stairs and come and sit at my desk here, overlooking the Great Ouse, the river is different. As I look now it’s just about high tide and there is just a slight movement of the water from right to left - that is, up-stream. The visible currents and eddies that are there when the tide is rising or falling are gone, and are replaced by a gentle rippled effect of the wind. Strangely, there is one spot of white - a sea gull resting on the water and moving slowly with the tide. The rest is blue - a serene and calm blue.

Looking further I come to the other shoreline - now at high tide the mud flats are covered with water and all one can see is the top of the dyke bank, which is grass covered. The other side of the bank are trees - I know that there are houses there too, but all I can see from this vantage point are the tops of trees - one rounded oak stands in the centre of my field of vision, to its left the spiky tops of some sort of fir tree, and to its left what looks like a double crowned tree - maybe an ash? - but in reality will most likely be two trees close together.

And then the sky - the blue hazy at the horizon, but deepening as I look up - a totally blue sky this morning with not even the hint of a cloud. It looks like this will be another bright day here in Nelson’s county. There are just a few birds - mainly common and black headed gulls - swooping around and down to the water - never actually landing, just swooping.

And signs of human life are starting to appear, someone walking a dog on the opposite bank, a fishing boat going out to sea, and on this side of the bank, more cars going past, and pedestrians passing.

Even in the time I’ve taken to write this, it looks like the tide is now slowly starting to go out, although without the drifting seagull to show direction it is difficult to be sure. But one thing is for sure, I will never get bored of the changing faces of the river.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A changeable day

It has been outstandingly nice weather recently - a friend here told me a while ago that when is it nice in Norfolk it is amazing, and I am coming to see what he means:) When I woke up and looked outside it looked another pretty day - some puffy white clouds around, which enhanced the blueness of the sky.

Outside my bedroom window are some wonderful red roses which have been making me smile for a few weeks, but the flowers right by my window need to be dead-headed, so I did that, watered the tomato plants and the planters. Then I came in and did some e-mails, whilst watching some fishing boats going out to sea - I’m still a city boy at heart, and it just thrills me to see this happening right outside my window!

I’m due into my part-time job at noon, so have a quick check of the weather forecast - it says for the next few hours that there is an 80% chance of thunderstorms - but right now it’s bright and sunny and heck - I can’t go out in a coat on a day like this!!! So after an early lunch, I set off to the store where I work, and get busy with my job.

During the afternoon, I happen to be going past the loading bay, which has the big doors open - and I just have to stop and stare - the rain is so hard that it is forming rivers across the parking lot, and the one poor person I see out there is absolutely drenched! Soon, three of us are standing there watching the rain, and we all say the same thing - we had seen the forecast, but ignored it, because, how often is it right!!!

During that afternoon people come in the store with their wet umbrellas for a while, but it seems to stop quite quickly, and by the time my shift is over at 5, it’s dry and bright again - but there are still dark clouds around. I stop to get just a few items of shopping, and then head out home - and as I walk the 10 minutes home, it gets darker and darker. I’m about 3 minutes from home when the first drops of rain start, and I jog the best I can with two shopping bags, and manage to make it indoors without getting too wet. And just in time, as the heavens open again - looking out from my window I can see the rain sleeting down, and hear the water hitting the conservatory, the windows, and my roof too. At the side of my cottage I look out over the roof of an adjoining property, and the water from their gutters looks like a tiny Niagara Falls. Once again the storm is severe, but short, and soon blows over.

That evening I’m due to go out to meet some folk, and I normally cycle there - but cycling in a storm is not my idea of fun - I’m just considering this when my friend phones and asks if I’d like a lift there, and I gratefully accept. My normal route there is through a wooded are, and I look down this path as we pass it - the trees are now dripping down the rain they collected, and it does not look like a pleasant place to cycle.

We don’t get any more rain that evening, and I walk home around 9. By now the ferocity of the storms has gone, and we are left with the pleasant coolness and invigorating freshness of that after the rain period. Walking along the wooded path is a wonderful lift to the spirits, and even the occasional drop of water from the leaves is reasonably pleasant. As I reach the river, and the view opens up, the sunset is really something, with streaks of cloud lit up in shades of red and orange, and the open horizon filling the heart with joy.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Into the marsh

It was another bright and sunny early morning, just right for one of my bike rides. I’m not an experienced bike rider yet, and I’ve avoided riding through Tuesday Market Place for that reason, but as it’s 6am, I think that this would be a good time to try that route, and then I can head out along the path that goes down stream, and see where that goes.

Starting out I cycle along the Quay, and into King Street, and then across Tuesday Market, past the “pre-used” furniture store, and turn left by the docks. King’s Lynn still has a working dock, albeit a small one now compared to historic times, and it seems that the main product coming through is wood, with lots of stacks of different coloured planks visible over the fences. Also along here is a quay with fishing boats anchored - as it’s low tide these are currently in the mud, but I know from my part of the river that at high tide they will be riding high in the water.

Leaving the docks behind, I take the road alongside the river, which takes me past a few houses and a factory, before moving slightly inland. Here there is a hedge of trees to the river side, and then farm land stretching away to my right. As I pedal along the road becomes more rutted and uneven, and I cycle back and forth across the road looking for the smoothest line. Soon the field on my left gives way to a wooded area, and the path comes back up onto the river bank. It feels really like wild countryside out here, so I’m surprised to see a sign saying “Please drive carefully - free range animals and children ahead”, and then to come across two houses set in the among the trees!

By now the bank is noticeably high, with the river to one side, and the cultivation and wood land giving way to marsh land to the other. From up here the horizon seems to go on forever and it is difficult to judge where the water ends and the sky starts. Soon I come to a smaller path that goes down into the marsh, so I decide to take that, stopping first to read the sign. This marsh and the sandbanks that it leads to are an important area for migrating birds, and is a protected nature reserve. This piece of path takes me down to an observation deck, and even though it’s just a path, barely wide enough for my bike, I decide to ride down it, as I’ve not seen anyone else around all the time. The path gets really narrow, with shrub each side and I have to keep going as there is no room to turn around.

After a short while, the path turns right and the observation deck is there - a wooden platform just a couple of feet above the flat salt marsh leading a few yards to a couple of observation areas. It is still wet from the morning dew, or maybe from high tide water and I am a bit dubious about cycling across this, but decide to anyway. Half way along I stop to read a sign about the plant life here - it’s an area of land that is regularly covered with salt water, so the plant life has to be able to cope with that extreme environment. Then I start off for the end of the deck. At this point I discover that my initial caution may not have been misguided, as my tires slip, and I have to swerve to retain balance, only, the deck is not wide enough to swerve, and I end up falling into the marsh! I guess if one has to fall off a bike, falling into a soft salt marsh, at low tide, is one of the best places to do it, and only my pride is hurt!!

So I climb back onto the deck, pulling my bike behind me, and WALK to the end, and then walk back, till I’m on dry land again, then cycle back to the main path along the river. Up to this point the road has been potholed and rough, but at least it was a road - now the road surface ends entirely, and the path ahead is just a mud track on top of the dyke, and so really uneven. It is slow and hard going as I bounce along. I pass some sort of tower, with equipment on top - I take it this is a meteorological station of some sort, and then the path stops altogether as a smaller stream joins the main river. I get off the bike, and walk down to where the grass gives way to mudflats, down to the top of the high tide zone I guess, and here in the mud are all sorts of animal tracks - mainly the webbed feet of different birds, but also some paw prints. Once again I am shown my own ignorance of animal life, as I have little idea what all these are, but even so I am enraptured by the beauty of it all, and just stand and be for a while.

After a time I climb back up to the path, and retrace my route along out of the marsh to the farm land and then the docks, and emerge back near the centre of town. I’ve been out less than an hour, and so rather than go back home, I take the road out of town. Had it been later, I don’t think I would have followed this route, as it’s a busy road, with lots of trucks and cars leaving their fumes behind, but today it is really quiet, and fairly pleasant to cycle along. Soon I am out of King’s Lynn and into South Wotton, and I pick up a cycle path to Sandringham, which allows me to ride off of the main road.

I follow the path as it takes me across the main road, and then out to side roads as it goes to North Wotton. Here the village is starting to wake up, and I pass a number of people out walking their dogs, or strolling with children, and everyone says good morning - the real sign of a village community. The cycle path varies between village streets, paths between buildings, and then out across Ling Common. This is as far as I want to go today, so I stop for a few moments and admire the pyramid here. I also wonder why a pyramid - reading the sign I see that it was erected to celebrate the millennium, with funds raised from the village.

Then I start out back the way I came until I see a sign that takes this cycle path to Lynn, but a different way than I came. So I take this, and it is a neat path that runs through countryside to a sports centre. It then runs across a road and I’m not too sure at this point exactly where I am, until it gets to a wooded path that runs alongside the railway, and I begin to get my bearings again. Soon enough we get to a railway crossing, and there are The Walks, so I no longer need to read the signs as this is my home territory.

I’m soon cycling along the river again and then back to my cottage - a round trip of a couple of hours, and it’s still only 8 in the morning! What a great way to start the day, experiencing the wide open wild flat lands, the river, villages and even an impromptu dive into the marsh. Who could ask for more?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Sunny Hunny

It is a Sunday and promises gloriously sunny weather, so I decide to head out to Hunstanton for the day.

There is a direct bus from King’s Lynn that runs once an hour, and I turn up at the bus garage 10 minutes early, and there are already a few people waiting, including a family with 3 small children, who are getting increasingly excited as we wait! The bus arrives and the excitement is too much - one of the youngsters squirms away and jumps aboard the bus in front of everyone else. The ride is mostly uneventful, but we do get into a traffic jam as we approach the town, and are delayed by about 20 minutes. As we get closer to the centre, I notice the big parking lot next to the fun fair - and remember my trip here a few weeks ago when it was cold and damp, and there were only 4 cars in the lot, and a duck and ducklings wondering around. Today I’m hoping the duck found a quieter place to be, as the lot is nearly full, and it’s only 10 o’clock!

Getting off the bus, I’m reminded that the tourist board call this Sunny Hunny - and it IS gloriously sunny, and the sky and the sea are amazingly blue. But. It is still windy! I’m just wearing shorts and a tee shirt, and feel momentarily cool - but not for long as I start to mingle with the crowds that head out for the beach.

Hunstanton used to have a pier - this went into disrepair and suffered from a fire some time ago, but where it used to be is a building with amusements and really looking like it should have a pier attached to it! Nearing this I see lots of motor bike - I mean A LOT of them - many people in biker leathers sitting in the sun and mingling with the crowd of day trippers. Walking past these I start off along the promenade - and this has a real “English seaside” feel to it - lots of stalls selling seafood, ice creams and candy floss, hot dogs and coffee, and the inevitable gift shops with cheap souvenirs and buckets and spades - and sun screen and wind breaks, both of which are selling well! On the beach, they even have an area of pony rides, something I’ve not seen for years!

Walking along I see an amphibious vehicle near the beach, and tracks in the sand looking like it comes and goes - oh wow! a “duck tour”!! Yes indeed, they use these old WW2 landing craft for tours, and there is a tour of the Wash due to start in 15 minutes, so I buy a ticket and wait. Soon I see the craft out in the water coming closer - the “Wash Monster”. It comes right up to the promenade, and the front opens down to allow passengers to just walk straight off the craft onto shore.

We soon board and are off for our tour - just a 30 minute ride - that drives for a long way, before it has to engage its propeller and become a craft. Its crew give the appearance of older generation “sea dog” types, and it’s quite odd to see one doing the “the exits are this way” hand signals which one normally see airline stewardesses doing! This trip takes us down to Old Hunstanton, and gives us a great view of the cliffs, which are pretty amazing with a white top part, and then a very clear divide line to dark reds below. We also get a view of a much newer structure - the big turbines that are the entrance to the wash, harvesting some of the wind - at last! A good use for it!

Returning back to land, I start to walk back the way I came, and along the shore line towards the cliffs. As I go I see that the tide is going out and that more and more sand is becoming visible, as well as some of the sandbanks that are a feature of this area of coast. Looking back, I see the Wash Monster has started on a new cruise, this time out to the sandbanks, where people can get out and walk in the middle of the sea!

Eventually the promenade gives way to a normal road, and then I go down onto the beach itself - and my sandals come off so I can feel the cool sand between my toes. In this part of the beach there are moss covered rocks at low tide with tiny pools between them, before you get to the sand and then - eventually - the sea. This is a great area for adventurous young children, and the air is filled with excited squeals as another 5 year old comes face to face with a live crab for the first time. They may only be tiny crabs, but they are alive and move, and I just have to smile at the excitement they cause. I walk way out to the sea, crossing areas of sand that are alternatively dry and wet - you can really see how the sandbanks develop, and how people can get cut off on the sand banks from time to time.

I climb back onto the path, dry my feet as best I can and put my sandals back on, and start looking for somewhere to have lunch. I can see a cafĂ© on the cliff above me, and a path there, so I climb this, and although it looks like a nice place, and has a decent menu, I’d have to be indoors, and it’s much too nice for that, so I start down the path back to the town. There are a couple of other places that look OK, but I decide that what I really want is a picnic, so in the end I go into a supermarket and buy a ready made meal and a drink, and come back out onto the grass above the “pier”, and sit there to have my late lunch.

This is blissful - sunny, warm and relaxing, and when I finish eating I just lie there and watch the bikers, the people playing ball, and the sea gulls swoop and glide in the breeze. After a while I realise that I’m actually getting too hot, and maybe a bit sun-burned, so I spend a while looking round the souvenir shops, before heading back to the bus station to get the bus back to Lynn. It’s quite late arriving, and I’m really hot and bothered by the time it arrives, and then it is further delayed by an “incident” on the main road back home - but I sit and doze on and off and watch the countryside go past, and get home eventually.

Hunstanton is a fun place for a day out - and I’d like to go and watch the sun set into the sea one day, which is not something you can often do from an east coast resort!

Hunstanton is on a piece of water called “The Wash”, which feeds into the North Sea. The Wash appears like a large indentation in the coastline of the map of eastern England, it’s formed by a large bay with three roughly straight sides meeting at right angles, each about 15 miles (25 kilometres) long. It has a long sandy beach which is very flat, so when the tide goes out it goes out a LONG way. One interesting geographical thing about Hunstanton is that, although it’s on the east coast, because of the curve of The Wash, it actually faces west! For anyone interested, here is the Wiki listing for The Wash: