Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sandringham in the early spring

Sunday was the first Farmers Market of the year at Sandringham, and I thought I'd go along. January markets are normally small (and some places don't open in January at all) but it's not that far, and I thought I could combine this with a walk in Sandringham Park.

As I approached the Visitors Centre I was amazed at how many vehicles there were parked on the grass verges, and outside the church. Turning into the Visitor Centre parking, the first lot of bays were all full, but there was plenty of space in the second, and I parked, got out, and then realised that I really should have brought some other shoes with me - the ground was squelchy after the rains of the last few days, and my walking boots will be getting muddy!

I went first to the Farmers Market - as expected it was quite small - maybe 10 or so stalls, and there were only a few people at the stalls themselves. Having said that, there were plenty of people around and I would not be surprised if there was a steady flow of people getting food on the way back to their cars.

Although only few in number, there was a nice selection of items on sale: pies from Mr Kew, Venison products from Fen Farm, hand made cheeses from Lymn Bank Farm. local vegetables, fudge, another pie maker, and a couple of other stalls.

Having made my purchases and stored them in the car, I set off for a walk in the Park. This is a popular spot with dog walkers, young families and cyclists, but even so it is easy to get away from people noise when one walks into the wood.

I followed a path through the trees which was springy underfoot from pine needles - this part of the park is planted with firs. Especially at this time of year, when there is little undergrowth, it actually looks and feels very regimented - very like a plantation. Coming out of this area I cross a wide area cleared of all trees, possible a fire break, and then I go back into the forest on the other side, and the pines give way to a more mixed woodland.

Here and there are places where people have collected bracken and made "dens", and there are paths leading in every direction. There are also signs of new planting - one area had a number of tubes sticking out of the ground, each one of them protecting a new young tree. Also among the undergrowth there is the occasional holly bush, bright green against the surrounding brown.

I complete a circular walk of maybe 2 miles, and then back to the visitor centre, where I go into the shop, just to look around. It's also warm in the shop! I go on to look at the small plant shop they have here, and think about buying one of their pots planted with spring plants and bulbs, but in the end decide against.

And so back to the car and home - a short trip, but a productive one:)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Cliffs and Beaches - Hunstanton, Norfolk

It was what seemed like the first bright winters day for ages, so I decided to go to Hunstanton for a walk.

I parked on the cliff road, put on my hat and gloves and set off. Walking along the grass here I come to a small formal garden with a nice wooden carving of a dog, which I'd not seen on my previous visits, although it looks like it's been here a while. This is just by the remains of St. Edmund's chapel, and I see that there is a quiet area the other side too - but it's too cold today to sit and contemplate I think! Moving on I come to the old lighthouse, and I wonder how it would be to live there - right on the cliffs edge, and amazing views from the tower over the Wash and back over Norfolk too I'm sure. Just along from this are a few "normal" houses, but I suspect they are too far back from the cliff edge to have a sea view. I do briefly look at the cafe here to see if they open, as would be a nice place to stop after my walk for a warming coffee - but they look like they are closed for the winter, which, I suppose, is only to be expected.

My aim is to get to the beach, so I set off at a brisk walk down the somewhat muddy path that leads down to the bottom of the cliff face. When I get to the ramp down to the sea, I spot that there is a walking route continuing up the other side of the cliff - this might well be a good walk to take another time, but right now I have my heart set on sand!

So I get to the beach - the tide is still a fair way out, but it's coming in, so I do need to keep an eye on that as I walk towards Hunstanton. The clifs here are an amazing sight - at the top white chalk, but this abruptly changes to red limestone - called "red chalk" around these parts. The stratification is amazing and quite outstanding.

Walking along the beach in the winter is different - I well remember being along this stretch of coast in the summer in shorts and tee shirt, and taking off my sandals to paddle on the water line and collect shells. Now I need my coat and thick walking boots, but these do make it difficult to walk on the soft sand, and I don't want to get them wet from the sea, so I try for a middle ground of hardish damp sand to walk on.

The cliffs here are home to a large number of birds, not only the seagulls one would expect, but I also spot some pigeons there. Further along I come to the wreck of a boat, and I recall hearing about before. It is the wreck of the "Sheraton" which started life as a trawler but was later moored on the other side of the Wash to be used as a target ship in the Second World War. But she broke free from her mooring in a gale and drifted on to the beach here - even after scrap dealers had most of the boast a section of the hull still remains here.

I am watching the tide come in as I approach the start of the Hunstanton promenade - should I go up there, or will I be safe on the beach for a while yet? I decide to walk along the beach - it is the reason I came here after all - and I start to climb over the groins that are now a feature of the beach. These are interesting, as they form a barrier against which the tide washes up flotsam. But what really gets my attention is one corner made by the sea wall and a groin, a flat piece of sand with innumerable mussel shells lying open, and looking to all the world like a collection of butterflies!

I decide it's time to get up onto the prom, so climb some steps which take me to an area where there are some beach huts all in a row. These are obviously being cleaned for the new season, and the doors are open - so I go look inside them! They have 4 beach chairs, a counter area with a pucket and a washing pail, and I see they also have an electric outlet - very mod-con-ish!

I continue on here, under the pier head (which does not have a pier) and then double back on myself to walk to my car. Rather than follow the road, I cut through the green and up to public gardens. I notice that the park benches here have, rather than the standard uprights, a serpent (or eel?) device holding the back and the seat in place - very cute.

Walking through the park I do see that the cafe here is open, but decide after all not to stop for a hot drink - my walk on the beach was not as cold as I had thought it might be.

And so back to the car, and drive home - a nice sunny winter's day walk in Norfolk.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

They're off!!!!

I’ve never been to a horse race meeting, so when a Twitter buddy commented that they were going to Fakenham Races on New Year’s Day, I thought that this would be a new thing to do in the New Year!

When I woke and saw the grey skies and drizzle, I wasn’t so sure, but I got out my trusty walking boots and packed dry trainers in case I got too muddy, wrapped up warm and set out. Fakenham is about 25 miles from King’s Lynn, and a straight trip across country. As I’d been seeing the New Year in and so got up late, I didn't stop for breakfast at home, but thought I’d stop at one of the cafes along the way in one of the villages. What I hadn’t thought about was that it WAS New Year’s day and nothing was open – well, I’d just have to wait till later and eat at the races.

At one point on the drive the drizzle turned to actual rain, and I wondered about my decision, but that cleared up and I kept on. I found the racecourse without any problems, and was soon driving along to the “member’s car park”, an odd title actually, as it’s open to anyone, you just have to pay parking, which you don't in the outer car parks. But is does mean it’s less far to walk! We were sat in a queue for a few minutes, until one of the stewards started directing us to another compound to park, and then I was there!

As I got out of the car and put my hat on, I noticed a lot of people changing into wellington boots, and hoped it wouldn’t be THAT muddy. The first race was already on, and as I approached the rail the horses were galloping by – and suddenly this was real and I was actually there on the mud of the racecourse!

I was in the “enclosure”, which had its own bookies and cafe, but I went on and paid the extra to get into the Grandstand and Paddock. By the time I got through, the first race was over, so I headed to the “Norfolk Picnic” area to get a very late breakfast. There I wished Happy New Year to Sarah from Brays Cottage, and got a chilli flavoured pork pie to keep me warm.

Back to the grandstand and the second race has about 5 minutes to the start. I look at the list of runners – one was called “Knight Legend”, and so I took that as a sign and decided to put a bet on it.

When I’d watched racing on the television, I’d seen the rows of bookmakers each with their own pitch, and sure enough, here they were, all showing their own odds for the horses. Whilst I know little about gambling, I knew enough to be able to put the minimum bet on Knight Legend each way, and then holding my betting slip tight I went and joined the crowd at the rail.

Fakenham race course is gently undulating, and from where I was I couldn’t see the start of this race, but the commentator gave us the off, and soon I could see the horses in the distance as they rounded the first bend to the far side of the course. Soon they were took the near corner, and galloping by us, with Knight Legend in 4th place. They passed us a second time with my horse still in contention, and then finally they came past us for the last time, and Knight Legend finished 2nd!!! Woo-Hoo!!!!!

I excitedly went to the bookies and collected my winnings – which because of the odds were exactly the same as my stake money – well, at least I wasn’t down yet!!

The cold was starting to get to me, so I walked around a bit and watched the horses from the race being lead, steaming, back to the paddock, and the next horses being made ready for the race. In the third race there was a horse called “Erin Dancer”, and since one of my favourite singers is called Erin, I put a bet on this one too. This time I stood in the grandstand to watch the race, but my horse came in 4th, so no winnings this time.

There were 4 more races, and without any names jumping out at me, I went and looked at the horses in the rink, and made a decision to bet on that basis, and actually I did fairly well with all the rest of my choices being 2nd or 3rd – not bad for someone not following form or really having any idea what they were supposed to be doing!

In between races I walked round and queued for coffee to keep me warm. It wasn’t actually that cold to be honest, well above freezing, but it just got to me after a while, and my feet in particular were getting cold. I also had a hot dog with mustard for “lunch”, which was not the best thing I've ever eaten, but at least it was hot.

With the last race coming along I was £0.50 down on the betting for the day, and I went and looked at the horses in the parade ring. One called “Along Came Rose” caught my eye, and the odds were 8/1, so I did another each-way bet, and went up to the grandstand for the last time. For the longest time it looked like my horse was not going to be anywhere, but in a racing finish she managed to finish 3rd!

I went and collected my winnings and ended up the day £0.70 to the good! Fantastic – although I don't think I’ll try and make a living from betting! Then I joined the crowd leaving the course, and was soon really pleased to be back in my car with the heater on.

It was a good experience, and a nice new thing to do on New Years day! I have no idea if Fakenham is representative of other courses, but I found the crowd a happy one and the whole event to be enjoyable. I also learnt that I need to put thicker socks on in future!