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Salhouse Broad…November 2017

Autumn was definitely turning into Winter down by Salhouse Broad today, as I went for a wander round one of my favourite local spots.

It’s only a short distance from my house, and whilst lovely in the summer, in some ways it’s better in winter when you have the place to yourself.

Stormy weather has been blowing through all day, leading to some interesting light conditions for photos. I must remember to take my proper camera out next time, however the one on my phone is pretty good.

I managed not to get too wet, but did have to take shelter under the trees a few times as the rain blew through.

Sunshine and cloud made for a few good photos.

Places like this are inspirational for some of the short stories and poems I’m attempting to write at present.

You can read some of the ones I’ve finished, and a few that are in progress, on my Wattpad site. Here’s a link to my ‘Poems from the road’ which I’m slowly adding to: https://my.w.tt/UiNb/qZ6aT4L90H

I’ll shortly be adding the first few chapters of a new short story, all based in Norwich, but a slightly different sort of city to the one we know. I’d welcome any feedback.

 

Hit the road…James

I haven’t been on a decent cycle tour for a while, so decided my September break should be used for a pedal round some parts of the UK I haven’t visited before. I did the coast in 2013, and marvellous it was, but decided to head inland this time.

I set off from Salhouse, my new place of residence (moved earlier this year), through Norwich then down to Bury St. Edmunds. Day 1 took me to Cambridge via a slightly different route to the one I’d normally take. The bit down to Bury was alright, but not keen on the road from there to Newmarket. What was nice was to be on my bike again, letting the miles drift by, taking in Autumn sights, sounds and smells, and feeling work stress vanish surprisingly quickly.

After staying the night at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Cambourne, saying hello to their new chickens, and playing with my niece and nephew, I set my sights on Oxford. I decided to try cycling along the Icknield Way, an ancient trail that runs from somewhere near Thetford all the way to Oxfordshire. It is cyclable, but not really suitable for a touring bike; would be fine for bike packing. After about 20km of hard riding, where my panniers kept dragging on the grass, I swapped it for the road, crossed over the M1 and into the Chilterns, a range of hills my brain had conveniently decided to forget about.

Now I’m fairly fit from cycling to and from work, and longer rides at the weekend, but Norfolk doesn’t have a large number of hills and a fully loaded touring bike weighs quite a lot. I didn’t have to push up any climbs, but there was quite a lot of huffing and puffing, and a bit of swearing. The Chilterns cycle way is a beautiful ride though, and nice to pass through somewhere I haven’t visited before. I stopped at a campsite near High Wycombe for the night, conveniently situated next to a pub, splendid. Incidentally, quite a few of the campsites on this tour, completely by ‘chance’, were situated in close proximity to pubs…a clear sign the gods were smiling on my efforts (apart from Loki who conspires with the sheep).

After a restful night I pedalled off to Oxford, stopping to eat blackberries on the way. It started to rain so I didn’t pause for long in the city, but did find a good pie shop to acquire lunch from. From there it was another pleasant cycle through the countryside, chatting to a few cyclists along the way, and perhaps stopping for a cheeky cider to cool down. My next campsite was near Malborough; forest campsite, cheap, cheerful and quiet, just the job, although there was a psychotic hill to get up just prior to the campsite, on tired legs, that took some doing.

I awoke to a grey and damp day, but with the prospect of Avebury and Stonehenge on the horizon, places I’ve wanted to visit for a while. From Marlborough it’s a reasonably short ride to Avebury, where I stopped to look round the museum, and to pause for thought amongst the stones. There’s a lovely looking pub in the centre of the village, probably close to the centre of the stone circles, but it was a bit early for lunch and besides, wasn’t open yet. I really liked Avebury. There weren’t a lot of people about, the museum was good, and the place had a nice feel to it.

After a good wander about I set my sights on Stonehenge. There I was pedalling along, up and over hills, splashing through puddles, damp but enjoying myself, when I started to pass fields of sheep. Now I’m not saying it was definitely them, but feels a little bit coincidental that as I got near the top of a particularly long climb, where the rain really started in earnest, and the wind picked up, I fell victim to a puncture. I pulled over onto a farmer’s track to fix it, with rain infiltrating my waterproof. A flock of the devils regarded me with suspicion, and not a small amount of malice, from a nearby field.

It took me quite a while to fix that puncture, and there was quite a bit of cursing whilst the sheep continued to watch me, chewing, and occasionally bleating. Travelling Lobster was absolutely no help, you probably won’t be surprised to hear. I have a new back wheel as the old one wore out, and tyres seem particularly tricky to get over the rim; more practice required probably, but hopefully not in the vicinity of sheep.

I plunged down the other side of the pass towards the Salisbury plains and Stonehenge, getting slightly lost due to not looking where I was going and just enjoying freedom from the flock. Thankfully a helpful local pointed me in the right direction, and after a diversion round some closed roads I made it to Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was good to visit, but expensive, and very busy. A warden told me I was there on a quiet day, but there were still bus loads of tourists arriving, being shuttled to the stones, taking a selfie and then getting back on their coach. To be honest the place felt a little dead, which was disappointing, perhaps due to the volume of people and general feeling of disrespect folks had for the ancient monument. I still enjoyed seeing the henge, and taking a turn around the museum to learn a bit more about what they’d found here, and the speculations on how it was built; personally I think it’s obvious that druids flew the stones here, as per Terry Pratchett. I noticed a small number of tents and caravans on some land next to Stonehenge, and wonder if they are there all year, perhaps travellers and pagans wanting to be close to an ancient nexus of power, who knows?

I rode the short distance from Stonehenge to the campsite near Berwick St. James, ideally located for anyone wanting to visit the area, and cheap if you’re on a bike. Whilst there I bumped into a fellow cycle tourer, Carl, on his way down to Cornwall to visit family. It was his first cycle tour in about 10 years, and he was loving it. Unfortunately he had the headwind the next day, which I managed, for once, to avoid.

From Stonehenge I pedalled to the New Forest, passing through Salisbury on the way. I spent the day cycling around the forest, stopping for a double Cornish pasty break Lyndhurst. I spoke to a couple of locals who confirmed the village is always that busy; an endless stream of traffic flowing into and out of it, as ‘they’ refused to let a bypass be built in the seventies. I love the New Forest, despite the fact it’s a bit crowded, even in September. The gently rolling landscape, trees, heathland and wildlife are to be savoured.

After watching a convoy of horse and traps pass me on the road, making there way from some kind of event, I stopped for the night in Ashurst, possibly my favourite campsite of the tour; the staff were really friendly, the campsite beautiful with animals mixed in amongst the tents, and there was a pub next door! I had an interesting conversation with a 70 year old Australian lady about tents. She was travelling round the UK and was admiring my Hilleberg Akto, thinking it would be good for her next adventure; you’re never too old!!

After a restful night, post thunderstorm, I had a early start to try and make it down the coast to my parents house near Hastings. I wasn’t sure I’d make it, and had a back up plan to stop in Brighton, but was hopeful a strong tailwind would help me on my way.

I took the ferry from Hythe to Southampton, then rode round the back of Portsmouth and along the coast following a different route to that which I took in 2013, when I used a few more ferries and island hopped. The weather got steadily worse as I pedalled, with the wind building and rain getting harder. I did however pass several cycle tourers going in the other direction, who were having a much harder time of it; at least I was getting mostly blown in the right direction.

That was a tough ride, in-spite of the tailwind. Even for me it got a bit sketchy at times, especially when I got blown into the verge and had to perform a rapid and not particularly elegant dismount. One can forget just how powerful the wind can be! After around 107 miles, the longest leg of the tour, I made it to my parents house and shelter from the storm, which was really quite brutal by that point; very wet, very windy, kinda exciting.

I had the next day off, drying stuff, catching up with Dad, and meeting my friend Ian for lunch. Mum had travelled up to Cambridge to help look after my niece and nephew, but I hoped to rendezvous with her on my way back to Norwich.

Feeling rested and well fed I set off back North, through East Sussex and into Kent. East Sussex really is quite hilly, but lovely countryside and lots of familiar sights from my childhood. I made my way to Gravesend to get the ferry over the Thames; a passenger ferry you can take your bike on, much easier than going through London. Landing in Essex I rode to Kelvedon Hatch, the site site of a ‘secret’ nuclear bunker, with a campsite nearby which was most welcome after the busy roads and increasingly bad weather. It was another stormy night, with my tent getting somewhat battered, but the Hilleberg Akto is practically indestructible, despite the holes in the groundsheet caused by the voles (varmints) in Sweden, and once again did me proud.

From Kelvedon Hatch I rode back up to Cambridge and Cambourne, overnighting with family again and meeting up with Mum, before the final leg back to Norwich the next day. The weather was again a bit inclement, whatever that means, but the sun did come out as I pedalled through Thetford Forest. The dry spell was short lived, forcing me to take shelter under the bandstand, which isn’t a bandstand but I can’t remember what it’s called, in Wymondham; luckily there’s a baker nearby which helped pass the time.

I arrived back in Salhouse after pedalling around 600 miles, losing a few pounds, and generally feeling a lot more relaxed. Link to the map of my route:

https://www.strava.com/athletes/11810278/heatmaps/7ef5dc22#8/51.90967/-0.18951

To close here are a few pictures from the last couple of week’s in Norfolk, where Autumn has really taken hold. Autumn is my favourite season, and Norfolk looks beautiful.

Norwich beer fest soon!

Derbyshire wanderings

With holiday to use up, mainly due to poor planning on my part, I visited relatives in Derbyshire last week and had the chance for a wander through Dovedale, in the Peak District.

Dovedale, not far from Ashbourne, is a fantastic limestone gorge where you can walk alongside the river up to Milldale, or take various other paths to surrounding villages and other interesting spots. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, and remember crossing the stepping-stones with some trepidation the first time around. This time one of the stepping-stones had slipped downriver, so a less hazardous but rather boring bridge crossing was required.

The path to Milldale winds alongside the river, and is relatively flat with only a few ups and downs. There are lots of caves to explore should you have the urge; I don’t know the history of the area very well however one can imagine people must have lived in them for thousands of years. I liked Reynard’s Cave, although it seems a little big for foxes.

It was a bit of a dull day, but that really didn’t matter and probably meant it was a lot quieter than in the height of the tourist season, making for a very peaceful walk. I spotted quite a few dippers flitting about on the river, a few wrens and an inquisitive robin, and a yellow wagtale.

I passed various funky geological features including Ilam’s Rock, which I forgot to take a picture of as Lobster wanted his picture taken on the bridge, the 12 Apostles rocks, the Lion’s Head rock, the Dove Holes, all worth exploring more and it looks like a great climbing area too.

I’ve been watching a few of the old films we made for It’s A Trap recently, and couldn’t help thinking the area would make a wonderful location for some filming, probably involving Orcs or something; bit of a Tolkien landscape really.

After about 3 miles I reached Milldale, encountering only a handful of other walkers on the way. It’s a good spot for some lunch, although I did get swarmed by Mallards and one bit my finger; worse than piranhas!

I always think Mallards sound like they’re laughing at you. These were some of the boldest ducks I’ve ever encountered, even stooping to plunge their beaks into my rucksack in search of sandwiches whilst my back was turned; Lobster was no help whatsoever incidentally.

There’s a lovely poem on the information boards in Milldale, written by an eleven year old in 2003. I think it captures the spirit of the dale perfectly.

MAGICAL DOVEDALE
The water chuckles and giggles over weirs,
Then the bobbing dipper disappears.
The wrens and goldcrest dart along the riverside,
Above the spires the clouds do glide.
Ilan Rock looks down on Pickering Tor,
While mosses and ferns creep over the floor.
Across the Stepping Stones we tread,
Look! That Rock shaped like a lion’s head.
The ducks dip under, just showing a tail,
And this is my magical spirit of Dovedale.

After lunch I wandered back down the gorge, passing a few logs studded with old coins, where people must have made wishes. I stopped and added my own.

At the entrance to Dovedale stands Thorpe Cloud, an isolated limestone hill rising some 287m above sea level. Again I hadn’t been up it since I was a kid, so proceeded to clamber the grassy path, being careful not to slip down the steep slopes as one of my aunts did as a child, breaking bones apparently. In fact quite a few of my relatives seem to have accidents of one sort or another here, mainly involving the stepping-stones; I’m wondering if there was sherry involved.

Nothing like a good walk in beautiful countryside, maybe involving a few hills, to bring a little perspective and peace. Back at work now, but at least the morning cycle ride takes in some countryside; looking good in the frost.

Frosty morning bike ride

Frosty morning bike ride

Only a couple of weeks until Christmas holiday starts!

 

Autumn adventures

I may well have extolled the virtues of Autumn before on this blog, however it really is my favourite time of year with the countryside looking beautiful, lots to forage, and plenty to do before the harsher winter weather sets in.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had lots of opportunities to get out and about, both on two wheels and a few mini holiday breaks further afield.

Suffolk has plenty of places I haven’t been before. A short break saw visits to cosy small villages, RSPB Mimsmere with its Marsh Harriers and waterfowl, and Sutton Hoo which I hadn’t been to for several years.

I swapped my bike for a short stint in a row-boat, discovering it’s quite hard to go in a straight line if you don’t notice the boat also has a rudder.

As well as lots of birds to spy, and a few deer, Mimsmere also had an abundance of fungi to get confused about. My mushroom identification skills are sadly lacking.

Still a few flowers around as Autumn continues, and pine cones with their interesting Fibonacci sequence geometry.

Amongst adventures further afield I still managed to get out for a good cycle around Norfolk; not as flat a county as you might think, and great at this time of year with less holiday traffic.

Autumn is also deer rutting season, and we visited Holkam Hall for a wander around the park. Some of these Fallow deer really know how to pose.

After misplacing my camera (Canon SLR) for about 12 months, it’s nice to have found it again, although I think I need a bit more practice at focussing using zoom. These Red deer came out alright through.

And Holkam grounds look lovely with the leaves turning, and more fungi to get confused about.

There were also several quite spooky trees; apt for Halloween.

It’s been very mild for the time of year up until last week, however it looks like the colder weather has arrived with November, in time for bonfire night. This did not however deter a group of friends and I heading off to camp in the woods for the weekend. Armed with the right kit you can still be nice and toasty in your sleeping bag, and I’m thoroughly sold on hammocks versus sleeping on the floor, even if my hammock did nearly tip me out at one point; could have been user error. Camping out in the wilds of Norfolk exposes you to some beautiful sunsets.

The woods were warmed with candle light, campfires, friends and good food cooked over glowing embers. There might have been the odd glass of mulled wine too, just to stave off the cold.

And some dramatic fire poi action to round off the evening. No-one set themselves on fire this time around.

That might have been the last campout for 2016, however I would like to get one more in during December, just to round off the year; already missing the campfire, woods and good company. I might have to take some whisky with me if it gets much colder, if I can wrestle it from Lobster’s grasp; he is still around, and still needs a wash.

Lobster likes whisky as well as chocolate apparently

Lobster likes whisky as well as chocolate apparently

Happy Autumn adventures everyone.

Wayland Woods

As less is sometimes more, here are a few photos from a wander in the woods today. There is definitely an autumnal feel in the air, however the countryside is still rich things to forage and spot. I even saw an owl gliding across the road on my way back to Norwich, too quick for a photo but always a spectacular sight.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit...I think...and a bit poisonous so not good forage

Jack-in-the-Pulpit…I think…and a bit poisonous so not good forage

After a hectic week at work a walk in the woods is always good for relaxation purposes, and I hadn’t been to Wayland Woods, near Watton, before. The woodland is allegedly where the ‘Babes in the Wood’ legend comes from; this involves murdered children and not some kind of carry-on episode. Perhaps this is why the forest is sometimes also known as the Wailing Woods…

Beech trees providing a glorious canopy

Beech trees providing a glorious canopy

The woodland dates back to the last ice age, and is recorded in the Doomsday book. The name Wayland Woods may also be derived from ‘Waneland’, the Viking name for a place of worship. Wandering around this vestige of ancient woodland it’s easy to imagine sprites and fey folk living there, although I think the ones I saw were probably just squirrels eating the abundance of hazelnuts.

The wood has been managed for centuries as a Hazel coppice, however there are a lots of other trees to see including oak and ash, beech and birch, and a several others I didn’t immediately recognise. With coppicing you get some areas that have been recently cut back, providing hazel poles for various purposes including preventing river bank erosion, and other areas where the hazel is dense, the light is shut out, shadows linger, and sound is muted. In these quieter spots it’s easier to imagine the Babes in the Woods legend might be true.

Nature provides a mini swimming pool, or drinking bowl

Nature provides a mini swimming pool, or drinking bowl

The woodland is smaller than I thought it wood be, and probably once covered a far greater area. We need to do all we can to preserve these last remaining areas of ancient woodland, to help maintain biodiversity, and to offer quiet spots for a relaxing walk. Wayland Woods has recharged my batteries ready for the week ahead, after which I should have the opportunity for a few days off here and there, and perhaps a few mini cycling adventures.

Up North of the border

After a hectic first two-thirds of the year holiday time has finally arrived, and I’m spending a week with family up North.

Melfort Village

Melfort Village

We’re staying on the shores of Loch Melfort, a peaceful and beautiful spot just south of Oban, on the west coast of Scotland.

Mussel Bay - Loch Melfort

Mussel Bay – Loch Melfort

The waters of the loch are slightly bracing even in the height of summer, but were still enjoyable for a swim today, once I’d made it out past all the seaweed; mostly bladderwrack. There were a few seals bobbing about, along with cormorants – or they could have been shags, and duty seagulls.

We made stone towers, and my niece and nephew fished for crabs.

Mussel Bay - stone tower

Mussel Bay – stone tower

I’ve visited a lot of the area before, both on my 2013 cycle tour around the coast of Britain, and on previous holidays. Something about the West coast of Scotland keeps me coming back for more; it was certainly one of the best bits of my cycle tour. It was nice to visit the Tigh-An-Truish Inn for lunch with Dad on Monday, crossing the Bridge over the Atlantic to Seil Island.

After lunch I walked 10 miles back over the hills to Melfort, taking in various sights and sounds along the way, and avoiding sheep wherever possible.

It was a very peaceful walk and relatively easy-going, especially since the weather is good this week. Apparently it rained all last week so we’ve struck it lucky. I only met one other person walking the other way, accompanied by their dog who obviously thought everything was brilliant. That’s one of the great things about this part of the world, lack of crowds!

After making it over the hills to Degnish, there followed a stroll down the road next to the loch back to Melfort. I’d forgotten it was quite a long road, with a fair few hills, however beer was waiting at the other end and the scenery was lovely; lots of buzzards soaring about too.

Yesterday it was all about the beavers! Although I didn’t actually see any as they’re not so active during the day. There’s a Scottish Beaver Trial, now ended, in Knapdale Forest. The beavers are still there, awaiting a decision on their fate from the Scottish Parliament. Hopefully they won’t be evicted as they’re a keystone species that bring with them a lot of benefits for other flora and fauna. They’re also very cool creatures, and I’m wondering if I can sneak some back to Norfolk.

 

To finish the day off we visited the small port of Crinan, at one end of the Crinan canal, which bisects the peninsula.

Still got a couple of days left before I head back to Norfolk. Might have to search out some Sea Eagles, or perhaps wild haggis! I might visit Oban again and see if I can find the Otter I spotted playing in the harbour there other day. Lots to do here 🙂

 

Troll Hunting

I was going to write a blog with some post referendum thoughts. Some musings on how we have to be careful we don’t make the decline of the UK, recession and doom a self-fulfilling prophecy, and commenting on the general air of insanity, panic, vitriol and political nonsense that seems to have gripped the nation recently…

…but it’s my birthday and I want to focus on happier things.

After work today I went for a pedal through the Norfolk countryside, enjoying the sunshine, nature, smells of summer and mental freedom elicited through just going for a bike ride. Sometimes it’s nice to let your imagination run wild, and regress to a child-like state-of-mind, something us adults probably don’t do enough.

It’s amazing how your sense of smell can evoke such powerful memories. Today the smell of recently cut grass took me back to seemingly endless childhood summers, helping in the garden, exploring the countryside and going on adventures, or just lying in the sunshine and spending time with family. A wonderful period of life that was, of course, taken for granted at the time, but which truly were the moments when you were most free, as a child, with none of the burdens of adult life and responsibility.

So for a couple of hours this evening I left my adult mind behind, and entered the world of pretend. I stopped worrying about anything else and lived in the moment, letting my imagination do whatever it wanted too.

It’s a liberating feeling, and something I find easier to do when pedalling. Something about the motion of the bike, combined with mild exercise and being out in the countryside helps you enter a somewhat meditative state. You can let you mind relax, take some deep breaths and try to switch your head from rushing from one task to the next, to a more creative and playful place. The feelings of stress that can build up over the day or week just vanish.

So if you get the chance, go and have some play-time, and hunt some trolls. With all the mental health issues going on at the moment, maybe that’s what everyone needs.

Caveat: No trolls were harmed in the making of this blog, and any inferences to anti-social or violent troll behaviour is purely speculative. I’m sure most trolls are very nice, once you get to know them.