but she's a girl...

[Femina geekoides]

Holiday highlights

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Last weekend, we got back from a week away in North Norfolk, staying in a gorgeous, tiny cottage in Blakeney. Since then I’ve been frantically catching up with work, to the point where it feels as if I’ve never been away. It was a wonderful holiday, though. Mr. Bsag had spent years trying to get me to go to North Norfolk. I was initially reluctant, as I spent much of my childhood being rather reluctantly dragged to South Norfolk for visits to an aged relative – an experience than inevitably coloured my impression of the whole region. Anyway, a few years ago, Mr. Bsag won his battle for the holiday destination of his choice, and I found that I loved North Norfolk. It will never supplant the Inner Hebrides or areas of Devon or Cornwall in my affections, but Norfolk is a great deal easier to get to from Birmingham. It’s very peaceful, beautiful, has lots of wildlife, and huge skies.

Here are a few of my highlights of the holiday.

Bird hide, Pensthorpe Natural Park

We’d never been the Pensthorpe before, but I think we’ll go again. It’s an enormous site, formed from an old gravel works, which has been turned over to a natural park. There are many lakes and streams, and several wildlife gardens. They also have proper wooden bird hides, from which you can view the more distant and inaccessible parts of the park. I’m not a twitcher, but I’ve been in a few hides in my time. I had forgotten what a wonderful experience it is. The smell is distinctive: wood and wood preservative, with a hint of sweet wetlands coming through the viewing flaps. You instantly fall silent as you go in, and it feels like a special experience. When you lower the viewing flaps, rest your elbows on the shelf and raise your binoculars to your eyes, the view becomes a bright, jewel-like rectangle in the darkness of the interior, and the sounds and scents from outside seem heightened. I could stay in a hide for ages, but inevitably (particularly in a public park like Pensthorpe), a horde of kids – trying to be quiet, but failing when excitement gets the better of them1 – comes in, and the spell is broken.

Skeins of geese, Blakeney Harbour

Most evenings when the weather was fine, we went for a stroll around sunset or just after dark down to the harbour. One particular evening, we timed it perfectly at sunset on a beautiful day, and walked a long way out along the channel towards the sea. Here, you are somewhere between the shore and the sea, and though you can look back and see the village and people, it feels wild and isolated. As the sun set, skeins of geese (pink-footed and barnacle) and ducks flew over our heads, honking and calling to each other as they searched for a night roosting place. The skeins flickered as individual geese starting whiffling as they descended2, the setting sun occasionally catching their feathers and making them rosy. We had the setting sun on our faces, the salty smell of the marsh in our noses, and the background booming of the waves on the shore in our ears, as well as the lonely calls of the geese, and I haven’t felt so content and relaxed in a long time.

Burnham marshes walk

One of our walks was a section of coastal path just along from where we listened to the skylark on our last visit, around the area of The Burnhams. There are several small settlements close together with ‘Burnham’ in their name (Burnham Overy Staithe, Burnham Market, Burnham Thorpe etc.), but people tend to refer to them as The Burnhams. It’s a bit like Midsomer, but less murder-y. They are incredibly posh villages, as rich people from London have bought up holiday homes there, inflating the prices beyond the financial reach of locals. We went through Burnham Market on the bus, and it was like a rural Islington. Anyway, we weren’t there for the villages, but for the coastal walk along the marshes. There’s a great section of path which is raised on a bank, and you are surrounded by marshes, birds and a huge sky. We had a wonderful walk along this path, then stopped for a picnic, sheltering in the long grass on the side of the bank. It was like a fragrant, grassy nest, from which we could look out at the glorious view, while eating lovely local bread, cheese and apples.

Night walk to Morston

On our last night, we had a meal at a pub in the next village along - Morston. You can get there from Blakeney along another section of the coastal path. It’s a very pleasant walk of a couple of miles, again through marshes on a raised bank. The timing of our booking meant that we walked there as the sun had just set, then walked back in the dark, which was perfect. On the way there, we heard tawny owls calling, and spotted the ghostly shape of a barn owl silently quartering the fields, as the dark shapes of bats crossed our path. On the return journey, we had the magnificent bowl of the night sky above us, with the Milky Way clearly visible and more stars than we have seen in a long time. A couple of times we nearly plunged off the bank as we were dawdling along looking up at the stars rather than where we were walking, but it was an amazing experience.

I’ve posted a few photos on Flickr here.

  1. It always makes me laugh when kids who are genuinely trying to be quiet adopt a deafening whisper that carries several hundred metres. 

  2. Whiffling: when birds rotate rapidly from side to side, as an anti-predatory move, or to spill air on a rapid descent. If there’s a lovelier word in the English language, I don’t know of it. Unless it’s ‘crepuscular’. 

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