Return of an old friend….

On Saturday I had a fleeting view of an old friend, as they chased a moth across the drive, in front of our house. Yesterday we had a better view and this morning, not one, not two but an incredible THREE! Ever since we’ve lived here we’ve been priviledged to have a pair of Spotted Flycatcher breeding in or around our garden. They usual arrive in the first week of May, have two broods and are gone by late August. We’d nearly given up hope this year – partly because it’s nearly the end of May but also the number of reports of this species, arriving in Britain this year, have been few and far between. Anyway they’re back and I hope they settle down to another successful breeding season:

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Post Script: 1st June, a thousand Spotted Flycatchers were reported today at Portland, in Dorset – so that’s where they all were!

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Walking tour of Norwich churches

The weekend before last, in the care of our local expert guide Helen, we did a walking tour of the medieval churches of Norwich. We visited 37 churches in total ( including a couple of ruins) and walked over ten miles – all within the inner ring-road, consumed several pints of beverage and concluded with a splendid Bangladeshi meal at the excellent  Roti restaurant. Space doesn’t allow photos of all the churches, so here is a selection of the better/more interesting ones:

To begin with, St Julian – home of Julian of Norwich, authoress of ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, c 1375, who lived in a cell attached to the south wall

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St Etheldredas, which contains interesting Black Death wall paintings and is now an artists studios

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Interior of St Stephen, Chapelfields, which has recently undergone major restoration because some careless workman left an outside underground tap on, which undermined the foundations!

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St Peter, Mancroft

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The font and rare timber canopy of St Peter, with a ancient tapestry in the background, which depicts Jesus wearing a hat!

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St Peter, Hungate, at the top of the exquisite Elm Hill, with it’s original 1460 door. The church is said to have been  saved from dereliction by a Punjabi Prince, Frederick

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Detail of pew end, St Peter

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St Mary the Less, entered through a modest door on the street – with a hidden ‘private’ church behind!

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Interior detail of St George, Tombland. A memorial to a couple and their twelve children – a number of whom died early

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A view from the Cathedral close of this spectacular structure, with it’s resident breeding Peregrine Falcons!

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St Augustine – now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and the only church in Norwich with a brick tower

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Detail of a stained glass window, St Augustine

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St George, Colegate

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St Saviour, Magdalene Street

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St John, Maddermarket

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The west doorway of St Laurence, on St Benedict’s Street, depicting the martyrdom of  St Edmund, who was killed by arrows and had his head cut off. Legend has it that it was watched over by a wolf and that head and body were later reunited!

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St Mary, Coslany, with it’s thousand year old round tower

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St Swithin, now in use as an Arts Centre

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St Giles on the Hill – in the drizzle. The remaining churches were done ‘at a run’ before retiring, wet, tired but happy to the Indian restuarant!

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Post script – not many UK cities can boast a thatched cottage within a stones throw of it’s shopping centre!

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Post post script – if you’d like to experience the delights of the mediaeval churches of Norwich, in the company of a knowledgeable and personable guide, you can contact Helen at helendawson41@yahoo.com. It might cost you a few quid, but well worth it!

Betjeman birds

Whilst doing the second part of the Betjeman Trail in the West Country we did manage to see a few interesting birds, photos of some can be seen below:

Hobby (one of five) over Ham Wall RSPB reserve

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Bittern – several heard ‘booming’ at Ham Wall, three seen flying together but distant, and this bird which provided some light relief during the seven hours spent waiting for and missing the Pied-billed Grebe!

 

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Singing male Blackcap

 

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Great Egret, at the same location

 

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Pied Flycatcher in Yarner Wood

 

 

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Male Mandarin, Yarner Wood

 

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Sparrowhawk somewhere on Dartmoor

 

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Dartford Warbler, Aylesbeare Common – the only bird seen on a rather breezy day

 

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Betjeman trail – part two

A couple of weeks ago we completed part two of our ‘self made’ John Betjeman tour, taking in locations of his schooling, summer holidays, university, marital homes and his final years. We stayed at the Race Horse Inn, North Hill and the Parklands hotel, Osbourne St. George, both excellent  establishments – the latter being well situated for anyone doing the Ridgeway long distance footpath.

To begin with, the Dragon School in north Oxford, where John was a boarder.

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He then moved on to Marlborough College, where he enjoyed less happy times

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The chapel at Marlborough which was ‘centre of school life’ and provided JB with some respite from the bullying regime

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From Marlborough we travel to Trebetherick on the north Cornish coast, the place of childhood holidays and his later years. Treen Cottage, in the same vicinity as his childhood holiday cottage, overlooks the golf course and St Enodocs church – John’s final resting place

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Views of Pentire Point from Greenaway – the strip of coast connecting Trebetherick with Polzeath and location of many of JB’s happy holiday exploits

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Greenaway from Pentire, looking towards Rock and Padstow, with Stepper Point off to the right

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The modern pedestrian ferry which runs between Rock and Padstow

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In nearby Wadebridge, in the former railway station buildings, is the John Betjeman Centre, with a room dedicated to his life and filled with artefacts and memorabilia from his house in Trebetherick. It’s a ‘must see’ on a tour of this nature though the actual place has more of a feel of a day care centre than a focal point for Betjeman fans!

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A collection of artefacts from Treen, his cottage in Trebetherick, at the time of his death in 1984

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John spent much of his later school holidays on his bike, armed with a one inch map, exploring the churches of this part of North Cornwall… ‘One of them that year so worked on me that, if my life was changed, I owe it to St Ervan and his priest’

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Extract from ‘Summoned by Bells’, in the ‘hidden’ church of St Ervan

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The former Rectory of St Ervan

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From Marlborough John went to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read English

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JB failed his degree and took up various appointments as journalist/correspondent and during the war, working for The Ministry of Information, as an attache in Dublin. He married Penelope, daughter of Field Marshall Lord Chetwode, in 1933. They lived at Garrard’s Farm in Uffington, Berkshire

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Tom Brown’s School museum has an interesting display about the Betjemans lives during their time at Uffington, as well as an extensive archive of private correspondence and papers. Candida, his daughter, still lives in the village.

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At the end of the war the owner of Garrard’s farmhouse required it back and the Betjemans moved to the nearby  Old Rectory, Farnborough – bought by John’s father-in-law.

As an interesting footnote, Country Life ran a competition in 2008 to find the finest English parsonage – Farnborough won, and our current house was selected as regional runner-up!

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After his time in London, living in Cloth Fair and Chelsea, with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish- his ‘beloved second wife’, JB returned to Cornwall and saw out his days at Treen.

He died on 19th May, 1984, and was buried in the church of St Enodoc.

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John Betjeman, 1906 – 1984. A life filled with women, poetry, architecture, trains, and doubt……

Breckland Bonanza (I must think of a more original title!)

Today, on the way back from the cottage, we did a round-up of a number of rare/scarce Breckland birds. Here’s the results:

First, a singing Wood Warbler at NWT Wretham Heath reserve

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A male Redstart, at an undisclosed location

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Distant Stone-Curlew at NWT Weeting Heath

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A superb male Red-footed Falcon over the reed bed at RSPB Lakenheath reserve

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And finally, a rather distant Black-winged Stilt, on Adventurer’s Fen, NT Wicken Fen

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Nice to catch up with so many smart birds in one day!