*Note: not sure what’s happened to the changes in font size, but I can’t work out how to change it!*
Our first day in North Norfolk and we’re picked up by our friends Lawrie and Auro and driven off into the Norfolk countryside, bound for the RSPB Titchwell Marsh nature reserve. I’m really excited. I love visiting bird reserves, and who knows what we might see today? And we’re going to the coast. I’m obsessed with being by the sea!
As we drive on, I’m impressed by how fresh and lush the landscape is despite the recent lack of rain. I watch flocks of wood pigeons flying across the roads or sitting on wires, white wing bars and white-ringed necks flashing in flight. Trees hang their boughs over us like bowers, shade and then brilliant light and then shade again. Lawrie, being a steam train enthusiast, requests that we stop at the original site of the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway, so we do. At first, it just looks like a car park, with an un-weeded flower, which we learn has been allowed to grow wild to feed the bees!
Around the corner there’s an old station house housing a tiny cafe, and a shop that sells independently made and sourced jewellery and craftwork. Bought a card with a beautiful watercolour print of a fox (I collect pictures of foxes) and a pair of green dichromatic earrings that look like tiny iridescent beetles. Place is almost empty of people, but alive with birdsong. Goldfinches singing their hearts out in ‘newly painted’ (thanks to Lawrie for a great phrase!) plumage. Tiny little bundles of colour and melody. Swallows swooping overhead.
Back on the road after coffee and snacks. Tantalising views of the coast. Flat and touched with pale gold in the noonday sunlight. Flashes of silver, silver-blue , blue, and white, the sea shining. I wait in anticipation amongst the silly and entertaining chatter in the car.
The journey is long but not at all unpleasant. Eventually at around 1.15 pm, we arrive at Titchwell Marsh. It’s not what I expect on immediate impressions. As we drive slowly toward the car park, the road is gladed, full of light and shadow, and I wonder where the sea is. We park and go toward the visitor centre, where we eat lunch. I have a bacon and Brie toastie. It’s hot, unctuous, Brie melting and dripping onto the plate. The bacon is divine – I haven’t had bacon in so long, and it’s just delicious – smoky and salty and meaty. Everything I want just then. Behind us in the cafe is a DVD playing on loop about the wildlife around the area. I become impatient, want to get going. The lady who runs the the cafe tells us there are spoonbills out on the lagoon. I can’t believe it but I want to see them if it’s true.
We start the walk round after everyone has finally finished their meals. At first we walk through a lot of trees and bushes, but then we come to a small lake. It’s so beautiful, rushes all around, the sound of birds twittering in the bushes. We see a female black cap, a small brown birdwith a reddish brown cap, rather than a black one, which the males have. The pool gains more of my attention, as I spot dragonflies, and watch them whirling around like biplanes. I think I see Emperors, with their brilliant green bodies, desmoiselles, and possibly a Brown Hawker. Auro thinks she sees a Norfolk hawker, but who knows? It’s difficult to identify them, when they’re so fast.
Butterflies are numerous. We spot: large and small Whites, Painted Lady, Comma, Small Blue, Tortoiseshell, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood, Comma, Gatekeepers, Small Heath, and, possibly, Wall.
Arrived at Patsy’s reedbed, a most beautiful lake. Views across the water to a line of trees where a Marsh harrier briefly shows itself. The lake is alive with mallard, coots, moorhens, swans with their cygnets, and I hear the somewhat creepy giggling of the little grebe. We stay for quite a while just watching through our binoculars, relaxing in the hot sunshine and enjoying the absolute stillness, broken only by the call of coots and ducks.
Further on. Walking to the Freshwater Marsh. Views of reed and other warblers flitting in and out of the reeds. Whole place alive with birdsong and butterflies. It’s a joyous place to be, wide blue skies and hot sunshine above us. In the far distance I see the change of light that indicates we’re approaching the sea. I can’t wait to be on a beach. But first. The Marsh. The Marsh is alive with birds, mostly shining white in the sunlight. At first I think it’s all gulls. But then I look. And look again. There, in the near distance, an avocet! It’s beautiful although beautiful doesn’t really describe its elegance, its delicate structure, its almost fragile body.
My eyes fill with sudden tears. I’m overcome with emotion so strong I can’t explain it or control it, and the emotion intensifies as I look more closely at the lagoon and realise that what I thought were gulls are in fact dozens and dozens of avocets, all feeding in the shallows, and I have to cover my eyes with my sunglasses so the others can’t see my tears. We go into the hide and watch for a while. We spy the usual suspects, coots, and ducks, but among them, always the avocets. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m ecstatic. There are bar-tailed godwits too, rufous, wading and trawling for food. More mallards. Shelducks. Greylag and Canada geese. And right at the back, by a tiny island in the lagoon, seven spoonbills. Seven! I never thought to see spoonbills. They have, to me, always been exotic, evocative of tropical places I will never see. And yet here they are, in Norfolk. A true wealth of birds. I am blessed.
Eventually we move away from the lagoon, onto the path that leads to the sea. To our right there is the Volunteer Marsh. I don’t know why it’s call that, but it’s yet another kind of environment, not lagoon, not dry, but not what I’d call a marsh either. There are not so many birds here, but I spy a lone redshank in one of the brackish streams. It stands there, unaware of being watched, and again, I’m emotional. What is about this place? Is it the serenity, the purity of the environment? It’s a fact that being in nature is so beneficial to one’s mental health as you leave the hustle and bustle and stress of the workaday humdrum life that so many of us find detrimental to our mental health, and that certainly seems true today. Whatever, I love it. I bathe in it, as I bathe in the sun and sea-salt air.
I look into the distance. On the far island bank there are quite a lot of birds. When I look through the binoculars, I see that there are quite a few of the ubiquitous black headed gulls, those noisy squawking wheeler dealers of the gull world. I’ve never really appreciated them until this holiday. Now, I have really grown to enjoy them, and their squabbling natures. But amongst them, I notice some of my favourite birds. Oystercatchers! I love oystercatchers, love their black and white plumage and long red bills. Once again I’m ecstatic. What must it be like to live in a permanent state of joy? Is it something that could be sustained, or would all this, too, pall and become mundane? Right now, I can’t believe that. I can’t believe I would ever be bored with this sight, with the closeness I feel to the natural world. I’m angry, suddenly, that this is being eroded. That we’re destroying these natural habitats that bring such joy to us, and upon which the wildlife that helps make it so beautiful rely. I want to wrap it up, protect it, but accept that right now, I must simply appreciate it, wonder at its beauty. I am privileged to be here.
We leave behind the marsh, walk on. The ground beneath our feet is becoming sandy, and I know, with increased heartbeat, that we’re close to reaching the beach. At last! There’s a tidal marsh to pass by – nothing much to see there – and then we’re in the dunes. On proper sand, and I can see the sea. I want to cry (again!) with joy. We walk through the dunes onto a beach that’s long, flat, sandy and littered with shells, especially empty razor shells, of which there are loads. Best of all, it’s practically deserted. This is what I’ve waited for. This is the place I’ve craved to see. Crave to be. close my eyes and soak in the sun, the breeze, the sound of the sea. I walk toward the shoreline, almost unaware of the others, although I’m talking to them. The sea is calm, lapping gently at the sand line. I look to my left. There is nothing but beach for what seems like miles. To my right there’s a far away headland, upon which a single house sits alone. I wish with all my heart that I could one day live in a place like this. Even as I think it, I know it wouldn’t be easy, if only because I can’t drive, and you’d need a car to be here. But what if…? My heart twists. I want it so badly.
Overhead, dark clouds are gathering, the light is dappled gold and white and grey, streams of sunlight breaking and piercing through the clouds. By now it’s late afternoon and the birds are going to wherever they go to roost. The lagoons, I guess. A flock of waders that I can’t identify go over first. And then my heart lifts again as another flock flies across. I hear the familiar poignant cries of the oystercatchers, many of them in aerial formation, their wings flashing black and white Vs. I watch them as they head toward the lagoon.
We stay for a while. I watch the way the light plays on the sand and the sea, and then it’s time to go. The reserve will close soon. We walk back the way we came, with a brief diversion into the big hide by the main lagoon. We watch the avocets again for a while as they feed and play. In the background there are flocks of redshank, another gorgeous sight. Again, I think, I don’t want to leave here. But leave we must, and I’m grateful for what I’ve seen today. I want to live by the sea. I want to make it happen. I want to be filled by the joy I see here. For now I can’t think of the restrictions, the practicalities.
For now I just want to dream of peace, serenity, the sand and sea and sky, and the birds.