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Earth, Fire, Water, Trains and Rhyl

Thanks to Jacky for organising a short holiday to North Wales for seven EFOG members and a friend. This was from Monday 13th to Friday 17th of June.

Seven of us met at Ilford on Monday morning (Fozi joined us later) to board a David Urquhart coach for a holiday entitled “Great Little Train Journeys of Wales”. It's a good start, to begin such a journey in a coach, but we did need to get to Wales. To Rhyl, actually – on the North Wales coast and perhaps favoured by people from the NW of England as Southend is by those (us?) from the SE.

First impressions of Rhyl were – at least for me – not the most favourable, but then I had an idea what to expect from passing by a few times (by train and bus) and the expressions of friends-who-knew-it when I'd said where I was going. The hotel, at which we arrived about 4.30, was fine though – and my room had a sea view. At least, it looked directly across the promenade towards the sea, and the sea was definitely there, although a small bus-station and sea-front complex slightly hindered the view of the beach and crashing waves. It was OK, though – and I am not complaining.

efog rhyl 160614 7627artLlanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch - notice that the station name is not included in the photo!Our first GLTJ of Wales was preceded next day by a visit to a station by means of our coach. That station is the well-known one at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which if I have to repeat it I shall call Llanfair PG like what the locals do. In fact, it wasn't really a visit to the station or even the village but more to a Welsh version of a Scotch Wool shop – the type that sells everything a proper coach-tourist needs. Our photo opportunity by the station sign got missed because of importance of shopping and beginning of downpour. Also lack of camera angle.

It was good to arrive at Porthmadog Station and – for me – to see that Welsh Highland Railway trains had finally made it through to the same station as the more famous Ffestiniog Railway. Now there is a Platform 2 as well as a Platform 1 and one is able to change trains to enable a rail route all the way from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The Welsh Highland train left the station as we waited to board the Ffestiniog train, and the platforms during the time they were both in were nearly as busy as Stratford.

efog rhyl 160613 7684artThe Ffestiniog trainJacky had paid a bit extra for our seats, which were in the rear observation car – almost a compartment to ourselves. It's a lovely journey from Porthmadog, first crossing the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn by means of the cob built in the early 18th century, and which also carries a road. The route winds up past houses, through trees, across viaducts, through cuttings and tunnels – becoming higher and higher as it travels into the mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog where the slate was quarried which gave need for the narrow-gauge railway.

efog rhyl 160613 7649artIn the observation carWe boarded the coach at Blaenau, to the smell of cannabis which the driver explains is always present nowadays with the decline of the slate industry or any other form of employment save – mainly – tourism.

Somewhat after passing the market town of Llanrwst, with its stone circle, pretty bridge and market square large enough for three stalls, we were forced to a stop. Perhaps because of the weather conditions - which were showery if not stormy – at first the column ahead looked like the beginnings of a tornado. It's a shame it wasn't really, because then we could have included that in the holiday. But then we'd have missed out fire, because the terrific column ahead was the smoke from a burning camper van. The somewhat narrow road was blocked in both directions, and the coach had no chance of reversing nor turning, so we sat there for about an hour whilst the fire was dealt with. There was little left of the vehicle as we passed.

So – fire.

efog rhyl 160614 213637996artThe Great Orme illuminated by a glorious sunsetThat evening we had for our evening hotel entertainment a really good singer who treated us to a non-stop performance of mostly popular songs from the 60s – which not surprisingly almost everyone staying at the hotel was quite familiar with. I waited for a convenient between-songs moment to hurriedly leave the hotel and reach the beach as I could see the beginnings of a beautiful sunset. Apparently, people in nearby Llandudno were lining the prom with their cameras and phones to experience the event, but in Rhyl – which doesn't quite have the class of Llandudno, there was only me.

efog rhyl slate canteen 160613 7715artOur hotel dining table. Not really - a miner's canteen at LlanberisThe following day we were taken to Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon, to travel on the Llanberis Lake Railway. This is an even narrower narrow-gauge railway, and doesn't have the variety nor length of the previous day. It was mostly a nice sunny day, though, and a visit to the slate museum after the train journey was a worthwhile experience. The coach took us afterwards through the Llanberis Pass and on to Betws-y-Coed where our group split up to take a variety of strolls and shop-visits.

That evening, after dinner and part-way through the entertainment - which was 60s again but louder – Jinan and I went out onto the promenade to experience the sunset. We watched it, but it didn't do much – so we contented ourselves with taking photo-shoot photos of Jinan-by-the-sea in her new jump-suit.

efog rhyl heights 160613 7763artJinan climbing the heights of Rhyl at sunsetThe following day was a train-free day – or at least an organised-train-trip-train-free-day. There was a previous-evening discussion on possibilities and alternatives, and a lot of swaying between one or another. The final arrangement was that some – Jacky, Jinan, Helen and Fozi went to the “Electric Mountain” at Llanberis, Eleanor and Marilyn went to Bangor to meet friends, and Fred and I went to Llandudno to do the town, the promenade the pier and the Great Orme. Doing the town is a bit of an exaggeration, as it consisted of walking through part of it from the railway station (not the train station) to the promenade, where we promenaded along that and the pier, and then proceeded to ascend the Great Orme. The day was beautiful. Llandudno is a lovely town – known as the "Queen of the Welsh Resorts" - with elegant Victorian buildings and set in a beautiful bay. The sky was mostly blue, people were strolling in perfect sunshine along the prom and the Grade 11 listed pier, and lazing about in Happy Valley – the gardens on the slopes of the Great Orme.

We walked through Happy Valley, and upwards with a few seat-stops on the way to enjoy the views and the sun, to reach the artificial ski-slope and toboggan run. That latter took me back to a previous EFOG stay in Llandudno, in 2006 (See Here) when most of us had a toboggan run. Above that, the way became more open with numerous rough tracks across the limestone country that comprises the headland. Sheep graze across it, as well as Kashmir goats though we didn't see any of those, but there were many butterflies and day-flying moths. In fact, the butterflies were present in numbers that it is uncommon to see nowadays, including rare butterflies and ub-species that are only found here. There were also choughs up there – a very uncommon species of crow – as well as other moorland birds.

efog rhyl pier 160613 7777artLlandudno, with the pier and Great OrmeWe walked alongside the Great Orme Tramway for a while, and watched two of the vintage trams pass each other at a loop, then eventually reached the summit complex where we had a cup of tea.

We had an opportunity to return via the tramway, but decided that as it was such a fine day we would walk down using a different route. That route was steep, and indeterminate in places, with some hairy bits. It was also hot, and when we did reach the safety of a paved path we sat down to recover overlooking the town, with Llandudno's two bays to either side.

We reached the railway station after our 5 mile walk (and 600ft ascent) with two minutes to spare to board the train, and had a quick run through to Llandudno Junction with plenty of time to get back for our meal. At the junction we then sat in the train for over an hour as the line ahead was flooded and it was quite possible that we might be returning – eventually – to Rhyl in a taxi provided by the railway company. The flooding – a flash-flood somewhere in Flint-shire – receded enough that the trains could move again, we got a free drink for our imposed wait, and got back to the Westminster Hotel with minutes to spare before dinner.

So – fire and water.

efog rhyl llandudno 160616 143353024artLlandudno and the Little Orme from the Great OrmeAfter everybody had returned and eaten - and instead of laid-on entertainment - we had a final evening get-together in one of our rooms, where we drank wine, ate nibbles and played some question-and-answer games Jacky had brought along. Thus we got to bed severely late for an early morning start. Even so, in the morning – after we had seen our luggage put onto the coach and before breakfast – a few of us went for a quick walk along the sea-front. The journey home was uneventful; even as we got closer to London the roads were not too busy considering it was a Friday, and we reached our first dropping-off point at Stratford in good time. Some of our party left there to catch the Central Line, I decided not too because Stratford station can be so crowded. The coach had an easy journey to Manor Park Broadway – where if I'd been allowed I'd have jumped coach and walked home. But from the Broadway to Ilford was just a solid mass of traffic. It was pointless returning from Ilford as I'd planned on the W19 to the end of my road, as the road was bad in both directions.

The problem was a temporary traffic light system due to a hole in the road. Hence the 'earth' aspect of the holiday's hold-ups. But I got home OK, by the train from Ilford to Manor Park, and I was able to narrate the very last part of my holiday to the TFL Questionnaire-man that has just visited asking about my experiences with travelling in London either yesterday(Friday) or the day before.

Apart from early-morning strolls before breakfast that some of us took, and Fred and my Great Orme adventure (5 miles), we didn't do much walking. However, I think maybe a good time was had by all, and we went on some trains. Thanks, Jacky.

Paul Ferris, 18th June 2016

Jacky, Eleanor, Fozi, Fred, Helen, Jinan, Marilyn, Paul

Haslemere and Black Down

The late May Bank Holiday weekend, and on Saturday 28th six EFOG members met at Waterloo Station for a walk, organised by Lynne, from Haslemere.

We crossed the road outside of Haslemere Station and headed up Longdene Road, turning off after a quarter mile or so onto our first public footpath and heading west along the 500ft contour line. I mention the altitude as I have already used the word “up” once. However, we did drop slightly down as we crossed first of all the A287 and then almost immediately a small stream which is one of the sources of the River Wey. A house at the end of the street was called “Weyside”.

haslemere 160528 marley 112504067artRoute-finding on Marley CommonWe left the outskirts of Haslemere at Camelsdale by means of an uphill footpath leading into Marley Combe and then onto Marley Common. We saw no camels, but there were Belted Galloway cattle roaming around – a sure sign of National Trust property. The common gave us our first taste of the heathland that occurs in these parts – acidic soil with gorse, heather, bilberry and pine trees.

haslemere belted 160528 153039908artBelted Galloway cattleLeaving the common, we strayed into a residential area called Whitehanger by mistake, then retraced slightly to continue upwards to about 700ft through woodlands, then a steep descent down a sunken lane into Fernhurst, which is at about 300ft. The idea of all these heights ASL is that it was quite a hilly walk, and also quite a warm walk as we had a nice sunny day to enjoy.

When there are hills and sunshine and you are walking, then refreshments are sometimes in order, and in this case refreshment was to be found in the pub at Fernhurst. Fozi left us at this point, to catch a bus back to Haslemere Station. Although this was to be our half-way stop, it is in fact just 3.5 miles from the station, so doesn't quite count as halfway.

haslemere lane 160528 115712450Descending from a sunken trackWe discussed options for the rest of the walk, and decided that our objective would be two significant points on Black Down, which is the highest hill in the South Downs National Park. It might be pointed out here that Black Down isn't really on the South Downs, rather is in the Weald, but the park includes it, so that's good. We continued our walk by taking the footpath that leads behind the pub, heading now east rather that south as we had been trending. Soon there were a series of earth-steps down, a bridge across a stream, then earth steps up, then – entering thickening woodland – a footpath that also served as a stream that led up and more up. There are lots of springs in this area, source I believe of some quite major Sussex rivers – for we'd left Surrey somewhere and were now in Sussex. The stream deposited us into a narrow lane, with a small group of houses, and somehow we mis-judged the footpath and walked through someone's garden to exit into a field by means of the gate at the end.

There was nobody to apologise to, and this still looked nearly right for where we wanted to go, for now Black Down was beginning to loom ahead. There was a mown strip at the edge of the field – which looked as though it may be for hay because it was grass and flowers rather than crops – but we realised we were heading to far S.E, and our woodland footpath must be to the north. We headed north up the edge of the field, came into the woods, and had one or two discussions as to which way we should go to regain the public footpath. An O.S. Map, a traditional compass and a smartphone GPS-fix combined with a couple of heads, and we regained the path. Or rather we regained the stream. It is said that there are no wild places left in Britain – save perhaps the tops of such ranges as the Cairngorms and some coastal areas such as the Wash. However, I disagree, for there were gullies, combes and valleys in these woods that quite possibly still harboured wolves let alone badgers and wild boar.

haslemere view 160528 150343826 artLooking towards the South Downs from Black DownAt Reeth we encountered human habitation again, and narrow Fernden Lane (600ft) took us shortly to a National Trust sign indication Black Down. The path onto Black Down was steep, but not a stream, so after a couple of pauses we came to a glorious viewpoint with a useful bench, to sit and look south, with the South Downs cutting off the view of the sea at Bognor Regis. Just a little above that seat was the wonderfully-named 'Temple of the Winds', a high-point (830ft) with views in almost all directions. We were on Black Down.

haslemere temple 160528 151701246 artThe Temple of the WindsThe long top of Black Down is a Greensand heath, like Marley Common but grander, and with some rare wildlife inhabitants such as nightjar, Dartford warbler, woodlark and all three British snake species. There are pine trees, birches, whitebeam, and – flowering – rowan trees. The soil is sandy and the views are glorious.

We walked north along part of a route called the Serpent Trail, for a good way keeping above 800ft, and then began our descent NW towards Valewood House and then Haslemere. It was a long descent, although gentle, and after a while the soil became less acid and the character of the trees and plants became more familiar. As we dropped down towards a stream-valley, with nearby roads leading into Haslemere, we became aware that the path was trending us in a different direction than we'd intended. A consultation with a dog-walker – the dog of whom wanted to play with my walking-stick – had us re-route yet again, and entailed slightly more road-walking into Haslemere, but along pleasant-enough roads. And just before we left the field at the foot of Black Down we passed through a meadow that was wonderfully endowed with orchids.

haslemere blackdown 160528 153143725artA viewpoint-market on Black DownOur total mileage to and from Hindhead station was 9 miles, and our total ascent and descent was 1575 feet. It was a lovely walk, on a dry and sunny day. Having been a few weeks ago with EFOG members to the Norfolk Broads, and a couple of weeks ago to the Isle of Arran, the group is maintaining its ability to allow me and other members to experience lots of different aspects of the British countryside, and further afield.

Thanks to Lynne for suggesting the route and leading us, and to Fozi, Fred, Ken, Fritz and Berutta for the company.

Paul Ferris, 29th May 2016

The Island of Arran in May

A weeks visit to the Isle of Arran from 16th to 23rd May, staying at the Scottish YHA Lochranza hostel, was suggested some time ago by Ian Greer.

arran brodick welcome 160521 113756401art2Welcome to BrodickMy friends Roger and David – whom some of you may have met as they've helped us out at the Rodings Rally – have always said how nice the island is. However, as the chosen accommodation was in a youth hostel, and that available was in a dormitory, I decided not to go. Then Graham - who'd booked and paid - was unable to go and as a last-minute decision I went instead.

My journey entailed travelling to Glasgow by plane, which I am not inclined to do unless necessary, but Jinan was also flying so it was nice to be able to travel together. Amazingly, the total cost of my return transport from home to Lochranza was a few pence over £90 – less than the train fare some of the others paid only as far as Ardrossan. There is a wrongness in that!

arran brodick prom 160517 07408artOn the promenade at Brodick, with the ferry at the pierJinan and I missed the local train the others were on between Glasgow and Ardrossan - the ferry terminal for Arran - by just a few minutes. That was mostly because the bus we caught from the airport got held up with so many road-humps, walking sticks, crutches, prams, incorrect change, dropped tickets and traffic lights. We had time for lunch before the next train, and when we arrived at Ardrossan we found that the next scheduled ferry was out of action, so had a two-hour wait in an almost empty waiting room. Not really a problem – pleasant company and no real hurry to arrive.

It is a lovely journey between Brodick - the port and main town of Arran - to Lochranza on the north-west side of the island. Leaving Brodick we passed the beautiful wooded grounds of the castle, then along a sea-front road, passing little villages that face out across the Firth of Clyde to the mainland. Then up and over moorland through Glen Chalmadale, with the rugged heights of the the mountains to the left. Dropping down into Lochranza is beautiful, with views of Lochranza Castle and the peninsula of Kintyre in the distance beyond.

arran lochranza hostel 160517 211124466artLochranza Youth HostelThe bus driver dropped us at the hostel where we deposited our luggage and then made our way along the road by the shore of Loch Ranza (Loch of the Rowan Tree) to the hotel to join the others for our evening meal.

The hostel has been modernised so is easy enough that families can stay there, with good kitchen facilities and comfortable rooms. If you look in the comments book the main moan is poor internet access; the same goes for phone signals, too.

arran newton 160518 07433artLooking at a view-point marker en roite to the Fairy DellOn Tuesday morning (our holiday was Monday to Monday) we caught the bus back to Brodick to stock up with food. The only eating facility at Lochranza other than the hostel was the hotel, or – with restricted opening times – the Field Study Centre. No cafes, no shops, no ice-cream vans.

There are cafes and shops in Brodick of course, the main store being the Co-op, but before buying we walked along the promenade, then along a lovely sand beach, across the Cnochan Burn and up through woods to Brodick Castle. This is a Victorian Scottish Baronial-style building, beautifully situated above the town and with lovely gardens and grounds. After our visit and tea-shoppe stoppe, we walked back to the Co-op to stock up, then caught the bus back to the hostel.

arran lochranza castle 160518 07464artLochranza Castle in the eveningNext day we did a local walk, crossing the river that flows into Loch Ranza, and then followed the coast north-east around the headland opposite the main part of the village. Just before stopping to look at a view-point marker at Newton Point, we'd spotted our first seal, watching us watching it. It is mostly an easy walk as far as the Fairy Dell, but beyond that not only becomes more difficult but also means either a long round-trek to return or back the same way from further along. Lynne and Ken elected to continue to do the round trip, whilst the rest of us took an easier slightly higher-level track back to Lochranza. The previous day on the bus we'd spotted red deer in the distance, but on this walk we began to realise just how approachable the deer are on the island. Thy hardly budge if you pass them nearby, and they casually wander onto golf-courses and into grounds and gardens. Those four of us who took the easier route enjoyed watching grey wagtails fly-catching over the burn, then discovered that the Field Study Centre just up the road from the hostel was doing afternoon snacks. That is a nice, easy-going, good value for money place, and one or two of our number, I reckon, also thought that Nick looked a nice bloke!

Before our evening meal - again at the hotel - some of us made a visit to Lochranza Castle, which is the remains of a 16th Century Tower House - built to live in as well as for defence. All that lives there now is a flock of jackdaws, it would seem.

arran lamlash holy island 160521 155737386artHoly Island viewed from LamlashIan had to leave the next day, so our original party of eight was down to seven. We had bought a weekly bus-pass so it was easy to get on and off buses to visit other parts of the island. However, saying that – because of the island's mountainous interior – buses only go right around the coast-line, with one bus-route across the island on a road called the String Road. We caught the bus going anti-clockwise, travelling alongside Kilbrannan Sound, which separates the island from Kintyre. There are some pretty villages along here – Catacol (home to the rarest tree-species in Britain), Pirnmill, Machrie, Blackwaterfoot, Kilmory – and all of the time the Sound with Kintyre in the distance. Then – nearing the southern tip of the island, the Mull of Kintyre with Sanda Island beyond. Off the village of Kildonan is little Pladda Island and, way out, the strange cone of Ailsa Craig – home to all the gannets we'd been seeing plunging as we travelled along the coast.

Our bus-destination was the village of Lamlash, on the east coast, and our objective for the day was Holy Island. This island – just off Arran – has been purchased by Buddhists and is now a retreat and a nature reserve, although day-visitors are allowed. We were stymied, though; the ferryman had taken some earlier visitors across, and was going to pick them up, but he wouldn't take us as he predicted rough weather. His prediction was right, by the time we'd reached the cafe at the beginning of the jetty, it poured. It is a nice little cafe – The Old Pier Tearoom - just right for sheltering from the rain and/or having a snack. However, the owner was just about the only misery we met on the island. Even I can't reach that standard. One of our group suggested she may have had a bad day, but I reckon her notice saying “Any complaints must be made yesterday” says otherwise.

That evening we ate in the hostel, with a variety of meals amongst us cooked up from our shopping trip. As we were eating, just outside the window three red deer were having a laze-around.

arran glenrosa 160520 07497artGoat Fell from Glen RosaOur target for Friday was in the direction of the highest peak on Arran – Goat Fell. That entailed taking the bus towards Brodick and striking up Glen Rosa. It is a nice name and it is a nice glen, with pleasant farming country (sheep and cattle-type farming) at the foot of the glen. We spoke to a local planting sweet peas as we passed, although it appeared that some of the nice little cottages we passed might well have been holiday homes. Past a camp site on the shores of the meandering Glenrosa Water a well-made path took us into gradually wilder country, all the while quite close to the burn. It was a nice day, warm in the sunshine but with a chill to the wind when the Sun was occluded. Lynne and Ken had decided to try to reach at least the saddle below Goat Fell summit, so the rest of us let them push on and we took it more easily. Taking it more easily included sitting by the river and having a snack, reaching a point on the path where the mountains loomed ahead but in the distance, then strolling back the way we'd come to where the bus had dropped us. Nearby was the Isle of Arran Heritage Centre, to which we paid a visit which included lunch and a short chat with a lovely young German woman serving in the cafe. She gladly showed us the Dream-catcher she'd had tattooed on her back, and we congratulated her on her almost impeccable Scottish accent.

arran brodick pipes 160521 121509399artArran Pipe Band at BrodickAfter visiting a nearby cheese factory and aromatics centre – disguises for an attempt at tourist-trapping of course – we chatted to another woman who told us that she'd be playing in the pipe-band at the beginning of the annual Goat Fell Race on the morrow. Lynne and Ken came slightly panting up to the bus-stop just before the bus did (less pantily). They'd made the Saddle, but elected to return by the same route rather than risk the steep descent down the other side.

On the morrow – being Saturday morning - we returned to Brodick to see the fell runners depart to the sound of pipes and drums. We also saw the first of the fell runners return, in a time of 1hr 23mins. It had taken Fred, Fozi, Jenny and myself longer to do the first two miles up and two miles back along the glen – let alone go to the summit and back!

arran machrie stone 160522 07536artStanding Stone near MachrieOn Sunday morning Fozi had to get up early to catch the 7am bus. She's had a message which informed her of the need to return home. That left six of us. Our proposed trip to Holy Island had been curtailed because of the weather, but Sunday was fine. Lynne had arranged to go with another group staying at the hostel on a hike to the summit of Goat Fell, so that left five of us to arrange a visit somewhere. The weather would have been perfect for Holy Island, but the Sunday bus-times made that impossible. We decided (much because I wanted to) to visit another holy site – the standing stones and circles at Machrie. arran machrie 160522 143337587artHeading for a cream tea at MachrieOur friendly lady bus-driver dropped us off at the appropriate point and we headed inland along an easy track, to the sound of a cuckoo, towards the neolithic remains of what over thousands of years had been a settlement and burial grounds. The settlement may have moved because of changing weather conditions and the circles and standing stones abandoned because of changing religious practises - who knows? The weather was the best we'd had, and as we sat on the stones of Fingal's Cauldron we received a message from Lynne that she was at the cairn on the summit of Goat Fell. We waved, but apparently she couldn't see us because there was so much else of a view from up there.

To catch the important and rare bus back to Lochranza, we departed the stones early and made our way to the cafe by the golf-course, overlooking the Sound of Kilbrannan, watching gannets diving for their food as we had tea and scones. We hailed the bus and returned along the beautiful coast to Lochranza. Just before our meal at the hostel in the evening, I watched a golden eagle soaring over the mountainside across Loch Ranza. I could still occasionally see it as a distant speck as we ate our meal.

arran lochranza sunset 160522 213513140artSunset over Kintyre from LochranzaMonday morning, and our travel plans meant that we were all up before 6am to catch the 7am bus to the ferry terminal at Brodick. I was pleased to spot a pair of dolphins (or were they porpoise?) as we crossed to Ardrossan - a nice natural farewell, I thought. We travelled together to Glasgow Central, although Jinan and my flight was not until after 5pm. At Glasgow Central, we said goodbye to the others and had a walk around central Glasgow – including a few charity shops, a snack by the Clyde and a sunshine sit-down in George Square, the city's equivalent of Trafalgar Square - although in this case the column supports a poet rather than a military personage.

Our flight was easy; Jinan's daughter picked us up at Stansted, and I was home by 8.30. For a holiday that I had not intended to go on, I had a lovely time and with great company. Thanks to Ian for suggesting it and the others for being there.

Paul Ferris, 25th May 2016

A week on the Norfolk Broads - 30th April to 7th May

Well, that was a good trip. And it was almost all good weather. Even the day that was forecast to be wet (Monday) was little more than overcast. The little more was a few specks of rain. And it got hotter as the week went on – building up the nose-tan bit by bit.

Trevor as been organising this annual Norfolk Broads cruising holiday for the 18+ Group for many a year, apparently – and like last year, EFOG members were invited to join them. So, apart from Trevor who is a member of both groups, four of us travelled to Potter Heigham on Saturday 30th April and boarded two Norfolk hire-boats.

broads driving 160501 155757901artFozi driving, with Trevor guidingTrevor runs a tight ship – or boat, more precisely - as far as control of the vessel is concerned; he ensured that we all took care with our handling and manoeuvring - at least of the boats. We were fortunate that all of the 18+ members had greater or lesser degrees of experience in such things, and were able to help us new-crew get things more-or-less right. Outside of the controls of the moving or mooring of the boats, maybe the ship was a little less tight, so a grand time was had by all.

I'm OK with narrow boats and canals, but fibreglass cruisers and tidal waters are another matter. They've got steering wheels, too – not proper tillers – though I do prefer my cars with the former. Hence although I was fine with the general steering of the boat, the intricacies of dealing with sailing boats cutting across our bows or mooring stern-on in a narrow gap between other boats were more than my experience was comfortable with – so others did the moorings.

Our cruising on Saturday from Potter Heigham took us first of all down the Thurne. Or maybe it was up – I was often unsure with the Broads rivers as it is quite confusing where they are from or going to and are tidal. Anyway, we joined the Bure, passing the iconic remains of St. Benet's Abbey, then went up the Ant, mooring for our first overnight stay at Stalham. After a nice pub meal, making our way back to the boat, the night was clear and cold, and the stars were glorious.

broads reeds 160501 151714533artNorfolk Reed and Marsh Harriers...Mentioning that the night was cold leads to the fact that our first night on board the boats was cold. Cold cold. Apparently -1°C. cold. And probably that cold inside as well as outside. The supplied duvets were see-through, and a number of purchases of extra duvets were made in Stalham's awful-but-convenient superstore the following morning.

Back down the Ant the following day, and onto the Bure again, towards Wroxham and an overnight mooring at Salhouse Broad. We hired two Canadian-style canoes here in the late afternoon, and six of us went exploring, coming across wrecked wherries, pirate-laden Broads-cruisers, overhanging willow branches and eventually a lot of mud.

The following day – Monday 2nd May - we made our way back down the Bure and then the Thurne towards Ludham. The country around the River Bure between Wroxham - including Salhouse Broad where we had moored - is pretty and well-wooded, but as it meets the River Ant coming in from the north becomes much more open, reed-edged with big skys. We moored for the night at Ludham.

broads mill 160430 173939578artA Broads windpump in working conditionOn Tuesday we had to travel back to Potter Heigham to return one of the boats and allow Chris, Fozi and Jacqueline to return home. We said our goodbyes, and I transferred to the other boat to continue the holiday. We then headed south again on the long trek towards Great Yarmouth and Breydon Water. At one point on this journey I spotted the wake of a creature crossing our bow some way ahead. I called the others jst in time that we all could see the head of an otter heading towards the shore, and then the glorious sight of a gleaming black body emerging onto the bank as we passed.

Breydon Water is a large expanse of tidal water and mud flats, an outlet for several of the Broads rivers into the sea through Great Yarmouth. It is very exposed and really requires some experience to cross safely. We had that, and did so, turning into the River Waveney past Burgh Castle and down past St. Olaves and Somerleyton. The southern Broads aren't so busy as the northern sections, a bit wilder, and with plenty of wildlife. There was almost continually an accompaniment sound of Sedge or Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings, and often the sight of Marsh Harriers – or harsh marriers, as one boat-wit termed them. We moored for the night at Oulton Broad near Lowestoft, went for a pub meal as usual, took part in the pub quiz, won two bottles of wine, and went to bed on board.

Wednesday was a return up the Waveney to Haddiscoe, and then through the New Cut, which is a long straight section somewhat like a canal rather than river. Along here I spotted a sheep in dire distress – legs in the air and crows-a-pecking. Not much to be done until we reached Reedham where I tried various options to get a report to the sheep-farmer before a boatyard managed to phone the message through. From Reedham we proceeded upstream along the Yare, past the sugar-factory at Cantley, heading west and inland towards Norwich. It was just past Cantley and hence about 10 miles (as the crow flies) from the nearest sea, where we ha wonderful view of a seal – who pursued us with intent for a short way.

Our overnight stop on Wednesday was at Surlingham, moored right next to a lovely pub for our meal and within sound – we think – of Norwich Cathedral bells, probably practising.

broads benets 160506 122651702artSt. Benet's Abbey gatehouse, with later windpumpIt was a long trek back from Surlingham along the Yare, and we made an excursion into the little River Chet towards Loddon. Along this narrow meandering river we were accompanied for some way by a Cuckoo, who quickly became known as Kevin. We were also preceded by Sally the Sandpiper, but I realised after – when things got silly – that Colin the Cow didn't make a lot of sense. Our destination of Loddon was an important one, for there was a particular hostelry that the others were keen to visit. This wasn't a pub, but Rosy Lee's tiny tea-room, with the most welcoming owner. She recognised the crew (but not me) from previous years, and supplies a fine breakfast or other delights. After leaving the Chet and crossing Breydon Water and out of Suffolk back into Norfolk, we travelled along the Bure again, and moored overnight at Stokesby.

The following day we were passing places that I recognised from the outward journey, including St. Benet's Abbey where we moored for lunch and visited the ruins. Then on to Ranworth, where Trevor and I visited the nature reserve. They seemed surprised that we'd only seen one otter because apparently otters play around the visitor centre. The heat of the day meant that at least Trevor and I had to have two ice creams.

Ranworth was a nice overnight mooring – convenient for ice-creams, an evening pub meal and public conveniences. It was also an easy departure for an early getaway. At 7.30 we pulled away, as we needed to get the boat back to Potter Heigham by 9.30. We did that on another beautiful sunny and warm day – indeed temperatures in East Anglia got up to 25°C that day. After returning the boat - Caribbean Light 2 - to its owners we went by car, kindly provided by crewman Steve, from Potter Heigham to Acle Station, thence to get the Wherry Line train to to Norwich and from there the Greater Anglia service to Stratford.

Thanks to Trevor for organising this trip. It takes a lot of organising to hire two boats for different lengths of time, to plan a route which enabled us to see so much of the Broads and with moorings every night with such good provisions. It also takes a lot of patience to deal with the numbers of people involved - nine in all, with three leaving earlier than the others, and from two different groups. There were also those of us that were inexperienced with the Broads and the cruisers, and the instructions from Trevor - and others - was invaluable. Thanks too to the rest of the 18+ Group who invited EFOG members to join them on their annual Norfolk Broads holiday.

broads eating 00136artThe EFOG Crew - a tight lunch on board

broads reed cutters 160503 154854417artThe reed-cutter crew - lunch in the wide open spaces











Paul Ferris, 10th May 2016


A May Day walk in Epping Forest

Seven of us met at High Beach visitor centre at 2 pm. The weather was brilliant but numbers were low; several members were away on a holiday on the Norfolk Broads. The weather meant that it was a struggle to park but we managed.

may day 20160501 150715artOff we went along the Up and Down Ride and then through a slightly muddy patch to see us stopping at High Beach parish church for a very pleasant tea and cake, consumed in the grounds under a large copper beech tree.

may day 20160501 144404artOut to the forest again and Fred promptly did his impression of The Hound of the Baskervilles by sinking in a mud patch up to his knees. He refused to stay there while we took photos so there is no record for us to laugh at. On to Pepper Alley where a hard surface deteriorated into a muddy mess, requiring some nifty footwork. We all watched carefully but Fred avoided all our suggested routes.

After this it seemed only reasonable to stop at The Owl pub for some refreshment. We then walked across Fairmead Bottom, over Epping New Road and up to an unnamed oak which stood alone in a glade with bluebells all around. Very pretty. Up the Green Ride past Strawberry Hills pond and Earls Path pond and on to Loughton Camp. We had been dawdling and the distance was mounting so a quick show of hands decided that we would not walk round Loughton Camp but would stay on Green Ride. We didn’t even detour to the Lost Pond but that is at its best later this month and in June.

Back across Epping New Road and to the visitor centre by 6 pm where the car owners looked slightly shocked as some very muddy boots and trousers (Fred!) spread their contents over the seats and carpets. A pleasant afternoon.

Brian Unwin, 1st May 2016