Archive for July 2015

2nd – 5th July 2012: visiting family and friends in Leeds and Derbyshire   Leave a comment

In the last post I described how Margaret and I visited her daughter and three sets of friends in East Anglia between June 26th and July 2nd. We left Framlingham in Sussex on the morning of the 2nd and drove to Leeds in Yorkshire.

IMG_8953 Fairburn Ings

We made good progress and I considered we had enough time to visit Fairburn Ings, an RSPB reserve to the east of the city near the A1. I started birding in 1977 and although I had to catch two buses and walk a couple of miles to get there, Fairburn Ings became my ‘local patch’ until I moved to Poole in March 1978. At that time the reserve consisted of a lake and a few pools sandwiched between the village of Fairburn ….

IMG_8952 Fairburn Ings

…. and the hill in the background which at the time was a slag heap. I saw most of first waterbird species here along with a selection of passerines.

IMG_8951 Fairburn Ings

…. but there weren’t these reed beds, woods or raised walkways ….

IMG_8948 Collared Dove

…. nor was there a visitor centre with book shop, cafe and bird feeders complete with flocks of Tree Sparrows (and the inevitable Collared Dove), I think the RSPB should be congratulated in turning this area of mining subsidence into a first class wildlife reserve.

IMG_8952 Whitelocks

We headed for Leeds and checked into our hotel just south of the river. In the early evening we headed to a 300 year old pub called Whitelocks on Briggate in oder to meet up with my old friend Nigel.

IMG_9039 Nigel

I first met Nigel in 1967 when he moved to our school in Duffield, Derbyshire to do his A levels. He was instrumental my musical education, converting me from being a fan of Motown and Soul to Jimi Hendrix, the Nice and above all The Incredible String Band. Nigel also went to University at Leeds in 1969 and we shared accommodation for much of the next seven years. Nigel remained in Leeds when the rest of the gang moved away and served as a councillor for many years and was given the title of Alderman for his services to the city.

IMG_8953 Victoria arcade

Leeds is known for it wonderful shopping arcades, one of the best being Queen Victoria Street in the Victoria Quarter between Briggate and Vicar Lane. This was a street open to the sky when I lived there.

IMG_8953.6 Leeds arcade

Nearby is the ornate County Arcade.

IMG_8953.9 R Aire at night

After a lovely meal and further drinks we headed back across the River Aire to our hotel.

IMG_8957 riverside appartments

Nigel was busy the following morning so we explored the riverside area. Back in the sixties and seventies this part of the city was very down-at-heels, full of old warehouses, shabby shops and the sort of pubs where if you go in for a pint you leave quickly with just a bag of crisps. Indeed I avoided this area in general especially at night. There has been a wonderful transformation, the riverside warehouses have been turned into fashionable dwellings ….

IMG_8960 R Aire

… many new buildings have been erected and the Leeds – Liverpool canal has been cleaned up and is now a place for a pleasant stroll.

IMG_8959 canal Leeds

Docks have been created along the canal as well as numerous high-rise buildings.

IMG_8963 no she's not

Oh no she’s not!

IMG_8979 R Aire and Leeds Liverpool canal

Near where the river and canal divide lies the Royal Armoury,  a multi-million pound purpose-built museum that opened to the public in 1996. It was built to house a large part of the national collection of arms and armour, and displays over 8500 objects throughout its six themed galleries: War, Tournament, Oriental, Self-Defence, Hunting, and Peace.

IMG_8967 Royal Armoury

Looking upwards into the Hall of Steel is quite awe-inspiring.

IMG_8978 Royal Armoury

We visited the Royal Armoury on a previous visit but Margaret found the open glass staircase induced vertigo, so our visit was cut short. She has greatly overcome this fear recently (as our trip to the Alps proved) and had no problem climbing up to the third floor.

IMG_8972 Leeds Liverpool canal

The view over the river and canal from here is quite impressive.

IMG_8977 Leeds Armoury

Of the many exhibits this ‘war elephant’ caught my eye.

IMG_8968 Royal Armoury

…. and the cavalry section.

IMG_8981 Leeds Minster

On our way to meet up with Nigel we passed Leeds Minster.

IMG_8984 Leeds Minster

Our arrival coincided with the two-minute silence for the victims of the dreadful massacre in Tunisia and we were able to pay our respects in a most appropriate place.

IMG_9000 Leeds arcade

As we made our way through the city centre we came across many covered shopping arcades. I remember from my time in the 70s that many of the minor roads between Briggate, Boar Lane and the Headrow were poorly lit and uninviting and in general places to avoid. Again there has been a huge transformation.

IMG_9006 Leds Town Hall

We met Nigel at the art gallery near Leeds Town Hall.

IMG_9015 Leeds art gallery

Nigel’s main interest these days is art and he showed us around the gallery. I liked the symbolism, if not the sentiment, of the large painting on the left depicting Britannia slaying a tiger, symbolic of the ruthless suppression by the British of the locals after the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

IMG_9011 Leeds art gallery restaurant

This hall houses the restaurant, incredibly this room was bricked up some time around the 60s and for years no-one could remember what was in there. Recently the room was opened up again and this gorgeous tiled interior was discovered. Wonderful that this gem still exists and wasn’t destroyed in the name of ‘progress’ but what a shame that generations of art lovers were denied the pleasure of seeing it.

IMG_9031 Saltaire Mill

The three of us then caught a train to Saltaire, a former Victorian mill town near Shipley and a World Heritage Site. Nigel particularly wanted to show us the art collection that is now housed in the old mill.

IMG_9040 Titus Salt

The town gets its name from a combination of the surname of its founder, mill owner Sir Titus Salt and the River Aire. The woolen mill was built adjacent to the river and the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

IMG_9034 Saltaire town hall

Titus Salt was an enlightened mill owner, building decent stone houses for his workforce with wash rooms and bath houses, a hospital and also (above) the Victoria Hall. Because of this combination of houses, employment and social services the original town is often seen as an important development in the history of 19th century urban planning.

IMG_9042 Saltaire gallery

A whole floor of the mill is dedicated to the work of the Bradford-born artist David Hockney.

IMG_9048 Salthouse gallery

A modern painting of the mill in its heyday.

IMG_9056 the Lewis'

On the 4th we left Leeds and drove to Duffield in Derbyshire, a slow journey due to the almost continuous road works along the M1. We arrived at my brother’s house mid morning. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the nearby Ecclesbourne valley. L-R my niece Jennifer, my sister-in-law Viv, Margaret and my brother Simon. My elder niece Miriam is away on a gap year before University.

IMG_9062 the Ecclesbourne

Simon and I used to go to the nearby Ecclesbourne grammar school which used to have a school song that went ‘a school grows here in Duffield by Ecclesbourne’s fair banks’. According to my nieces who are (or have been) at the school recently they have dropped this hideous ditty.

IMG_9063 the Lewis'

The Lewis’s on parade.Viv, Jenny, Margaret and Simon.

IMG_9078 lamp switchoff

Switched off between midnight and 0530 to save electricity and turned on during the day to waste it!

IMG_9082 Carsington

On the morning of the 5th we paid a visit to Viv’s parents, the always entertaining Dennis and Ida and called in at Carsington Reservoir. I usually visit around Christmas time when the reservoir holds many wintering wildfowl and is a good place to see Tree Sparrow and the increasingly scarce Willow Tit. Well the Tree Sparrows were in evidence but not much else, but it was a nice place to complete our journey.

So all that remained was to drive back to Dorset. A 1000 mile journey over 10 days, enjoying the company of family and old friends and seeing some interesting sights and wildlife on route.

27th June – 1st July 2015: visiting family and friends in East Anglia.   Leave a comment

Rather than make a number of separate weekend trips to visit friends and family this summer we decided to fit it all into a single ten-day trip, seeing Margaret’s daughter and my brother on successive weekends (as they are working) and seeing a number of retired friends during the week.

IMG_8003 John at the canal

We arrived at Maldon in Essex in the afternoon of the 26th. The following day we all cycled along the River Blackwater and the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal for a picnic. Here Margaret’s son-in-law John surveys the canal.

IMG_8002 John, Donna, Anita & M

Anita, Margaret’s daughter, also had her old school friend Donna (also from South Africa and now living in London) staying with her. L-R on the bridge over the canal: John, Donna, Anita and Margaret.

IMG_8811 Heybridge Basin

On the Sunday morning I did a little birding at Heybridge Basin where the River Blackwater and the canal flow into the sea. The footpath, popular with locals, takes you over the canal locks and along the river bank. It was a pleasant walk but the grey clouds seen above soon closed in and it started to rain.

IMG_8799 Heybridge basin

In the winter this estuary is teeming with waders such Avocets, Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits but in late June there was little but the local breeding Oystercatchers and Common Terns.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Late on Sunday we left Essex and drove to Cottenham near Cambridge to stay with my old friend Jennie. I met Jennie in 1972 during my last year at University whilst she was doing her PhD. From 1973 – 1976 we shared a house with three others until I got married to Janet in the September of that year.

IMG_8826 Lakenheath

Jennie is a keen naturalist but unlike me hasn’t specialised in birds. She does volunteer work at the nearby Wicken Fen, but it was to the larger and more distant RSPB reserve at Lakenheath that we journeyed. The visitor centre’s floor is covered with hundreds of beige coloured tiles, but just three are green with a sign that says the beige tiles represent the area of East Anglia that was once covered by fen and the green ones represent what is left!

IMG_8824 Marsh Harrier edit

We saw some good birds including a Crane with its head poking out of the reeds, great flight views of a Bittern and several Hobbys but it was the local Marsh Harriers that put on the best show. Here a male returns with a full crop ….

IMG_8814 Marsh Harriers food pass

… but earlier we saw a male carrying prey fly over the nest site and performed a food pass, the female (left) rose up, the male dropped the prey which the female caught in mid-air.

IMG_8841 Large Skipper

Butterflies abounded in the hot weather, I saw some Essex Skippers, a butterfly I haven’t conclusively identified before, but only this Large Skipper posed for the camera.

IMG_8886 Stone Curlew

Later we visited the nearby reserve of Weeting Heath, just over the border in Norfolk. Here we had good views of several Stone Curlew a species that now is very hard to see in Dorset or its environs.


On the 30th we headed for friends in Lowestoft but on route we detoured to Hickling Broad in the Norfolk Broads.

Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio machaon britannicus). Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Our main aim was to see the endemic UK race of the Swallowtail Butterfly which has its UK stronghold in the Norfolk Broads. I have seen this species many times in Europe but I’ve never been to this area at this time of year before. After some searching we saw three but they were fast flying and I failed to photograph any. This photo is taken from the Norfolk Broads authority website.

Pacific Golden-plover Ken Harvard Hawaii

We headed south to Lowestoft and stopped off at Breydon Water near Yarmouth where a Pacific Golden Plover had been seen for the last few days. We had reasonable views but the heat haze was pretty bad and the bird often hid in the spartina grass. This photo comes from the Internet Bird Collection and was taken by Ken Harvard in Hawaii. The bird we saw was moulting out of breeding plumage unlike this one which was moulting into it and had less gold spangling on the upperparts but was similarly plumaged on the face, breast and belly. Pacific GP is a close relative of the American GP and breeds across arctic Siberia into western Alaska. The wintering range is huge, from eastern Africa across the Indian Ocean , SE Asia and all across the Pacific. There have been 83 previous records of this species up to 2013 and this is the third I have seen in the UK.

IMG_8896 Debbie, Alan & M

Then it was on to Lowestoft, the most easterly town in the UK to visit my old friends Alan and Debbie. I have known Debbie since 1974, but I met Alan in 1969. Whilst relaxing in a coffee bar at Leeds University I heard Alan defending the performance of Derby County Football Club, asking if he was from Derby I found that he not only had lived in the same area as me but in the same street! I had met his sister back then but not him. He joined us in the infamous Fraser Terrace ‘slum’ for the next three years and we have remained friends ever since.

IMG_8895 Debbie, M & Alan

It was one of the hottest days of year with temperatures around 30c, so relaxing in the garden with a bottle of wine seemed the order of the day. Note the only one falling asleep is Margaret who was only drinking water.

IMG_8934 Minsmere

South of Lowestoft lies the RSPB’s flagship reserve of Minsmere. This was the subject of this years Springwatch TV series.

IMG_8935 Minsmere

The reserve consists of extensive areas of reed bed, open water, muddy pools, heathland and woodland. In the distance is the Sizewell B nuclear power station.

IMG_8930 M at Minsmere

Behind the beach lies ‘the scrape’ an artificially built pools that are a haven to breeding waders and migrants alike.

IMG_8900 juv Avocet Minsmere

Perhaps the most famous breeding wader is the Avocet. Heavy predation of Avocet chicks by Badgers has resulted in the scrape being ringed by an electrified fence, which certainly worked as ‘the scrape’ is full of juvenile Avocets this year (compare with the Avocet chicks I photographed in Hampshire on 28th May to see how much they can grow in a month).

IMG_8918 Oyk

Other breeding waders included this Oystercatcher ….

IMG_8920Oyk pullus & Turnstone

… and the Oystercatcher’s chick wandered around in the company of this Turnstone, fresh in from the high Arctic.

IMG_8911 Spot Red

The best sighting on ‘the scrape’ was a flock of 50+ Red Knot, some still in their orangey-red breeding dress and a flock of 16 summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank (above). This species nests in boggy woodland in the arctic and uses a system of sequential polyandry, ie the female mates with one male then leaves him to incubate and raise the chicks, then may mate with another male who does the same. The females then migrate, so breeding plumage females can arrive in the UK from late June on their ‘autumn’ migration south. This species used to be much commoner in Dorset than it is today and partially breeding plumaged birds were often seen in Poole Harbour in April on their way north, but now it is mainly a scarce winter visitor to the area, a time when they are in their grey non-breeding plumage. Eastern Britain at this time of year is probably the best place to see these beautiful birds in all their finery.

IMG_8944 Framlingham

For various reasons our friends couldn’t see us in the most convenient order so by the time we arrived in Framlingham we had almost done a full circle.


Terry, David and Margaret. Margaret was friends with Terry when she lived in South Africa. Recently Terry moved to the UK where she met and married David. David has a strong interest in natural history, particularly birds, and being completely blind has a great interest in their vocalisations. At the temperature was in the 30s away from the coast we spent the afternoon indoors discussing music and bird song. I took this photo in a nearby church in 2014.

On 2nd July it was thankfully a little cooler. We left Terry and David after breakfast and started the long drive to Leeds in Yorkshire. This, along with a visit to Derbyshire will be the subject of the next post.