12-15 April 2018
Our 7-week visit to the UK was both busy and chilly. We had snow at the start and the end with plenty of grey days and wet days inbetween and very little sunshine. Except, surprisingly, during our time in N Ireland when Danny had a bad chest infection so the walking boots stayed in the bag. The bad weather during our home trip & Danny’s lingering infection meant there were lots of things we didn’t get to do but we did get to see lots of of friends and family. We loved seeing little Teghan & Kyra again, and meeting great-nephews Jackson & Odhran for the first time. We also acquired our third great niece – the first ‘great’ on Kate’s side – welcome to the world Rose Charlotte! And finally, although it took a long time – 2 trips to the dealer, 1 trip to the body shop and a total of 13 days in workshops – we also got most of the issues with the van sorted including, to our delight, 3 new leisure batteries which makes us independent again. A huge relief and we now have renewed confidence in our home.
So after moving the last of our stuff out of mum’s – a Tardis like experience whereby stuff that filled a garage and 2 rooms magically and neatly fit into an 8m van – we said goodbye to mum and headed off for our 2nd year of touring. To see us on our way the weather remained unappealingly grey, cold, foggy & damp with occasional light rain. So no views of the glorious English countryside on our long drive to Haw Wood Farm campsite in Suffolk. Still, there was a real sense of anticipation now we were in our home on wheels again – we had missed it.
Our campsite was a lovely, quiet site down a country lane surrounded by hedgerows filled with birdsong. It is also within cycling distance of Minsmere RSPB reserve, the reason for our presence. We quickly found our ‘pitch-up’ routine again, rustled up dinner then settled in to the penultimate episode of Masterchef, marvelling at how roomy and comfortable our home felt!
The next couple of days were spent at RSPB Minsmere, cycling there and back via the pretty little village of Dunwich, a 17 mile round trip. The unfamiliar excercise made our muscles ache a bit bit but we were soon back in the swing. The route took us past some of the pig farms which Suffolk appears to specialise in and some of the youngsters ran towards us in welcome, their ears flapping. Danny in particular has a soft spot for pigs since owning a pair in a previous life, and got quite nostalgic, helped by their unique fragrance. We shouted good morning to them and thought longingly of British bacon. The hedgerows were starting to come out, there were buds on many of the trees and Alexanders were in full bloom in the verges, their flowers brightening the roadside with blobs of lime green. It felt like everything was just waiting for a bit of sunshine to burst forth. The route also took us across the rather glorious heathland owned by the National trust before turning us towards the sea for the last couple of miles to the reserve.
Minsmere RSPB was a lot busier than we had expected for the time of year with a surprising number of kids – maybe the Easter holidays were stil not over here. They were all very good and it was nice to see them learinng from their parents. We were filled with memories of our previous visit on a couple of gloriously warm and sunny May days about 15 years ago – now we were well wrapped against the cold and the foliage and the expected migrants were apparently, like us, waiting for the weather to change.
We heard the bittern booming in the same place we first heard that extraordinary sound, by the northern reedbeds, where we were surprised to see signs indicatig the presence of stone curlew on the nearby fields – they had returned to the area since our last visit. There was no sign of the nightingale so well remembered from our last visit, but we visited all the hides and habitats on the reserve, as usual benefitting from the presence of skilled birdwatchers in the hides. Apart from the raucous Black Heade Gulls mating and the ever-present mallard there were Mediterranean gulls, Common tern, Avocet, Snipe, plenty of Shoveller and Gadwall, some Black-tailed godwit and the occasional Redshank and Turnstone to keep the interest, despite the cold.
In the reedbeds we saw a water rail come out of hiding, plenty of great views of male and female Marsh harriers, and a couple of the very rare Bittern flying across the water and disappearing into the reeds.
Although the Otter remained elusive we saw Weasel and all 3 deer species – a Red deer roe right in front of the hide, a Muntjac and a rare glimpse of a Chinese Water Deer – as well as an adder trying t warm itself in the morning.
A very rewarding couple of days and the sun emerged for an couple of hours on the second which warmed our bones a bit.
Wow, we slept well after all that fresh air and exercise.