Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 5, 2012

A Norfolk Return

A return to the fair county of Norfolk is always a nostalgic one for me.  Many family holidays were spent there as a child.  Whether or not I make a visit to back to the places we frequented back then, even just a signpost reading ‘Winterton 4’ or directing the way to Hickling or Holme is enough to bring back that tingle of long past but long remembered experiences.  Unsurprisingly, this is a part of the world that features greatly in my book ‘Never a Dull Moment‘ and for which I am delighted to have another excuse to be making a journey up to the coast again for a book signing at Cley Marshes later this month.

A week spent in the northeast of the county, pretty much equidistant betwix the famous Broads and the coast, was obviously well in order; barring the occasional weeked, it had been ten years since our last prolonged stay and a return was clearly overdue.  Indeed, it was only until the very first full day of our holiday that we could wait to experience just these two jewels in the county crown.

Sutton Broad. Ross Gardner 2012

At Stalham we hired a canoe and set off along Sutton Broad.  Taking to the water with nothing but paddle-power to move you along always seems to provide a level of intimicy with your surroundings not quite attainable from the bank.  Even with the occasional holiday cruiser chugging past, the row-boat leaves you close to the water, peering into the reeds and up in to alder and willow leaning in from above.  Turning into the Ant, the peace of the river, with a whole stretch to ourselves and the Black-tailed Skimmer darting overhead, with the riparian hush all around, was almost overwhelming.

We headed to coast at Horsey Gap and rather different ambience.  A well-used, but not huge car park ensures inevitable company among the dunes, but the places wears its visitors well enough.  A brisk breeze blowing in off the sea was not an uncomfortable one and not off-putting to the small creatures that make these habitats such fascinating places.  The Grayling butterflies were quick to show themselves.  Marram features among their larval foodplants and this a ubiquitious dune grass species and important in stabilising the shifting, wind-blown sands.  Active too were the Mottled Grasshopper.  These are insects of sparsely vegetated, sunny habitats and they find sand dunes with as favourable conditions as they would the heathlands with which they are also associated.

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja). Ross Gardner 2012

But it was another that topped the show for me on this occasion.  The Dark Green Fritillary is an uncommon butterfly in East Anglia and one that generally I do not encounter that often.  Here they were numerous.  We had only glimpsed a couple zipping away between the mounds of sand until we arrived at a substantial bank of blossoming bramble.  Among the eagerly feeding Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Small Skipper were the fritillaries in number.  A fine and delightfully surprising sight.  Where enough violets grow to provide the foodplants for a colony to thrive I don’t know, but grow they must.

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