Tuesday, 12 May 2015


In the past three days I have landed in four planes, each bringing me closer to home, to spring, to my friends, and to myself. My real landing, my re-emergence as me, begins on the tube from Heathrow, and the train from King's Cross: in the flowers by the tracks, the birdsongs heard through the open windows, and the wings seen over chalk south of Cambridge and fen to its north.

The may is in flower, of course, and the wild apple too. A blackbird sings by a tube station platform and woodpigeons flap over greening suburbia. A hare canters on a chalky field of cereal shoots and rooks billow in the spring breeze. By a fenland drain a reed warbler chants heavily; a sedge warbler wheels madly by another. Over a third a cuckoo flies and the sun flickers on the glossy back of a swallow. All of spring is poured, for me, into this one day of coming home.

At home, my garden sings of the love I sowed in it last spring. A female orange-tip nectars from red campion, my signature plant in the words of one gardening friend. I love it and admit I let it creep into every bed. At home there is also a text, from my oldest birding friend Gav, with whom I have seen hundreds of species of bird in the past almost thirty years. Of four birding friends from school, two now live in Norfolk after years away and two stayed away. Gav lives in London but is the only one among us who still keeps a Norfolk list, a fine Norfolk list at that. If I twitch it is always with him.

In his text he proposes walking the Point at dawn the following morning, to look for a Moltoni's warbler, Norfolk's first. He knows I have just got back, he knows I am exhausted, he knows I have had my fill of people and of wildlife, but would I like to join him? Of course I would like to join him. Blakeney Point is my soul place.

In my childhood many summer days were spent encamped in one of the last beach huts on the Point, which belonged then to my great uncle and now to his children my uncle and aunt. We would stripe our legs tearing through marram, burn our skin in the sun, and drop our sandwiches in the sand, only to eat them anyway. I was unaware then of wildlife in a naming-listing-categorising way, but aware of the wild, in this great place and in myself. My summers, and those of my brothers, were the pale shimmering purple of sea lavender and the changing, threatening, seal-hiding blue of the North Sea.

From the Point can be seen the church in which my parents were married, the heaths on which I learned the songs of turtle doves and tree pipits, the marshes through which my flip-flopped child feet would slide in the mud, and the wide beach on which I have won and lost many things. My father rode his boyhood horse along the coast road here and both of my grandfathers were friends of the famous Point warden Ted Eales. Of one of them, the GP in Blakeney, Ted wrote in his autobiography:

He bred a very famous breed of Labradors, Bally Duff. Being of Irish descent he loved his black Labradors and everybody respected him. He was a great character in the village at Blakeney. There was only one thing he was apprehensive about, when I had to call him out to Blakeney Point he said to me, “For Goodness sake, Ted, get me along the beach, I don’t like going across the harbour.” He didn’t like the water, he was not fond of going across in a boat, a thing that one can’t help.

Ted Eales
Countryman’s Memoirs, A Warden’s Life on Blakeney Point

For generations of my family Blakeney Point, and the land and sea around it, have been a soul place. So I said yes to Gav, to seeing one of my oldest friends, to going home to the Norfolk wild, to looking for a lost bird, and to landing. In any case, getting up at four is no hardship for someone who has just returned from three months in Asia. My body is hours ahead of the time on the clock in my little flint cottage in North Norfolk.

Thus in today's dawn we went up the Point, with the tide low enough to take the easy route on the sand both there and back. Our way was loud with the oystercatcher's shriek, with the stammering African rhythms of little terns, with the wavetalk of the still cold sea.

We did not see the warbler, but better still we saw friends - Paul, Sarah and Ajay - over coffee and tea around the kitchen table in the NT Lifeboat House. We shared stories of seals and terns in the dunes, of friends on a puffin island, of little tern decoys and, naturally, of wild cats in Africa and Asia. As always when I see these friends I, who live with my passport in my pocket, was struck by the wisdom of staying in one beautiful place and letting the wild world come to you.

In ten days I must travel again, this time - no thanks to the SNP - without my passport. For now I have landed at home, in the smiling company of flowers and friends, terns, seals, butterflies and books. And it is good to be home.

Flowers and an orange-tip butterfly in my North Norfolk garden

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