Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Stories from Summer

It's been a long summer this year, or at least it's felt long to me.  Lots has happened, good, bad, and somewhere in between, in a lot of different areas of life.  A strange season, and a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but that's life for you.  Things can't be peaceful all the time or we'd be bored and never grow at all.
In some ways it's been a struggle, but as always there's been time to regroup too.  To take time out, to spend time with the people I care about, and to be contemplative, which is something I'm finding more and more essential...

... and to watch seals.


First thing's first - some friends and I did a day walking up Kinderscout.  It's my third time up, and I'm getting to know the area a lot better now.  It was a round trip of about 15 miles, followed by a pub dinner.

A view from the top:  Dean, Ben, Hannah, Manny, and Hendrix the dog.
This time, however, we did something new to me - we explored the interior!  Kinderscout is a bit strange in that it's basically a massive table.  The top is so flat that it's formed a kind of boggy maze of waterways as the rainwater flows to the edge of the plateau and down into the becks and brooks.  Somewhere in there is the summit, but it's almost impossible to find!  We had a fun few hours jumping over channels, scrambling up peat banks, and laughing at poor Ben who mis-jumped and got stuck to the shin in the bog!

My next trip away was even more familiar.  I reconnected with some friends from university, and got to show them one of my favourite places - the North Norfolk coast near Wells.  I'm totally biased, as it's the county I grew up in, but I think it's one of the most beautiful places in the world.  We drove down on a Friday evening and drove to the Wells YHA hostel, picking up people as we went, and then the next day I took them round the area.  We went to Wells beach and the Fleet, which is the seafront jetty where people sit crabbing and the fishing boats still come in.  We went to Holkham, my favourite beach - a big empty stretch away from the town lined with dunes and sea lavender, with a long walk down to the ocean.  I always say I'm not going in the sea, that I'll just paddle, but inevitably I ended up swimming, fully clothed, with a few moon jellyfish.  You don't want to squish these native jellies, but their stings can't penetrate human skin, so they're safe to swim around.

The wind was blowing the dry top layers of sand in caustic light patterns across the beach.
 And we went to Blakney, which was a highlight for all of us, because you can take a short boat tour out from Morston to the seal colony that haul out on the sandbanks.  About 600 seals are there at low tide, but during high tide most of them go out to sea to fish, leaving about 60 behind, and the estuary is deep enough for boats to go out and visit.  They're so used to it now that they barely looked up as we came to observe them, just lazed about on the sand or played in the water around us.  Apparently if they're not fishing, that's all they do.  Ah, to be a seal :)

They have Grey and Common seals.  The Commons have the cuter snub-nosed faces, and the Greys have the  more dog-like Roman nose.

 My camera actually ran out of battery after this, and I hadn't brought the charger, but actually that was nice too.  I like taking pictures of the places I go, but I don't enjoy them any the less if the things I see are just for me, in my head.  We had a great time together, and a few gloriously sunny days.

I also got to go visit my friends Matt and Eloise in their new(ish) home - the narrow boat Tittlemouse!  During the summer holiday they decided to do a little canal tour of the UK to visit their friends, and I joined them for the first stretch of the Grand Union Canal.  I worked a lot of lock gates, and slept on the guest bed, which Matt has made to cunningly fold out of the dining area.  It was surprisingly comfy, and in the dark and quiet away from roads or houses, I slept really well.

The Tittlemouse, lock-bound
Matt mans the tiller...
...while Eloise and I work the lock gates

These days narrow boats are rarely working boats, ferrying goods up and down the country, so a trip like this really is just for the fun of it.  Apart from stepping off to work the locks, a lot of time is spent hanging about by the tiller, doing odd jobs inside the boat, or relaxing on the prow - my favourite place to sit -  so there was lots of time to catch up.  You can walk faster than a narrow boat can chug along, but being forced to slow your pace and just enjoy the moment is lovely.  Sometimes passers by stop to talk to you, or bring their children to watch the water flood the lock as you wind up the winch, or squeeze their boats in alongside yours and share the work.  Sometimes it's just the three of you, hanging off the siderails, or the two of you on the tow path, or just the one, waiting on the bank to be thrown the mooring rope as you stop for the night.

The green Grand Union

Matt and Eloise have been living in the boat for a while now, doing it up nicely, and it's a really homely space, with a wood-burning stove, a paint job very light compared to traditional narrow boats but which makes it feel big and clean, and lots of homemade fittings and ways to save space.  I love how the big copper pans hang in a cutout section of the wall.

The galley
My bunk.  The curtain was hastily fitted just for me!

I also got to visit my sister and her husband in Bristol for two days, and then be in Oxford for a week with my family, after a cousin's wedding.  It's not often we're all together, so to have so much time was great.  Somehow I've never actually been much in Oxfordshire, save for one passing visit.  Some marvellous countryside too!  We visited White Horse Vale to see the Bronze Age chalk horse carved into the hillside.  It was very windy as the valley channelled the breeze straight up to where we were, but a nice walk and the view was excellent.

Brother and the White Horse
Mum and Grandad
We went to Blenheim Palace - twice actually!  The first time we were more in the Palace, and the second time more in the gardens.  Winston Churchill grew up here, so there's a few displays about him, most of them very flattering, of course!  He thought the view of the house from the bridge was one the best in England... but then everyone would feel that about their house if it looked like this!

Mum in the 'Secret Garden'
Dad and Brother in Blenheim's 'Secret Garden'
Walking up to the war monument with Mum, and some of that famous view
We also went into the city of Oxford one evening, and took ourselves on a little tour of the colleges.  We came across some vintage cars and what we think was a film crew out the back of the Radcliffe Camera, a circular building constructed to house the science library of Oxford University.  We though maybe they were filming for the TV series 'Endeavour', a prequel to 'Morse, which got Mum very excited.  She loves her murder mysteries!  

I got to be a fan as well.  One of Oxford's more famous pubs is 'The Eagle and Child' (or 'the bird and baby', where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the rest of their writing club 'The Inklings' used to meet for drinks and to share what they'd been writing.  This was back before they were famous, just a group of nerds meeting up for a pint and writing Norse mythological fanfiction.  The Eagle and Child is still a working pub today, so everyone obliged me and we went and had a drink there.

I also went to Greenbelt Festival again, which is becoming a bit of a habit for me now.  I like the looseness and diversity of it; so many different groups, often marginal ones, all merrily sharing each other's space in ways we normally don't get the chance to.  Topics I'm interested in, topics I've never thought about in my life, music and comedy and all now set in the lush grounds of Boughton Hall.  It stretches your mind a little if you let it, often in a direction you didn't expect, although there are certain groups I naturally chime more with (like the Forest Church people, which will surprise absolutely No One).  The Sunday Communion this year as led by two female bishops, which got a big cheer out of everyone.

Usually I go with a friend and we set up our tents together, but this year she was about half way through her first pregnancy, so understandably wasn't so keen to sleep on a roll mat!  She did come down and meet me for coffee though.  Actually we found each other before that; I bumped into her when we both turned up for the same workshop.  Some other friends of mine also came along to stage some 'Five Minute Theatre' which turned out to be very excellent and thought-provoking, so we spent some time together too, mainly dancing to Coco & the Butterfields while the rain splattered down outside the Big Top.

So I was alone for camping, but that was nice too, being the captain of my own ship for a few days.  Normally I hate mornings, but I found myself waking up with the sun at 6am feeling totally rested, and then again at 8am after a lie-in!  I trekked across the field to the portaloos and brought back water for washing and and cup of tea, and sat in the porch of my little tent, watching the weather and eating my breakfast before heading up to the main campsite.  It's quiet time, and often God time too, and I had a few little revelations of my own.

Once again, the season is changing, and it's time for another adventure.

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