A third reasonable day (i.e. dry until later this afternoon) forecast. What have we done to deserve this?
Francine had a hankering to see the sea so we headed for an area of dunes on the north-east Norfolk coast between Horsey and Winterton-on-Sea. Somewhere in the 3-mile stretch of dunes between these two places, we’d been told, were some freshwater pools supporting the rare Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita). Knowing no better, we made for Horsey, parked and spotted a sign advertising a wildlife reserve and Natterjack Toads, amongst other things. We began scaling the grass-covered sandy dunes in anticipation.
Walking on soft sand is hard work. A mile on this sort of ground is worth at least two miles on terra firma, possibly more. I confess to being a little confused, nay troubled, by our information which suggested that the pools were to be found “on the seaward side of the dunes”. Unlikely, I thought. Firstly, any fresh water in any depression here would very quickly soak into the very porous, soft sand. Secondly, the only thing here “on the seaward side of the dunes” was beach and saltwater in the form of the North Sea. I could not escape the thought that we were hunting in the wrong place. From our vantage point atop the coastal dune, we did spot a seal’s head making occasional appearances in the surf but that was all.
After about 1½ miles (i.e. 3 miles worth) of sandy trudging, we descended on the landward side of the dunes to head back to our car before our 2-hour parking ticket turned into a pumpkin. Lo and behold before us, another sign advertising the beginning of the nature reserve, which seemed to be decidedly on the landward side of the dune. Alas, with thoughts of a pumpkin ripening, we had stumbled across the reserve too late. It seems the reserve is nearer to the Winterton-on-Sea end of the dunes. We began heading back to the car on a firmer track when Francine spotted orchids in the grass. I left her happily snapping away while I returned so as not to miss the pumpkin harvest.
Back in the car park, I discovered more orchids which I pointed out to Francine when she eventually returned about 15 minutes B.P. (Before Pumpkin). Further snapping ensued as did further confusion.
Right, orchids. When we arrived and first found orchids, Francine was of the opinion that they were Southern Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza praetermissa). Back at base she delved into her WildGuides book, Britain’s Orchids (David Lang) and discovered to her consternation that there were a couple of v. similar species, the Early Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata) and the Narrow-leaved Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza traunsteineri). To add to the confusion, the Southern Marsh Orchid is “a complex” with several different subspecies. Making matters even worse, it appears that these tricksy little plants are prone to hybridize with each other. Now Francine was tearing out fistfuls of her not inconsiderable hair.
We left the car park, without a pumpkin but littered with Francine’s discarded locks, and headed for Winterton-on-Sea via the National Trust’s so-called Horsey Mill which, as far as I can tell, isn’t a mill at all but a pump. Some of the wind “mills” in the Norfolk Broads, maybe even all of them, are actually pumps which drained the land by raising water up into rivers. Go figure!
After disturbing a nesting Swallow by buying an ice cream at the NT kiosk – it was nesting right beside the serving hatch and flew off every time anybody bought anything – we made it to Winterton. Avoiding a second parking fee, we found a legal place in town to bail out and walked just a little further once again to trudge through the dunes. We went “ooh, ah” at a Little Tern colony nicely fenced off on the beach for protection [excellent idea but a boring stretch of sand that we couldn’t approach closely – unphotogenic] before thinking, once again, that we were hunting the Snark. Becoming tired of walking on soft sandy dunes for a second time in one day, we turned to return via the most direct route we could find whereupon we stumbled across a fenced off small pool [keen on fences around here] bearing a sign announcing the presence of Natterjack Toads. Could we see one or hear one? No!
We got back to Guillaume just as the forecast rain started. Very accurate, well done Met Office.