What does a Travel Writer do on his holidays?

Johnny Cash sang, I’ve been everywhere man, crossed the deserts bare man.  I’ve breathed the mountain air man, of travel I’ve had my share man – and then lists hundreds of places in a quick fire repetition.  . . . . . . sometimes I feel like that man and I’ve had my fill.  Sometimes I just want to lie on the beach, sometimes I just want to wander in the mountains and sometimes I just want to sit.

Earlier this year I’ve been to the beach and swam in the sea in Spain with friends and family and had a great time.  But at the start of this month I went on my own with my six berth tent (a perfect size for my large and ancient personality) to my beloved North Norfolk.  I’m not going to tell where my five star campsite is in case it becomes overcrowded.  I picked a week of warm sunshine possibly the only full week without rain this year.

I spent my first day pretending to be a birdwatcher wandering with my camera on the salt marshes.  I can’t tell you the difference between a ‘birder’ and a ‘twitcher’ but armed with my camera I really enjoyed the utter peace and quiet with just the noise of the calls of curlews and sandpipers I could also identify their calls, (I also know what a cuckoo sounds like).

The next day, hooked on the salt marshes, I hired a Canadian canoe at Brancaster Staithe – At the back of my mind was that this was the same type of boat that a family were drowned in Scotland a couple of weeks ago but I’ve messed about in boats for over sixty years so here goes.  This canoe is a long vessel often seen in Westerns paddled by a couple of Red Indians (I cannot bring myself to call pesky redskins, Native Americans) anyway this Lone Ranger took to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat.

In fact I took to the salt marshes and although I didn’t have a sail, I tended to tack purely to compete with the wind and tide and only a single paddle.  It was brilliant and I was able to get within feet of dozens of wading birds – I know that they were waders because they were wading – they were mostly brown, except for an Avocet which was black and white, some had beaks that curved up, some curved down, some with long beaks and others short.  I photographed all of them, and then I spotted a beautiful bed of delicious samphire on an island.  I couldn’t reach any from the boat so I ran the boat into the reeds and tried to get ashore – the stupid canoe tipped and I fell into the water.  Fortunately I had zipped my camera into my rucksack which in turn was strapped on to a seat.

Once the boat had tipped me out, it slurped a load of water and then righted itself in the reed bed.  There was no-one around to hear my seamanlike language but I was swearing loud enough to frighten the birds who flew around laughing at me while I swam ashore.  I tipped the water out of the canoe and got back aboard and paddled off, it was warm enough to believe my clothes would quickly dry and I had gone about fifty yards before I realised that I hadn’t picked any samphire for my dinner.

I quickly forgot my ire at the stupid canoe when I found that a large white egret (I thought that it was a stork) was standing motionless in the reeds and it allowed me within a couple of yards of it.  As I got my camera out and about to focus on it I heard a noise behind me and found myself being studied by two inquisitive grey seals.  They had surfaced alongside my stationary canoe – absolute, total magic. . . . . . . .They watched me with their huge, coal black eyes. . . . WOW.

If I hadn’t been concerned about overturning the canoe I could probably have touched them. . . . . .I forgot about the birds as these fabulous creatures escorted my canoe for over an hour, what a privilege.  I allowed the boat to heave to in the tide and drifted while I got my flask of tea and biscuits out.  The seals remained in close flotilla, line astern until I offered them a biscuit.  They didn’t fancy McVities chocolate digestives because they immediately dived and that was the last I saw of them.  Those ruddy submariners are all the same, dive at the first sign of attack.

When I turned for home I had the wind behind me, which helped but by now the tide was running against me and I by the time I returned to the Staithe I was completely shattered.

I spent the following day on the beach at Holcombe lying flat out on the sand dunes sunbathing.  My shoulders and arms ached and I could still feel the paddle in my hands.  I must have been asleep for over two hours.  Before my week was over I joined the grockles on a boat trip out to Blakeney Point to see the seals.  There was a huge colony gathered going through their annual ritual prior to giving birth in November and December, not a time of year that I would choose.  I enjoyed it but it didn’t compare with my magical mystery tour on the salt marsh with my personal escorts.

Before I came home I foraged for winkles and cockles but I couldn’t find any more samphire.  I enjoyed my break especially as the day after I returned home the heavens opened and my camping gear was packed away dry and pristine.

I spent some time trying to identify the birds from my photos with the help of bird books . . . . . fairly boring and I know that I shall never become a twitcher and certainly not a Red Indian but you can get too much of a good thing like 4 star hotels with all inclusive and I would pick a sailing boat over a cruise liner any day.  But that’s just me. . . . . . . . . Ready about, lee ho!

About Jake

Long retired travel writer, author and freelance journalist. Educated at Wolverton Grammar and Greenwich Naval College. Happily married since 1958, with a married son and daughter, a married granddaughter and an adult grandson. Hobbies rock-climbing, dinghy racing and ocean racing. Still regularly working out in the gym.

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