Two days last week

I drove to Rainham Marshes to meet a friend for lunch and birding – both were good. We saw a very attractive Marsh Harrier with a cream crown and there were Blackwits and Golden Plover, and Pintail and Shovelerand Cetti’s Warbler and Stonechat too.

And we moaned about the government, and a little about the feebleness of some NGOs, but Nature kept breaking in on us and interrupting. It’s like that.

Rainham was on the way to East Grinstead, where I was talking to the RSPB Local Group that evening. I thought that East Grinstead was basically one end of the Gatwick runway but it was very pretty – and the Gothic House on the High Street was a good place to stay.

The talk, half on Passenger Pigeons, half on banning driven grouse shooting, went well – if I say so myself. There was an ex-gamekeeper in the audience who didn’t smile very much at my jokes and another guy nearby who sat with a sour look on his face and his arms crossed all evening. I don’t know why people pay to come to a talk if they are going to hate it so much! But the rest of the crowd was very appreciative and the room was full – fuller than usual I was told – and I sold lots of books that evening.

East Grinstead is actually close to Lingfield racecourse but it was dark as I left for Dorset.

I was heading to Dorchester. My route took me past a couple more racecourses, Fontwell and Goodwood, as well as past the RSPB reserve at Pulborough – haven’t visited for ages, great place, couldn’t stop – and then within sight of Maiden Castle on the outskirts of Dorchester but it was hardly the weather for Adonis Blues!

I had left East Grinstead more or less at 7am, after a continental (ie pretend!) breakfast off a tray, so en route I looked for places for breakfast. In the USA there would have been somewhere providing delicious, real, hash browns and ad lib coffee and a waitress with good conversation, but I just kept passing Little Chefs.  Eventually, I stopped at a Little Chef which had a hearse, with coffin, parked out of sight around the back of it. That set the tone. There was nothing wrong with the mushroom omelette, apart from the eggs and the mushrooms both tasting of cardboard, but it was good to have a break.

As I drove, I heard the reporting of the Oxford Lead Symposium on the Today programme and wished they had given it more space – I blame George Osborne who was talking about his climb-down on tax credits. He is such an accomplished politician and brilliant (at times) speaker, it’s hard not to like him but I still manage. It was a bit rich that he pushed the lead story off Today, I thought.

I like Dorset – I could live in Dorset.  Although the weather wasn’t great the views were good.

As I headed for my destination I stopped and asked a couple of soggy dog walkers (yes they were soggy, and so were their dogs) the way. They told me they were new to this area so couldn’t really help. I spoke mostly to the woman but I glanced at the man and thought he looked a little familiar – some scruffy birder no doubt.

I tried down a narrow lane, it must be down here somewhere, and met my host and parked. As we talked the two dog walkers came along and we chatted for a second until I was asked whether I was Mark Avery – and I had to admit I was. I thought it was a scruffy birdwatcher but it turned out to be a member of the House of Lords – Lord Knight, former Environment Minister (and a good one at that – see page 271 0f Fighting for Birds for an anecdote).  It was one of those amazing, or not so amazing, coincidences. Of all the soggy Dorset hamlets in all the world etc etc…  the last time I had seen Lady Knight she was a lady but not a Lady, and the last time I saw Jim he was a Knight, but not a Lord, and mostly a Mr and a Minister.

And then I got to know my host, whom I had never met before. I’m tempted to try to retain an air of mystery but it was Kevin Parr, author of my ‘Book of the Year‘ award (no money changed hands) last year for his excellent novel The Twitch. I was visiting him to interview him for Behind the Binoculars ‘2’ so I can’t really tell you much else about our meeting, though he did cook me a delicious lunch and I’d recommend his cooking above that of the Little Chef.

I headed homewards close to Rampisham Down and past Wincanton racecourse before it got properly dark.

It was a good couple of days – talking, birding, driving past racecourses and nature reserves, looking at the view, listening to the radio, meeting old friends by design and accident and meeting a new one.

For my ‘Books of the Year for 2015’ come back on Sunday – but don’t be a stranger in between either!



7 Replies to “Two days last week”

  1. Mark, do you really want people to be appreciative of you and nod and laugh and agree with you at all the right moments (as many people did at East Grinstead last week) or do you want them to listen properly to you and think carefully and critically about what you have said and go away and make their own informed decisions? Also, if you are ever in East Grinstead or the vicinity again you should try the local birdwatching; there are even occasionally hen harriers!

    1. Helen – you should know I’m perfectly happy with both. And another option – that they take me on and have a robust polite discussion about the issues.

      It was a bit dark for birdwatching all the time I was present last week.

  2. I’ve not seen a Marsh Harrier all year, although they are supposed to appear on my local patch at this time of the year. However, today I did get some great views of a male Hen Harrier, to add to the female I saw earlier in the year. I missed the photo opportunity of a life time though. On the second sighting the male Hen Harrier was flying towards me, quartering the Moss as it went, and being hassled by a Crow. Then right in front of me it flew up to take issue with the Crow, and the low sun lit it up. I put the camera to my eye, all the settings were right, it filled the frame and I expected to rattle off 7.5 fps. But my camera didn’t respond and died. The battery grip wasn’t screwed on tight enough, and by time I’d worked out what was wrong, it was past me and flying towards the sun, still with the Crow in tow. I was elated to see it so close, but more than upset I’d missed such a photo opportunity.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. “I like Dorset”

    So do I – apart from the facsimile of Toytown at Poundbury. On the upside it has loads of Jurassic scenery, Plush, Droop, Smacam Down, and not a single mile of motorway.

    1. filbert – yes I had to keep my head turned away from Poundbury as I passed bt=y. I’ve written about its Toy-town wooden character before.

      not a single mile of motorway – good point. Gwets me wondering how many other counties… Cornwall for one. Norfolk. Suffolk?

      1. Driving home from our Summer hollies in Cornwall the day after Guy Fawkes in the filthiest of weather we neither traveled on a motorway nor found a suitable watering hole until we reached The Barn Cafe at Lytchett Matravers what with Mrs C being hyper-picky about foodles and its preparation and provenance so we gave the Little Chef at Winterbourne Abbas a miss although by that time I was desperate enough for some fried cardboard

  4. Too late but you Mark and Filbert,you could have called in at Kings Arms East Stour and found food that is as good as anywhere,locally sourced where possible and priced with specials of the day at about £7 and £8.

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