Exploring Norfolk’s winter wonderland

Blickling National Trust

As autumn passes the baton to winter, we can find ourselves slowing down. The colder weather may keep us indoors where there’s plenty of technology to entertain us. But too much screen time can leave us feeling more stressed. We’re becoming less connected to the natural world, yet research shows that spending time in nature is good for our health.

The Wildlife Trusts and the University of Essex report that nature experiences give us many health benefits. Nature reduces anxiety and stress and improves mood, self-esteem, and attention and concentration. Exposure to nature also increases immunity and can help reduce symptoms of ADHD in children. Such is the importance of nature to wellbeing that Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, describes it as ‘Vitamin N’.

With shorter days and less sunlight, winter blues and even depression can strike but getting outdoors can lift our spirits. Despite the colder temperatures, winter can be the ideal time for a nature walk and Norfolk the ideal place. While this tranquil county may lack hill-top vistas, Norfolk’s wide-open landscapes with moody skies and sublime sunsets can still take your breath away. And the flatter terrain means people of all ages can enjoy our countryside. With so many nature reserves and coastal and public footpaths, there’s surely a walk for every day of the year. Why not take a walk a day as your New Year’s resolution!

Nature can calm the mind. When we take notice of trees, flowers and wildlife, we live in the moment and leave our worries at home. After a wet autumn, woodlands are filled with fascinating fungi, and the low light at this time of year shows nature at its finest. See squirrels stashing acorns to last them through to spring. See a charm of goldfinches feasting on teasels and waders and wildfowl huddling on mudflats along windswept shores. Early risers can see pink-footed geese leave the Wash in their thousands to head inland for a sugar beet feast. What a sight!

As autumn strips to winter, songbirds are revealed once more, singing out the day from leafless branches. See jackdaws, crows and rooks heading to their roosts, gathering noisily in their thousands if you’re lucky. Then, when the sun goes down, see trees make bold shapes against the night sky. Remember to listen out for tawny owls!

Winter may be chilly, but it sets us up for a traveller’s rest. What better way to end a winter walk than by sharing stories, photos and food in one of Norfolk’s pubs, restaurants or hotels. By the coast, in the countryside or in the city, with seafaring history, village charm or modern chic, you’ll find a place for every taste.

Wherever you are in Norfolk, there are coastal and countryside paths, nature reserves, beaches, woodland and country estates to explore. Which wonderland walks will you choose this winter?

Marriotts Way

The Marriotts Way public path follows the old train track running 25 miles from the pretty market town of Aylsham to the cathedral city of Norwich. Trees, hedgerows and wildflowers line the path on both sides. In winter you can see rabbits, squirrels, deer, songbirds, pheasants and birds of prey.

Titchwell Marsh (RSPB)

On the northwest coast, Titchwell Marsh nature reserve has woodland, freshwater lagoon, tidal marsh and sandy beach. Shelter in cosy hides to watch avocet’s feeding in the shallows or marsh harriers soaring in the distance. Children can see birds up close on seed feeders by the visitor centre.

Snettisham (RSPB)

Snettisham reserve on the Wash isn’t for the faint-hearted, which means you may have the place to yourself. Mudflats stretch as far as the eye can see in this wild, windswept haven for nature. At high tide see thousands of waders close to the shore and at sunrise see thousands of pink-footed geese take to the wing.

Strumpshaw Fen (RSPB)

In the floodplains of the River Yare, this peaceful wetland reserve, with trails through woodland, reedbeds, meadowland and waterways, gives you the chance to get away from it all. See deer, otters, woodland birds, marsh harriers, bitterns, wildfowl and waders.

Cley Marshes (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)

You’ll be spoilt for choice with waders, wildfowl and birds of prey. You won’t only find an ideal habitat of reedbeds, saltmarsh, lagoons and beach but also a fabulous visitor centre that showcases Norfolk’s nature artists. You can walk to Cley windmill too. Make a day of it!

Holme Dunes (Norfolk Wildlife Trust)

This far corner of North West Norfolk is worth exploring. The boardwalk takes you along the coast through dunes with views across tidal creeks and countryside. You might see Chris Packham’s favourite grebe – the punky Slavonian grebe. On a sunny day, cross your fingers for a shower and rainbow across a dramatic Norfolk sky.

Blickling Estate (National Trust)

The Blickling Estate is a treasure for nature. Walk around the lake edged with golden reeds and bullrushes, and through the beech wood, at its best in autumn and winter. You might even see a barn owl. Head up to the Great Wood for a fungi hunt – how many can you capture on camera?

Sheringham Park (National Trust)

Sheringham Park has it all – landscaped gardens, woodland, farmland and even clifftop walks. Climb the lookout for magnificent views to the coast then stop at the stone bridge to watch the steam train pass by. You may even see Eurasian curlew feeding on winter stubble or hear their soulful call.

Norfolk Coastal Path

There’s nothing like a coastal walk in winter to blow away the cobwebs. At Winterton and Horsey on the east coast, you can see seals with pups if you take care not to disturb them. On the north coast, Cromer’s cliffs and pier are always a treat. From Blakeney’s pretty harbour, walk to Morston Quay. Don’t miss the stunning beaches at Holkham and Burnham Overy Staithe and the glorious sunsets at Hunstanton cliffs on the west coast.

First published in the 2019 winter edition of Eat Out Norfolk mini-guide to eating out in Norfolk. Whether you choose the coast, the countryside or the fine city of Norwich for your ramble, there’s an eatery to welcome you – walking boots, rosy-cheeked children, thirsty dogs and all! Check out the Eat Out Norfolk online guide here. Cheers!

Autumn is the perfect time for a feast of fungi

Blickling Gold: Tracy Brighten

Autumn is my favourite time to get outdoors and go for a walk. Pick a sunny day and the backdrop of blue sky with golden trees takes your breath away. On days like this, my worries float away with the falling leaves.

Nature is my tonic. When life’s stresses weigh me down, a walk in the woods puts the spring back in my step. When I’m breathing in the earthiness of a downpour or watching birds take flight, I feel alive.  Continue reading

Remembering a blackbird fledgling

I lift the blinds on the back door and there he is. Every morning, the garden birds arrive for breakfast but while other birds wait in the pine trees or gather on the fence, this fledgling has been sitting between the flower pots. As I open the door, he hurries forward to be first in line for the soaked mealworms I sprinkle on the patio, then under the table where he will be safe. I have grown fond of this blackbird fledgling, although I know he is quite poorly. He can no longer fly like his sibling. Continue reading

Books to open your mind and improve your life

Books to open your mind

We all have favourite books. Some books explore the human condition, helping us understand ourselves and each other. Other books teach us about nature with fascinating stories of wildlife and wilderness. Books that have the power to change us are those that challenge our beliefs and offer new perspectives. These books can lead us to live a more conscientious and compassionate life.

I’d like to share some of my favourite books in the areas of health and wellness, sustainable and ethical living, wildlife conservation, and family and education. These books have enlightened and inspired me to live a more considered life. I hope some of these books may help you in your life too.  Continue reading

Education, communication and cooperation: cornerstone for change

By Tracy Brighten

Communication and connection

Education, communication and cooperation form the cornerstone from which societies build and improve on past ways of living. Whether knowledge is communicated in schools or universities, through media, or within communities, families and social circles, it can prompt us to question our thinking and our behaviour.

With technology linking us across the world, the connection of people and the communication of ideas is a catalyst for global change. Through the internet, we can exchange problems and find solutions.

We are no longer living in ignorant isolation  Continue reading

Starling

Starling

Starling

Sleek acrobat hangs

Hacking fat for hungry chicks

From coconut shell

Image credit: Pixabay

Blackbird

Blackbird singing

 

Blackbird

Blackbird crowns his tree

Singing out the fading day

Pure notes lift and soar

 

Image credit: Pixabay

Vegan quibblers hinder positive change

Rather than welcome vegan diet popularity, vegans are quibbling over terms

vegan diet

I read a post on Plant Based News reporting that health expert Dr Oz dedicated an entire episode of his show to the vegan diet, predicting that veganism is going to be the “single biggest movement of 2017.”

That should be good news for vegans.

But instead of welcoming the rise in popularity of vegan diets and the positive knock-on effect for animal welfare, the environment and human health, some vegans are quibbling over terms. Continue reading

Create a cafe for hungry garden birds and feel good

Help garden birds through the winter and feel the warmth of nature

Garden birds robin

The rental property we moved to recently was built on land where an old bungalow used to be. Except for three conifers, the garden was cleared and laid to lawn except for an empty flower bed which I turned over the other week hoping to attract robins and blackbirds with worms.

The garden may be neat, but it isn’t bird-friendly. Continue reading

Must we teach children to kill?

By Tracy Brighten

There’s something perverse about teaching children to hunt

enfance-et-violence

The slaying of Cecil the lion last year epitomises everything that’s wrong with a hunting culture that now seems to be more about pleasure and ego. A dentist who learned to shoot when he was five years old hops on a plane from the U.S to Africa and buys himself a baited lion which he slaughters, all for the thrill and the trophy. He doesn’t see the wondrous animal that others see. He sees only himself. Continue reading

Rabbits blasted by hunters in New Zealand Easter fun day

By Tracy Brighten

Children in Central Otago see a dark side to the Easter bunny

Rabbit    

Easter is a time for celebration, whether it’s the Christian celebration of resurrection, or the Pagan celebration of fertility, symbolised in community Easter egg hunts and the Easter bunny.

What you wouldn’t expect is a family bunny hunt involving the slaughter of 10,000 rabbits. But that’s what happens every year in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. The Great Easter Bunny Hunt seems to be a celebration of killing. Continue reading

Dairy-free for three months and counting

By Tracy Brighten

A dairy-free diet hasn’t been as difficult as I thought, even in New Zealand

After reading about New Zealand’s dairy industry. I was unable to convince myself the abuse might be a one-off as claimed by the industry, so as I wrote in a post last year, I’m now on a dairy-free diet. I survived the festive season with a delicious vegan nut roast and hadn’t given my new eating plan much thought until recently. Continue reading

When dietary changes make you a social outcast

By Tracy Brighten

Vegetarian sandwich

Make a decision to lose weight, change career, or have children, and friends and family generally meet the change with excitement and words of encouragement. But tell them you no longer eat meat, fish, or dairy, or even that you’re just thinking about it, and you find yourself being interrogated!

If your reasons for dietary changes are health based, you risk the usual ill-informed response that you can’t be healthy without meat. But if your reasons are ethics based, be prepared for an even rougher ride. Continue reading

Dairy free Christmas brings comfort and joy

By Tracy Brighten

December wasn’t an easy month to be dairy free, but thinking of calves taken from their mothers kept me on track 

I was already considering the next stage of my journey in eating more ethically, but the exposure of dairy industry cruelty was the motivation I needed. After witnessing the abuse of bobby calves, it was time for change. Continue reading

Should we care about future generations?

Future generations

The agreement by 195 countries at the Paris Climate Change Conference is a landmark consensus that climate change is a global problem requiring global commitment. Some people believe spiralling populations and associated development in India and China is the biggest issue. Others believe greenhouse gas emission control will be ineffective with the growing trend of factory farming. Not only do farm animals produce methane, but forests are felled to plant crops for animal feed.

Another question often asked when considering climate change and the depletion of non-renewable resources is why should we care about future generations? Don’t we just live the life we want and leave future generations to deal with the fallout?    Continue reading

Free Range to End of Range

By Tracy Brighten

A poem written in the style of restaurant discourse to voice the plight of  New Zealand’s native birds

Tui in Kowhai tree

Although native birds aren’t normally eaten, I am appealing to the reader’s sense of taste, while simultaneously repulsing them with how wild birds are being killed.

Native birds are facing increasing threats from non-native predators such as possums, rats, stoats, cats and dogs, and also from human behavior such as irresponsible pet ownership, beach and car use, hunting, longline fishing, overfishing and oil spills.   Continue reading

Local nature puts a spring in our step

It’s easy to overlook the local nature in our gardens and neighbourhood, but regular contact helps us tap into our roots 

Yellow Flower

Unless we’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, if we want to spend time in nature, we might wait for a day when we can head to a nature reserve, a wildlife sanctuary, or the coast. But in our busy life, days can turn to weeks, and weeks to months while we miss out on local nature.

Truth is that for many of us, the benefits of time in nature can be enjoyed much closer to home. Continue reading

Respite in Nature

By Tracy Brighten

A story of the stresses of urban life and the need for respite in nature 

Autumn tree for respite in nature

FICTION 

The car won’t start. Flat battery. It looks like I’ll have to catch the bus. But I’ve not been on a bus for years. Anxiety charges through me.

I’ve psyched myself up and I’m ready to go, but it’s pouring with rain. The windows will be steamed up and I won’t see a thing. I’ll have to rub a circle to see out and hope that my breath doesn’t fill the space faster than I can take in the view of the hills. Then there’s the smell of damp raincoats. I loathe the smell of damp raincoats. Continue reading

Joy in fostering an African elephant orphan

I’ve never seen an elephant in the wild, yet these majestic, intelligent, social mammals stir strong emotion. Fostering an orphan is a way of helping 

elephant orphans sharing water

I’ve long known the African elephant is endangered. But until I started writing about wildlife conservation and animal welfare, I wasn’t aware of the complexity of their survival problem. Continue reading

‘Fast Food Nation’: how a destructive culture takes over

By Tracy Brighten

Eric Schlosser’s investigative journalism in Fast Food Nation uncovers a greedy, corrupt meat industry that threatens people and animals worldwide

Fast Food Nation

I was first introduced to Eric Schlosser by John Pilger in his book Tell Me No Lies, a “celebration of the very best investigative journalism.” Continue reading

Spending time in nature is good for your soul

By Tracy Brighten

Spending time in nature has many health benefits, yet we find ourselves more removed from the natural world

Walk in nature

In economically developed countries, we enjoy medical and technological advances that improve our health and lifespan. We have education, transport, energy, and communication systems that give us greater opportunities for careers, business and travel, as well as a more comfortable lifestyle.

You might expect people to be happier than ever. Continue reading

Nature prevents disease and boosts wellbeing

By Tracy Brighten

Scientific research backs up what conservation groups and nature enthusiasts know: spending time in nature is good for us

Research is increasingly showing the importance of a public health focus on disease prevention, with nature gaining ground as a natural approach to tackle a range of health problems. Continue reading

Equal consideration for people and animals

By Tracy Brighten

Animals feel pain and suffering, yet are denied equal consideration in a world that places human preferences above compassion for animals 
veal calf

Calf in veal crate

Philosopher Peter Singer criticises philosophy for failing to challenge accepted beliefs. He argues for a change in traditional Western ethics, which is human-centred, or anthropocentric, and which denies any direct moral obligation to the natural environment. Continue reading

‘Searching for Ruru’: a native owl

By Tracy Brighten

An extract from my short memoir on searching for New Zealand’s owl

Perico 2 (800x566)

The memoir tells the story of a trip I made with my daughter to a small island in the Hauraki Gulf during her study on vocalisations of morepork, or ruru in Maori. I felt privileged to follow and watch this beautiful owl and my daughter in their natural habitat. Continue reading

‘No man is an island’: we are interconnected

By Tracy Brighten

No man is an island

I’ll admit to not having a great memory for quotations, but a line from one of poet John Donne’s meditations has stood the test of time for me: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself’.

What resonates is the idea that no-one is self-sufficient—we need each other to thrive in a world that’s far greater than one individual. Continue reading

Nature’s song thrush inspires hope in gloomy times

The winter carolings of Hardy’s frail thrush send a poignant message

Winter landscape

My favourite poem, The Darkling Thrush highlights Hardy’s despair at the changes he witnessed as England’s agricultural based society was impacted by the industrial revolution. The narrator describes a bleak landscape that reflects this despair. He sees a “frail, gaunt, and small” thrush, suggesting that nature is also affected by the changes. Continue reading

Spiritual harmony with simpler way of life

By Tracy Brighten

There is more to life than increasing its speed” – Mahatma Gandhi

View from top of Pohutukawa Gully

Like Gandhi, great thinkers pursue truth and wisdom. Writer and philosopher Henry Thoreau took himself into the wilderness of Walden Pond in search of spiritual harmony and a simpler way of life, and I’ve often thought how restorative such a journey would be. Continue reading

Nordic countries top the world for happiness

By Tracy Brighten

Happy people

The recently released World Happiness Report 2015 identifies those countries where people are happiest and highlights the value to economies of considering people’s well-being when determining public policy.

Produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the WHR examines Gallup survey data from 2012-2014 and past data from 2005-2007, looking at changes in reported well-being and happiness, as well as analysing reasons for happiness variation across nations and cultures. Continue reading

Magical Montessori

By Tracy Brighten

An early education experience for your pre-schooler that teaches life skills, encourages critical thinking and inspires curiosity about their world

Montessori outdoor play

Little Cheverells Montessori School lay back from the lane behind a Horse Chestnut tree and hawthorn hedgerow sprayed with white flowers. Having started a diploma course at the London School of Modern Montessori, I was visiting the school to learn more about child-centred early education.  Continue reading

Art, music and nature good for our health

By Tracy Brighten

If you feel awe on seeing a breath-taking view, joy on hearing a song thrush’s trills, or contentment on listening to Mozart, you may also enjoy good health

Science Nutshell panoramic view

Researchers in a study at UC Berkeley found a biological pathway between positive emotions and good health that involves pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Cytokines are proteins that interact with immune system cells to regulate the inflammatory response to infection, disease and injury. However, sustained high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines can be damaging and are associated with type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and clinical depression. Continue reading