Minsmere – I love that gift shop! A grandchild’s reaction and eminently justified: the shop has everything to satisfy a casual tourist, a fascinated child or a serious bird watcher, not to mention a tea and coffee shop where snacks or cooked lunches will fortify you for the walk ahead.
Walk there has to be: the bird hides are well spread, accessible via woodland paths, yet manageable by mobility vehicles and wheelchairs. This time the big attraction was the adder trail. Situated midway between the bittern hide and Island Mere hide, viewing was possible in both directions. In our case that was a good thing: we missed a sighting on the way out, and had to be content with some spectacular marsh harrier flights and some great crested grebes on the mere. Encouragement of another kind came from a bittern “boom” – no sighting however. There was a mating pair of geese and a water rail among the reeds, as well as a little grebe.
A stop on the way back was rewarded with several adders plus a briefly ferocious battle, the two males twined like the wand of Hermes or a snake charmer’s best display. They were too quick for a photo, so I had to be content with shots of a single male. The female, it seemed, was well hidden in a ground nesting box.
The morning oatmeal bar had carried granddaughter through the return walk, with any thoughts of hunger relegated way beneath the adders, but by the time we had regained the visitor centre lunch was imperative. There is a fair range of vegetarian and carnivorous fare available so everyone was satisfied.
Our plan had been to see if any fossils had been uncovered by recent tides along the coast, but we decided to stay close to Minsmere (and cars) and walk along the beach to Dunwich. The prospect of ruined buildings and cliff falls was exciting enough. Among our first sightings were the strata of the cliff face, clear indicators of why the coast here is eroding. We found what could have been part of a column from a church. The natural world provided numerous shells, fragments of cuttle fish bones and a dead fish.
Among recent cliff falls were the remains of two World War II pill boxes. Assuming these had been built some way inland the loss to erosion over about seventy years is terrifying. We thought with sympathy of the people of Happisburgh further north, whose houses will collapse into the sea in a matter of months rather than years.
A timber stairway, perhaps fortified against any moderate collapse in the cliff, took us up to a camp and caravan site and through to the National Trust footpath leading to Dunwich Heath. Here was something different: a flock of sheep with among them two cheeky jackdaws performing early shearing to line their nests.
On the Heath itself there are two trails, guaranteed to keep flagging children busy: one was a footprint quiz, the other a smugglers’ trail. The Coastguard Houses with the chance of a tea break soon appeared. To be taken while it lasts because the Trust doesn’t expect these buildings to survive long: they are probably about as far from the edge as the pill boxes were in 1945.
A short walk back above the shore to regain Minsmere gave views of a harrier flying home with prey, numerous rabbits and several peacefully browsing deer. Loud cackling and a pair of geese in flight brought us back towards the visitor centre and, before heading home, a marsh tit on the feeders.
All agreed – as ever – it was a good day out.