Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Birds and booze Part 1

It is surely one of the finest combinations - supping a pint of foaming ale while birding, or at the end of a GREAT BIRDING DAY. It has long been an unrealised aspiration to write a book (which would of course require significant research) that focused on this divine mixture. And because the current fad seems to be to list the top 10/100/50 (delete as appropriate) of everything why not join in (I note that "the 50 best TV hard men" was on the box last night - strewth!)

This is the first of what I brazenly promise will be an occasional series by the end of which I hope to have arrived at the definitive top ten. For the first in the series, I will be quite predictable, as there must be very few birders who haven't at one point or another spent several hours in this particular establishment. However, it also is associated with a number of special personal memories - The Dun Cow, Salthouse, Norfolk.

For many a Spring, on our annual May trips to Norfolk, the Dun Cow was a central feature. We used to wild camp on Salthouse Heath, as you could get the car well off the road, ignoring the signs threatening prosecution (who, I ask you, is going to be wandering around at night on a remote heath looking for skint birders), and after a few pints (well not that skint), dozing off with the sound of Nightingales and Nightjars would have been quite romantic were it not for sharing a tiny ridge tent with one or other birding companion. The team was often the two Carters (Dave and Jon) and I, and if memory serves Dave invariably volunteered to sleep in the car. I also recall that, one early morning as I was just beginning to enter that sort of waking / dream state, I distinctly heard a voice shout "buttered scones are served at nine!" I was awake in a flash, to a grey dawn and silence. After a few minutes of coming to consciousness and trying to extricate myself from my sleeping bag, I asked Jon next to me whether it was me or had Dave shouted something a few minutes ago. "yes" came a very drowsy and grumpy voice "he said 'buttered scones are served at nine'". Oh that'll be alright then! That'll be Dave! And that'll be evidence of the rather surreal nature of our birding trips (coming across a huge pile of offal in the middle of the road somewhere in the brecks was one particularly strange moment).

Anyway, I digress. My first trip to Norfolk where I clocked up an embarrassing number of ticks, and which led to me falling head over heels in love with the place, involved drinking at the Dun Cow, with its views out over Salthouse Heath. On a good day you can clock up a range of Norfolk specialities - Egyptian Goose, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Avocet etc without trying too hard. It's also a great place to watch Barn Owls in the evening.

Jon, Dave and I spent one New Year's Eve in there (the year of the Red breasted nuthatch - a painful memory I'd rather not go into), where we were the only people not wearing fancy dress, and where they brought us over party hats etc. I also recall that one of the barmaids was dressed up as Aveline from Bread and that we all took a shine to her, until the end of the evening when she removed the wig that we had presumed had been her own long hair. Jive Bunny's Christmas medley seemed to be on a constant loop and even know the shout of Noddy Holder "It's Christmas!!!!" takes me back in a flash! Eventually we retired to our luxury accommodation - otherwise known as my car (three of us in the Polo!), with the party still in full swing. An hour or so later we were awoken by all the locals doing a conga round the car! You see what I mean by surreal?

So I've never seen anything really rare from there, but a visit is as much a part of a trip to Norfolk as blagging onto Cley. It's changed a lot since my first visit and is now very popular as a place to eat, but when Jon and I decided that we should have one last birding weekend before he and Jenny left us for Canada, it was somehow spot on that it should involve a few pints, some run of the mill bar food (with chips) and that view.

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