Wanders in Wonderland...

Given we're heading off on a TGO Challenge crossing next year, it kind of felt right to do a throwback post to a fab little was a TGOC training expedition back in 2012...  we hope you enjoy our nostalgic indulgence...

After a few miles of forest walking we arrived at Wonderland.  

'Penguin' Pete Fretwell and I had set off after work on Maundy Thursday for a 2-nighter.  The forecast was good for a day or so, and we quickly pitched our tents and explored one of the most fantastic parts of East Anglia that I know.  It was great to have a really good look around this 'Brecky' place without the usual constraints of having to be back at the car to drive home.  We spotted several deer, three species in fact.  An distant Harrier, MArsh or Hen, I couldn't be sure - not a clear enough view.  Stone-Curlews were about, plus the odd Curlew.

We returned to our shelters as the light faded, dined and shared whisky.  Venus was high in the sky, as was Mars - unfortunately both were dimmed somewhat by the incredibly bright, and almost full, Moon.

I tried for one of those arty wildcamp shots again, and almost got it.

Me, trying to do a first-class blogger photo, and only making steerage.

That is Venus in the Western sky to my left.

It was due to be chilly, possibly even freezing so I took my down jacket and 3-season quilt with me.  I was thankful I had.  

Pete had elected to use a bivy bag which he had borrowed from a pal given the good forecast, I was in my single-hoop tent.  We both lay half in and half out of our respective shelters gawping up at the sky.  We spotted a good few satellites and Pete copped a glimpse of a meteor - lucky bugger.

This is Pete.

Pete: His bivy is in this shot too.

Pete drifted off to sleep and I began to get too cold outside my tent.  I wriggled back inside and sent frost showering from the rolled-up door.  It was well frozen.  I checked my writswatch, which I had removed earlier.  -4.0c  I left it in the porch and popped off a couple of tweets lamenting my location.  Envious replies rebounded from the twittersphere - I love that.  I was getting my own back. 

The whisky was getting the better of my eyelids.  Just before I turned in, I checked the wristwatch, it flickered and died as I hit the 'light' button.  Just as it faded, I read the temperature.  At 2230h it was -5.0c.  

I had a chilly night, the quilt barely kept me warm through the early hours before dawn.   Sleep was shallow, but sufficient.  As I woke, very cold.  I waited for the light to build sufficiently for ablutions.  It couldn't come quick enough so I put on the head torch and headed out.  This errand for abdominal relief was too cold.  I was chilled to the bone.  Baring one's behind in Winter is not a task to be taken lightly - even in East Anglia.

I returned to my tent and took a slurp of water - a few drops left the bottle and hit my tongue.  The bottle was solid.  I checked my water bag - worse still.  The whisky was still liquid, but I was thirsty so I brought my bottle in my bag with me and put the water bag inside my jacket.

I was cold so I went for a short run in the early light to get the blood flowing.  It helped little, but did help.  Pete stirred in his bivy, which was covered in ice.  His pack was too, totally covered in a coating of frost.  A few warm drinks and we were up and exploring.  It would be an hour or so before the light was high enough to the thaw the shelters.  

Pete: Visible this time

Wonderland is a fabulous place to be at the most usual of times - but at first light with clear skies under a rime of frost it is truly splendid.

The rest of this part of the day is largely explained with the photographs.  

I saw this and thought "that's pretty special".  It was both.

Red Deer grazing.

No apologies for lack of sharpness - this image, I love.

A small herd of Roe Deer, and my tent in the distance.  It is there, honest.

After breaking camp, Pete and I emerged at the Elveden Monument and the busy A11.  The tea-wagon's gravitational pull had its effect and I passed Pete one blackened, and frozen banana.  It was fine inside, so I ate the other.  Not wanting to sit with crowds, we crossed the road - eventually - and set off through a mix of Breckland and farmland towards Gazeley.  We had made a note of all of the bird species we had encountered and were approaching 40 by now, some really special ones too.  Still no Swallows.

We planned to stop at Icklingham for a pint and some grub at one of the two pubs.  They were both closed.  We had also planned to take our time through Cavenham Heath.  But a phone call ahead to The Fountain at Tuddenham had us hot-footing it.  We had 3 miles to walk inside of 45 minutes.  Two birders stopped us to discuss their sightings, we tried not to be rude as we cut them short and upped tempo across the Heath into Tuddenham.  A local appeared with his small boy "which way to the Fountain?" I asked.  "Fountain?  A pub?" he replied.  "It's called the Fountain" I asked.  "Yes.  Is it a Pub you are talking about?" the gentleman urged me to answer.  To me it was obvious, I was famished, and desperate for a pint.  Yes, a bloody pub, I thought.  My reply censored the expletive.  I was tunnel visioned, and on a mission.  He said there was no pub called the Fountain in Tuddenham.  He - probably reluctantly - pointed us in the direction of a different pub and we left him.  I can't even remember thanking the chap.  I regret that.  

Pete and I reached the pub, The White Hart.  It was open, and serving meals.  We swapped elated faces - and shook hands - 2 minutes to final food orders!

Ham egg and chips, a chilli-con-carne and a couple of pints of ale were consumed greedily.  I checked with the staff to find out where the Fountain was.  Tuddenham St Martin apparently, out Ipswich way.  We were in Tuddenham St Mary, which was not out Ipswich way.

Pete: Approaching Elveden Monument

Me: Approaching Elveden Monument
Hebridean Sheep, by Icklingham


Farmland and dwindling heath sucked us back out of the pub and we crossed under the A14 to make our way through Herringswell to Gazeley.  The bird list had reached 48 by this time.  Not a bad result for early in the migration season.

We sat a while at the Chequers, which was closed, awaiting Pete's wife - Ellie.  She didn't take long to arrive and I waved Pete off knowing I only had a mile or so to my intended camp spot for the night.  I tried to get water at the local churchyard - but only a waterbutt was available.  I decided to approach a local couple just returning to their house after a stroll.

"Hi there, would you mind topping this bottle up with water for me?"  The lady looked at me.  There was hatred in her eyes.  "You want me to fill that for you?".  "Yes please, if you don't mind - that is."
The lady snatched the bottle from me, eyeballing me for the second time.  I was confused.  Normally this is a straighforward task.  The gentleman turned his back on me and walked towards his house.  I forced conversation. "I'm walking the Icknield Way for a while".  "We've just done that."  He replied, glancing over his shoulder.  "What all of it?"  I asked.  "The Three Churches walk" he added.  "Ah yes, I've done that.  Lovely isn't it?".  Nothing.  Silence ruled for a while - where was my bottle?  Then the chap quizzed me - are you camping?  I thought quickly "No, I am being picked up somewhere around Dalham or Lidgate." I didn't want him to scupper my plans of camping on private land.  My story wouldn't be too believable.  There were only a couple of miles to go and I had just asked for a bottle which was only a third empty to be filled up.  He didn't twig.  "Have you come far?" "Where do you live?" "What's your name?" "Who is picking you up?".  I was being interrogated.  Suddenly the spotlight was switched off and the barrage of questions relented as the lady returned with my bottle.  I thanked the couple and left them.  "Looks like rain" he closed.  Bastard!

As I left the village, I spotted a few home-printed signs.  I drew closer and read one of them 'There have been 3 burglaries in the village within a week.  Be on your guard.'  or words to this effect.  My irritation at the couple turned to regret.  It all made sense.  

I passed a few other evening walkers as I neared my pre-selected location.  Each of them asked if I was camping and my lies continued.  "No, just a few more miles and I am getting picked up". 

My camp spot - selected by OS mapping and Midsummer memories of The Three Churches walk - was less than useless.  I was too early and none of the undergrowth had any leaves.  I had hoped to duck into the thickness of the vegetation and disappear from passers by.  I could see through the band of trees right to the other side and the fields beyond.  This wouldn't go.  I would be seen by all those folk to whom I had bullshitted a while earlier.  They were sure to tip off a local and I'd be moved on.  I decided to walk on to find a more secluded spot.

It started to rain - a divine and righteous act of punishment for my damnation of the cautious couple, I thought.  Through Dalham, and out the other side hunting for a spot.  Nothing.  I was on the road so I picked a public footpath to take me away and through a spinney.  Result - not perfect, but pretty good.  Thick cover on three sides.  No properties in view.  As far as man-made items are concerned, only a distant transmission tower could be seen.  

Reasonable stealth-camping spot

I was by a dried up river - The Kennett - devoid of water on account of the lack of rainfall in this, a drought year.  I pitched and settled for the night.  I had to wake early and get walking.

5am on Easter Saturday I was awake and had eaten, abluted and broken camp by 6am (the same day ;-D).  I was on a mission to get home, as early as possible, to see my family.  I had decided that my route would follow a track past a transmitter to reduce the miles of busy A-road walking.  I hoped I could get onto it as it was not a right of way.
It turned out to be accessible but clearly marked as private property, with "Trespassers will be Prosecuted"connotations.  I thought "sod it" and walked around the huge metal fences and along the track to emerge in the little village of Hundon without incident.

As I approached the trig-point marked on the map I noticed something was up, or rather - not up.  The trig was lying on it's side as if picked out from a distance by a long-range sniper.  It was dead.  

Trig - taken out

The second such  a corpse as I had seen in as many months.  See below for the other, which is just 2.27 'crow flight' miles away...

Another, earlier, trigonometrical fatality.

Pissed off, I harrumpfed away from the corpse of the pillar across a field of crops.  Within moments I was  thankfully distracted by the big ol' Suffolk sky.

Suffolk sky

 And then the lovely green lines of grain crop - Barley?

Suffolk crop

And then a golden burst of sunshine through the grey.  It lit up a crop of Rape quite nicely, I thought.

Suffolk Rape (thankfully, this is not a headline)

My walk was drawing to a close.  Within an hour or so I was turning my key in the door and clutching my kids in my arms.  I had a hug with Mrs M, who screwed her face up anticipating the funky, post-walk sniffiness I might emit.

I had had a largely lovely walk, with good company for the first day.  I had tested my kit, finding only that my pack was just a tad too small for all of my gear plus the extra bits I would carry on the challenge.  So now a new pack is in my hallway which is much better and will be coming with me in May.  Only the fourth pack I have tried since deciding to apply!  Practice makes perfect.

Hope you enjoyed the read, it was good to write it up.  A shame to finish really, but my back is aching from sitting in my armchair and using the netbook on a coffee table.  Hope I can get up.