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The Harvest Moon sailed through clear skies over the village following last weeks autumn equinox. During the same evening four straggling House Martins circled over the cottages. They had stopped off on their trip south. The majority of Martins appear to have left over the last ten days or so. The Swallows went earlier, they made their way south soon after the afternoon of15th September – when I watched a family group hawking for insects low over the wheat stubble.

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Village Buzzard

September 30, 2012

In the clear afternoon sky we watch a Buzzard as it effortlessly soared over the Town Field. It’s markings etched and visible in the crystal air under a blue sky. Buzzards are spreading rapidly in the area now and this year seems to have been a good breeding year for them. Many copses and spinneys carry their resident pair and the keeow calls drift down – a sound that, in my youth, I connected with visits to moors and hills of the west rather than the arable lands of Norfolk.

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Local legend has is that a scattering of Portuguese Gold Reals rained from the royal coach as it approached Oxnead. The workmen who surrounded the newly repaired bridge scrambled in the Bure to recover the coins as a memento. For weeks and perhaps months they had sweated over building works at Oxnead Hall. In a throwback to the regal progresses of Elizabeth I, the Lord of the Manor Sir Robert Paston had committed his fortune and more besides to a banqueting hall fit for a King. But it was the narrowness of the new bridge which allowed the locals to get close to their sovereign.

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Living in Norfolk carries many bonuses, but the richness and abundance of it’s historic churches is, to me at least, the best of them all. The Norfolk Churches Trust’s annual Cycle Ride is one of the best ways to explore them. It was with this is mind that I set out with my son on a sunny Saturday in early September.

Starting from Brampton we meandered our way north. After a number of years of participation, “meandering” has become our favoured method of finding a route. No rigid route plan, just a simple decision of where to go next at each stop. Some churches are manned, some are not. Most have been stocked with a packet of biscuits and some cordial, which was appreciated on such a hot day.

We renew acquaintances. Various individual Churchwardens, PCC members and members of the various congregations extend their welcomes and sign our logbooks. The church buildings themselves with their medieval wall paintings, carved pew ends and stained glass, their tapestries, kneelers, hour-glasses and flowers exude their air of timelessness and humanity. A declining number of volunteers administer and maintain these wonderful buildings.

Around the churches the rural year ticks on. Field beans are being harvested as was the last of the wheat. The sweet smell of freshly baled straw drifted over the hedges, which themselves were garlanded with the scattering of early Hawthorn berries. Flocks of goldfinches descended on the villages. Aldborough, a veritable metropolis compared to most we travelled through, seemed at ease with itself; snippets of conversation came from the gardens of each of the pubs, a smell of baking from the Tea Cozy cafe and dogs with elaborate curls rolled around the green. A children’s playground, part of which seem to have been built by a zany carpenter without a spirit level, graces the southern end of the large green. A cricket square sits manicured within the green, as it should.

After the poetry of Aldborough and Erpingham, Calthorpe and Ingworth, we descended to Aylsham. Descended that is, until the hilly (by Norfolk standards) approach from the north. Up to St Michael’s Church and to the Quaker Meeting House, the Emmanuel Chapels, the Methodists and the Catholic chapel of Our Lady and St John of the Cross. A rich and varied collection is a thriving market town.

For our twentieth and last church we set off homeward via Oxnead. A Paston church hidden in woodland in the shadow of Oxnead Hall. Deserted, quiet and peaceful after the bustle of the town and downhill all the way home.

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For me Summer of 2012 ended at 8.45 on 2nd September. The swallows were gathering in groups around the Hall barns. But, further down Church Lane a single Swallow circled the doctor’s house uttering an urgent hawk-alarm call. Looking up we spotted the cause of it’s concern, a falcon was in the vicinity and was climbing the thermal-free air. The effort was obvious; with wing beats which reminded my of a trapped butterfly against a window pane, the falcon worked to gain height in a wide upward spiral. It was surely reaching for height, seeking the support of a constant breeze.

The Hobby is a summer visitor and this year it’s electrifying presence had been very evident. A hunting territory seemingly centring on the village with it’s plentiful food supply. But now it was time to go – probably to follow the favoured prey species, the Martins, Swallows and Dragonflies. The cooler night air was already encouraging their departure and the Hobby must follow suit.

I followed the falcon’s progress. As it crossed the orb of the Sun, it started to diminish to a dot and eventually melted into the upper air.

Dusk. The Rooks and Jackdaws return to roost at Oxnead with a cacophony of noise. Their numbers have swelled. On Sunday night I tried to count them, but soon gave up. There must be 1500 birds or more in the gathering flock. Their flight lines ebb and swell like Starlings. Pouring into the Poplars they continue to call until one certain point when they are settled and silence floats down. The dark descends and they are quite until first light – or so it appears.