By Jude Clay
It can be easy to ignore the nature around us every day. It can be easy to sit at home and wish we could see orangutans in the jungles of Borneo, or dolphins swimming through a turquoise ocean, or even jewel-coloured hummingbirds flitting around voluptuous, tropical flowers. The reality for most of us though, is that we live in a slightly damp and chilly England and don’t have whole days or weeks to dedicate to going out to have animal adventures. Does that mean we should give up on wildlife-encounters altogether? Absolutely not. Sometimes, we just need to remember to practice noticing what is around us. Discover Suffolk have devised a walking loop just outside Brandon, that is the perfect, simple way for you to connect with nature again.
I walked this walk slowly, stopping constantly to take photographs and watch birds and stroke ponies (there were many!) and it took me exactly 2 hours. If you want a leisurely route for a weekend or have young children who are full of energy and curiosity, this is a great option.
And this is what I noticed:
Through an avenue of pollarded trees, I emerged into a small orchard. I walked this route at the end of March and every tree was covered in thick white blossom. The breeze blew petals around me like spring snow and sleepy bumblebee queens, just woken from their hibernation, buzzed from flower to flower having their breakfast. On the other side of the orchard, a blue tit flitted in and out of a nest box. Perhaps it was the male of a pair bringing food to the female as she sat on their first clutch of eggs.
As I walked across a series of small paddocks on the other side, I was met by tiny lambs, their still-long tails wagging like a puppy’s and a pair of greedy donkeys ambled over to see if I had any food. After that, I walked past some neat allotments and across a field and the landscape suddenly shifted from agricultural into a heath-like wilderness. Here the grass was long and coarse, the earth sandy, and the open space dotted with scots pine and gorse. This was a real Breckland landscape. If you walk this route from May to September, this would be a great patch to spot some butterflies.
A pair of wide, dark eyes stared at me from the grass on my left as a muntjac deer stopped grazing. He decided it was best not to stick around and, after a while, scampered off into some reeds that lined the just-out-of-sight river.
From the heathland, I walked up a slightly sloping track through the trees. A number had fallen to the side of the path and I stopped to see if there were any interesting fungi growing on the decaying wood. I was in luck. A fallen trunk was dotted with soft, brown, scooped-out blobs that glowed a rusty orange when the sun shone through them: jelly ears! And, wow, some of them really look like ears. Especially when you walk round the back and they seem to have veins.
I followed another track past some houses (where a very friendly puppy greeted me from his back garden) and between fields. Now, the loop begins to turn back on itself, towards the town, and between fields containing horses and shetland ponies. They came right up to the
fence to lean over and have their heads scratched and to huff their hot breath and velvet noses onto my hands.
The track cuts through a housing estate as you near the end of the walk. A brambly hedge on one side was stuffed full of house sparrows, chattering away to each other like a squabbling family, and flying out in feathery clouds. At the edge of the housing estate was a small pond with some handsome male mallards and, after that, a churchyard dotted with wildflowers and the Polish memorial, so unique to this area.
You might do this walk in a different month, in a different season. Perhaps the lambs will have grown into sheep, or the baby blue tits will have fledged the nest and be learning to fly from the branches of an apple tree. Perhaps you will see different fungi in the woods; the fairytale red and white spotted fly agaric, or the smelly stinkhorn. Perhaps there will be bluebells when you go, or the sunny faces of star-shaped celandines.
This is the walk to go noticing, and to encourage children to notice too.
If you are interested in walking this route, please visit the Discover Suffolk website: https://www.discoversuffolk.org.uk/walk/the-nine-stiles-walk/