• An old dwelling?

    I drive past the ghost of a garden every week day. To the left of the Buxton Road just before the bridge, an apple tree clings on to existence on an old hedge line. This is the only mark which remains of a dwelling or smallholding. Upon checking the old maps of the area, the site was clearly occupied as a smallholding when the tithe map of 1837 was produced. By 1885, when the surveyors of the Ordnance Survey were gathering their records, the smallholding seems to have had a dwelling added to it. The map shows a typical part cottage / part barn of the type that you can still detect in some of the older village houses.

    Buxton Road – land near the bridge: the old smallholding

    It was only marginally affected by the arrival of the railway line in the 1880’s, although the upheaval must have been enormous. Did the cottage become abandoned then or much later?

    By 1946 an aerial photo was taken covering the Parish and the enlarged image, although slightly blurred, appears to show the area being cultivated like an allotment. Perhaps by then the house had been abandoned but the separate smallholding continued.

    The Buxton Road: modern map showing the same area today







    Today the latest plans show the shape of the field boundary and only the apple tree remains to mark the spot. No doubt someone in the village knows the history. I would be pleased to know.

  • Thaw

    A flight of Wigeon are temporary winter visitors to the island. Their plaintive whistling calls are the clearest signs of their presence – but the bold white wing markings on the males are confirmation enough. They flock in their thousands along the marshy Norfolk coast or along the lower reaches of the Yare, but this was nothing but a small foraging party. The thaw has set in has perhaps there are early pickings for wild duck along the Bure.

    The thaw has also released the scent of the fox from it’s frozen state. There are many hot spots which are seemingly important in the regular route. We will have to wait for the frosty starlit nights in order to listen to her territorial screams – such sounds do not carry in the wet misty and damp conditions which prevail.

  • Winter kill

    A female Sparrowhawk (known by falconers as a ”Spar”) has taken up residency in the cutting. She has been there for several days. Presumably because her favoured prey species, various finches, are gathered along the berry- rich thickets which predominate along this stretch.

    I say female because of its size, the male (or” Musket”) would be considerably smaller. This morning she effortlessly shook off the unwanted attentions of a mobbing Carrion crow before flashing through the hedgeline and disappearing. Yesterday she was glimpsed as she shot away with a rapid climbing flight from a perch on a fencepost. The day before she had left the clear signs of one of her victims in the footpath – a trademark circle of blood and feathers and a visible clawed footprint.

  • An arctic walk

    An arctic walk – still -10 degrees – the Bure steams
  • An arctic walk

    Temperatures  plunged to -14 C last night – fine snow fell which was more reminiscent of Arctic Circle snow than the normal wet stuff that we usually receive.

    It is still below -10 C as we take the dogs out. During the morning walk we  put up many as well Snipe as their larger cousins, Woodcock. The arrival or “fall” of Woodcock in Winter usually coincides with tougher weather conditions – presumably they are driven across the North sea from Scandinavia or Holland. A few remain in the UK for the Summer, but three or four flying out of the copse in Brampton is really only a Winter event. Snipe are here in dozens if not more and there peculiar croaky alarm call is the only sound over the Common.

    The fox has left his familiar trail and diversions and the sign of a visit to the river for a quick drink are apparent.  We look for signs of Otter with no result. A Weasel has left a visible trail in the more rabbit areas of the railway line. Hungry Redwings and Bullfinches have abandoned their shy behaviour and now concentrate on their search for food. The apples which remain on a tree in the cutting are as hard as billiard balls – we pick a few and leave them on the ground in the hope that the Thrushes can get at them when they thaw.

  • Snow fox

    Snow adds the extra dimension of tracking to the wildlife watcher’s armoury. Brampton is well served with linear routes – the railway line and the river , for example. It is often only the addition of a blank covering of snow that the daily routine of wild creatures becomes evident. In the garden, the thorough meanderings of the hens can be clearly seen. There are very few corners of the garden that go unvisited during the day.

    Outside the garden, the routes of the fox are clear. Along the river these are complete with minor detours, pauses and circuits. Scent markings are visible and for once we can see what sets the dogs off in a frenzy of hunting. It is usually not until the clear frozen nights in January that the fox’s calls add to the silent evidence of the regular route. That is, unless you confine your experience on the fox to television dramas – on the TV the Vixen’s screams can be heard at any time of the year, in Brampton they are silent until the depths of Winter.

  • A caracute and a virgate

    The Domesday Book, that written record of the Norman Yoke, states that the ploughable land in Brampton extended to a ‘caracute’ and 30 acres (a ‘virgate’). This is a total area of 150 acres or thereabouts.

    A check of the maps shows that this area coincides with the area occupied by the fields around Brampton Hall and St Peter’s Church and those which lie further south towards Street Farm. This could include the Church Field, Seven Acres, Kiln Field, Hill Field, Winter Letts, Topletts and the Town Field. This needs to be verified by Mr Pope.

    Additional information form the Domesday Book specifies that this was tended by 25 peasants with a total of that the 3 teams of Oxen (or 24 beasts as each team was said to be of eight oxen).

  • The Town Field in November

    The 26 acre field behind the cottage, known as the Town Field, has taken on a distinctly tawny hue. The colour a combination of the natural decay of the barley stubble remaining from August’s harvest and an autumn application of herbicide. The field is by no means barren.

    The Town field was presumably the main Open Field for the village. A Tithe map of 1837, which seem to record the tidying up of some ancient areas of strip cultivation, shows four distinct hedged enclosures. This same map shows the bisecting route of the new railway in an authoritative Victorian pencil stroke.

    Before the railway was built through the middle of the Town Field in about 1879, these four fields ran with three more enclosures in a continuous group to the Aylsham / Buxton Road. Mrs Vincent reminded me once that a farm track led from Lower Farm all the way across to the Buxton Road and you can see the route on the old plans.

    Now the embanked railway line alters the lie of the land so radically to make this appear unlikely – but it is true, and what a change must have been felt in the village at that time.

    The field today is more reminiscent of the ancient open field than it was in the 19th and 20th centuries. This morning flocks of a dozen or so Skylarks continue to glean seeds from the field.

  • Late November

    Winter appears to be getting a grip in late November. Long periods of rain have pressed the fallen leaves to a pulp. Some trees are valiantly holding on to their foliage, as ever the oaks seem to be the most resilient, but a sharp frost on the night of 16th November trimmed away the final leaves of the vast majority of the other species.

    The Roe deer have retired from grazing the fallow grasses. I assume that they have moved deeper into the woods, but I have had no sight of them for some time. The short days mean that they can probably glean what feed they require under the cover of darkness.

    Redwings and Fieldfares are active in large flocks along the railway line. Their distinctive calls providing a percussive backdrop to a morning walk.

  • Star walk

    The falling temperature and clear night sky highlight the benefit of having a railway footpath through the Parish. An early evening walk was transformed by the superb clarity of the night sky on Sunday evening. The absence of any light from the Moon (the November full moon does not occur for another two weeks) serves to enhance the visual impact of the stars. The old railway line is the best spot to sky -watch from, as it is raised on an embankment for much of its length and this provides an unrivalled view of the heavens.

    The brightest light in the sky at present is the planet Jupiter. The most recognisable constellation is the Great Bear. From this handy reference point we stumbled our way from constellation to constellation around the sky. We soon got the hang of the tour; aided by a star map we jumped from Cassiopeia to Perseus, Taurus and the Pleiades and on to the magnificent square of Pegasus, before the cold started to count as the Whippets shivered and we wandered homeward.

    A late pair of late firework displays at Marsham and Buxton provided extra entertainment on the way home.

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