the autumn writing outside course led by Dr Jonathan Ward has started at Cley Norfolk Wildlife trust visitor centre, accompanied by the sounds of returning migratory birds – especially the pink foot geese.

we went to the beach and the marsh at Salthouse. the last swallows were there, swooping over the grazing. Also a marsh harrier.

and sea asters everywhere. Aster tripolium has fleshy leaves to retain fresh water in its brackish environment. my Reader’s Digest complete spotter’s guide (the go-to reference book on my shelves) says it was a popular garden plant in Elizabethen times. it also supports a solitary bee, not mentioned in the afore-said guide, the salt-marsh bee, which feeds exclusively on sea aster, leaving a larder of pollen in each tiny burrow it lays an egg in. I came across entomologists catching them and a parasitic fly which lays its live larva in the burrows on Sunday at Morston.

the tide was very low, exposing sand at the bottom of the shingle bank

etching fern-like patterns as the waves sucked at the steep edge.

the marsh grazing supports all sorts of plants and animals, in the sweet ditches and the brackish channels.

we’ve also been to Wiveton Downs, which I have never got around to visiting since I was a teenager living in North Walsham. it’s one end of the Blakeney esker, a famous glacial ridge formed by a sub-ice-sheet stream first excavating a channel in the glacial till and then dumping sands, gravels and water-worn stones until it becomes tens of metres higher than the surrounding land after the ice sheet (itself up to a mile thick) melts. so this is a remnant of ice action which ended 10,000 years ago. I went there on a school geography trip some time in the 60’s. there is a clump of tall beech trees near the road which reminds one of Paul Nash’s paintings of beech clumps.

between fortifications of gorse one can see 360 degree views of the North Norfolk coastline. picking up snaky gorse roots, I was reminded of the other name for this feature, a Serpent Kame, for the meandering shape the stream cut.

interesting dwarfed flora on the dry sandy, stony soil up there. this is a blue type of fleabane, Erigon acer.

we also found a tiny geranium, stork’s bill, Erodium cicutarium, with its long pointed bill-like seeds.

the esker has been quarried for its sands and gravels, and its cobble stones, but is now a site of Scientific Interest, and grazed by cattle to keep the gorse and scrub at bay.

this week we visited Blakeney Eye, an island of shingle and sand in the marsh which has got so close to the shoreline that it will be eroded away in the not too distant future.

the channel of the Glaven has been moved to the landward side of it now, but it was the subject of an archaeological investigation recently. probably not a chapel but some kind of medieval  building, and earlier activity, including a Saxon bracteate gold pendant, a typical early germanic form of personal decoration. are those eels?

the marsh grazing behind the saltmarsh,

and the reed beds, are semi-wild places perfect for spotting birds – we heard bearded tit with its wire-string pinging call, saw a reed bunting, and a mixed flock of brent geese, probably with some greylag, by the sound of it.

the salt marsh has dry spots, like this hump of marram

and an odd space like a sea garden, shingle floored, and sheltered by the high bank. I have to miss the fifth of these wonderful outings, as I’ve got five days in Wales, at the Ty Newydd writing centre, for a story-telling course, which I will immodestly tell you I won as third prize in the Rialto/RSPB Nature and Place poetry competition.

but two more to go. delightful, and with a lovely group of people most productive. you can see the writing from the summer one near the loos in the visitor centre.