Minsmere.

For us a  summer visit to Minsmere starts with a visit to a fish and chip shop in Aldeburgh which is reputed to have the best fish and chips in Suffolk. We eat them on the beach north of the town overlooking the controversial stainless steel sculpture  ‘The Scallop’ by Maggi Hambling.
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This statue was unveiled in 2003 and is dedicated to Benjamin Britten who used to walk along the beach here. The top is pierced with the words from Peter Grimes; ‘ I hear those voices that will not be drowned’. There was an enormous amount of controversy about this statue being put in a place of natural beauty and it has been vandalised with graffiti and red paint many times. There have been petitions to have it removed, but on the whole I think most people want it to stay.

Further up the coast  you come to Dunwich, ‘the town that fell into the sea’. In the 11th century, it was the 10th largest town in England. Now because of coastal erosion, it is just a small village.  The walks round this part of the coast are wonderful and at the heart of it is the RSPB nature  reserve of Minsmere. It became famous in the UK this year as it was the site for the popular TV series ‘Spring Watch.’ It is a magical place on one of the most beautiful part of the lovely Suffolk coast. It covers  an area of 1000 hectares which includes woodland, heathland, beach, lagoons and reedbeds.  In 1947 the avocet bred her for the first time in the UK . The RSPB took this beautiful bird with its lovely black and white markings and distinctive black, upturned beak, as their logo. It is now a common sight and we were pleased to be able to get a photo of one.
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As you go into the reserve you go past Buddleia bushes which are alive with butterflies. We were told to expect white admirals,  silver washed fritillaries, graylings and purple hairstreaks. We just saw commas and red admirals.
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Bugs are encouraged and there is a beautiful insect hotel.
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The animals here seem quite fearless, probably because they are used to seeing people. This rabbit couldn’t even be bothered to get up when I approached him.
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The squirrel was equally fearless, he just looked at me coolly when I approached but made no effort to run away.
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The cute little partridge was a little more cautious but only because his mate had run off. He lingered to weigh me up.
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We made our way through the woodland to the bittern hide because we had read about the great success story in bitterns breeding here. Anyone watching Springwatch will have seen plenty of bittern footage. In late Victorian times these intriguing birds were thought to be extinct in the UK but they have made an amazing comeback and the greatest number of them are found here. Their loud booming call is thrilling to hear. We were delighted to see a bittern after only watching for a short time.
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There is the largest herd of red deer in England in the woods here but we didn’t see any on this occasion. I loved this spider’s web shimmering in the sunlight though.

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And these gorgeous toadstools caught my eye.
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There are extensive reedbeds at Minsmere which are home to many rare birds. There are Marsh Harriers, Reed Warblers and Bearded Tits to name but a few. Otters and water rats make their home here too.  There was great excitement in the hides because a very rare bird, a Collared Pratincole was about. I had never even heard of this bird, but I got caught up in the excitement, specially when we missed it by less than 10 minutes when we went into the East Hide.
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I loved watching the birds and there were so many different waders that it was a problem sorting them all out. We were delighted to pick out the redshank with its distinctive red legs and long red bill.
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These cormorants looked as if they were sunbathing.
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We made our way to the beach and passed little streams with water plants. This is water crowfoot: Ranunculus peltatus.
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We also saw yellow water lily: Nuphar lutea. The common name of this is Brandy- Bottle because it is supposed to resemble a brandy bottle and also because it smells of brandy.
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The view is rather marred by Sizewell nuclear power station which strikes a rather sinister note into such an unspoilt part of the countryside.
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The lovely Marshmallow; Althaea officinalis is becoming quite rare but it grows in abundance here. The sweet delicacy, Marshmallow used to be made from its mucilaginous roots. The whole plant was used medicinally.
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Teasels grow in abundance to.. It used to be thought to cure the ague. The secret was to open the head up in autumn and find a worm concealed in the centre. If you could find 5 or 7 of these, (it had to be an odd number,) you had to seal these worms up in a quill and wear them. That would keep you safe from ague which I think was malaria. Another cure for ague was to swallow a spider wrapped in a raisin, which was disgusting, but a lot less bother.
DSC_0196 Along the beach you can find the lovely glaucous leaves of seakale: Crambe maritima.
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Most of the yellow horned sea poppy: Glaucium flavum was over. But we found one plant in flower. The name comes from the amazing horned seed pods.
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The Latin name, Glaucium comes from Glaucus, the son of Neptune and Nais, a sea nymph. He was rather fond of fishing and eventually he became a merman and returned to the sea. He loved Scylla who was turned into a rock; I can’t quite remember why, but this sort of thing happened to you a lot  in ancient Greece.

You can walk along the beach and return to the bird sanctuary past this piece of art made from bits of plastic thrown up from the sea.
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I have always loved the button flowers of Tansy: Tanacetum vulgare. It reminds me of a picture in Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy book which I loved as a child. I once planted some of this  in my garden but I regretted it. It is terribly invasive.
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Pulicaria dysenterica or Fleabane was used as its name suggests to keep fleas away. I love its little yellow daisy flowers.
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I love the fluffy seedheads of Trifolium arvense, Hare’s-foot Clover. it is happy in the sandy soil of the coast.
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I will finish with a very rare flower which is nationally scarce. I had been very excited to see it. It is called Filago lutescens: Red Tipped Cudweed. It is not to be confused with Common Cudweed.
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I’m afraid the Pianist was quite underwhelmed by this little flower and I must confess I was a tad disappointed.
We had a wonderful day, even though The Pianist did sum it up as the day we got to see Red-Tipped Cudweed and nearly saw a Collared Pratincole. I think for our next day out he wants to go to London. He can’t take the excitement.
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49 Responses to Minsmere.

  1. Lovely pix and commentary on your tour. I like the way you ended the post, too.

  2. pbmgarden says:

    Chloris, I enjoyed your photos and descriptions of this scenic area.

  3. Pauline says:

    Many years ago we had a weeks holiday in Dunwich and were able to visit Minsmere, super place. We heard a Bittern but weren’t as lucky as you, we didn’t manage to see it!
    Fleabane has put itself into the garden here, I know I should pull it out but every time I think about it, it is covered in bees and butterflies and I leave it for another year!

    • Chloris says:

      The bitterns have done really well this year. I have never seen them before.
      I think Fleabane is really pretty, I would be quite pleased if it put itself in my garden.

  4. It’s such a beautiful part of the country. We love it, and have visited several times, once staying in Dunwich (or Dunning in the Wold, if you’re a Blackadder fan!). Seeing your photos has made me desperate to go back again! A great place for walking and cycling, as well as flora and fauna.

  5. Chloris says:

    It is wonderful for walking and cycling. We usually take the bikes with us when we go up the coast and do a bit of cycling, even if we don’ t get further from Minsmere than the Eel’ s Foot at Eastbridge.

  6. Cathy says:

    Sounds like a great place to go, chips and all! I love Norfolk, and imagine the Suffolk coast is similar. Thanks for sharing your photos of the plants!

  7. rusty duck says:

    Apparently there was a collared pratincole in Devon this Spring, the first one in 50 years. I wonder if it was the same one. Weird looking thing.

    • Chloris says:

      Perhaps it was the same one, they are so rare in this country. It stayed at Minsmere for a couple of weeks and then moved on. It is a bit odd looking but quite distinctive, unlike so many of the ‘ little brown jobs’ that could be anything.

  8. Kris P says:

    Thank you for taking us along on your lovely day-trip, Chloris! I enjoy your asides. The steel sculpture is a good deal nicer than the statue of a surfer adorning the pier of one of our local beaches. I was impressed with the sculpture made from plastic debris too – I hope it serves as a reminder not to spoil the sea and other natural spaces with litter.

    • Chloris says:

      There was an even better plastic sculpture last year. The artist Liz McGowan made a Plastic Palace from stuff she found on the beach. She then invited the public to add to it with things they found on the beach so it grew as the summer went on and became ever more weird and wonderful. When it was dismantled she gave workshops teaching people how to make thinks from recycled plastic.

  9. bittster says:

    Cudweed and Pratincole…. on first glance it doesn’t sound promising but you made an excellent day of it. Must have been the fish and chip start!
    I love those trips to the coast and all the little nooks and crannies of unusual terrain and wildlife. I miss that now living way inland.
    I looked up the pratincole, pretty bird but it looked slightly angry. I don’t think you missed much and the story reads much better with the near miss! Loved this post, thanks

  10. What a beautiful preserve. I love your photographs, especially the birds. I have never seen an avocet. And for the record, I would rather wear worms than eat a spider.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Jason. If you wrapped the spider in a nice juicy raisin, it wouldn’ t be so bad. One gulp and it’ s gone. Wearing worms round your neck could cause social embarrassment if nobody else does it, and people keep asking you ‘What’s that thing round your neck?’

  11. Christina says:

    A wonderful description of your day, Chloris, we were there the week we visited you. It is a magical place, we went to the ‘famous’ Flora’s tea rooms for a fish lunch but it had changed hands and we were most disappointed. Have you visited Pensthorpe too? Some interesting birds and red squirrels there too but the gardens are the real joy with Piet Ordolf’s planting.

    • Chloris says:

      Flora’ s Tea Room used to be wonderful. We used to go quite a lot with the children and dogs and eat fish and chips outside. I have heard that it is not very good now and very expensive.
      Yes I went to Pensthorpe last year. It is amazing;, a great garden and super birds too.

  12. Julie says:

    We were there last week, parking at the National trust car park at Dunwich, we missed Minsmere as we had our dog with us, but walked along to Walberswick and back across the heath which was spectacular. Fish and chips this time from the harbour at Southwold, I can recommend. Thats a great shot of the Bittern, I can imagine hearing its call was a thrilling experience too, one I would like to have!

    • Chloris says:

      The walk from Dunwich to Walberswick is wonderful and fish and chips in Southwold is great too. I also love walking from the coastguard cottages at Dunwich to Eastbridge and then back through the woods and then through the Heather. That is my favourite walk in Suffolk. The Eel’s Foot in Eastbridge is exactly half way round and a great place to stop and have a bite to eat.

  13. AnnetteM says:

    I really enjoyed your post. Thanks, too, for the education on wild flowers. I only know the ones my Mum taught me as a child, but it wasn’t very many. I am determined to learn more – think I will stick to learning the common names though.

    • Chloris says:

      Have you got a decent wild flower book? I have several including a few Victorian ones which I love because some of them tell you long rambling stories about the flowers which I enjoy. I have always been mad on wild flowers ever since I was a child. I learnt my first names through the Flower Fairy books.

  14. Anna says:

    Oh it sounds as if you had a grand day out Chloris and I’m sure that the Pianist enjoyed it just as much as you. I like the stainless steel seashell statue and do not think it detracts from the natural beauty but then my reaction might be different if I saw it in situ. With my Dad coming from near Wisbech we visited a lot of seaside towns in Norfolk and Suffolk as a child but it’s so long ago that I can’t remembers all the places we went to! Time to get down there again methinks. I will be checking my teasels thoroughly for worms. I wonder why they had to be in odd numbers.

    • Chloris says:

      The Scallop is great, I don’ t know what the fuss is about. It looks good from every angle. We both had a great day and took our bikes so we finished off with a cycle ride.
      Perhaps it is about time you came to Suffolk. Don’ t forget to call in here when you do .

  15. What a lovely place! The insect hotel and all the wildlife and beautiful plants–wow! Interesting that we have red admirals over here, too. They must be a very common butterfly–at least in the northern hemisphere. Thanks for taking us along on this tour.

    • Chloris says:

      I am glad you enjoyed it Beth. I really enjoyed seeing the amazing wild flowers and reading your post about The Ridges Sanctuary. I tried to leave a comment but it kept telling me there was an error. I will try again later.

  16. croftgarden says:

    Thank you for the walk, I enjoyed the Red Tipped Cudweed much more interesting than a Pratincole (Collared or otherwise). Your fungus was one of the parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota) can be certain which one from a photograph.

    • Chloris says:

      I am glad that I have seen Red tipped Cudweed but it is not exactly beautiful. Still I like to be able to put a name to all the wildflowers that I find.
      A parasol mushroom? Thank you. I wasn’ t sure what it was, I’ m not too hot on fungus identification.

  17. Robbie says:

    lovely tour-thank you:-) I like the sculpture, but I am odd like that….Love your photos!

  18. snowbird says:

    Hahahaha….so the Pianist was underwhelmed eh??? that had me laughing along with the things that can happen to you in ancient Greece!!
    I however am rather impressed with this post, so many beautiful birds and a rare albeit ugly little plant. I must say that statue takes some getting used too as does the one made of plastic, a little like Antony Gormley’s Iron men near us.
    I loved the avocet we had one in the rescue once, such a beautiful bird although very timid and shy.What a fantastic insect hotel, I must organize something like that in my garden……puts thinking cap on….I grow musk and marshmallows, it’s interesting to hear the musk was used medicinally. Now….that wee rabbit rabbit looks a little sickly to me….marvelous post, I did enjoy it.xxx

    • Chloris says:

      I love the Anthony Gormley men on your beach. The Pianist is a Scouser and his brother still lives at Aughton so we come up to your part of the world now and then and I love walking on the beach.
      I didn’ t realise that you get avocets up there.
      I wondered if the rabbit could have myxomatosis but I couldn’t t see any signs of if and he just looked nice and relaxed. I saw another one further on which was just as unimpressed by my presence.

  19. Such a beautiful area! I really enjoy seeing places that are completely handed over to nature. I love the bug hotel, one of these days I will definitely make one for my own garden, probably not on that scale though. I had to laugh at the rabbit and squirrel just calmly watching you, they don’t seem bothered at all.

  20. Chloris says:

    It is wonderful and they are constantly discovering new creatures there. I would like to make a bug hotel too. It is great to encourage wildlife to your garden and looks so good too..
    Last week at Minsmere, they found a rare yellow legged tortoiseshell butterfly and a bee wolf. . The bee wolf is a kind of wasp that preys on bees, captures them and buries them in the tunnels of its underground nest.

  21. Cathy says:

    My head is spinning after all the information and titbits in this post and all the comments – cure for ague, bee wolves, rabbits with myxomatosis, all the birds (brown jobbies or not), that wonderful Red-Tipped Cudweed… I am overwhelmed! I like both sculptures, by the way, and look forward to coming to Suffolk and trying some of the highly recommended fish and chips 🙂

  22. Alain says:

    What a nice outing. It is interesting to see some plants we only have in gardens (like Glaucium flavum) growing in their natural environment. The sculpture looks very elegant and seems a nice testimonial to Britten. I bet you had to wait a long time to spot a bittern. The American bittern is very similar. There are many around here and you hear them booming away in the marsh but rarely see them. One spring we saw the male do a courtship display but we never were able to spot the female, even if she obviously was right under our eyes.

    • Chloris says:

      I didn’ t realise that you have bitterns there too. The Minsmere bitterns had several young this year and so there are quite a few around. I was thrilled to see it as it is a first for me.

  23. linniew says:

    A day begun with fish and chips has got to be good. Wonderful wonderful photos of the birds and critters but it is your text I always enjoy most. Oh but I do like the Scallop sculpture, very oceanic and shell-like, really lovely. As to eating a spider in a raisin, it reminds me of garden vegetables in general and lettuces in particular as far as harboring hidden insects. I’m certain we all eat enough of them to keep away multiple plagues, we just never know, and I hope this doesn’t make Jason fear his lunch salad more than is reasonable. (Unless it moves.) Just catching up here and I also enjoyed the post on color– wonderful work Chloris!

    • Chloris says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment, I can see that swallowing spiders would be no problem for you. Fortunately we don’ t have to bother now, as ague is a thing of the past.

  24. Flighty says:

    Thanks for a most enjoyable post, and wonderful, photos about a terrific place that I’ve always liked visiting over the years. xx

  25. Chloris says:

    Thanks Flighty, Minsmere is a very special place.

  26. Your post sent me on a scamper once again. I’m headed to the library today and have added Benjamin Britten to the list. Hopefully, I will find a CD or two. I see on Amazon that Vol. 3 of Britten String Quartets will soon be available and the ‘The Scallop’ has been used on the cover of all three CDs. I understand the quote is from Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, but why a scallop? At the risk of having too many opinions, I think the sculpture is superb.

    Could go on and on about Cicely Mary Barker (good) and beach plastic (bad), but won’t. Rather, need to know if you’ve ever seen an insect in an insect hotel? I’ve thought about making one. This example is sculpture in its own right, but is it useful too?

  27. Chloris says:

    The sculpture is actually made of interlocking shells. Maggie Hambling said: ‘ The juxtaposition of the sculpture to the sea is crucially important – the way the undulations of the shell echo the waves and the whole point is a conversation with the sea.’
    Peter Grimes was performed on the beach here last year to mark the centenary of Britten’ s birth. It was an amazingly powerful performance.
    I’ m not sure if insects were using the insect hotel I didn’ t look close enough.

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