Sun, Sea and Sand
Where do you go on holiday when you already live in the middle of a sun-sea-and-sand holiday destination? The answer is, somewhere just a little bit different… Like Norfolk. In November.
As bleak as that may sound to some of you, this holiday had plenty of sun, sea and sand, just not the holiday brochure sort… The sun was autumnal – cold and bright; the sea was quiet, icy and green-grey; the sand was firm and damp from the chilly morning mist.
There was no snorkelling, sunbathing or sipping of sunset cocktails on the hotel terrace… We walked in wellies; our alfresco lunches consisted of supping hot soup whilst perched unseasonably on a picnic bench; we sat in draughty wooden bird-hides, watching the wildlife. I know a week of British bird-watching might not be everyone’s cup of tea (purchased, steaming in its polystyrene beaker, from the RSPB car park café), and it’s certainly a far cry from the pre-packaged paradise most holiday companies want to sell us, but, believe me, it was blissful.
Wrapped up warm, binoculars around our necks, we walked and watched. We saw skein after skein of migrating geese, flapping black against the cold, pink skies. They had flown from Iceland, Greenland and Siberia to spend their winter in Norfolk. While our swallows, swifts and martins had migrated to Africa for the winter, these big water birds had chosen to come to England – it seems to work a bit like a big avian timeshare. For these geese, the endless frozen fenlands were their exotically warm Riviera-style holiday destination; this was their bit of winter sun. Which just goes to show how bloody cold it must be in Siberia. It’s all comparative really, isn’t it.
So while many birds migrate to warmer climes for the winter, I had chosen to do the exact opposite, fleeing from the heat and the dust of the Middle East to the cool embrace of an English autumn. My last such autumn was four years ago, before I moved abroad, and I had been longing to see the changing colours of the leaves, to feel the frosty promise of winter in the air. As I flew home, I imagined aeroplanes laden with holiday-makers jetting in the opposite direction, passing me in mid-air perhaps; pale Northern and Western Europeans, their faces pressed to the small, round windows, desperate for vitamin D, to feel the warmth of the sun soaking into their bones.
Instead of strapless dresses, bikinis and flip-flops, my suitcase was packed with fleeces, thermals, woolly hats, warm pyjamas, waterproofs and spare socks. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the sort of kit I tend to get much use out of in Dubai; I had managed to find some very practical purchases in an obscure Scandinavian discount shop and was looking forward to a week of being incredibly snug – my feet swaddled in thick, warm socks without being perfectly pedicured for once.
I don’t tend to have many encounters with nature, living in a Middle Eastern city (With the exception of the odd common myna bird that visits my balcony or the silvery-blue fish that dart about in the shallow surf of the sea, my UAE wildlife experiences tend to be largely along the lines of lizards, cockroaches and feral cats), so it was magical to be out in the countryside, breathing the fresh, crisp air all day long. As evening approached we would wait quietly in the cold, gathering darkness, soaking up the silence, watching the wide white wings of barn owls, swooping and hunting in the gloaming, the Muntjac deer silently nibbling the grass at the outskirts of the pine forest.
In the evenings we sat in armchairs by a crackling log fire, doing the crossword. We drank red wine, sherry or spicy Bloody Marys. We ate roast beef or steak pie – rich, meaty, gravy-drenched dishes served with sweetly slow-roasted vegetables – just what you need after a day of walking in the cold countryside. It was all so different from my life in Dubai that I savoured every single moment of it and flew home feeling refreshed and happy. When it comes to seasonal migrants like me and the geese, it seems a change really is as good as a rest.