Hunting ‘Bambi’

On Sunday’s dog-walk, it was one of those perfect days. A temperature of 21C (70F) made even more pleasant by a gentle easterly breeze, just enough to move the long grass.

With 90% of the area now dry ground, and no need for boots, Ollie and I made a few tours of Beetley Meadows, then twice around Hoe Rough. He only went into the river once to drink, and didn’t seem to be feeling the heat at all.

The whole area was unusually quiet, leading me to suspect that most people had headed to the nearby coastal resorts, or decided to have family time and barbecues in their gardens.

When we got back and started to head for the woodland area, I saw some other dog walkers. A family with a small poodle cross, and a man with a terrier. Then in the middle of the widest path, bold as brass, we all saw a young deer, nibbling happily at something by the edge. It had long, spindly legs and big eyes that made me think of Disney’s Bambi. It surely had no idea about where it was, and showed no fear of me as I approached.

But then all three dogs spotted it, and the hunt was on!

Although the dogs didn’t know each other, pack mentality took over, and they rushed off together barking, yapping, and yelping.

Fortunately for the juvenile deer, instinct kicked in, and it took off bounding gracefully, easily outstripping the three dogs as it jumped the three-bar fence back into the woodland.

We were left with three frustrated and panting dogs, who had participated in a very short and fruitless hunt.

Ollie: An Eventful Walk

For the last few days, Ollie has not had much fun on his walks. Many of his regular doggy pals have been notable by their absence, and the few dogs he did encounter didn’t seem to like him that much, including one tiny terrier who attacked him on sight.

The day before yesterday we got a real soaking in unexpected rain, and yesterday we only saw one other dog, in more than two hours of walking around.

Today was sunny to start, with ‘showers’ supposed to arrive after 3 pm. So I set off a bit earlier, and it proved to be a good plan. Ollie soon met up with a couple of friendly Spaniels he knows, and the new arrival of a small white Staffordshire Bull Terrier proved to be a friendly encounter too.

Over on Hoe Rough, there seemed to be no dog-walkers today. But halfway round the right hand path, Ollie spotted a white-tailed deer crossing the path up ahead, and took off in hunting mode. No chance of catching it of course, but until it went to ground in a dense thicket of shrubs, he had a good chase.

Then he decided to track the animals route, nose to the ground, sniffing like a Bloodhound.

He was excited enough to need a long dip in the river before we started on the return journey to Beetley Meadows. Once back over the bridge, Ollie was delighted to see little Lola, the affectionate Shih Tzu. And she was in the company of Zen, the feisty miniature Chihuahua.

The three of them had a good meet, with strokes and cuddles all round, and lots of sniffing and running in small circles.

By the time we got home, Ollie was ready for his dinner, and he is now sleeping soundly next to me, after his eventful walk.

Ollie, the Moose, and a Deer

By the time it came to take Ollie for his walk on this Sunday afternoon, it had been raining here for almost 24 hours, non-stop. I was not in the best of moods, having been awakened early by a particularly torrential downpour whilst it was still dark outside.

I also had to wear my new Wellington boots for the first time, as last year’s ones had sprung a leak somewhere, forcing me to invest in a new pair. As we set off, I wasn’t looking forward to a couple of hours walking in heavy rain, trudging through mud and six-inch deep puddles. The new boots were not too uncomfortable, though the left one was rubbing my little toe enough to have me limping after less than an hour.

Ollie was looking around, in the hope of seeing some other dogs for company. But nobody else was risking the lunchtime downpours, and he couldn’t find any doggy pals to run about with.

Fjui X30 008

I decided it was up to me to enrich his playtime, and fell back on the old standby of telling him to search for an animal to hunt. For some unknown reason, I chose to mention a Moose. Now Ollie wouldn’t know what a Moose is, as we don’t have them in Britain. But my secretive tone, and half-whispered “Find the Moose, Ollie. Where’s that moose?” had him off and running immediately.

Nose to the ground, he crisscrossed the whole of Beetley Meadows in search of the non-existent animal. Every so often, he would stand stock still, lift his head, and sniff the air. When he had decided that his search was in vain, he ran back to find me, looking dejected. Trying to keep the momentum going, I took him through the gate into the small woodland area, talking to him as if he was a person. “It’s in here, Ollie! Find the Moose!” In the heavily overgrown woodland, his search was more difficult. Avoiding the nasty clumps of thorny brambles, he soon gave up.

I led him back through the gate onto the Meadows, and turned right. Around 250 yards straight ahead, a small white-tailed deer was busy nibbling some berries from a bush overhanging the path. It hadn’t noticed us as we walked from the gate. Ollie took off at high speed, sensibly making no yelping noises, and with the long wet grass muffling the sound of his galloping paws.

I became concerned that he might actually catch the small animal, which was no larger than my dog. So I picked up speed as best as I could, hampered by the new boots, and muddy ground. Just as I was convinced that Ollie would grab the little deer in his jaws, it turned and spotted him, at the last possible moment. Bounding off as if it had springs for legs, it took the route through the overgrown central area of Beetley Meadows, meaning I could not see Ollie at all as he continued in pursuit.

I carried on in the general direction for a few minutes, until Ollie finally returned to find me. His face was frothy from the chase, and he was panting hard. When I asked him “Did you get it, boy?” he snapped his head around to look, in case it had come back.

He may not have seen a Moose, or caught a deer, but he was happy for having had the chance to try.

Mankind 1. Nature 0.

I was very pleased to hear that one of my oldest friends had reason to visit Norfolk this week. I arranged to meet him yesterday at a seafood restaurant on the north coast, in a small place called West Runton.

After a dismal damp morning in Beetley, the short drive north saw a welcome change in the weather. By the time we were sitting down to eat, it was pleasantly warm, almost too hot. We had a good catch-up of course, as we had not seen each other for close to two years. The food was fresh, and very tasty too. A pleasant way to spend a couple of hours indeed.

On the way home, I took the quiet country route. Driving in pleasant evening sunlight, even though it was past eight pm, I reflected on what a nice place this is to live, when the weather is fine.

Approaching the village of Guist on a narrow road, a deer suddenly ran out from the bushes to my right. Despite hard braking, I could not possibly avoid it, and I hit the animal at a speed of around 50 mph. The poor thing was catapulted along the road before coming to a stop on the left-hand verge. I saw it twitch briefly, and then it moved no more.

It was a difficult place to stop, on a small fast road, close to a bend. I concluded that getting out to check on the deer, which appeared to be a female Roe Deer, was potentially too dangerous, and continued my journey. When the road became wider, I stopped the car by some houses in Guist, and checked for damage. One front panel was out of alignment, though easily popped back with a hard push. Otherwise, the car appeared to be undamaged.

I carried on to Beetley, feeling very sad for the unfortunate deer, who had fallen victim to a technology that was not in its nature to anticipate.

Ollie The Tracker Dog

Just lately, Ollie’s tracking and hunting instincts seem to have reached a new peak of efficiency. Out walking yesterday, he suddenly picked up the scent of something, and took off, nose to the ground. In torrential rain and slippery mud, I had trouble catching up with him. But when I finally found him almost ten minutes later, he was standing by a thick clump of brambles, one front paw raised. On my arrival, he set off in circles around the brambles, snuffling at every branch. After some circuits had been completed, he stopped and stretched his neck, sniffing the air intently.

Suddenly, two small fallow deer emerged from the brambles, one was close enough for me to touch, had I not been holding an umbrella.They bounced away to the left, with Ollie in hot pursuit. It took me a while to find him again, and he was once again nose-to-the-ground, making zig-zag movements around Hoe Rough. He was so determined in his smell-tracking, he didn’t even notice me appear behind him. But this time, the deer had got themselves close to a fence bordering private land. So when Ollie finally located them and flushed them out, they escaped easily, by jumping the fence in one leap.

The weather was a little kinder today, and we even had some sunshine, despite a strong cold wind. After walking around for some time, Ollie became very interested in a tree, one in a group of six or so, some way from our usual route. He sniffed around the bark with great precision, returning again and again to one small section. Then he got his nose to the ground, and began to trot off ahead. I suspected that the deer may have returned, and anticipated a repeat of the previous day, trying to keep up with him. I kept him in sight, and stayed on the path as he headed north, on the diagonal. He stopped by the gate through to Holt Road, so I caught up with him quickly.

To my surprise, I found him staring at an elderly man by the gate. The man was wearing walking clothes, and carrying a map case and a walking pole. He seemed embarrassed as I approached, perhaps because I noticed that he was fiddling with the front of his trousers. He nodded at me, muttered a “Good afternoon”, and walked through the gate. A few minutes later, it dawned on me what had caused Ollie to track him in that way. He had probably stopped to pee up a tree, the one that Ollie had been so interested in. No doubt he had some on his shoes as he walked away, and Ollie was sharp enough to detect it. His trouser-fiddling was probably because he realised he hadn’t zipped up properly.

Ollie had done well. So the next time someone goes missing around here…

Mud, and car problems

After some films and music posts as a diversion, I’m afraid it is back to woeful tales about the weather, and problems with technology. In other words, situation normal, in the world of beetleypete.

I am struggling to remember a (recent) year when the Winter dragged on for so long. OK, 1963 was a nightmare, but I was only 11 years old then. Since I last wore my shorts in October, it has been month after month of cold, rain, and even heavy snow for a time.More than six months of what feels like an endless Winter, confirmed by heavy rain all last night, and a foggy cold morning to wake up to today.

Walking Ollie in thick mud has been the subject of quite a few posts recently, and today was no exception. It is actually hard to keep upright once again, as I slip and slide trying to keep up with my dog. This wasn’t helped today, when he spotted a small Muntjac deer over on Hoe Rough, and took off after it excitedly. I had no chance of keeping Ollie in sight, let alone managing to follow him closely enough to make sure he was safe. Those small deer are not much bigger than him, but they are tough, and have tusks and antlers too. If Ollie managed to corner the frightened animal, he could have been injured.

But I could make little progress in the heavy mud he was skipping over, and it took me almost fifteen minutes to find him. He was hot and panting, but had obviously not managed to come into contact with the deer. So instead, he jumped into the muddy river to cool down, plunging into deep water up to his chin. Once he emerged, I had more than had enough, and began the slow stomp home, in mud-covered boots.

Yesterday, I had planned to go on my usual trip to the supermarket. But after starting my car, I was unable to get the gear selector out of Park. (It’s an automatic gearbox) No amount of fiddling around would seem to shift it, so I had to take Julie’s smaller car instead. On the way, I popped into the local car dealership where my car is maintained, and explained the problem. They don’t send people out, they told me. Nor do they arrange to collect cars on a trailer, to bring them in for repair. If I could get it into them, they could put it on their diagnostic scanner, and try to find the problem. I told them that if I could have got it there, then it would have been outside for them to examine, but they didn’t get the irony.

Last night, we contacted a friend of a friend who is a mechanic. He sent some advice by text. We also looked online, to discover many other owners with a similar issue, as well as some videos showing how it might be fixed. Many of these cars have a small opening into which you insert a screwdriver, to ‘reset’ the micro-switch that tells the gear selector to come out of Park. Mine being a so-called ‘Sport’ model, it doesn’t have that of course. More research revealed the electrical intricacies of a system that relies on lots of information to tell the six-speed gearbox when to change. This ranges from a connection to the rear brake lights to tell the car it is slowing down, to something on the rev counter that informs the gearbox to change up. I was past the limit of my car DIY skills, that was for sure.

I resorted to ‘fiddling about’ this afternoon. Turning switches on and off, and applying and reapplying the brakes. Still no joy. Then I remembered the ‘Sport Mode’ switch on the console. This changes the gearbox ratios, to give a sportier feel when driving, including stiffening the suspension. I never bother with this function usually, but tried switching it on and off anyway. Eureka! The gear selector freed out of park, and I was able to move it normally. Of course, I have no idea if this will provide a permanent fix, or if it will just stick in Park again tomorrow. So, it is booked in for that diagnostic scan next week, the earliest they could do it.

What happened to hitting things with a hammer?

Ollie’s stag hunt

Out walking with Ollie yesterday, I was not surprised to see that the river had flooded its banks, after the heavy rain earlier. I set off over to Hoe Rough, but it was hard going, diverting around the deeper flooded parts once again. As is my habit, I eventually settled down for a rest on my favourite log, tired of splashing around in the mud, after over an hour of walking. Ollie stood nearby, having some drinks from the different pools of rainwater that had formed around the trees.

After ten minutes or so, I heard some excited yapping and barking. It seemed to be coming our way, and sounded like a fair number of dogs were responsible. Ollie’s ears pricked up, (or in his case, moved forward) and he stood looking in the direction of the sound. I was startled to see a large stag appear, a fully-grown animal with a full set of antlers. It was running at a good pace, and glanced in my direction as it passed, seemingly unconcerned. Ollie looked around at me, as if to say “Can I?” The yapping grew in intensity, and two Springer Spaniels crashed through the shrubs, in hot pursuit of the deer.

From the noise they were making, you would have thought that there were at least ten of them. Ollie saw them running, and needed no further permission to join in the chase, quickly overtaking the tired spaniels. I stood up to see where he was heading, knowing I had no chance of catching up. I began to follow, and soon passed the two Springers, who had given up, and were returning to their shouting owner. Ollie continued into the corner of Hoe Rough, and disappeared from view. Despite his stocky frame, he can move very fast, when he wants to.

I found him about ten minutes later. He was pacing back and forth along a fence line, sniffing intently. I assumed that the deer had easily jumped the fence into adjoining private property, leaving the hapless Ollie with no option but to try to trail him by scent. We didn’t see any more of the noble stag that afternoon, but he provided a moment of excitement, and some good exercise, for my dog.

Ollie and De Niro

Sounds like a tenuous link. A sharpei dog, and a 71 year-old famous American actor. What could they possibly have in common? It will all be made clear…

Yesterday started well. The sun was exceptionally bright, and a sharp frost gave a crispness to everything too. I was enthused to do some housework, and as I knew that we had arranged to eat out at the local Thai restaurant that evening, I was looking forward to that too.

Ollie almost finished me off though. During one spell of cleaning, I was on a small step ladder in the bathroom. This allows me to reach across the corner bath, and clean the tiles at the point where they meet the ceiling. Despite telling Ollie to stay on his bed, his desire to be close to me had overruled his obedient nature. I was unaware that he had crept into the small bathroom, and stationed himself at the bottom of the ladder. As I came down backwards, I had one foot on the far edge of the bath, and the other on a ladder step. Moving that leg to the floor, I connected with Ollie’s furry back, to my great surprise. He tried to get up, throwing me off balance. The other leg slipped inside the clean and shiny surface of the bath, and I ended up doing a very undignified version of ‘the splits’. Only fractions of an inch away from certain hip dislocation, I managed to save myself by grabbing the edge of the sink as I fell. Ollie had seen all this, and by the time I recovered, he was sitting quietly on his bed, with an innocent expression.

When I had calmed down, and finished off what I was doing, I got ready to take him out for a walk. Still bright and sunny at 2pm, it was bitingly cold though, so I wrapped up well. At weekends, his normal gang of doggy playmates have other agendas, and we rarely see them. So, after a quick tour of The Meadows, we headed off to Hoe Rough. It has been very muddy over there recently, but the two days of cold has hardened much of the walk into a crisp and crunchy path. Most of the ground and surrounding vegetation was still white with frost, but despite the chill in the air, it was bracing, and most enjoyable. The wider open space of Hoe Rough is always a joy for Ollie. He scampers around, sniffing like mad, and breaking into seemingly pointless mad dashes. There is a main central path, and two circular routes, that run alongside the river, or into the woods on the other side.

We had completed the main path, and started to walk at the side of the river, on the more overgrown section. Ollie was sniffing around some bushes, when I saw what looked like another brown dog, about fifty feet ahead of us. Not much larger than Ollie, it looked to be on its own, and I could see no person that might have been walking with it. As it raised its head, I saw immediately that it was a deer. It was young, possibly a juvenile Roe Deer. As it spotted us, it took off, heading east towards the woods. There was a good five hundred yards of open scrub-land to cover first, and Ollie had noticed the movement. Needing no second bidding, he scampered off in pursuit of the hapless herbivore. Although he is not from a fast breed of dog, and his stocky frame is better suited to things other than running, he can certainly get up a speed, when he is inclined to do so.

The deer was visible by its fluffy white tail, which appeared at intervals above the bushes and plants. It was not running as such, rather bouncing, as if it was using hidden trampolines to make its escape. Despite his determination, poor Ollie was having to run five steps to every bounce of the deer, so had little chance of catching it. I doubt he would have harmed it, and probably saw the whole thing as a great game of chase. They were soon out of my sight. I started off in the general direction, but it was heavy going on mounds of turf, and through sharp brambles, in clumsy wellington boots. Peering into the distance, I could hear Ollie yelping in frustration; his inability to catch the animal had caused him to howl like a hound. I spotted the white tail, just in vision; it raised high above the undergrowth, as the deer leapt the wire fence into nearby private land.

It took me a good five minutes to find my dog. By the time I got to the fence, he was off trying to find another way in. After lots of calling and whistling, he appeared, frothy-faced, and panting hard. This was not going to be his day to catch up with a deer, but he had tried his best, and had some very good exercise as a result.

Like Robert De Niro’s character in ‘The Deer Hunter’, he had learned respect for his prey.

Ollie’s first rabbit

When I am out with Ollie, he likes to chase things. Other dogs of course, as well as cats, deer, pigeons, pheasants, and even ducks in the river. Squirrels are a difficult option, as they rush up trees, leaving him frustrated, looking skywards into the branches. On the beach, large seagulls seem to be fair game; but they always fly off as he arrives, only to land tantalisingly, a few feet further on. It always seems to delight him, even though he never catches anything. Watching him do this for almost two years, it always seemed to me, and to other onlookers, that his sole intention was to play with whatever he was chasing. His demeanour was happy, and his body language playful, never threatening.

Over on Beetley Meadows, there are lots of rabbits. On quiet days, or late in the afternoon, they summon up the courage to leave their burrows, and can be seen on the grass, enjoying a feed, or running around in the sunshine. Locals tell me that these rabbits are infected with myxomatosis, and it remains in the rabbit community here, due to inbreeding. I have seen the occasional dead rabbit, but have no idea if this disease was the cause of its demise. For Ollie, the sight of their fluffy white feet, or their ears protruding above the long grass, is a signal to chase. He will tear after them at breakneck speed, paws pounding on the turf. He is never quick enough though, and they always escape into their warren, or seek shelter inside some unusually thick brambles, or inaccessible undergrowth. Ollie is left to run around crying, as if lamenting the loss some good playtime.

If he has no other dogs to romp around with, I will take him into the area where they live, and suggest that he search for ‘Bunnies’. He doesn’t seem to understand ‘Rabbits’, though he certainly recognises the word ‘Squirrels’. His preferred command is ‘Bun-Bun’, something that pricks up his ears when heard, and sets him off investigating the normal rabbit haunts. This affords a diversion on his walk, and kills some time when he is bored, in the absence of other dog playmates. Occasionally, he will flush one from the long grass, but the turn of speed that it musters, and the possibility of a considerable hop, guarantees that the bunny will find sanctuary before Ollie gets to it.

Yesterday afternoon, he had been walking around with two of his friends, Toby the Jack Russell and Bruno the Pug. They left, and towards the end of our time out, we were at the far end of the Meadows, near the junction with River View. In the middle of the cut grass, is a large area of grass and weeds left in a natural state, forming a substantial square. Ollie suddenly took off in this direction, breaking into a determined gallop. At first, I suspected he had detected the presence of another dog nearby, then I spotted what had caught his attention. A full-size rabbit was sitting at the edge of the longer grass, apparently just relaxing. As Ollie drew nearer, it suddenly realised the folly of being in such an open area, and it obviously panicked. Instead of seeking shelter in the thick grass nearby, it ran the ‘wrong’ way, straight onto the open parkland, easily visible on the short grass. It was heading straight at Ollie.

At the last minute, the animal realised its mistake, and swerved violently. Ollie had to make an extreme twisting turn, skidding on the wet grass as he did so. The rabbit thought that a zig-zag manoeuvre would confuse the dog, but this only succeeded in slowing it down. I was running towards the pair, shouting for Ollie to leave him, but as the bunny got back into the long grass, Ollie caught his back leg. The piercing scream surprised both myself, and my dog. It seemed far too extreme for what was little more than a nip, so I must assume it was more from fear, than from pain. Ollie looked at me, confused. I suspect he thought that the rabbit would enjoy the game, and turn and run again. When he let go, on my command, it hopped into the grass, attracting Ollie once again. This time, he pounced onto it, and I saw his mouth begin to close around its abdomen. I shouted ‘no’, and he let go, looking at me with obvious frustration.

I went deeper into the undergrowth, looking to see if it was injured. I could see it creeping slowly away, some distance from me, so I didn’t get the chance to see if it was hurt. Reluctant to distress it further, I took Ollie home. He strutted with a proud gait on the trip back. He had finally caught his first rabbit.

Dereham: A Norfolk Town

In August 2012, I wrote a post about Beetley Village, the place we moved to that year that gives this blog half of its name. In that post, I hinted that I would write about Dereham, our nearest town. I have now been here long enough to get to know the area a little better. For those of you who might be interested, here is an overview of Dereham, so that you can hopefully picture the place that often crops up on my blog. It is not meant to be all-encompassing, a definitive guide. It is just my view. I must give credit to Wikipedia and the Town Council website for some of the bland facts, and I apologise in advance for any personal opinions about the town, that others may not agree with.

Just over three miles south-east of my home in Beetley, lies the town of East Dereham. It is usually referred to as Dereham, but there is a West Dereham, a small village some thirty miles to the west. Dereham lies almost exactly in the centre of the county of Norfolk, and with a population of less than 20.000, is the fifth largest town in the county. It is an ancient Saxon town, and can trace its history back to around the sixth century. Sadly, most of the earliest buildings were destroyed by fires, so much of the town dates from the nineteenth century, with some notable exceptions. The name of the town comes as you might anticipate, from an association with deer-hunting, and it was historically a place where deer were easily found. This continues today, with a large population of those animals to be found around the area. There has been little industry in Dereham, with the outlying districts being part of Britain’s farming community, something that continues to this day.

With the expansion of the original town, it now incorporates many nearby villages and suburbs within its area of administration, and is part of the much larger district of Breckland. Our own home has a Dereham post-code, showing how the surrounding smaller villages have been amalgamated, and are considered to be a part of the town now. Despite my proximity to Dereham, I rarely go there. My wife travels in every day, as she works in the town’s Market Place. I usually go to the large supermarket on the edge of the town, and my only trips to the centre are normally to visit a restaurant, take Ollie to see the Vet, or to catch a bus to somewhere else.

Approaching the town from the south, you enter the area of Toftwood. This is a very large estate, built either side of the road to Shipdham and beyond. A few shops and food outlets front the road, and further inside the estate is a recreation ground, and some local schools. It began life as an estate of social housing, and was later developed considerably by the addition of more modern houses. There is a Gospel Hall, Methodist Church, and a Social Club, all of which are well-used for various events. I think even the most dedicated resident of the area would forgive me when I say that it is not the most attractive place to visit. Once inside the sprawling estate, you could be anywhere in the UK, and it has little identity. This is something that can be said of many places of course. A few thatched cottages on the main road give some idea of how long people have been living in the area, but there really is no good reason to go there, unless you happen to live there. Continuing into Dereham, you pass the home of the famous Gerlof Herd of beef cattle, and the local Vauxhall car dealer, before the overpass of the A47 trunk road indicates that you have reached the town.

This is the least attractive area in Dereham, as it is the location for such small industry that still exists, as well as new development of two large supermarkets, and two older industrial estates. They offer services such as tyre and exhaust centres, car washing, window and conservatory services, flooring and carpets, and a large dealership in motor caravans. There is also the well-concealed Council Waste Site, and further on, the modern headquarters of Breckland Council. By putting all these outlets in one small area, I believe that they made a good decision, as much of the town is not blighted by this industrial landscape as a result. This is also one of the few places where you might encounter some traffic delays, as it allows access to and from the main trunk road, to Norwich or Kings Lynn. It also shows how near the countryside is. A few minutes of driving will take you to Yaxham Waters Holiday Park, or the peaceful villages of Yaxham and Mattishall. In the blink of an eye, the busy town is but a memory.

Heading into Dereham on London Road, you will find the large sports centre and swimming pool. There is also a popular bowling alley on the same site, and a well-used gym. Opposite this development is the large town park, with open space, a play area, and a skate park. This is the location for travelling fun-fairs, and events like firework displays. As you continue, the road narrows near the Catholic Church, and you begin to see some of the older buildings in the town,  before entering the re-developed High Street, and passing the modern library. Like many rural towns, many of the well-known shops have deserted the centre. This leaves scope for many charity shops, estate agents, and a few quirkier, independent retailers. To the right, there is the shopping development of Wrights Walk, and some car parks that were once home to the livestock market. More small supermarkets, some food outlets and a couple of tea shops can be found, together with a nod to the countryside, in the presence of a gun shop. The High Street is home to all the major banks, more estate agents, and some much older retailers of home goods and shoes, that have been around since before the town was developed. There is an old cinema, updated to provide a few smaller screens within. This cinema was actually built inside the former Corn Exchange, and retains the impressive facade of the original building.

As the road opens out into Market Place, you will mainly be aware of the congestion caused by buses arriving and departing. The once-bustling market is still held on Tuesdays and Fridays, but is now little more than a curiosity. The few stalls that appear sell fresh seafood and fish, meat from the Gerlof herd, some fruit and vegetables, and cut-price clothing. There are also sellers of flowers and plants, and a mobile coffee bar, operated from a tiny Smart car. Despite the reduced size of the market, it still attracts a large following, and many people travel into the town on market days, reluctant to abandon the social aspects of a ‘day out’. The impressive War Memorial marks the end of the street, and some attractive Georgian houses opposite, now all converted into businesses; accountants, estate agents, and an Indian restaurant. On the corner of Swaffham Road is The George Hotel, a popular pub and restaurant that also provides accommodation. Head west here, and you will soon pass Sandy Lane, the road leading to another large estate development. Crossing a small river, you get to New Scarning. This is another more recent development of attractive modern houses, backing onto the busy main road, sadly lacking identity as an area. Further on, the village of Old Scarning shows something of the attractive rural location that once existed there.

Had you turned north instead of west, you would have been heading out of the town on Quebec Road, towards Beetley, and that was covered in my post on Beetley Village. So, we head east instead, past the main town car park behind the Cherry Tree pub, and Hill House Hotel, which always seems to be for sale. This area is rather shoddy-looking. It has a few run-down shops, a closed-down pub, and the well-used veterinary practice. To the left, the road leads up to the cemetery, the large Northgate High School, and the Water Tower, a local landmark. On the right, there is the old railway station. This is now the home of a railway preservation society. They refurbish old trains, and run services to Wymondham in the south. They also have open days, Christmas events, and attract a lot of visitors. This is a very popular attraction in Dereham, and people come from all over to see the old trains, and to ride on them. It also means that we have our share of old-fashioned level crossings, only used on special event days. Opposite the station is Norwich Street. This is one of the nicest old streets in the town. It is home to the recently renovated Memorial Hall, where plays, shows, and musical events offer a diversion for the local people. There are more restaurants, a quality butchers, and the delightful Palmers, an old fashioned department store. (Since writing this, Palmers has now closed down, and the building has an uncertain future) Entering this shop is like going back in time, with a personal service, and a strange array of goods for sale. It also has a popular small cafe/restaurant, and is all crammed into a remarkably small space.

Back over the road, behind the station, you head east towards Norwich. As this road opens, you pass the Fire Station, and Dereham Neatherd High School. Behind this school is Neatherd Moor. This is a large open space of moorland fringed by woods. It is popular with dog-walkers, and families; it stretches for a considerable distance, and with many signed footpaths, is a delightful place to while away a few hours. Down a nearby side road, you can find the Dereham Windmill. After years of neglect, this has been completely restored, and will soon house a visitor centre. It is an attractive old building, of historical and architectural importance. It looks somewhat incongruous now, in the middle of a housing estate, and it could do with better signs and directions. However, it is a welcome feature of the town. The main road continues, fringing the moor. The houses here are substantial, and show that at least some of those living here are considerably well-off. The last thing you will see before the road connects with the A47 again, is Dereham Town Football Club. The modern ground and clubhouse is home to ‘The Magpies’, the successful and well-supported local team. The ground is named Aldiss Park, after a local businessman, and though they only play in the minor leagues, they are one of the better teams in Norfolk. Part of the land around the ground has been sold off, for the development of a huge housing estate of attractive homes, called Etling View.

I should mention some other notable buildings. Bishop Bonner’s Cottage, built in 1502, still stands. This unusual small building is used as the town museum, though it opens only occasionally. Nearby is the Norman church of St Nicholas. In the grounds of this church is an ancient spring, and the church was said to once contain the body of St Withburga in Saxon times. The story is that the remains were stolen by monks from Ely. However, this is almost certainly a legend, devised to promote tourism and interest in the town.

There you have it. A market town in Norfolk. No doubt I will have missed something that others consider important. I might perhaps have given offence to some residents, though this was never my intention. It is just a snapshot of life in a semi-rural community, in modern Britain. I hope that it has generated some interest, and given you more information about the area where I live.