We went on an adventure to the RSPB’s Buckenham Marshes, which is a new one for us – although it’s just down the road from one of my favourites, Strumpshaw Fen.
It’s a short walk to the “wildlife watchpoint” and we spent quite a while there (as we were the only ones, it didn’t matter if Freya was a bit loud). After our first visit to Strumpshaw we put together a little nature bag for her with things such as a magnifying glass, mini insect and bird guides and some children’s binoculars.
While she enjoyed using them, I was snapping away…
This feels like ‘the one that got away’. If only it was in focus!
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When a couple of spots appeared on Freya’s legs we thought we knew what was coming – the dreaded chicken pox*.
Mark was promptly dispatched to stock up on calamine lotion and oats while I reached for the iPad to start frantically scanning Pinterest for things to do indoors with a child who, if anything, had more energy than usual.
On the Monday Freya was very upset at not being able to go to nursery (real tears) so we made a batch of salt dough (with added glitter to cheer her up) and thought we’d cut out some shapes to decorate.
To make the salt dough.
Just in case you want to try it and need a recipe, we use a cup of salt, a cup of plain flour and half a cup of warm water (mix the water in gradually to make the dough). Glitter is optional.
Thanks to our biscuit making activities, Freya’s pretty good at making and shaping dough (she loves getting her hands messy). I gave her several shapes to try but she liked the butterfly one best (she also made a snake) and that’s when I had the idea of decorating our balcony with them. It took about an hour from start to finish (not including my clean up time which took days thanks to finding glitter in every single room).
We remembered, just in time, to put holes in them (using the end of the paint brush) and to prick them with a fork so they didn’t crack up when they dried, which has happened before.
Last time we air-dried the dough and it took FOREVER (three weeks or more) but it was winter so I thought, as it had been quite warm recently, I’d stick them on the balcony (and actually most of them were ready in about four days). I put them on greaseproof paper (because it seemed like the thing to do) on baking trays to keep them flat.
Time to decorate.
While I hoped we could put a base colour on and then, when they were dry, add some extra decoration, Freya often likes to mix all the colours together and paint at will. I wasn’t that bothered, as it’s for her entertainment, after all, but this time she surprised me by following my suggestion.
We decided to make two different sorts of butterflies; one lot was based on actual butterflies, which we looked up (and learned about symmetry) and the other were what Freya described as “fairy butterflies”.
I didn’t really want her covered in permanent marker so I outlined the real ones while she was asleep and then the next day she helped dab on the spots (making sure both sides were equal) with a cotton bud. Once again I was surprised by how much care she took (my baby is growing up). While I finished those, she decorated the other ones with glitter glue (they sparkle beautifully in the sunshine).
After they were dry I then threaded the wool and popped them on the balcony. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the way they turned out. They were not only easy and fun to make (plus a good learning experience) but they add some lovely colour to our little outside space.
We actually made about 23 butterflies but I accidentally broke a couple when I lifted them before they were ready.
* When only six spots appeared and she was still full of life, I took Freya to the doctor who said she couldn’t be sure what it was. She was 50/50 between the pox and a different viral rash. I guess we will never know.
As a family, we quite often find ourselves rushing here, there and everywhere to try and fit everything in.
For the most part we have fun while we are doing it but sometimes we just need to ease up on the pace a little – and where better than the RSPB’s Strumpshaw Fen, where even this memorial bench had a lovely, gentle reminder, in Norfolk dialect, to slow down.
I feel a bit cheated that we’ve only just discovered this wondrous place (even though it’s my own fault for not visiting sooner). We are making up for it by visiting two weekends in a row.
The site is easily found by following the brown signs through the pretty village of Brundall into Strumpshaw and then turning down a thin country lane until you reach the car park.
To access the reserve you have to (very carefully) walk across a railway line, after that it feels like you’ve stepped into a completely different world with so many habitats, including reed beds, woodland and lush meadow, to enjoy.
The second time we went, we hired an activity rucksack (£3) for Freya (they also do pond dipping kits).
She walked further than she ever has before while enjoying the contents of the bag, which included child-size binoculars, a magnifying glass, specimen jars and an assortment of handy guides. In fact we all had fun using the bits and bobs and loved it so much we made our own version when we got home to take to other places.
As well as lizards basking in the sun, we spotted numerous butterflies (orange-tip, brimstone, peacock, green-veined white, small white and small tortoise-shell) and our first damselfly of the year. And that’s before you even get to the birds!
Strumpshaw Fen is home to barn owls, bitterns, cetti’s warbler, kingfishers and marsh harriers to name just a few.
I haven’t really got a big enough lens to get the best photos of birds (that’s what I tell myself, anyway) but there was more than enough to keep me happily clicking away (especially on our last visit when the bluebells were out, which not only look amazing but smell divine).
There are two circular walks (although we just did a relatively short walk to the fen hide the first time and then the longer woodland trail the next). A meadow trail also opens at certain times of the year.
While the paths can get muddy, we managed fine with our buggy (although hardly used it, as it turned out). There are also several benches dotted about if you need a rest or just want to enjoy the tranquility.
The highlights change depending on the time of year and I personally can’t wait to visit in the summer and hopefully get the chance to photograph a swallowtail butterfly.
The reserve is open from dawn until dusk every day except Christmas. Reception is open from 9.30am – 5pm April-September and from 10am – 4pm October-March. Events are also run throughout the year (we enjoyed the Easter Trail).
RSPB members, under fives and carers accompanying registered disabled visitors are free. Non-members: Adults £3.50, students: £2.50, children (5-17 years): £1.50. One child per family goes free.
There are no dogs allowed (other than registered assistance dogs).
For more information, please visit the website by clicking here.