The jibe about East Anglia that always falls flat

PUBLISHED: 10:34 09 December 2017

Jackdaws and rooks coming in to roost at Buckenham. Picture: Alan Hatton/

Jackdaws and rooks coming in to roost at Buckenham. Picture: Alan Hatton/

(c) copyright

So non-East Anglians chortle about our non-mountainous landscape? Let them, says Simon Barnes - we have the best skies to make up for it.

Those of us who live in East Anglia get used to jibes about our landscape. Very flat, Norfolk, hohoho. Is it true that in East Anglia you can park your car and go for a full day’s walk without losing sight of it? Did you know there’s a book called The Mountains of Norfolk, what a hoot, eh?

You can counter by protesting that most of our landscape is sort of undulating. It’s different from the Fens, say, or Lincolnshire. But nobody listens. If I want to set the table on a roar, all I have to do is to mention that my neighbour lives at Hill Farm.

No point in defending our landscape. No one can cope with the idea that at least some of us live above sea level. Instead, we should just mention the sky, for we have more of it than most. We are the sky-rich counties of Britain.

And our skies caught me out twice in as many days: a fine clear day prompted me to get on my horse and ride out without a waterproof. I got soaked, of course: our skies can whistle up clouds from nowhere with the greatest nonchalance. The following day was horrible, black sky and hosing it down, so I didn’t ride at all. Half an hour later, golden sunshine filled the rest of the morning.

The East Anglian night will sometimes bring us a great grey-black dome of darkness, from which we can hear owls and the barking of deer. Or on a clear night, frost in the air this time of year, the sky seems to be more filled with white bits than black bits, so mad is the profusion of stars.

You don’t have to hurt your neck to see the sky here, that’s for sure. Yes: this has been the year of the sky on East Anglia: like all other years. What’s your favourite sky?

Sometimes I like best the winter sky just before dusk when there is a melodramatic arrival of pink-footed geese: appearing in sudden hundreds and making rich straggles across the cloudscape, looking as they had been doodled by a master calligrapher.

But at other times it’s the impossible quantities of blue that get to me: a great hemisphere of blueness, maybe with a single tiny wisp of cloud to set it off: and there, caught between ground and sky, a lone marsh harrier, distant but instantly recognisable from that wavering glide, the wings held as always in a shallow vee… birds that as recently as 1971 were down to a single pair in all of Britain, and that pair, of course, at Minsmere on the Suffolk coast.

Then again there’s the dark sky of the warmer months, when dusk has finally given way to night and in your peripheral vision you constantly catch little darker of patches of sky that seem to have broken loose – bats, of course.

Or there’s a day of big wind, and we get wind here there’s nothing to stop it, and it in winter its cuts like a razor. But the jackdaws aren’t complaining: for them it’s an opportunity to play, to show off, to celebrate the solidarity of the jackdaw flock: for a jackdaw the vast windswept sky is a roundabout, a big dipper and a Ferris wheel all in one.

Sometimes the sky is filled with a big sound and you know before you look up that there’s a flight of swans, for the power of the wingbeats creates a mighty noise. And – though rarely, rarely – you can hear the sound of bugling in the air and you look up to see a small but perfect flight of cranes.

The skies of East Anglia are huge: and they are capable of holding massive quantities of creatures for whom the sky is not something to look at but somewhere to live. The living skies of East Anglian are something to cheer for: and as we approach the beginning of another calendar year, we must resolve to do all we can to keep it that way. The best way to do that is to send a small but perfect Christmas present to your local country wildlife trust.

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