Why nature makes such a splash for Norfolk Paralympic star Jessica-Jane Applegate
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
Paralympic and World Champion Jessica-Jane Applegate, MBE, tells us why she loves watching the Norfolk wildlife when she's not breaking records.
I grew up in Gorleston/Belton, I now live in Burgh Castle and I am so happy there. I do all of my pool, land and gym training in Norwich. I really enjoy walking with my dogs on Gorleston beach and I'm often in Earlham Park looking for the brightly-coloured kingfishers that fly along the lakeside looking for food.
I've been on training camps and competed all over this country and the world, but nothing beats coming home to Norfolk. I have chosen to stay and train here rather than move away to be in a high performance centre. There is a large financial price to pay by not moving away – but you cannot put a price on happiness. I love it here so much that I don't even moan about my 4am starts or the hour's drive to the pool (well, maybe just a little when it's really cold). I train in the pool four mornings a week, four evenings, then in the gym three times a week, I have one plyometrics sessions, four land training sessions and mum drives me to Norwich and back for every single session.
We are on the road a lot of hours a week and in the early mornings we barely speak on the drive in but I feel privileged to see the foxes and deer in the hedgerows. I've witnessed the barn owls silently hunting for food in the fields, and I can hear the birds singing when even the A47 is quiet. The winter can be quite scary as it is so dark but the summer is amazing as the sun is starting to rise just after 5am and it makes you feel great.
I have seen wonderful sunrises and sunsets on my journeys to and from the pool and no one can ever take those beautiful images away from me. I have never understood why all the birds seem to squeeze together on only a few telegraph wires though leaving all the others empty or why the geese will all meet on one field and leave the others empty. Nature just leaves you asking more and more questions.
When I am away from home for long periods of time I feel trapped. I miss the fresh air of Norfolk, the space around us, the fields and the trees. It sounds crazy but there is a cow field behind my house and I love to take in a deep breath; they smell so good after being away for so long...
I struggle with stress, anxiety and depression and I always feel so safe at home watching the birds in my garden. I have a robin who visits the front garden every day (my nanny said that you rarely get two robins together but once - and it was only the once - we had three in the garden at the same time. I was so pleased!). I have blackbirds, sparrows, starlings, tits, magpies and some very greedy pigeons that visit my bird table. If the pigeons get on the table first they eat almost everything but the smaller birds then sit under the table as pigeons are very messy and the small birds will pick up all the bits that they drop. When I'm away my mum will text me 'It's only two more sleeps to go, I've been feeding the birds for you so they haven't gone away'. That always cheers me up. I am a two-minute walk to the river where I walk my dogs when I'm off training. There are information boards all around Burgh Castle ruins to help you recognise the birds and wildlife that is around there. You can see nature all across the marshes and around the ruins, it's a lovely area to walk.
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I often pop to Hickling Broad nature reserve which is conveniently right next to Faith Animal Rescue Centre where my rescue dog Missy comes from, so I can do two visits in one trip. Again, it has information boards up and is a lovely walk along the river.
When I was little my mum used to walk our dogs across Belton Common and through Fritton Woods, I think this is where my obsession with lizards began. In the summer you can see lots of slow worms, adders and lizards if you are very quiet and careful. They will sunbathe in the afternoon sunshine and I was always really fascinated by them (especially as my nanny was scared of them). I now have five crested geckos of my own in what my mum calls the 'lizard lounge'.
I know how lucky I am to live here because I've spent so much time away. I truly am blessed to live in a county like this.