Day 25

Here, where the land is soft and low, a hill can be any rise you choose. Walsey Hills, crested by Scots pines is a lump of clay not much more than the height of a double- decker London bus. Three Farthings Hill, up on the heath is not even two metres from base to crest. It is a Bronze Age burial mound, not even a natural formation.

Yet these hills on shallow land are precious places. They afford views of great distance, they provide significant sight advantage in comparison to the levels below, which are curtained by the reeds, walled in by earth banks and the raised shingle beach.

From Walsey Hills the extent of the swathe of salt marshes and reed beds can be appreciated. The eye can follow the line of the beach to the sand dunes of Blakeney Point and the pine woods of Holkham beach. To the east the lumpy, crumbling cliffs that lead past Sheringham toward Cromer attract attention for their bands of orange clay, rich as the fruit in parts, weakened by pithy sandy streaks in others.

From the hill over the marsh in mid-morning, a lone pee-wit works hard to drive a buzzard away from its nesting area. Buzzards are often mobbed and seem bored by the attention, they make no determined effort to engage with the distraction. Sometimes a buzzard might wobble in flight, but they tend to fly stoically to another piece of airspace to resume their predatory circling. The lapwings seem easily satisfied too, dropping down quickly to their nests, which cannot be left for long at this time of year.

The day has been as warm as any this year and a few large nest-building wasps are out. The wasp I study is around three centimetres in length and has a dramatic pattern on its back that features what looks like a large black cross, an exaggerated part of its usual banding.

A wooden crate, adapted to hold a rose bed that is home to a thirsty specimen, attracts one of the wasps. The grey, dry wood breaks off in the jaws of the insect. As the wasp chews into what will be later regurgitated as a papery paste to build its nest, I can just hear the wood being stripped from the side of the crate. It is a steady splintering of the fibres, something I recognise from doing woodwork too, but never heard in this context and at such low volume.

The crate is beginning to collect a fresh pattern of its own. Irregular strips and flecks of light wood are revealed where the wasps have munched up splinters from the grey surface.

The question of where the wasps are building their new papery home remains.
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Christopher Perry
11th April, 2020