The previous report came from Spain, this one is being written in the UK. What happened?

Let me first show you a few pictures of my last days in Spain before going on:

Summer, that’s what happened. Spain was getting uncomfortably hot and more generally, the months of July and August tend to be pure madness in large parts of Europe. To avoid traffic jams, peak season prices, thronging crowds and ‘sorry, we are full’ signs, we would have to find somewhere that doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think, where shall we spend the summer holidays this year?

Charlotte had said earlier that she wanted to visit Scotland at some stage. I looked at the map and saw that north-west Scotland has few roads and towns. It seemed a remote part of a country not famous for its weather or its cuisine. Who would want to go there? What is more, unlike the rest of the UK, Scotland allows wild camping. Perfect.

I did not know at the time that the area I was looking at is both famous and notorious: this is where the highlands are that attract huge numbers of tourists, and besides that, in summer, it is the home of midges, tiny bitey things that love to swarm around people, home in on any exposed flesh and clog noses and ears, and are small enough to crawl through regular mesh, like the stuff that we have in the roof tent to keep insects out.

By the time we became aware of all this, I had already traversed France from Biarritz in the south to Lille in the north and picked up Charlotte who had come from the Netherlands on a shared ride. We had crossed the Channel from Calais to Dover and moved up England’s east coast as far as Yorkshire, expecting to reach Scotland not long after that.

And then we changed our minds and headed into the Midlands, on our way to Wales and Ireland. So will we still go to Scotland? Of course. Possibly in September, we’ll see. Or October.

A few highlights so far.

A campsite in north Norfolk. Big area of immaculately groomed, though yellowish, grass. Is it the dry spell that has been going on or could something else be causing the grass to turn yellow? Brilliant sunset, sun too bright to look into even as it touches the horizon. And then the bugs begin to appear, seemingly out of nowhere. About the size of my finger nails, they fill the air with a whirring noise, land in my hair and on my clothes, cling to my eyelids. Affectionate critters. They find a partner and mate with abandon. After an hour or so, the whirring stops and the bugs disappear, but where to?

We learn that they are called European Chafers. They spend most of their lives, close to a year, underground as grubs, feeding on the roots of grasses. At the beginning of summer, they grow wings and come crawling out of the ground for one or two weeks to mate, but only at sunset, and only for an hour a day. After mating, they crawl back into the earth. Fascinating.

Another big highlight was Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire coast. Seabirds come to nest here: gannets, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, herring gulls. Day after day, we’d be watching them from the top of the cliffs, spellbound. Gannets, big birds that need relatively open spaces to nest, fantastic gliders. Puffins, endearing little creatures that swim better than they can fly but manage to reach their nests in holes in the cliffs and burrows at the top thanks to their ability to rapidly flutter their wings.

The following photos were all made with Charlotte’s camera, but since we don’t know for sure who took which ones, we’ll share the credit…

Gannets occupying every available space.

Puffins don’t need much.

Leaving the nest is simple enough…

… but returning to the cliff with a tailwind can be challenging.

Puffins and razorbills.

Puffins mate for life (wonder if this one has a mate?)

Razorbill returning as a puffin and herring gulls look on.

Herring gulls with chicks.

We had the pleasure of spending a few days at Bempton Cliffs in the company of friends we had earlier gone to visit in Norwich. Now, I had heard people talk about Norridge, but surely, I must have heard wrong?

Our friends confirmed that in Norfolk, many names of towns are not pronounced the way you would think. Take Wymondham, which is pronounced as Windem. Or Hunstanton, which becomes Hunsten.

There are websites with lists of placenames in Norfolk and their ‘correct’ pronunciation.

And websites with lists of North-English placenames and how to pronounce them.

It dawned on me that there are probably placenames all over the UK that are not pronounced as you might expect. That should not have come as a surprise with English being one of the most baffling languages in the world, as far as spelling goes.

(I’m tempted to explore several tangents at this point, for instance about Parisians making the mistake of pronouncing the z in Avoriaz, or The Great Vowel Shift, six hundred years ago, and the resulting discrepancies between spoken and written English, or the quirkiness of Thai spelling as a result of similar developments. But let’s not.)

Perhaps unexpectedly, there is a semblance of regularity here and there. When you know that Worstead is pronounced as Woosted, Leicester is pronounced as Lester and anything ending in shire really ends in sher, then it follows naturally that Worcestershire becomes Woostersher.

This new-found reasoning opens up whole new horizons, and not just in the UK. Once you know that Weybourne in Norfolk is really Webbun, it no longer needs to come as a surprise that Australia’s Melbourne is pronounced as Melbun.

And so we continue to explore and learn. And enjoy, oh yes. Life is great.