It was only a short train ride from London, but I had never been there before today; never even heard of it until the other week. Why do I book holidays in other countries when there is so much on my doorstep that I have never visited?
The destination was Rye Meads, a nature reserve in the Lea Valley. But the moment we came to the road from the station we saw Rye House Gatehouse, all that remains of a fortified manor house built in 1443. We had to stop. And we were lucky. It was open so we went inside to see more. Quite frankly, if that had been the best of the day it would have been enough. But it got better. Morning mist burned off and the sun shone in a cloudless sky. Rye Meads is an RSPB reserve and we were with people who knew their birds and were generous with their knowledge.
A heron stayed statue still while we watched and moorhens, coots, ducks and geese entertained us. One mallard in the reeds was so still I thought it was dead. Then it blinked.
We moved on and arrived at a hide where lenses were lined up paparazzi styly. Somewhat to my surprise, their owners welcomed us, making space for us on the narrow bench. The man next to me had a serious camera that cost serious money even before he bought more serious lenses. He showed me his pictures: woodpeckers, grandchildren and kingfishers. Especially kingfishers. He was a bit of a fan, he explained.
Suddenly there was a flash of blue. The cameras whirred like machine guns. The kingfisher moved from post to branch; dived into the water; preened its gleaming feathers; posed under our awed gaze.