210: Steeple Bumpstead

OS Explorer map 210: Newmarket & Haverhill Barrow, Clare & Kedington – I do not own this map, and have not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 24th June 2018.

So my previous post had me travelling around Essex and Suffolk for the day with my Oxford friend Little S and her boyfriend Mashers. After we’d been disappointed by the closed Castle Hedingham but then pleased by a lovely lunch, and after visiting a giant dragon and medieval chapel in Bures, we drove back in the direction of Cambridge. Our last stop was in this map area, in the delightfully named village of Steeple Bumpstead. We had indeed picked the place for no reason other than its quirky name, but it was very pleasant.

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This house was sandwiched in a tiny area between three roads!

When we arrived we saw signs for an open pottery shop, so we went in there for a bit and looked at various mugs and plates while the owner told us about his work – apparently he recently stopped selling over the internet because he was getting too many orders. The things were indeed very reasonably priced for made-to-order items. We then had a quick look in the church, which was generally nice – a lady came to lock it up just as we were leaving.

We then went into one of the village’s two pubs and sat outside having a drink and some cashew nuts for a pleasant half hour.

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Sitting in the Steeple Bumpstead pub!

There was a somewhat disturbing gnome next to our table – I’ve never quite understood garden gnomes; they always seem cheerful to the point that they must be secretly planning something.

And that was it! At the end of a very pleasant day we climbed back into the car, and I dropped Little S and Mashers back at Audley End train station before going back to Cambridge!

Two days later

I went on the trip to Steeple Bumpstead on Sunday 24th June. It was by this point very near the end of term, very near the time when I will leave Cambridge as a student for the last time, or at least unless/until I come back for my PhD. I left for home on the Wednesday, three days later.

On my last night in Cambridge, though, I made one last trip out, and revisited this map area.  That Tuesday, I’d spent a long easy afternoon and evening sitting around in a pub with the others from my MPhil course, enjoying the company and the time we had left. We decided that night to do a plan that I’d floated a few times – we went stargazing!

It was about half past ten when we walked back to my house, collected a few things, and piled into my car. Now I’d previously made a plan for a stargazing trip, so I knew where to go – I’d looked previously at this light pollution map, and could see that the closest area of reasonably dark sky was to the south-east of Newmarket.

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The light pollution map, with the red cross marking where we went (from darksitefinder.com).

It was at the same light pollution level as several places on this dark sky sites website as apparently good enough to see the Milky Way at times, so I thought we should get a good experience. I picked our precise destination, a bit of road near the village of Lidgate, because it was a place where it looked like there was ample flat space to park in, near a public footpath going off into the fields.

Now, the weather looked great, we were in the middle of a long run of sunny days and clear nights. However, unfortunately, we were never going to get a very good stargazing experience that night, because there was a full moon – and it was up from sunset until about 4am; there’d be no avoiding it. Nevertheless, we set off, and even with a bit of delay due to the A14 being closed, were soon there. We tumbled out of the car and walked a little way along the footpath before settling in a nice open area of ground between two wheat fields to sit and look upwards for a good hour.

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It was great! I just love being outside at night; it feels so peaceful and lonely and safe. I also love being in the open countryside any time, especially after a term of living in a town and never seeing the horizon – I’m a country lad at heart apparently. The moon was bright, easily bright enough to walk and see the landscape and each other by – when I’d been sitting not facing the moon for a while I’m pretty sure I was even getting adjusted enough to see in colour a little. I realise I risk getting too romantic here, but I really do feel like it’s far too easy not to appreciate moonlight when we live in our cities and with our electric lights on all the time – moonlight really is very bright.

Of course, the brightness of the moon did mean that only a fairly average number of stars were visible, fine. Jupiter was up, though, and with my binoculars I could see two of its moons. (I’ve managed all four with them before, and out of a bedroom window in central Oxford no less!) Saturn was also up, but I managed to forget to look for it.

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I like looking at the moon. Something I often find people haven’t realised is quite how physically easy it is to think about its position and dynamics relating to the moon and sun. I said above that the moon was full, and was up almost all night. If you think about it, of course this is going to be the case. What is a full moon? It’s when the whole of the side of the moon that’s facing the Earth is lit up by sunlight. When is this going to happen? When the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. And if it’s on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun, we’re going to see it when we’re on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun – i.e., at night-time.

(Another fun but simple thing is that this very obviously means that the lit half of the moon is always pointing at the sun – if you see partial moon,  a bit of physical thinking will let you point at where the sun is even at nighttime. You will be pointing down through the ground, of course.)

So yes, we sat in a field and looked at the sky and talked to each other for an hour or so, before finally returning back to Cambridge. It was a lovely night!

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