Creative in the Countryside: Gnowangerup Cottage
Nicola: So we can get to know you better, can you start by telling us about yourself and Gnowangerup Cottage?
Tom: Hi Everyone, I’m Tom. I’m a 30-something, checked shirt and galvanised watering can addict from Norfolk. I studied History and Archaeology at Hull University and currently work with students with learning disabilities at a Landbased College.
I inherited Gnowangerup Cottage from my grandparents who emigrated to Australia in the 60s. They were due to go to Melbourne but were offered their money back if they got off at Perth in Western Australia, which they agreed to do. They stayed in an army camp and worked until they could afford to buy some land...which was called Gnowangerup! It’s Aboriginal for the place where the Mallee Fowl nests. When they came back to the UK they were looking for a place to buy. They came across this place they used to cycle past and dream of owning. The bank was foreclosing on it, so they snapped it up and named it after the land in Fremantle near Perth.
The Cottage was originally built in the 1830s and was two separate one-up, one-down farm worker dwellings. My grandparents built on a little extra and added to the land with a source of wood for the fire, a few fruit trees, and space to keep chickens and have an allotment style garden.
My Gnowangerup Cottage Instagram and Blog began when a friend encouraged me to start documenting the ‘good life’ of producing your own fruit and vegetables, and trying to gain a degree of self-sufficiency. Over the years my Instagram has changed into a place to share my wildlife photography; however I still keep elements of gardening and general country life running through it.
Nicola: Tell us about the Norfolk countryside and what you enjoy most about living there?
Tom: What I love most about the Norfolk countryside is the diversity of habitats! We have the wonderful north Norfolk coast with amazing variety, from tidal creeks and salt marshes, to huge expanses of unspoilt beaches. The beaches are important to both Common and Grey Seals for giving birth to their pups, and also important to wintering birds such as Sanderlings coming over from Siberia.
In the south we have the Brecks, a landscape of tranquil forest, open heathland and agricultural land that is home to many unique or distinctive birds, plants and animals. Somewhere in the middle are the Norfolk Broads, Britain's largest protected wetland, and third largest inland waterway, with the status of a national park. It is also home to some of the most rare plants and animals in the UK, such as the Bittern and the Swallowtail Butterfly. I love the slow pace of life and lack of streetlights, but perhaps not so much the terrible WiFi!
Nicola: You are very passionate about nature. Can you tell us where this passion comes from, and why it’s such an important part of your everyday life?
Tom: Growing up in the Norfolk countryside with parents who loved nature was a massive influence. They weren’t experts, but would always point out different birds and tell me facts. Having the observers books on the shelf helped too! It’s really important to me because it is my way of relaxing and de-stressing. How much more relaxing can it get than sitting in the middle of the woods listening to the birds singing and the bees buzzing?
Nicola: I love the nature photography you share on Instagram and on your website. Can you tell us how you got into photography and what you love most about it?
Tom: I’m very fortunate in that my grandparents invested in some land many years ago that includes woodland and an old disused railway line close to the cottage. Exploring it as a kid I saw lots of amazing wildlife that I wanted to capture on film. Also the stunning filming on shows like Planet Earth and Spring Watch are an inspiration, and make me want to get out there and see it for myself. I’m lucky enough to have a place to go where others won’t disturb me.
What I love most about photography is the anticipation of not knowing what you will see next! It's an adrenaline rush similar to fishing, when the float bobs or the fly line twitches. It gives me a chance to get out into the countryside and test my skills, and to get close to completely wild animals. It's great when you set up in a spot that feels good and you're rewarded.
Nicola: When you aren’t pottering about your garden, and taking amazing photos of nature, how do you enjoy spending your time?
Tom: It goes without saying that those are my two favourite hobbies! I really love taking my camera and walking around my local RSPB and Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves, as well as exploring the countryside. I am currently spending a lot of time modernising the cottage, with the help of my dad who is a builder by trade. My other passions are sailing on the Norfolk Broads and riding my motorbike, although I freely admit I’m a fair weather rider! I love looking after my chickens, and I have all the equipment ready to start beekeeping!
Nicola: And lastly, if you had one message you wanted to share with our readers about looking after our natural environment and the creatures that live in it, what would it be?
Tom: It’s so easy to get disheartened by the global issues we face today around the use of plastics and the destruction of habitats. I think the most accessible way to look after our wildlife is in our own backyards. This is something we have direct control over, and I try to think of wildlife in everything I do in the garden. It is so easy to make your garden more wildlife friendly. Everyone can leave a patch of lawn to grow longer, plant pollinator friendly flowers, put out bird food and nest boxes, and create a bug hotel and a pond!