Lunchtime saw me following the 'zoo' signs through the outskirts of Cromer and I finally arrived at the zoo car park. It was a very nice car park, the size of a field and well laid out with several long parking areas separated by well mown grass verges - in fact as car parks go it was one of the nicest I've ever parked in. After taking the dogs for a walk round and giving them a drink I put their fan on, pulled the curtains and set off for the zoo entrance. The pay kiosk was next to the gift shop at the top of a wooden walkway leading from the entrance itself and just outside it was a small covered area with ink pads and stamps, so I knew I would be okay to go out to check on the dogs then go back in again. Across from there was a cafe overlooking a lake and a path signposted 'wildfowl walk' so I headed off in that direction. The path meandered across a bridge and past one side of the lake and a very pleasant picnic area before crossing a second bridge to the flamingo lagoon, where a couple of dozen flamingoes with pinky-orange feathers stood about preening themselves or dipping their heads under the water looking for food.
From there the path took me past the birds of prey and round by the tapir enclosure, where a couple of peculiar-looking grey long-snouted creatures lounged close up to the wall, and in the shrubbery at the base of the bird enclosure I came across the Long Legged Something-or-other (the correct name of which escapes me), a small bird with fluffy grey and white feathers and incredibly long spindly orange legs. It didn't seem bothered by my presence and just sat there calmly while I took a couple of photos of it - and if it was a bird of prey it didn't look to be a very fierce one.
Next came the otters, who wouldn't stay in one place long enough for me to take any decent photos, and the coatis who were playing in the trees - from there I missed out the monkeys and the parrots and went instead to the Amazona Hall, a large indoor rainforest area similar to the one at Thrigby Hall, with a walkway meandering past pools of piranha fish and above the crocodiles. The crocs were all lounging about looking dopey and one even looked like it was smiling, though its mate, who had his head resting on the other one's back, was giving me a really evil look. I remembered a song from years ago - ''Never Smile At A Crocodile'' - and looking at those two I could understand why.
After photographing the crocs and wandering through the reptile section I thought I'd better check on the dogs; they were fast asleep when I got back to the van but I let them out for a few minutes anyway and gave them another drink before going back into the zoo. Following the path from the Amazona Hall I had passed an enclosure with some peculiar-looking animals in it so I went back to take a look - they turned out to be capybara, and looked rather like overgrown shaggy-coated guinea pigs. They evidently liked sitting in water and mud as most of them were wet and dirty - I thought they were rather cute though, especially the smaller ones.
Finally I reached the big cat enclosures and the first ones I looked at were the margays - I don't know how many were supposed to be in there but I could only see one, it was lying washing itself right by the viewing window. Unfortunately taking photos of it wasn't easy due to the light reflection on the glass but I managed to get a couple of reasonable shots then moved onto the pumas. Again I could only see one, it was sitting close to the wire with its back towards me and though I waited for several minutes it just didn't want to turn round, so after taking a couple of shots I moved on to the jaguars. These were very much in evidence, lying a few yards apart in the grass close to the fence and I got several good shots - I just wish the wire hadn't been in the way.
By the time I'd finished photographing the jaguars I was ready for a drink; I'd seen all I wanted to see anyway, so I headed back to the entrance, calling in at the cafe on my way. If I was hoping for coffee and cake I was destined to be disappointed as there was very little in the way of cake, so I had a KitKat with my coffee instead. It was very pleasant sitting in the sun on the verandah overlooking the lake but with two dogs waiting for me I didn't linger too long. Back at the van I let them out, gave them a drink and took them for a walk round the car park perimiter before moving on to my second stop, Cromer itself.
Just like last year I had to park on the huge grassy car park right at the top end of the promenade as all the roadside spaces were occupied - but unlike last year, when the cliff top gardens had been very bare and devoid of flowers, Cromer was now positively blooming. There were flowers and plants everywhere; in the rockeries, in the borders and the flower beds on the putting green - the place was full of colour and it made such a difference.
Going down the slope from the end of the gardens I walked along past the pier and the slipway with the fishing boats at the bottom and through some more cliff top gardens - I was heading for the lighthouse which I didn't manage to get to last year. It was quite a steep uphill walk but eventually I reached a large area of heath where the tarmac path gave way to several gravel paths leading in different directions, and ahead of me was the lighthouse. The land levelled out at the top of the hill and the heath gave way to the well-mown smooth grass of the golf course, with the lighthouse and its adjoining house set back off a concrete driveway. There was nothing really special about it but it had been worth the walk as I was able to let the dogs run off the lead while walking through the heath, so after snapping a couple of photos I turned and retraced my steps back down the hill towards the promenade.
The gardens at the bottom of the hill looked quite attractive with their lawns and flowerbeds and it was while I was wandering round there that I came across one of the most bright and vivid flower borders I've ever seen. Several feet wide it was set in the angle of the path, the hedge and a brick-built storage shed, and was a riot of vibrant colour - it looked like someone had gone mad with a paintbox and dabbed spots of colour all over a canvas.
Heading back along the promenade towards the van I stopped a couple of times to take some more photos but I didn't linger - it was 5.30pm by then, my coffee and KitKat at the zoo had worn off, and I had quite a distance to drive back to the camp site. I could have had something to eat in one of Cromer's many cafes but being my last full day I had decided to treat myself to ham, egg and chips at the cafe on the chalet site at California, so it was time to hit the road.
Once I was through the centre of Cromer the drive back to California was easy enough and my meal at the Sands Cafe was very enjoyable. After a quick dog walk round the site's entertainment block I headed off out again, this time to Eileen and Ron's cottage at Clippesby; I didn't want to leave California without seeing them again and I knew I wouldn't have time the following morning. I spent well over an hour with them before it was time to say my goodbyes for this year, and I left with the promise to keep in touch and send a card at Christmas. Back at the camp site I connected the awning to the van and fed the dogs, and although it wasn't late I took them for their final walk of the day. I had a very long drive ahead of me the following day - my longest yet - so I wanted to make sure I was rested and refreshed enough to tackle it; a late night at this stage just wasn't an option so for once it was early to bed for all three of us.