Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Coldham Hall: the carnser

AND TALKING of Coldham Hall, this picture shows the road to the pub yesterday afternoon. I say road. The pub's address is "Coldham Hall, Coldham Hall Carnser, Surlingham".
Carnser is the Norfolk word for a causeway. Because Coldham Hall is virtually an island; bounded by the Yare on one side and a combination of marshy meadow and swampy carr on the other. It's this raised carnser that keeps the pub connected to the rest of Surlingham. And yesterday - after the thaw - it was only just doing its job.

Monday, 28 December 2009

A warm February welcome at Coldham Hall

THE COLDHAM Hall pub on the Yare at Surlingham will reopen in February after an extensive refit. Already this beautiful thatched building has been re-wired and re-plumbed. Peer inside the freshly-cleaned windows and you can see they've now moved on to the fixtures and furnishings. The pub's own website talks of a new kitchen, a complete makeover and "improvements made to the bar to accommodate a range of ales poured directly from the cask". Well doesn't that sound promising? The gardens have been tidied up and an A4 laminated notice flaps in the wind advertising a planning application to improve the quay headings. Clearly these guys mean business. The website also quotes manager Natalie Linder: "Our vision has always been to return Coldham Hall to its glory days when it was one of the most visited and popular pubs on the Norfolk Broads..... We hope that Coldham Hall will break the trend of many seasonal riverside pubs, and become an all year round attraction through our excellent food and drink and comfortable and inviting bar and restaurant areas benefiting from the riverside views." Here's to all that becoming a reality in 2010.
* See one of several Coldham Hall posts here, or use the search box in the top left corner.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Loddon's new Ice Age

SNOW descended on Loddon almost a week ago now. But since then a continuous deep freeze has led to a steady ice invasion too. Head down to the marshy meadows next to the Chet and you start to understand how the eskimoes could have so many words for something as simple as frozen water. The River Chet remains overwhelmingly liquid of course. But for the field-draining dykes it's a different story. There's transparent thin ice. There's thick frosty stuff tesselated into irregular triangles, (pictured). But my eye is constantly drawn to a gravity-defying layer of what my kids call "cardboard ice" because of its thickness and the way that it bends undulatingly across and through the reeds. It often exists half-way up a reed - with fresh air both above and below. There is no doubt a simple scientific explanation - enlighten me someone please. For cardboard ice pictures and more visit this set on flickr.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Ferry Boat: another blow

BAD NEWS for the Ferry Boat pub in Norwich.
A deal to buy the building was close, but now it may have been scuppered by what the Evening News describes as a "freak accident". This photo (copyright: Evening News) tells the story.
Estate agents Savills told the newspaper they had wanted to complete by Christmas, but now they think the cost of the repairs might put the mystery buyers off.
Another sentence from the Savills man rings alarm bells too:
"He said the new owners, who did not wish to be named, intend to use the former pub for a related use, but did not say what that use would be."
I've banged on before about why any fan of river history has to want the Ferry Boat to remain a pub. Let's hope this isn't the final nail in the coffin.
* Read the paper's full story here.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Yule Blog: Happy Christmas

OVERNIGHT snow has left at least the Loddon section of the Wherryman's Way under three inches of beautiful powdery snow this morning. The meadows next to the River Chet (pictured) are covered with a mixture of white stuff and frozen floodwater. Birds are noisily everywhere, no doubt desperately hunting for sustenance and Loddon's resident harnser* was on patrol as ever. Meanwhile I've just had an early Christmas present from the publishers Halsgrove. It's official! My book on the Wherryman's Way will be published in May - the truly keen can see the schedule here.All in all it seems the right time to say Happy Christmas to you select band of readers out there - whoever and wherever. Thanks for collectively racking up more than 3000 hits since the blog kicked off in March. I'll be back posting in 2010.
* harnser - the Norfolk word for a heron

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

For Sale - a new life in Wherryman's Way

FANCY a new life on Wherryman's Way? No, not the Wherryman's Way but a new estate in Martham near Great Yarmouth, some distance from err, the Wherryman's Way.
This picture shows Plot 32, no doubt a snip at £174,995. For more details contact Becky Fox & Paula Stone on 0845 375 0835 Ask them if Billy Bluelight lives nearby.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Give this website a try

LITERARY Norfolk is a great website getting better all the time. It's written by the poet Cameron Self and you can home in on either people or locations. You won't get a more thorough summary of Reedham's literary claims to fame for example than this. And away from the Yare he leads you down lots of interesting Flickr byways too. Deserted churches, the Norfolk dialect even The Singing Postman, this site has got the lot. And the skull? Well it belonged to Sir Thomas Browne. There's a good bit on him too.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

My Woods End manifesto: boots as well as boats

THE LEASE for the Woods End pub in Bramerton is up for sale - £55,000 makes it yours according to an article this weekend in the Evening News. It's a big old pub with a proud history. A hundred-odd years ago there were "pleasure gardens" behind the building which were "justly celebrated for their rustic elegance" according to one Victorian author.
It survives on its location. It's simply screams "swift pint" as you travel down river by boat. But I think good locations can make landlords lazy. Current leaseholder Martin Wormell told the paper that he relied on summer trade because "there are very few locals". Well up to a point. My request for the new owners is to think about boots as well as boats. Anyone setting off early to walk the Wherryman's Way from Norwich or Whitlingham gets to the Woods End at about 10am gasping for cup of tea. What they get at that time is a closed pub.
For me the successful boozers are the ones that go and search out their customers. Ask Sonia at the Surlingham Ferry House for example who opens up specially for walking groups. Or Simon at the White Horse in Chedgrave, who put on a great kiddy-friendly fireworks display the other week. Us customers are still out there you know. You just have to work a little harder to get us through the door.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Open Day at Hardley Mill

SOMETIMES God has a wicked sense of humour. After months of delays Hardley Mill is holding an open day tomorrow to demonstrate the sails on the windmill working properly again. You might recall from previous posts that the mill has been painstakingly restored over many years, with the sails returning during the summer. Those sails turned for the first time back on October 9th, but this open day was to be the first chance for the wider public to see everything go round. "Hopefully there will be some wind and the mill will be operating," wrote Hardley's website man Richard Rockley a few weeks ago. Well yes, this weekend's storms means there should be plenty of wind. Perhaps rather more than the old girl can handle. Shuttle buses run from Langley and Hardley Village Hall from midday.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Mark Cocker on swallows at Claxton

DOESN'T Mark Cocker write beautifully? The author of Crow Country lives on the Wherryman's Way at Claxton and contributes to The Guardian regularly. Here's the beginning of his column in yesterday's paper:

"There were swallows over the trees. That lambent downward quick beat of their wings, which is such a signature of swallow flight, already seemed an anachronism against this autumn landscape, with its slow swirl of white-glinting gulls and the heavy crows battering towards the woods. The naturalist Max Nicholson once wrote something I always try to remember on seeing swallows, that truly they are not birds of the land. Rather their primary habitat is a thin layer of sky that lies just above the earth's surface. Swallows are before everything citizens of air."

Ok I had to look up "lambent". My Concise Oxford says "softly radiant". But then I like an author who makes me reach for my dictionary ..occasionally. Keep them coming Mr Cocker.

* Photo pinched from Wikipedia which credits Alasdair Cross
* Full article here

Friday, 16 October 2009

Wherryman's Way: The highlights package

I DID the Wherryman's Way the old-fashioned way at the weekend ..from the North Sea by boat.
This sort of stuff is all new to me, so simple things like being at the mercy of tide and (bridge opening) times were all very much a novelty. We had planned to leave Southwold at 9am ...only to realise that we were stuck on the putty at our moorings. Afloat at 10.30 ,we punched the tide up to Yarmouth arriving at Hall Quay by 3pm. Yarmouth looks different from the river. It is a vast industrial estate: huge ships, mountainous car scrapyards, tall boatsheds.
The skipper had booked the bridge openings (Haven and then Breydon) for 4.15pm so the sun was already quite low by the time we headed across Breydon Water (pictured) . Of course the pace is different too. Yarmouth to Reedham is the best part of a day by foot. So on board the good yacht Limon it was like watching a TV highlights package; Berney Arms, Polkeys Mill, the New Cut, Reedham, Cantley, all came and went very quickly. We were blessed with a beautiful sunset and photography somehow seemed easy. Then moored in front of Hardley Mill I spotted the wherry Maud. A wherry, a windmill and a sunset - the perfect shot surely! At which point my camera ran out of power. We'll make that time, tide, bridges and batteries shall we?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Latest on the Ferry Boat

HOPES are high that the long-empty Ferry Boat pub in Norwich will survive.
No deals have been done, but the estate agent Savills tell me that negotiations are underway.
It's all in the hands of solicitors apparently, so don't hold your breath.
* More on the history of this King Street pub here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Wheatfen: The Tide is High

WHEATFEN Broad near Surlingham is a good fifteen miles from the coast, so we tend to forget it is tidal. But as these two pictures make clear, the sea exerts its power a long way inland. The top photo was taken on Sunday lunchtime, the bottom is the more usual scene. Sunday was a particularly high tide across the Broads with much of Wheatfen impassable to those of us without wellies. It is a strange feeling to feel the boardwalk sink below the waterline with every step you take.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Wistful reminders carved in wood

BARELY had I sent off the final alterations to the publishers when someone says: "You have included all the benches haven't you." Err, no I haven't actually.
Let me explain. Along with lots of signposts and information boards the Wherryman's Way also comes with a range of wistful benches. Or rather benches inscribed with wistful phrases, helping you to imagine yourself back to the wherry's heyday. They are good, but I thought it would be a bit trainspottery to faithfully record and photograph every one. After all you've got to leave something for people to discover. But for what it's worth, here's my favourite. "Distant echoes A bustling wherry port" at Great Yarmouth helps you forget you're actually standing next to Asda.

Friday, 2 October 2009

No deal on the Deal Ground

HIDDEN away close to the heart of Norwich is a vast derelict wasteland that next to nobody knows about.
It is called the Deal Ground and it covers 50 untapped acres between Trowse, Whitlingham and the railway station. The reason you haven't heard of it is that it is very difficult to get to. In fact it is virtually an island, hemmed in by a railway line and the Rivers Yare and Wensum. In the past I have squeezed past a gate post behind the sewage works at Trowse to explore, but this time I went by canoe.
Again from Trowse (the Yare tributary flowing alongside the meadow next to Whitlingham Lane) I paddled downstream to the Yare's confluence with the Wensum. Then I turned left to head up towards Norwich. Once you get past Carrow Yacht Club, everything on your left is the Deal Ground - so-called because it's where Colman's used to make their packaging out of soft wood or deal.
My book couldn't have been written without a little light trespass, so I pulled the canoe out of the water and had a wander. The first thing that strikes you is its size, then the silence. The sights and sounds of Norwich are all very close, but here nothing moves. Yet this is no wilderness, the hand of man is everywhere. Deserted buildings, concrete hard standing, even a Victorian kiln. I guess it is the classic brownfield site, awaiting development. But as yet there's no deal for the Deal Ground.
* More info on Colman's and the Deal Ground here.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Medieval mystics and other breaking news

I'VE JUST had a rude awakening on how quickly a book can become dated.
Earlier this summer, publication date for my book on the Wherryman's Way slipped from August 2009 to Spring 2010. And it's remarkable how much I've had to re-write as a result.
There's a new bridge across the Wensum of course, so we needed a few words on that plus a photo. And then they named it after Lady Julian, about whom I knew next to nothing. But she is fascinating, so she was well worth her own profile. (Top facts: she was the first woman to write a book in English and she probably wasn't called Julian. More details here.)
And if you have a profile you have to have some sort of image of the person ...which gets tricky with 14th century mystics. Thank goodness for the statue on the exterior of Norwich Cathedral. And just the very fact that the bridge exists, changes the dynamic in that part of Norwich so we needed a bit more in about how great King Street is. Just downstream, Greene King changed their mind on The Ferry Boat Inn in Norwich. So I've ditched the stuff about renovation and had to fudge something about its future being uncertain.
Meanwhile Coldham Hall Tavern is still closed down at Surlingham, but I'm assured it will be open by next Spring, so I've had to assume there. Then they put the sails on at Hardley Mill, which needed two trips to get a half-decent photo. English Heritage finally opened up Berney Arms with the help of Steve "Tug" Wilson, so I had to be a bit kinder about them.
And I used the heritage open days to do a museum crawl around Great Yarmouth, which helped bring a bit more personality to that chapter too.
All in all a decent excuse for not having posted a blog for three weeks I reckon. But buy the book as soon as it's published. After all, you wouldn't want to be out of date would you?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Will the Ferry Boat live to serve another pint?

THE FUTURE of The Ferry Boat, a much-loved Norwich riverside pub, is again in the balance.
That's a riverside pub, not a Riverside pub by the way. It's an important distinction. The Ferry Boat was the last remaining pub on King Street, a road that used to be full of them. On the other side of the river the "chain store" pubs of the 1990s Riverside development continue to pull in the punters.
We'll come to why this matters in a minute, but first some recent history. Greene King closed The Ferry Boat in 2006. Real ale campaigners CAMRA grew concerned and launched their own website the following year. Greene King responded and promised a £1m refurbishment which won planning approval in 2008. Then last month they announced that they had changed their mind and would instead put the building up for sale. The deadline for sealed bids is a week tomorrow.
OK, you say, why should we care? In a word - History. The city of Norwich grew up from the river ..with King Street arguably its first street. And not only is the Ferry Boat the last pub building left, it is also typical of the kind of pub that existed along the whole of "The Norwich River" during its heyday. Take a look at this photo from Picture Norfolk. It dates back to the nineteenth century when the pub was called the Steam Packet. It shows the building as a boatbuilder's, a ferry and a pub - the classic Broads holy trinity. Coldham Hall used to do all three too, so did a couple of pubs in Reedham. But in Norwich, it's the only one left.
To be fair, the whole redevelopment of King Street has been done sensitively and respect to the past. We just need a reopened pub ...with all those new flat-dwellers as its regulars - to do the same.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

All aboard for the Maritime Festival

I'VE BLOGGED before about the sense of anti-climax at the end of the Wherryman's Way in Great Yarmouth. Thirty-five miles of wherry'n'wonder end in an ASDA car park. It just doesn't hit the spot, although the new monument unveiled earlier this year is a welcome step in the right direction. After all that walking and all that history, you feel you deserve a Yarmouth bedecked in bunting, boats moored from stem to stern along the river and the raucous shout of sea shanties in the air. Amazingly all this is possible ...but only if you time your arrival for the annual Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival. It was my first time this weekend and I was very impressed. It's the nearest my generation will ever get to seeing how South Quay used to look. The place was heaving. I enjoyed the boats and the books and the people; my kids soaked up the freebies in the RSPB and Natural England tents. Not sure about some of those shanties, mind.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Hathor on tour

ROLL UP for the Hathor farewell tour, about to enter its second week on the Yare.
The restored pleasure wherry has been doing the rounds of the Broads this summer prior to an extensive re-fit which will see her confined to quarters for some years. She spends this weekend at Yarmouth before sailing down to Loddon and then returning via Reedham and Berney Arms. (Full itinerary below.) This picture shows a wherryman engaged in the back-breaking work of quanting at Loddon Staithe during a previous visit in 2006. It is amazing that such a huge vessel can make it down such a narrow and winding river like the Chet. Wherrymen - ancient and modern - earned their keep.

Monday 7th YARMOUTH YACHT STATION 10am - 6pm
Tuesday 8th LODDON 1pm - 6pm
Wednesday 9th LODDON 10am - 6pm
Thursday 10th REEDHAM FERRY 11am - 7.30pm
Friday 11th REEDHAM QUAY 11.30am - 6pm
Saturday 12th BERNEY ARMS 11am - 5pm
Sunday 13th BERNEY ARMS 11am - 5.30pm

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

How Lady Julian helps King Street remember

IT WAS the first working day for the newly opened Lady Julian Bridge in Norwich and a steady trickle of pedestrians and cyclists were crossing as I walked by early this morning.
The idea is to help connect a rejuvenated King Street to Riverside, with many of the developers contributing towards the £2.5 million cost. But it also struck me that the bridge will also help King Street reconnect with the river, and in doing so, turn back a page in its own history. Because in many ways King Street was the first Norwich street. The city grew up from the river and it is only in recent years that the two have started to turn their back on each other. The first thing you notice as you cross the bridge from Riverside is the magnificent Dragon Hall (pictured right) - a recently-restored medieval merchant's hall.
But as late as 1900 King Street was home to two breweries, six malthouses and numerous wharves. It teemed with activity. A tram ran the length of the street and there were three separate ferries. A quick flick through Kelly’s Directory - the 1900 equivalent of Yellow Pages - reveals tailors, butchers, boot makers, fishmongers, bakers, the Jenny Lind Steam Boat Company, a cowkeeper, corn merchants, the city mortuary, tobacconists, a lime burner and several hairdressers. Among the 19 pubs, you could choose from the Nags Head, the Boiler Makers’, The Cellar House, The Old Barge, The Green Man, The Music House and the Elephant and Castle. All that new housing has encouraged a newsagent and a cafe to open their doors in recent months, so maybe history will repeat itself - although I think a cowkeeper might struggle.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Bad news from Rockland Broad

MARK Cocker's latest Country Diary for The Guardian makes grim reading.Rockland Broad, it appears, is heavily polluted. Anecdotal evidence from local naturalists has been confirmed by diseased clams found on the Broad's bed. Tests showed they have been infected by heavy metals perhaps stirred up by recent dredging. "It seems we now have some of the answer to what has befallen Rockland," he writes, "but can these effects now be reversed? * Read the column in full here

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Search for Surlingham Inner - Part II

Searching for Surlingham Inner


YOU set off from Coldham Hall. You paddle up river and then turn left down to Bargate. You paddle under the chain that stops the hire boats running aground on the wherry wrecks and keep left. A tiny channel emerges, wide enough for a canoe, hardly enough for its oars.

And then keep going. Within seconds a tiny flash of silvery blue heralded my first kingfisher of the year. Welcome to the secret-ish passage to Surlingham Inner, a mysterious broad only accessible by canoe. From here you can make it down to the Outmeadows. According to the late Jack Points this area was all grazing meadow until the disastrous floods of 1912. "Six inches of rain fell during these few hours," he wrote in his book chronicling the history of Surlingham. "Sluices were broken, dykes silted up and pumping mills carried away. All the grazing marshes were inundated for the whole year and many of them never had cattle on them again. The Outmeadows near Surlingham Broad are now under water at every tide and the road that led to them has disappeared beneath undergrowth." These were huge changes to the landscape wreaked in the course of just one day ...and less than a century ago. Now? It's a great place to explore. Give it a go.

* Read part one of the search for Surlingham Inner here

Prime-time Broads ...but which Broads?

I'VE thoroughly enjoyed Griff Rhys Jones's River Journeys on BBC1 over the last few weeks. Swooping aerial shots, travellers' tales and gnarled locals enjoying their prime-time time moment, you know the score. Tonight GRJ is on the Broads ...but on which bit of the Broads I wonder? Mark Wells, the creator of the Wherryman's Way, speaks very eloquently about how the guide books always focus on the Northern Broads: a bit of Bure, a bit of Thurne plus - say - St Benet's Abbey and Horsey Mill. No sign of the Yare, no sign of Rockland Broad, Berney Arms or the other wonders of the Wherryman's Way. So does Griff escape the cliches? We'll have to wait till 9pm tonight.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Welcome to Lady Julian

YOU wait 86 years for a new bridge across the River Wensum and then two turn up within a decade.
This picture shows the new superstructure for the Lady Julian Bridge in Norwich. It should open by the end of the month, connecting the Riverside with an increasingly gentrified King Street.
And those other bridges in chronological order? The Novi Sad bridge dates back to 2001 while the present Carrow Bridge was opened in 1923. The previous Carrow Bridge had crossed the river directly opposite Carrow Hill - the other side of what was to become Norwich City's ground. * More details on the new bridge's name here.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hardley Mill: Setting sail again

BY MY reckoning it's 62 years since Hardley Mill last looked this good.
The new sails are on and this entire stretch of the Yare Valley looks the better for it.
As I walked back along the river towards Hardley Dyke this evening it made me think about how else this landscape had changed over those six decades. The answer, I suspect, is not a lot.
Farmers were still out harvesting - though with more machines and fewer people than they would have had in 1947. Geese still gather in the dusky stubble and warblers still hide in the reeds. I guess the Chinese water deer which bounded away from me, might not have run wild in those days, and there are certainly plenty more boats moored along the dyke. The major difference is how we use this environment. A major trade route has become a watery playground. Windpumps were once essential, now they are picturesque. But there's no denying that a Broads scene always looks better with one in the background A huge well done to everyone involved in the Hardley Mill project for reaching this major milestone.

* Earlier posts chart the moment the cap went on, and later the stocks.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Langley Church on norfolkchurches

I GREW up in a part of the country where churches were the central point of the villages they served. Norfolk, I soon discovered, does things rather differently.
In the Yare Valley at least, they seem to compete as to which can be the furthest away. Both Surlingham churches lie off the beaten track; Reedham is distant, Claxton sits on up on the hill, Carleton St Peter lies in a field all on its own. But while this presumably makes things awkward for both priest and parishioners, it does make for great walks. I discovered Langley's church entirely by accident while on the Wherryman's Way circular walk number 6. You can't see St Michael's from the road at all; you have to take a footpath off The Avenues and get beyond a protective ring of trees. Half of Langley's residents have probably never been there. I mention it here because it has become the latest church to be written up by Simon Knott of norfolkchurches. Take a look at his excellent website - surely the best in the county.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Heckingham: haven for butterflies

A GLORIOUSLY warm summer's day; the kind of day beloved by the England cricket team at Edgbaston and butterflies in the Yare Valley.
After two weeks on holiday I was back on the Wherryman's Way, paying homage to my favourite WW church; St Gregory's at Heckingham. Inside it was as lonely and as peaceful as ever. Outside an amazing array of butterflies soaked up the sun's rays. As well as this Meadow Brown, I also spotted a Peacock, a Tortoiseshell, a Small White, a Speckled Brown, a Wall and a Chalk Hill Blue. (See more pictures here.) Is it me, or is this becoming a boom year for butterflies?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Berney Arms Windmill : open at last

AT LAST English Heritage has opened up the Berney Arms windmill. It may only be on Mondays during July and August, but after years of drift and delay it is undoubtedly a start. The best news of all is that English Heritage has teamed up with Steve "Tug" Wilson (see earlier posting) to make the visit possible. Now you get a great view of Breydon Water on board Steve's beautiful Southern Belle followed by what I am sure are spectacular aerial views from the top of the mill's 70-foot tower.

* To book call Steve on 07906 020225. The trips leave every Monday at 11.30am and 2.15pm.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

E J Moeran - The Wherryman's Way composer.

I'M NOT sure many people have heard of E J Moeran. I certainly hadn't until a chance conversation with the then landlady of the New Inn at Rockland St Mary a couple of years ago. Moeran was a twentieth century composer. His critics said his music was too derivative of Ralph Vaughan Williams, while a dedicated hardcore of fans call him the "greatest unsung genius of English composition". So what's he got to do with the Wherryman's Way? Well, Moeran grew up in Norfolk. And later in life, his Fantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings was composed while he lodged upstairs at the New Inn - hence the landlady's interest.
This "reedy neighbourhood seems to suggest oboe music," he wrote to a friend. Now Moeran's music is destined to become better known. Today's Daily Telegraph sees Simon Heffer celebrating the fact that EJ's one and only symphony is to be played at the Proms - for the first time in seventy years.
*Read the full story here.
*Listen to an extract from his symphony here.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Cetti, Cetti, sang sang

LANGLEY Staithe is always alive with birdlife at this time of year. And today I bagged my first definite Cetti's Warbler. (And by the way it's pronounced Chetty, or else you're not going to get the dreadful pun in my headline.) Reed warblers are more numerous in these parts and the RSPB says that Cetti's have only arrived in this country as recently as 1973. Bill Oddie describes its song as "Chip, Chewicha, weecha". But for me it's the cocked tail that distinguishes it from a reed warbler. ...That and what the RSPB call "rich chestnut upperparts." Incidentally I needed its online bird identifier to be sure. With audio and video as well as a description, this website is great for all us novices.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Bramerton on Sea - complete with shells

TIME for a gentle geology lesson from Bramerton Common. Wander into the woods and have a quick scrabble in the dust beneath your feet. Because, as Broads author William Dutt put it in 1902:

“At Bramerton the beds of sand, clay and shingle known as the Norwich Crag are exposed. This crag is rich in fossils, and visitors seldom have much difficulty in obtaining at least a quantity of shells.”

In other words, Bramerton might be almost 20 miles inland, but the earth it sits on, has all the attributes of the seaside. Now in the age of SSSIs, digging for shells is probably actively discouraged here. But given that the Crag goes down for 12 metres and has survived for at least 1.8 million years, I don't think you can do too much harm with a short sharp stick. I found the shell pictured above in less than five minutes.

So what does all this prove? Well, that all those years ago sea levels were much higher. So much so that Bramerton and Norwich would have been on the coast. Because the crag is exposed to the surface here, Bramerton is famous-ish in geological circles. The "Bramertonian Stage" is the name given to the part of the Pleistocene geological period when this mix of shell and sand was first laid down.

But hey, they all know that at the bar of the Woods End, don't they?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Back to the future for Yarmouth's third crossing?

HOW should people in Great Yarmouth cross the River Yare? We seem to keep changing our minds. Back in April I was talking to regulars at Ye Olde Ferry Boat about the ferry (seen here in the 1950s, pic: Jack Harrison) which used to run between Gorleston and South Denes Road. It came to an end in 1997 because the local council said it could not justify an annual subsidy of - if memory serves - £30,000 a year. Now that same council is preparing to spend either £80 million on a bridge or £180 million on a tunnel, just upriver from where the ferry used to ply its trade. So here's a radical idea to save a few quid. Ditch the bridge, ditch the tunnel and subsidise a modern ferry. Allow bikes on board, cut down on traffic, encourage people to walk, talk about carbon footprints ....all that sort of stuff. And be true to Yarmouth's history in the process.
* Read the full story and see a video demo of the proposed "third crossing" here.

Monday, 15 June 2009

After the storm

A FURIOUS summer storm swept through Norfolk tonight. It was the kind that leaves a pack of Brownies screaming as the electricity fails - step forward my eldest and two dozen of her excitable mates.
But as the rain rumbled eastwards the setting sun reappeared in the west, leaving the countryside around Loddon bathed in a warm evening night. I headed up to Langley and then chased the sunset through the back roads of Claxton and Carleton St Peter - familiar enough territory for those who have done the Wherryman's Way circular walks. For a while it seemed impossible to take a bad photo - everything was in super-focus and rainbows kept appearing behind me. Reaching back twenty-five years into my A-level English Lit course I seem to remember poet Gerard Manley Hopkins calling it "blade light". That felt about right tonight. The other difference was an almost complete absence of birdsong. Perhaps they get scared - much like the Loddon Brownies.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Wherryman's Web milestone

THIS is self-indulgent so I'll keep it short. But this week saw The Wherryman's Web's 1000th hit. Or at least the 1000th hit since Statcounter started counting in mid-March. 95 per cent of you are from the UK, with the US, Australia, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany and South Africa sharing the remaining 5 per cent. Within the UK, London scores the highest, with Kent, Essex and Derbyshire all higher up the league table than Norfolk. It's been good fun, but I don't see Google quaking in their boots just yet.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The search for "Surlingham Inner"

MY CANOE covered a lot of new water today and I was feeling quite pleased with myself until I came across an annoyingly knowledgeable website on my return.

I launched at Coldham Hall and headed up river, turning into the channel signposted to Surlingham Broad. Surlingham is the only Yare Valley broad which the Wherryman's Way is forced to ignore. Indeed to my knowledge it is impossible to get to by foot, although I am sure there is a local or two out there who could prove me wrong.

Anyway I headed down to the open water they call Bargate, (or is the The Bargate?) where a collection of people on a collection of boats looked supremely happy doing very little in the sunshine. Then it was on to Surlingham Broad proper where the "Shallow Water" danger signs deter all but us paddlers. It seems to go on for ever down there: lots of channels and - according to the OS map - lots of turnings. It's probably quite easy to get lost.

But it turns out that next to Bargate is another stretch of water known as "Surlingham Inner" with its own secret entrance. The website says it is "visited only by canoeists willing to get scratched by tree branches, wade through duck poo and get stung by nettles in the process of getting to the inner broad."

It's got to be done one day hasn't it? If you fancy the challenge, you can find the details here.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Wherryman's Way: what's your favourite stretch?

HUMPTY Dumpty brewery partner Stephen George has been in touch. It turns out he and his family have become big fans of the Wherryman's Way over the last few years. For him the best bit is the stretch between Loddon and Reedham. "I love walking over those country lanes coming down to the ferry," he writes.
Which got me thinking. What's your favourite spot? Breydon Water, Wheatfen or maybe the newly-restored Hardley Mill? For me, the best places also happen to be the most inaccessible. All those windmills in the middle of nowhere between Reedham and the Berney Arms for example. Or The Slaughters, hidden until Rockland Broad until low tide. But having toyed with the ruins of St Saviour's Church and all that history bound up in Reedham Ferry, I'm plumping for Hardley Flood (pictured). It's stunningly beautiful, especially at dusk, and yet there's never anyone else there.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Humpty Dumpty had a great walk

EVER thought of the Wherryman's Way as one long pub crawl? No, me neither. But those nice chaps at the Humpty Dumpty Brewery in Reedham think otherwise. Read their take on the walk here.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The early bird at Hardley Staithe

HARDLEY STAITHE 6AM: Reed warblers, swallows, pheasants, greenfinches and wood pigeons. The sounds of cuckoos and Cetti's warblers. And on the way home a barn owl looking snowy white on the apex of the roof at Hardley Church plus a fox slinking across a field. Peace and quiet. Don't amazing things happen when there's no Match of the Day on a Sunday morning?

Friday, 22 May 2009

A new broom at Coldham Hall

COLDHAM HALL is about to be leased by the couple who run both Brundall Gardens Marina and the Garden House pub in Norwich. David Linder and his wife Debbie hope to sign the deal in early July and could "quietly open again" in September. They would leave the day to day running of the pub to daughter-in-law Natalie Linder. A grand opening for the pretty riverside pub is pencilled in for March 2010.

"Our vision is for a 50-seater restaurant offering good quality food, plus typical pub food for the rest of the pub," David told me this morning.

"If you think about a cross between the Ferry House at Surlingham and the Rushcutters at Thorpe you're about there. But the pub's in a pretty poor state at the moment. We've got to clear everything out and start again."

The Linders have spent the last 30 years in the boating business, but branched out into pubs two years ago by taking on The Garden House. Mr Linder says he hopes his Brundall experience will mean he understands what waterborne customers need. As well as subtantial investment in the pub, he plans new quay-headings and a make-over for the substantial gardens. In days gone by, the pub used to include a passenger ferry boat taking people to and from Brundall. In my sad historical way I wondered if a Brundall marina owner might be just the man to re-instate the link.

"It would be great to do it, but it would just take too much investment," he told me. "In reality I can't see us ever getting round to it."

Ah well, we'll settle for a re-opened pub with a brand new kitchen shall we?

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Ted Ellis - One hundred years on

FRIDAY marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ted Ellis, the man who became known as "The People's Naturalist". Edward Augustine Ellis was a natural communicator who wrote columns for the EDP and regularly appeared on BBC East. But he is best known now for "discovering" Wheatfen Broad - a remote habitat on the outskirts of Surlingham. He came across it in 1933 - entirely by accident - after falling into conversation with its owner Captain Cockle.

"It was a turning point in Ted's life," explains Eugene Stone in his biography.

"For, unbeknown to the captain, his land - from a scientific point of view - proved to be 150 acres of the richest, most diverse fenland habitat in East Anglia."

Many years later the Ellis family moved there. And as a result, Wheatfen became the best-recorded fen in Britain. Mr Ellis died in 1986, but his work continues through the Ted Ellis Trust. Off the beaten track, but on the Wherryman's Way, Wheatfen remains an incredibly unspoilt and peaceful place.
* Watch an interview with Ted Ellis's son here.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

What next for Coldham Hall?

SOME vaguely good news on the future of Coldham Hall Tavern (see earlier post). The owners Criterion Asset Management say that they do plan to get it re-let although they could not give a timetable. They say that "interest levels are good" and they've already received one offer. In the meantime this gentlemen in the beer garden is the only one getting a drink.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Hardley Mill: stocks but no sails

THEY'RE nearly there at Hardley Mill. Their open weekend had been billed as the chance to see it with sails on for the first time. The stocks (on which the sails hang) were in place, but illness means we will have to wait at least another 5-6 weeks for the full monty. That's a tad frustrating when you need a photo for your book which has to be with the publishers in 3 weeks time! But Hardley Mill has always worked in a different time dimension and this latest delay is small beer for a project which has already taken more than 17 years. Yesterday scores of people turned up as the mill was blessed by local associate vicar Richard Seel while today sees the Friends of Hardley Windmill out on their sponsored walk. And of course even when the sails are in place, there's yet more work to be done before its appold turbine pump lifts water again. One suspects there will always be something to do at Hardley Mill.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Cold comfort at Coldham Hall

BAD news on the pub front. Coldham Hall Tavern has closed ...or rather is closed at the moment. We all know that pubs have had it tough, but surely this place should have everything going for it? It is a great-looking building set in gorgeous grounds right on the river's edge. The blurb on the windows dates back to March 20th and says that it was "repossessed by the landlord following forfeiture of the lease by peaceable re-entry".

For those who don't know Coldham Hall is in Surlingham, bang on the Wherryman's Way. Brundall is directly opposite on the north bank and a passenger ferry survived until the early 1970s. There used to be tea rooms too; the pub was a favourite place for pleasure steamers to stop in the first half of the last century. One would hope that a new tenant will be found very soon. Certainly at the moment the place looks very sad.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Southern Belle - Queen of Breydon Water

LET me introduce you to the "star" of Chapter 13. He's Steve "Tug" Wilson, the skipper of the Southern Belle.
For the last three years Steve's converted steam boat has been running river trips from Great Yarmouth. I've often seen her distinctive red and yellow livery as I've walked the Wherryman's Way, but today was the first time that I've stepped aboard.

The Southern Belle is a grand old lady approaching her 85th birthday, but after a painstaking restoration by Steve and his son Colin, she looks in very good nick. Steve took us on her regular Sunday outing; across Breydon and then up short chunks of the Waveney and then the Yare.

In the process I saw this beautiful tidal estuary in an entirely new light. Wrecks of wherries loom out of the spray; traditional sailing cruisers heel dramatically in front of you. Steve's mate George stands on the prow pointing furiously as yet another tripper forgets the rules of the river and then lurches to starboard. For more photos go to flickr.

On board it was good to see local passengers; people who had lived in the area all their life but had never quite got around to seeing Breydon properly before. Steve reckons they account for at least 50 per cent of his trade.

You can get black and white photos from the 1920s and 1930s which show boats like The Pride of the Yare and Doris laden with passengers out for a jolly. It's fair to say that Steve doesn't quite pack them in like that yet. But if there's any justice in this world he should be. Go on, give it a go.

* The Breydon Water Explorer runs every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 1145. For more details of other trips call Steve Wilson on 07906 020225.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Hardley Mill: If the cap fits....

DON'T forget that next weekend is the first chance to see the newly-restored Hardley Mill. This picture from Richard Rockley shows the moment when the cap was gingerly put into place last month. By next week the sails will be on too. It's an amazing achievement by the small but indefatigable team behind the project. So that's May 9th and May 10th.
* Read the latest on the restoration here and get more on the open day
on the team's own website.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

How to run a pub: Ask Sonia at Surlingham

THE PUBS along the Wherryman's Way aren't good enough. There, I've said it. Not all of them of course and I'm certainly not going to name names, but I have seen a lack of friendliness, a lack of service and a lack of atmosphere. It's been my biggest disappointment since I started this project four year ago.

So it was great to pop in to The Ferry House, Surlingham this evening for a swift one on the way home from work. For 7pm on a Thursday the place was rocking. Fellas were playing darts, couples were eating good-looking meals and several more people were outside enjoying the beautiful views across the river. Unlike so many boozers, it had a heartbeat.

New - or relatively new - landlady Sonia Cox is clearly doing something right. In between some good-natured grief from drinkers at the bar, she told me how the locals had rallied round since she'd taken over. One regular is creating a website; another has taken some great photos of local scenes. A walking group will all be round for lunch tomorrow; they'll park at the pub and be allowed to use her loo before they start. It's not rocket science this. It's about giving people what they want, when they want it and having a bit of personality. Oh and food, all day every day. That's crucial too.

Pubs are closing down by the dozen at the moment and I feared that another bad summer might push a Yare pub under. It might yet happen. But the Ferry House will be alright. Why? 'Cos Sonia's got it sussed.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Yarmouth's forgotten ferries

ONE of the great things about writing a book is that you have got an excuse to go up to complete strangers and get talking.

Which is why I found myself deep in conversation at the bar of Ye Olde Ferry Boat in Gorleston the other week. I wanted to know about just that - ye olde ferry boats across the River Yare. Amazingly virtually nothing is written about the ferries in the Yarmouth history books - I guess they were taken for granted.

There used to be two. The Upper Ferry ran from Southtown to South Quay and stopped in 1954. The Lower Ferry ran from Ye Olde... to South Denes Road. Amazingly this one survived till as late as 1997. Armed with lots of good new information from the landlord and his regulars I found this great picture on the internet dating back to 1954 - the year the ferrymen swapped oars for a motor. The photographer Jack Harrison has very kindly allowed me to use it in my book.
If anyone has any memories of either ferry do let me know. Post a reply before May 31st and you might even sneak into the book too....

*See more of Jack Harrison's photos here

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Rockland Broad gym - free membership

ROCKLAND Broad was as tranquil as I've ever seen it yesterday evening. Just me, my canoe and some great crested grebes who bobbed underwater when I got too close.

After crossing the broad, I headed down Short Dyke and into the sturdier waters of the River Yare. The idea was to paddle up as far as the deserted steam pumping station at Buckenham and then return along Fleet Dyke (pictured) to the Broad itself.

A hundred and thirty years ago I would have been spoilt for choice. Writing in the 1880s, PH Emerson wrote that “the Broad debouches into the river by seven mouths, locally called Fleet Dyke, Rockland Dyke, Black Dyke, Big Sallow Bush Dyke, Little Sallow Bush Dyke, Jerrymarsh Dyke and Short Dyke.” Today just Fleet and Short remain.

All in all, it was a good upper-body workout. An outdoor gym complete with overflying herons and the ghostly remains of wherries as added attractions.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The sweet smell of Cantley Sugar Works

THE SICKLY-SWEET perfume of molasses drifting in on the wind has been a sure harbinger of autumn for the people of the Yare Valley for almost a century.

The smell comes from the sugar works at Cantley of course - a vast industrial giant in the middle of an otherwise pristine broads landscape. Ever since the factory was built in 1912 the sugar beet season (known as "the campaign") has started sometime in September and ended early in the new year.

No longer. British Sugar has been given permission to work all the year round. So it's sugar beet in the autumn and winter followed by imported sugar cane presumably in the spring and summer. And intriguingly the company has promised to investigate the possibility of the cane being brought in by boat along the Yare, rather than by road. Because of course that is why the factory is where it is. In 1912 the Yare was Norfolk's main artery for trade. The vast majority of beet arrived by river.

Retired farmers I've spoken to all testify to the importance of the beet harvest in this part of the world. For a start, the factory provided valuable employment during the campaign. Many workers from the south side of the river travelled via a long-defunct ferry at the Langley Round House. Farmers had their own staithes to unload the beet onto the ubiquitous wherries. One parish even had a bizarre narrow gauge railway for its crop. But you'll have to buy the book to read the details of that one...

*Read the news story here