Sunday, 31 January 2010

Gone fishing: Great Yarmouth's boom years

TAKE a closer look at this picture from Great Yarmouth Port Authority which I came across on the Our Great Yarmouth website. Look carefully and you can spot at least 100 fishing smacks moored on either side of the Yare - they're five a side on the Gorleston bank. When was it taken? I'm guessing the 1940s; clearly well before the herring industry came to such a spectacular end in the 1950s and 1960s.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Buckenham Carrs and cars in Buckenham

AFTER Simon Barnes's article in The Times, today had to be the day to see the roosting rooks, crows and jackdaws for myself.
The first thing that strikes you isn't the birds, it's the people. The prospect of seeing thousands of corvids dancing across a dusky sky is becoming a mini-tourist attraction. Through Lingwood and Strumpshaw I was just about the only car on the road. But get beyond Buckenham and you are suddenly aware of a lot of parked cars in the middle of nowhere. People with big coats and binoculars hove into view from unlikely angles. It's all terribly British, but a polite sign has gone up warning us to steer clear of parking near houses and advising us to avoid a particular footpath.
I won't lay it on about the spectacle itself. So many people have done it better already. But yes birds do fly in from every direction, spectacularly out of the glowing west tonight. And yes this noisy swirling mass of birds waxes and wanes as dozens become hundreds, become thousands. Tonight wasn't a classic according to one lady next to me. It had been better in November. But it's definitely worth going to. Get in before the ice cream vans turn up too,

The crowded road to Crow Country

I LOVE the way that an isolated, out of the way place can suddenly become fashionable simply through the power of good writing.
Step forward Buckenham Carrs, a previously unheralded strip of woodland on the north bank of the Yare Valley, half way between Brundall and Cantley. Its unlikely rise to stardom started with the publication of Crow Country by Mark Cocker in 2007. Cocker moves to a house nearby and - as the book's dust-jacket says - soon notices that "twice a day flight-lines of rooks and jackdaws pass over the house on their way to a roost in the Yare Valley. Following them down to the river one winter's night, the author discovered a roiling, deafening flock of birds which rises at its peak to 40,000".
Since then it sometimes feels as if every bird-watcher and TV nature programme has made the same trip. In fact, a cleverer writer than me could talk of a roiling, deafening flock of birders competing in a cacophany of praise. ....As I say, someone cleverer than me.
The latest birder to pay homage is Simon Barnes in today's edition of The Times. On patrol with Cocker, he spots a peregrine falcon, but has to move on because "after all we had crows to look for".
"How fabulously funky - to hurry past a peregrine and barn owls to see crows, to see birds ignored by birders and despised by non-birders."
Now I'm no naturalist, but my reading of the book is that birders can often ignore the commonplace in their hunt for the rarities. Cocker argues convincingly that that's a mistake, because there is much beauty and mystery to be found in all of nature, even the noisy, ubiquitous corvids. So yes the numbers in the Yare Valley are particularly impressive, but if crows are so ubiquitous haven't we all got our own Crow Country just down the road from us?
It must just be the power of good writing that draws people to Buckenham Carrs.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Wherryman's Ferries - they keep coming

MAKE that 14 other ferries across the Wensum and Yare (see previous posts). Admittedly this is rather sad, but a close look at Bryant's 1826 Map of Norfolk reveals "Raveningham Foot Ferry" connecting Reedham and Raveningham just upstream from where the New Cut would be built a few years later. The second is simply labelled "Foot Ferry" and it seems to have been close-ish to Polkey's Mill - mid-way between Reedham and the Berney Arms. Raveningham is understandable, certainly Reedham was heavily populated and there was at least a mill at Raveningham. But the second one is in the middle of nowhere, by anyone's standards. Who on earth would have wanted to cross the river there?
Bryant's map isn't online to my knowledge. But an even earlier Norfolk map by Faden is. It's got lots of good detail, but sadly neither of these ferries gets a mention.

* Photo-wise we'll have to settle for a view from Reedham, looking out across the Yare to what used to be called Raveningham Marshes but is now called Norton Marshes.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Wherryman's Way Ferries: RIP

YESTERDAY'S post on Reedham Ferry got me thinking about the other ferries that have fallen by the wayside. I make it 12 in total for the area covered by the Wherryman's Way. To my knowledge all but three were passenger ferries. Only Reedham, Surlingham Ferry House and Buckenham Ferry carried vehicles - they were called "Horse Ferries" in the old days. During research for the book I came across references up and down the Yare and the Wensum. This might not be a complete list, but it's a start.

Wensum (downstream of Foundry Bridge)
C Wright's Boatbuilders, near St Ann's Wharf, Norwich
Ferry Boat Inn, Norwich
Near Alan Road, Norwich

Whitlingham to Thorpe St Andrew
Woods End to Postwick
The Ferry House, Surlingham to Postwick (pictured)
Coldham Hall, Surlingham to Brundall
Buckenham Ferry (Carleton St Peter to Buckenham)
Langley to Cantley
Langley Round House to Cantley Sugar Factory
Upper Ferry, Yarmouth Southtown to South Quay
Lower Ferry, Yarmouth Gorleston to South Denes Road

Now only Reedham Ferry survives. It was already "The Last of the Norfolk Horse Ferries" when James Wentworth Day wrote a piece for Country Life magazine in September 1949. There were no engines then, everything had to be done by hand:

"Arthur Benns. although past his seventieth birthday, thinks nothing of cranking twenty or thirty tons of dead weight across the river, sometimes with the tide running strongly and an easterly wind off the marshes cutting like a razor."

A tough life, no doubt.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

In praise of Reedham Ferry

CHERISH Reedham Ferry. It's all too easy to take it for granted, especially as there's probably been a Yare crossing of some kind at this spot for centuries. But then, there had also been ferries across the Yare since time immemorial at Surlingham, Coldham Hall and the Beauchamp Arms. All have disappeared within living memory; accidental victims of better roads, better engines and a life lived less locally. So why did this one survive while the others withered? Both geography and luck have played their part. But you must also give credit to the Archer family which has owned the Reedham Ferry pub for more than sixty years. You'll have to wait until the book gets published for a profile of David Archer, but suffice to see the old girl is in very safe hands. I think we'll hear the clank, clank, clank of the ferry chains for many years to come.

* Reedham Ferry runs from 7.30am till 10pm between Monday and Friday and between 8am and 10pm at the weekends.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Cold winters past on Rockland Broad

ON A dank, foggy morning it was difficult to see, but a few icy patches remain on the dyke between The New Inn pub and Rockland Broad. Just enough of an excuse, I'd argue, to delve back in time to another harsh winter. This story is told by W A Dutt - arguably the finest Broads writer ever - about Old Scientific Fuller, the last of the wildfowlers to make a living from hunting, shooting and fishing on Rockland. The Norfolk Broads was written in 1903 and includes Dutt's memories of meeting Fuller one cold January:

"A man who is an excellent shot and expert fisherman cannot live any great length of time near one of the Broads or rivers without attaining something of a reputation, so it is not surprising that Fuller, who possesses both these qualities and has spent about fifty years on and around Rockland Broad is well known....

"Fuller appeared from behind a reed stack just as I was knocking at his cottage door and in a few minutes we were afloat in his gun punt. In the dyke leading from the cottage there was open water; but the Broad in spite of two days' thaw was partially covered in ice through which Fuller had broken a channel for his boat early that morning.

"...For the most part ours was a rather curious progress made by pulling the boat along with a boat-hook, or scraping our oars on the ice. Yet even this was not so strange as a method Fuller adopts when the Broad is wholly "laid" and hard frozen; for then he fixes runners on to the bottom of his punt, hoists the sail and glides over the ice as though he were in an ice yacht.

"Speaking of this reminded him of a winter when the Broad was frozen several weeks. Then, a number of skaters disported themselves on the frozen shallows where the swans were now feeding and one of them, seeing Fuller skating with his gun under his arm, challenged him to shoot, while skating at full speed, a puit (black-headed gull) which was wheeling over the Broad.

"Fuller, like most Broadsmen, despises the wanton "gull-plugger"; but on this occasion, feeling his reputation to a certain extent at stake, he accepted the challenge. Holding his gun in both hands, he waited until the gull wheeled above him. He then skated after it, soon abandoning his usual stroke for that rapid run on skates which the Broadsmen resorts to when he wishes to attain a considerable speed. Then his gun went quickly to his shoulder, and a moment or two later the gull dropped almost at his feet."

Wonderfully graphic language from Mr Dutt. Great stuff.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A walk alongside Hardley Freeze

LEADEN skies, a biting wind and snow flurries hurling themselves across the marshes, why wouldn't you want to go for a long Wherryman's Way walk today? Early this morning, I tramped one of my favourite stretches, the narrow isthmus of a footpath between the River Chet and Hardley Flood (pictured). Most of the Flood was a Freeze while the Chet stayed liquid apart from a small stretch near Loddon Staithe. People might be getting fed up with this weather now, but I still find it strangely magical. This is a once in a decade job, once in a generation perhaps. Get out there, go walking, start sledging. What did you do during the great freeze of 2010 Grandad? Do you know what kids? I had a bloody good time.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Welcome to Planet Berney Arms

JUST when you think you've seen those classic Broads scenes from every conceivable angle, along comes John Wray with something completely different. This shot entitled "Planet Berney Arms " is just one of several which John has created using something called "autostitching" software. You really need to see it at full size. Find out how to make them on this Flickr page. And check out the River Yare group for more examples including another classic called "The Windmill has landed".

Friday, 8 January 2010

Cardboard ice explained

THE BIG freeze continues and now even the Chet has copped it. A thick layer of ice covers just about all of the river the Loddon area at least. Cardboard ice is back on the dykes and the mystery of its different layers has been explained to me (see previous post). It is due to the tide, which - I've learnt - affects even these tiny tributaries. The water freezes at high tide, then the running water beneath retreats. Sometimes this leaves a high tide layer hanging half way up the reeds. On other occasions you break a high tide layer to find a low tide layer beneath. Elementary to old Broads hands, but not alas, to me!