Tuesday, 30 November 2010

In praise of signs …and the “dumbed down masses”


YOU might remember a few days ago I mentioned plans to do up Geldeston Lock. Amongst the improvements are proposals for information boards. Uncontroversial enough you might  think, but not in some parts  of the Norfolk Broads Speakers’ Corner. One calls them “dreaded, invasive and intrusive” whilst Mardler calls the project “tosh, garbage and patronising twaddle”. He continues:

”Once again the powers that be feel a need to erect more unsightly, unwanted and unnecessary signs in order to "educate" the dumbed down masses who are, obviously, incapable of interpreting the meaning of a lock (in this case) and finding out about the history of a place themselves. This is a sad indictment of our education system and the over weaning self interest of those who would infest the countryside with these atrocities.”

Wow. I had no idea that boards could elicit such strong feelings. I can see that you wouldn’t want them everywhere. (The ruins of St Saviour’s church at Surlingham for example benefit from being uninterpreted and mysterious.) I can see that less is sometimes more. I get that. And yet and yet…. surely it has to be a good idea to give people just a hint of the wonderful history around them? Especially those incomers without a clue. I  should know, I’m one of them, or at least I used to be until some information boards in places like Reedham Marshes (pictured) and Loddon and Bramerton got me so into the Wherryman’s Way that I ended up writing a book on it.  Dumbed down masses or just people who need a nudge in the right direction? I know which side I’m on. 

* As well as Speakers’ Corner, there’s a great range of views on this subject on the Norfolk Broads Forum.

Thursday, 25 November 2010



AT FIRST sight the Yare Valley had escaped the worst of the weather this morning. Certainly there was no snow lying on the fields on that beautiful, peaceful back road which runs from Langley through Claxton and Rockland to Bramerton and Kirby Bedon. But if you looked carefully a few flakes were settling, perversely in the more sheltered spots. This was St Peter’s Church at Bramerton during a morning flurry. On days like these you simply have to take the scenic route to work. For more on  the warren of roads between here and Yare try this short post from May.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Unlocking memories down at Geldeston


HERE’S A good idea from the Broads Authority down on the River Waveney. They want to smarten up the area around Geldeston Lock – and they’re appealing to the older generation to help them with local knowledge.  New information boards will go up explaining how the Waveney locks worked and why – they were the only way of making the river navigable to wherries as far up river as Bungay. Essentially they want people’s memories, particularly if they date back to before the lock’s closure in 1934.

“There has been a longstanding ambition from the Broads Authority to do up Geldeston Lock, and the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Charitable Trust and Beccles Museum have been wanting to explain the history of the lock for a long time,” said Broads Authority Communications Manager Clare Weller. “We are working together to develop the idea and are looking for about 12 people to interview.”

* Email if you can help.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Now the New Inn closes


FIRST the Loddon Swan closed and now the New Inn at Rockland St Mary has shut its doors. So what’s happened? I asked Punch Taverns who sent me an email saying: “Our priority is to re-open the New Inn. We are currently in discussions with our leaseholder about the closure of the New Inn and hope to resolve the situation as soon as possible.” It’s a statement which begs more questions than answers, but let’s hope the inter-regnum is a short one. At least in Loddon and Chedgrave,  Wherryman’s Way walkers have a choice; in Rockland the New Inn is the last pub standing. In fact it’s the only boozer on the route for miles – Coldham Hall is the nearest upriver and the Beauchamp Arms down. Boat owners too will miss out. This pleasant little cul-de-sac off the Yare includes a trip across Rockland Broad and it’s made all the more appealing by the site of the pub just beyond the staithe.  I’m constantly amazed at how quickly landlords come and go at these places. Do they get bored? Do they move on to another pub? Is it not financially viable – in which case why is there always someone else to take over? Can anyone out there explain?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Wherries and Waterways–the film premiere

Archive wherry image

THE WHERRY is heading for Wroxham Bridge and yet its mast isn’t even half down. A major collision seems inevitable. The audience gasps. And then with unhurried, practised steps the crew step the mast just in time to slip underneath the arches. It’s just one image of several from last night’s “Wherries and Waterways” film show in Norwich in aid of the Wherry Yacht Charter charity ..which is why the gasp was so audible. These guys love their wherries. And there was lots from the East Anglian Film Archive to enjoy.  Probably my favourite was an Anglia TV Bygones film from 1973 which sees the Wherry Albion take to the sea – from Yarmouth round to King’s Lynn – in order to reach a festival at Ely. You also get to see famous wherryman Nat Bircham in action (he’s virtually horizontal as he quants the boat through a difficult manoeuvre) and there were plenty of plummy TV accents singing the praises of the Broads in a very 1950s way. (Sample clip: Camera shows young woman fishing, narrator says “I wouldn’t mind being caught by that angler”.) The show comes to Holt and Beccles in March. It’s a must for all wherry anoraks. Full details on the WYC website.  The photo comes from there too.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Now you see it……

Maya's b-day plus 083kings head and new inn 1110 001

PERHAPS it’s fitting that Norfolk’s largest St George’s flag finally disappeared from the King’s Head in Loddon this week. After all, England had been booed off at Wembley after losing 2-1 against France. Not sure about that shade of orange, mind. Has the landlord gone Dutch?


A final farewell to The Wherry at Langley


PICTURE the scene. It was the baking hot summer of 2003. Family Silk had just made the big move from Norwich out into the sticks at  Loddon. After several weeks of non-stop unpacking, I manage to escape on my bike to explore for the first time. On a Sunday afternoon I’m dying for a swift one and the Wherry at Langley is just the right distance away. …But you’re miles ahead of me of course. Unbeknown to me, the pub had closed its doors for the final time a few weeks earlier. I’ve enjoyed a drink in every other pub along what we would learn to call the Wherryman’s Way, but The Wherry would be the one that got away. 

In the intervening years I’ve heard rumours every which way, but today South Norfolk council confirmed the inevitable.  Their website has yet to be updated, but yes they have given permission to convert the “former public house to residential use with erection of 2 storey extension, subject to conditions”. I’m not sure what the conditions are, but I understand that “offering hand-pumped real ale at reasonable prices to blokes on bikes” is not included. At least the building will survive and at least just a few yards up the road, walkers can now be watered and fed at the excellent Langley Abbey. But still it’s the end of an era.

* More details on the pub’s history here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Wherries and Waterways on Friday

Three Wherries Sailing

A QUICK reminder that the Wherry Yacht Charter charity has organised a film show called “Wherries and Waterways” for this Friday. Read my original post on this from September here.  The show takes place at the Assembly House in Norwich.  Doors open at 7pm, the film begins at 7.30pm. For tickets call Pauline Simpson on 01692 630674

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Tea’s up on the Yare


PHOTOGRAPHS of wherries in their heyday have an instant romance to them, but this one is particular good. For a start it instantly transports you back 100 years by its sheer location. Very few people go to Postwick Grove any more – largely because you have to skirt a dredging tip to get there. But a century ago (the stamp on the rear of the postcard is of Edward VII) Postwick was the fashionable place for a stroll or for picnics – witness the  onlooker(s) next to the gate. Then there’s relative absence of trees. In the intervening 100 years trees have self-seeded along the entire bank here – you simply can’t get to the riverside for long stretches.  That wouldn’t have been allowed to happen then, for the very simple reason that trees got in the way of good wind. I love the smoke from the stove in the cuddy too. Read Black-Sailed Traders and you’ll know how important a constant supply of good tea was to wherrymen. And finally look at the direction of the smoke – straight up. There wasn’t much wind around, so actually the tranquil setting belies a hard journey downriver for the two, or is it three, people on board.

* To explore Postwick Grove, start from Boundary Lane, Thorpe St Andrew. Follow the footpath once the road runs out and cross the railway line. Continue walking and you eventually emerge next to the River Yare. Walk far enough and you see the Woods End pub tantalisingly out of reach on the southern bank.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Whitlingham Lane gets a makeover


EVER cursed the pitted, potted lane which runs through Whitlingham Country Park? I’d always assumed the gaping holes were a natural form of traffic calming. But it turns out that improving the road was simply the last on the park’s “things to do” list. It is in fact  the final piece in a jigsaw which has seen an ugly gravel extraction pit transformed into a beautiful gateway to the Wherryman’s Way. The Broads Authority says that Whitlingham Lane will be widened as well as resurfaced. They’re also taking the opportunity to formally ban motorists from parking on the verges ..which I guess had been coming for a while.

David Adler, chairman of the Whitlingham Country Park Charitable Trust said: “We are thrilled that the lane is finally being improved, marking the completion of this stunning amenity. Lafarge and the Trust are rightly proud of this beautiful creation which has become a favourite country haunt for local residents and visitors to the Broads. We hope it will continue to provide opportunities for generations of visitors to enjoy the natural world right on the doorstep of the city of Norwich.”

The road should be re-opened by Christmas. Full press release here.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A great Yarmouth accent


REMEMBER I was trying to discover if the town of Great Yarmouth still has a distinctive accent? At the time I sent a quick email off to FOND – Friends of Norfolk Dialect. Today I had a response from Peter Trudgill – the author of a book on the county’s lingo as well as countless others on dialect, accent and sociolinguistics. 

“The Yarmouth accent certainly used to be somewhat distinct from that of the surrounding countryside,” he told me. “Unlike the rural accents, for instance, it resembled Norwich in having h-dropping. And when I did some research about this - in the 1970s - Lowestoft had a rather different accent again - for example the vowel in words such as coal, boat was different from the Yarmouth version.”

I feel the need to go and do some research of my own, particularly in those great old-fashioned boozers (like the Tudor Tavern, pictured) that Yarmouth seems to specialise in.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Radio Wherryman

BBC Radio Norfolk 95.1 FM | 104.4 FM | DAB
A QUICK diary note to say that I will be talking about the  Wherryman’s Way on BBC Radio Norfolk on Sunday evening. Maggie Secker will be asking the questions from about 5pm.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

You hint from round here are yuh?

EARLIER this week I quoted Simon Knott’s assertion that Great Yarmouth has its own accent distinct, say, from Lowestoft down the road. Do such differences still exist? Well yes, says 61-year old Brian who hails from Fleggburgh, north of Yarmouth but later moved to just south of Lowestoft. He emailed to say that twenty five years ago he recalls a conversation with some local lads at Oulton Broad who immediately noticed that he wasn’t local from ”the way you talked.” Can anyone get any more recent than that? And if there are still differences, what are the tell-tale signs?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Open your doors St Nicholas


GREAT YARMOUTH has a magnificent church, in fact it’s  almost a cathedral in terms of size if not in status. Yet you’ll be lucky to see inside St Nicholas’s as you end your Wherryman’s Way walk. Unlike just about every other church along our 35 mile journey, the doors are normally locked. And that, as Simon Knott makes clear in the latest addition to his website dedicated to the churches of Norfolk, just isn’t good enough any more. He writes:

“You may be aghast to learn, then, that this wonderful structure is hardly ever open to the public. At present, you can only visit on a Saturday morning: otherwise, it is merely the private, vastly-subsidised venue of a small group of Sunday worshippers. Nothing could be more short-sighted, and little could be more shameful.

For, while the mission of the Church of England is increasingly seen as to the whole people of God and not just to its registered members, and churches all over England are making themselves open to pilgrims and strangers wanting to feel a sense of the numinous* and even perhaps to be open to a spirituality which may or may not be Christian but which is at least a yearning for God, the people of Great Yarmouth are locked out of their own church from day to day.”

Hear, hear. Away from church opening times, he’s good on the town itself, feeling that it has “broken the surly bonds of proximity to London, which is, after all, fewer than 150 miles away, and instead yearns out for the sea, and Europe”. And just as an aside he asserts that Yarmouth has its own accent. My Thames Valley upbringing means I am hopeless at detecting and decoding the different strains of East Anglian twang. But my (Suffolk born) father in law swears he could spot the difference between a Yarmouth and a Lowestoft accent when he was younger. Do they really still exist today?

* Numinous - “indicating the presence of a divinity”