Thursday, 20 December 2012

A sell-out at the Farmers' Market

THINK "Farmers' Markets" and you probably think of smallholders selling their cabbages next to farmers flogging a bit of beef. Those guys are there of course. But next door you'll find all manner of hobbyists too. People who just love baking bread. The hospital consultant brewing beer in his garage. And yes, me with my books, getting as evangelical about canoeing the Broads as every other stallholder is about their thing.

So I was actually a bit gutted when the publishers called to say that they've sold out of "The Wherryman's Way". There are probably a few copies still available at Jarrolds in Norwich and perhaps Waterstones. But no more for me. And unlike the brewer and the baker I'm in the hands of someone else when it comes to a second edition. (Halsgrove don't order a reprint until they're convinced that enough people would buy it. Feel free to email them via this link if you're in that category.)

If it did go to a second edition what should I change? Langley Abbey has opened up to the public, that's a must. And I want to include the Humpty Dumpty Brewery which for some reason I completely ignored in the Reedham chapter. Various pubs have had makeovers so I'll need to get the camera out in Rockland and Loddon. Conversely there's still no progress on The Ferry Boat in Norwich despite grand plans for a backpackers' hostel. The big casualty has been Steve "Tug" Wilson - skipper of The Southern Belle whose cruises up the Yare from Great Yarmouth have now come to an end. What should fill the gap in that chapter do you think?

And where did I get wrong. If you've winced at some howler now's your chance. Email me at In the meantime give Loddon Farmers' Market a go this Saturday. Even if the guy with the books won't be there for a while.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Langley and Hardley: Boat owners beware


This is word for word from Norfolk Police:

Police are reappealing for information following a number of thefts from boats in the Loddon area. Since Sunday 18 November 2012 items including outboard motors, a dinghy and navigation lights have been stolen from Hardley Dyke, Langley Dyke and Langley Staithe. Boat owners and users are requested to ensure they do not leave items of property on display, secure their vessels and take down any aerials or antennas when not in use. Be vigilant and report anything suspicious to police. Anyone with information about these thefts should contact Loddon Safer Neighbourhood Team on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Cockatrice: Who was One-Armed Carver?


MYTHS already abound about the isolated former pub alongside the Yare known as “The Cockatrice”. All the old boys say that this building – miles from any other on the road from Norton Subcourse to Reedham Ferry – was the haunt of smugglers. Certainly its location lends itself to those sort of rumours. It’s been a house – rather than an inn - for more than 80 years now. But selling books at Loddon Farmers’ Market today, I heard a snippet of surely another great story …that this building was once the home of “One-Armed Carver”.

Who he was and how he lost his arm are both unknown to me so far – although I know there was once an abbatoir here. Is that a gruesome clue? But I’m told by The Cockatrice’s new owner Sarah that he lived there some time after the building stopped being a pub. And rather bizarrely he used to use the grazing marshes nearby to race his greyhounds. Curiouser and curiouser. I’d love to know more. Get in touch if you can help.

* A cockatrice was a serpent hatched from a cock's egg which had the power to kill at a glance. The building – see below – is slightly more conventional.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Thorpe next Haddiscoe: marsh upon marsh

thorpe again 002

THE FLAT landscape down at Thorpe Marshes plays tricks on your eyes and your ears. It’s so open that the usual rules just don’t seem to apply. Find yourself somewhere to park near the beautifully ancient round tower church in the windswept hamlet of Thorpe next Haddiscoe, then take the footpath which heads across the marshes just south of Thorpe Hall.

You walk next to a small bedraggled wood, home to a few hundred noisy rooks and crows. Then you’re out onto mile upon mile of mucky grazing marsh. The Lowestoft to Norwich railway line spans the horizon, But because the horizon is so vast you can only hear a train as it rattles alongside the New Cut at Reedham. Watch it head towards Suffolk and you suddenly realise the sound has disappeared, picked up (today at least) by a south-westerly and hurled towards Somerleyton.

At one end of the horizon Cantley belches out its sugary steam. A shotgun or two was being fired down at Thurlton and somewhere else upwind a lonely cow lowed. Then that strange almost factory-type sound as a trio of swans passed directly overheard.

Thorpe next Haddiscoe 001

Grazing marsh is of course only one step up from “natural” marsh. The OS Map shows countless dykes criss-crossing this landscape, just about keeping it dry enough to keep your wellies on. And along with these dykes there are countless gates like the one in the main photo; their characteristic panels designed to stop stupid cattle taking a bath. (Does anyone know their proper name?)

It’s not the kind of walk I’d recommend for your London friends. The only windmill was distant and derelict. And it was all too big to feel like you were even getting from A to B. But now I’ve done 20-odd years in Norfolk I think I’m starting to appreciate its bleak beauty.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Langley: new home for old sign

Sign 002 cr

IT’S about two years since I had a brief guided tour of the old Wherry pub at Langley with builder Gary Hayes: two years since Gary was converting the building into a house and we agreed that the old pub sign would be better off in my garage than in his skip. Well as of today it’s got a new home – courtesy of the grandson of an old landlord.

Peter Russell from Maidstone got in touch after doing a bit of family tree work. His grandfather John Preece had been the publican here in the early 1920s. Family legend says that he left because his wife Alice found the whole business rather uncouth. (And Broads legend has it that wherrymen were a hard-drinking bunch and since they would have been the pub’s main clientele, this sort of makes sense.)

Mr Preece moved to Kent as a result and two generations later Peter is still there. But he and his wife are also enjoying exploring Norfolk now that they’ve got the connection. They’re even planning a walk along the Wherryman’s Way next year. They may live far from the Wherry’s heartland, but I think the pub sign has found a good home.

* Original article here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Bixley: the unloved St Wandregesilius


YOU can blame City Bookshop in Norwich for this one. Because as well as shelf upon shelf of local books, they sell all manner of leaflets and magazines. Nothing is too obscure or too humble. Which is why I found myself paying 75p for a single sheet of folded paper containing  a short typewriter-era history of “The Parish Church of St Wandregesilius, Bixley”. And once you’ve got that, you’ve simply got to visit the building.

It’s quite the saddest place I think I’ve ever been to in Norfolk. Not because it’s deserted, I normally love the sense of history that reeks from ruined churches. More because even a cursory glance tells you that while it fell victim to arsonists in 2004, it’s continued to be unloved ever since. Indeed in eight and a half years, virtually nothing has been done, save install some scaffolding here and a token tidy-up there.


A pew end lies charred and slowly rotting. The gas cylinder that presumably fuelled the fire lies discarded in the middle of the nave. While nothing of value remains, various chunks of church detritus lie abandoned and uncleared. Visiting by accident at dusk on a full moon, the church couldn’t have screamed  “No One Cares” to me more loudly.

It’s the only church in the country dedicated to St Wandregesilius. My wonderful sheet of paper tells me that he was the Abbot of Fontanelle in Normandy in the 7th century. Wikipedia adds that he’s more commonly known as St Wandrille and that Fontanelle has produced “an unusually large number of saints and the blessed” over the centuries. 080

The church lies down a peaceful green lane lined with ash and oak, perhaps a quarter of a mile off the busy Norwich to Bungay Road, not far from Arminghall. Knowing that the church had been a place of pilgrimage in the middle ages I was quite enjoying the sense of stepping in the same footsteps as the pious and the pompous all those centuries ago. …until I re-read the leaflet back home and learnt that

“originally the site was not as lonely as it is now because, until 1800, the main Norwich to Bungay Road ran past the church gate. Its course can still be seen along the western side of the churchyard and down the narrow field with many oak trees.”

Is that still the case? I wasn’t paying attention. But it is a truly ancient setting. There could well have been a church here in Saxon times. Most of what we see now dates to a Victorian restoration, but the tower goes back to the 14th century. The pilgrims venerated a statue which was destroyed in 1538 as part of the iconoclasm of the Reformation.

And so to the more recent iconoclasm. The reason I even picked up the sheet of paper in the first place was that I’ve sort-of had St Wandregesilius in my sights ever since that date in May 2004. Working for Look East, we got news that the arsonists had struck late one afternoon and I remember trying and failing to find anyone who could pronounce the saint’s name correctly. We bottled it and went for “Bixley Church” then. Can anyone enlighten me now?

* There’s a great drawing of St W in its prime on Picture Norfolk.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Picture Post: Burgh Castle

Burgh Castle 012 cr

The Roman walls of Burgh Castle. Still solid after all these years.

Burgh Castle 022 cr

Monday, 17 September 2012

Burgh St Peter: A new ferry for the Burgh Bulge

Waveney Ferry trip 015

ONCE upon a time ferries were a big deal on the Broads. Most carried just passengers, a few so-called “horse ferries” could carry horses and carts too. Gradually they fell by the wayside so that by the mid-1990s only Reedham Ferry remained. But now there’s a new kid on the block down on the Waveney. Or rather an old kid re-incarnated. An ancient ferry route from Burgh St Peter to Carlton Marshes was reinstated this May – after a 60-odd year interlude if  this newspaper article, has got it right.

scan0001 cr

At which point even Broads fans can be forgiven for thinking Burgh St Where and Carlton what?  This map might help. (Click on it to bring it up full frame.) We’re talking about the stretch of the Waveney which suddenly rears northwards after a sedate journey east from its source near the Lophams.  As it turns steadily anti-clockwise it leaves a virtual island on its Norfolk bank. Burgh St Peter is the village at the extreme end of that bulge, while Carlton Marshes on the outskirts of Oulton Broad lies directly opposite. It’s the kind of “peninsula” that deserves its own name. The Burgh Bulge perhaps. In fact I’m going to coin that now. The Burgh Bulge, pass it on

Thanks to this new ferry, anyone cycling from the Norwich area to Lowestoft has a third route to consider - the others being on the A146 and via Haddiscoe. But there’s really no contest. Travelling through the Burgh Bulge is just so much quieter, mainly because it really is the road to nowhere. The only problem at the moment is what greets the cyclist on the other side of the river. You’re on a narrow footpath along the bank followed by a track across the marshes. Neither are really suitable for a road bike. Bored, I got on the saddle half way across and then had plenty of time to contemplate the error of my ways as I fixed a puncture two minutes later. Hey ho. 

But hats off  to the Waveney River Centre for investing the time and money in this project. It’s not just weekends or in the summer. It’s a dawn to dusk, seven days a week job, throughout the year. It will only get more popular as the word spreads. Alan was my ferryman. Thank you sir for the ride.

* I paid £2 single, a return is £3. More details here.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Carleton Beck: Abroad thoughts from Home

“Whenever I reach for the boots and binoculars and head out of my door I could go in any direction from the house to find wildlife. Yet something hard-wired in my brain means that the internal compass always trends to the River Yare.” Mark Cocker, Crow Country 2007.

Carleton Beck 006

RETURNING home from work in Norwich along the main A146 to Loddon last night, I felt that familiar old tug on the steering wheel: the one pulling me off the main road and inexorably down to the Yare Valley.

Just being on the back road helps you unwind. And then that powerful magnet somehow hauled me out of the car at Claxton and I wandered down to Carleton Beck as a giant moon started to rise in the eastern sky.

We’re lucky enough to go on holiday every summer and I do a version of this every year. I need to make a conscious effort to re-acquaint myself with the sights, the sounds and in particular the smells of marshy old Norfolk. This year we’d been to the Black Forest in Germany where water virtually hurls itself off the steep hillsides, and makes a racket most of the way down. Gradients were everywhere and it really does take a while to re-adjust to these flatlands.

And I do need to consciously re-calibrate. I’m not from Norfolk and occasionally, after a holiday, the lack of that third dimension reminds me of how melancholy I found the landscape when I first pitched up in this corner of England 20-odd years ago. (I still don’t buy “Big Skies” for example. Big skies imply an absence of interesting land to me.) Anyway last night did the job. Colder than the continent of course. Dank and earthy, with the smells of nettles and brambles more pungent for their novelty. Still summer, but with autumn limbering up in the background. The water in Carleton Beck did nothing slowly, but it will make it down to the Yare in the end. Honest.

Do locals need to do this sort of thing every year. Or does it all come a bit more naturally to you guys? And at the risk of leaving you on a complete downer, I’ll close with some wise old words from Cameron Self’s Literary Norfolk website:

“Retreat now into
Old Norfolk: let the sluggish
Waters absolve you.”

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Thurne Dyke: Albion by Accident

Albion 0712 029

I’VE chatted to the hard-working volunteers at the Albion’s Womack Water base. I’ve clambered on board to be shown around by skipper Mike Sparkes. I’ve even hired a day boat from Burgh St Peter specifically to take photos of her at Reedham. But too much and too little wind on various frustrating occasions have meant I’d never seen the wherry under sail until today. And it was all the better for being entirely unplanned. Up in Wroxham for something else, I took a scenic route home via the village of Thurne – another Northern Broads outpost that has passed me by over the years.

Albion 0712 036


Frankly I was a bit disappointed by Thurne and was about to give up when that black, gaff-rigged sail suddenly loomed large over the marshes. (Womack Water is of course just up and across the river.) And for once my timing – at the mouth of Thurne Dyke - was perfect. Admittedly, sodding motor cruisers kept ruining my best shots and there wasn’t quite enough blue in the sky, but I’m reasonably happy with what I got. Albion is remarkably difficult to photograph well. The sail is just so large that it unbalances the picture. And of course you are at the mercy of the wind direction too.

Albion 0712 017 cr

But the best thing about it was the lack of fuss. I was the only one taking photos. (Albion’s sail is on the horizon in this last one.) Everyone else was getting on with the serious business of messing around in boats. Round here at least, the Black-Sailed Trader is just another routine part of this beautiful landscape. Maybe Thurne’s not so bad after all.

Albion 0712 071

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Still searching for a Yarmouth accent


MOST bloggers use a clever bit of software to see how many people visit their website.  It’s vanity of course. Who wouldn’t log on in the hope that their hits are soaring? But as well as numbers, my one tells me what people have searched for. Statcounter calls it  “recent keyword activity” and all the usual stuff is there. People looking for pubs, B&Bs and footpaths; local history buffs brushing up on their Billy Bluelight etc.

But the most surprising stat for me is the number of people who go into Google and type “Yarmouth accent” into the magic box. There’s so little on that subject that this blog comes in at No 2 on the strength of an almost throwaway line in a piece on St Nicholas’s Church in Great Yarmouth. 

I quoted my (Suffolk-born) father-in-law swearing he could tell the difference between a Yarmouth and Lowestoft accent when he grew up in the 1940s/1950s. But did one exist now? This was November 2010 and it prompted a couple of replies, including one from Norfolk dialect expert Peter Trudgill, though even he was relying on research from the 1970s. But if statcounter is to be believed there’s still plenty of interest out there. So is there an accent? And how would you define it? Answers on a comment page please.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Off the Beaten Broads: St Benedict’s Church, Horning


HORNING is one of the Broads’ honeypot villages with a steady stream of tourists beating a path to the souvenir shops and the cafes. It’s not spoilt though and the staithe still retains the charm so beautifully summed up on the first page of The Big Six by Arthur Ransome:

“The staithe? Everyone knows the staithe where boats tie up when calling at Horning. Everyone knows the inn at the bend of the river above it, and the boatbuilders’ sheds below it, and the bit of green grass beside it, and the pump by the old brick wall, and the road with the shops on the further side of it. The staithe is the centre of that riverside world. In midsummer it is a crowded place, what with boats coming and boats going and visitors from up and down the river stepping ashore there as if in a foreign port.”

But if you’re in the mood for solitude, you could do a lot worse than seek out the village church, which in true Norfolk fashion is some distance from its potential congregation. Even by boat, the elegant St Benedict’s lies one substantial meander downstream on the Bure. By road you must head half way to Ludham Bridge and then search it out among the green lanes.

Instantly recognisable by its cream washed northern nave wall, it has a number of other curiosities: its own staithe (peer closely at the sign in the bottom right of my photo); a great view of Ranworth church (just visible on the horizon to the left of St Benedict’s in the same photo) 202and a good example of a so-called “scratch dial” – a crude sundial used by medieval priests to tell the time for their masses.  But it’s the staithe that took my attention. There are plenty of churches near the river on the Wherryman’s Way, but I can’t think of one that has its own dyke, its own staithe. You approach it down a narrow footpath which opens up onto a well-tended boardwalk along the Bure. Frustratingly you can’t walk for more than a few yards in either direction – in fact looking at the OS map there appears to be precious little of the Bure around here that you can walk along. All in all that means there’s not a lot to do, but nevertheless it still felt quite a special place. And one last thing. I’ve never seen so many gravestones carved with images of boats. This, it seems, is where old Broadsmen and women like to end their days. And that’s a good enough recommendation for me.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Rockland New Inn: rocking again

New Inn 2012/2

THE NEW INN at Rockland St Mary is a good place to be at the moment. I was there on Monday evening and all the signs were good. A packed car park, busy bar staff and a  landlord with a smile on his face. I popped in on Wednesday too and there was the same sort of vibe. Real ale being supped, darts being thrown and that intangible, yet instantly recognisable hum of a happy boozer. Mick and Paula Walker have been in place for some eight months now. To me, they’re doing everything right.

* More on Mick and Paula here

* New Inn website here

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Langley Staithe: my drivetime barn owl

barn owl

IT’S been three visits in a fortnight and I’ve seen him every time. With barn owls rare, and getting rarer, this sort of bird-watching almost feels like cheating. I rock up in the car after work, walk along the path to the right of the dyke at Langley and scan the grazing marshes which run towards the Yare in the distance. And he’ll be there. Quartering the fields and occasionally plunging vertically to earth in search of his prey. Is he succeeding? I can’t tell with my basic bins. Do they eat the animal there and then or take it back to the nest? I’m too new to this natural history lark to have the answers. But as a short open-air spectacle after a long air-conditioned day, you can’t beat it.

*Photo by Nigel Blake taken from the RSPB website. More on barn owls from them here.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Trowse: the hex-t big thing.


HERE’S The Street at Trowse as you’ve never seen it before. It’s one of a number of pictures taken via a Hexcam and showing now on the brighter, shinier Trowse website. Site administrator Martin Kentish persuaded his mate with the clever remote-controlled mini-helicopter to go up above his village. And the images are impressive. I’d love a few shots of the Wensum taken from that height for my next book. They would really show how the river separates Costessey from Taverham; Hellesdon from Mile Cross etc etc.

Hexcams. I want one.


Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ghosts of St Andrew’s at Whitlingham


HERE’S a spot that doesn’t see much in the way of human traffic. Sure, cars from the A47 southern bypass zoom past the remains of St Andrew’s Church off Whitlingham Lane, but it’s a struggle to get up close on two legs. I haven’t been here since I got a photo for the Whitlingham chapter of my book a good four or five years ago. 121

But on a beautiful spring evening with a low sun it’s always hard to resist the urge to search for a perfect picture. 

St Andrew’s had lain empty since the 17th century, but its round tower collapsed as recently as 1940. I love abandoned churches, even if the remains are as scattered and as insubstantial as they are here. Just a shame I ripped a huge hole in the trousers of my best whistle-and-flute on barbed wire getting the photo.

* For a photo of St Andrew’s as it used to be, try the recently updated Trowse website.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Packing them in at The Swan in Loddon


THE SWAN is back – at last. This famous old Loddon pub closed down in September 2010 after at least five years of slow, sorry decay. I have to admit that back then I thought this place was a dead-cert for conversion into flats. But its new owners  Andrew Freeland (pictured) and Justin Fenwick have invested an awful lot of money in transforming it into a pub/restaurant with a wine bar feel.

And its opening night certainly went with a swing, even if there were a few teething troubles. The till continually needed re-booting and some diners reported a slow service from the kitchen. But no-one was complaining. The lads drank, the fire roared and the waitresses bustled. It’s great to see a grand old coaching inn in such rude health once again.

* EDP article here and previous posts here.

* The Swan’s own website here.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

“That do flood, that Hardley Flood…”

Hardley Flood 0112 007

THE Wherryman’s Way wasn’t impassable at Hardley Flood today, but you certainly needed decent boots and a sense of adventure. This particular stretch of the walk sees the Flood lap up on one side of a narrow path while the River Chet runs close by on the other. Occasionally time, tide and wind conspire to make them all but join. Today was one of those days. I gave up when one particular boardwalk was completely submerged. But I later met a regular dog walker who’d made it through and said he’d yet to be defeated, come rain or shine. It’s one of the many attractions of Hardley Flood: you might turn up and see glistening mud and thousands of wading birds, you might see a good impression of the North Sea. It was the wind that was doing the damage today. On the Chet, two swans gave up trying to swim against it and flew off downwind. Meanwhile on the Flood, winds gusting to 40mph were whipping the water into white crests as it overlapped its banks.  As one old boy once told me, “That do flood, that Hardley Flood”.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Looking after the Wherryman’s Way

Chet at Loddon

THE BROADS Authority says it’s keen to do its bit to maintain sections of the Wherryman’s Way – but it can’t do the lot. That’s the tenor of a letter to Loddon Parish Council over the thorny business of who should look after the footpaths.  We all know the background. Loddon feels a poorly looked-after WW will put off much-needed tourists. But Norfolk County Council has less money to spend and has cut back accordingly.  The county instead proposes a Norfolk Trails Partnership – encouraging business and community groups to help out too.  Now the chief executive of the Broads Authority has written to Loddon giving his views:

“The Broads Authority is keen to work with the county council through the Norfolk Trails Partnership and contribute to the maintenance of the Wherryman’s Way. However the Authority has limited resources to undertake maintenance works on public rights of way and is not in a position to undertake all the maintenance required on the route. The Authority therefore taken the approach of identifying sections of path that provide access to local facilities from sites managed by the Broads Authority for future maintenance. In the Loddon area we have already committed to maintaining the easy access path which runs from our mooring at Chedgrave Common to Pitts Lane Chedgrave as this section of the Wherryman’s Way provides direct access to Loddon and Chedgrave.”

* Thanks to Loddon Parish Clerk Christine Smith for passing the letter on.