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.


  1. The staithe has often been used by the Bishop of Norwich, when he travels by wherry to the annual St Benet's Abbey Service (first Sunday in August) - I believe it will be so this year too.

  2. Of course! Another unique claim to fame.