Saturday 28 February 2009

Breydon Water: Where's Whimbrel?

UNTIL the last decades of the 19th century, the banks of Breydon Water were adorned with a ramshackle collection of houseboats.
They were home to a tough breed of men who managed to make a living from shooting birds and catching fish. Author Arthur Patterson immortalised these so-called "Breydoners" in several of his books including Wildfowlers and Poachers.
Anyway, when I last walked the length of Breydon Water back in August 2007 there was still one reminder of that era - a blue-green houseboat called Whimbrel.
At least she looked as if she was from that era; a battered old shed, somehow shoe-horned into a leaky hull and kept off the flats with a precarious combination of masonry and timber. Flimsy no doubt, but given the history I would have made her a listed building.
So it was sad to retread my steps today on this final stretch of the Wherryman's Way (just under ten miles from Reedham to Yarmouth on a warm February afternoon) to find she has completely disappeared. I think I found the very spot and I think it was arson that did for her. If so, what a sad end to the last tangible relic from a long-gone era.

Friday 27 February 2009

Whitlingham's Secret Church

THERE'S plenty of history on show these days for the thousands who flock to Whitlingham Country Park. From medieval times you can see the remains of Trowse Newton Hall; from the Victorian period there's the last of the lime kilns.

But as you head out on Whitlingham Lane and the start of the Wherryman's Way proper, there is a hidden gem which no-one will tell you about.

On the right hand side lie the ruins of a medieval church - St Andrew's Church, Whitlingham. The land rises steeply towards the roaring traffic of the nearby A47 and there on the top of the bank are the church's tumble-down remains.

The historians reckon it hadn’t been used since the 17th century. But its round tower survived until the mid-twentieth century. Man has put up barbed wire to keep you out; nature does the job more effectively with thousands of nettles. But look closely and you might just get a glint and a glimpse of a gothic window amid the flint and rubble.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Rockland Broad: a bolt from the blue

STRANGE islands are strung across the width of Rockland Broad. Strange because they are all roughly the same length and follow a straight line. Mature trees might grow there and swans may make their nests , but these islands were not built by nature.

Instead they are the remains of at least a dozen wherries, sunk during the Second World War. They are known as the Slaughters - an appropriately gruesome name you might think.

Unfortunately you can't see the islands from the path that Wherryman's Way walkers take as they head out from Rockland Staithe towards Claxton. But one day last summer, I paddled my canoe down from that same staithe to take a closer look. Because they say these hulks emerge at low tide. At first I saw nothing; low tide at Rockland, I discovered, is an awful lot later than the quoted figure for Yarmouth in the tide tables book.

But as I was about to give up I suddenly found my canoe grounded on the unmistakeable remains of ship's timbers. Peering beneath the murky surface, I could also make out some sort of bolt with a rounded head - you can just make it out at the bottom of this photo. One arm went in up to the shoulder - no easy job in an unstable canoe - and ten seconds later I was the proud owner of a 27" iron bolt.

The remains of Star of Hope, Gleaner, Unexpected, Diligent, Chieftain, Providence, Cambra, Madge, Tiger, Empress, Leverett and Myth all lie beneath the Broad. I can't prove it but I reckon my bolt belonged to either Chieftain or Providence. Whatever's a proper bit of wherry history - and it's mine.

So why won't Mrs Silk let me keep it on the mantlepiece?