Monday, 30 March 2009

St Saviour's Church on a frosty morning

THE NATURALIST Ted Ellis chose his final resting place well. Both he and his wife Phyllis are buried next to the ruins of St Saviour's church, Surlingham.
The building's remains sit out on a limb beyond the village and overlooking the marshes. At 7am today on a windless, cloudless, frosty morning it looked beautiful. Somehow my photos never quite do the place justice. Even with near perfect conditions I still don't seem to have captured its eerie beauty. Maybe you have to be there.

*Read more about St Saviour's in The Guardian's country diary of January 2008.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The Wherry Albion: steady on the tiller

ONE of the stranger rules of this book-writing lark is that what the reader reads first, the writer has written last.

So it's only now that Chapter 13 has finally been put to bed that I've turned my attention to the book's introduction. And it's only today that I've turned down Horsefen Road in Ludham to pay a visit to the wherry Albion at her home on Womack Water.

As I arrived volunteers were gently man-handling a quarter of a ton of Norfolk oak off a trailer in the rain (see picture). This eight foot long timber will become - I was told - a replacement tiller, the previous one having survived for more than forty-odd years.

Trading wherries were the HGVs of their day and a hundred years ago the Yare was their dual carriageway. But now only two survive, Albion and Maud. Albion's story has been well told both on its own website and in classic books like Black-Sailed Traders by Roy Clark and Albion by Martin Kirby.

My book is about the Wherryman's Way not the wherries, but I still felt the need to get up close and personal before I get writing. Today I sat in its snug cuddy, was taught how to admire its sleek lines and generally got a flavour of the passion and the expertise of the people who care for her. Thanks for the tea and flapjacks chaps. And thanks for giving me a tiny insight into why Albion is so special.
*Visit Albion's own website here

Friday, 27 March 2009

What's new on the Wherryman's Web

AT LONG last I've got this site talking to the photo-sharing site flickr.
Click on the black slide show section in the right hand column to see one photo per chapter - with the option of going full screen. Today was spent researching the circular walks at Bramerton and Rockland. It was a dreadful day for photography with a fierce wind sending thick white clouds scudding across the sky. So I've had to rely on this photo taken at the Woods End moorings early on a bright spring morning a month ago. Find out more about the circular walks at

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Berney Arms Windmill: will it ever open?

AFTER three years, the restoration of Berney Arms windmill was finally completed in October 2007. So of course English Heritage have since opened it up for all to enjoy. Right? Err, wrong.

A slightly embarrassed English Heritage spokeswoman finally admitted to me this week that it has remained closed ever since the work was finished. Which kind of begs the question of why bother with the restoration work in the first place?

She went on to say however that "partly as a result of your inquiry" a new manager will start to look into the possibility of opening it up on special occasions. And to be fair in this most desolate of spots that is probably all that would be economically viable. ...Just don't hold your breath.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Great Yarmouth: a proper finale

THERE was always an annoying sense of anti-climax about finishing the Wherryman's Way in Great Yarmouth.
After 35 miles of beauty and isolation, somehow an ASDA car park wasn't quite the finale we felt we deserved.
So three cheers for a new monument which has been unveiled on the banks of the Yare between the supermarket and the railway station.
A billowing black sail with the wherry's distinctive high peak is embedded within stone and brick.
Benches with inscriptions - a feature throughout the walk - are also to be found on either side.
I fear that vandals and grafitti will not be far behind, but this afternoon everything looked suitably pristine. At long last there is a finishing line, an end point and yes somewhere to have your picture taken.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Seen from Whitlingham: A tower fit for a princess

YOU can’t escape views of Thorpe’s wooded hillside from Whitlingham. And amid the trees, you can’t help noticing a tower fit for Rapunzel either.

It lies on the Pinebanks estate – until recently the home of Norwich Union’s sports complex.
And it was built by a solicitor, John Odin Howard Taylor. The Victorian historian Walter Rye described it as “a big tower, with a wart-like little turret growing out of it. This down south we should call Taylor’s Folly”.

This “wart” contains a spiral staircase leading up to a viewing platform. But these days the whole building is boarded up, a tragic waste of arguably the best view of Norfolk in the entire county.
Taylor was best known for his love of chess, which he apparently loved to play at the top of the tower. He was a key member of the Norfolk and Norwich Chess Club and invited many great players to Pinebanks over the years.

Intriguingly an inscription at its base says that the tower was climbed by Queen Kapiolani of Hawaii in 1887. She was in the country to celebrate Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Did she play chess there too, or just enjoy the Wherryman's Way landscape?