Friday, 29 May 2009

Humpty Dumpty had a great walk

EVER thought of the Wherryman's Way as one long pub crawl? No, me neither. But those nice chaps at the Humpty Dumpty Brewery in Reedham think otherwise. Read their take on the walk here.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The early bird at Hardley Staithe

HARDLEY STAITHE 6AM: Reed warblers, swallows, pheasants, greenfinches and wood pigeons. The sounds of cuckoos and Cetti's warblers. And on the way home a barn owl looking snowy white on the apex of the roof at Hardley Church plus a fox slinking across a field. Peace and quiet. Don't amazing things happen when there's no Match of the Day on a Sunday morning?

Friday, 22 May 2009

A new broom at Coldham Hall

COLDHAM HALL is about to be leased by the couple who run both Brundall Gardens Marina and the Garden House pub in Norwich. David Linder and his wife Debbie hope to sign the deal in early July and could "quietly open again" in September. They would leave the day to day running of the pub to daughter-in-law Natalie Linder. A grand opening for the pretty riverside pub is pencilled in for March 2010.

"Our vision is for a 50-seater restaurant offering good quality food, plus typical pub food for the rest of the pub," David told me this morning.

"If you think about a cross between the Ferry House at Surlingham and the Rushcutters at Thorpe you're about there. But the pub's in a pretty poor state at the moment. We've got to clear everything out and start again."

The Linders have spent the last 30 years in the boating business, but branched out into pubs two years ago by taking on The Garden House. Mr Linder says he hopes his Brundall experience will mean he understands what waterborne customers need. As well as subtantial investment in the pub, he plans new quay-headings and a make-over for the substantial gardens. In days gone by, the pub used to include a passenger ferry boat taking people to and from Brundall. In my sad historical way I wondered if a Brundall marina owner might be just the man to re-instate the link.

"It would be great to do it, but it would just take too much investment," he told me. "In reality I can't see us ever getting round to it."

Ah well, we'll settle for a re-opened pub with a brand new kitchen shall we?

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Ted Ellis - One hundred years on

FRIDAY marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ted Ellis, the man who became known as "The People's Naturalist". Edward Augustine Ellis was a natural communicator who wrote columns for the EDP and regularly appeared on BBC East. But he is best known now for "discovering" Wheatfen Broad - a remote habitat on the outskirts of Surlingham. He came across it in 1933 - entirely by accident - after falling into conversation with its owner Captain Cockle.

"It was a turning point in Ted's life," explains Eugene Stone in his biography.

"For, unbeknown to the captain, his land - from a scientific point of view - proved to be 150 acres of the richest, most diverse fenland habitat in East Anglia."

Many years later the Ellis family moved there. And as a result, Wheatfen became the best-recorded fen in Britain. Mr Ellis died in 1986, but his work continues through the Ted Ellis Trust. Off the beaten track, but on the Wherryman's Way, Wheatfen remains an incredibly unspoilt and peaceful place.
* Watch an interview with Ted Ellis's son here.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

What next for Coldham Hall?

SOME vaguely good news on the future of Coldham Hall Tavern (see earlier post). The owners Criterion Asset Management say that they do plan to get it re-let although they could not give a timetable. They say that "interest levels are good" and they've already received one offer. In the meantime this gentlemen in the beer garden is the only one getting a drink.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Hardley Mill: stocks but no sails

THEY'RE nearly there at Hardley Mill. Their open weekend had been billed as the chance to see it with sails on for the first time. The stocks (on which the sails hang) were in place, but illness means we will have to wait at least another 5-6 weeks for the full monty. That's a tad frustrating when you need a photo for your book which has to be with the publishers in 3 weeks time! But Hardley Mill has always worked in a different time dimension and this latest delay is small beer for a project which has already taken more than 17 years. Yesterday scores of people turned up as the mill was blessed by local associate vicar Richard Seel while today sees the Friends of Hardley Windmill out on their sponsored walk. And of course even when the sails are in place, there's yet more work to be done before its appold turbine pump lifts water again. One suspects there will always be something to do at Hardley Mill.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Cold comfort at Coldham Hall

BAD news on the pub front. Coldham Hall Tavern has closed ...or rather is closed at the moment. We all know that pubs have had it tough, but surely this place should have everything going for it? It is a great-looking building set in gorgeous grounds right on the river's edge. The blurb on the windows dates back to March 20th and says that it was "repossessed by the landlord following forfeiture of the lease by peaceable re-entry".

For those who don't know Coldham Hall is in Surlingham, bang on the Wherryman's Way. Brundall is directly opposite on the north bank and a passenger ferry survived until the early 1970s. There used to be tea rooms too; the pub was a favourite place for pleasure steamers to stop in the first half of the last century. One would hope that a new tenant will be found very soon. Certainly at the moment the place looks very sad.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Southern Belle - Queen of Breydon Water

LET me introduce you to the "star" of Chapter 13. He's Steve "Tug" Wilson, the skipper of the Southern Belle.
For the last three years Steve's converted steam boat has been running river trips from Great Yarmouth. I've often seen her distinctive red and yellow livery as I've walked the Wherryman's Way, but today was the first time that I've stepped aboard.

The Southern Belle is a grand old lady approaching her 85th birthday, but after a painstaking restoration by Steve and his son Colin, she looks in very good nick. Steve took us on her regular Sunday outing; across Breydon and then up short chunks of the Waveney and then the Yare.

In the process I saw this beautiful tidal estuary in an entirely new light. Wrecks of wherries loom out of the spray; traditional sailing cruisers heel dramatically in front of you. Steve's mate George stands on the prow pointing furiously as yet another tripper forgets the rules of the river and then lurches to starboard. For more photos go to flickr.

On board it was good to see local passengers; people who had lived in the area all their life but had never quite got around to seeing Breydon properly before. Steve reckons they account for at least 50 per cent of his trade.

You can get black and white photos from the 1920s and 1930s which show boats like The Pride of the Yare and Doris laden with passengers out for a jolly. It's fair to say that Steve doesn't quite pack them in like that yet. But if there's any justice in this world he should be. Go on, give it a go.

* The Breydon Water Explorer runs every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 1145. For more details of other trips call Steve Wilson on 07906 020225.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Hardley Mill: If the cap fits....

DON'T forget that next weekend is the first chance to see the newly-restored Hardley Mill. This picture from Richard Rockley shows the moment when the cap was gingerly put into place last month. By next week the sails will be on too. It's an amazing achievement by the small but indefatigable team behind the project. So that's May 9th and May 10th.
* Read the latest on the restoration here and get more on the open day
on the team's own website.