Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Mark Cocker on swallows at Claxton

DOESN'T Mark Cocker write beautifully? The author of Crow Country lives on the Wherryman's Way at Claxton and contributes to The Guardian regularly. Here's the beginning of his column in yesterday's paper:

"There were swallows over the trees. That lambent downward quick beat of their wings, which is such a signature of swallow flight, already seemed an anachronism against this autumn landscape, with its slow swirl of white-glinting gulls and the heavy crows battering towards the woods. The naturalist Max Nicholson once wrote something I always try to remember on seeing swallows, that truly they are not birds of the land. Rather their primary habitat is a thin layer of sky that lies just above the earth's surface. Swallows are before everything citizens of air."

Ok I had to look up "lambent". My Concise Oxford says "softly radiant". But then I like an author who makes me reach for my dictionary ..occasionally. Keep them coming Mr Cocker.

* Photo pinched from Wikipedia which credits Alasdair Cross
* Full article here

Friday, 16 October 2009

Wherryman's Way: The highlights package

I DID the Wherryman's Way the old-fashioned way at the weekend ..from the North Sea by boat.
This sort of stuff is all new to me, so simple things like being at the mercy of tide and (bridge opening) times were all very much a novelty. We had planned to leave Southwold at 9am ...only to realise that we were stuck on the putty at our moorings. Afloat at 10.30 ,we punched the tide up to Yarmouth arriving at Hall Quay by 3pm. Yarmouth looks different from the river. It is a vast industrial estate: huge ships, mountainous car scrapyards, tall boatsheds.
The skipper had booked the bridge openings (Haven and then Breydon) for 4.15pm so the sun was already quite low by the time we headed across Breydon Water (pictured) . Of course the pace is different too. Yarmouth to Reedham is the best part of a day by foot. So on board the good yacht Limon it was like watching a TV highlights package; Berney Arms, Polkeys Mill, the New Cut, Reedham, Cantley, all came and went very quickly. We were blessed with a beautiful sunset and photography somehow seemed easy. Then moored in front of Hardley Mill I spotted the wherry Maud. A wherry, a windmill and a sunset - the perfect shot surely! At which point my camera ran out of power. We'll make that time, tide, bridges and batteries shall we?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Latest on the Ferry Boat

HOPES are high that the long-empty Ferry Boat pub in Norwich will survive.
No deals have been done, but the estate agent Savills tell me that negotiations are underway.
It's all in the hands of solicitors apparently, so don't hold your breath.
* More on the history of this King Street pub here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Wheatfen: The Tide is High

WHEATFEN Broad near Surlingham is a good fifteen miles from the coast, so we tend to forget it is tidal. But as these two pictures make clear, the sea exerts its power a long way inland. The top photo was taken on Sunday lunchtime, the bottom is the more usual scene. Sunday was a particularly high tide across the Broads with much of Wheatfen impassable to those of us without wellies. It is a strange feeling to feel the boardwalk sink below the waterline with every step you take.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Wistful reminders carved in wood

BARELY had I sent off the final alterations to the publishers when someone says: "You have included all the benches haven't you." Err, no I haven't actually.
Let me explain. Along with lots of signposts and information boards the Wherryman's Way also comes with a range of wistful benches. Or rather benches inscribed with wistful phrases, helping you to imagine yourself back to the wherry's heyday. They are good, but I thought it would be a bit trainspottery to faithfully record and photograph every one. After all you've got to leave something for people to discover. But for what it's worth, here's my favourite. "Distant echoes A bustling wherry port" at Great Yarmouth helps you forget you're actually standing next to Asda.

Friday, 2 October 2009

No deal on the Deal Ground

HIDDEN away close to the heart of Norwich is a vast derelict wasteland that next to nobody knows about.
It is called the Deal Ground and it covers 50 untapped acres between Trowse, Whitlingham and the railway station. The reason you haven't heard of it is that it is very difficult to get to. In fact it is virtually an island, hemmed in by a railway line and the Rivers Yare and Wensum. In the past I have squeezed past a gate post behind the sewage works at Trowse to explore, but this time I went by canoe.
Again from Trowse (the Yare tributary flowing alongside the meadow next to Whitlingham Lane) I paddled downstream to the Yare's confluence with the Wensum. Then I turned left to head up towards Norwich. Once you get past Carrow Yacht Club, everything on your left is the Deal Ground - so-called because it's where Colman's used to make their packaging out of soft wood or deal.
My book couldn't have been written without a little light trespass, so I pulled the canoe out of the water and had a wander. The first thing that strikes you is its size, then the silence. The sights and sounds of Norwich are all very close, but here nothing moves. Yet this is no wilderness, the hand of man is everywhere. Deserted buildings, concrete hard standing, even a Victorian kiln. I guess it is the classic brownfield site, awaiting development. But as yet there's no deal for the Deal Ground.
* More info on Colman's and the Deal Ground here.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Medieval mystics and other breaking news

I'VE JUST had a rude awakening on how quickly a book can become dated.
Earlier this summer, publication date for my book on the Wherryman's Way slipped from August 2009 to Spring 2010. And it's remarkable how much I've had to re-write as a result.
There's a new bridge across the Wensum of course, so we needed a few words on that plus a photo. And then they named it after Lady Julian, about whom I knew next to nothing. But she is fascinating, so she was well worth her own profile. (Top facts: she was the first woman to write a book in English and she probably wasn't called Julian. More details here.)
And if you have a profile you have to have some sort of image of the person ...which gets tricky with 14th century mystics. Thank goodness for the statue on the exterior of Norwich Cathedral. And just the very fact that the bridge exists, changes the dynamic in that part of Norwich so we needed a bit more in about how great King Street is. Just downstream, Greene King changed their mind on The Ferry Boat Inn in Norwich. So I've ditched the stuff about renovation and had to fudge something about its future being uncertain.
Meanwhile Coldham Hall Tavern is still closed down at Surlingham, but I'm assured it will be open by next Spring, so I've had to assume there. Then they put the sails on at Hardley Mill, which needed two trips to get a half-decent photo. English Heritage finally opened up Berney Arms with the help of Steve "Tug" Wilson, so I had to be a bit kinder about them.
And I used the heritage open days to do a museum crawl around Great Yarmouth, which helped bring a bit more personality to that chapter too.
All in all a decent excuse for not having posted a blog for three weeks I reckon. But buy the book as soon as it's published. After all, you wouldn't want to be out of date would you?