Saturday, 31 July 2010

Great walk, shame about the ending


I’VE MENTIONED the Wherryman’s Way’s Achilles’ heel before – it ends next to Asda. Specifically it ends with a small monument between the supermarket and a down-at-heel bridge (pictured) on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth. That bridge takes you over the Bure en route to the magnificent Hall Quay – famously compared to that of Marseilles by Daniel Defoe.

“The river lies on the west side of the town, and being grown very large and deep, by a conflux of all the rivers on this side [of] the county, forms the haven; and the town facing to the west also, and open to the river makes the finest quay in England, if not in Europe, not inferior even to that of Marseilles itself.”

The trouble is that once over the bridge you have to pass through a  down-at-heel part of town to get there.  Acres of sumptuous Yarmouth history lie a few hundred yards away but the town isn’t exactly putting out the welcome mat for first-time walkers. Which is why it was great to read in today’s EDP that there are plans to renovate the bridge – although frustratingly the details aren’t online.

This area still has industry – providing much needed jobs I know. But if there was a way of smartening up this stretch of the road called North Quay  – or even opening up the river frontage near Lime Kiln Walk – the tourist trade might just bring in a few much-needed bucks too.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Reedham Beer Festival next weekend

Humpty DumptyREEDHAM Beer Festival takes place next weekend. Wherryman’s Way IPA will be among 59 real ales jockeying for attention at the bash. More details on the Humpty Dumpty website.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

In perpetuity: Berney Arms railway station


YOU might like this article in The Guardian on the tiny railway station at Berney Arms. Journalist David McKie meets a man on the train who can’t understand why people would want to walk to the isolated Berney Arms pub. “What's the point?” the man asks. “There are plenty of decent pubs in Yarmouth.” He’s obviously not a Wherryman’s Way fan. The station  is famously isolated, and since there are very few trains and no public road, you are likely to walk a long way back home. McKie continues:

‘The question "what's the point?" has been asked about Berney Arms station ever since its creation in the 1840s. One might assume the pub was the reason for putting it there, but that isn't the case. It is there because Thomas Trench Berney, who owned the land, was ready to sell to the railway company only on the condition that a station be put there "in perpetuity".So the station opened, with a row of cottages built alongside it, one of whose rooms served as the ticket office. And right from the start, hardly anyone used it; so much so that within a decade the company announced its trains would no longer stop there. What about our agreement? Berney protested. Ah, said the railway company, what we promised was that the station was there in perpetuity. We didn't say that our trains would stop there in perpetuity.’

After a row trains did start stopping again – and they have done ever since. Moreoever against all the odds the pub and a windmill have also survived in this most desolate of spots. Will they continue – in that marvellous phrase - in perpetuity? Let’s hope so.

* Photo pinched from Branchline Britain

Friday, 9 July 2010

Billy Bluelight rides again


BILLY Bluelight was a Norfolk eccentric who – in the absence of a welfare state – lived on his wits and his charm. He’s one of the Wherryman’s Way most iconic characters, famous for racing the steam pleasure boats along the River Yare from Bramerton to Norwich – hoping for spare change from the passengers on board. His equally famous rhyme – which has to be delivered in a Victorian Norfolk accent - runs as follows:

“My name is Billy Bluelight, my age is 45. I hope to get to Carrow Bridge before the boat arrive.”

Incidentally, it works a lot better if you say “Carra” for Carrow. I mention him here because he’s just been reincarnated outside Rosy Lee’s teashop in Loddon as part of this weekend’s Scarecrow Festival in the town. Rosy Lee’s is run by Caroline Dwen, who “commissioned” it from one of her regular customers. You’ll see the rhyme has been updated in the shop’s honour.


Billy Bluelight gets a good mention in my book including this charming memory from one of the dozens of people who wrote into the EDP after his death in 1949.  This man’s family houseboat was moored every year at Bramerton:

“At half past eleven or so every morning, the tinkle of a harp would intrude upon the cooing of the wood pigeons, heralding the approach of the Yarmouth Belle or the Waterfly with her big freight of Yarmouth trippers bound for Norwich.

“Simultaneously, a strange figure would take up a stance just past the houseboat. Clad in shorts and a singlet, and hung with a prodigious array of medals, his expansive smile seemed to be exactly duplicated at a higher level by the peak of a gaily-striped cricket cap.”

He would deliver his rhyme and then sprint off.

“At the Woods End he would be no more than level, but once out of sight he was able to gain a bit on the short cut across the Whitlingham Sewerage Farm, to reappear neck and neck by the old limekiln at Crown Point.

Once more Billy would disappear from view, and while the boat passed very slowly through bends and narrow waters unsuited to her, Billy had to make the detour over Trowse Bridge; but by the time Carrow Bridge was reached (the old bridge by Carrow Works) there would be Billy, ready to receive the well-earned plaudits of the trippers and the coppers thrown onto the path by the Boom Tower.


Year after year the performance was repeated, but Billy’s age remained 45! This may have been for the sake of the rhyme, but there was enough of the Peter Pan in him to have justified it on other grounds. Peace to his memory.”


If you can’t make Loddon this weekend, a more permanent statue can be found outside the Woods End pub. Peace to his memory indeed.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Cardigans and sandwiches or magical waterland?

cuckoo book

I’M READING “Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo” by Michael McCarthy. It explores the mystery and the history of bird migration in a very readable way ..even to birding novices like myself.  I’m not even half way through it yet, but the reason I mention it here is because on page 69 you get this description of the Norfolk Broads:

“Throughout most of my life I had thought of the Norfolk Broads as a joke. Try as I may, I cannot recall any other landscape whose mention triggered mirth, but this complex of shallow lakes and winding rivers behind the coast always seemed to me irresistibly comic, probably because its principal purpose appeared to be the fostering of a peculiarly English summer ritual; the boating holiday. Not the sort of vacation afloat which nowadays takes place off somewhere like southern Turkey, with bronzed bodies, chilled rose and a keel sweeping through the sea; this was an altogether more cautious affair of cardigans and ham sandwiches in a craft called a cabin cruiser – a damp version of a caravan – which chugged from broad to broad with Dad at the helm in a sailor’s cap. Not sweeping but chugging. Pretend-adventure. It seemed to encapsulate the timorous smallness of English life in the 1950s and 1960s when thousands upon thousands of families went safely a-chugging in these 150 miles of lock-free waterways. I still find it hard to believe they never made a Carry On film about it all: Carry on Boating or, more probably Carry On up the Broads.”

Oh dear. This guy is “one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment” including spells as environment correspondent for both The Times and The Independent. He writes beautifully and knows his stuff, but is at least a generation out of date on what’s going on up here. Admittedly, he does go on in his book – published last year - to be utterly captivated by the River Yare, indeed he is introduced to what he calls “the soundscape of birds” by the Yare’s official ambassador Mark Cocker.

But in the very week that the Broads was rebranded “Britain’s Magical Waterland”, it’s this “cardigans and ham sandwiches”  view  that still sends a shiver down my spine. Not everyone liked the rebranding. “Mandarins at Minitrue will be busy. We have always sailed on Britain's Magical Waterland. The Norfolk Broads never existed,” snorted one tweeter.

But while new brooms at Coldham Hall and Hardley Mill and Langley Abbey show the way ahead, Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo shows that old-fashioned perceptions of the Broads remain remarkably resilient.

* Britain’s magical waterland EDP report.