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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Will it be the path less travelled?

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LODDON parish council has written to the leader of Norfolk County Council complaining about the state of the Wherryman’s Way footpath. Councillors say they’ve noticed a decline in the standards of maintenance along their stretch of the 35 mile walk.  “Loddon is one of the main points on the footpath’s route and it is noted that the tourists using the path bring much needed trade to local businesses,” writes parish clerk Christine Smith. “The current inadequate level of maintenance will ultimately result in fewer visitors and a downturn in trade in the area, not to mention the disappointment of visitors who find the path in a poor and unusable condition.” Loddon goes on to tell Councillor Derrick Murphy that it’s preparing an audio guide for tourists. But …”this project will obviously be a waste of resources if the Wherryman’s Way path, which is a major attraction for visitors, is inadequately maintained.” The EDP reported in October that Norfolk County Council had agreed to cut spending on its 2,355 mile local rights-of-way network by more than £500,000.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

From cupcakes to coffee: meet Loddon’s new deli girls

CONGRATULATIONS to Natalie, Ginny and Tracey, pictured at the launch party of their new cafe/deli in Loddon on Tuesday evening. The shop will open its doors on Monday after a frantic six weeks which have seen a rather sterile former dentists’ surgery be completely transformed into a sassy, modern coffee shop complete with deli counter and cupcakes. It’s a wonderful addition to an already thriving Loddon high street. For the full story (and this photo, thanks Ben…) visit the loddon eye website.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sunset on the Flood

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A WEEK on from the fog and it was a very different Chet Valley this Sunday evening. Visibility was perfect as the sun went down over Hardley Flood – which you can just make out to the left of this picture. Last week the thick mist muffled every sound. Tonight the squawk of the pheasants and the honk of the wildfowl seemed to carry for miles. I took this photo on a bridle path close to the ever-spooky Hardley Hall. Look one way and you see Hardley Flood – which used to be a mixture of arable land and copse until the great flood of 1953. Look the other and you can see for miles across the Yare Valley towards Buckenham, Cantley and Reedham on the north bank.  The chimney at Cantley’s massive sugar factory keeps pumping it out. The wind wasn’t quite in our direction, but there was still a faint smell of sweet molasses in the air. It remains amazingly warm. It might be December next week, but it still feels like Autumn.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Fog on the Chet is all mine, all mine

A SOLID bank of mist hangs over the Chet Valley tonight, the dankest and clammiest I’ve seen in my eight years in Loddon. As ever the river escapes relatively lightly, it’s the marshes next door that really cop it. The damp exhausted my camera’s batteries within minutes, but I think this photo shows its density quite nicely: as though a huge eraser had rubbed out everything from the meadows to about 12 feet up. That’s the tower of Holy Trinity church just high enough to  be seen. “I don’t like it,” shivered one dog walker emerging suddenly from its grasp. I did. Blackbirds chink-chinked their alarm calls continuously and the smell of wet autumn leaves hung heavy near the hedges, but it wasn’t cold.  These are the last days of a wonderfully warm autumn. Winter will arrive soon enough.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Why Rosy Lee’s is one up on Claridges

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CONGRATULATIONS to Caroline Dwen of Rosy Lee’s in Loddon for making it into a national chart for the“30 Best Places For Tea”. In fact Rosy Lee’s storms in at number 7 on the list published in The Times yesterday. And which tearoom is at Number 8? Claridge’s of London of course. No seriously. “Beloved by Norfolk Broads boatsmen,” goes the Times blurb, “who flock here for home-made food served on mismatched china by the cheery lady owner. Everything is home cooked and she’ll even do you a kipper and poached egg for tea if you feel like it.” A cheery owner, all the more cheery as a result, no doubt. Well done Caroline.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Delays at the Loddon Swan

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HOPES that The Swan at Loddon would re-open this year have been dashed. Talking to guys on site today, it’s clear that the original December 1st deadline was way too optimistic. At the moment the man in charge of the project is reluctant to commit to a January or a even a February opening date. The steady stream of tradesmen keep discovering more complications. The good news is that they’re committed to doing the job properly. The bad news? This building hasn’t had anything like enough TLC for decades.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Loddon: The Swan to become a hotel.

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MORE details have emerged on plans for the important Swan site in the middle of Loddon. The new owner Justin Fenwick has submitted plans to build 2 three- or four- bedroomed houses between the pub and the bowling green as a way of funding what his architect calls “the rejuvenation of the hotel”. The Swan,  I should add,is always referred to as a hotel rather than the pub we’ve been used to in recent years. The extensive outbuildings will remain and might be converted into four hotel rooms in time. Crucially the pub, sorry hotel, will become a free house, a move which will raise a cheer from most CAMRA-types. Those in the know argue that it’s often the pub group charging too much for both rent and beer that leads to pub closures. The letter submitted to South Norfolk council also makes clear that the Bowling Club can continue as normal and the alleyway through to Sale Court will survive. More details  - including plans here:

* Earlier story here

Rockland: Business booms at Oxnead House

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AMID all the economic gloom, some cause for optimism on the Wherryman’s Way. Pia and Iain Saunders (pictured) launched their new holiday cottage business in Rockland St Mary in August. The three separate cottages within the grounds of Oxnead House seem to me, to be just what the WW needed in this part of the world. From the flat-screen tellies to the exposed wooden beams, the style is sleek and modern. And the good news is that the couple have been rushed off their feet since their new website went live. “We’ve had inquiries from all over the world,” said Pia. “We’re already really busy.” The Lodge, The Stable and The Barn occupy a large plot which looks down upon Rockland Broad from the corner of New Inn Hill and Green Lane. Green Lane is the way Wherryman’s Way walkers arrive in Rockland, having cut across fields from Wheatfen Broad in Surlingham. If you want to do the entire Wherryman’s Way in one stretch over a relaxing three days, you could do worse than make Oxnead House your first-night stop.

*Just to be clear Oxnead House is nowhere near the lost Broads village of Oxnead which lies close to Aylsham on the Bure. This one is very much Yare Valley. 

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Rockland New Inn: The Walkers look to stroll it

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STOP me if you’ve heard this one before, but welcome to the new guys at The New Inn at Rockland St Mary. Yes, yes I know there have been a few, but Mick and Paula Walker are pukka leaseholders and so should bring this Wherryman’s Way pub some much needed stability after a stop-start year. It’s a point not lost on Mick who thrusts a leaflet into my hand which says “we want to build on the hard work of the temporary managers and continue to put The New Inn back at the heart of the neighbourhood”. And who would want to take over a seasonal pub at the end of the season? Well this couple certainly make a virtue of it, explaining that it will give them time to talk to the locals, before they start dealing with the very different needs of summer tourists. In fact their first priority is to ask local people for their suggestions. (So email mick@newinnrockland.co.uk with your thoughts.) 

Former management consultant Mick and nurse Paula both look very much at home behind the bar, so it’s something of a surprise to learn that they are first-timers, although they did spend five years in Ireland running a backpackers hostel/guesthouse. They first opened these doors on Thursday and will start serving food on Tuesday – Head Chef Robert is an integral part of their plans. A proper espresso machine for decent coffee and that new necessity wi-fi, should follow very soon. And it will certainly be a pub-full because three children will live here plus Spike the Yorkie and Milo the cat.

I was sorry to see the Walkers’ predecessors Alix and John go, and you can understand a certain amount of “here-we-go-again” cynicism from the average Rockland drinker, but Mick and Paula certainly talk a very good – and friendly - game. If we can help them through their first winter, they might just hang around for an awful lot longer. And that has to be good for the village, the tourists and those Wherryman’s Way walkers.

See Mick and Paula’s website here:

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Sails and Sails: the Yare Navigation Race from Hardley Mill

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IT’S THE Yare Navigation Race on Saturday, the one day of the year when you can guarantee that sail rules the river. The event, organised by Coldham Hall Sailing Club, is open to river cruisers who race down to Breydon and back – the precise destination depends on time and tide. So where’s the best place to be a spectator? Ideally of course you would want to be between Coldham Hall and Breydon with a good high vantage point. …Somewhere perhaps like Hardley Mill says Mill chairman Richard Rockley:

“Our last event of this season takes advantage of our specially design viewing platform (also known as known as the mill) and the fantastic views it offers of the yachts,” he emails.

“Hopefully there will be a brisk wind. There was a sailing event from Cantley last weekend, watching some of the yachts tackling the wind on the bends close to the mill was at times both hair-raising and hilarious.  As far as we could tell looking from the bank, there was no serious damage and no one was hurt but there were several close calls!”

Hardley Mill will be open between 10am and 4pm. Beers will be provided by the mighty Humpty Dumpty Brewery and there’s a barbecue between 1pm and 4pm. The folk quartet Rum Kelter will provide the soundtrack.

Remember though that there’s no public access by road. The best bet is to walk the mile or so from Hardley Staithe. Either that or design an entire Wherryman’s Way 35-miler around this annual classic. With the weather set fine, you could do a lot worse.

* Thanks to Richard for the photo, taken from you-know-where.

* New Big Sky Productions video of Hardley Mill here

Coldham Hall wins pub of the year award

Natalie and George LinderCONGRATULATIONS to the Coldham Hall Tavern at Surlingham for scooping a community pub of the year award from the local council. I well remember peering through the windows of this beautiful riverside building when it was closed, shabby and generally down at heel back in 2009. Stuck to the window was an A4 sheet of paper telling anyone who cared that the pub had been "repossessed by the landlord following forfeiture of the lease by peaceable re-entry". It seems a world away from the vibrant pub you walk into today. Natalie and George Linder (pictured) are the people who have transformed it. And now they’re celebrating both the award and a £1,000 cheque to help them organise a community bash. The judges said they were impressed by their use of “local food, local people and local ales”. That middle category is probably the key.

*Read about their opening day back in March 2010 here.

*Read the EDP article about this award here.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

A poke around Polkey’s

DWW12-2A QUICK shout from mills expert Alison Yardy. She and her colleague Amanda will be opening up Polkey’s Mill tomorrow between 1pm and 4pm. The old steam engine house next door will also be open for visitors. The mills form part of the unique Reedham Marshes Mill group which together comprise a complete history of Broads drainage mills. Basic windmill, more modern windmill, steam, diesel and electricity, they’re all here. Alison adds that she now opens them up twice a year, but are always open to requests for group visits on other occasions. Polkey’s Mill is – famously – in the middle of nowhere to the east of Reedham on the Wherryman’s Way. It obeys the first law of the WW too – the more out of the way the attraction, the better it is.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Wherryman’s Way–The Podcast

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YOU’VE walked the walk and with a bit of luck I’ve persuaded you to buy the book, so what’s next for Wherryman’s Way fans? Future Radio might just have provided the answer. All week they’ve run a special series of programmes looking at the Way. And they’re now available as downloadable podcasts. ..But if the word podcasts scares you just click here. And congratulations to Terry Lee, the man behind the project.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

New holiday cottages for Rockland St Mary

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WHEN the Wherryman’s Way was created back in 2005, it was meant to create a brand for our part of the Broads. Wroxham and Horning could cater for the stag-do boys in their day boats, we’d look after the walkers and the cyclists, the birdwatchers and the canoeists.  And it’s worked well. Hardley Mill got hundreds of thousands of pounds from Europe, at least partly because it could say it was on the WW. The medieval Langley Abbey was opened up to the public for the first time in centuries and a decent cafe graces the riverside at Reedham. There’s still room for more I’d say, but it’s been a cracking start.

So if we’ve got our new tourist attractions where are all those new tourists going to stay? Well, as of this week there’s a new kid on the block. Three holiday cottages have opened up at Oxnead House at Rockland St Mary. I haven’t looked round yet but I have met owners Ian and Pia Saunders. Certainly they “get” the whole Wherryman’s Way thing and certainly they’ve produced a very impressive website. (This photo of one of the three cottages is pinched from there.) It’s early days, but with a staithe and a pub, a broad and holiday cottages, Rockland is looking like the new unofficial capital of the Wherryman’s Way.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Rockland New Inn: the cover story

P6300116CONGRATULATIONS to Alix and John at the New Inn in Rockland St Mary who have already celebrated their 1,000th cover, achieving this milestone in three weeks flat. They’re still managers rather than leaseholders, so we can’t get too excited, but fingers crossed. According to Alix, it’s mostly local bums on seats, which bodes well for the leaner winter months too. The sandwich board saying “no credit cards accepted” has been turned around to read “all major credit cards accepted”. Oh and my pint of Adnams tasted good. These are small but important signs of progress. A perfect Bank Holiday weekend venue I would have thought. These guys are definitely worth supporting.

* More on Alix and John here.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Loddon Swan - a return to the glory days?

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BIG NEWS on the future of The Swan – the magnificent old coaching inn in the centre of Loddon . It has been bought by Justin Fenwick of Geldeston Hall who plans to keep it as a pub, but take it upmarket. I haven’t spoken to Mr Fenwick but his wife Marcia told me tonight that the plan is to give it a wine bar feel – and there will be food too. “The sort of place,”she told me, “where ladies will want to come for a cup of coffee”. It’s great news for a building which has looked increasingly down at heel since it closed back in September 2010.  And it should be a boost for Loddon too – given that empty buildings drag the whole town down.  Mrs Fenwick was keen to stress that it’s early days and the timescale is as yet uncertain. Two other quick facts: the bowling club are safe – they will be allowed to continue playing on the green behind the pub as they have done since time immemorial.  And there are longer term plans to build single-storey accommodation for elderly people between the pub and the bowling green. More info when I get it.

* More on the recent history of this building here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Wherryman’s Way ..on Future

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LISTEN out for a new series on The Wherryman’s Way next month – on Future Radio. The station is doing a five-part look at the entire walk running from Monday September 5th till Friday September 9th. I was interviewed by their top man Terry Lee and I have to say he knew his stuff. He loves the WW and I’m sure that will be reflected in the series which will go out at noon every day. I’ve listened to the trailer ..which includes a short excerpt from me where I appear to have said that Billy Bluelight was “the puppet man of his day”. Is that allowed? Will the puppet man mind? We’ll see.

So who are Future Radio? They’re a community station based in West Norwich. I’m no expert, but the impression I got from visiting their studios was of an eclectic bunch playing eclectic music. Loads of volunteers, a wide variety of interests and boundless enthusiasm all round. You can find them at 107.8fm. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Rockland New Inn: Welcome to Alix and John

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THE on-off drama at The New Inn in Rockland St Mary continues. Now it’s good news again with a husband and wife team having taken over on July 17th. Alix and John Freeman come to Norfolk after a stint in Nottinghamshire. “We’ve been all over the place looking for the perfect pub and when we came down the hill here for the first time, I  just looked at it and said ‘Wow’” said Alix. “And that was before I’d even seen the boats on the dyke.” But once again there’s a “but”. Once again it all depends on a deal being done with the pub’s owners Punch. “At the moment we’re managers,” added Alix. “We hope to become tenants, but we’re still negotiating.” In other words everything is all rather temporary. Getting a B&B service going for fishermen is the first priority – Alix is looking to charge roughly £35 a night with a cooked breakfast thrown in. And as I chatted to them this afternoon a Dutch couple on bikes were preparing to put up their tent in the garden. T&B I guess they call that.

Nothing is ever certain with this pub, but I’ve got a good feeling about these guys. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

For Sale: a smugglers’ haunt

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THE COCKATRICE, yours for half a million quid. A five-bedroomed former pub situated, as estate agents Durrants put it, “in a superb riverside location on the River Yare [with] wonderful views over marshland and the river.” The blurb is very good on the hectares of land outside and the bedroom measurements inside, but they’re missing the big picture. Because this building, wind-whippingly isolated on the road from Heckingham to Reedham Ferry, was notorious as a smugglers’ pub. Market it that way chaps, and see your viewings double. Durrants reckons it stopped being a pub in 1922. My understanding is that it hung on till 1931. Certainly when the Broads writer Arthur Patterson passed by in 1930 there was:

“one wherry at its staithe, where a score or more were at one time keen to moor when thirsty. The day hath long passed when smugglers crept to and landed at the staithe at night and “Breydon Pirate” is all but extinct.”

There’s much more where that came from in my Wherryman’s Way book. Perhaps the estate agents would like a copy?

Monday, 25 July 2011

Wanted: young legs for old mill

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IF you listened closely at the annual get-together of the Friends of Hardley Mill last week, you might have heard a quiet creak or two in the background. It wasn’t the sails going round on this recently restored windpump, it was ancient bones complaining after years of tramping up and down the mill’s internal staircase. The latest project has been to take away a temporary gallery (pictured here a year or so ago) which ran around the building’s cap, and replace it with something more solid. The project, Peter Grix explained at the mill’s AGM, had been more complicated than expected. And whilst it would be completed within weeks, it had taken its toll amongst the volunteers. Because one of the many amazing things about Hardley Mill is the age of the men who have carried out most of the hard graft. The majority of them are in their 70s and 80s. “Running a windmill like this is high maintenance and to be honest, we’re crumbling a little I think,” Peter told the meeting. The answer? Younger volunteers of course. I can’t find contact details on the mill’s website at the moment, but if you want to volunteer or just find out more, email me at steveanddebbie.silk@virgin.net and I’ll pass the message on.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Langley Abbey: Anyone for polo?

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I KNEW that Langley had hosted its first polo festival earlier this month. But until today I didn’t realise quite how large “the sport of kings” was looming down at the abbey. Indeed the very sign saying Langley Abbey has been taken down to be replaced by “Norfolk Polo Club”  across the door. The abbey, with its wonderful medieval history does of course remain open to visitors, but the friendly shop full of upmarket foods and souvenirs has been elbowed into the cafe next door. In its place is what looks like a posh gentlemen’s outfitters with pukka chukka shirts on rails and long leather boots selling at £125 a pair. Funnily enough I resisted the urge. I guess it’s all exciting, innovative and entrepreneurial but I can’t help wondering what the dozens of generations of farm labourers who have worked here over the centuries, would make of the place now.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What next for the New Inn at Rockland

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WELL that didn’t last long. The New Inn at Rockland St Mary has shut its doors again – barely two months after its last closure. The picture shows the removal van outside today as Jim Ravenwolf and Sandy Jarvis (below) packed up for the last time. They say the pub might open again in a fortnight – but that would be with more temporary managers  via yet another holding company. So the recent history for this pub goes; closed November, opens mid-April, closes mid-June.

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Clearly this is no way to run a pub. The regulars have presumably defected  to other boozers – or the supermarket.  Wherryman’s Way walkers don’t have that option. One well-place source in the village today told  me that this size of pub is being crippled by a combination of high rates, high rents from the pub chain and a hefty increase in overheads like electricity. I used to think that location, location, location would mean that the  New Inn would always survive. Now I’m not so sure. What’s happening this summer feels like  the beginning of an unstoppable decline. It’s very sad.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Big camera + small canoe = great film

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SO how on earth did they film that beautiful Youtube number on the tranquil upper reaches of the Bure which I mentioned on Saturday then? I’ve just found out, by stumbling across the Big Sky Production’s blog. It also reveals that Mr Big Sky isn’t a big fan of the water …not that you can tell. The film is here and the blog here. The photo – also from the blog – shows Buxton Mill.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Go find the Hedge Finders

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IF YOU like your nature, you might want to follow the Hedge Finders blog set up by a Somerset artist called Duncan Cameron and Norfolk musician Adam Clark. They call it “a collection of writing, images and sounds inspired by natural history” which sums up their posts nicely.  A recent entry includes Swallows from “Poems on the Underground” which was new to me. Adam wrote: “The first time I saw this poem was on the tube at commuter time when the sight of swallows over fields in early summer seemed an impossible, bucolic dream. Now swallows attend my morning cycle to work, the world of the tube seems the unreal one. I still like the poem though.” 

“The swallows are italic again ….” what a great line that is from Owen Sheers.

* You can find Hedge Finders here.

Humpty Dumpty have cracked it.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Wherryman’s Web’s favourite brewery which celebrated a real ale milestone earlier this month. Reedham-based Humpty Dumpty brew cracking ales like Reedcutter and Little Sharpie. (They also do a mean Wherryman’s Way IPA which was launched at the same time as my book last summer.) Anyway they have now sold their 1,000,000 pint – it’s hiding somewhere within a firkin of Reedcutter which was delivered to the Blue Lion at North Pickenham recently (see picture). The brewery is run by four partners -  Craig & Mary Anne Fermoy and Stephen & Lesley George – who took over the business in September 2006. Head Brewer Craig said: “it’s been an amazing 5 years, and it’s great to see our beers being so well received and so much in demand.” Business Manager Lesley said: “it’s been exciting to see the sales grow. We have wonderful customers and have built a great team of staff to support the business.” Well done to the whole team. And don’t forget to do the Humpty Dumpty detour when you’re walking the Wherryman’s Way through Reedham.

* Picture shows Mick Lee, the landlord of the Blue Lion at North Pickenham receiving the Reedcutter cask from Humpty Dumpty driver driver, Jason Clark. 

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The upper Bure by canoe

PLANS to preserve the history and natural history of a picturesque stretch of the River Bure continue apace. You’ll remember that a group of people want to use the 100th anniversary of the end of the Aylsham Navigation as an excuse to “raise the profile of our beautiful river”. The navigation, dating back back to 1779, meant that Coltishall, Horstead, Hautbois, Oxnead, Burgh and Aylsham were all connected by river to Great Yarmouth. It was one of many man-made projects destroyed by the devastating floods of 1912 – hence the looming 100th anniversary. Now a charity has been formed and the new Bure Navigation Conservation Trust plans to work towards setting a riverside footpath – perhaps with signs and info boards along the lines of the Wherryman’s Way. (My original article is here, while there’s much more on this website as well as this blog. ) Anyway as well as charity status, there is now a video. What Stu Wilson calls a “five minute taster” of a trip between Coltishall and Buxton. It’s not a stretch of river I know, but this film certainly encapsulates the unique tranquillity of canoeing along the upper stretches of our Broads rivers. …Or what Surlingham naturalist Ted Ellis called the “utter peace of Broadland”.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Geldeston Locks: the Movie

I KNOW you’re busy and you haven’t got time …but go on give this film a go. It’s a beautifully put together piece of oral history on The Geldeston Locks – one of the most charismatic pubs on the Broads network. Hats off to all involved in commissioning it.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Jim and Sandy take over at the New Inn

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MEET the new team at the New Inn at Rockland. Jim Ravenwolf  and Sandy Jarvis stepped into the breach three weeks ago allowing the doors of this lovely pub to open for the first time in five months. So far they’ve been impressed with the number of walkers and cyclists coming through the doors, but are slightly disappointed with the quantity of locals. Sandy plans to start offering Bed and Breakfast within a week (there are two en-suite rooms above) and they’re keen to get gigs going too. “Music and Ale, that’s the direction we want to go in,” said Jim. “Wherry outsells all three lagers, that tells you a lot.”

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So the good news is that it’s re-opened. The bad news is that we haven’t got the security of having leaseholders in place. That’s not Jim and Sandy’s fault of course. But the reality is that they are managers, doing the honours temporarily on behalf of a holding company which presumably wants to see if the numbers add up before committing further. Sandy can’t say how long they’ll be in place. “It’s suck it and see,” she said. Once again with Wherryman’s Way pubs, it’s a case of use it or lose it.

* I will give a phone number for the B&B once the pub has a phone line. At the moment the lack of a line also means you can’t pay for food or drink by card. (Jim has on occasion driven customers to the cashpoint in Loddon, but that’s another story…)

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Kayaking the Yare IV: Bawburgh to Earlham Park

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IF YOU were whizzing along Norwich’s southern bypass on Friday morning with your window open, you might just have heard an expletive or two coming up from the bridge beneath you. It was me in my inflatable kayak, coming to terms with a right royal puncture -  inevitably in the middle of bleedin’ nowhere. Until then my royal wedding plans had gone like clockwork. First load up bike and canoe in the car. Second padlock the bike to a UEA lamp post, third drive on to Bawburgh. I would then kayak down the Yare to the university, hide it in the undergrowth and cycle back to the car. As the guests started arriving at the abbey I’d be happily lost in the Bowthorpe Bends. By the balcony kiss I should have been propping up the bar at the King’s Head making sarky comments. The reality was slightly different. With one of the two chambers burst I could limp on, but it took me a while to realise that in this newly crumpled kayak, everything was taking twice as long and was twice as hard.

Which is a shame because this is probably the most varied and challenging of all the four stretches of the Yare I’ve covered. Everyone agrees that there’s no point kayaking any higher up than Bawburgh. The village is a great place to start and I’d spotted three kingfishers before I’d even shot Bawburgh bridge. Beneath Bawburgh you are in farming country, albeit the kind of farmland where warblers nest in the thick nettles on the river bank. The river itself felt incredibly clean. It’s full of underwater vegetation going with the flow. Every time I scooped up a handful, a few watery creatures came up with them.

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Then it’s under the A47 bridge and into a tighter, more claustrophobic Yare which winds through gravel pits. Here vast white willows have crashed across the river making navigation a challenge. You get the impression that these trees spring into a second life once the main trunk has fallen. The canopy remains and new shoots emerge, leaving you trapped in a micro-climate. And in my case, a climate complete with sharp underwater branches ready to puncture the surviving chamber. 

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Extravagant meanders mean the river takes two miles to travel less than one mile east to Colney. In between the modern estate of Bowthorpe pops up on the port bow. Two more giant willows have split next to each other on a flood plain opposite,  presumably as the result of a lightning strike. Again new growth is everywhere, but the grotesque remains of the trunks leave each tree looking like an extra from Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest.

Then there is wonderful sheltered reach backing onto some lucky houses in Colney. That’s where the main photo (above) was taken. By now the sun was out and the wildlife with it – an egret went fishing just yards away. But it was shallow too and my lack of buoyancy meant I kept grounding. Eventually I commandeered a garden jetty for a major bail out.  Because everybody was watching a certain wedding no-one was around to object. Later the river swings southwards again and West Earlham replaces Bowthorpe to our left. Bored and tired by bailing and grounding, I eventually gave up at the cafe in Earlham Park. And thank you to the owner who didn’t mind me sloshing in river water as I asked for my cup of tea. Wills and Kate were man and wife and I’d just about completed my mission. Now, who knows how to fix a puncture in a kayak?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Kayaking the Yare III. Cringleford to Earlham Park.

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I DUSTED off the kayak for the first time this year today and yes it was good to be back on the water.  Today’s task was to pick up where I left off before winter rudely got in the way; kayaking the upper River Yare two hour chunks at a time.The first leg last October saw me go from just above the old mill buildings in Lakenham to Harford Bridges. Two weeks later it was Harford Bridges to Cringleford. Today I went in just upstream from the mill building at Cringleford (pictured). From there you peep into the extensive back gardens of houses on Colney Lane before river and road veer apart on the approach to the UEA. As ever the river provided its own nature show. Grey wagtails balanced on the weir close to the mill while a green woodpecker yaffled from the trees. Further upstream I’d like to claim both sedge and reed warblers but I’d only crumble under cross-examination, such was their camouflage among the reeds.   Rather bizarrely I saw six policemen on the Cringleford stretch. Four were following up reports of boys playing with a lifebuoy (slow crime day was it fellas?) while the final two were cycling along the riverside footpath. (“Well the rest of the patch is the Larkman so yeh, it is a bit more peaceful.”)

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At the UEA, the river heads west with only a narrow strip of land between the river and the university lake. A basic slipway close to a footbridge (pictured) here meant I could get out and stretch my legs among the dozens of walkers doing the same. Further upstream things got even busier at Earlham Park with kids piling into the water to cool off. And whereas I am used to being the only craft on the river, today I was one of four. Canoes and kayaks are definitely becoming more popular. Come and join the fun before the river gets too crowded.

* Access on this stretch is easy. At Cringleford, get down to the river on the Eaton side of the bridge. A footpath quickly takes you under the A11 and brings you right next to the river. That footpath continues all the way. You could get in from the UEA too or even via the new-ish access road to the hospital.  Next stop for me? Colney to Bowthorpe.

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Thursday, 14 April 2011

A new start for the New Inn

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GREAT news from Rockland St Mary courtesy of local resident Tony P. As Tony’s photo makes clear, the New Inn will re-open this Saturday. Wherryman’s Web regulars will remember that this pub closed in a hurry last November. Boat owners love it for its position at the head of Boat Dyke. Walkers and villagers make good use of it too. I’ve yet to establish whether this means there is a new leaseholder in place (good) or whether Punch Taverns have installed a manager (less good, see comment on this previous story). But to be fair Punch has at least lived up to its pledge in February that the doors would  reopen by Easter. Here’s to a new start at the New Inn.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Wot no Wherryman’s?

A NEW website to promote the Broads gets launched on Friday but it’s already looking good here. Nicholas Crane is the star of the show. And the swooping aerial shots in his video show all the high-production values you’d expect from the star of Coast. All in all I think the site looks good; clean, professional and crisp. The boating element is downplayed compared to yesteryear. Bikes, canoes, birdwatching and angling get virtually equal booking. I do have one tiny criticism. Under walks, one particular long-distance path is notable by its absence. You guessed it, they’ve left out The Wherryman’s Way. Shurely shome mistake?

Monday, 28 February 2011

Loddon Swan: yours for £400,000

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AS predicted here a few months ago, The Swan at Loddon is up for sale, its owners  clearly having given up on it. The estate agents’ board went up today offering the old coaching inn as a freehold property. Will anyone else take it on a pub, as a restaurant, as a hotel? How about a cafe on the ground floor and flats upstairs?  There are lots of questions for Enterprise Inns and any new buyers. And lots of potential too. The blurb makes clear just what an extensive property this is; two bars, a dining area suitable for 20 covers, a beer cellar, an entire four-bedroomed flat on the second floor and sizeable outbuildings at the back on a one acre site. So what about the tiny market that still musters every Monday? A cluster of stalls huddled on the car park constitute Loddon’s last claim to be a market town.  And what about the Loddon Swan Bowls Club and its manicured green? All the Victorian writers raved about it and I guess it  could have been in existence for much longer. The “Tenure details” section of the sale document runs as follows: “Freehold with vacant possession on completion (except in respect of the Bowling Club which has no formal agreement to use the Bowling Green). Ouch. Let’s hope for a new owner with a heart and a sense of history.

Friday, 25 February 2011

A new start for the New Inn

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The owners of the New Inn at Rockland St Mary say they hope to have the pub re-opened by Easter. There are no guarantees, say Punch Taverns, but certainly that’s the plan and they’re “currently talking to interested parties”. Phew, some hope for this classic Wherryman’s Way staging post at last. But it’s becoming  a familiar pattern isn’t it? Close down as winter approaches, re-open with a quick link of paint come the Spring. If it is that difficult to make a go of it throughout the year, then perhaps some pubs are going to have to make this pattern official and try to cut the overheads in the process.  And perhaps so-called “micropubs” are the way ahead. There are none in our part of the region, but a boozer in Kent keeps winning awards by keeping it simple, low key and low-cost. The Butchers Arms at Herne is a free house – a whole different ball game admittedly – but I wonder if it shows the way ahead for some of our back of beyond Broads pubs.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Another bleedin’ blog

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JUST a quick word to say that I’ve got another blog up and running …I know, one was  more than enough wasn’t it? It’s because I’ve started to write a second book – provisionally called Riverside Norwich. For much of the time I wrote the Wherryman’s Way in splendid isolation. But this time I’m experimenting by posting regular updates on a separate blog to show what I’m researching and how I think I’m doing. And, crucially, asking people for their suggestions. Riverside Norwich will look at every inch of the Wensum and the Yare across the Greater Norwich area, it will for example take in Lakenham (Yare) and Taverham (Wensum); two areas where I bet very few residents know much about their local waterway. Like the Wherryman’s Way book, this one will include riverside walks and I’m also keen on helping canoeists find good spots to get in and out. (Is it me or is canoeing really starting to take off?) There are two big caveats. One, I  haven’t got a book deal yet and two, not a single person has commented on that site yet! But hey, it’s early days. The last book  took five years, so don’t hold your breath on the follow-up. It’s my “difficult second album” remember. So in future it’s Broads stuff on this blog and “Riverside Norwich” stuff on the other one. Finally thanks to @overbychristmas on twitter for focusing my mind on the difference between the two.

* Picture shows the Yare just upstream from Lakenham, one of several beautiful reaches only accessible to us paddlers. Riverside Norwich can be found here.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

More on the Tud

THANKS for all the Tud suggestions (see comments to post below). In particular thanks to Pete Chambers who suggested Mattishall Burgh as a place to take pictures. This was the Tud near MB early this morning – the first decent morning for photography in what feels like months. One more fascinating Tud fact; in May 1900 plans were put before Parliament to build a “Norwich to Dereham Light Railway” along the Tud Valley through places like Hockering and Honingham and joining the old MG+N line at Hellesdon. But since I have lost two followers since I started tweeting about the Tud I shall now swiftly move on….

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A tad frustrating on the Tud.

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OK, this might be cheating, but I need your help. I’m plotting a new book at the moment; similar style to The Wherryman’s Way but different area. And probably more on where to canoe.  But suffice to say I’m researching the River Tud – and I’m not getting very far. I know it runs from roughly Dereham to its confluence with the Wensum at Hellesdon Mill. There’s some nice stuff about the old stately home of Costessey Hall being built on its banks – especially as that’s now the site of Costessey Park Golf Club. But where’s the source? Wikipedia says “south of Dereham”. My shiny new OS map of Dereham and Aylsham sort of agrees, with the line of blue running out somewhere closet to Spurn Farm. Meanwhile a book on Shipdham claims that it is the source for the Yare, the Wissey and the Tud, although it gives the vicinity for  the Tud rather vaguely as “near Thomas Bullock Primary School”.  Away from the source, where can I get a good photo of it, is there any sort of vista at Hockering or North Tuddenham for example? For the moment we’ll have to live with this view in winter sunlight taken between Longwater Lane in Costessey and the golf course. It’s a modest little river but I think it deserves more than the 200-odd words I’ve so far mustered.All info welcome.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Yare Song: Poetry in (river) motion

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EVER been on those riverboat trips which leave from Norwich and head downriver? Poet Julia Webb did and came back inspired. Inspired to write Yare Song:

The river flows on
surges over and under me,
marsh lover, mud flipper
down amongst the groundlings,
moorhens, blue-lights,
sweet-shallow-mornings.

I am scaled and slithered:
strings of weed for hair,
dipping my shade-fingers
amongst bubbles and eddies,
spark-netted on the meanderings
of the mind’s own river,

hearing the shadow-ghosts
of all those drowned girls: witches,
dipped down deep amongst
the slippery tendrils,
swan-necked lovelies
warbling in the reeds,    singing.

As you leave the city, Julia explains, “the skipper gives a commentary about wildlife and river history and on the way back he leave you to your own thoughts. I found it really inspirational for writing and although I began by writing about the natural aspects of the river I found my mind wandering to the darker history of rivers dunking women to see if they were witches etc. There is something timeless and mystical about river travel somehow.” Hear, hear. Thanks to Julia for allowing me to publish Yare Song. Do we think she’s got the gig as the Wherryman’s Way Poet Laureate? Either way you can find her blog here. And thanks too to Cameron Self at Literary Norfolk for the shout. 

Monday, 31 January 2011

Loddon: Still no go at The Swan

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WALK past on any evening and the backlit logo on the Guinness tap still sparkles back at you. But the doors of The Swan at Loddon remain shut and the prospect of a pint of anything seems more remote than ever.  You’ll recall that this pub closed its doors in a hurry back in September and has lain empty ever since. Enterprise Inns made no promises then and when I contacted them again this week they said they were still considering their options. Yes but what does that mean? Well the reply landed in my inbox today saying that “selling the pub is one of the options we are considering (any future use of the pub would rest with the purchaser)”.

My money’s on this former coaching inn being turned into flats within 12 months. And the weird thing is that despite living in Loddon, I’ve not heard a single person express any regret over its passing. Perhaps this is what happens when buildings and institutions outlive their usefulness; they quietly wither and die unmourned. The question now is what would happen to the bowling green at the rear. Bowls has been played at the  Swan in Loddon for more than a hundred years – perhaps a lot longer. My understanding is that the club don’t own the freehold, they’re just quietly playing on and hoping for the best.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Norwich: A Mardle on the Wensum

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MENTION “Jonathan Mardle” to any card-carrying EDP reader over a certain age and they are bound to nod knowingly. “Jonathan Mardle” (pictured left) was the pseudonym of leader writer Eric Fowler. His weekly essays appeared in the paper from 1946 right through to his death in 1981. To my mind he was a great writer. Certainly his love for the county of Norfolk shines through every sentence. I picked up “The Best of Jonathan Mardle” from a second hand book shop in Cromer last summer and his stuff just hasn’t dated. Or at least if it has dated, it still makes sense. June 1956 sees him wishing that “Norwich from the River” would look more attractive. Compared to his description, I think you’ll agree we’ve made great strides in half a century. It is, he says:

“sadly apparent that the river, as it passes through the heart of the city becomes a very dirty stream, and moreover that great lengths of its banks are still used like a slum or a lumber yard. ..The impression of neglect is deepened if you go through Norwich by boat from Carrow to the New Mills. Few of the present generation of citizens have ever done this: and indeed I myself did it for the first time only about a month ago, through the kindness of a friend who had his motor boat at Whitlingham. The little port of Norwich with its slab-sided coasters discharging coal and grain and loaded scrap iron is fun, as any place frequented by ships must be. But once you are past Carrow Works, the flour mill and the brewery, the bank on your left as you go upstream is a horrid mixture of empty slums and dumps of waste paper and scrap iron. It is a poor sort of salute to the visiting yachtsmen whom we invited to explore the beauty of Norwich.”

“…Up to Bishop Bridge it is pleasant enough if you can ignore the oily scum on the water, Beyond that fine old bridge too, the city looks gracious, with a tree clad bank on the right …and to the left the old brick tower standing in the meadow of the Great Hospital. Then factories to the right, the Hospital gardens to left; but next – angels and ministers of grace defend us! – the gasworks. The old yarn factory (now Jarrold’s printing works) on the opposite bank, is mellow and graceful in comparison – some Georgian sense of style and proportion still pervaded the local factory architecture in 1839, Whitefriars Bridge, of the present century is distinctly inferior…”

“Above the Duke Street bridge the water was so low that we ran aground; then chugged along at half speed, with rubbish chocking the propeller, until we reached the narrows between the high brick walls of Bullard’s Brewery – more of those old industrial buildings which have a certain antique charm about them.

“So I cannot commend the voyage, except, as unusual. But I can visualise what it might be if in the rebuilding of the derelict area between King Street and the river we built some pleasant houses with lawns and gardens; if the gas works with their ugliness, dirt and effluent, were removed …and other houses with gardens put in their place; if more industrialists would think of the riverside as a frontage, and not as a backyard with a drain running through it; if all of us thought of the river as something that ought to be a joy to see.”

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Well I did “Carrow to the New Mills” by kayak last summer and while we haven’t got everything right, I think I’d give today’s Wensum a good nine out of ten. Hats off to the vision of that visionary Mr Mardle.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

King Street Norwich: Plans for the Ferry Boat site

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A PICTURE tells a thousand words for the Ferry Boat site in Norwich. Under these plans just released by Norwich Backpackers the original pub (on the left) is dwarfed by the  new building destined for the old car park. Just for reference we’re looking at things from King Street and it’s the Novi Sad pedestrian bridge on the extreme right. Until I saw these drawings I hadn’t realised how small a part of the total plan the old pub building really is. Downstairs the pub will be a real ale shop and bar, upstairs will be a flat. The new building is the hostel proper and will be timber-framed from the first floor upwards. Various environmentally-sound options like straw bale and hempcrete are being considered for many of the walls here ..or more correctly for the infilling.

Old Ferry Boat regulars will remember that the pub used to extend out towards the river at the back – my memory is that you could drink on several different levels, getting lower as you got closer to the river. All that’s going to be replaced by what will “essentially be a timber frame barn, incorporating the lovely chalk and flint wall to the South East of the back bar and the stone floor of the existing boat house. “ Storage facilities for canoes remind us that these guys are keen that people discover Norwich by water.

* More details on Norwich Backpackers own website. Thanks for the jpeg fellas.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Langley: The Wherry sails on into a new life

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I POPPED in to the Wherry Inn at Langley for a swift one this morning, but as this picture shows the old boozer isn’t quite what it used to be. In fact the Wherry hasn’t been a pub for almost eight years and I only made it inside at all thanks to owner Gary Hayes agreeing to unlock the padlocks on the temporary doors and switch on the equally temporary lighting just for my benefit. Gary runs Willow Builders – the company which will soon begin the job of converting this building into a house. And because I never made it into the Wherry when it was “alive” (see previous post) I was keen to see its interior before it starts a new life.

The last decade has not been kind to the Wherry. A succession of quick-fire landlords followed by closure, followed by squatters, followed by a rejected planning application for a restaurant, followed by endless rumours. I know that the closure itself proved controversial – with Gary copping some stick in the process. But even a dyed-in-the-wool pub romantic like me  can see that these days there just isn’t enough trade in a location like this.

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Inside there’s little left to mourn. No bar, no furniture, no soul. Gary (pictured right) says that just about everything made of wood was put on the wood burning stove by the squatters …who then left with the stove. Now Gary’s team will gut what remains, do a little light demolition here and build an extension there. And by September a five-bedroomed house with all mod-cons will emerge. So will it still be called The Wherry? No says Gary, but he is keen to reflect the history by perhaps naming the house after a wherry. Now were there any with strong local connections, or should it nod to one of the wherries which survive to this day? Suggestions please….. In the meantime one of the pub signs has found a very good new home, in my garage. Thanks again Mr H.

 

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The long and winding Wensum

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THEY reckon that the River Wensum takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon word for winding. But the truth is that it winds less than it used to. The reason: centuries of interference from man. But now three different bodies have come together to make this beautiful Norfolk river a bit more curvaceous again. The idea is that if modern man undoes what medieval man had to do, we’ll get more of the wildlife and fish we associate with something  quiet rare – a chalk river. Here’s how they put it on the Environment Agency website (and thanks EA for letting me use the photo of your guys in action at Ringland).

“In essence the river is too wide, too deep, and too straightened, as well as being heavily impounded by mill structures.  It is also disconnected from its floodplain by spoil banks resulting from historical dredging for land drainage and industrial (milling) activities. For the first time we have looked at a whole river scale to see what action needs to be taken to restore each section of the channel.  The main recommendations of the strategy include a reduction in impoundment, reducing the width of the channel, restoring connectivity with the floodplain, and restoring the gravel bed of the river.”

That “whole river” bit is quite important. It shows the ambition of the River Wensum Restoration Strategy. Surviving mills and sluices are also under the spotlight for how much they interfere with a river’s normal flow. We forget how much man had to meddle in the past. The Strategy guys (EA plus Natural England and the Water Management Alliance) are very keen to tell more people what they’re doing. More details can be found here.