Tags: Arthur Ransome, Black Shuck, Coot Club, East Ruston Old Vicarage, Happisburg, Horning, Irstead, Manor Barn B&B, Old Shuck, St Benet's Abbey, The Big Six
Plastic Timmy and I have returned safely from our Norfolk Cycle Tour 2012. I’m pleased to report that there were no punctures, loose spokes or hurricanes, as in previous years. There were, however, cream teas (2), ginger beers (2), churches (10+), brasses (1 rubbed), stately homes (2) and ruined castles (1).
Norfolk is a truly beautiful county to cycle around, especially in the early summer when the May blossom is out in all of the little country lanes and the fields are full of green wheat and cornflowers. I cheated a little on my first day and took the train from Norwich to Hoveton & Wroxham so I could get straight out into the countryside. From H&W station I was perfectly placed to begin a tour of the northern part of the Norfolk Broads. I’d originally planned to first go south and climb the magnificent church tower at Ranworth but unfortunately the foot ferry at Horning has been discontinued so I decided instead to approach Horning from the north.
My first stop was the little church of Hoveton St Peter. Dating from 1624, it’s very sweet and made of red brick with Tudor/Jacobean style gables, a bell and a thatched roof. From St Peter’s it was down to Horning, a charming village by the river with cream teas, ices etc. (too soon to stop for one of these though). Horning is the setting for Arthur Ransome’s Coot Club (1934) and The Big Six (1940) and in Arthur Mee’s travel guide (from the same year as the latter) Horning is rather poetically described thus:
‘a little Venice in the heart of Broadland, where the waterways wandering from the river into the gardens are crossed by tiny bridges. The river winds in and out until it nears the old church, which looks out on shining water through a mantle of tress and on sails like white wings among the green. Lovely lanes bring us to it, and to the charming thatched house with gables and dormers keeping it company.’
– The King’s England: Norfolk
I left my bike and baggage outside of the church (St Benedict’s) so I could have a look around. The service had just finished and the congregation were dispersing but a few of them stopped to chat and to tell me about the open air service that will be happening on the first Sunday of August. This is a yearly tradition and is tied up with St Benet’s Abbey, a ruined riverside abbey a couple of miles away. This was the only abbey to escape Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and he in fact made the Abbot of St Benet’s the Bishop of Norwich too. This link continues up to the present and each year the Bishop of Norwich, who is still the Abbot of St Benet’s, arrives to hold an open air service at the abbey. The East Anglian Film Archive has a film from the 1960s of the Bishop arriving by wherry and although I’m not religious, I’m quite tempted to try and return to Horning to witness this age old tradition.
My next stop was Irstead, a cul-de-sac village next to the River Ant near Barton Broad where I popped into the dark and cool church (another thatched roof plus some lovely glass). I hadn’t realised how close I was to the water until I caught a glimpse of a white sail gliding through the trees just past the end of the churchyard. There is a little thrill in this – in Broadland you don’t always realise you’re near the water at all until you suddenly see a sail moving along nearby. I went down to the river and stopped off at the staithe where I ate my packed lunch of a cheese sandwich and a banana (thanks mum!) and mapped out the next part of my route.
Because the minor roads and lanes in this region don’t really lead anywhere they are exceptionally quiet; I hardly saw a car at all for the whole day. From Irstead I went up through Barton Turf, Dilham and Honing and then across to East Ruston, home of the magnificent Old Vicarage gardens. I had a cup of tea and a wander around before heading to my final destination of the day, the Manor Barn and Farm B&B near Happisburgh. Hostess Rosie gave me a warm welcome and a cup of tea before leaving me to unpack, explore the barn’s fine range of local interest books and have a little sit out in the suntrap courtyard before going over the the farmhouse for a glorious dinner of local crab cakes, salmon and local asparagus and home-made blueberry ice cream with biscuits. This was served up as a communal meal with the other guests and was both delicious and jolly good fun. Tired and happily full, I retired to my very comfy bed with a book of Norfolk ghosts and legends. Timmy bravely offered to stay outside to guard my bicycle and despite thoughts of Old Shuck, a very different and decidedly more diabolical black dog, I managed to fall asleep without any trouble.
Tally for the day: cream teas (0), ginger beers (0), churches (4), brasses (0 rubbed), stately homes (0), ruined castles (0).
Tags: East Anglian Film Archive, Old Shuck, Ted Ellis, Witness in Brass
On Thursday I went up to Norwich for the launch of the East Anglian Film Archive’s new website and digital archive. This contains 200 hours’ worth of films from the East of England region, from 1896 to the (almost) present, all available to watch online for free. It’s a fantastic achievement although sadly the launch comes at a time when the archive has had its staff and funding cut and has had to curb its operations for the foreseeable future.
Here’s a quick pick of 5 Famous Five friendly films to try (but please explore further as there are some incredible films looking at slum housing in Ipswich, the art of paper marbling, lavender growing and much more)
1. Witness in Brass (pictured above) Two boys (quite Julian and Dick-esque) rub church brasses under the guidance of a friendly Essex vicar.
2. Old Shuck A spooky tale of Mr Leslie Goodwin’s sighting of Old Shuck, the Black Ghost Dog of North Norfolk. On a par with stories of ‘spook trains’ and the numerous other tales told by some of the old salts that populate Enid Blyton’s books.
3. Ted Ellis Learn about nature with the legendary Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis. A good companion to Blyton’s Round the Year series of nature books.
4. The Flood The adventures of four children who get stranded in a Fens farmhouse by a dramatic flood.
5. The New Gypsies (Caravans). An Anglia news report from 1961 on the rising popularity of caravan holidays. The Five were well ahead of the game here (see Five Go off in a Caravan)
Oh, and because I can’t quite resist throwing in one for George, here’s one more, a curious BBC Look East piece from 1977, Dog Psychiatrist. Obviously no other canines are quite as smart as Timmy.