Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bootiful Boudicca

Bike ride   Boud 048

THIS post stretches the definition of Riverside Norwich a bit, but hey the walk started next to the River Tas near Lakenham, so I’m claiming it. It was our first time on the long distance walk known as the Boudicca Way. You might have heard that it’s had a facelift recently with smart new signs installed throughout the 36 mile route between Diss and Norwich. Give walkers a nudge in the right direction, goes the plan, and local businesses will benefit too. Bike ride   Boud 021We started off on White Horse Lane at the back end of Trowse and did a circular walk via Caistor St Edmund. Initially it was dull. A brief dalliance with the Tas at a bridge near Lakenham and then the tedium of getting over and beyond the noisy southern bypass. But once you step out on to a footpath from Arminghall Lane everything changes. Rolling hills and ancient oaks abound and the din from the bypass subsides to a gentle hum. Norwich might be just over there, but there’s plenty of nature right here. I counted three green woodpeckers and three different species of butterfly within the first ten minutes. Bike ride   Boud 037A short diversion takes you to the village (hamlet?) of Arminghall, with its smart flint church and timeless PYO hut complete with ancient scales (pictured right.)Then you head down towards Caistor Lane and land owned by High Ash Farm. Run by Chris Skinner (of Radio Norfolk fame) this is the farm where nature comes first. Bike ride   Boud Flower“At High Ash, no animal or bird is discriminated against and nature can run its uninterrupted course,” is how they put it on the website. Us walkers are looked after too. Broad grassy swards for footpaths (see main picture above) , next to “pollen nectar verges” for flowers and endangered species of bumblebee. At this time of year that meant meadows bursting and blooming with every shade of wild flower. From Caistor Hall we returned to Trowse by road, (no pavement, not particularly recommended) but the Boudicca Way continues south to Shotesham. If the rest is as good as this aperitif, we’ll be very happy.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Kayaking the Wensum: Costessey to Hellesdon Mill

Rowing through gunk

I DON’T particularly understand the biology, but whenever a big tree falls across a small freshwater river a micro-habitat seems to develop underneath. And you get this thick green soup in the water which makes the going tricky for anyone in a kayak. There was plenty of it today on my second stretch of the Wensum which sees the river climb north around Costessey to Drayton, before plunging south again towards Hellesdon Mill. The gunk I could handle, a bit of portage around Costessey Mill was easy too, it was the “No Canoeing” landlord around Drayton that got my goat. But let’s start at the beginning. In Costessey I used the backyard of the deserted 16th Norwich Sea Scouts base to get in the river. The Bush pub gardenI have to confess I didn’t have permission, but hey, Baden Powell would have approved wouldn’t he? Thanks chaps. From there you pass the idyllic pub garden of The Bush (pictured left) before seeing the equally picturesque back gardens of Costessey’s luckier residents. One of them even appears to have a private bridge (below right) which in my book is the height of cool. The river runs north down to the site of Costessey Mill. The buildings disappeared a long time ago, but of Private bridge at Costesseycourse there’s the usual longer-lasting evidence – two channels, a sluice and the need for a bit of portage. (Compared to Taverham this one is a piece of cake. Paddle right up to the road bridge and head left. Cross the road, head down a riverside footpath and you’re back in, immediately north of a weir.) The next stretch should be superb. You’re out in some lovely countryside and you can just make out the higher ground of Drayton up ahead. It’s spoilt by a “No Canoeing” sign, which I ignored. But a few hundred yards further on there’s a wire strung across the river which did make me turn, reluctantly, back. Some complicated portage saw me get back in immediately under A bridge, Draytonthe famous (for Drayton) A-bridge which used to carry the Midland and Great Northern line railway through these parts, and now carries cyclists and walkers down Marriotts Way. Looking back along the stretch I’d been forced to walk, there was no obvious reason to be banned. This is the sort of stuff that canoeing campaigner Griff Rhys Jones rightly rails against. At some point I’ll try to track down the landowner. Now the river gently meanders in a wide flood meadow with higher ground to the left and flatlands to the right. A road appears on the left too and I needed the map to work out that this was Hellesdon Low Road. There are an awful lot of fallen trees (and gunk) here which require some slaloming. (One is so low across the water that I had to get out of the kayak, balance on the trunk and hoik the craft over.) Further down there are more majestic gardens with boats and boathouses at the water’s edge. But I never see anyone in these places. Is there a rule though that the posher the pad the less time you have to use it? Hellesdon Mill cormorantAnd then, rather out of the blue, you arrive at Hellesdon Mill, where the Tud joins the Wensum. A wooden boom (used by fishing cormorants, see right) sits across the river just in case you don’t get the message. Portage here is easy. You hop out of the Wensum, cross a path and then drop via a slipway into the Tud/Wensum. Another canoeist reckoned that it’s an easy trip from here into Norwich. After today, I’ll take that.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Costessey’s lost fairy tale castle

BIG THANKS to Costessey-born and bred Michael Fitt for his help with some cracking archive photos of his home village. This photo of the old Costessey Hall is just one example. Ab Cost seals 023Costessey Hall was demolished in 1920. If it had only survived another 30 years then the National Trust or English Heritage would have killed to have had it on their books.Today only a belfry block survives. It looks very lonely on the 18th fairway at Costessey Park Golf Club. The Hall was the home of the Jerningham family for many generations. For complicated inheritance reasons that frankly I don’t understand, one person inherited the contents while another inherited the building. This all happened just before the First World War. Then the army requisitioned the building and did what soldiers always do to fine buildings – they trashed the place. Britain was broke by 1918 and the empty shell never stood a chance. This website is very good on the details. It calls itself “a memorial to the lost country houses of England”.
* More on the Jerninghams and their Catholic faith here.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Kayaking the Wensum: Ringland to Costessey

Ring to Cost canoe 0811 015
THEY say that “Wensum” means winding, and certainly to the north west of Norwich, the river indulges in a series of textbook meanders. I went in at Ringland, at a shallow spot next to The Swan where everyone was out enjoying a mixture of sunbathing, paddling and swimming. Green at the SwanSometimes you could accuse the villages around Norwich of ignoring their local river, but not here, not on a sunny summer’s afternoon at least. But one of the great things about kayaking is how quickly you leave the crowds behind. One  minute you’re slaloming between giggling teenagers, the next you’re around a corner and out of sight, out of sound. With the exception of the stretch through Norwich (which is great, go in at New Mills, more here) this was my first time on the Wensum. The river has recently attracted a lot of attention and a lot of money because it is an “internationally important chalk river”, and perhaps it’s those qualities which make it feel so clean and full of life. Fish were everywhere and so were the luxuriant underwater weeds. Ring to Cost canoe 0811 055In fact sometimes it was difficult to get a clear paddle, such was the thickness of the greenery. From The Swan you are quickly out into open country with arable fields to the left and a more marshy, reedy habitat to the right. A stand of more than a dozen graceful poplars (main picture above) dominates the landscape, looking all the more impressive when reflected in the river. The Costessey to Ringland road meanders with the river and the two draw close just in time for river users to see Beehive Lodge, (below left) Ring to Cost canoe 0811 048a beautiful building once part of the Costessey Hall estate. Rose Bay Willow herb flourishes on the banks, attracting the butterflies, particularly small whites. Blue/black damselflies danced around too, refusing to stay in one place long enough to be photographed. A kingfisher and a comma butterfly also escaped before I could press my shutter. This paddle is probably best done as a trip to Taverham Mill and back – a sluice prevents you from going any further. I did press on but getting back on the water to the east of the mill involved a lot of messy, trespassing portage and the kindness of a householder with a big garden. It wouldn’t be fair to mention the whos and the wheres.
To canoe this next section “legally” you would probably need to get in the water off Mack’s Lane which is another quarter of a mile south east. The landscape opens up as you leave Taverham behind. On the left bank horses are stabled, on the right you follow the flooded gravel workings at Costessey Pits although you don’t see the water from your own low vantage point. Costessey gradually hoves into view on this side. It’s a strange village Costessey. Two of its main streets shadow the river, but the flood risk means that buildings keep a very respectful distance. It’s only as you reach the bottom of another meandering “U” (roughly where Longwater Lane meets Townhouse Road) Ring to Cost canoe 0811 130that even their gardens dare to make it down to the water’s edge. All this – with much messing around with a camera, portage and some conversations along the way – had somehow taken me more than 3 1/2 hours. The old “ride and hide” trick meant I had to hide the canoe near The Bush pub and then ride a previously dropped off mountain bike back to the car at Ringland rather cream crackered. Moral of the story: recce every mill first – even if it does spoil the sense of adventure.