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Down the Yare from Norwich to Reedham and Yarmouth


The Yare - Postwick Grove - Bramerton Wood's End - The Broad- land Windmills - Surlingham Broad and Ferry - Wild-fowl Decoying - Rockland Broad - Hardley Cross - The Chet - Loddon and its Neighbourhood - Reedham - The Murder of Lothbrock - Reedham Marshes - An Old Estuary - Yarmouth.
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There are many places in Broadland - such as Norwich, Wroxham, Yarmouth, Oulton, and Lowestoft - where yachts and wherries may be hired; and as the parties which engage them usually make the yacht-letter's yard the starting- point of their cruising, it is impossible to describe any route which all of them can follow. An attempt is therefore made to indicate a series of cruises, each complete in itself, which you may undertake in varying succession, and which will conduct you to all the principal broads and places of interest in Broadland. It must be understood, however, that in the space available for this purpose, it is useless to attempt to describe anything like all the interesting features of scenery, types of broadsmen, wild-life, etc., appertaining to each cruise, though as much as possible concerning these subjects is introduced into the river-itineraries as a whole. Thus, if in describing a trip up the Bure reference is made to the eel-catchers and their methods on that river, it must not be assumed that these men are not to be met with, and their methods observed on the other Broadland waterways. There are eel-catchers almost everywhere in Broadland, and if special attention is drawn to them in a description of 150 the Bure, it is simply because they are most numerous on that river, and to avoid wearisome repetition.

Several of the road and rail routes by which you may acquaint yourself with the scenery of Norfolk have their starting-point at Norwich, and from the same grand old city you may set out on your Broadland cruising. A pleasant trip is that from Norwich to Yarmouth by the river Yare. The Wensum, upon the banks of which the Norfolk capital stands, joins its waters with those of the Yare just below the city, and from that point downwards the united rivers are known as the Yare. To the minds of many people the Yare is the most delightful of the Norfolk waterways; it certainly flows through some of the prettiest scenery in the county. About three miles from the Carrow Bridge, which adjoins the enormous works of Messrs Colman, is Postwick Grove, part of a parish which belongs almost entirely to the Earl of Rosebery, to whose father a mural brass and memorial window are erected in the village church. This is one of the most charming spots on the river; but if from the commencement to the end of your cruising you step ashore to explore every pretty spot you come across your voyaging is likely to be as protracted as that of the Flying Dutchman. So you will do well to sail on to Bramerton Wood's End, another lovely bit of scenery, upon which the eyes of navigators long familiar with the river love to look. Not far from here is the first pumping mill met with in descending the Yare. It is a red " skeleton " windmill on the right bank. Such windmills are among the most familiar objects on the marshlands, and you are soon struck with the number of them dotted along the banks of the rivers. Most of them are more than a century old; many are double that age; and they are gradually giving place to less picturesque steam pumping stations, which more speedily clear the dykes of flood-water. They have done good work, in their time, these gaunt old windmills; and even now, on a breezy morning after heavy rains have filled the dykes, it is a pleasant sight to see their sails whirling above the river walls. On such a morning you may perhaps choose to make a close inspection of one of them. The millman in charge is usually quite willing to aid anyone who wishes to do this; and, in addition to explaining the working of the mill, will point out the swallows' nests in the upper storeys. He may, too, have a curious or gruesome tale to tell about his old mill, for the wooden wheels within are dangerous to approach when the sails are whirling - as more than one unfortunate millman has discovered - and they make weird noises on stormy nights. So it is not strange that more than one ghost story is associated with these marshland windmills, and that even now some of the older and disused ones have an uncanny reputation. The first mill on the Yare, however, is a slight structure compared with most of those which you will see around Reedham.

If you are interested in geology you may, in spite of what has been said about too frequently going ashore, be inclined, while in the neighbourhood of Bramerton, to visit the spot where the Norwich Crag, here examined by the members of the British Association, is to be seen. This crag, for years the subject of much discussion as to its claim to be considered a distinct geological division, is rich in fossils, and if you examine it at Bramerton you will have little trouble in finding, at least, a number of shells.

A little more than two miles from Bramerton is Surlingham Ferry, towards which the river winds in a manner worthy of the upper waters of the Waveney. Tacking down the winding reaches the yachtsman whose attention is not taken up with the manoeuvring of his craft, has ample opportunities for admiring the silvery willows and dwarf white poplars which relieve the monotony of the swampy lands on either side of the stream; and the purple spikes of loosestrife, giant willow-herbs, and snow-white bindweeds which deck the banks. Beyond these, herds of cattle graze on meadows covered with buttercups; still further back, on the uplands behind the marsh farms, pleasant country homes are embowered in groves of trees. Surlingham Ferry is about six miles from Norwich, and the Ferry Inn is a favourite resort of anglers. So, too, is Coldham Hall, another inn some two miles further down the river. Indeed, the waters about here are famous for their bream, roach, perch, and pike fishing. Even if you have no inclination to angle, you will do well to make the acquaintance of Catch- pole, the Yare Hotel boatman, and seek his guidance to that naturalists' paradise, Surlingham Broad. Though one of the smaller of the Norfolk lagoons, and said to be gradually growing smaller owing to the luxuriance of its aquatic plants, it is still a fair-sized sheet of water, and a four-ton yacht can, with care, be sailed almost all over it. As you descend the river you may enter the broad by Birch Creek, a channel a little above the Yare Hotel, and emerge from it through Surlingham Fleet. There is a curious ice-house on its bank, in which ice from the surface of the broad is stored. You will be able to judge what a glorious place this broad is for the flight-shooter, who conceals himself in its reed-fringed creeks and dykes on winter nights. Entomologists often visit Surlingham on account of the abundant insect-life in its hovers, swamps, and reed beds. As to the bird-life of the district there is no better authority than Catchpole, who has spent his life here, and in the shooting season is seldom abroad without his dog and gun.

Wild-fowl decoying by means of decoy pipes is little practised now, mainly because places suitable for the working of pipes are few and far between. There is a decoy at Brundall, belonging to a well-known Norwich citizen who has a country house here; but it is seldom used, and even if you obtain permission to visit it you will scarcely be able to appreciate the interesting method of wild-fowl capture. To see decoying on any considerable scale you must visit Fritton Lake, or Borough Fen Decoy, and you must go in winter, for it is then only that the fowl settle on the pools in sufficient quantities to tempt the decoyman to use his pipes. As a great many people have never seen a decoy worked a few further remarks on the subject of decoying may not be unacceptable.

Wild-Fowl Decoying.

Antiquaries tell us that wild-fowl decoying was practised so long ago as the year 3000 b.c., and antiquaries must be left to prove the truth of their statement. There is better reason for believing that the first decoy ever built in England was planned and erected at Waxham in Norfolk by Sir William Wodehouse in the reign of James L A better district for such an experiment could not have been selected. Sir Thomas Browne, writing at Norwich in the middle of the seventeenth century, attributed the abundance of teal on the local waterways to the presence of decoys. This is explained by the fact that wherever there is a decoy almost absolute quietude is maintained, and this attracts the wild-fowl to the rivers and meres. Where decoys had been in existence twenty years certain privileges were secured to them by law. At Borough Fen Decoy, which is situated between Peakirk and Crowland, there is, or was till lately, an ancient right in force which made it illegal for anyone to discharge a gun within a mile of the decoy. Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Lincolnshire have always been the chief decoying counties, for they, until a comparatively recent date, contained fenny districts which had altered little in aspect since the days of the Fenland saint, St Guthlac.

Daniel Defoe, in describing a tour he took through these eastern counties, wrote: - " In these fens are abundance of those admirable pieces of art called decoys, that is to say, places so adapted for the harbour and shelter of wildfowl, and then furnished with a breed of those they call decoy ducks, who are taught to allure and entice their kind to the places they belong to, that it is incredible what quantities of wild-fowl of all sorts - duck, mallard, teal, widgeon, etc. - they take in those decoys every week during the season. It may, indeed, be guessed at bv this, that there is a decoy not far from Ely which pays to the landlord, Sir Thomas Hare, ^500 a year rent, besides a charge of maintaining a great number of servants for the management; and from which decoy alone they assured me at St Ives (a town on the Ouse, where the fowl they took were always brought to be sent to London,) that they generally sent up three thousand couple a week. There are more of these about Peterborough, which send the fowl up twice a week in waggon loads at a time, whose waggons, before the Act of Parliament to regulate carriers, I have seen drawn by ten and twelve horses apiece, they were laden so heavy."

The draining of the Fens led to the disuse of many of the old decoys, and that the loss so sustained was considerable may be gathered from the fact that ten decoys in the East Fen sent to London market in one season 31,200 duck, widgeon, and teal. The reclamation of the marshy haunts of the wild-fowl is not, however, the only cause for many old decoymen finding their occupation gone. The roar and rattle of the railways have made it impossible for decoying to be carried on in many places where it was once a profitable pursuit; and some of the existing decoys are worked with difficulty on account of the disturbing sounds which drive away the fowl. Dwellers in the eastern counties have been struck with the curious coincidence that with the decline of the most deadly method of wild-fowl capture there commenced a considerable falling-off in the quantity of fowl visiting the decoying districts; but when one is aware of the reason for the decline of decoying one is also able to understand why the fowl avoid the rail-laid districts.

Fritton Lake is one of the few places where decoys still exist and are used when the weather is favourable. It is a lovely land-locked mere, a little over two miles long and about quarter-of-a-mile wide, occupying a secluded position in the midst of a fairly quiet, well-wooded district on the northern border of Suffolk. Disturbing sounds cannot wholly be prevented around the Fritton decoys, in spite of the fact that the woods surrounding the lake are strictly preserved, and that pleasure-seekers, who in summer are allowed access to the waters, are not permitted to approach them in winter. The nearest railway is not so far away that the shriek of its engines are not heard around this English Walden e and there are fields not far distant from its shores where the gunner can amuse himself despite the indignation of the decoymen. Yet decoying is still carried on at Fritton, and with good results in comparatively recent years (Fourteen hundred fowl were taken in the Fritton decoys in one week during the winter of 1899-1900.).

It is several years since I first visited Fritton Lake and watched the working of its decoys. I have been there many times since, and enjoyed the infinite variety of that lovely lagoon; but the recollections of my first visit are most firmly impressed on my memory. It was at Christmas-time; there was snow on the ground; and for several nights there had been sharp frosts, so that when the north wind waved the tall reeds which grew around the lake there was a continuous tinkling of ice-crystals. The frosts had whitened the shores of the lake and the slim branches of the woodland trees; and the decoyman said he had had to get up long before dawn to break the ice at the entrances of his decoy pipes. The smooth surface of the lake was dotted with wild-fowl, among which a handsome pintail was pointed out to me as I crouched behind the reed screens of a decoy.

For the information of those who have never seen a wild-fowl decoy, I give a brief description of the one which was worked that cold, bright winter day. Imagine a fairly wide dyke curving inland from the shore of the lake. This dyke is over-arched by a long tunnel of wire-netting and ordinary network called the pipe, which is about 20 feet wide at the mouth and some 100 yards long. The pipe narrows as it curves inland, and its smaller end is invisible from the lake. The movements of the decoy- man are concealed from the fowl by a number of reed fences or screens, erected on both sides of the pipe.

When the decoyman wishes to attract the attention of the fowl on the lake, he goes to the entrance of the pipe and feeds the tame decoy ducks kept there. Seeing the tame ducks - which are usually birds selected on account of their being of the wild duck colour - swimming towards the decoy, the wild birds follow them into the pipe. As soon as they are far enough in for the decoyman to get behind them, he shows himself in front of the screens or sends his trained dog, called the " piper," into the water at the mouth of the decoy. Either of these sudden surprises naturally alarms the wild fowl, and they rise from the water and fly swiftly up the narrowing network tunnel. Occasionally, a bird or two will make a dash for the entrance; but as a rule the lured victims will not face the swimming dog or the decoyman, and they eventually flutter into the small end or " point" of the pipe, which is constructed after the fashion of a fisherman's hoop net and can be disconnected from the rest of the pipe when the fowl are safe inside.

I can well remember what a hard business it was to crouch behind the reed screens and gaze into the decoy through small holes made by turning slips of wood sideways between the reeds. Then, too, there was the discomfort of having to carry in one's hand a little lump of smouldering peat, with the object of preventing the keen- scented fowl becoming aware of human beings near them. Still, the novel sight was worth the aches and chills.

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Pictures for Down the Yare from Norwich to Reedham and Yarmouth

A wild fowl Decoy
A wild fowl Decoy >>>>
Reedham
Reedham >>>>
A Broadsman at Home
A Broadsman at Home >>>>

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