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The Ant and its Broads

Ludham Bridge - Irstead - Barton Broad - Stalham Broad - Stalham - Worstead - North Walsham
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Assuming that, after cruising on the upper waters of the Bure, you have returned down the river to the mouth of the Ant, I now refer briefly to the latter stream. As I have already said, sailing up the Ant is only possible to small craft. This is due to the lowness of the single arch of Ludham Bridge - an obstacle encountered about a mile from the river mouth - and the shallowness of the water. For the first mile or two the scenery of the Ant district is not particularly impressive; but it improves higher up, and by the time the village of Irstead is passed - a village of which William of Wykeham, afterwards Bishop of Winchester, was rector in 1347 - and Barton Broad comes in sight, you cannot fail to be glad you were not disheartened by an unpromising outlook or defeated by a few difficulties. For Barton Broad is almost as beautiful as Wroxham Broad, and in the eyes of many people excels the more famous sheet of water. It is a large broad, second only to Hickling in size; but two little islands in it tend to convey an impression of limited area. It is as well that sailing craft should keep to the channels marked out by posts, as the water is not so deep as it appears. On one hand the broad is bordered by woodlands; on the other by boggy marshlands. Barton Church, which, like Ranworth, is noted for its splendid screen, stands not far from the village staithe; and Beeston Hall, a fine old mansion which has been in the possession of the Preston family for many generations, is not far away.

Stalham Broad is a very little way from Barton Broad; but the river divides before the former is reached by the stream which comes into the Ant from the right. After having seen Wroxham and Barton, Stalham will probably strike you as being a very poor sort of broad; indeed, it is little better than a swamp intersected by a wide dyke. The place from which it takes its name is a pleasantly situated little market town a few minutes' walk from the nearest landing-stage. The church has recently been restored, and there is nothing worth mentioning about it save its ancient font; but at Ingham, a village about a mile eastward of the town, is a large and imposing church, remarkable for its architecture and altar-tombs. One of the tombs has a recumbent mail-clad effigy of Sir Oliver de Ingham, Seneschal of Guyenne, who died in 1344, and is backed by an almost obliterated mural painting, representing a forest with wild beasts, and a hunter blowing a horn. Another tomb, at the east end of the south aisle, has sculptured figures of Sir Roger de Bois and his wife; while a third tomb has effigies of Sir Miles and Lady Stapleton. Formerly there was a priory of a monastic order known as the Mathurines here, and the ruins of it are still attached to the south wall of the church.

In order to visit Stalham you will have left the main stream of the Ant, and to regain it you must return to the spot where you branched off into the broad. From here, if you will, you may continue your upstream cruise to North Walsham, a town about eight miles from the entrance to Stalham Broad. You will have to lower your mast at one or two bridges, and pass through one or two locks. While at one of the latter, known as Briggate Lock, you will be within a mile of Worstead, once a considerable town belonging to the abbots of St Benet's-at-Holm, and although now decayed into an ordinary rural hamlet, still containing a church which is what it has always been - one of the finest of the many churches for which the county is renowned. Its lofty pinnacled tower would attract attention even in the " city of churches;" its windows, porch, screens, and elaborate carvings are admired by all who see them. Worstead was formerly an important centre of the woollen manufacture established in Norfolk by the Flemings; and as the villages of Kersey and Lindsey have given their names to certain kinds of woollen materials, so Worstead has given its name to another. John Paston, in 1464, was anxious that his cousin Margaret should send him two ells of Norfolk worsted for doublets, for, as he said, he " would make (his) doublet all worstead, for worship of Norfolk." Worstead Hall, the seat of the Rous family, contains some fine paintings, including works of Vandyke and Rubens.

A lock close to North Walsham flour-mill is the spot where the river flows nearest to the town, and is usually the point where yachtsmen end their upward cruise. The town is a straggling place, the "lions" of which are its church of St Nicholas and market-cross. The former once possessed a tower and spire which rose to the height of 147 feet; but it was struck by lightning in 1724, and the tower is now in ruins. Memorials of the Pastons are plentiful in Norfolk churches, and there is one in the fine chancel of St Nicholas, representing, in full armour, Sir William Paston, a judge who died in 1608. In 1381, when a rebellion broke out in East Anglia, a sanguinary battle was fought about a mile from North Walsham between the rebels and a large body of troops. The battle-field is marked by a tall stone cross. The distance from Ant mouth to North Walsham is about fourteen miles.

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Pictures for The Ant and its Broads

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