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Shooting and Fishing in Norfolk

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Norfolk has, for many years, been celebrated as one of the most prolific counties in game and wild fowl. On its highly cultivated fields great quantities of partridges and hares are to be found; while in the woods and coverts on the larger estates pheasants are reared by tens of thousands. The broads and marshes in the Eastern portion of the county afford shelter for wild-duck and snipe, while its very situation as a sea-board attracts woodcock and a host of migratory birds of every kind.

Any one who takes a walk or travels by rail through Norfolk cannot help noticing the quantity of pheasants that are to be seen on every side, particularly in the heath districts, and in and around the woods and spinneys all over the county, but he must stand outside a covert on a big day to have any idea of the amount of birds Norfolk coverts will hold. It is no uncommon thing for two thousand pheasants to be picked up outside one wood after a really good drive.

Pheasants are shot in a variety of ways in Norfolk. Driving them out from their coverts to an adjacent wood, and then putting them back over the guns is the plan usually adopted on the best organised " shoots," and there is no doubt but that it is the most satisfactory way of showing game from a shooter's point of view, for, not only are the birds more easily directed over the guns when they are driven back to their favourite resorts, but the shots they afford when thus driven are of a thoroughly sporting character. Another method - and this is the one adopted on the smaller shoots - is to walk through the coverts with guns and beaters in line, care being taken to ensure the birds being driven to a "flushing-point" at the end of the wood at each drive, and then all shot in one grand battue at the end. The foregoing remarks only apply to "big days." On other days the outlying spinneys and hedgerows have to be beaten out to keep the birds within the limits of the estate; and again on other occasions the cocks only will receive attention from the guns, to ensure a due proportion of them being left on the " shoot."

Partridges abound all through the county on arable land and pasture, upland and marsh. Any land seems to suit these birds which have a happy knack of adapting themselves to their surroundings, provided the food supply is sufficient for their needs, and whether on the rich fertile soil of a Norfolk farm, or among the rank vegetation of the fens, this is always plentiful. The dryness of the climate, particularly at the period of the hatching of the young birds, also materially assists in the keeping up of a good head of partridges.

The shooting of partridges is conducted in Norfolk in much the same way as in other parts of England. On many "shoots" the birds are walked up in the early part of the season, and later on are driven over the guns. On a few estates they are very little shot over till October, and are then killed at the same time as the pheasants. On other estates these two species of game birds are shot separately, especially on such as have not a heavy stock of pheasants. This applies to many of the smaller holdings, in which the partridge supplies the principal sport, the pheasants only receiving attention just before Christmas. There are, of course, in Norfolk, as elsewhere, some old-fashioned sportsmen who like to kill their birds in the old-fashioned way, to whom the walk across the fields of roots, and the pleasure of seeing their dogs at work, is more than the bag at end of the day; while on the other hand the more modern gunner prefers the birds to come over him as fast as their wings can carry them. Much has been said for and against both methods, but there is no doubt that driving the birds over the guns, by killing off the older and less prolific birds, has materially benefited the stock of partridges in the districts in which it has been judiciously carried out. In proof of this, one may say that nearly five thousand more birds have been killed in a season on an estate in this county than ever were killed in a season before the days of driving.

Hares abound in Norfolk; in fact they are too numerous in some parts to please many shooters, some of whom are of opinion that a large quantity of these animals on an estate militates against a large head of partridges. Whether this be true or not I should not like to assert, but I must say that in some cases where there are many hares there are but few birds. The chief objection to the hare is that ii will sometimes spoil the sport in a field by running through the roots, and so putting up the birds. On some estates hares are spared by the guns for coursing, but on others they are shot with the birds. Rarely now is a special day devoted to them in Norfolk, as was the case some years ago when they were even more numerous than to-day.

Immense quantities of rabbits are to be found on many farms, more especially on the light lands. At Brandon and Thetford there are warrens of considerable extent where they literally swarm. Here, in the autumn and winter months, thousands are shot and netted, and sent to London and other cities. Among the sandhills on the north coast of Norfolk they are also to be found in good numbers. At Waxham and Sea-Palling, their ranks were thinned to a great extent by the influx of the salt water during the gales and high tides in March 1898. During these gales the water poured over the hills and drowned the rabbits in hundreds. Nature, however, knows no loss, and the deluging of the warrens with salt water gives back to the land, and subsequently to the vegetation, just those ingredients which the rabbits take from it; and consequently the surviving rabbits thrive the better and are of a much higher quality, commanding a readier sale and fetching an increased price in the market.

The Broads of Norfolk are preserved more for the sake of the wild fowl than the fishing, and being kept undisturbed in the spring, there still remain with us to breed a fair number of ducks which are augmented in the autumn and winter months by the arrival of great flocks of fowl from abroad. In years gone by the number of these latter was enormous; the surface of the water on some of the broads being positively black with them. When the broads and rivers became frozen up, the fowl would betake themselves to the estuaries at Wells, Cley, and Yarmouth, Breydon Water, a salt lake at the latter place being a favourite rendezvous. Then the gunners of Yarmouth would prepare for action, and punts and guns, from the modest single- barrelled muzzle loader to the ponderous punt gun carrying a pound or more of shot, be called into requisition. At the beginning of the flood tide the punts were put off, and, anxiously scanning the droves of fowl the gunners would await the covering of the " flats " to enable them to approach their quarry. As the tide rose, the fowl on the flats would get closer and closer together till they formed a dense mass. Then the punt gun would be fired, and the gunners would return, their punts often laden to the water's edge with the weight of the fowl. Since the marshes have been drained the number of migratory fowl has much decreased. The land, which a few years ago was marsh and swamp, has now been drained and forms valuable pasturage. Salt marshes, too, have been reclaimed, and there is less feeding ground for wild fowl than formerly; consequently, when the birds do come, they find very little to satisfy their needs, and do not stay with us any length of time. Even now, on some of the more highly preserved broads, it is no uncommon thing to see a thousand duck rise in one dense cloud at the approach of the guns. Up they go and are soon out of sight, but in a short time they will come back, first in ones and twos, and then in larger numbers, affording some pretty shooting to the guns, who have taken care to secrete themselves during their absence. Shooting the duck as they fly to their feeding grounds at dusk, is a favourite method of getting on terms with these wary birds. It is constantly carried on in the winter months all over the county, both inland, in the neighbourhood of the broads, and on the sea coast. On any evening in the season, near Cley, Blakeney, or Wells, the gunners of the district may be seen making for the spots which duck are known to cross in their flight. On a favourable night, with a strong wind to keep the duck well down, there is no better sport to be had. The duck are often accompanied by other fowl, such as curlew and knot, and the bag at the end of the flight is frequently of a most varied description.

As a rule the free shootings of Norfolk are not very productive of sport. At Cley there is a stretch of about seven miles of mud flat left exposed at low tide, and between this flat and the sea there is sand covered with coarse herbage, and intersected in all directions by dykes and creeks. This sand-bank is locally known as the " marrams," and gives cover to many of the smaller birds and to an occasional duck or teal. Here some extremely rare birds have been shot, such as the aquatic warbler and other scarce migrants, and consequently these " marrams " are always being scoured by collectors from all parts of the country. To the general sportsman, the muds afford the best prospects of sport at the right time. But I should add that unless the shooter happen to be on the spot just when the birds are coming in, he will have very poor sport and probably will leave the place in disgust. The best way to ensure sport at any of the places at which chiefly migratory birds are to be obtained is to arrange with one of the local gunners to send a telegram when the birds begin to arrive and to be prepared to go instantly on receipt of it. Leave everything to your man, who, for his own credit's sake, will instruct you as to what it is best to do. Sometimes, if the tide is beginning to ebb when a start is made, it may be advisable to charter a boat and go down the channel with the falling tide. Sometimes it is preferable to walk the muds, and at other times the shooter had better remain in hiding, while his man either drives the birds over him or attracts them to their doom by simulating their calls, an art at which some of those fowlers are adepts. The birds one may expect to shoot on a favourable day are knot, stint or dunlin, red and green shanks and other waders, with an occasional curlew, plover, or duck. Wear a good stout pair of shooting boots and leggings when walking on the muds. Knee boots, if worn, should be strapped on to prevent their being pulled off by the mud, which is very tenacious, and into which one often sinks over one's ankles. At Cley there is no danger of going in anywhere much deeper than the knees, but it is as well to cross the little creeks, which intersect the mud in all directions, as near to the channel as possible, because the soil is much harder where it is well washed by the current than higher up them. At Wells it is even more necessary to engage the services of one who knows the lay of the land, which is divided by deep channels that can only be crossed at certain places; and if ignorant of the way one runs the risk of being caught by the incoming tide. Here the marshes are covered with coarse grass, which gives cover to all sorts of birds. Wild geese, duck, and other fowl of all kinds are shot here every winter; as a rule the coarser the weather the better the sport.

The tidal portions of the rivers, and such broads as Oulton, which are affected by the tide, are free to the shooter. On these, coots and water-hens are found in some quantities, especially when the dykes are frozen over, while an odd duck or two may be sometimes picked up, but generally the shooting on the rivers is not worth going after, except during a spell of sharp weather.

In the autumn and winter months, especially during the prevalence of strong easterly winds, snipe visit this county in great numbers, and on some of the marshes, yield rare sport. Early in December 1899, two guns got ninety snipe in a short day's shooting on a marsh adjoining the river Yare. Woodcock are, at times, plentiful. Norfolk, jutting out from the mainland as it does, catches a lot of these and other birds in their migrations southwards.

In years gone by, several species of birds used to visit our shores, which are now no longer to be seen. Of these by far the most important was the great bustard. This noble bird was formerly plentiful, and its capture brought a goodly sum to the fowlers in those days. The bittern again is a rare bird, only two or three at most being shot where a few years ago they abounded (A great many bitterns were seen, and I am sorry to say shot, in various parts of England during the winter of 1899-1900. (Ed.)). Like the ruff, which was once quite a common bird on the marshes of Norfolk, it has been gradually ousted from its former resorts and is now rarely seen. It is a sad fact that as man enlarges his sphere of influence, taking in land that has for ages been in a wild and uncultivated condition, he drives before him many interesting and in some cases valuable creatures, by destroying or spoiling their resorts: but so it is, and so it will be, till, in a few years, many of our winged visitors will either be exterminated, or will find other lands in which to pass the dreary days of winter, when they are frozen out of their Arctic homes.


Norfolk has been compared to a "piece of Holland, tacked on to England." This is to a great extent true of that part of the county which lies to the east of Norwich, and which has become known of late years as the " Land of the Broads." Here, for miles, the land is as flat as a billiard table, the monotony of the view being broken only by the drainage mills and the sails of passing yachts and wherries. Through this broad expanse of meadow and marsh three rivers wend their way to the sea - the Bure, Yare, and Waveney. All these rivers flow through the pleasantly undulating meadows of west Norfolk, before they enter the marsh, and in their upper reaches are charming little streams, containing myriads of roach and dace, and, in the case of the Bure, a fair number of indigenous trout. It is not of these upper waters however that this article will treat, but of the navigable parts of the rivers, where the angler will find some of the best coarse fishing in England, the fish being pike, perch, bream, roach, tench, rudd, ruffe, and eels.

For fishing the Yare the angler had best make his headquarters at the Yare Hotel at Brundall, " Coldham Hall" at Surlingham, the Ferry Inn at Buckenham or the Red House at Cantley. At any one of these houses he will find the accommodation excellent, the charges moderate and the proprietors thoroughly attentive to his needs. Boats in any quantity may be obtained at the inns, but it is necessary to provide oneself beforehand with bait, as also with tackle. On the Bure, the best houses are the King's Head and the Horseshoes at Wroxham, the Ferry Hotel, Swan and New Inns at Horning (three and a half miles by road from Wroxham station), and the Bridge Inn at Acle. For the broads at Barton and Hickling it is usual for anglers to stay at Stalham; but for those who prefer a thoroughly quiet place to put up at for their holidays I would recommend the White Horse at Neatishead for Barton Broad. For Heigham Sounds and the river Thurne, the most convenient place to stay at is the Bridge Hotel at - Potter Heigham. To enable the angler to choose his district I may say that the fish to be caught at these places will be: (i) on the Yare, bream and roach; (2) on the Bure, the same fish, with an occasional perch; (3) on Barton Broad and Heigham Sounds, a good proportion of rudd; these last are very sporting fish, rising well to a fly during the months of July, August, and September. To be really successful at Barton, it is essential that the angler should be able to cast a long line, as the water is very shallow and any attempt at approaching nearer than twenty yards to the water fished, would at once scare away the fish, perhaps for the rest of the day.

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