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Norfolk Field Trip July 2009 - Catching Crabs in Cromer!

 

 

 

 

For 2009 Ghost Connections chose to revisit Nelsons County of Norfolk. Inspired by the great time and great locations found last year we had settled on this location whilst there in 2008. This years sojourn would see us encompassing the sites of the last 55 million years in 4 days and visiting famous places and links with famous people. We would also find the most inspiring of locations at a whim. Specifically we aimed to conduct an investigation, for a change, at the place that had inspired us most – Baconsthorpe Castle (see 2008 report)

 
Originally planned as an evening getaway, this was not to be as one of the team found something more lucrative to do so it was an early rise on Friday 5th June to collect everyone. This year Dave drove and plans for collection points were made before the day. Come 6am at Paddy's, and no preprepared holiday CD that functioned, there was a no show for Ian and call established he had only just risen so plans were changed and onward to Kim's where an apparent stack of items greeted Paddy and Dave on the doorstep. Some careful packing and everything, actually less than appeared, was fitted in and with Kim ensconced in the front seat by 6.30 we were off to Ian's pick up where he was now ready and awake. We were off and running up the normally congested A2. Remarkably clear of traffic in the sunshine and through the Dartford Tunnel on our way north.

The M25 and M11 also proved relatively free of traffic and easy progress was made to our first stop – breakfast. Last years venue proved as entertaining as before with all manner of hilarity encountered at the expense of other travelers at the Little Chef at the A11 services. This was an opportunity for last minute preparations and re-jigging. The white tour shirts were thought to have been a good idea but previous concern at staining would become reality at the Little Chef. Kim's had suffered already with unknown fluid which she passed off as perfume. Paddy added to his with a deliberately placed coffee stain and squished invertebrate. An attempt to rectify the CD situation was attempted. Dave had packed his laptop and ripped the tracks from Paddy's CD only to find that the one blank CD in his bag to find it did not function either. Fated as we were a future purchase was in order. Re-packed and Little Chef lollies eaten it was time to unpack the breakfast beers for passengers only so Ian and Paddy were further refreshed en route.

 

Easy progress was then made through Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk again until reaching Brandon on the border. On crossing into Norfolk we started early with the Ghost Connections On Tour philosophy – If you see a brown sign it's worth a look.

 

Just over the border is Weeting and an immediate sign for its castle were noted and route deviated from. On entering the village the signs did not continue so Weeting Castle escaped us. It would later transpire to be the ruins of a 14th century fortified manor. Message to Weeting – If you want to exploit your history can you sign it better please? Thankyou.

GPS initiated on Paddy's phone saw us back on track and heading towards the North Coast and another of last years destinations- West Runton. Home of the Runton Elephant discovered in the cliff in 1990 that made national news and now being conserved for future display. The mammoth was the largest of those animals and marine creatures that are embedded in the different rocks on the cliffs and beach here.

 

 

Paddy and Dave explored the beach whilst Kim and Ian took it easy on the shoreline. Some large Belemnites up to 5” long were found in the chalk although most were too damaged by earth movements to remove in one piece. Belemnites were a squid type creature with a hard shell on the inside which remains fossilised in the rock. Paddy then went on to break open some nodules from the cliff in the hope that something would be inside – plastic robot model or party hat maybe! He found nothing however and time was racing and a call at a refreshment house was in order having found the place somewhat overrun with coach loads of school children.

 

Our first stop of the weekend was at The Village Inn in West Runton. The village itself is linear along the coast road and is typically small seaside village only really famous for its beach. The Village Inn is in the centre of the village at the junction with the beach access road. Nearby used to be the West Runton Pavilion an established music venue with a history of artists including Iron Maiden, The Damned and the Sex Pistols. Entering this establishment, which clearly has some ancient parts, you get the sense of something trying to be something it isn't. The clientèle is strictly visitors of senior years ordering steak and ale pie. Finding no local ales on offer we settled for Adnams bitter which was kept well if a little on the cold side with a few bits in.

 

 

Time to move on and 5 miles south of Cromer, hence this years tour title, found us at Deers Glade Caravan Park. Delightfully set in secluded woodland and meadows a stones throw from the main A140 to Norwich we found the park reasonably empty although it would ultimately fill up over Saturday into Sunday. The facilities seemed to be a little small to accomodate all in the shower area but it worked fine and we never had to queue.

 


Having set up camp in good time we turned our attention to our stomachs and set off for a drive around Cromer in search of an eatery. There really wasn't much on offer so we drove east in search of somewhere along the coast road. The time if day would defeat us again although we eventually stopped in the village of Bacton. Here we managed to find a public house that was actually open called The Duke. We asked for Moorland but were convinced we got poor IPA and food didn't start until 6. The pub itself did not have the atmosphere of a local village pub. Inside it was somewhat akin to a bar you would find at a theatre all sterile and new and so we moved on.

We moved inland in search of food and found a hidden gem as we tend to. North Walsham was our target when after a full lap round the town we found parking in the main street. After observing the choice of takeaways available as it was still the wrong side of the 6pm watershed. Having parked in this quintessential market town and making our way towards the chip shop something beckoned over the main street rooftops. A church tower like no other.

 

 

North Walsham church is enormous. A product of the affluent Middle Ages in this town St. Nicholas Church has Saxon parts but its Norman tower, which with its original spire rivaled that of Norwich Cathedral, fell on Saturday 16th May 1724 after the bells had been rung for hours on Ascension Day the day before. The truncated remains with an open belfry remain. The porch has painted figures and arms including that of John Of Gaunt whilst entering this church you are confronted with a wonder or three inside. The first object to greet the visitor is the font. Suspended from a beam above is a wooden cover that reaches down to the bowl and only on careful study reveals that it is telescopic and original 15th Century. A system of wires and pulleys operates the upwardly lifting structure. A few metres away is another curiosity. A double sided Royal Arms projecting from the tower displays the arms of Charles II on one side and the arms of Cromwell on the other. The bottom of the original Rood Screen is still present and sports unspoiled images of 14 saints in all their medieval glory. A fine standing wall monument to Sir William Paston and stained glass windows complete the spectacle.

 


Oh we got waylaid! Food still not obtained we headed to Kelly's Plaice chips shop. Battered sausage and chips all round was the order of the day. Interesting oil concoction but overall a good portion of food served.

As a slight aside, whilst eating chips, we found a pet/shooting shop which appeared to have minimal security and yet displayed, hopefully just, the boxes of ammunition and firearms in a window not even protected with a grille. Strange!

We purchased some supplies of nibbles and alcohol and made our way back to camp and now found our solitary tent surrounded. The weekend influx was here! A air of general frivolity went on into the night before we turned in. Day 1 was concluded and a plan was hatched (in part) for the following day. We were going cultural and seasidy and would find much more of interest on the way, as normal.


Day 2 dawned sunny and dry although we awoke a little earlier than expected and were eager to get for some breakfast as soon as possible. Morrisons at Cromer was up to normal Morrisons expectations for value and quality of food. Remarkably for us this passed without incident! Having utilised the opportunity and purchase some CDR's we then managed to burn the holiday disk so that we could now have a selection of our favourite singalongs in the car. These have been arrived at over the years and added to each year. Some are included for nostalgia and some for some recognised event where the title springs to mind. This years included Bad Moon Rising, Final Countdown, How Bizarre, Ebeneezer Good, Immigrant Song, Flash, Paint It Black, Ghost Town, Comfortably Numb, Number Of The Beast. Thanks for putting that together Paddy.

So, onward. So often we find that by pure coincidence we visit somewhere that either has links to significant national or Kent historical figures. The next was to be no exception.

Blickling Hall is a palatial Elizabethan manor house dated, on the outside at least, to 1620 but containing the vestiges of medieval and Tudor buildings within its walls on an original moated site. Originally started in 1378 by Sir Nicholas Dagworth it passed to Sir Thomas Erpingham who was a receiver of Richard II's renunciation in 1399. In 1432 it was purchased by Sir John Fastolfe an eminent soldier and immortalised by Shakespeare in Henry IV. Fastolfe sold Blickling to Sir Geoffrey Boleyn and it is his grandson who may be most familiar as Sir Thomas Boleyn brother to Anne, owner of this house and executed under pretence of adultery with his sister in 1539.

 

 

It was to be Sir Henry Hobart who made the most drastic alterations for 1620 and his bull insignia is to be found everywhere on the house. In 1698 the then current Sir Henry accused a neighbour Oliver Le Neve of spreading rumours of his part in the Battle Of The Boyne. The two met for a duel and Le Neve ran Sir Henry through with his sword and he died the following day. By now possessing the title of Duke of Buckingham, John Hobart, the 2nd Duke was Ambassador at the Court of Catherine The Great between 1762 and 1764. In 1767 he planned the remodeling of the Great Hall incorporating the original stair case and reliefs of Anne Boleyn, having been born at Blickling, and Queen Elizabeth I.

 

 

Left to the National Trust in 1940 it is a time capsule of opulence filled with rare furnishings and decoration. The grand staircase particularly is transfixing in its detailed carving. The plaster ceilings are intricately moulded in many rooms with suspended plasterwork and the paintings include many eminent artists including Gainsborough. Surprisingly the gardens are not at all ostentatious and are beautifully maintained. An innovation of which we approved was the croquet lawn, laid out and inviting play. We had to oblige to say we had played croquet at Blickling Hall! The
entrance was well worth paying for what was open and available to see, the guide vital if you want to recall the sights as no photography is allowed in the house – we wouldn't break the rules would we?

 

Unfortunately Kim had felt ill in the house and had gone back to the car to rest just was we left to find her attempting to get some shut eye and we were impolitely told to go to the neighbouring pub, appropriately titled the Buckingham Arms.

 

 

This forms a part of the estate and is maintained in appearance as you would find an 18th century hostelry. Local ales were on tap at last and found the Woodeforde Wherry to taste and Paddy approved of the Wolf Brewery's Coyote although they were thought to be a little expensive. NT prices or just coincidence?

Suitably refreshed we woke Kim up who wondered why we hadn't had another pint until we reminded her we were off to the seaside next and smiles broke out. At least sea side was the initial plan as per all of our adventures and it would be the end destination however other sights caught our attention first. Course set for Great Yarmouth we headed east.

The road from Norwich to Great Yarmouth heads out across drained land which is incredibly flat. We counted 7 windmills or the remains of that we could make out from the main road and we would see one a little closer at our next destination of interest. Before we got there though food of some sort beckoned and we popped into Asda on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth for a sandwich and T shirts before moving on. Within view from the car park and then on our route out was a striking lifting bridge over the river. It is quite the local land mark although not as visible as one we would see later.

Having refreshed we went in search of some history and undoubtedly nature on the edge of the estuary. Burgh Castle has only been part of Norfolk since 1974 and is a sparse settlement along country lanes. At the end of the lane is the farm, church and namesake castle.

 

 

Approached across wild meadows the remains of Burgh Castle are Roman and almost 2000 years old. It really gives you a sense of history when you also consider that St. created a monastery within the Roman walls a thousand years ago and even then the walls were almost a thousand years old! He is commemorated in a stained glass window in the church. More of the church later.

The west wall of the fort has fallen centuries ago into the estuary and reed beds below and now this opens out into a haven of wildlife and views across the flats to Berney where a pub stands next to a windmill and a railway station. This is the most remote settlement in Norfolk, being 3.5 miles from the nearest road so its boat, rail or foot to get there. Incidentally the windmills hereabouts control the sluices on the ditches and are not for manufacture which must be fairly unique.

 

 

A stroll beside the reed beds and meadows found us swooped by Swallows and House Martins amidst the twittering of the unseen inhabitants of the reeds whilst also spotting Peacock, Great White and Meadow Blue butterflies. A number of flowers were spotted too in the area.

 

 

Burgh Castle is not much by itself but was popular with the locals for recreational activities and offers a lot more than crumbled walls. It's free and a recommended stroll.

The church can be seen nestling in the trees by the car park. Of the round tower type and on the promontory gave rise to our standing Roman Lighthouse debate but the guide states that flint towers such as these were stronger than square ones as there were no corners of weakness and with the lack of reinforcing quoin stones made this design the most sensible. The church is clearly suffering the ravages of vandalism with a couple of broken windows but remains open every day. It contains few monuments but some special glass including one dedicated to 1000 years of sovereigns with images of King Alfred and Queen Victoria who died in 901 and 1901 respectively.

 

 

 

Seaside bound once more we made our way back into Great Yarmouth and on the way couldn't help but notice and monumental pillar sited somewhere in that direction. We continued and found ourselves in the main part of the town where industry and civilisation face each other across the river and this must be one of few towns where there is no harbour and large vessels unload straight into the town centre.

It seems strange to see a sea going vessel moored on one side of the main road and hotels and dwellings on the other and is reminiscent of the times when the Navy were all over this town and Horatio Nelson was in this area. In fact so close is Nelson linked to Great Yarmouth that when a monument was proposed to echo the one in Trafalgar Square after the Battle of Trafalgar it was placed here.

It is this that we had seen from some miles away and its current situation in an industrial estate leaves a little to the imagination but it is impressive close up. Capped by large statue of Britannia it stands 144 feet high with 217 steps up the inside to the top. Restored in 2005 it stands stained black from the smoke of Victorian factories and Naval works with new fibre glass Britannia and Caryatids replacing previous concrete copies of the original coade stone sculptures. It also displays the names of his famous vessels and four famous victories.

 

 

Anyhow Great Yarmouth itself was calling and we drove up the seafront road to see what was on offer. For a seaside resort of this size Great Yarmouth is admirably clean and free of boarded up disused premises. It appears to take pride in its appearance. We found some parking suprisingly easily and went for a stroll.

First required port of call was the Britannia Pier standing almost forlorn on a wide strip of sand that reaches to its end. The unpredictable rifles on the range was sampled and Paddy won a Zippy. Well done that man. The darts were not much better with nothing won. Time to move on and explore the rest of the town we made out way to the Pirate Cove 18 hole golf. Some amusing moments around a well maintained course for a fiver made for some laughs. Across the road from these larger attractions are the obligatory arcades where all manner of machines were tempting. Ian showed his guitar prowess on Guitar Hero and achieved an impressive score as Kim looked on and was thrilled to here the strains of Paranoid again. An artist type photo booth found us doing the 'group thing' and the resulting masterpiece is at the top of this report. The grab machines yielded a dog toy to Ian.

 

 

 

Amusement over we were now getting hungry and thoughts turned to dinner. Kim had packed a barbecue and we decided to make use of this for steaks and burgers with some beers. Having shopped on the way back to camp we had an enjoyable if a little late evening whilst planning the next days activities.

A lay-in, by comparison, on Sunday saw us still making Morrisons for breakfast although the weather during the night and into the morning was appalling. Permanent rain with the occasional heavy spell was to be the norm for what we had planned as a 'touring' day.

Kim's mobile phone was in desperate need of revival and so a car charger was top of the list for the day. To visit somewhere different we decided to head for Kings Lynn. Now this was to be an experience. Nigh on torrential rain wouldn't dampen our spirits, well not initially anyway! The car park was located in the centre with relative ease and a pause at what appeared to be the worlds largest fly traps first would be a pleasurable experience for some. We then ventured out into the weather and to Carphone warehouse whilst Ian slipped into his vagrant impression. There was a group of people who appeared related and of common parentage, well maybe each others if you get our drift. It was like 'The Munsters Go Phone Shopping'. The most talkative assistant in Kings Lynn served Kim and the initial task was done. Time to explore 'historic' Kings Lynn.

Kings Lynn was , in medieval times the third port of England and retains some of its historic buildings, the oldest being St Margarets Church but it is the area of the river side that is the most historic.

 

A statue of Capt. Vancouver is on the quayside by the Customs House and it was he that explored a lot of North America and Canada during the 18th Century. An 11yr old girl and 7yr old boy were infamously hung here for theft of bread in 1708 as a gesture to all! We were getting drenched and decided that a warm pub would benefit us although in our quest we found what must be the most amusing appeal for lost (and 'gawn') property.

 

 


The pub was a different proposition any one we found either didn't 'do' ale or actually had none on! Eventually we decided to venture out of the town as we were getting soaking wet walking nowhere in particular.

Back in the car and Kim's phone on charge we ventured into rural and wet Norfolk in search of somewhere we recalled seeing previously on the Internet. A vague description of 'village church with abbey in ruins' set Paddy off on a mission on his mobile and he identified Binham Priory Church as a likely candidate and off we set. However we still bore in mind the food and beer option and arriving in Binham mid squall we headed for the pub.

The Chequers Inn looked great and just what we were after although the time was three o'clock. Big mistake! Finding a member of staff as we left we were told it was shut 'til 7 and the nearest was Cromer or Fakenham about 6 miles in each direction . By now wanting anywhere out of the rain as an added bonus we made our way into the next village. Whilst we were still in the area we went back to Binham church.

Originally built in 1106 as a priory this remarkable building was always split in two with the parish church forming the nave of the priory church. At the dissolution the rest was laid waste and the church remained in use to this day. From the outside, due to the surrounding ruins, it looks a lot smaller than it is. Upon entering you get the opposite impression. The tracery of the west window, unfortunately now blocked is possibly the earliest example of its type in England being built around 1240.

 

 

  The cavernous interior is perceived due to the three height layers of arcade, clerestory and wall passage forming the triforium. The font is a fine example of a Norman Five Sacrement font unique to East Anglia. An example of unique history is visible in the bottom of the Rood Screen which has post reformation script from Cranmers bible of 1539 which overlays the medieval painted figures which are now showing through in glorious colour and gold. The other remarkable survival are the ornate bench end carvings of mythical and real beasts and human figures although some are defaced. A photograph of a rare full Rood Screen and associated Loft of similar design to the one here was shown and labelled as at Tunstead so we thought this would be a later site to visit.
 

 

 

 

  The standard of masonry both inside and out is fantastic and led Paddy and Dave to explore further in the rain although Kim and Ian retreated to the car.

Still in need of a meal we ventured into East Banham where we found the visually appealing White Horse closed. Anyone spotting a trend yet?

Deciding perhaps the staff member of The Chequers was right we then made our way towards Fakenham but were diverted by a brown sign to Walsingham.

A place of Anglican and Catholic pilgrimage for centuries we thought it worth a look. A look I about all we had as the picturesque village centre appears to have been eclipsed by the modern buildings around the shrine to Our Lady and with very few places to park and a more likely food stop being still a few miles away we pressed on.

Entering Fakenham we didn't realise we would be subject to discrimination at its best! We found a number of pubs we had visited the previous year to be closed. Not just shut for the afternoon but closed! Eventually finding the Wensum Lodge open with a welcoming sign saying 'all day carvery 'or similar and parked up and entered. Suspecting we may have to ask the question before we bought a drink Dave enquired 'Are you serving food?' - stupid question you may think considering the sign out the front. The reply astounded us all – 'Only for residents'. Well there you go! In Fakenham you can advertise an all day carvery but not serve it to visitors!

Eventually we found the Henry IV public house. A bulk invested cheap food pub it was certainly packed out – not suprising as there was nowhere else open to eat in the whole town. The Suffolk Strong Ale in bottles was a hit and Ian, Paddy and Dave ordered curry whilst Kim went for the mixed grill. Frankly the food was appalling. The curry included so many chillies and spice that it was far too hot and flavourless and we couldn't eat it. It was cheap but then it was poor quality.

We had our target in sight for an evenings investigating now and made our way for the few miles to Baconsthorpe Castle. We had visited Baconsthorpe last year and the storm clouds came over making it a great atmosphere around this majestic ruin that we just had to return and for 12 months we had planned this years trip around this opportunity.

 

 

 

 
The weather of the day didn't bode well and we made the castle in the dry but getting out of the car we only made it as far as the outer gatehouse before the heavens opened again. That was enough for us considering what conditions we had experienced all day. A few atmospheric photographs were taken before we retreated to the car and settled for making back to camp.

An almost continual rain all day had deflated us not to mention drenched us so we retired to the tent for an evening of fun before having to go home the next day.

The final 'home day' dawned with better weather than the one before and we had a couple of missions. Breakfast at Morrisons and then a quick look round Cromer for take home tat. Then we would be off to Leatheringsett Mill that we had driven past umpteen times over the weekend near Holt.

A fully functioning, working building it is also open to the public and the winner of many tourism awards. Lovingly restored and perched over a stream, admission is cheap and you can spend what time you like there. For an increased fee you can have a working demonstration and there is a trail of Aubrey's for kids to find. Unfortunately, when we went, the grounds could not be accessed due to recent repairs. The shop sells lots of local produce and includes wares from the mill itself.

 

 

View from mill

 

 

The last stop was now beckoning before the journey homeward. From the previous days visit to Binham we wanted to seek out the church at Tunstead. A bit of a trek over towards the broads found us in the area of Coltishall and searching for Tunstead. Eventually we found the village and without an OS map we had to rely on our senses to find the church. Signs came to our rescue, or at least so we thought. Country lanes led into more country lanes and feelings of having taken a wrong turn until suddenly at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, about 2 miles from the village, we found the church.

 

 
 


A grand long pale stone building with green copper roof floating in green fields it has a certain grandeur all of its own. Entering through the south porch we found ourselves in a cavernous nave where ornate carvings of faces peer down from the arcades, one of which bears more than a passing resemblance to Terry Gilliam's character in Monty Pythons Life Of Brian just to show the costume department did their research.

 

 

 

  Ahead lay our quest! One of the unique survivals of the medieval age – a complete Rood Screen and Loft. The screen itself would be a rarity but the existence of the loft itself, as advertised at Binham is very unusual. Ripped out of most churches at the Reformation the Rood Screen separated the congregation in the nave from the clergy in the choir. Above the screen would have been the loft as seen here. Accessed by stairwells as here the resident priest would climb up to light candles thereon in honour of Our Lord who, suspended on a cross would stand between St Mary and St John as figures.

At Tunstead this all survives with the exception of the figures and the Lord. The screen bears figures as at North Walsham and dates from the 15th Century. The figures are of 4 latin doctors, the eleven faithful disciples and St Matthew. In order (left to right) they are St Gregory, St Ambrose, St Thomas, St Bartholomew, St Simon, St Jude, St Matthew, St Paul, St Peter, St Andrew, St James, St John, St Phillip, St James The Less, St Augustine and St Jerome.

 
 
There are further joys at Tunstead including a curious walkway above and behind the altar with decorated niches. The East window and one on the north of the chancel are bricked up, a sign of 18th century vandalism.

It was, begrudgingly, time to move on and homeward. A convoluted trek through more non-food serving pub landscapes got us to Norwich and opting to head west we found a Burger King on the A11 interchange. Now we do frequent Burger Kings and have come to expect somewhere a little unkempt and not entirely clean with sometimes poor service. This one is astounding – clean, fast, pleasant and well cooked fare.

From here we headed homeward and just short of 550 miles later we had survived another long weekend away. We were disappointed with the weather conditions at Baconsthorpe again. Some day perhaps. Overall we found some stunning sights, mixed with an thoroughly enjoyable time and would recommend any other sites we found and have commented on here.

The lack of all day, food serving pubs became a bit of a monotony and we wondered what the local did for food. Perhaps they never eat out!

We found some locals again and include some photo's to make the reader smile as we did.


 

 

 

 

 
 
Next year will not see a return but somewhere new and as yet unexplored by the team but that will be announced at the time.

Our favourite locations for this year though were -

Binham Priory Church, Tunstead Church, Blickling Hall, Great Yarmouth and, despite the weather and inability to spend time there, Baconsthorpe.

We bid you all farewell from Norfolk!

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