8:45 Set out.
I had spent the previous evening debating how I was to do this.
Should I bus out and walk back? If so, should I walk back along Breydon Wall—which can be monotonous, especially when alone (no one to talk to); also, it had rained hard the day before, so wet feet were a consideration. Or I could walk back by road—that would add another mile or so, and along roads not intended for pedestrians. Another consideration was the weather. Okay for the morning (perhaps a bit windy) but high chance of rain and increasingly high gusts of wind in the afternoon. I’ve walked Breydon Wall in rain and wind. It’s not the most pleasant experience.
Here’s my decision . . .
Breydon Bridge, approaching from Cobholm
Breydon Bridge is a 9-span, 247m viaduct over Breydon Water. It forms part of the A47 Trunk Road Great Yarmouth western bypass.
Breydon Bridge in close-up
Until Breydon Bridge was built on the 1980s traffic heading south through Great Yarmouth, both from the north (A149) and west (A47), had no alternative but to use Haven Bridge (see A Posh Resort)—which was a notorious bottleneck, especially on a hot afternoon when its drawbridge-type mechanisms were liable to become stuck. The new Breydon Bridge (began 1983, completed 1985), also works on the drawbridge principle but it’s what’s called a ‘rolling lift trunnion’ (apparently, though I’m no expert). Of all the designs put forward, I’m sure this one won out for its ‘Dutch’ appearance.
At the same time as the bridge was built, a new (metal) dolphin was erected. (Again, see A Posh Resort).
Breydon’s New Metal Dolphin. Neat, hey?
What I like about this photo it how extensive Breydon Water looks.
But I’m jumping ahead.
One of the things that makes living in Yarmouth bearable (remembering I’m a country lass by birth and rearing) is how quickly you can be out of the traffic and the people and the concrete.
5 minutes walk from Haven Bridge . . .
Ironically, since the name Cobholm means ‘a hump-like island’, it’s not at all an island but a low-lying area much subject to flooding. As I said, it rained the day before!
Flooded common land at Cobholm—doesn’t bode well for the walk.
Back on with the walk along Breydon Wall.
The tide was high (cue Blondie). In fact, the tide wasn’t yet at it fullest. We’re still close to the autumnal equinox, when the highs are HIGH. I was to see no mud flats on this walk and very little by way of birds (though that was due to the wind). But I was to see this boat. Several times. I couldn’t work out what it was doing, buzzing back and forth.
One black & white boat. It passed under Breydon Bridge at the same time as me, heading upriver (I thought, until it returned). Note the scarlet dolphin!
The Path Ahead . . .
It isn’t usually as naked as this; it’s usually heavy with rampant herbage and floral additions. It’s been recently cut—so much for my concern for wet feet.
I took a brief detour through that scrubland you can see up ahead (to right). I’m not sure if it’s a special planting or naturally evolved: it wasn’t there when I first doing this walk (how many centuries ago?) I’ve named it Cuckoo Scrub cos come spring from around here the cuckoos call.
Within Cuckoo Scrub, looking out towards Breydon.
And finally I reach the (official) start of the walk. Here begins Angles Way.
Angles Way. See that wood on the horizon? Doesn’t look very far, does it. It’s 4.5 miles away, but not as the crow flies. As the path wends.
Angles Way is a public footpath from Great Yarmouth, via Breydon Water, to the River Waveney which it then follows all the way to its source, passing through Oulton Broad, Beccles, Bungay, Harleston and Diss. But it doesn’t stop there. It joins the Little Ouse at source to run through heathland and marsh and into the Suffolk Brecks. Hop along, less than a mile, and you’re onto the Peddars Way (another long distance footpath). I’m not going to do all that today! But I am tempted to bus out to Bungay where Angles Way links up with the 10 miles stretch of Bigod Way (a circular route around the town, the site of Bigod’s Castle). For someone interested in medieval history, it’s a must. But not today.
A rand around Breydon—or a salt marsh in making.
All along the edge of Breydon Water are these plant-colonised mud banks (rands). For most of the year they’re above the high tides. But not around the equinox. You can see where the tide is rising around that clump of foliage to the right on the above photo.
I wasn’t able to get close enough to identify the plants but they probably include sea-lavender which typically grows on these rands. A wonderful purple-mauve haze when in full flower in the height of the summer.
Sea Lavender – Limonium vulgare (Source: Wikipedia)
Sea Purslane is also common on the rands, as are other oraches. Not to mention the garden escapees, e.g. poppy, tomatoes, daffodils, that all happily take root here.
Sea Purslane – Halimione portulacoides (Source: Wikipedia)
Many (many-many) moons ago, I undertook a survey of the drainage channels along this south edge of Breydon, for the British Trust for Ornithology. It is sad to see the local farmers have since filled in many of the channels, and where they still exist, they are so overgrown as to support little bird-life. I remember my delight at seeing Bearded Tits with their open-mouthed young amongst the reeds.
Gloomy autumnal reeds—here the delicate Bearded Tits used to breed.
Of course, these marshes are famous for their grazing. Cattle are bought at market, driven onto the marshes, and left to fatten. The breeds can vary, with several different breeds in one field. Usually they are bullocks (i.e. young bulls, under 2 yrs old, usually castrated). The females are required for breeding, and milk-stock.
Cattle grazing on Breydon Marshes.
I couldn’t get nearer, rank (wet) grass, plus a drainage channel being between us.
What breed are they? Well, there are some red ones, black ones, and cream ones. My vote goes to the Scottish Angus breed for the red and black, while the cream ones are most likely the French ‘Blonde d’Aquitaine. I used to know the breeds, but so many now are imported from Europe.
Herd of Black and Red Angus cattle (Source: Wikipedia)
Blonde d’Aquitaine—a good beef cattle. (Source: Wikipedia)
And then I was at the Pump House! I’ve always considered this the half way mark. The odd machinery in the photo (below) is for dredging the channel to keep it clear of weed—or at least I assume so since there weree heaps of weed drying beside it.
The Pump House
Breydon Walls, along with the walls alongside the rivers Waveney, Yare and Bure (see A Town of Three Rivers), weren’t constructed until the fifteenth century, when the drainage channels were also cut. I find that incredible. Flooded marshland must have been a regular occurrence—which of course kept them fertile and the grazing sweet. Until the Lady of the Manor, Lydia Baret, died in 1845, her land sold off in lots, the marshes were part of the Manor-lands of Burgh, though the grazing was let out to individual stock-rearers.
Sluices gates and small drainage pumps help control the water levels replacing the former Broads’ windmills (note, not built for the grinding of grain). In times past the upkeep of these, along with dredging the dykes, cutting new drains, keeping the bridges across the cuts in good repair, thistle-topping and mowing, all was the work of the marshmen. Now the pumps are automated and electrically powered.
Looking back to the Pump House; a glorious view: I’m halfway there.
By now all around me was the noise of nature—it would be more accurate to to call it a cacophony. To my right the water was loudly lapping. To my left, the reeds hissing, like sugar pouring into a plastic bowl. In my right ear the wind drumming; in my left it was roaring. The wind was threatening to drive me back—and it wasn’t yet up to full strength.
Hey, look, I’m not alone. Another boat!
These white cruisers are a frequent sight on Breydon as they make their way downriver to the open sea. I’ve always assigned them to the Brundall boatyards (outskirts of Norwich on River Yare), but this one later returned and headed upriver into the Waveney. Note, the tide is still incoming. You can just make out the tops of submerged plants (above).
Rose, water and mil—yes, there is a mill, small, on the far bank.
When the tide is out this becomes an extensive mudflat, black with feeding birds and extremely loud with the sounds of their fighting.
Just seconds before I took this there was raft of pochard ducks
But they drifted away. Camera shy.
Pochard (male). (Source: Wikipedia)
Although the pochard breed across marshland, the raft I disturbed was more likely to be the first of our winter arrivals. By late November massive rafts of mixed ducks will fill Breydon Water. Today I saw few birds: these ducks, one cormorant, a pair of swans, and no herons (that’s unusual).
And the tide STILL was rising. I hadn’t realised it, until that night as I closed my curtains, it was at the full of the moon (highest High Tides!) What’s more, the high gusts forecast for the afternoon were already hitting (I had to brace my legs and a couple of times the wind almost snatched the camera/phone out of my hands). And it wasn’t yet 10:30. Ho-hum, plough on.
The Waveney-Yare Confluence—with wavelets now forming. That white boat heading into the Waveney is the same cruiser I’d snapped earlier.
What can’t be seen is exactly how high the water.
The Hangar at Burgh Castle in the (not so far) distance. Hangar is an old Norse word for a steep wooded hillside. The trees ‘hang’. Logic, hey. But the photo hardly does it justice.
The end is in sight! I shall be glad to be out of the wind.
The (lower) footpath to the remains of the Roman Fort—but the high tide has flooded it. So . . . I’ll take the high road.
The parish church of SS Peter and Paul stands amid the trees, at the top of the Hangar. I had intended to visit it last, on my way to catching the bus home. But my feet having been forced it that direction . . .
And I then found a churchyard full of men. They were erecting scaffold ready to replace the roof (the red tiled section in the photo below). I had intended to take a photo of the east window behind the altar, which is an exquisite example of stained glass. But the window was boarded as protection during the work. So I’ve had to resort to what I could glean from Google Images (alas, no east window).
SS Peter and Paul, Burgh Castle (Source: Norfolk Churches)
The church is one of 124 existing round-tower churches in Norfolk. Round-towers are a particularly East Anglian feature, with all but 15 of the entire country’s count being in Norfolk (124), Suffolk (38), Essex (6) and Cambridgeshire (2). The style isn’t exclusively English, examples can also be found in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Czech Republic, France and Italy. That suggests a Dane or Viking distribution. However, while East Anglia was part of Danelaw, there are no extant examples elsewhere in the Danelaw, i.e. Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
But why the round towers? Though the topic is much debated, the most likely reason is a lack of local building stone. The stone for Norwich cathedral and St Nicholas parish church at Gt Yarmouth was imported from Caen in Normandy. Flint and rubble to hand, when it came to building a parish, that’s what was used. But how to form a smart square corner using flint? Not possible. The square towered churches that are found in Norfolk have overcome the problem by use of limestone corner-blocks. But imported stone costs, so there’s also an economic factor involved.
The church of SS Peter & Paul is an early foundation, mentioned in Domesday Book as ‘a church with 10 acres of land and an acre of meadow’. Material ‘quarried’ from the nearby ruins of the Roman fort were used in the early construction of the nave and chancel, though these have twice been modified, in the thirteenth century and again in the fifteenth when the eastern extension (now to be re-roofed) was added. The tower itself has been dated to C11th. The incongruous brick top results from a quick repair sometime in the seventeenth century. Until 1851 the roof was reed thatch.
St Fursey has his own window in the church at Burgh Castle, but unable to access, I’ve borrowed one from Norwich cathedral (Source: cathedral.org.uk. photo by Ryan Watts).
St Fursey was an Irish monk who, along with his brothers Ultan and Foillan, is credited with bringing the Christian faith to East Anglia. He founded a monastery on land granted him by the already-Christian king Sigeberht (c.629–c.634) at Cnobheresburg—generally identified as Burgh Castle. Miracles abound in St Fursey’s life, three occurring while he was at this monastery.
Later, St Fursey left the monastery in the care of his brother Foillan while he went off to find his other brother Ultan, who was living as a hermit in the ‘wilds of East Anglia’. In 648, fearing that East Anglia was about to ravaged by ‘hostile invasions’, St Fursey crossed the Channel to Neustria (more or less Normandy) and travelled to Paris. Again, miracles surrounded him. Impressed by his sanctity, the Frankish Mayor of the Palace (i.e. prime minister) Erchinoald offered him any site he wished for a monastery. St Fursey founded his (second) monastery at Lagny, 6 miles from Paris, at the time a wooded country. He died in 650; it is said, on his way to visit his brothers at Cnobheresburg.
Our knowledge of St Fursey and his brothers come primarily from Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (731 CE), and Bede’s knowledge came from Vita Sancti Fursei, considered the earliest primary source.
Celtic Cross erected 1897 in the churchyard at Burgh Castle as a memorial to St Fursey.
It’s possible the placename Cnobheresburg translates as the’ Hill of the Army’s Fortress’. If so, it is accurately named. For in the late third century, Cnobheresburg—or Burgh Castle as it is now—was, indeed, the Hill (Cnob) of the Army’s (heres) Fortress (burg). For here was sited one of the two forts which made up Gariannonum as listed in the Notitia Dignitatum (a C4th list of the Empire’s military commands). It’s sister fort was at Caister-on-Sea (see A Town Of Three Rivers). Gariannonum was a Saxon Shore Fort, part of a string of forts that extend from the Solent to the Wash. Of late there’s been debate of their purpose. The Saxon Shore Forts lack the internal components typical of Roman military installations. So were they a defensive system against seaborne raiders, or naval bases? Or perhaps they existed as defended trading centres? Built on a low cliff overlooking the Great Estuary, the ‘Hill of the Army’s Fortress’ was well sited to serve any and all of these functions.
Roman Saxon Shore Fort at Burgh Castle—north-east corner
Before the cliff crumbled, taking the western wall with it, the fort would have enclosed about six acres, with walls 3.5 metres wide at base, tapering to 1.5 metres as they reached their full height of 4.5 metres. As seen in the photo above, the walls were further fortified by projecting bastions. Not seen in the photo, nor by the general visitor, the bastions each have a central circular hole—but whether as anchorage for a catapult or to support timber watchtowers isn’t known. What can be seen (but didn’t photo well, being in deep shadow) are the remains of deep socket-holes, possibly used for the supports of the wall-walks. And, of course, the typical parapets are long since gone.
Originally the walls would have been faced inside and out with cut flint and tile in alternating bands, only some of which now remain. Over the centuries the old Roman fort has served as a quarry for building materials, until, in places, the mortared flint rubble core is exposed—as can be seen above.
Diagram of Burgh Castle (Source: Norfolk Archaeological Trust)
Seen on the above diagram as a blue-shaded area, is the vicus, a civilian settlement. Evidence as seen in aerial photographs, plus the small scale excavations which have revealed artefacts of contemporary date—a rare survival—marks the fort and surrounds as of national importance.
But occupation of the site didn’t end with the Roman withdrawal from Britain. There is ample evidence of occupation from the middle Saxon period—lending weight to the identification of the site with St Fursey’s monastery.
Later, in late eleventh century, the site was adapted, its walls ‘quarried’ and a ditch dug around it to become a Norman motte and bailey castle (see diagram above). This was possibly instigated by the tenant-in-chief at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, Ralph the Crossbowman. However, equally likely would be his predecessor, Stigand.
Stigand, of a Norfolk family, was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the Conquest but was deposed in 1070, having already been excommunicated by the pope for pluralism, i.e. holding two bishoprics concurrently, Winchester and Canterbury. He was imprisoned, where he died.
Another candidate for the architect behind the Norman castle would be Ralf the Staller, Earl of East Anglia from the Conquest until his death in 1070. He was succeeded by his son, Ralf de Gaël, who was subsequently exiled in 1075 for his involvement in the Revolt of the Earls.
Site of the Norman motte & bailey castle at the south-west corner of the Roman fort. Though the ditch remains, the mound has long since been levelled.
The western edge of the fort was further damaged by the quarrying activities of the nineteenth century brick and cement works, sited adjacent.
Overlooking the disused Brick and Cement Works (now intense scrubland). Photo taken from the west wall of the fort, fallen remains of which can be seen in the foreground.
And finally, a parting shot of Haddiscoe Island, a long gore of land, formerly salt-marsh, sandwiched between the rivers Yare and Waveney.
The mill in the distance stands beside the Yare. In the foreground, reeds now grow where once was a marina, site of the famous Breydon Follies ( a kind of regatta). As for Haddiscoe Island, that was once a mudflat in the Great Estuary, exposed only at low tide.