Heritage Highlights

Beauchamp Arms
Berney Arms
Bramerton
Breydon Water
Coldham Hall
Great Yarmouth
Halvergate Marshes
Hardley Cross
Hardley Flood (River Chet)
Langley Dyke
Loddon and Chedgrave
Reedham
Reedham Ferry
Rockland St Mary
Surlingham
Whitlingham

Wherries and wherrymen

Wherries have been part of life in the Broads for hundreds of years. Before roads and railways, waterways were the main transport routes for trade and people. River trade – the ability to bring in raw materials and export finished goods – helped make Norwich England’s second city.

The earliest wherry-type vessel was the square-rigged keel, but by the beginning of the 19th century the most numerous craft was the wherry – single-sailed and specially designed for the shallow waterways of the Broads. The heyday of the trading wherries was the 19th century when several hundred sailed the waterways, carrying all sorts of cargoes - stone, coal, bricks, timber, reeds, even ice.

“Both the skipper and his craft told their own story. It was one of long days and nights sailing in open and narrow waters; of innumerable loadings and unloadings at the crowded Norwich and Yarmouth quays; of a life lived in a perpetual round of weighing anchor and hoisting sail” (Anna Bowman Dodd, 1896 – an upper class London lady holidaying aboard a pleasure wherry in the Broads).

Dykes and staithes

The River Yare was an important trading route, linking Norwich with the port of Great Yarmouth and the wider world beyond. Most towns and villages had dykes connecting them to the river, and a ‘staithe’ – a place where wherries moored to load and unload goods.
Road and rail transport eventually took over from wherries, particularly after the 1914-18 war, when they were left to do the rougher jobs like dredging and carrying reed. By the mid-20th century there were no sailing wherries regularly trading on the Broads.

Fun and frolics

Fortunately, wherries had a new lease of life as pleasure craft. Some were converted for holiday use, and by the 1880s pleasure wherries were being purpose-built for holidays. The final development was the wherry yacht, combining the efficiency of the wherry design with the elegance and deck space of a yacht.
Look out for the few surviving wherries in the Broads…
Trading wherries - Albion and Maud
Pleasure wherries - Solace and Hathor
Wherry yachts - Olive, Norada and White Moth

Reeds, eels and wildfowl

When the trading wherries were in their heyday, local people relied heavily on the rich natural bounty of the waters, low-lying marshes, farmland and woodland of the Yare valley – clay from the ground to make tiles and bricks, reed from the marshes for export to towns and cities to be used for thatch and building material; wildfowl, fish and eels for the table.
“The Broadsman’s life is full of pleasant variety, even as the ever-changing picture gallery which the seasons offer” (T.F. Goodall, 1886 – upper class author and member of the naturalist school of painters).

Colourful characters

Billy Bluelight
In the 1920s / 30s Billy Bluelight used to challenge boat trippers to races along the river bank from Norwich towards Great Yarmouth. He was famed for his claim “My name is Billy Bluelight, my age is 45, I hope to get to Carrow Bridge before the boat arrive”.

Ted Ellis
Celebrated author and naturalist, Ted Ellis, lived and worked for much of his life near Surlingham in the Yare valley. He did much to champion the cause of nature conservation on the Broads and, with his wife Phyllis, established a nature reserve at Wheatfen Broad where they lived in a simple cottage from 1946 onwards.

Old Scientific
For much of his life Old Scientific lived aboard a houseboat on Rockland Broad. He was famed locally for his wildfowling skills. When the author T.H. Emerson met him during an adventure in the Broads he had just shot two ospreys, one with a three-pound pike still in its talons.

Arthur Patterson (John Knowlittle)
In spite of his humble beginnings, Arthur Patterson set out to excel as a naturalist and writer and Breydon was where it all began. A lifetime scribbler, often under the pen-name ‘John Knowlittle’, Arthur became an authority on the wildlife of Breydon and the Broads.

Whitlingham

Rocky resources
Chalk, quarried from pits near Whitlingham, was loaded on to wherries and transported to the cement works at Burgh Castle, near Great Yarmouth. Whitlingham was also famed for its ‘brickfields’, reckoned to supply the finest brick and tile earths (clays) in Norfolk.

Look out for…
• easy access trail around the Great Broad.
• walks and cycle routes through woods and meadows on the edge of the River Yare.
• former chalk pits and beautifully-preserved limekiln in the woods.
Bramerton

Pleasure steamers, strolls and fancy cakes

The Woods End gardens at Bramerton were a popular destination for fashionable boat trippers from Norwich. The swings, skittles, aviary and monkey house, hillside strolls and riverside picnicking were all the rage.

Look out for…
• kingfishers darting inches above the water.
• dragonflies flitting to and fro over the marshes on a sunny summer day.
• lapwings calling with their ‘peewit’ cry on a misty winter marsh.
• autumn colours along the low wooded hills.

Surlingham

Cold commodities
In the long cold winters of a hundred or so years ago the River Yare often froze over for weeks at a time. Enterprising wherrymen harvested the ice, supplying it to businesses, such as the fish markets at Great Yarmouth. It was stored year-round in ice houses like the one that used to be on Surlingham Broad.

Look out for…
• Surlingham Church Marsh – this site is a year round bird watching treat, complete with circular walk and bird hide.
• hill top views of the Yare Valley from St Saviour’s Church.
• otters, elusive and shy, may be seen in early morning or at dusk.

Coldham Hall

Tavern yarns and smugglers’ tales
Hard times sometimes called for desperate measures, and wherrymen were not averse to a bit of smuggling. A wherryman and a Coldham landlord were sentenced to transportation for fourteen years for the theft of nine gallons of port wine from the hold of a wherry.

Look out for…
• nearby marshes ablaze with yellow flag irises in May and June.
• a bustling waterside pub just across the river from Brundall – one of the busiest boating towns on the Broads.
• nearby Wheatfen, Ted Ellis Nature Reserve - open fen, reed-beds, alder and willow woodlands with two small broads and over three miles of nature trail, some parts suitable for wheelchair users.

Rockland St Mary
Medieval Norwich was known for its black-glazed roof tiles, made at Rockland and transported by river.
“Half an hour’s strolling brought me to Rockland village, an isolated hamlet with a small staithe at which the wherries moor, and a narrow channel connecting it with the Broad. With its swampy osier grounds, yellow reed stacks, and thatched cottages, it is a typical Broadland hamlet, and the majority of its few inhabitants are more or less dependent on the Broad for a livelihood” (W.A.Dutt, 1903 – well-to-do Norfolk-born author and naturalist).

Look out for…
• a rare glimpse of an osprey in spring or autumn, a surprise sighting of a hen harrier in winter, marsh harriers, and several species of owl, including the ghostly barn owl.
• Cetti’s warbler – listen for its ‘explosive’ call, a speciality of the Yare Valley.
• colourful dragonflies and butterflies, many of them rare, darting among the reeds on a summer day.
• The Slaughters – at low tide on Rockland Broad witness the skeletal remains of a dozen or so long-discarded wherries.
• easy access path from the car park to the RSPB bird hide (approx 800m).
Return of a native

Today it’s happy hunting for the marsh harrier thanks to enlightened conservation policies that have reversed years of damage done by persecution, poor land management and over use of pesticides.

Beauchamp Arms

Look out for…
• clouds of widgeon, lapwing and other winter visiting birds on the RSPB marshes opposite the pub.
• a timeless scene of traditional summer grazing marshes speckled with slow moving cattle and colourful flowers.

Langley Dyke

Holy dyke
Langley dyke was cut in medieval times to allow stone to be brought from the River Yare to build a Benedictine abbey, the remains of which can be seen in among the (private) farm buildings near the end of the dyke. In later centuries the narrow, shallow waterway continued to be used by wherries to bring in essential daily supplies, and take out goods for trade.

Look out for…
• wild and lonely marshes nearby – home of the ‘mad’ March hare, the curlew’s call and a hunting ground for birds of prey like the marsh harrier.
• Cantley sugar beet factory – birthplace of the home-grown British sugar industry – towering on the horizon like a silent, motionless ship.

Hardley Cross

The point at which the River Chet branches off the River Yare is also the ancient boundary of jurisdiction between the City of Norwich and the Borough of Great Yarmouth. For hundreds of years officials met here in a colourful annual ceremony, known as the ‘Hardley Inquest’, to declare all the ‘abuses and privileges’ related to matters of trade on the River Yare.
Hardley Flood (River Chet)

Look out for…
• a wild and remote wildlife paradise that changes with every season.
• the excited springtime twittering of reed and sedge warblers and the alarming squeal of the rare and timid water rail.
• the brief springtime visit of thousands of migrant martins.

Loddon and Chedgrave

Ancient market towns at the heart of the Wherrryman’s Way and an ideal place to break your journey. In the 19th century there was a different trade associated with almost every address in the street – even cars were once built here.

Look out for…
• former wherry staithe and nearby mill.
• two fine churches.
• bustling streets and a town square with a variety of pubs and shops.
Reedham Ferry
Look out for…
• the only remaining chain ferry over the River Yare.
• wonderful views over the Chet Valley and Hardley Flood on the ferry road from Heckingham.
• huge flocks of autumn fieldfare feeding on red hawthorn berries.
Reedham

Caulk and clinker

During the 19th century and early 20th century Reedham boasted one of the best boat building yards in Norfolk. In fact most Reedham men were connected in some way or other with boats – either as carpenters, wherrymen, owners, skippers or mates.

Look out for…
• a bustling quayside and boat hire location.
• bearded reedlings flitting among the swaying reeds. More likely you will only hear the ‘ping ping’ call of this rare and secretive bird – a significant proportion of whose entire UK population is in the Yare Valley.
• the fierce currents of a turning tide, whose powerful influences can easily be seen (and felt if you’re a boater) at this point.
• the historic swing bridge that carries the railway over the river.
• hill top views across the expanse of marshes south eastwards towards the River Waveney and beyond.

Halvergate Marshes

Saved from the plough
A landmark in modern conservation, Halvergate marshes were designated as the first Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA). Here farmers are encouraged to manage these traditional grazing marshes sympathetically, without the use of modern chemicals and deep drainage. One of the voices calling for the protection of the marshes was Andrew Lees, who later went on to become campaigns director of Friends of the Earth.

Look out for…
• wide open vistas, big skies and distant horizons.
• wind pumps, built to control water levels on the traditional grazing marshes.
• the lucky sighting of a grass snake swimming through the dykes in summer.
• wading birds such as snipe and curlew.

Berney Arms

Pump and grind
The towering windmill here was used for more than just pumping water from the marshes. It was also used to grind cement clinker for the nearby Reedham Cement Works. Open: April-Oct, Mon-Fri, 9-1, 2-5.

Look out for…
• the tallest wind pump in the country. Access by boat, train (Berney Arms Halt) and footpaths from Halvergate and Great Yarmouth.
• wonderful views of the marshes.

Breydon Water

The scene
“The setting sun gleams like burnished gold on the glass windows of our houseboat lying anchored in one of the opalescent streams that thread this moist fairyland of green sea weed and pinkish mud…the channel winding through forests of shipping and quays bordering the sea stained town that rises from a tongue of sand stretching between the river and the ocean” (T.F.Goodall, 1886).

The smelters
“There sat the fishermen, like four cormorants, staring into their rowing boats laden with nets and gear, all talking and laughing” (T.F.Goodall, 1886).

The wildfowlers
“All through the shooting season they row off at earliest dawn from the old quays and boat houses of North-end, or Cobham Island, and disappear into the mist and gloom of this great tidal water” (T.F.Goodall, 1886).

Look out for…
• a paradise for wildfowl – Breydon is an internationally important estuary for a huge number and variety of geese, ducks and wading birds.
• Burgh Castle – the impressive remains of a 3rd century Roman fort built to defend the coast from Saxon raiders. Situated on the edge of the River Waveney with views over Breydon Water and Halvergate Marshes. Open: daily.

Great Yarmouth
“Pushing with lowered mast through the gloomy and austere bridges, we passed a picturesque corner of Old Yarmouth, lighted up by the morning sunshine – discovering groups of fishermen clad in blue guernseys, all smoking clay pipes as they watched the sailing craft go through this narrow neck of water that joins the Broads and Breydon Water” (P.H. Emerson, 1886).

Look out for…
• the South Quay with its historic merchants’ houses and Rows – the remnants of tightly-packed herring workers’ houses and narrow streets.
• Time and Tide Museum – housed in a converted Victorian herring curing works, this innovative museum takes you on an exciting journey into Great Yarmouth’s maritime past.
• traditional seaside fare and European Blue Flag Award winning golden sands.