For the last two walks I’ve been on my own. This week my daughter was joining me. It was those magic words, trees, hills.
As we made our way to the bus stop we discussed which end of the route to start: with the hills, leaving it to last to wend our weary way through the village street? Or should we reverse it, and stride away from habitation while still fresh. As it happens, the decision was taken away from us. Our bus from Gt Yarmouth was late arriving in Norwich and we missed the connection. Rather than wait another half hour, we took what fate was offering, and started off at the Harte of Costessey.
The Harte at Costessey
(Source: advert for The Harte)
The Harte—formerly the White Hart—was already in existence by 1778 when it was visited by Parson Woodforde (of whom, more anon) in order to meet a woman who had served 21 years as a man, in the army—or so says Norfolk Pubs. Whatever the brewery it was originally tied to, by 1854 it was a ‘Bullards House’.
The Norwich breweries have a special niche in my heart, having once worked as invoice clerk for C&C, the soft drinks division of Steward & Patteson (it was a hot summer, they needed the extra staff).
There were once some 20 or so breweries listed in Norwich, though many were small, back-room jobs, such as the Bull Close Brewery which was sold off in 1860 to Bullards Brewery, and Golden Dog Brewery that closed in 1852. Others were larger. St Martin’s Brewery was sold in 1797 along with its 55 tied houses.
Over the years, the smaller breweries were lost to mergers and takeovers. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were only four breweries left in Norwich: Bullards at Anchor Brewery, Steward & Patteson at Pockthorpe Brewery, Morgans at Conisford Brewery and the award winning Youngs & Crawshay at Crown Brewery.
In 1956 Bullards took over the 50 tied houses of Youngs & Crawshay. By 1971 Watney Mann had taken over both Bullards and Steward & Patteson (in 1964 Steward & Patteson had 1200 tied houses throughout East Anglia, from Lincoln to Essex). Watney Mann subsequently closed all breweries but for the former Morgan’s brewery at Conisford (King Street) which it made its head of local operations.
The following year Watney Mann itself was taken over by Grand Metropolitan Hotels.
Four years later the Norwich Brewery Company was formed, on the same site, in an attempt to reproduce the cask conditioned ales that had been the signature of the smaller breweries—to no effect. In 1985, the riverside site was closed with the loss of 155 jobs. And there ended 400 years of brewing in Norwich.
Don’t be misled by this initial focus on pubs. Our walk was not to be a pub crawl—though it did start and end at a pub and passed another two on the way. Those two are no longer operating—as is obvious by the photos.
Red Lion, West End, Costessey — closed in 1931
Falcon Inn, West End, Costessey
The Falcon is another pub frequented by Parson Woodforde when, in 1792, when he stopped for `a Tankard of Porter to wash down the dust ‘ on his way home. From 1918, a ‘Morgans House’; it closed in 1965.
Staffordshire Knot (aka Mercian Knot) seen on this plaque to commemorate the old inn.
You might notice, here, a theme in these pub-names—of animals. And not just any old animals, but animals of the hunt. Anyone who has read my Jerningham Series on Crimson’s History will know that Costessey is noted in Domesday Book for having one of the earliest Hunting Parks, probably instigated by Earl Harold (aka King Harold of Hastings fame).
We’ll finish the walk at The Dog, though it’s no longer called that. We will, however, bypass the Swan at Ringland, now renamed A Taste of Oz, a restaurant serving Australian cuisine (does that mean they specialise in barbies?).
Another theme of this walk seems to have been road signs.
Caution, Toad’s Crossing
I had to snap this one. The toads overwinter in the wooded hills of what used to be Costessey Park, to return to the river to breed in spring. I used to live that toad-migration route. A pleasant spring day, I’d leave the doors open and watch the toads hop on through. Some were too impatient to reach their breeding grounds and would be humping while hopping (a God-given aid to the children’s sex education).
Costessey Cricket Ground—I kid you not
But is it cricket, as in the game? Or cricket as in grasshopper?
I’m not sure anyone ever played cricket here, unless it was us kids before it became so overgrown. However, this is part of Costessey Common—in fact, it’s all that remains. Don’t be deceived, when you see on the Ordnance Survey Map, an area at the back of Costessey Pits marked as the Costessey Common. You can’t reach it without trespassing. Besides, Anglian Water has taken most of it over for their processing plants. So, truly, this is all that remains.
Costessey Pit—adjacent to‘Cricket Ground’
This wasn’t a planned part of the walk, but we had to pass it. The pit itself—a flooded quarry—is private property; I think it belongs to a fishing club. But this section of the bank is accessible via the confusingly named Cricket Ground.
St Walstan’s Spring—okay, somewhat overgrown, and I couldn’t get nearer for the fence, and the thorns, and the nettles . . . but I remember finding it when I was about 9 years old. Even then it was lost to herbage—I discovered it when I lost my foot to it.
St Walstan is the local saint, patron of farms, farmers and farmhands. He was supposed to be noble-born, kin to Edmund Ironside, son of King Ethelred. He forsook his noble birth and trappings, and followed the word of Jesus, living a simple life. He worked as a farmhand at Taverham. He predicted the day of his death, and told his boss to put him on a cart, pulled by a white ox. Wherever the ox took him, there they were to bury him. The ox stopped three times. Each time a spring appeared.
The spring in the photo is marked as such on the OS map, but apart from some rushes growing there, you wouldn’t know it existed. The next spring that sprouted was just above the River Tud, within the Hunting Park. It was excavated before the massive building works that in the past twenty years have run rampant over the former Park. The third spring was at the neighbouring village of Bawburgh. And that’s where he was buried—in 1016.
A shrine was built to him, his feast day being 30th May. The spring, built around to be a well, became a popular place of pilgrimage, even rivalling Walsingham in the north of Norfolk. The pilgrimages continued until the late 1950s. Water from the well was supposed to cure eye problems, but by then it was considered so full of impurities as to be potentially lethal.
St Walstan’s Well at Bawburgh, Norfolk
St Walstan’s Spring is at the junction of the lanes to Ringland and Taverham. Though we were heading for Ringland Hills, we took the mile detour to the other parts of Costessey Pits first.
Since I knew I’d be writing about the pits, I’d tried to make a start by doing the research. I knew they were flooded gravel works. But I wanted to know when the quarrying there began, and when it was abandoned.
There followed a day of utter frustrated. First, was to get the name right. I knew them as Taverham Pits, after all, they’re lay alongside the road to Taverham; Costessey had its own pits across the other side of the village. However, in the years since I left my old stamping ground, those diggings I’d known as Costessey Pits—where we teenage-kids used to go bike-scrabbling (no, not on BMX; BMX wasn’t yet invented; I’m referring to motorbikes)—those had been in-filled and made into a community park. Nice. So, those pits I’d known as Taverham Pits now had taken the name of Costessey Pits—which is how they’re marked on the OS Map.
But Costessey or Taverham Pits, they should have been easy enough to find. But no. Put in a search for Costessey Pits and you get Taverham Mill and Pits—with an entrance fee of £20. Get away; they’re kidding me. No, it’s for fishing. There’s also all sorts of other visitor facilities, none of which I took the time to read properly because I was looking for the OTHER PITS, the pits I couldn’t find.
In the end I gave up. So the mile detour was in the hope of finding signage that gave a potted history. No chance.
So, to tackle it by another route. I remembered the name of the company—their laden lorries used to thunder through the village. Atlas Aggregates. I Googled them. Lo! Some kind of answer.
Atlas Aggregates is now Longwater Gravel Co Ltd,
”established in 1952 by William Littleboy along with several business partners at Costessey […] Over the next decade he brought out all his partners until it was wholly owned by William Littleboy. […] Longwater Gravel still has a distribution yard and an administration centre at Costessey, on what is now an industrial site where the old workings were.”
(Sourced: longwatergravel.co.uk )
That “industrial site where the old workings were” is part of the former Costessey Park, NOT at Costessey Pits. Which means the pits were probably abandoned that same year, operations then moving to the new site.
I have vague recollections of the old quarry machinery still standing—in rusty condition—in a landscape reminiscent of an early Dr Who episode. I don’t know how old I was. I know I wasn’t supposed to be there; and it was before I went fishing there with my brother (ca. aged 9).
Costessey Pits. The former desolate quarry is now a reservoir and focus for water sports
So, that (not) answered, we returned to the walk.
Ringland Lane (out of Costessey) runs alongside the River Wensum, though the river wends in and out, sometimes close to the road, sometimes not. But wherever the river is, the trees are always there.
Ringland Lane, a tunnel of greenery
Though most of the trees along this stretch of road are beech, this tipsy tree is a hornbeam. The river at its feet is the Wensum
(last seen entering Norwich—see Marriott Walk)
The houses along here are hidden in the depths of extensive gardens. It’s unusual to be able to see them—without upsetting the dogs and risking becoming today’s dog’s dinner. So I just had to snap this one.
Beehive Cottage—at least, that’s what I’ve always called it.
Oh look, another animal crossing!
Though only 6 miles out of Norwich, yet here we have deer on the run. How soon the houses drop away!
Which way, Costessey, Ringland or Easton?
Though we’re heading for Easton, were we to follow the road through Ringland (Hringa’s Land, Hringa was a Viking), and we’d come upon Weston Longville. As a kid I wondered the source of that ‘Longville’. Was it a ribbon-development, the houses strung out along one road? Later, as I started to lose my head to history, I realised the ‘Longville’ element was a Norman relic.
After the Norman Conquest, William I granted Weston, as part of a much larger, though fragmented, estate, to William de Scohies (d’Ecouis). However, when William I, on his deathbed, bequeathed England to his younger son, William Rufus, instead of to the eldest son, Robert Curthose, there was rebellion, and those who supported Robert withdrew from England. Another rebellion ensued following the death of William Rufus, when the youngest son, Henry I, arrived at breakneck speed to claim the English throne—thus swiping it from beneath the feet of his big brother Robert—and several Norman lords then offloaded their English holdings, preferring to serve Robert, Duke of Normandy. William de Scohies was one of these lords.
He sold Weston to Walter Giffard, Earl of Buckingham. In turn, Walter Giffard granted Weston, with church and tithes, to the priory of Longuevile in Normandy. Hence its name.
But Weston Longville finds fame through another man: Parson James Woodforde (1740–1803), author of The Diary of a Country Parson, a unique record of eighteenth century parish life.
Parson James Woodforde
by his nephew Samuel Woodforde, RA
James Woodforde attended Oxford university, where he was ordained and graduated BA in 1763, became MA in 1767 and BD in 1775. Then for the next ten years he served as curate for his father in Somerset.
His father died in 1771, but that death marked the start of a series of failures. One: He failed to succeed to his father’s parishes. Two: He was jilted by sweetheart Betsy White. Three: His application to become headmaster of Bedford School failed.
However, in the interim, he did become a pro-proctor of Oxford university. It was through that appointment that, in 1773, he was “presented to the living” of Weston Longville at £400 a year, though he didn’t take residence in the village until 1776.
It is said that his father advised James Woodforde to keep a meticulous record of his accounts—which he certainly did. His diaries contain a full account of the doings in a small community, the births, deaths, the comings, goings, the annual celebrations—the weather! And his interest didn’t stop at the landed gentry. He included his servants, and the neighbouring farmers, labourers, craftsmen and—particularly innkeepers. Parson James Woodforde seemed to take delight in noting every morsel of food offered to him, whether the plate was silver, pewter, or carven wood, and whether he ate it or not.
What I like about him is that he found Norwich to be “the fairest City in England by far” (I do agree), and “always enjoyed a trip to the sweet beach at Yarmouth.
But, back on with the walk . . .
I don’t know how old the track is from the Wensum valley, up and over Ringland Hills and on to Easton. But some idea of its age can be seen in how deep the cut—every inch eroded by foot, and hoof and wheel. The road wasn’t metalled until post WWII.
The ancient track over Ringland Hills. No, it’s not a bank, it’s a cut.
In places the chalk bedrock can be seen.
Everyone knows the county of Norfolk is flat—except in two places. The North Norfolk Ridge, and Ringland Hills. Both are glacial terminal moraines. Basically, and to keep the explanation brief, these terminal moraines were formed by glaciers dumping the debris they’d previously accumulated as they passed over the land. The author of the Wikipedia article likens the process to
“a conveyor belt, the longer it stays in one place, the greater the amount of material that will be deposited.”
As such, these terminal moraines mark the furthest extent of the glacier. But since the last glaciation of Britain didn’t extend into Norfolk, these heaps of sand and gravel (mostly flint) must have been deposited prior to that—let’s just say some time during the Last Glacial Period (approx. 110,000 to 10,000 yrs ago).
I had hoped to replicate in photography the location shown in Sir Alfred Munnings’ Ponies on Ringland Hills.
(Source: BBC Your Paintings)
But since my last visit here (some 30 years ago. Oops, how many?) what had been a low cover of gorse with the occasional tree has become this. . .
Looking down at the same sandpit where Munnings painted his ponies.
Sir Alfred Munnings, KCVO, PRA (1878-1959) is best known for his horse studies, be they racehorses at Epsom or Newmarket, or ponies on Exmoor or here, on Ringland Hills. But Munnings was also a war-artist during WWI, and the enormous collection on view at the Alfred Munnings Museum include numerous landscapes. Born in Suffolk, close to the River Waveney, he ended his days at Debham, on the River Stour.
Study of Gypsy Caravans
(Source: BBC Your Paintings)
My interest in Munnings as an artist began when I saw this Study of Gypsy Caravans (above). It reminded me of my grandmother’s stories of her early married life.
She had married a horse-trader who, in order to trade, needed to attend the horse fairs. While a single man he might have dossed beneath canvas wherever the night caught him, but he felt his wife deserved better. So he ‘acquired’ a gypsy caravan. All was well until the birth of their second child—ironically, their only son. He died within weeks of birth. In my grandmother’s words, she ‘went on strike as a wife’ until her husband bought her a house. He did just that—with stables and land which he made into a riding school and stud farm. But my grandmother must have given in to him before they moved in, for my mother was born at White Horse Inn at Scole, the landlady taking pity on my grandmother—who still lived in the gypsy caravan.
Munnings painted several studies in the general Ringland region though mostly his landscapes are studies of Cornwall, Devon, and around his home in Suffolk.
Ringland Hills, 70+ years on, and summer is lingering late this year, holding off the more usual autumnal colours. I had to rely on bracken to provide a contrast to the ubiquitous green.
Ringland Hills. And bracken and gorse obscure the view into an abrupt valley
Ringland Hills. Hilltop with hint of a valley.
Ringland Hills. A north-falling hill—see the moss?
Ringland Hills. Note that sharp drop to right.
Ringland Hills. Overlooking the Wensum valley, with views of Ringland in the distance. No, they’re not bushes off to the right, they’re the tops of fully grown trees. Yet thirty years ago, there were no trees here.
Time to move on. We had a bus to catch—two buses in fact—and despite a promising forecast, the sky was beginning to darken.
Ringland Hills. The Road to Easton (the sky is bleached out where I’ve had to lighten the image to make any detail visible)
River Tud (see Marriot Way).
The last time I crossed the river here this was a ford. The old footbridge over still exists. I’m standing on it.
After the (former) ford, I tucked the camera away. The sky was so dark, the trees closing in around us, and as with the photo above, ‘Road to Easton’, to produce a visible image would require extensive manipulation, and I do try to keep the images unaltered. Besides, I foolishly thought I could find someone else’s sharp snap on Google Images. But not so.
Dog Lane, Easton.
The lettering gives it away—it’s taken from Google Maps.
This was the steepest stretch of route, though I’m not sure the photo shows it well. I’ve included an aerial photo of the same (below). From the junction with Church Lane, to the top (just before the house), contours go from 25m to 45m making it a 1 in 4 hill. Okay, so that’s not Mt Everest. But when you’re just getting back the use of the legs, and this comes at the end of a 5 mile, mostly road, walk, that hurts. But I didn’t lag, and my daughter didn’t have to wait for me to catch up. That’s a mega improvement.
Dog Lane, the last leg of the walk—satellite view. (Google Maps)
It should come as no surprise to find that Dog Lane leads to The Dog pub—except there is now a busy bypass cutting the lane in two, and The Dog’s no longer called The Dog. Recorded in 1792 as a ‘Bullards House’, since 2000 it’s been a guest house with a bar named ‘Mes Amies’.
Easton Guest House and bar, Mes Amies—formerly The Dog.
No, it’s not me falling over, I sourced the photo from their advert.
And so our walk was done—with minutes to spare before the bus came to relay us back to Great Yarmouth. I was hot. My mouth was dry, having guzzled the water brought with me, my feet were kind of sore, but not painfully so. My quads hurt. My daughter complained of her calves—only having trained as a masseuse she called it some proper anatomical name.
Next week? Forecast isn’t so good for the beginning of the week. But if it dries out, I could be making my way from Burgh Castle back to Great Yarmouth along Breydon Bank—not a place to be caught in a thunderstorm; not particularly pleasant in blustering rain, either.