Indecisions. I had spent last weekend poring over maps, trying to decide where next to walk. Would it be the bus to Morton-on-the-Hill then a walk back to Taverham through the Wensum Valley? Road walking, leafy lanes. It had its appeal. Or would it be bus to Easton (end point of the ‘Norfolk Hills‘ walk) then through to Marlingford to walk back to Norwich via the Yare Valley? Then Wednesday, the chosen day, I woke up with severe withdrawal from kicking the wheat and gluten. With a big sigh, i resigned myself to no walk this week.
But Friday dawned fine. And the symptoms had gone. I felt brimming with energy, I wanted to be out there. But where? The Wensum Valley? Or the Yare?
Neither. I opted for a walk in the woods.
There’s scarcely a year gone by since I moved to Great Yarmouth (30 years ago) when I haven’t returned to my home village. It’s become an annual pilgrimage, and always to the woods, either in May for the bluebells, or in October for the chestnuts.
The bus would have delivered me to the lower end of the woods. But since I intended to finish my walk with a return to Marriott Way, where it bridges the River Tud, I thought it a good idea to start at the Tud.
Photo taken from Longwater Lane bridge, looking westward.
It used to be possible to see the ruins of Costessey Hall from here. The area to right is part of Old Costessey Recreation Ground—it provides a restful riverside walk.
Although I had the iPhone with me, I didn’t intend this to be an exercise in photography. And I doubted I’d find anything new to write about, having exhausted the subject of the ‘Lord of the Manor’ in the Jerningham series on Crimson’s History. But as I neared the woods, thoughts started popping.
Costessey is listed in the Domesday Book as having one of the very few Deer Parks in England at this time. I have always wondered where that deer park was located. The obvious response might be ‘Costessey Park’ where, from 1553 the Jerningham family lorded it over their extensive manor. Certainly in Tudor times the park was well-stocked with deer. But was that the case in 1086? Although it’s an obvious answer, to me it seems illogical.
Would the Lord of the Manor in 1086 really encourage his tenants to tramp all over his precious park when needing to consult with him? Knowing how the Normans were about hunting rights, and their deer? Therefore I’d say, in 1086, the tenant-in-chief —Alan Rufus, a Breton count who made Richmond in Yorkshire his main seat—would prefer his hall to be set some way outside of his park.
It is almost a cliché that when establishing a church on his manor, the Norman (or Saxon) lord would set it to the east of his hall.
Domesday Book makes no mention of a church at Costessey, which is not to say there was none. However, during his lifetime Count Alan was strongly connected with St Edmundsbury Abbey in Suffolk—he was buried there until his younger brothers removed his remains to St Marys Abbey in York. There are several churches with St Edmunds dedications doted about Count Alan’s extensive holdings, from Yorkshire through to East Anglia. William the Conqueror encouraged the continuation of Saxon saints when his tenants-in-chief were setting up new churches (a Papal legate arrived in England in 1070 to ‘test’ the Saxon saints and give them their seal of approval). The Costessey church is dedicated to St Edmunds, suggesting this was one of Count Alan’s foundations.
So where is the church? Might it be any place near the Tudor hall and deer park? No.
As can be seen on this map, Costessey hall and deer park was set at some distance from St Edmund’s church, which is in the most ancient part of the village. The shaded area represents land settled from early Saxon times.
No lord of manor had his hall to the west of the church, simply because there is the river. But neither would he set himself a mile or more away from his tenants, cottars and serfs. (Not that the Domesday tenant-in-chief was 365 days resident, yet he would have had a bailiff to supervise operations in his absence.) While he might have a hunting lodge in the park, it would not be his preferred place of business.
It had always been my belief that East Hills wood—where I now was heading—had been part of the Domesday deer park. On the map above, East Hills wood is that squiggly green bit to the east of Costessey Hall.
East Hills woods, as entered from Longwater Lane. The trees here are most young, a massive replant to replace the elm infected by Dutch Elm Disease. When the Jerningham-Stafford family withdrew from the village, they donated this woods, and Green Hills (to the north, in the old village) to be freely enjoyed by all in the parish. It is now managed by South Norfolk District Council.
With the exception of this narrow western belt, which seems to be a late addition to the woodland, the rest is rooted upon the same glacial terminal moraine as Ringland Hills (see Norfolk Hills), with equal steepness. I can imagine both here and at Ringland, the hillsides were formerly sheep runs. But the shallow sandy soil, coupled with the steep sides, forbade any attempt at arable farming. A map dating to 1794 shows East Hills (named as Easter Hills on an Ordnance Survey map of 1880) as considerable less extensive.
Unable to crop the Easterly Hills, the Jerninghams planted nut and timber trees: chestnuts, hazels, hornbeam. I needed a safety helmet as I walked beneath the chestnut trees. I’ve never known them to so bombard me.
The chestnut tree to the left, foreground, has five trunks shooting from a central bole, evidence of long years of coppicing. Many of the trees on this particular hill that I remember from childhood have now been cut down for safety sake, the sandy soil unable to hold their roots. Chestnuts live about 400 years; those I remember must have been close to that.
These hazels might look young, yet I remember them growing here when I was a child (and I’m not saying how long ago that was!). This is the effect of constant coppicing.
Just look at the wonderful twisted trunks.
We used to make spears from the young straight stems.
I came in at the wrong entrance to snap the really big beeches—though their size wouldn’t prove the woodland’s age, for they could previously have been growing in grassland. I did manage to photograph some elegant ladies. The beech nuts were thick on the ground beneath them.
Another shoot of the ditch
And while we’re along this northern boundary, and talking ‘age’, how old might this field maple be?
Only ever a small tree, this field maple just kept on putting out trunks.
So often managed and coppiced woodland takes on a regimented form; all straight trunks, lacking character. But not here.
Almost at the far end of the wood, tracking along the lower (northern) boundary, I was able to see the other Jerningham-planted hill—Green Hill.
Emerging with reluctance, from the woods I pushed on to complete the walk. I wasn’t walking any great distance (3½ miles maximum), so I made up for it by walking fast. I was heading for that sweeping yellow road (on the map above) that connects the old village to the A1074 (Town House Road/Norwich Road). Being locally-grown, and not having a car, I was able to cut where a stranger, or a car, could not.
My next destination was (the former) Costessey Pits, now Gunton Lane Recreation Ground—which in the 1960s we illegally turned into a motorbike scramble track.
The water-filled pits occupy far less acreage than at the former Taverham Pits, now Costessey Pits. But they are surrounded by a woodland, 40 years in growing.
The sun hasn’t entirely gone—see the blue sky reflected. But the day was rapidly becoming overcast—just as I found some autumn foliage.
The increasingly overcast day didn’t help to lighten the eerie feel to this woodland. Though it’s in frequent use by walkers, with dogs, there is also a sense of isolation. No traffic noise. No noise.
The Green Man, guardian of this quiet, dark wood.
I want to return here, to see if I can take a better photo. And to see more clearly what animal it is on the Green Man’s back (a hare?). And is it a dog, or a deer beside him?
This woodland, with its pools, is just part of the Gunton Lane Recreation Ground. The River Tud runs through it.
And so to join, once again, Marriott Way . . .
This is probably the last walk this year that I shall write up. I want to concentrate on increasing distance (stamina training); best for that is the wall to the north of Breydon Water. While the mudflats attract migratory birds, they’re usually little more than black dots in the distance. As for my health, my next HbA1c test is March/April 2015 when I shall probably post an update.
In the meantime, since I’m preparing a story to run when Roots of Rookeri ends, I’ve plenty to occupy my time. Also, Iris Einstein keeps twittering in my ear of some more useless facts. So, watch this space!