Sunday, 8 October 2017

River Bure Walk

Upton Dyke
Our final walk in Norfolk for this trip saw us go back to look at The Broads just a short distance from the one we had completed in Ludham earlier in the week.  After the disappointment of the previous walk we chose one not based on what else we could visit but instead the pure beauty of the walk itself.  Walk number 17 from vol 17 of the Pathfinder Guide Norfolk and Suffolk Walks did just that as it promised to be one of the classic Broadland walks.
Traffic Jam
We started at Upton Dyke, a short stretch of drainage channel the serves the village of Upton.  Although the parking area was in the shade of a small wood we soon lost the tree cover as we headed out along the left bank of the dyke.  Immediately we could see this was big sky country as the countryside all around was almost entirely flat.  Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a flat landscape it is also entirely dominated by water and even those areas of dry land are separated by drainage channels that keep the grazing land from being swamped by water.  I imagine during the winter months it probably is covered in water much of the time. 
Looking Ahead To The Mills
For now the main interest was the variety of boats along the dyke.  In the past few years we have enjoyed walking along waterways and enjoying the different craft on view.  Those in Norfolk are less traditional, with a preponderance of motor cruisers and certainly no narrowboats.  We found them rather less interesting as a result, although they undoubtedly looked more comfortable inside.  On the right we also passed a small water pump - this hollow post mill is a rare survivor apparently.
Swanning around
It wasn't too long before we reached the main River Bure and the only option available was to turn left.  Unlike our walk the other day this path followed along the top of the river levee and that meant we had better views all around.  On the river side the boat traffic seemed relentless - this is obviously a very popular waterway.  On the land side we could see lots of bird life especially geese, swans and herons that all seemed to be in abundance.  The sky was full of puffy white clouds bobbing along gently, making this the perfect day for walking. 
Oby Mill
We soon passed the first windmill - a derelict affair called Oby Mill on the opposite bank.  It looked like it would take quite a bit to restore it even as a place to live.  I wouldn't mind betting that someone will in the next 20 years.  A little further on and on our side of the river was the rather more looked after Upton Mill, which has been turned into a home.  It does look like a nice place to live but I wonder how easy it is to access during the wet winter months?
Upton Drainage Mill
The path continued on towards some more mills in the distance but we were never destined to reach them.  The River Bure swung off to the left as it was joined by the River Thurne. As there was no bridge upon which to cross it was pretty obvious which way we had to go!  This area is obviously a popular place to moor for there was another boatyard on the opposite bank and a very attractive looking village (Thurne) behind dominated by the church.  In a flat landscape like this the churches seem to stand out more than ever.  Off to the left and it was bird life that caught our eye again - a heron hunched over watching the drainage ditch for any sign of movement underwater.  Further on and it was the little grebes that caught our eye.  They were easily disturbed though - any hint of us moving and they would dive under the water, only to pop up quite some distance away.  It actually took some patience to see one after they had initially dived!

St Benet's and Thurne Mills
On shore the banks were alive with dragon and damselflies all enjoying the warm late summer sun.  Butterflies abounded too, especially the browns, whites and red admirals.  In fact I am not sure I saw any other kind - perhaps they don't get a look in with all these about?  The reeds largely screened the river but I soon became aware of a couple of sailing craft approaching largely because of the flapping of the sail as the yachtsmen tacked into the wind.  It looked like a difficult job getting the yacht down the river using only wind power.  Any wrong move would surely have ended in disaster!  It was fascinating to watch their struggles and managing to avoid other powered craft also using the waterway.

Further along I became aware of large groups of people on the opposite bank and as we got closer I realised that they were looking around an old ruin; the remains of St Benet's Abbey, founded in 1020 as a Benedictine Monastery.  Ironically the main structure left behind is an old windmill that was built among the remains.  This too was left to its fate in the mid 1850s, while the original abbey seems to have succumbed around the time of the dissolution back in the 1540s.  Some claim it was not destroyed by Henry VIII but it was seized by the crown at that time.  The monks all went their separate ways apparently and left the abbey to nature.  Judging by the crowds of people looking around it still attracted a good deal of interest although for us it was impossible to reach from our path.

St Benet's Abbey
A little further on from the abbey the bank took us along a channel away from the main river.  It soon became apparent that this was a channel built for boats to moor and we soon hit the line up as we neared the village of South Walsham.  According to the map the opposite bank was covered in woodland but this didn't seem to be the case on the ground.  The trees were more like shrubs and more widely spaced than I would have expected.  As we got close to the village we saw South Walsham Broad, a beautiful little haven that was surrounded by some lovely looking (and I suspect pretty expensive) looking houses.

South Walsham Broad
We were directed around the village by the boat yard and houses before eventually taking a hard left and entering a field.  Immediately the mood of the walk changed for no longer was the focus upon water but on the surrounding farmland.  At the other end of the field we crossed into a lane and went past a very attractive looking tile cottage.  The lane soon ran out and our onward route took us along a slightly elevated path through some thick hedgerows.  To our left were fields of horses, the grassland just high enough above the general level of the land to enable it to drain slightly more freely.

We were 'welcomed' by several dogs on the next few hundred metres of the walk.  Evidently the local canine population doesn't take too kindly to interlopers and we were seen off from several houses as we passed by.  Eventually we disappeared into woodland surrounding Upton Fen Broad and the onward path was a delightful wander through a shady nature reserve, using boardwalks on a fairly lengthy section.  This was perhaps the nicest part of the non-water section of the walk although it was a shame we didn't get a decent view of the Broad itself as it was tucked just out of sight in the woodland.

We came out on to a road at Cargate Green and followed this all the way back into Upton.  Normally I am not a big fan of road walking but I would make an exception in this case.  The houses were pretty and the gardens well tended.  Many of them were showing off their late summer blooms and crops by now including some showy dahlias and in one case some prize winning looking pumpkins.  By now we were feeling pretty hungry and so we headed to the White Horse pub for a spot of lunch.  We discovered that this place was now owned by the villagers through a share scheme and used funding from the Prince's Countryside Fund to re-establish the business after it was threatened with closure.  A poster showing the Prince of Wales pulling a pint was proudly displayed on the wall inside.  As for the food and drink - top notch!  We both really enjoyed it and would definitely call in again if we were back in these parts.

The White Horse
After a lovely relaxed lunch in the pub garden we headed the short distance back to the car feeling good about our walk.  This definitely was one to do again and again if we lived in this area.

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