Berney Arms

IMG_5981Good Friday, Breydon Water, Norfolk. A feature in last Saturday’s Guardian reminded me of a Norfolk long-distance walk I had been contemplating for some time – the Wherryman’s Way that roughly follows the course of the River Yare between Great Yarmouth and Norwich. A glance at the Wherryman’s Way website made it clear that the section between Great Yarmouth and Berney Arms would be closed for flood alleviation work between April 1 and the end of September. It seemed like a good idea to walk this stretch before the month was out, so on a cold Good Friday morning Jackie and I took the train to Great Yarmouth before setting off west along the north shore of Breydon Water.

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The route starts inauspiciously around the back of the Asda superstore next to the railway station. Passing under the rumbling road bridge, the estuary that is Breydon Water suddenly opens up ahead – muddy grey water, a Turneresque sky, a raised bank snaking east. Over the fence to our right the shunting tracks of the railway have been colonised by large clumps of pampas grass that, curiously, seem to thrive here. Perhaps this austere flat landscape is a microcosm of the southern Argentine pampas? This may be the edge of the estuary, a vast wild area where three rivers come together before flowing to the sea, but it is also an edgeland par excellence, a periphery where urban bleeds into rural, human and physical geography overlay one another and nature finds a foothold in unlikely places. But the whole of Breydon Water is an edgeland of sorts: wild, raw and lonely it may be, it is also a place that has long witnessed the taming hand of man.

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The course of the bank is traced by a tideline composed of weed, fragments of reed and plastic bottles. Here and there the jetsam reveals other treasures: a plastic safety helmet, a golf-bag (no clubs), several odd shoes (never a pair), a mouldering grey seal carcass with ribs revealed like an ivory toast-rack. Passing through a gate, a tattered prayer book lies open by the path bearing the reading for February 14 – ‘Love Is The Power Charge’. A gentler cipher for our walk than the graffito on the bird hide we had just passed in which the scribe claimed intimate knowledge of the mother of someone called Dan.

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February 14, the random day displayed by the book’s wind-fluttered pages, seems about right: Easter may have come early this year but it still feels like winter. And it looks like it too – grey-yellow grass, very few green buds, icy white flecks falling from the sky; red-beaked redshanks and dapper shelducks the only bright points in a near sepia landscape. A kestrel perched on a post ahead of us flies off grumpily as we approach. The bird, a female, seems larger than normal, as does the heron that rises sluggushly from a reed-bed. Perspective plays tricks in this flat, treeless landscape – far objects look close, near objects appear supernaturally large, distant hares might easily be mistaken for deer.

IMG_5930After an hour, we arrive at a large capped windpump that has been looming ahead all the way from Yarmouth – the four-storey Lockgate Drainage Mill. The door is open and we find the mill’s iron gear wheels rusted yet still intact inside. The floor is covered by furry owl pellets jettisoned by the occupant of the wooden box installed in the beams above. Next door to the mill, a pile of brick rubble indicates where Lockgate Farm once stood. The railway line runs right past, on the other side of a gate.

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Another hour along the water’s edge and we arrive at the Berney Arms, a remote riverside pub famous for only being accessible on foot or by water. The pub always was seasonal, operating through spring and summer only to serve passing walkers and boaters. But it seems that its previous tenants, a no-nonsense Birmingham couple, have left and currently there is no-one to open up for business this year. Like so many other struggling Norfolk pubs, this is an all-too-common story.

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There’s another lofty black mill just a little further on, and it is here that we turn inland to head to the Berney Arms railway stop. It is a strange sensation to walk across fields towards an isolated platform that consists of little more than a station sign, an information board and incongruous ‘Exit’ signs – a stop for which the expression ‘the middle of nowhere’ seems wholly appropriate. Thankfully, the  two-carriage train arrives right on time. We flag it down (Berney Arms is a request stop) and climb aboard to speed across the marshes through Reedham, Cantley and Brundall back to Norwich.

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About East of Elveden

Hidden places, secret histories and unsung geography from the east of England and beyond
This entry was posted in Norfolk, Walking, wildlife and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Berney Arms

  1. I can’t believe how empty the skies look! I’m not surprised a pub “famous for only being accessible on foot or by water” didn’t survive- the amount of people who seem to drive to the pub and back after a skin full! But the barren land looks and sounds beautifully sad! How it seems forgotten and desolate is somehow lovely! I wonder what they’re going to do with all this land?!

    • Hi Katy, I think that choosing to run the pub here was more of a lifestyle decision than anything else. The trouble is, a lot of boaters used the moorings and picnic tables but didin’t by drink or food from the pub. With the end of the footpath to Great Yarmouth closed until late September there would be even less customers. A shame, it’s a beautiful, is slightly desolate, place.

  2. Dina says:

    A lovely walk, thanks for taking me! I have never been to this part of Norfolk before. I especially enjoyed the second last photo, the saying is so true! In Norfolk I always have the feeling, the sky ist nearer, the clouds are bigger, the stars are brigther. Good quality living and teh environment slows you down.
    Happy Easter to you and yours!
    best regards from the Rhine Valley in Germany
    Dina

  3. dianajhale says:

    A lovely reminder of the walk I did in the opposite direction a few years back, in the summer, when the Berney Arms was open. What a shame it may not be open again. We hardly saw anyone that day in fact either as most people were in Great Yarmouth I think! Some beautiful moody marsh images, which is just how it looked on some further along parts of the Wherryman’s Way which I walked along a few weeks ago, although part of that was closed then. I too saw the Guardian article and was reminded I should do a post on it! Thanks for this, Laurence.

    • It’s hard to know the future of the pub – I fear a sanitised gastropub aimed solely at the yacht trade. You are right about other sections being closed too – I think there is also a diversion somewhere near Loddon. Laurence

  4. Martin says:

    Oh, I like the look of this walk but then again I still haven’t done the walks in your ‘Suffolk Coast and Heaths’ book I bought last year. So many hikes, so little time.

  5. Well you will have to prioritise somewhere, Martin🙂. Looking at your website it seems you’ve been pretty busy. Like you, I really want to walk the area around Stamford and Rutland sometime. Hats off to you for doing it in winter. All the best, Laurence

  6. Jeremy Halls says:

    Wonderful description of a route that I know well (business and pleasure). Details of footpath closures (including maps showing alternatives) along the Broadland floodbanks this year at http://www.bfap.org/news.html You may have to “refresh” the page to make sure that it states “Footpath closures for April 2013” in the download box. The section of Wherryman’s Way that is closed at Langley (“compartment 20”) should be open by July. The length at Yarmouth won’t re-open until October but will have a wider crest and grass protection mesh. We’re also working with the RSPB to create some new pools and reedswamp on Railway Marsh (the area of land sandwiched between the floodbank and railway), which will be of benefit to walkers.
    One typo – “Reepham” should be “Reedham”🙂

  7. Thanks very much for helpful input, Jeremy. The BFAP link is really useful. It is good to hear that there will be some new pools and reedswamp created when the Yarmouth end of the route reopens in October.
    Of course it should be Reedham – I have corrected now – I always get those two mixed up. I did, in fact, walk the next section betwen Berney Arms and Reedham this Sunday – a lovely walk with sunshine and spring weather for a change.
    Thanks again for stopping by, Laurence.

    • Jeremy Halls says:

      That’s ok Laurence. Clearly this is an important route for walkers so we’re doing as much as possible to publicise its closure. We are usually able to provide a temporary diversion close to our working corridors but due to the railway on one side and the estuary on the other are unable to do so here. There is an alternative route using a footpath that spurs off at the western end of the closure, but this involves crossing two railway lines and the A47 before linkng in with a path that comes into Yarmouth through Runham. We’re not therefore actively promoting or signing this but people who can read an OS map can make their own decision. What we are promoting is the use of the train betweeen Reedham/Berney and Yarmouth.
      Berney to Yarmouth is a great section and the first lengh of bank that the Project “improved” in 2002/03. The “Land of the Mills” site at Seven Mile House is fascinating – wind, steam, diesel and a modern electrical pump all in the one location. There’s usually an open day each year and they will also arrange access for group visitshttp://www.nationalmillsweekend.co.uk/pages_wind/polkeys.html
      If you want more of the same then Reedham to Cantley has a railway station either end plus 4 pubs to choose from! All the best, Jeremy

  8. Pingback: Crossing the Yare | East of Elveden

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